The Quality of Mercy (Babylon 5)

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"The Quality of Mercy"
Babylon 5 episode
Episode no. Season 1
Episode 21
Directed by Lorraine Senna Ferrara
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Production code 117
Original air date 17 August 1994
Guest appearance(s)

June Lockhart (Dr. Laura Rosen)
Kate McNeil (Janice Rosen)
Mark Rolston (Karl Mueller)
Damian London (Centauri Senator)
Jim Norton (Ombuds Wellington)

Episode chronology
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"Babylon Squared"
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List of Babylon 5 episodes

"The Quality of Mercy" is an episode from the first season of the science fiction television series Babylon 5. The title is from a quote from the beginning of Portia's oration in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, Act IV, scene one.[1]


In the A-story, Dr. Franklin investigates an alien healing machine being used by a physician in Downbelow. A murderer is convicted and sentenced to the "death of personality."

The B-story has Londo being told by one of the Centauri senators to make more efforts with other species, as their support may be useful. Shortly after this he meets Lennier, and insists on showing him more details of Babylon 5.

A resident of the station, Mueller, is found guilty of three murders and is sentenced to "death of personality", an alternative to capital punishment in 2250s Earth Alliance which involves "brain wiping" the condemned's existing personality and replacing it with one programmed to serve the community for the rest of his natural life.

Ivanova finds Franklin is running an unauthorized free clinic in Downbelow. She is sympathetic to Franklin's cause. However, Franklin in turn hears of rumors of another clinic being run there and investigates. He finds Laura Rosen using an alien machine that allegedly cures humans (and possibly aliens, though this is not disclosed in the show, just implied because of its alien origin). Franklin talks to her daughter, Janice, and finds her mother was a doctor, before she made a fatal error due to a stims habit. She then went in search of alien medical technology to make amends and found this device.

Londo has taken Lennier to a club with exotic dancers, and narrowly avoids giving Lennier an alcoholic drink, which reacts badly with the Minbari physiology. Londo is rather bored of Lennier's talk, until he mentions he studied probability. Londo suggests they tests his skills with a game called "POK'ah."

Talia scans the prisoner Mueller and finds not three but dozens of murders he committed. She is overwhelmed by the events and has to break contact.

Lennier appears to be quite good at poker, but fails to grasp the subtleties of the game (such as hiding the fact that he holds a strong hand), meaning he is only winning modest amounts rather than large amounts.

Franklin investigates further and finds the machine takes life energy from one person and gives it to another. He tells her the machine is gradually killing her. Dr. Rosen says she is aware of this, but she has a highly painful and degenerative condition and has little time to live anyway. She agrees to give Franklin the machine in the event of her death.

Back at the gaming table, it appears Londo is switching cards using some parts of his anatomy, later revealed to be one of his six tentacle penises, which is clearly cheating. When discovered, this causes a fight to break out, with Lennier courageously defending Londo.

Mueller has escaped from his captors and heads for Downbelow. He is shot in the escape, and heads for Rosen's clinic, where he holes up and takes Rosen and Janice hostage. Franklin later shows up and becomes a hostage himself. Mueller forces Rosen to treat him with the alien device, but when it becomes clear he intends to kill them once healed, she reverses the device to drain his life energy. She remarks to this cold-blooded killer that he is experiencing in a few agonizing seconds the condition she bore for several years. This process kills Mueller.

Dr. Rosen is brought before a magistrate who clears her of any criminal charge due to acting in self-defense, albeit with the additional order to surrender the healing machine to station personnel. However, she feels morally unwell at having taken a life to extend her own, even if that life belonged to an irredeemable mass murderer threatening herself and her daughter.

Commander Sinclair confronts Lennier and Londo; Lennier takes the blame, and both are excused because of diplomatic immunity, although they are convinced to financially compensate for the damage caused. Lennier discovers the true nature of Londo's appendages, and Londo learns a little about Minbari culture: that honesty is valued, but that one may lie to save face for another.

Arc significance[edit]

  • Introduces the Alien Healing Machine, which will appear twice more over the course of the series.
  • This episode introduces an unusual quirk about male Centauri physiology, which is referenced (primarily for comedic effect) later in the series.
  • The Minbari willingness to lie to save face is an almost-unknown cultural facet that causes conflict in the episode, "There All the Honor Lies", since most other races believe Minbari to be incapable of lying, but some feel that the Minbari have the annoying habit of not telling anyone the entire truth about a subject.
  • Dr. Rosen's previous addiction to stims foreshadows Dr. Franklin's own addiction to stims in the future.

Production details[edit]

  • "The Quality of Mercy", a title taken from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, was originally called "The Resurrectionist."
  • Two stars of this episode, Bill Mumy and June Lockhart, originally starred in 1965's Lost in Space, as Will Robinson and Dr. Maureen Robinson. J. Michael Straczynski considered having their characters interact, but could not develop a satisfactory scene where this could logically occur in the episode's plot.
  • Minbari count in base 11 using ten fingers and head.[2]
  • Centauri males have six penises similar in appearance to a squid's tentacles.[3] Significant to the episode "Sic Transit Vir".
  • While not the first time the term has been confused in English usage, "corporal punishment" is used in the episode to mean "capital punishment."
  • The "memory wipe" is very similar to "demolition" in the novel The Demolished Man - written by Alfred Bester, whose name was used for the recurring antagonist psi cop played by Walter Koenig.
  • Lennier and Londo visit the 'Dark Star' lounge/club. This a reference to the movie Dark Star (1974).
  • Li, the Centauri Goddess of Passion, whose image was first seen in the earlier episode "Parliament of Dreams", is revealed here as a perfect synthesis of male and female Centauri.
  • This episode marks the first appearance of actor Damian London as Virini, here presented as a Centauri senator, but in later episodes would become a Minister of the Royal Centauri Court, and after Emperor Cartagia's death, would be appointed Regent.


External links[edit]