Babylon 5: The War Prayer

b5The War Prayer is another non-JMS episode, but this one is written by the great D. C. Fontana.  Fontana was responsible for several memorable Star Trek episodes from the original series, Next Gen, DS:9 and even the animated series.  How does it fare following on the heels of Mind War?  Surprisingly well, considering it’s a lighter episode.  Like classic Trek, there’s a lot of allegory here, which may be one of Fontana’s strong suits.  Once again, we are exposed to racism (or is that speciesism?) when the episode opens with an attack on a prominent Minbari.  The unseen assailant says “stay away from Earth, freak” then brands her with a symbol resembling a male and female icon.  This will tie in with the background story that has been developing so far this season surrounding a growing pro-Earth movement and a group called the Home Guard.  Meanwhile, Vir has visitors come to see him, believing him to be the Centauri ambassador, to Londo’s surprise and amusement.

Sometimes it’s hard to see what the main story is and what the subplot is in Babylon 5 because often the subplot will carry as much significance as the primary.  This is a fine example.  Why?  Because the story is mostly about the disharmony developing on Earth towards the aliens but it’s the Centauri story that offers more interesting material.  Londo mentions having three wives: Pestilence, Famine and Death.  Yes, he’s being humorous, but one has to wonder, who is the 4th horseman?  Where is War?  Can it be Londo himself?  Londo also has some of the best lines in this story, from the comedic “Love!  What has love got to do with marriage!?” to his remorseful “my shoes are too tight and I have forgotten how to dance”, representing that he has forgotten what it is to be young.  We learn more about Londo and his people because of this subplot while the primary plot seems to be a pretty obvious “whodunnit”.  I say obvious because there’s really only one new person introduced in this story who could be responsible for the attack.  It gives us a hint into who Susan is, but little else and even what we see of Susan is echoes of a past.  So the main plot may be the Home Guard attack, but the interesting one is what’s happening with Londo!

So the main thrust of this one is fairly easy without much in the line of larger world-building, except for one, seemingly minor, scene.  Sinclair goes to speak to Kosh, who is in his quarters watching something on a viewer.  Although Kosh clearly states that he takes no interest in the affairs of others, he is studying earth history!  When Sinclair asks him why, he just shuts down.  Kosh is typically cryptic, but one can’t help but wonder if there’s something more to his studies than meets his encounter-suited eye.  Oh, and while on the subject of Kosh, notice what Jeff asks Kosh that throws him off: “if you could lend us a hand…” he says, then stops.  It’s not just that Jeff remembered the events of The Gathering, but his own words triggered the thought: lend us a hand.  The poison used on Kosh in The Gathering was through his hand; a hand that is forever hidden by his encounter suit.

This kind of writing is wonderful.  It doubles back on itself in interesting and complex ways. I find that so joyful, I can dance.  Oh, and look, I’m not even wearing shoes!   ML

The view from across the pond:

For our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimmage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!

That’s from The War Prayer, by Mark Twain.  It’s a great piece of writing, and truly something everyone should read.  It concerns a man who prays for victory in war.  A messenger from God appears before him and recites the war prayer, putting into words exactly what the man is asking God to do for him, in its full, horrifying, gruesome detail.  The man is finally branded a lunatic for his beliefs.

D.C. Fontana made a deliberate choice with the title of this Babylon 5 episode, which tackles senseless xenophobia against aliens with the “Pro Earth” movement.  We are still working through the ABC of Sci-Fi Storylines here, with virtually nothing in the way of new ideas offered by the series so far.  Racism transplanted to anti-alien sentiments is the most worn of well-worn sci-fi ideas, and there is little point to it unless you have something more intelligent to say than “racism is bad”.  That’s basically all we get here.  Yes, we know.

At least this week there is some coherence between the A and B plots of the episode, as both are about people clinging on to the past.  The Pro Earth movement harken back to a world without aliens, while London Londo believes that tradition is more important than love.

Love! What does love have to do with marriage?

It’s the better of the two storylines that play out here, for two reasons.  Firstly, Vir’s progression beyond comedy sidekick works well, with him standing up to Londo for the first time.  Secondly, Londo realising that he is wrong is a lovely but bittersweet moment:

My shoes are too tight, but it doesn’t matter because I have forgotten how to dance.

But before all that we get some fun comedy about Londo’s wives, who seem to terrify him:

Knowing that they were waiting for me at home is what keeps me here, 75 light years away!

But the racism against aliens plot never really takes off.  It’s tediously obvious who the mystery racist onboard is: unsurprisingly the only other major guest character this week.  I also disliked what they did with G’Kar this week.  Using him as a rabble rouser seems completely out of character.  He’s smarter than that, and far more calculating.  The previous episodes have gone out of their way to establish him as far more than just a moustache-twirling villain, so using him in that role when it’s convenient is disappointing.  It also undermines the message the writer is trying to get across with the episode.  “Racism against aliens is bad!” shouts the episode at us… and then uses an alien as the bad guy, ignoring his shades-of-grey character development up to this point, because it’s a convenience.  Somebody needed to dig a little deeper.   RP

About Roger Pocock

Author of Co-writer on Editor of
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