Winters and Kosh in a scene from Babylon 5 "Deathwalker"

Babylon 5 Rewatch: “Deathwalker” – Reactor


“Deathwalker”
Written by Lawrence G. DiTillio
Directed by Bruce Seth Green
Season 1, Episode 9
Production episode 113
Original air date: April 20, 1994

It was the dawn of the third age… Kosh commissions Winters to do a telepathy thing. Winters starts to explain all the paperwork involved, and Kosh interrupts to say he’s done all that, thanks, just show up at Red Sector at the Hour of Scampering. Winters wanders off, slightly befuddled, and goes to try to find out when the hell the Hour of Scampering is.

A Minbari ship arrives in dock at the station. Na’Toth, while checking the arrivals list, recognizes a passenger disembarking from the Minbari ship, calls her “Deathwalker” and proceeds to beat the holy shit out of her.

The victim’s ID says she’s Gyla Lobos, but Na’Toth insists she’s “Deathwalker,” the nickname given to Jha’dur, a war criminal from the Dilgar War. But Jha’dur would have to be much older than the woman currently being treated in Medlab. Na’Toth is insistent, however, as Jha’dur experimented on Na’Toth’s grandfather, killing him. Na’Toth’s entire family swore a blood oath against her.

Sinclair recognizes her as a Dilgar—which is a neat trick, since they’re supposed to be extinct—and she has a Dilgar military uniform in her effects, as well as a vial, which Franklin takes to the lab to examine. Garibaldi confirms from visual records that the victim certainly looks like Jha’dur…

G’Kar is abject in his apologies to Sinclair, and he agrees to keep Na’Toth under house arrest in his quarters while Garibaldi investigates. After they retire to his quarters, Na’Toth apologizes for embarrassing the ambassador, but G’Kar understands. However, Jha’dur was coming to B5 to meet with a Narn official, who immediately turned around and went home when Na’Toth assaulted Jha’dur. Now it’s up to G’Kar to finish the mission and get the great discovery that Jha’dur has, apparently, made and wants to sell. G’Kar reassures Na’Toth that her blood oath is merely being postponed. Once they get their hands on Jha’dur’s discovery, Na’Toth can kill her all she wants.

Winters and Kosh in a scene from Babylon 5 "Deathwalker"
Credit: Warner Bros. Television

Winters arrives at what is apparently the Hour of Scampering to meet with Kosh and a human named Abbut, who is wearing a big-ass hat. Winters scans Abbut at Kosh’s request and can detect no thoughts at all. Kosh seems pleased by this, and their “negotiations” start, which consists of the pair of them tossing nonsense phrases and non sequiturs at each other to no obvious end. Winters remains befuddled. When it’s over, she still hasn’t sensed a single thought from Abbut and has no idea what they’ve been talking about. Kosh says they’ll resume tomorrow and buggers off. Abbut offers to buy Winters a drink, but she has a weird vision, and then goes off to take a nap.

Sinclair is contacted by Senator Hidoshi, who orders Sinclair to have “Lobos” sent to Earth as soon as she can travel. He also dismisses the notion that she’s Jha’dur. Sinclair’s attempt to get more information is slapped down, as it’s classified, apparently. Sinclair heads to Medlab, pooh-poohing Mollari when the ambassador asks if the rumors about Deathwalker being on the station are true. In Medlab, Franklin declares that she’s healing at a fantastically accelerated rate.

“Lobos” wakes up and angrily takes her vial back from Franklin, bitching about him messing with her stuff. She confirms that she is Jha’dur, and that she’d been granted asylum by the Wind Swords, a clan of the Minbari Warrior Caste. The vial contains an elixir that works as an antiagapic. Taking it halts the aging process and cures all disease. Now Hidoshi’s interest (and the Narns’, though Sinclair doesn’t know about that) makes sense…

Jha’dur holds a vial in a scene from Babylon 5 "Deathwalker"
Credit: Warner Bros. Television

Sinclair tracks down Lennier (Delenn is off-station because Mira Furlan has this episode off) and asks him to verify that Jha’dur was with the Wind Swords. Lennier is skeptical that the militaristic and honorable Wind Swords would harbor one of the most notorious war criminals in history, but he agrees to check into it.

G’Kar meets with Jha’dur and offers triple the price Earth is offering for her antiagapic. Jha’dur says she’ll accept that offer on one condition: he bring her Na’Toth’s severed head within the hour. G’Kar is not willing to decapitate his aide, not even for immortality, and he leaves in a huff.

Sinclair meets with Ivanova, Garibaldi, and Franklin. Garibaldi is skeptical about her claims to have discovered immortality, but Franklin—whose judgment is of more use, what with him being a doctor who’s examined the elixir and all—believes her. Ivanova points out that immortality is a heckuva mitigating factor, and Sinclair agrees that this might be her way of making amends. Garibaldi is still skeptical, and says the station will explode when word gets out, because word always gets out.

As if to prove the point, G’Kar leaks to Ambassdor Kalika of the Abbai that Deathwalker is on the station.

Sinclair asks Jha’dur why she’s doing this. Earth joining the Dilgar War is what turned the tide against the Dilgar and led to their extinction, so why give them the elixir? Jha’dur says she wants her people’s legacy to be something other than what it is now after the war.

Sinclair, Garibaldi, and security lead Jha’dur to a ship that will take her to Earth, but they’re cut off at the pass by a delegation of ambassadors from the League of Non-Aligned Worlds, who demand that Deathwalker be turned over to them, and they will not move from blocking their path. Since slaughtering a bunch of ambassadors would not be such a hot idea, Sinclair agrees to stand down and call an emergency session of the station council.

G'Kar, Lennier, Sinclair, and Mollari sit on the council in a scene from Babylon 5 "Deathwalker"
Credit: Warner Bros. Television

Kosh and Abbut have another session, which Winters doesn’t see the point of, given that she can’t scan either of the participants, but then she gets a vision of exploding panels.

Sinclair is confident that Jha’dur will stand trial for her crimes, as he intends to vote yes on the notion, as will the League (who collectively get a single vote), and he expects the Minbari to vote yes as well, so they’ll have a majority regardless of what the Centauri and Narn do.

G’Kar agrees to a trial but only if it’s held on Narn. When that notion is shouted down, he votes no, as does Mollari, who has no dog in this fight, as the Centauri weren’t involved in the Dilgar War. To Sinclair’s abject shock, Lennier votes no as well. Which means Jha’dur will be sent to Earth without a war crimes trial.

Lennier explains rather abashedly that the Grey Council is unwilling to admit that the Wind Swords sheltered Jha’dur, and so they can’t promote the notion of a trial, as that fact would come out during it.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a Drazi ship soon shows up, aims its weapons at B5, and demands that Jha’dur be extradited to them. Several other League ships show up as well. Sinclair decides to tell Kalika about the antiagapic, and the League ambassadors agree to stand down on the condition that Earth share the elixir with them.

Kosh and Abbut have one final session of nonsense exchanges, with Winters suddenly overwhelmed by an awful memory. Abbut then removes his huge hat, revealing that he’s a cyborg. He removes a crystal from the circuitry on top of his head and hands it to Kosh. Specifics about what just happened are kept from Winters by both the enigmatic Kosh and the nonsense-spouting Abbut, but later Garibaldi recognizes Abbut as a “vicker” (a linguistic corruption of VCR) who can record anything, including telepathic communication. The theory is that Kosh wanted a recording of Winters for his own purposes.

As she’s about to leave the station, Jha’dur finally explains how the elixir works: yes, it provides immortality, but only at the cost of another person’s life. (How this works, exactly, is not explained, nor are we told who died to make her immortal.) The legacy she’s shooting for is to be the cause of the various races of the galaxy killing each other to achieve immortality.

Inexplicably, Jha’dur leaves the station alone on a ship without any kind of escort, which makes no kind of sense, since (a) she would be escorted by Earth ships and (b) she came in a Minbari transport, so where’d the ship come from? But as she approaches the jumpgate, a Vorlon ship comes out of the gate and blasts Deathwalker’s ship to smithereens. Kosh shows up just long enough to say, “You are not ready for immortality” and then buggers off.

Jha’dur's ship is targeted by Vorlons in a scene from Babylon 5 "Deathwalker"
Credit: Warner Bros. Television

Nothing’s the same anymore. Sinclair has to navigate some delicate political waters, trying to balance his orders with the greater good. He might have succeeded, too, but for the unexpected no vote from the Minbari and the unexpected homicide from the Vorlons.

The household god of frustration. At no point does Garibaldi back down from his position that Jha’dur is a war criminal and should be punished. He does, however, apologize to Sinclair for yelling at him about it, and Sinclair accepts the apology, since he agrees with him, but as station commander, he doesn’t have the luxury of doing what’s right.

If you value your lives, be somewhere else. Lennier is stuck having to speak for the Minbari and to help them continue to cover up that they gave asylum to a nototious war criminal.

Though it take a thousand years, we will be free. G’Kar is willing to ask Na’Toth to put off her blood oath long enough for it to benefit the Narn people. He is not willing to murder Na’Toth to benefit the Narn people. Good to know that there’s a line…

The Corps is mother, the Corps is father. Vorlons apparently don’t trust telepaths, so Kosh has Winters’ brain recorded. Because why not, and it gives script Lawrence G. DiTillio a chance to write all kinds of nonsense for Kosh and Abbut to speak.

The Shadowy Vorlons. Kosh finally decides to participate in station business just long enough to murder someone, which, if nothing else, provides an Alexandrian solution to Sinclair’s Gordian problem.

Sinclair speaks with two members of the League of Non-Aligned Worlds in a scene from Babylon 5 "Deathwalker"
Credit: Warner Bros. Television

Welcome aboard. Sarah Douglas, probably best known in genre circles as having played Ursa in the first two Christopher Reeve Superman films, plays Jha’dur. Robin Curtis, probably best known in genre circles as having played Saavik in the third and fourth Star Trek films, plays Kalika. Ardwight Chamberlain returns from “The War Prayer” as the voice of Kosh; he’ll next appear in “Believers.” Aki Aleong debuts the recurring role of Hidoshi; he’ll be back in “By Any Means Necessary.” Cosie Costa plays Abbut.

Trivial matters. The role of Abbut was written for Gilbert Gottfried, but the comedian was unavailable, and so Cosie Costa was cast.

The Hour of Scampering is, according to J. Michael Straczynski, around tea-time.

The storyline was at least in part inspired by Operation: Paperclip, when the United States agreed to grant asylum to scientists who worked for the Nazis during World War II in order to make use of their scientific genius. Notably, Wernher von Braun’s expertise was particularly useful to NASA and the space program.

The echoes of all of our conversations.

“So I shouldn’t listen to rumors, eh?”

“Sorry, Ambassador. We thought it best to handle it quietly.”

“Great job.”

—Mollari taking the piss out of Sinclair at the very loud and contentious council session to determine Jha’dur’s fate.

The name of the place is Babylon 5. “Listen to the music, not the notes.” This should have been an excellent episode, and the general story is a good one, but the execution is botched on many different levels.

One level is isn’t botched on is guest casting for the A-plot. If you want to cast someone whom you know is unrepentantly evil, you can’t go wrong with Sarah Douglas, who exudes menace, contempt, and nastiness as Jha’dur. In addition, Robin Curtis does superlative work as Kalika, giving the character a passion and determination that is very compelling. Also, not having Delenn in the episode works in its favor, as one simply cannot imagine Delenn going quietly along with the coverup needed here. Lennier as a low-level flunky wouldn’t have much choice in the matter but to follow orders without question.

Alas, so much of the rest of the story doesn’t quite gel. For starters, the plot is catalyzed by Na’Toth recognizing Deathwalker, and a big part of why we care about what’s happening is Na’Toth’s righteous anger at how her grandfather was one of Jha’dur’s victims. But after Jha’dur’s request for Na’Toth’s head, she’s never heard from again, which is frustrating. She should have been there when Jha’dur was taken off the station.

In fact, the ending would’ve worked way better if Na’Toth fulfilled her blood oath by killing Jha’dur instead of relying on a deus ex Kosh to end things. As it is, the fact that Kosh is able to murder a sentient being without due process and without any consequences is staggering, and should be met with a lot more outrage and reaction than, “Oh, well, Vorlons will be Vorlons, la dee dah.” Plus, as I said in the plot description, why is Jha’dur flying by herself to Earth? It makes no sense, but it’s a necessary plot hole, because if she was being escorted, Kosh would also have to murder innocent EarthForce personnel, and we can’t have that…

The big twist about the antiagapic is an utter failure. There’s a reason why “show don’t tell” is a truism. Jha’dur sneeringly telling us that the only way the elixir works is for someone else to die does not land at all, mostly because we have no context for any of it. It’s a made-up serum that has a twist that works in a made-up and not-explained way, which renders the entire twist meaningless, except as a feeble attempt to make us not feel so bad when the Vorlons murder her.

The B-plot is a whole not of nothing. For starters, the script was very obviously written for Gilbert Gottfried and just as obviously not adjusted for the much less manic Cosie Costa, who sounded completely wrong reading the lines he was given. On top of that, one thing that this being a rewatch reminds one of is that this particular subplot is never to be seen again, aside from one quick mention later. And hoo-hah has the notion of someone referred to as a “VCR” aged badly. Okay, that one’s not really anybody’s fault, but man, I can see someone under the age of thirty watching this now and wondering what the heck a VCR is, since Garibaldi uses the term as if it’s common knowledge…

Next week: “Believers.” icon-paragraph-end



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