Episode Review of Babylon 5 Season 1: "Infection"

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Episode Information

Title: "Infection"
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Director: Richard Compton
Rating (out of 4 stars): * 1/2
Reviewed on: January 25, 2009

Synopsis from The Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5


Alien technology from a dead world threatens the station.

Dr. Stephen Franklin's former archeology teacher, Dr. Vance Hendricks, comes aboard B5 with a colleague, Nelson Drake, and discoveries they made on Ikarra 7. Ikarra 7 had an advanced civilization some 1000 years ago, and Hendricks has brought back some organic technology they found during digs on the world. While Hendricks discusses the dig with Franklin, we see Drake kill a B5 security guard in order to get the artifacts onto the station without clearance.

Hendricks wants to collaborate with Franklin in order to figure out how the organic technology works so that they can bring it to the Earth Alliance. Franklin agrees to help him out.

My first thought about their deal was: does Franklin need approval from someone to be doing this? I assume that Franklin is supposed to have some part of his time available for personal research, which is the typical way to attract top people to specific locations. However, given the fact that the technology is alien and extremely advanced, I would think that either Sinclair or someone in the medical "chain of command" should really know what Franklin is doing.

My second thought about their deal was: who's paying for this? Again, Franklin may have some discretionary funds for research as well as be able to use the stations medical labs. However, for a long term research program, they may need to pay for new equipment and supplies, plus Hendricks and Drake would have to pay for room and board. We don't have any idea about the funding. One might think that the backers of Hendricks' explorations on Ikarra 7 might pay for the research, except that Hendricks makes it clear that he's trying to work around them in order to get a bigger payoff in the end.

As Franklin and Hendricks work, Franklin becomes somewhat disillusioned by what they are doing. He points on that Hendricks is smart enough that he should be making his own discoveries, not uncovering what other beings discovered long ago. Franklin compares Hendricks' work to grave-robbing. Hendricks extolls the excitement of exploration in a monologue similar to Roy Batty's in Blade Runner.

This conversation points out a significant fact: if (and when?) the human race encounters an alien race, the alien race will certainly have at least some technology significantly more advanced than our own. This means that the scientists in some fields will instantly be completely out-of-date, and even some of the fundamental theories of their fields may be incorrect. What would those scientists do? Learning all of the new science may be impossible in a lifetime, so now they may feel that their lives are wasted.

Another aspect of this idea is once humans can begin exploring other worlds, if we know that aliens have developed certain technologies, why work on figuring them out ourselves? Why not find them in the ruins of dead civilizations? Or trade for them with extant civilizations? Unless a scientist is on the forefront of a field among his peers in all species, why bother? Both of these issues seem like they would be very demoralizing.

We learn that Interplanetary Expeditions (IPX) funded Hendricks' explorations, which was one of many. Hendricks says they are really a bioweapons firm, although when we learn more about them in the future, they seem to have a wider scope. At any rate, they apparently have deep pockets, since Hendricks says it's prohibitively expensive to mount such expeditions.

While Franklin and Hendricks are working, we see one of the alien devices shock Drake. Later that evening, Drake takes one of the alien devices and places it on his chest, where it attaches to him and begins growing organic armor around him. When Franklin arrives in medlab the next morning, Drake has partial armor and an energy weapon of some kind growing from the end of his arm. He shoots at Franklin, declaring, "protect!" and then runs off.

While Franklin is being treated in another part of medlab, he conveys all he knows about the incident to Sinclair and Garibaldi. Sinclair and Garibaldi then call Hendricks in for questioning; Garibaldi states that Hendricks' artifacts had not gone through proper quarantine procedures, despite Hendricks' assurances to Franklin. Hendricks says he wants to help stop Drake from hurting anyone else, and convinces them to let him and Franklin study the remaining artifacts further.

Drake's armor is growing further and his weapon is becoming more powerful. He is beginning to go through the station, killing people. Personnel on the bridge are able to track him via the energy his weapon emits. Security teams track him down, but he seems to be impervious to their weapons. Drake seems to be headed for the central corridor of the station, so Garibaldi has the security teams clear it out.

Sinclair is about to join Garibaldi and the security teams when Franklin shows up to tell him what they've found out. The artifact that has taken over Drake was created by the Ikarrans to destroy invaders. The weapon was programmed to kill anything that was not "pure" Ikarran. However, the criteria to be "pure" was too strict, and the weapons (Drake is only one) ended up wiping out the invaders and the Ikarrans. The weapon controlling Drake has the personality of the scientist who created it embedded in it.

Sinclair joins Garibaldi, and they and the security teams attack Drake point-blank, with no effect. Drake burns through the floor and runs off. Sinclair decides that the only way to stop it is to blast it out an airlock, so he follows Drake in order to make it mad and lure it. He uses his link to coordinate with Ivanova the preparations to open the airlock.

Sinclair begins talking to the weapon and telling it that the Ikarrans are dead because it killed them. He does manage to lure the weapon to an airlock compartment, but since he does seem to be communicating with it, he delays the order to open the airlock. He convinces the weapon to look into Drake's memories to see what Ikarra is like now - when the weapon does, it realizes Sinclair is telling the truth. The weapon pulls the initiating artifact out of Drake's chest, miraculously leaving Drake as himself.

While Drake is recovering in medlab, Fraklin confronts Hendricks with the device he found in Drake's effects: an electrical device that can be used to cause a heart attack, which is how Drake killed the security guard. Franklin realizes that Hendricks masterminded Drake's dirty work. Hendricks still tries to convince Franklin to join with him in unlocking the secrets of the artifacts so that they can be rich, but Franklin turns him over to security.

Sometime later, Garibaldi visits Sinclair in his quarters to point out how Sinclair has been putting himself at too much risk recently. He mentions how some of the Earth Force soldiers that were in the Earth-Minbari war came out of it without a purpose, and so now they are looking for a good way to die. Clearly, he's afraid that Sinclair is doing this. Sinclair doesn't have a good response, but perhaps Garibaldi raising the issue is enough to make him think about it.

Throughout the episode, an Interstellar Network News reporter has been on the station trying to conduct an interview with Sinclair. He has been avoiding her, but by the end of the episode, he runs out of excuses. She wonders why, especially after recent events, it's worth it for humans to go out into space. Sinclair declares that if we don't, eventually the entire human race will die when the Sun does.

This episode is not one of Babylon 5's best. It's a bit funny, since this is a more typical science fiction TV show plot, with a weapon of the weak and the lead character running off to save everyone. It's pretty much a stock Star Trek plot. However, B5 usually does a better job with politics and characters that with typical science fiction plots, so this episode does not play to the series' strengths.

In this standard plot, Franklin naively falls in with Hendricks' schemes. Drake is zapped by an alien device and no one notices that he's acting a little oddly before the device takes him over. Sinclair ends up talking the weapon/Drake into stopping itself in a scene very reminiscent of Kirk out-thinking his many computer nemeses. Drake even ends up surviving the incident, which seems unlikely in real life.

On this viewing, I didn't think the special effects of the organic armor were all that bad, although I get tired of these kinds of aliens being portrayed as slow. I suppose if you've got armor, why move fast? On the other hand, speed and agility would make them more effective.

During this viewing of the series, I was struck by how much Sinclair feels compelled to be the one to save the day and put himself in danger in these first few episodes. This is nicely underlined by Garibaldi's talk with Sinclair at the end of the episode. We know from "The Gathering" that Sinclair may feel guilty for having survived the Earth-Minbari war. Is he looking for a way to die as Garibaldi speculates?

Some smaller notes. We see Franklin pull a very long session of research, forshadowing his obsessive-compulsive doctoring, which will be a problem later in the series.

IPX is brought to our attention for the first time. The issue of organic technology is going to be a recurring one in the series. The way the B5 universe is set up, the mixture of organic and inorganic technology makes devices such as computers and spaceships much more powerful and capable, so all the races have scientists working on this issue. Since the Earth Alliance government confiscated the artifacts, we can assume Earth is doing the same. But, like any technology, the effects of it are influenced by the intentions of the user - will Earth develop the technology for benign uses or for weapons?

ISN (Interstellar Network News) makes its first appearance. It's interesting to learn about the pessimism on Earth surrounding B5's very survival, let alone its success.

I have to take some issue with Sinclair (and by his own admission, the creator J. Michael Straczynski's) reason for why we need to leave Earth: that the Sun will eventually "go cold". Yes, absolutely, the Sun is going to die one day. A small nitpick is that before it goes cold, it's going to get a lot warmer here on the Earth - you can read my description of this in my review of Star Trek - The Original Series season 3 episode "All Our Yesterdays". However, things aren't going to get "too hot to handle" here on the Earth for about 1 billion years. Given the long timeline, I don't find this to be a compelling reason to explore space, and I'm for space exploration.

More compelling is the fact that the Earth is likely to collide with a near-Earth asteroid in the much nearer future. This kind of impact could do anything from wipe out a city to cause a mass extinction on the entire Earth. Unless we develop our space technology to be able to survey and deflect these objects, we are doomed long before the Sun dies. This threat doesn't require us to leave our solar system, but frankly, going beyond our solar system is going to require a much bigger jump in technology, so that's going to take awhile.

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