Genre: SF
Series: Babylon 5

Reviewed by Kathryn A

*"They worship the Great Egg, your god is Medicine, and you can do no wrong in his service. What's the difference?"\ -- Dr. Hernandez.

The plot starts off like something you'd see in Star Trek. Not a great surprise, since it was written by David Gerrold, a Trek veteran. Cute alien kid, dying, parents going to their only hope, the skilled medicine of the Earth people. The human doctor proposes a cure. The parents balk; it is against their religion. The doctor considers it superstition, and thinks it is only a matter of time before they come around. Battle is joined. The irresistible force meets the immovable object.

"One way or another, I'm going to save that boy's life - whatever it costs."\ -- Dr. Franklin

"There are more important things in life than the next breath."\ -- Tharg

If this had been another show, one of two things would have happened. The most likely would have been that they would have found a miracle cure that would not have violated the religious beliefs of those particular aliens. (Indeed, some people have objected to this episode because they figured that there does exist a medical procedure that could have been used to do just that.) That would have been using a technological magic to sidestep the whole issue - the issue of conflicting beliefs. The second most likely thing to happen would be that the doctor would have gone ahead with the operation, the boy's life would have been saved, the parents would have realized they were wrong, they would have thanked the doctor, and everyone would have lived happily ever after. But that didn't happen either. Not quite.

Dr. Franklin tries to get Commander Sinclair to over-rule the parents' authority, so that he can then operate. His predecessor saved Kosh's life that way, why can't he do it with this kid? Sinclair says he will have to think about it. Everyone expects him to side with the doctor. The parents, in despair, make the rounds of the ambassadors. We get a neat snapshot of the different ambassadors' motivations:

  • G'Kar is straightforward - our hatred is enough motivation, but only on behalf of our own people. There isn't anything in it for us, so go away.
  • Londo drowns them in diplomatic talk and apathy. It would be too expensive, we are on a budget.
  • Kosh is enigmatic. "The avalanche has already started. It is too late for the pebbles to vote." Is he referring to himself (the precedent for this whole situation) or to something else?
  • Delenn is morally obligated not to intervene. There are two beliefs in conflict here - which one is right? She does not have the right to favour one over the other.

Sinclair is torn over what to do. He talks about it with friends, and then he does something no-one else thought to do - he talks to the boy himself. Sinclair then surprises everyone by ruling in the parents' favour. Dr. Franklin is furious. Driven by his own beliefs, he goes ahead and operates anyway. His bags are packed - he is ready to lose his position over this, but the life of the boy is more important to him than his career.

The boy waits in recovery. The parents come in, they realize what Dr. Franklin has done. No thanks, no joy - just horror on their part, as they retreat, chanting against demons. But later, they seem at peace, saying they understand why he did it, and if it were in their power to forgive him, they would. They take the boy away. Dr. Franklin thinks he's won. He grins smugly at his fellow doctor, glances at the research she'd done on those aliens - and then realizes, with horror, what they have taken the boy away for. He rushes to their rooms, but he is too late. They took the boy away to kill him, since he was but a living shell without a soul. The operation was successful, but the patient died.

I liked this episode because it was so refreshing. It wasn't cut-and-dried, it wasn't moralizing, it was thought-provoking. Like "Soul Hunter", there were two irreconcilable beliefs in conflict, and neither belief was proven right or wrong. But in "Soul Hunter", Delenn won her way; the Soul Hunter died, and she destroyed his collection. In "Believers", everyone took matters into their own hands, and everyone lost. To the parents, Franklin murdered their child by following his beliefs. To Franklin, the parents murdered the boy, by following theirs. And neither one had any choice, if they were going to remain true to their beliefs. There are such things as irreconcilable viewpoints, and those who hate this episode because they think that Dr. Franklin was right and the parents were wrong, are missing the point completely. They are just as blind as he was. I actually thought that Dr. Franklin was wrong, and the parents merely mistaken, but then I realized, as I started to write down the reasons why, that I was falling into the same trap from the opposite end. The point wasn't who was right, and who was wrong, and the winner takes all. The point wasn't even "no-one has the right to judge who is right and who is wrong". The point was a question: "Is it possible to live with irreconcilable viewpoints?" And it is left for us to think about.

"But life has to be more than just a pulse-beat. What we hold sacred gives our lives meaning."\ -- Sinclair