Babylon 5: The River of Souls (1998)

river of souls

“Okay, I’m as offended as you are. But I can see why a lot of guys would rent this particular image.”

Al’s Rating: Remember when I mentioned way back in Season 1 that the Soul Hunters were really interesting and that I hoped to see more of them? I take it back. I take it back. I take it back.

Al’s Review: The River of Souls is our first adventure outside of the Babylon 5 television show timeline, occurring about six months after the events of Objects at Rest.  Sheridan, Delenn, and most of our other regulars have moved on from B5 and the station is now thriving under the command of Captain Lochley. Along with Lt. Corwin and Zack Allan, they’ve managed to run a tight ship and avoid all the pesky civil wars, space spiders, and galactic conspiracies that make you lose sleep at night. Yes, life is good for our Next Generation crew, but Michael Garibaldi is making a return trip to the station and, as usual, trouble isn’t too far behind him.

Since marrying Lise Edgars and taking over Edgars Industries, Garibaldi has begun investigating all of the “black projects” that the company was secretly financing and he wants to determine which ones are actual worthwhile endeavors and which ones are the paranoid whimsies of an old man with too much money. Aboard Babylon 5, he’s meeting with Dr. Robert Bryson, who has spent two years and millions of dollars on something known only as EL.  EL, it turns out, stands for Eternal Life, and Bryson thinks he may have found it in the form of a big, glowy orb he excavated on the dead planet of Ralga. Unfortunately, the orb is the property of the Soul Hunters and it contains millions of trapped souls who have been driven insane and are just itching to come out and play.

Of course, there’s a greater danger than vengeful, psychotic ghosts lurking on Babylon 5 these days: lawyers.  It seems a holobrothel has opened in Downbelow, and when Lochley attempts to shut it down, she discovers that a loophole in the proprietor’s permit means it’s actually a legal establishment. Now, she and the station are being sued for harassment, slander, and about a dozen other charges after allegedly violating the owner’s civil rights.

The holobrothel subplot was probably my favorite part of The River of Souls. The lawyer bits feel pretty stereotypical, but are funny enough and accomplish what they need to. What I really got a kick out of, however, was the knowledge that Straczynski took the time to sit down and figure out the logistics of holographic prostitutes. On a technical level, the sensual telemetry bodysuit is clever and much easier to understand than a “light and forcefields” holodeck explanation. On a character level, I’m just continuing to appreciate Babylon 5’s willingness to admit that their characters have sex lives. Also, on a related note, I *loved* that Lochley’s image was one of the brothel’s most popular sellers because that is exactly what would happen in real life.

The rest of this movie, though?  Gah.  Dr. Bryson is a pretty uninteresting character, despite being played by Ian “Swedgin” McShane. He was boring to look at, boring to listen to, and his big excavation scene that opens the film felt like it went on for about forty-five minutes. Even later on when he’s all possessed and menacing, the guy just comes across as a nonentity on the screen and it sucked all the tension out of the plot.

Also, it turns out that the Soul Hunters are only cool characters for about five minutes at a time. After that, they just become dudes with funny foreheads who like to debate philosophy. I admit that they broach some concepts that are intriguing, but I started to nod off every time someone would start one of those conversations and just hope that I’d wake back up when the plot began moving forward again. I can’t even say that it’s a performance issue either, because the main Soul Hunter in this film is played by Martin frickin’ Sheen!  If Jed Bartlet can’t sell me on this script, then I’m pretty sure the whole thing is just a lost cause.

I guess the other bright spot in The River of Souls is the chance to see the new Babylon 5 crew in action. I said in my Season 5 wrap-up that I would watch a show with them at the helm, so it was nice to actually get that wish granted. I definitely developed an affection for Lochley over the course of Season 5 (even though she became less and less relevant as time went on), so it was nice to watch her in charge and on her own for once. It was also kind of nice to see Lt Corwin grow a personality, even if he doesn’t get to do too much outside of barking orders. Jerry Doyle, as much as I love him, actually felt extraneous here. Zack has done a great job stepping up as Chief of Security and seeing Garibaldi still in the thick of firefights and ticking timebombs just felt unnecessary. They should have let him kick off the plot and then sent him on his way.

So, I can’t really say that River of Souls is terrible, because it’s not. It’s got some funny moments, a handful of cool ideas, and I guess it’s one more chance to watch stuff happen on Babylon 5 before the show ends forever. Unfortunately, the big picture on this one just never came together for me like I was hoping. Perhaps this could have been an excellent 45 minute episode, but as a feature film, River of Souls doesn’t hit the mark and I can’t imagine ever really wanting to watch it again.


  • The love bat is pretty genius and kind of says some interesting things about Corwin, no?
  • Tracy Scoggins in lingerie is obvious fanservice, but I’m not complaining.
  • I pretty sure they reused the ventilation duct CGI from Phoenix Rising.
  • Wow, Richard Biggs got fourth billing for a glorified cameo.
  • That is some *funky* music playing over the end credits.

Groovy Quotes

Zack: We have faced down Shadows and invasions and attacks on this station and now we’re going to give into *lawyers*?

Lt Corwin: Activate defense grid! Launch all Starfuries. And if they move, shoot ’em. If they don’t move, shoot twice. They’re probably hiding something.

[Garibaldi sees the Lochley holo-prostitute]
Garibaldi: Okay, I’m as offended as you are. But I can see why a lot of guys would rent this particular image.
Proprietor: Actually, it was mainly women.

Zack: Were these people ever consulted? Would they have chosen to stay locked up like that forever?
Soul Hunter: The alternative is death.
Zack: Or heaven.

Soul Hunter: Faith is good. But sometimes faith is blind.

Love Bat: I love you. I forgive you.

Modified Love Bat: I’m an idiot. I’m a loser. No one likes me. My mommy dresses me funny.

Lochley: If they wanted a spokesperson, they could have picked any image from the holobrothel. But they chose one they knew would draw my attention. Why else would they choose my image?
Garibaldi: I hear it’s very popular.
Lochley: Is it?
Garibaldi: So I’m told.
[awkward silence]

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