Earhart’s: “The Quality of Mercy” Spoiler Space

Was the arrival of June Lockhart a sign and/or portent that Babylon 5 was about to turn into a comedy with anthropomorphic vegetables? (“The Great Vegetable Rebellion.” Look it up.) If not, what did “The Quality of Mercy” set up for the future? Talk about that here, not in the Zocalo.

16 thoughts on “Earhart’s: “The Quality of Mercy” Spoiler Space”

  1. Besides being the great stand-alone ep I mentioned in the spoiler-free thread …. this episode made me miss (and look forward to) Marcus. God dammit what a pity Claudia couldn’t negotiate better for season 5, that would’ve been a great personal arc for her.

  2. This is one that I don’t appreciate quite as much as I should, because I saw S1 via the TNT reruns. So I’d already seen Passing Through Gethsemane, and The Quality of Mercy’s treatment of the death of personality came off as a little cartoonish.

    But “inferior to Passing Through Gethsemane” is not really a damning criticism, and there’s a lot to like about The Quality of Mercy.

    In particular, there’s the Londo and Lennier stuff. One thing that’s good about S1 is that it has the time to mix-and-match characters who don’t often share the screen (and this particular episode sets up a relationship between the two that adds a lot to the effect of at least two later stories).

    This raises a point about how the overall story of B5 is put together, which is that the various story threads (Minbari-human, Narn-Centauri, Clark’s regime, telepath-mundane) mostly proceed along separate tracks and don’t interact much with one another. (They inform each other thematically, of course.)

    This is an observation, not a criticism. The overarching Shadow War and the alliance that it creates is the exception, and contriving for it to be the only ongoing plot thread that affects all of the others gives it special status as *the* story of B5.

    But because the threads are attached to characters, there is a tendency for characters to interact in set pairings and groups. Delenn stories are usually also about Sinclair/Sheridan; Londo stories are usually also about G’Kar, and so on.

    There’s an interesting contrast with the later seasons of Deep Space Nine. There the overarching story was clearly being improvised from season to season (and not too rarely from episode to episode). This unplanned feeling meant that it felt like “real” history and politics more than B5 did.

    One knows an awful lot about Minbari-human relations in B5, but what is a typical Minbari view of the Narn? In contrast, DS9 typically did create the impression of an international system in which all of these powers were all interacting with one another simultaneously, with chaotic and unpredictable effects.

    Again, not a criticism. Part of the effect of B5 is that it’s (ostensibly) a planned story that comes across as planned.

    1. Many interesting ideas Voord and collar me if we don’t explore them later.

      For now, my brain is only in gear to comment on the personality-wipe treatment. Though two tales link , for much of this episode the murderer’s story serves as a B-plot that takes us through ‘a day in the life’ of someone aboard the station much more effectively than that mess with the cleaners in Season 5. It’s also treated with similar respect as ‘Gethsemane’, through the A-plot of the relationship between the doctors. Finely acted. Much subtler than ‘Gethsemane’, much mightier ‘Quality’ than it seems.

      1. “Not as good as Passing through Gethsemane” != criticism. “Not as bad as A View from the Gallery” != praise.

        (IMO, of course.)

        But seriously: I think you have a point about The Quality of Mercy having a subtler touch than PtG in some ways. Especially when you point out that TQoM examines the death of personality indirectly using the parallel with Dr. Rosen’s machine. That’s a lot more intelligent than the speechifying in PtG, which only works because Brad Dourif’s performance is so damn good.

        I do miss PtG’s basic insight that what’s horrible about the death of personality is that it’s doing something profoundly wrong, not to the old person that you’re killing, but the new person that you’re creating.

        Interestingly, both stories present us with an equivalent – and rather boring – mentally ill serial killer as the original murderer (and are guilty of falling into all the ways in which that trope is very problematic). It would have been worthwhile to see the death of personality explored in a context in which it’s being used on a murderer of a more ordinary sort.

        1. Love how you sum up PtG in yr middle paragraph there. Bradi Dourif is amazing and brings a humble and likeable quality to the work. Mark Roulston (playing murderer Karl Mueller here), gets no such role and is all muahahahahaaha.

          And yes, the mentally ill trope rather muddies it for me. Here more than PtG, now you mention it! I think we need to send out for some head canon.

    2. Voord, just had a chance to re-read and you’re quite right. Thoughtful. The Shadow War is “grouping theory” exempt. Most stories can be related to *the story* and will ping off 8 or 9 representative characters. Psi corps is a good tracker for this. The corps can be initially seen as Bester/Talia/Sinclair then a few appearances later, Bester/Talia/Si/Sh/Ivanova/Garibaldi. And as story expands more are caught in the Shadow War-Psi corps link. Also, because Bester’s a prick.

      As to the DS9 note, it certainly seems more unplanned, though feels to me less historically based. It might make an interesting study to compare the show’s content with current affairs. Oh, if I were still a paid academic…

  3. The one always felt like a bit of a “very special episode.” one of the ones that introduces you to other characters on the station – and then never mentioned again. If it hadn’t been for the reappearance of the Alien Healing Machine later, there would be little to commend this one to posterity. Even the brain-wiping sub-plot was explored better elsewhere – but in a later season, if it had been the reverse then “Quality” would have been accused of rehashing old material!

    Did you ever get Father Ted in the US? Because now whenever I see Jim Norton on B5 I immediately think of Bishop Brennan. One of out-of-the-ordinary casting choices the show made. For most people Ian McShane (who appeared in the “River of Souls” TV film) may be Al Swearengen from Deadwood, but to Brits he will always be Lovejoy…

  4. This was on my same VHS as ‘Chysalisis’, the S1 penultimate, so I warmed to it right off. Good podcast peeps.

    FranklinWatch: ‘Believers and QoM set up the stims-story, that he’s an immature idiot who needs to grow. Seems obvious but I’d not noticed, because Biggs was just so charming in the role. I’ll be paying closer attention.

    According to Wikipedia, Damien London appears only in seven episodes, huh? huh? What’s his handle on Twitter?

    I “Ohhh”-ed out loud after the comment on this foreshadowing Talia’s own experiences. The procedure might be very similar to mind-wiping. Maybe the Corps operative embraced it, saw it as a promotion. Of course, we can’t know that. Talia may have a Psi criminal, born of the exact same thing as Karl Mueller or Brother Edward.

  5. Much further through the series, I used to be uncomfortable with the resurrection of Sheridan. Part of that is how his body could be remotely intact after the fall, but I brushed that off as Lorien catching him, and that his death is instead in part due to radiation.

    But this episode’s establishing of life force being transferred as a thing, even one that is rarely used, makes the later resurrection okay for me.

    I mean, it isn’t just the life force thing; you also have to take it for granted that beings can life for a very long time, perceptually being immortal if physically unharmed.

    It makes me more comfortable with the end of the whole show, too. That when Sheridan’s body disappears, it might be Lorien has in fact extended his life further, and that what he means by the time limit is that Sheridan has 20 years of this life left, to get his affairs in order; that Lorien can give him more life. He’s seemingly immortal, after all, but Sheridan wasn’t meant to be around forever, and a man who tells ancient beings to step aside and let the young grow from their own experiences would have the sense not to stick around, particularly when he is remembered so far into the future.

    Without QoM, I’d have a hard time accepting that all of that is possible in this universe.

  6. This is my first time watching season 1 of Babylon; I’ve watched the last four seasons before. While these episodes are new to me, I consider myself a veteran to the series. This has been the best episode so far of season 1. It is the first one to have s good balance of story, story execution and acting. I liked the balance of the medical/ down below story, the criminal punishment story and the diplomatic story. Also, all the actors, even the guest actors did a good job (other episodes with good stories have had some really bad acting from the guest actors). Also, the dialogue and outcome was well done.

    I especially liked the subtle introduction of long running ideas in the series – doctors being do obsessed with helping they take stems, the machine which has to take a life to save one, the rules of the society have to be followed, Lenir is far more formidable than expected, the different Mimbari casts and psy-core problems.

    The only disappointment is it took almost 20 episodes into series to get an episode this strong. The other minor problem is that such a strong episode was strong because the main characters (Delenn, Sinclair, Ivanova, G’Kar) weren’t in it or were barely in it. If I hadn’t seen the later seasons, this episode would make not want stories with the main leads.

  7. This is a really strong episode. I like the idea of Dr. Franklin running an illegal clinic while the command staff turns a blind eye. I like the fact that June Lockhart’s character doesn’t turn out to be a fraud. Great character work throughout for Londo and Lennier, of course – they are great fun to watch together.

    I wish Franklin’s relationship with June Lockhart’s daughter had been an ongoing thing… She might have left him when he started using stims, because she’d been through that particular circle of hell once already with her mom…

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