SJ Review #507

Episode: 5/07 - The Secrets of the Soul
Director: Tony Dow
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Guests: Robin Atkin Downes (Byron)
Fiona Dwyer (Kirrin)
Jack Hannibal (Peter)
Stuart McLean (Carl)
Jana Robbins (Ambassador Tal)

Synopsis:
Dr Franklin begins his investigation into inter-species diseases, whilst Byron makes a shocking discovery about the origins of telepaths...

Review:
With the main plots finally surfacing in "Strange Relations" after a short hiatus, it was important to keep up the pace in this episode. Thankfully, "The Secrets of the Soul" turns out to be a particularly intense intallment of B5, delivering major arc revelations (albeit ones hinted at previously), moving character drama and increasingly violent conflicts that paint an ominous picture for the future.

To deal with the Franklin plot first; this was the less interesting of the two, being merely filler material. However, it was nevertheless intriguing filler, rather than the somwhat pointless (though entertaining) filler of the first few season five episodes. If Franklin's investigations become important in the future, and this plot becomes part of the main arc, then it will be yet more intriguing. We have seen precious little of the various former League races over the past four years, and the recent revelations concerning the Drazi and, in this episode, the Pak'ma'ra and Hyach are long overdue.

This is what season five is capable of doing: Expanding upon the universe of Babylon 5, fleshing it out and making it more believable. Several of the old League races are now becoming more than just odd-looking heads, and are taking on lives of their own. The acting of Robbins and Dwyer was integral to this episode; they were effectively defining the look and feel of an entire race. Robbins, as the ambassador, achieved this very well, creating a convincing and sympathetic view of the flawed aliens. Dwyer was somewhat less successful, with her portrayal of Kirrin being particularly one-sided - the aide came across as little more than a typical boisterous teenager. It would be good to see these characters again, to allow them to develop some more; somehow I doubt this will happen, unfortunately, as there is too much plot to chew on to dwell on minor races for several episodes.

The other plot, concerning the telepaths, was superb. The activities of the telepaths at times moved us, made us feel sympathetic towards them, and at other times shocked us and emphasised the fact that these telepaths are very much *not like us*. The introduction of Peter to the group lulled us into a false sense of calm, mistaking the telepaths for being gentle and loving people - which they are, amongst their own kind. Their vengeance upon the Downbelow thugs was, however, very disturbing - indeed, the scene with the lurker 'on fire' may be the most shocking scene ever to feature in the series.

The impact of these scenes was mostly down to Tony Dow's excellent directing, which never let up for a minute. The fight scenes, the emotional scenes and the climax to the episode were all directed wonderfully, capturing the ugliness and the beauty of the events transpiring in equal measures.

Christopher Franke's music also hit a high note - his music in season five thus far has been good, but not quite on a par with his superb season four scores. "The Secrets of the Soul" set things straight, with Franke delivering a superb score. Two pieces of the music stood out: During the scene when Lyta is accepted into the group (with hints of the song from "Strange Relations" playing into the theme), and the sombre, ominous drumbeats during the torture of the lurker. A very impressive score, which enhanced the whole feel of the episode.

The acting from Downes, Tallman (Lyta) and Conaway (Zack) was very good - all three carried the episode very well, considering that none of the main characters were present (except for Richard Biggs as Franklin, of course). It is gratifying to see that the series has enough power and presence to not require the constant presence of its main 'stars'.

This is undoubtedly the best episode of season five to date, with things set to improve, if the current trend continues. The telepath plot is coming to a climax, and it certainly looks like it's going to be exciting...

Rating: 9/10 - An episode with virtually no flaws; all aspects of its production hang together perfectly.

Best Quote:
FRANKLIN- Only forgiveness can come from the Hyach'doh. Too bad they're all dead.

Points For Discussion:
o Will the IA accept Byron's request for a telepath planet?
o How does Byron intend to force the IA to grant him his wishes?
o Can Byron keep control of his telepaths?
o How is Byron going to get round the problem of Bester's return?
o Does Lyta know what she is getting herself into?
o Are the Hyach going to go public about their secret now?
o How come Pak'ma'ra can't eat fish?
o What were the other species on the Vorlon homeworld?
o Why did the Vorlons wear encounter suits on their homeworld?

Epilogue:
Please comment on this review - discuss it! The whole point of this review is to generate some meaty discussion. Of course, those of you who know the answers to the Points For Discussion - don't spoil us!

BE AS CONTROVERSIAL AS YOU LIKE!!!

Simon Jones,
alt.babylon5.uk reviewer.


1998 Simon Jones.