Babylon 5 #8: The War Prayer

"My shoes are too tight, and I have forgotten how to dance."
IN THIS ONE... Sinclair must dismantle a hate group attacking non-humans.

REVIEW: Babylon 5 really needs to find new plot hooks. This is the third time, almost in a row, that someone from a character's past arrives on the station and turns out to be a threat (and the third old flame, though that Venn diagram only covers 2 out of three dangers). And while it made sense for Franklin and Talia's respective mentors to seek their help, it's altogether too convenient that Ivanova's old lover Malcolm also happens to be a leader in the xenophobic Home Guard. It gets to show off her character, which I quite like, and how she can switch so abruptly from fun-loving beauty to dutiful officer, the latter a persona she adopts to get the job done, but the plot's seams are showing.

The other story strand also has to do with love, and contrasts Ivanova's pragmatic choice. Vir's cousin and his lover are on the run from a pair of arranged marriages, and asks Londo to intercede. Here we learn all about tradition, and how the old Republic is still clutching to such things. Vir's more liberal-minded (smells of cultural revolution) and appeals to Londo using the love argument (also espoused by Delenn's old friend, and one presumes Minbari culture in general). If they are right and all sentient beings are defined by their capacity and need for love, what does that make the recently hinted-at First Ones? What does it make Ivanova, who can switch both capacity and need off in the pursuit of career? And what does it make Londo, who shrilly advocates for tradition... except a man who would deny others what he himself has been denied? In the end, he finds a way to use tradition itself to save the couple. Londo-centric story lines are the ones I like most, this early in the series, because they always come with equal helpings of comedy - his commentary about his three shewish wives who have kept him on B5, for example - and pathos - the story of his father and the things you can only understand when you reach a certain age.

Other characters are advanced as well. G'Kar freaks out and almost starts a riot, which seems rather dangerous and thoughtless. Garibaldi and Franklin do their jobs, which doesn't really move their characters forward. I don't believe Sinclair's sting operation in the least, and Malcolm is gullible to fall for something so obvious. Delenn aghast at the racial slurs spun in her direction weaken a character that should have more poise. They bring Kosh into it, but he has little to add except keeping him alive as an enigma. It's slightly odd that they then recount the events of his near-death from the pilot - confirming my suspicions that the missing cast members were taken out of play because they somehow made contact with a Vorlon (and I thought I was so clever) - unless it really has something to do with the anti-alien sentiment rising on Earth, Mars and the station. It's especially odd because a couple details in this episode are incongruous with the information imparted BY the pilot. Are they mistakes? While I could just about accept that Ivanova inherited Takashima's illegal coffee plant, the idea that poetry is so important and provocative to the Minbari contradicts Delenn asking Sinclair what a poet was in The Gathering. Still, it makes a lot more sense that the Minbari have them and give them such an exalted place in their society.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: Deep Space 9 also had to deal with a hate group that branded its alien victims with a circular symbol. The writer of this episode, D.C. Fontana, is, of course, a well-known Trek writer.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - I know what the main plot is trying to do, but it's too glib and, by now, repetitive, to work at all well. The episode is redeemed largely by what could have been a comedy subplot, but Londo just won't be dismissed.


Ryan Lohner said...

The first of two episodes written by DC Fontana, who gave us several classic Trek episodes and is one of the few sci-fi writers of that era who is still alive and working. Unfortunately, this really isn't the best display of her talents given that the show is still fully in set-up mode, with the episode's own main story nothing but an excuse to introduce the idea of anti-alien prejudice among humans.

The B-plot about the Centauri Romeo and Juliet was entirely Fontana's invention, and JMS was adamantly against it at first, seeing it as sappy and cliched. Fontana changed his mind by convincing him it wasn't really about the couple themselves, but their effect on Londo. It also features the neat dramatic irony hidden inside a joke where Londo describes his three wives as Famine, Pestilence, and Death. What does that make Londo himself but War?

JMS has described the cast changes after The Gathering as featuring the happy coincidence of getting rid of everyone who'd seen Kosh, allowing him to build up more mystery around the Vorlons. Though I still think it wasn't quite worth losing that future story point I've hinted at before.

Siskoid said...

Great observation on the "fourth horseman"!

Ryan Lohner said...

I wish I could take credit for it, but quite a few fans even at the time pointed it out, and I'm just piggybacking off those posts.

Madeley said...

OhEmGee I've always loved the "famine, pestilence, death" line but I always wondered about the fourth horseman, to the point that I started reading this very article still wondered about it. All these years, I never twigged Londo was War!

That's made my day, thanks Ryan. God, a twenty year mystery solved.


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