Babylon 5 Rewatch: “Infection”

Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Richard Compton
Season 1, Episode 4
Production episode 101
Original air date: February 16, 1994

It was the dawn of the third age… A reporter from Interstellar Network News (which, for some reason, is abbreviated ISN), Mary Ann Cramer, has arrived on B5 in order to interview Sinclair, an interview he is ducking. It’s the second anniversary of B5 going live, and ISN wants to interview the guy in charge. Garibaldi is stuck running interference with her.

Franklin is surprised to get a visit from his mentor, Dr. Vance Hendricks, who promises him a grand adventure like nothing he’s ever seen before, so that can’t be good. Meantime in the docking bay, a customs officer questions Hendricks’ partner, Nelson Drake, suspecting him of smuggling something. Drake eventually kills the customs officer due to the fact that he is smuggling something.

Garibaldi investigates the death of the customs officer, the cause of which seems to be a simple heart attack, though Garibaldi still thinks it suspicious.

Hendricks explains that he and Drake retrieved some artifacts from Ikarra VII. They were sponsored by Interplanetary Expeditions. What they found are thousands of years old, but in perfect shape—and are also organic, which is why Hendricks brought them to Franklin to examine. This may give them the breakthrough to create organic technology like what the Vorlons and Minbari have. Hendricks also lies and says that the items went through quarantine at their previous stop on the way to B5.

Hendricks (David McCallum) and Franklin (Richard Biggs) in Babylon 5 "Infection"

While unpacking some items, one glows and hits Drake with a massive electric discharge, throwing him across the cabin into the bulkhead. Drake does not report this to anyone, nor do Franklin or Hendricks notice his bizarre subsequent behavior.

Sinclair continues to duck Cramer. Garibaldi’s attempt to get her to talk to him results in her asking him probing questions about all the prior jobs he’s been fired from, at which point he, too, ducks her.

Franklin goes to MedLab to find it darkened and a transformed Drake inside. The latter says, “Protect!” and fires a nasty ray-beam at Franklin. Hendricks says that it appears that one of the devices they found bonds to a person, enhancing them. He promises to do more research. He also says that Drake handled all the paperwork for getting them through customs.

Drake kills two people in downbelow. The zappy thing gets more powerful with each shot, to the point that CinC can pick up the blasts on scanners. But his first confrontation with security ends with Drake blasting through a bulkhead and escaping.

It’s quickly determined that the zappy thing needs time to recharge, but that time decreases with each shot, plus it gets more powerful each time.

Hendricks and Franklin’s research reveals that the tech they found was constructed in order to create soldiers who would defend only “pure Ikarrans,” basing its programming on ideology rather than science. The problem was that there was no such thing as a “pure Ikarran,” and eventually the soldiers wiped out everyone, even the ones on their side.

Sinclair lures Drake away from populated areas, and also taunts him, saying he failed, and finally gets him to access the host’s memories, as Drake has been to Ikarra VII as it is today: a dead world. The tech figures out that it failed and discorporates in a puff of illogic.

Franklin found a device for cardiac stimulation in Drake’s things that matches two markings on the customs officer’s neck. If used on a healthy person, it would induce a heart attack. Drake is guilty of murder. Hendricks offers Franklin half the money he’ll get from IPX—which, he says, is a front for a bio-weapons developer—if he doesn’t turn him in. But Franklin called security before he confronted Hendricks. Later, two people from EarthDome show up to confiscate the bio-tech.

Finally, Sinclair sits down with Cramer and speaks his mind—including why he thinks, despite the expense and the skepticism of many back on Earth—it’s vital that humanity continue to go out into space.

Nothing’s the same anymore. Garibaldi calls Sinclair on his constant need to barge in and do all the rough missions his own self, making it clear that it’s not just because he’s the top-billed character but also because he still hasn’t figured out how to stop fighting in a war.

Ivanova is God. When Cramer tries to barge her way into CinC during a crisis, Ivanova gets rid of her by standing in front of her and very calmly saying, “Don’t—you’re too young to experience that much pain.” Cramer immediately departs.

Ivanova (Claudia Christian) and Cramer (Patricia Healy) in Babyon 5 "Infection"

The household god of frustration. Sinclair tells Garibaldi that he’s avoiding Cramer because the last time he gave an interview to a journalist and spoke his mind, he was transferred to a distant outpost. Garibaldi tells him that he shouldn’t fret—just speak his mind again, and worst case, he’s transferred out and Garibaldi gets his job. What’s the problem?????

Welcome aboard. Marshall Teague plays his first of three roles in the franchise, as Drake; he’ll return in the recurring role of Ta’Lon throughout seasons two to five, and again in Crusade’s “The Long Road” as Captain Daniels. Patricia Healy makes her first of two appearances as Cramer; she’ll be back in “By Any Means Necessary.”

But the big guest is our first Robert Knepper moment of the B5 Rewatch, as I had totally forgotten that the late great David McCallum played Hendricks. McCallum is, of course, best known for his iconic role of Ilya Kuryakin in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and his long-running final role as Dr. “Ducky” Mallard for the first two decades of NCIS.

Trivial matters. This episode has the first mention of the possibly very dodgy Interplanetary Expeditions, which will be seen a bunch more again.

This was the first episode written and produced once the show went to series, though it was never intended to be the first aired.

Only four of the ten people listed in the opening credits appear in this episode. Bill Mumy and Caitlin Brown have yet to make their first appearances, despite being credited.

The echoes of all of our conversations.

“There’s one thing that every scientist on the planet agrees on: whether it happens in a hundred years or a thousand years or a million years, eventually our sun will grow cold and go out. When that happens, it won’t just take us—it’ll take Marilyn Monroe and Laozi and Einstein and Morobuto and Buddy Holly and Aristophanes, and all of this… all of this was for nothing unless we go to the stars.”

—Sinclair’s answer to Cramer’s interview question, and also the only worthwhile part of the episode.

Sinclair (Michael O'Hare) in Babylon 5 "Infection"

The name of the place is Babylon 5. “What’s the worst that could happen?” It’s never a good sign when an episode of B5 doesn’t have any of the three most interesting characters in it. Delenn, G’Kar, and Mollari are the heart and soul of this show, and that none of them appear in this episode is but one of a billion problems with it, the biggest of them being that it’s awful.

Seriously, this script would make for one of the weaker episodes of Space: 1999 or Buck Rogers in the 25th Century or the original Battlestar Galactica or Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda, much less the show that promised to be the vanguard of a new age of great SF TV. B5 got some great guest stars over its run, and I thought I remembered all the good ones, but I’d totally forgotten that David McCallum was ever on this show. It’s a testament to how truly dreadful this episode is that it made me forget that McCallum was in it.

“Infection” is a tiresome collection of weak clichés, boring action, and tired tropes, from the mentor-gone-evil to the manly hero avoiding the plucky female journalist who just wants to ask him some questions to the laughable look of Drake after being transformed.

It does have one redeeming feature, but the problem is, you have suffer through the entire crappy episode to get to it. Sinclair’s answer to Cramer’s question about whether humanity should continue to go into space or stay home where it’s safe and only has humans in it is brilliant (and quoted in “The echoes of all our conversations” above), erudite, and, most of all, quite true. (I wish half the people he cited weren’t from twentieth-century Western civilization, but I also love that his list included the creators of both the Tao Te Ching and “Peggy Sue.”)

Some might say that Garibaldi’s come-to-Jesus speech to Sinclair is a redeeming feature, too, but I’m not one of them. It’s a legitimate complaint from Garibaldi, and it certainly provides justification for Sinclair being at the forefront of the action all the time. But it feels too much like Straczynski came up with a Marvel No-Prize to explain why the guy at the top of the opening credits does all the cool actiony stuff, rather than an actual bit of characterization.

Next week: “The Parliament of Dreams.” icon-paragraph-end

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