20 thoughts on “Zocalo: Spoiler-free discussion of “Believers””

  1. I think it was Chip that mentioned the B5 script books in the last episode… Have any of the hosts seen/read them? I have most to all of them and found them quite fascinating.

    1. Back when I had more spending money, I got on the track of buying them all. I had to unsubscribe myself from the mailing list to prevent temptation. 🙂 I’ve actually considered selling them (at or near cost) a few times when I’ve been tight on money, but haven’t been able to bring myself to do so.

      I just broke out the Other Voices volume that includes Believers and just noticed for the first time that the synopses for this and DeathWalker are swapped on the back cover…

      If there’s interest in comments from the books, I’ll be happy to share them.

      David Gerrold fought writing the script, thought it was the Christian Scientist or Jehovah’s Witness story. It had been done by everyone from Perry Mason to Star Trek.

      While writing the scene where the parents realize Shon is going to die and they have come to tell him how much they love him, David went to check on his own son (about the same age) and watched him for a while. He then called JMS at 3 in the morning and told him “You son of a bitch, now I know why you wanted me to write this script.” He hung up and finished writing the scene.

      JMS shot it without any changes.

  2. Seeing as our hosts have tactfully pointed out that those of us who have been infesting the spoiler threads could do more to contribute to the non-spoiler threads – here is a question for any new viewers out there.

    Background: Believers, on the whole, does not seem to be one of the more beloved episodes of B5. It does have its defenders, though. One standard defense (mentioned a couple of times in the spoiler threads, including by, well, me) is that it’s the Anti-Trek Episode.

    The argument is that it’s like certain episodes of Star Trek, especially The Next Generation, in that it presents us with a Problem of the Week involving an alien culture that is a thinly-disguised parallel to real-world issues. My favorite real example of the genre is the horribly patronizing TNG episode in which the Enterprise visits the planet that is basically Northern Ireland.

    However (so the argument goes) Believers doesn’t end with Picard neatly solving the problem or in some other way demonstrating how superior the Federation is to these aliens, but with Franklin’s arrogance and cultural insensitivity causing him to blunder into a tragic situation that ends badly all round.

    So my question for new viewers: does that work in 2014? Or is it too mired in 1994 and a time when Star Trek: The Next Generation could be taken to be synonymous with “successful and culturally significant American televised SF”?

    Genuinely curious about how people today who are encountering B5 for the first time are reacting to these elements – especially younger people who’ve grown up in a world in which Doctor Who is the dominant televised form of science fiction on American screens and Star Trek equals Chris Pine playing the Starfleet captain as James Dean?

    1. While I don’t think the failure to resolve the issues in a neat package with a bow is quite as shocking today as it was 20 years ago, I still think the actual issues it explores are relevant. Perhaps more so today than 20 years ago we’re dealing with groups for whom religious dogma trumps science even when it’s against their best interests, to a degree that it’s affected our government’s ability to function. So I think there’s plenty for new viewers to think about even if they saw the ending coming from a mile away.

    2. “Star Trek equals Chris Pine playing the Starfleet captain as James Dean”

      I don’t want to turn this into a Star Trek discussion, but I found your description amusing. He certainly is more broody than Shatner, though the damn-the-rules arrogance is still present, probably inherent to the character.

  3. A great question. On the question of whether it works in this way I’d say yes. However I still think it’s the second weakest episode of the whole series.

  4. This episode was very compelling and very frustrating because I wanted to side with Dr Franklin, but had to acknowledge the validity of respecting the parents’ beliefs. This was one of the episodes that made me come to love B5, because I got so caught up in both the lives of the characters and the themes of the show with this episode.

    And the themes dealt with here don’t stop at religion, nor have we necessarily grown more wise since this episode was first shown. We see all over the world evidence of people insisting that their vision of the world be respected and allowed to flourish. That this is so sadly and eloquently reflected in the fictional universe of Babylon 5 is another testament to the enduring power of this series.

  5. Disclaimer, I’ve never seen B5 before, I found this podcast through The Incomparable, and decided to give the first season a try. I’m now halfway through the second season and this is well on it’s way to being my favorite seriesof all time.

    I actually thought the ending was pretty lazy. Actually, I thought the entire episode was a bit lazy. It was predictable, the conflict was obvious, and the ending was telegraphed almost as soon as the main plot was set out.

    I was actually hoping that when Franklin cut the kid open his soul really would escape and Franklin would have had to deal with the consequences of his own arrogance in assuming he knew best about a species he didn’t really know much about. Instead, JMS had him do what everyone already knew was the right thing, and then put the responsibility for everything that followed squarely on the parents.

    It’s not really brave or controversial to say things that pretty much everyone agrees on. JMS is right, don’t get me wrong here, but it’s preaching to the choir. He’s explaining to a room full of wolves why sheep were put on this earth to be food, and then expecting to be lauded for his heroic stance. It’s boring television, it’s lazy television, and it’s unfortunate, since so much of B5 really is smart, interesting television.

    1. Welcome, Dan! (one of us! one of us!)

      I see what you’re saying, though I don’t agree 100%. I don’t know if it was time constraints or a thread of something that wasn’t chased down properly, but I noticed on my rewatch the line Franklin gives Hernández about watching for the escaping steam and mucus as they start to operate. That could have been expanded upon in two ways: either (a) the doctors realizing that this is the thing that sparked the Onteen’s belief and setting out to try and prove that it’s a pure physiological reaction or (b) the doctors being unable to give a physical explanation behind it and let a bit of doubt in their stance creep in. That would have pushed the episode into the kinds of tangles we as 21st-century viewers have come to expect.

      I still remember watching it the first time 20 years ago and being wrung like a dishrag because at the time it did push boundaries. If it had been a Trek-TNG episode, Shon wouldn’t have died in the end and quite possibly the parents would have been convinced that they were wrong and set out to spread the news to the masses…

      1. Since this thread has sprung back to life, I’ll mention that this was an aspect of your actual podcast discussion on Believers that I found absolutely fascinating: how emotionally affecting all of you found it. Especially Chip’s “gut-punch”line.

        It really doesn’t affect me at all in that way, and never has. This isn’t a criticism of your reactions in any way, because it’s tied to specific things about how I personally react to television, some of which are ridiculously idiosyncratic. (For instance, American child actors – for some reason this is confined to American child actors – often irritate me, even when, as here, there’s nothing overtly terrible about the performance, and the character itself is no worse than bland.)

        But it’s an interesting illustration of how, if something is meant to be moving, and it does move you, it’s really affecting, but if it doesn’t manage to cross that line, it just comes across as ham-handed, melodramatic, emotionally manipulative, and generally annoying.

  6. Ivanova’s story started out great, we’re getting to see more of what makes her tick, and her impulsive side. This continues with her decision to chase down the scout. Then we see that screen full of raiders and it cuts away…. we wait and wait for the payoff but are denied! I guess they didn’t have the budget for a space battle this week!

    As pointed out on the podcast it was as though the whole thing was just setup for the family reunion of irrelevant extras to tie the theme back to family – one saved from suffering great loss by Ivanova, the other having the opposite experience with Franklin.

  7. Being a classic SF reader I love, love, love this episode. We start with a direct reference to Isaac Asimov and then spend the episode referencing his works. The Foundation belief comes from “The Foundation Trilogy”, Kosh’s comments paraphrase lines from Asimov’s novel “Pebble in the Sky” and the b-plot is a continuous nod to the Gokden Age of SF from the third set of Believers …. the fans of written SF.

  8. The whole episode – as it was discussed – kept the balance between understanding and judging the beliefs of The Parents and The Doctor (I know, I know…not “THE Doctor”). That’s perfectly underlined in the scene in which The Parents try to get Delen’s help: After she denies The Parents are completely stunned that she refuses help only “because of Your beliefs? We thought the Minbari were one of the most intelligent races…”. (around 21min in)

    That’s understanding AND judging all in one. And it might show us how far we actually are from reaching an ethical common ground…and that that’s no one’s fault actually.

    I love that scene.


  9. I’m at the beginning of a rewatch myself, and I couldn’t bring myself to re-watch Believers *just* because of my memories of watching the episode when it aired while I was in high school.

    Why? The alien words for “mommy” and “daddy.” Everyone on the station is either speaking English, or using a UT device, and the darn thing doesn’t know “mommy” and “daddy?”

    I’m not sure why, but that, coupled with the heavy-handed nature on both sides of the religious arguments just knocked me out of the ep. Ah, well.

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