The first regular episode filmed, and one whose title is often cited on discussions of the series' "worst episode ever." The episode is extremely uneven, and it certainly could have been much better. But I do, at least, consider it better than its reputation (admittedly, not much a feat); Infection has problems, some of them big ones, but it isn't even the worst episode to date, let alone the worst of the series.
Dr. Vance Hendricks (David McCallum), an archaeologist working for Interplanetary Expeditions and an old mentor of Stephen's, comes to Babylon 5 with his latest find: examples of organic technology recovered from a world that has been dead for 1,000 years. Stephen is as excited as Vance, and is happy enough at first to ignore the possibility that his old friend has bent or broken a few quarantine rules to get the artifacts here.
Unfortunately, the technology isn't quite as dead as the world it was recovered from. After Vance's assistant gets a little too close to the artifacts, they begin to take him over, transforming him into a Super Soldier with programmed orders to kill anyone who is "not pure." Now Sinclair puts himself on the line - at least one time too many, in Garibaldi's eyes - in order to stop the creature before it destroys Babylon 5.
One reader of these reviews noted that many of the initial episodes are "seed planting." It's an apt description, and this episode certainly plants some seeds that will come into play later. For those who have watched the entire series, observe that the planet has been dead for 1,000 years. What happened 1,000 years prior to the start of the story? Observe the organic technology. Which race that we have yet to really meet would be inclined to give a young species organic weapons that utilize a sentient being's mind, and enslave that mind to the weapon's programming? There's some bits of this episode that very nicely establish some of the series' major foundations, and it's done in such a way that first-time viewers would never suspect they were watching anything other than a pure standalone.
It is also nice to see an actor of David McCallum's caliber guest starring on such an early episode. Once again, some of the regulars seem to raise their game when on-screen with McCallum. I know this was the first episode shot. If I didn't know that, however, I would honestly have believed it was shot after Soul Hunter, simply because Richard Biggs is much better here than he was in that episode.
It is also nice to get a glimmer of Stephen's darker side. Stephen has a sense very early on that Vance probably broke some rules in order to get the technology onto Babylon 5 so quickly. But though he complains a bit about his mentor using "shortcuts," he isn't truly troubled until he discovers that people are dying as a result. Stephen may be a "good guy," but he does have the potential to be corrupted. At the very least, he seems like someone who may be prone to using "shortcuts" of his own, should he believe the end result to be worth it.
There's not much for most of the supporting characters this time out, though Ivanova gets the funniest line of the episode when she blocks the reporter from badgering Sinclair on the bridge with a deadpan, "Don't. You're too young to experience that much pain." It's the only real laugh-out-loud moment of the episode, and Claudia Christian's icy deadpan is just perfect.
The episode's best scene comes near the end, however. After Sinclair faces down the Super Soldier, Garibaldi confronts him with the number of times he has put himself directly in the path of danger in the past year. Garibaldi more or less comes out and asks if Sinclair is "looking for something to die for because it's easier than finding something to live for." In the single best bit of acting Michael O'Hare has done yet, he fixes Garibaldi with a very dark, very angry look and barks: "Finished?" It's a genuinely chilling moment, and the best character insight we have gotten into Sinclair yet.
Unfortunately, the above scene does not end where it should end. Sinclair's "Finished?" may be Michael O'Hare's best line delivery in the entire show (and the accompanying glare is very unsettling). The scene should cut away just as Garibaldi gets up to leave, to allow both us and the character of Sinclair time to absorb this new insight.
But it doesn't cut. It keeps going, as Sinclair gives the patented "Michael O'Hare really doesn't know how to play this line" grin and comes out with some pap about recognizing that he "should have an answer." Ugh - the audience knows Sinclair should have an answer, the script doesn't need to tell us that he should. O'Hare's performance dips from excellent to poor in about 3 seconds, but this time it's not his fault... when the material plunges from great to terrible that quickly, any actor's performance will suffer.
The worst part of the episode, though, is its heavy-handedness. The endless repetition of "no one is pure" and "fanaticism is BAD!" has all the subtlety of a sledgehammer followed up with a battering ram. The climax, in which Sinclair speechifies the unstoppable villain into submission, cuts far too close to bad Star Trek clichés for my liking. As Michael O'Hare points out in Jane Killick's first season guidebook, "when you're involved chasing a madman who's trying to kill everybody, you don't have long epistemological discussions with him where you hold forth and philosophically try to ponder the error of his way. You just try to catch him."
There is one scene in the episode that has been almost universally praised. At the very end of the episode, reporter Mary Ann Cramer finally does get her interview with Sinclair, and Sinclair comes out with an impassioned speech about why man should go to the stars: because whether a thousand or a million years from now, the earth will die someday, and if humanity stays on Earth, then all its knowledge, art, and history will be lost. It's a fair speech, and well-delivered... but it doesn't seem to have much connection with the rest of the episode. If the episode was really well-crafted, that speech would be seen to come from the events of the rest of the episode - to be something that Sinclair had reasonably been thinking about. As the episode stands, though, Sinclair's major revelation as a result of the Ikarran Super Soldier was that of his own death wish. Following his conversation with Garibaldi, that should be the thought that he is mulling, not abstract musings about art and culture and the end of the world. Because it feels disconnected from the events surrounding it, the speech - while a solid scene in isolation - is rendered into an isolated set piece, and so (to me, at least) doesn't carry the punch that was obviously intended. A similar speech, delivered by Sheridan in late Season Two, is made much more organically a part of its episode, and comes off much better as a result... but more on that when these reviews reach that point.
The final major weakness is guest star Patricia Healy, as Mary Ann Cramer. Cramer's presence in the episode is not necessarily a bad thing. The reporter's presence allows one great moment with Ivanova, another good scene in which Garibaldi delivers some background about his friendship with Sinclair, and Sinclair's closing speech about the importance of mankind going to the stars. Unfortunately, Healy's performance is terrible. Her line readings alternate between "petulant teenager" and "reading cue cards," and she injects no personality into the character whatsoever. If W. Morgan Sheppard's Soul Hunter is the best guest performance Babylon 5 has seen thus far, then Patricia Healy's Cramer is the worst.
So... a weak episode, certainly, with some very definite problems. Still, I'd say there's as much good here as there is bad. It certainly isn't any worse than Soul Hunter, to my mind.
On the other hand, I am very relieved by the thought that there is much, much better to come.