Episode Review of Babylon 5 Season 1: "Soul Hunter"

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Episode Information

Title: "Soul Hunter"
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Director: Jim Johnston
Rating (out of 4 stars): ***
Reviewed on: January 19, 2009

Synopsis from The Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5


A Soul Hunter comes for Delenn's soul.

Sinclair and Ivanova are just welcoming the new chief medical officer, Dr. Stephen Franklin, aboard the station when Sinclair is called to the bridge. A small ship of unknown origin has just come through the jump gate. It's heavily damaged from an attack and out of control - it will impact the station shortly. While Ivanova powers up the station's defense grid, Sinclair jumps in a starfury in an attempt to snag the ship and save it for study.

The sequence of Sinclair piloting his starfury to match up with the rotation of the tumbling alien ship is very nicely done. The physics is all correct, and visually showing the starfury slowly matching the motions of the alien ship makes it very clear why the maneuvering had to be done. The grappling "grabber" was a little cheesy looking, though, way too much like a grabbing hand.

Sinclair manages to grab the alien ship at the last moment, and then he tows it onto the station. The ship's pilot is still alive, but unconscious, and is taken to medlab. Delenn hears about the incident (gossip travels quickly, I guess) and comes to medlab to try to identify what species the alien belongs to. When she gets a look at the alien, she goes into a near panic, grabs Garibaldi's gun, and tries to shoot the alien. Sinclair and Garibaldi stop her, despite her frantic begging that they kill the alien immediately.

Shortly later, once Delenn has calmed down, she explains that the alien is a Soul Hunter. They are a species that can somehow sense when a being is about to die. They travel through space to find the beings about to die, and then they capture the dying person's soul at the moment of death. Delenn calls them thieves. She also seems to have a misunderstanding of the causality of events involving the Soul Hunter. She says that because the Soul Hunter is there, someone is going to die, so the Soul Hunter should be sent away. This is a fallacy, however, because the Soul Hunter does not cause the death to occur, he just knows it is going to occur. Sending him away won't stop the death. This misunderstanding is not Delenn's alone, as the other aliens on the station begin leaving once the news of the Soul Hunter's presence spreads.

In medlab, the Soul Hunter regains consciousness at the same time we see a small-time con artist in the lower levels of the station be murdered by a disgruntled customer. The Soul Hunter describes the feeling of the murder victim's last moments, to the confusion of Dr. Franklin. When the stabbing is reported, the victim is brought to medlab, and the Soul Hunter continues to describe the victim's life slipping away as Dr. Franklin scrambles to save it. The effect of this is extremely creepy, as is the Soul Hunter himself. The creepiness is helped by the actor's voice and enunciation, which are very effective.

Franklin calls Sinclair to medlab and tells him about the Soul Hunter's reactions. The Soul Hunter refuses to speak to Sinclair until Sinclair accuses him of being a thief. At that point, he becomes indignant and says that the Soul Hunters preserve the soul, which would otherwise be lost at death. He scoffs at the views of the Minbari, saying that the Soul Hunters haven't been able to save very many of their souls.

Franklin openly scoffs at the idea of a palpable soul, and Sinclair is also skeptical. However, Sinclair cannot abide the disruption that the Soul Hunter's presence is causing on the station, so he orders the Soul Hunter to leave the station once his ship is repaired and he is healthy.

Sometime later, Delenn comes alone to visit the Soul Hunter. She demands to know where his "collection" is: all the souls he has captured. They argue over what happens to souls after death. The Soul Hunters believe that if they don't capture the soul at the time of death, then it also dies. The Soul Hunters claim that the souls they capture can speak to them, so the Soul Hunters are preserving their knowledge and experiences. The Minbari, on the other hand, believe that after death, the soul joins the collection of other souls of dead Minbari, where the souls mingle and mix and eventually are born into new Minbari. Thus, when a Soul Hunter captures a Minbari soul, that soul is removed from the birth-death-rebirth cycle.

The Soul Hunter and Minbari belief systems are completely irreconcilable. What each species believes is the best course of action is the worse course according to the other species. Further, the souls that each species is most concerned about - the so-called "great" souls - are the ones that are crucial for each species. The Minbari have more cause to be upset, since the removal of "great" souls from the "soul pool" diminishes the quality of each successive generation of Minbari. Thus, the Minbari have a huge reason to want the Soul Hunters stopped at all costs. I have to wonder why the Minbari haven't gone on a campaign to wipe out the Soul Hunters, but I suspect the Soul Hunter population is probably very sparse and scattered, and so it would be hard to do.

I would respect the Soul Hunter's side of things more if the Soul Hunter gave any indication that the preserved souls were being used for the greater good. He says that they can speak to the souls. So are they doing that to build a library of knowledge and history to share with the galaxy, or even themselves? It does not seems so. It seems that the captured souls are simply trophies or even pets for the individual Soul Hunter that captures them. That makes the Soul Hunters' goals more petty in my mind.

Back to the scene. The Soul Hunter refuses to reveal the location of his captured souls, and Delenn vows to find them. Then he recognizes Delenn as having been present at the death of the greatest Minbari leader (in recent history), Dukat, who was killed at the beginning of the Earth-Minbari war. The Soul Hunters had tried to capture his soul, but the Minbari prevented them. The Soul Hunter remembers that Delenn was a member of the Grey Council, the ruling body of the Minbari, which means she has the title "satai". When the Soul Hunter begins asking her why she's on the station, she leaves in short order.

The Soul Hunter breaks out of the isolation lab and disappears into the station's lower levels. Garibaldi reports that the Soul Hunter got to his ship and removed something from a previously-hidden compartment. We later see the Soul Hunter contacting the alien head of the black market on the station to get information on moving unseen through the station.

Another Soul Hunter arrives at the station (I'll call him SH #2.). Once onboard the station, he tells Sinclair and Garibaldi that he has been looking for SH #1, who is a criminal in the Soul Hunter community. SH #2 says that the Soul Hunters have recently been very frustrated in their attempts to save "great" souls - either by being too late, or being stopped by others - and this has driven SH #1 into madness. SH #1 has taken their philosophy one step further - if you want to make sure you don't miss saving a soul, then don't want for the body to die naturally... help it along. SH #1 has been searching for promising souls and killing their bodies so he can preserve the souls now. SH #2 and others have been trying to track him down and stop him, but he has been slipping away until now.

Garibaldi receives a report that Delenn is missing, and they all realize that SH #1 must have taken her as his next victim. SH #2 confirms that a death is imminent, and says that once it happens, they'll be able to track down SH #1. Sinclair isn't about to wait for that, so he starts a search in the area of the station indicated by SH #2.

Meanwhile, we see that SH #1 has hooked Delenn up to some kind of machinery, which beams a light at her and is supposedly slowly drawing her soul out and placing it in a small glass sphere. SH #1 is draining her body of blood at the same time. He is keeping the process slow so that her soul isn't too disturbed.

When Sinclair gets close, SH #1 wastes no time in pulling a weapon and trying to shoot Sinclair. They get close for some hand-to-hand combat, and SH #1 tells Sinclair that Delenn is "satai" and that "they" are using him (Sinclair). Sinclair releases SH #1's captured souls, who float out and confront him. Are the souls unhappy with SH #1 because the soul hunter beliefs overall are wrong? Or because this specific Soul Hunter took them by murder? Either way, the delay gives Sinclair enough time to turn the soul-draining machine on SH #1 and crank it up, ripping the soul from his body and killing him.

Delenn is rushed to medlab, where Franklin says she will recover. She wakes up for a moment and tells Sinclair, "I knew you would come. We were right about you." Sinclair tries to ask her to explain, but she falls asleep. Sinclair wryly comments that he's probably never going to get the explanation for her statement.

Sinclair sees SH #2 off the station, saying that the station is off-limits to all Soul Hunters. When Sinclair retires to his quarters, he does a computer search on the term "satai", leading him to also wonder what Delenn is doing as a simple ambassador.

In the final scene, we see Delenn with SH #1's collection of souls, one-by-one breaking them open and releasing something.

This episode is interesting for the ideas about souls that it raises, as well as the clues about the mystery behind Delenn and Sinclair. The conventional plot of Delenn being taken hostage was pretty standard, since we didn't really have any feeling that Delenn was in that much jeopardy.

The idea of a species that could do what the Soul Hunters do is fascinating. How do they sense an impending death? How long ahead of time to they sense it? Since they use this sense to know where to go to preserve the soul, they must know about the death quite awhile ahead of time.

When they sense a death, do they know what specific person it is? Or do they know more the location than the person? I would think the latter, because SH #2 knew a death was coming when Delenn was captured, but it turns out that that death was of SH #1, not Delenn. Interestingly, that thought hadn't occurred to SH #2.

When a Soul Hunter senses an imminent death, does it always happen? One could picture some kind of situation where a Soul Hunter is near someone whose death he senses - could he warn the person who is going to die? For example, tell someone to duck a gunshot that is coming in a couple minutes?

One of the fascinating aspects of Babylon 5 is that it plays a lot with the idea of predestination. If a Soul Hunter senses your death, is it destined and unchangeable? If you have previous knowledge of your death, would you be able to make some kind of choice to prevent it? Or would your knowledge of your upcoming death be what contributes to you actually making a choice that causes you to die? (This is an idea that is crucial to events at the end of the third season.)

The Soul Hunters do not try to save every soul, only the "great" ones. Apparently they judge the worthiness of a soul by mundane factors, such as the public deeds of the person in question; they do not have an additional sense that tells them a specific soul is great. I conclude this because SH #1 didn't have any interest in capturing Delenn's soul until he found out she was a member of the Grey Council. He also had no interest in Sinclair's soul; knowing who and what Sinclair will be (or has been... time travel wreaks havoc with verb tenses), his soul would certainly be considered great.

The episode does not come to any conclusion regarding whether or not souls really exist or whether the Soul Hunter or Minbari belief system is right. SH #1's soul-draining machine does something, but we don't know that it's actually pulling out a soul. There were some kind of glowing things inside the glass spheres Delenn was breaking at the end of the episode, but were they actually souls or some more mundane phenomenon, maybe energy stored up from the soul-capturing process, like static electricity? This makes the scene of Delenn breaking the spheres double-edged - is she killing the souls, or freeing them?

The other big item of interest in the episode concerns Delenn. If she is part of their ruling body, why is she here on B5? From "The Gathering", we know that she is here to observe Sinclair. Apparently that task much be very important for someone of her status to be doing it. Why is Sinclair so important to the Minbari? How did she know that he would rescue her? We find out the answers to these things gradually; it's always fun to watch the clues add up as the season progresses, and to see Sinclair also put them together.

On to little things about the episode. Where did SH #1 get the huge machinery for his soul-draining machine? We know he got some stuff from his ship, but it's hard to believe he hauled that big thing off unseen. Did he get only crucial parts from his ship and build the rest from materials on the station? If so, he did that pretty quickly.

Dr. Franklin plays a key role in the episode getting SH #1 patched up, but we don't learn too much about him. He has previously worked with Sinclair, but we don't know under what circumstances. He seems very enthusiastic. He also mentions that the previous doctor, Dr. Kyle, is going to be working with the Earth Alliance president.

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