RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Babylon 5:: “The War Prayer” (Season 1, Episode 6)

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Grrr. The average is ebbing down again. Not terrible, and there’s some more world building here that is worth watching, but that doesn’t disguise the overwhelming feeling of “Meh” that pervades this episode.

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Vir’s cousin visit’s the station with said cousin’s significant other. They’re madly in love, but their families want them to marry different people for political and social reasons. The Centauri traditionally arrange marriages for their children in Hapsburg fashion. The kids - one of whom is Winnie from The Wonder Years - have run away and are looking for a safe place to get married and have a family, which is something of a scandal to conservative Centauri society. Londo is not terribly sympathetic and says that it’s good to learn how to live without love (Which makes a degree of sense as he just got badly burned by a stripper a month back. Important lesson: Never, never, never, never, never date strippers! Man, I wish I’d known that one back in the day…). Londo, it seems, has three wives. Their pet names are “Famine,” “Pestilence,” and “Death.” “Just knowing they’re seventy five light years away waiting for me keeps me happily here on the station.” Eventually, however, he remembers something his father said in his sad final days, “My shoes are too tight, but it doesn’t matter because I’ve forgotten how to dance,” and he relents. He arranges a “Fosterage,” where the kids will be raised by a cousin of Londo’s, and when they’re of age, if they still want to get married for love - as scandalous as that is - they can.

MEANWHILE, there have been eight attacks on aliens on the station in the last two weeks. One of Delenn’s friends is stabbed after a poetry slam one night, and branded with that little man-woman symbol that Prince used back Prince was known as the artist formerly known as Prince. Now he’s known as the artist formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince, or simply “That washed up crazy guy” for short. I guess they’re fans. This was in the mid-’90s before he’d completely gone off the rails.

Anyway, the spy dude from General Hospital shows up as an old flame of Susan, named “Malcolm.” He tries to rekindle things with Susan, and it looks like it’s working, but it pretty quickly turns out that he’s the new grand dragon of the local chapter of the Klu Klux Klan, which has been orchestrating the alien lynchings. Sinclair, Garibaldi, and Susan embark on a generally pretty stupid and elaborate plan to trap Malcolm and his cronies when really all they needed to do was arrest ‘em, but the episode was running a bit short, I guess, and they needed to pad it out with a few scenes of Stiffy McSinclair being an utter hole to the aliens. Eventually everyone gets bored with this, so they throw in a rather pointless and anemic action sequence, and that’s the end.

OBSERVATIONS

Butterfly knives will still be used in the 23rd century, presumably because they look totally badass when you swing ‘em open and closed, and not because they grow a lot of sugarcane on the station. That’s basically what they were designed for, and they’re not astoundingly useful for much apart from that. Just menial farming and the occasional hate crime. (When Sugar is illegal, only outlaws will have butterfly knives, or something like that.)

Earthforce is experimenting with “Blacklight Camouflage” suits, which are essentially personal cloaking devices. Is it just me, or does that seem a little too high tech for the humans in this show? Actually, I don’t think it is *just* me since we never see ‘em again, and they would have made life much easier on a couple occasions if they’d had ‘em.

Kosh is studying earth history for some reason, yet says “We take no interest in the affairs of others.” He’s extra enigmatic in this episode. Sinclair comments that Kosh’s viewer is quite unusual, but it really isn’t. I think the prop department or the FX department really dropped the ball on this one.

The Minbari equivalent of a hug: Stand face to face, put your right hand on the other person’s heart while they put their right hand on yours, then bow slowly until you touch foreheads.

We find out a bit about Ivonova: She and Malcolm were an item, but broke up around 2250 when she transferred to Io. She’s more interested in career than the whole lovey dovey thing, though we could pretty much tell that without her telling us already, right? She’s openly disgusted when she finds out he’s an uber-racist. Actually, no, shouldn’t that be ‘Uber-Speciesist?”

The notion that there is Species Unrest on earth replacing Racial Unrest is pretty interesting. Though long a trope of literary science fiction, it’d never really been done on TV before, and of course the legacy of Trek is that everyone is a perfect person in the future with no room for hate. One interesting aspect of this show is that Straczynski regularly wrote characters with ethnic names, but then cast them without any thought of race, thus you end up with Japanese people with English names, and WASPy folks with African names and so on. The idea is that racism is a dead issue, and that group identifications have drifted a lot in three hundred years. I find myself wondering if it was contact with aliens that caused that? I mean, skin color is a fairly trivial distinction when compared to an alien with six prehensile penises like the…oh, but I’ve said too much already.

The French Chick gets one line, and Jack gets a walkby, but no dialog. I’m keeping my eye on Londo to see how the ‘manic/depressive’ theory holds. He’s pretty depressed in the garden, but he’s not particularly manic in this episode. Too close to call, really.

Sinclair and Ivonova have an interesting chat in the control room where Sinclair wonders for the first time exactly how Kosh got poisoned. I mean, he was in an encounter suit, so how did the poison get on his hand? He’d have to have stuck his hand out of the suit - assuming he has one - and why would he do that? Ivonova points out that the Vorlons are naturally secretive, and they don’t know how much of that Encounter Suit is necessary, and how much of it is just for show. Sinclair mentions that Ben Kyle never told Sinclair what he saw in there, and was transferred back to earth immediately afterwards to take his job with the President. A week after that, Lyta Alexander was transferred back as well. We never find out what happened to Laurel Takishima. Perhaps she shared an airlock with Ko’Dath?

Which raises several not-terribly-interesting questions that I’ll go into now because I’m OCD: The consensus is “The Gathering” happened seven to ten months before “Midnight on the Firing Line.” Franklin mentions in the 2nd episode that he saw Kyle while he was heading out and Kyle was heading in, which means the seven-to-ten can’t be correct. He must have left pretty recently, and Lyta must have literally left the day before the episode started. Basically there’s a minor sloppy continuity error here.

I called ‘em the Klan above, but the real name of the speciesist organization is “Homeguard.” The episode makes it very clear that they’ve infiltrated the government and the military.

Fresh Aire turns up again in this episode, and we get a really nice overhead shot of the garden at night.

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G’kar is back to being a villain. He’s rabblerousing on the Zocalo, inciting an anti-human riot.

The main suspect - who was innocent - was a guy named Roberts, who had a butterfly knife like the one used to stab Delenn’s Friend (Hey, that rhymes! Almost!), but he claims it’s his own blood on it, and this turns out to be true. Uhm…why? What the heck was he doing? (“Ok, pay me $20 and I’ll let you stab me in the leg!”)

Fashion in B5 is supposed to be less spandex-and-fascist-space-pajamas than Trek or Space 1999, and on the whole they do a pretty good job. The clothes look believable and derived from our own, at least for the humans. Malcolm, however, wears this goofy jacket where the upper halves of the lapels wrap around his throat and are fastened in the front. It’s beyond gay, it’s just stupid.

The B5 Council meets for no particular reason other than they hadn’t used it in a while. We see Hyach, Drazi, Narn, Pak’Ma’Ra, and an unidentified alien that seems sort of like a proto-Brakiri. The “Abbai” are introduced in this episode, too: Hairless fishy-skinned humanoids with fins on their heads.

Homeguard’s entirely superfluous plan was to kill all four ambassadors on the station in a coordinated attack that would then touch off mass-assassinations of aliens back on Earth and Mars, (But evidently not on Earth’s extra solar colonies). I say “Superfluous” because it’s thrown in at the last minute of the episode to ratchet up the tension, unsuccessfully since we’re already in the climax of the story *and* you kind of didn’t need it anyway. You’ve got racists rolling aliens in the streets, isn’t that peril enough? Why make it some big hokey “End of the world” plot when day-to-day horror is more than sufficient?

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?

Unless you’re a Speciesist, yes.

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