In Medlab, a young alien boy of the Onteen species named Shon (Jonathan Charles Kaplan) is under the care of Doctor Franklin (Richard Biggs) while his parents M’Ola and Tharg (Tricia O’Neill and Stephen Lee) watch over him. Dr. Franklin assures the boy he will grow up strong and healthy, though his parents caution him to be prepared for whatever happens. They could find no cure on the home world. Franklin says a simple operation would do the trick, but they object because surgery is forbidden by their religion.
Ivanova (Claudia Christian) alerts Commander Sinclair (Michael O’Hare) to a distress call from the starliner Asimov, which is stranded in raider space. Sinclair authorizes Ivanova to take a Starfury wing to escort the ship to the station. In Medlab, Franklin and Maya Hernandez (Silvano Gallardo) explain the operation to the parents, who still reject the idea, but okay a long-shot non-invasive procedure. Ivanova heads out.
Sinclair meets with Franklin and Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle). Sinclair has the authority to order Franklin to save the boy’s life, but he is reluctant to establish that precedent. Ivanova and the wing find the Asimov. The non-invasive procedure has failed. The parents insist that the operation will cause the boy to lose his soul. The parents go to Sinclair and ask him to forbid Franklin to cut the child. The father says that if the operation takes place, it will be his duty to kill his son.
The parents go to the ambassadors—G’Kar (Andreas Katsulas), Mollari (Peter Jurasik), Kosh (voice of Ardwight Chamberlain), and Delenn (Mira Furlan). Each for their own reasons declines to step in. Ivanova detects a single raider ship and orders the Asimov to speed up and get out of the region before the attack. On the station, Garibaldi has no help for Sinclair. The latter goes and talks to the boy, who wants to live but does not want the operation. Back in his office, Franklin comes to make a last appeal, but Sinclair reluctantly refuses to allow the surgery.
Sinclair explains that the commander of Babylon Five cannot override the beliefs of aliens just because they conflict with his own. The parents tell Shon how proud they are that he is facing his fate bravely. After they leave, Franklin says a prayer and begins the operation. Ivanova goes after the raider and flies into an entire squadron of ships. The surgery goes well, and Shon begins to feel better. The parents curse the boy as a soulless demon and leave Shon behind.
Sinclair is enraged, but Franklin stands by his actions. The parents cannot forgive Franklin but understand he did what he thought was right. They want the boy discharged to them. The Doctor is proud of himself, but the parents kill Shon. He offers his resignation to Sinclair but is refused this as well. Ivanova arrives at Babylon Five in rather better shape than her Starfury.
This is a Picard’s Dilemma story, Babylon Five version. The death of a child is certainly a rare thing on TV. They don’t even kill off a dog unless it’s a noble sacrifice. In the previous episode, Deathwalker, pretty much everybody does the immoral thing for political reasons. In this one, everybody does the moral thing, by their own lights, and it still turns out badly. There are always nice bits of dialogue in Babylon Five. The best one in this episode is: “Who asked you to play God, Doctor?” and the answer, “Every damn person who walks through that door!” Though perhaps Kosh was better: “The avalanche has already started. It’s too late for the pebbles to vote.”
In the series pilot, interestingly enough, Sinclair disobeys the wishes of the Vorlon Empire when he orders Doctor Kyle to operate on Kosh after an assassination attempt. That is why Doctor Kyle was returned to Earth and replaced by Doctor Franklin. The parents’ objections rest on not treating the humanoid body like a food animal, cutting the flesh, but we already have arthroscopic surgery that takes place through the mouth, which would still exist in the future. But then there would be no story. I am reminded of Captain America Civil War: everyone is right, and everyone is wrong. In the Babylon Five fan-world, I don’t think any other episode has caused such a stir. For many fans, this is the only one they won’t re-watch. That’s a tribute to Straczynski. The fact that the moral conflict is so balanced is also a tribute.