I consider this one of the highlights of the season, and one of my favorite episodes in the show.
In short, an alien couple brings their son to Dr. Franklin because of a life-threatening respiratory illness, that the doctor intends to correct with a simple surgical procedure. Trouble is, the parents' belief system forbids cutting open their people, because this would cause the soul to depart, leaving only an empty shell in its wake.
Franklin tries to convince them at first, then threatens to relieve them of parental authority.
This dilemma opens the way to a heated discussion on social customs and religious beliefs and the way they inform our way of living, and what is wonderful about the episode is that it does not seek, nor offer, an answer – because there is none.
The involved parties are both right, in their own way: Dr. Franklin follows his conscience, and his training, in pursuing the well-being of his young patient, the parents follow their beliefs and cultural mores and insist that they be respected. When the parents seek the various ambassadors' help against Sinclair possible ruling, the dialogue offers a chance to know them better through their reactions to the couple's impassioned pleas: G'Kar states the Narns have nothing to gain from siding with them, so he refuses to intervene; Londo looks more sympathetic at first, only to retreat behind a wall of unjustifiable expenses that prevent him from helping out; Delenn all but hides behind the rationalization that since Minbari don't appreciate other people's meddling in their spiritual affairs, they don't meddle in others'. Kosh's reply is the most baffling – and one of his most memorable quotes: "The avalanche has already started, it's too late for the pebbles to vote".
When Sinclair offers his ruling, one reached through a difficult battle between his conscience and the stark reality of the situation, and denies permission for the procedure, the doctor takes the matter into his own hands and goes on with the surgery, saving the boy life but opening the way for a different kind of predicament. One that will have a tragic outcome. Here is where Babylon5 veers away from the expected: in other shows – I will mention no names – after an initial shock the parents would have relented and gone back to their home planet with a changed mindset, fading away into the rose-tinted sunset. Not here. Horrified by the awareness that the creature facing them is now a soulless entity, an abomination to be feared and despised, they reject their own offspring, turning their backs on him in a scene that tears at my heart every time I watch it. When the couple does come back after a while to take the child, it's not because they changed their mind, but because they have decided to end the suffering of the empty shell that was their son, by performing a ritual murder.
The epilogue deals a chilling blow to the viewers and to Dr. Franklin, both lulled into the false security that the drama would unfold into a predictable change of heart. But these are not Earth people, nor Earth values: they are alien, which does not mean having a differently-shaped forehead, or strangely-hued skin, but founding your thoughts and your culture on a totally distinct mindset. No belief, no set of rules is in itself right or wrong – it is only depending on one's point of view.
This is to me the strength of this episode, that it gives you no answers whatsoever, only more questions. It makes you think, and this is what truly matters.