Patterns of the Soul poses a serious question in a post Covid world: is there any justification for suppressing information about the potential spread of a virus? The story has Gideon and the crew of the Excalibur sent on another mission that is more important than finding a cure for all of the people of Earth: they have to find 30 people who may have escaped from Earth while infected with the plague. Brian Thompson guest stars as the stone-jawed scientist who escaped Earth with his deep voiced friend to start a life elsewhere. Sure enough, we learn that they have been infected with the Drakh plague and Gideon is ordered to take them home. Unfortunately, they are not the only ones on the planet that are infected; a small tribe of Dureena’s nearly extinct people are on the planet and they have only a year to live now. Gideon’s orders are from an Earthforce General that seems to place all his calls from somewhere that clearly isn’t an Earthforce office, giving us our first clue that he’s not playing a fair game. Needless to say, Gideon has to come up with a clever way to save the day for Dureena’s people and the human’s who have been poisoned by someone in Earthforce.
Conceptually great. We’re back in the arc, after a few episodes of making pitstops along the way. And I admit, as the audience, we want a positive resolution. We want the bad general to let people live in peace. In short, we want Gideon to win. But we don’t live in a pre-Covid world anymore and I wonder how I’d feel had I reviewed this just 2 years ago. Gideon effectively hides the fact that the plague exists on another planet, content to believe no one will go there because he places a satellite in orbit claiming there’s a plague on the planet. Effectively, a message that says “don’t come here”, but what happens when the race that arrives doesn’t speak English or Interlac? If the plague has been spread once, and it’s capable of species hopping, how safe is it to rely on what is little more than a sign? Even if the crew of the Excalibur has managed to magic their way into a vaccinated state for 2 hours, can we be sure none of the crew picked up the virus and can spread it when they leave? Sure, I love that Gideon is a Captain that we can trust but he is making a judgement call that can have a massive impact on the universe at large. Are we actually expected to agree with it now that we’ve lived through a pandemic?
In other news, we are finally given a bit about Max, who has been little more than an annoying background character up until now. Dureena does not want the existence of her people to be revealed and it appears Max is going to disregard that request to appease his superiors, but he surprises us and shows that, even after an opening where he’s being reprimanded for not having any data to report, puts others needs ahead of his own. This was unexpected and I felt like we really need time to get to know this character as well. He’s been too much of a background character and now I want to know more!
I am known for picking nits in these shows though and I need to point out that when Doctor Chambers is exploring the waste disposal, I wasn’t sure how I felt about a comms device being down there. Are there normally phone booths in sewers? I also have to wonder why, with all the world building that we saw with parent series, did we need a new IPX? Where are those guys and is Pro-Zeta really the new evil corporate entity? I realize things happened between the end of the parent series and now, but did IPX fold? Speaking of folding, Gideon says he won his top secret clearance codes from someone he was playing cards with. Um… yeah? I don’t know if I buy that, even if he does use that story to build trust. See, I’m an IT guy: if I were to wager my password and lose the wager, I’d waste no time in resetting my password as soon as I left the card table! No way am I going to jeopardize my future more than necessary. Maybe there’s more to that story than meets the ear!
Well, the Drakh plague continues with no signs of a cure. In fact, now Dureena’s people are infected and have less time than humanity does. Gideon’s bosses better stop interrupting his mission to find that cure or they’ll have two dead species as a result. One can’t help but wonder where this series was heading; if only it had a chance to get there. ML
The view from across the pond:
The name Fiona Avery, writer of The Well of Forever, didn’t inspire much confidence coming into this episode and once again this was a disappointing effort in some respects, slow-moving and failing to hold my attention all that well. In particular Nafeel discovering her “lost tribe” never had the impact it should have done. I don’t think the writer, actor or director sold the enormity of the last of her kind discovering she is no longer alone particularly well. Compare how Doctor Who handled that kind of stuff; it was epic.
But I’ll say one thing for Avery: she predicted the future with a frightening degree of accuracy. The idea of the illness infecting the whole of humanity isn’t hers, but some of the consequences of a worldwide pandemic she illustrates really hit the mark:
“Maybe that’s the lesson of the Drakh plague. Slow down and enjoy life or it will be taken from you.”
How many of us over the last year or so had to re-evaluate our lives, and consider during lockdown not just when we would be able do get back to normal, but to what extent we wanted to? How much of our former lives did we want back?
Robert and his people had decided to make a new life for themselves before the plague hit, but are in danger of being dragged back to Earth because somebody is scared of what they know. Alarmingly it turns out that Earth Force deliberately infected them, so this is a bleak picture of humanity in the future. As I often mentioned with Babylon 5, JMS gives us a version of the future where humankind’s basest instincts have failed to evolve, unlike Star Trek where humans had moved beyond a lot of their selfish concerns (well, apart from the admirals, I suppose). This is certainly more depressing, but the uncomfortable truth is that it’s probably a more realistic representation of the future.
“We need profit margins here Max.”
Another key difference between the Trek and B5 philosophies is the emphasis on personal gain. Money has no place in the lives of the Trek humans of the future, but here it’s still a motivation. That’s why Max is such an interesting character, because he is an archaeologist for the sake of financial gain. That takes archaeology right back to its antiquarian roots, which is a bleak prospect, and I was hoping his modus operandi would be challenged. That happens here for the first time, and that provides a strong end to the episode, with Max deleting his report rather than sending it, putting the welfare of some people he’s just met above the profit margin of his employers. Maybe the idea of “just a wallet where your heart should be” stings, but I think his choice of reading matter earlier in the episode was not accidental: The Canterbury Tales. There is more than a whiff of The Pardoner’s Tale about all this. Greed is the root of all evils. RP