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Another morality play, though this one is far more complex than Deathwalker, and packs a far greater emotional punch. The first truly fine episode to be written by someone other than J. Michael Straczynski.


Shon is a young alien child with a blockage that is constricting his breathing. He will die without an operation - an operation that his parents refuse to allow. This race believes that their soul resides in the folds of their skin, and that to puncture the skin will let the soul escape.

Dr. Franklin puts in an official request with Commander Sinclair to have the parents' rights suspended. While Sinclair weighs the life of the child against the damage overruling alien beliefs would do to the station, the parents petition every one of the Ambassadors to intercede.

Meanwhile, Ivanova leads a patrol of Starfuries on a mission to escort a damaged transport ship to the station... traveling right through Raider-occupied territory.


One of the things I really like about the first season is, that by focusing more on establishing the setting and characters than on the eventual arc, it allows for episodes that the later seasons simply didn't have time for. An episode like this one, that focuses on belief systems and their effect on the life on one child, is the kind of episode that simply could not have happened in the plot-heavy later seasons.

Believers is another morality play, and it may have been a questionable decision to show it back-to-back with Deathwalker. But it is a much more complex and satisfying episode than Deathwalker. Its central scenario - of parents whose beliefs cause them to refuse vital medical care to their child - is one that's far more rooted in the real world than an evil genius with an immortality serum. And it allows us to see more of the regulars' characters than Deathwalker's somewhat over-the-top scenario allowed.

To date, Dr. Franklin has been more in the background of episodes than the foreground. Believers finally gives him some time in the spotlight, and it showcases him as a very complex character. Franklin is far from a paragon here. Although he reprimands his assistant for dismissing the parents' beliefs, he is himself almost instantly callous and patronizing with regard to their belief systems. He attempts to manipulate both the parents and the child with games and lies: he offers the parents a placebo in the form of a useless non-invasive treatment, a delaying tactic in hopes of them "getting desperate" and changing their minds; then he offers Shon a fake egg - which he dubs "from the planet Placebo" - to occupy Shon's mind. Amusingly, we later learn that Shon knows good and well that what he has been given is no egg. In a memorable moment near the end, Dr. Franklin claims that his patients come to him looking for him to be God... and that if he is to be burdened with the responsibility of a god, then he deserves the authority as well.

But Franklin's characterization is not entirely negative. Far from it. The entire plot of the episode centers around Franklin's beliefs as much as the parents'. The parents believe the soul is sacrosanct, while Franklin believes that life is. Franklin is not in any way devoid of compassion. He clearly cares for Shon, and his grief and shock at the episode's end seems very genuine. Arrogant yet dedicated, self-centered yet caring: in one episode, Franklin goes from a minor background figure and plot device to yet another multi-layered figure. That this episode represents Richard Biggs' best performance to date is an added benefit.

The ambassadors get only one scene each, but their scenes with the parents are definitely a highlight. Each Ambassador is shown in a unique light in these scenes, one which largely suits their characters. G'Kar is very blunt and callous in his dismissal of them, turning them down because there is no advantage for the Narn in interceding. Londo is far more sympathetic, but his rejection is largely on the same grounds; they don't have anything to offer the Centauri, and so it is not worth the Centauri government's time to help. Delenn is the most compassionate of them, but points out to the parents why the Minbari - who value beliefs in a way the other races do not - will not interceded: both they and Dr. Franklin are acting according to their beliefs, and it is not her place to say which belief is correct.

As for Kosh, he gets the most quotable response of all: "The avalanche has already started. It is too late for the pebbles to vote." Which is actually unusually straightforward for Kosh.

As with Soul Hunter, the episode's greatest strength is that it never says Franklin is right and the parents are wrong (or vice-versa). Like Delenn, David Gerrold's script refuses to endorse one belief over another. As Sinclair observes, sometimes you do the right thing according to your beliefs, and it doesn't make a damn bit of difference.


One does have to wonder a little bit about "The Chosen's" belief system. The soul escapes if the skin is punctured. Does that mean that if a "Chosen" gets stabbed during a mugging, or if a "Chosen" falls and severely breaks a limb in such a way that the skin is torn, or any number of other things that regularly happen to people that puncture the skin, that said "Chosen" is therefore a soulless being to be shunned? Perhaps "The Chosen" have particularly resilient skin that won't puncture accidentally (the episode never says). But one can't help but wonder, given that a lot of people don't make it to Age 10 without puncturing the skin at some point.

Ivanova's subplot doesn't seem to serve much purpose. There is an effort to thematically link her calculated risk, when she breaks away from the escort to pursue a Raider, with Dr. Franklin's calculated risk. Still, it just doesn't seem like part of the same episode; it seems like it was squeezed in there to give the episode an excuse for some space or battle scenes, lest the attention span-challenged become bored with all the dialogue. Also, we never get to see how Ivanova escapes the Raiders; we just cut to the aftermath, leaving a noticeable hole in the "B" plot's narrative.

Still, the episode remains one of my favorite first season episodes. It's also one I'd love to break out for my students at some point to tie to a lesson plan; it's definitely one that makes you think about points of view.

My Final Rating: 9/10

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