Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Babylon 5 Review: "The War Prayer"

I see no reason to review Babylon 5's first season in order. Not only is it almost entirely standalone episodes, but they're mostly standalone episodes that could have aired any time during that season. It's ironic that the show which started a trend in serialized science fiction television initially carried over so little from show to show, but I guess that's just how much TV has changed in the past 15 years. This also means I won't feel stalled on having to write a particular review, as I am now on Firefly's "Trash."

"The War Prayer" is an episode with some good themes, but has a pedestrian plot put together in such a clunky manner that we never actually wind up exploring them. The basic idea is the rise of what I guess you could label speciesist groups on Earth in the wake of humanity's near-extermination in the Minbari War. In other words, this is Babylon 5's version of Enterprise's "Demons" and "Terra Prime." Compared to that mini-arc, however, "The War Prayer" is simply adequate but uninspired.

The face of the Home Guard is Malcolm Biggs, a former lover of Ivanovna who has appeared to try to rekindle their relationship after eight years. The only parts of that relationship I bought were the parts where she tried to slow him down and when she told Sinclair at the end she was fine. Quite frankly, it felt just like a plot device that allowed Sinclair and Ivanovna to infiltrate the local Home Guard cell, which apparently hasn't learned that you reveal all your plans after the loyalty test.

Biggs's relationship with Ivanovna is frustrating in part because it could have been used to crack him open a bit, much like we got a sense of Paxton as a three-dimensional villain on Enterprise. He obviously wasn't this way when he was with Ivanovna, so what changed? Why would he think Ivanovna would agree with him? Instead what's suggested of the Home Guard's motives comes from Garibaldi, Sinclair, and Roberts. Biggs just walks around recruiting whoever falls into his lap, a creature of his cause more than a human part of it.

The B-plot, concerning two Centauri youth seeking Londo's help in avoiding arranged marriages, was better, mainly because of the way it developed Londo and Vir, both as individuals and in terms of their relationship. It is, I think, no accident that this happened together, as both were very quirky, often comic characters whose depth was often revealed in their relationship with each other. Londo is a cynical older man, but he wasn't always so, and Vir serves to remind him of that more idealistic self, much like Kennit and Wintrow in Robin Hobb's Liveship Traders trilogy. Throughout the series, we see Londo often belittling but also affectionately relying on and protecting Vir, even to the point of sending him away when he worried Vir might start getting corrupted by his own growing darkness. At the same time, Vir, though awkward and bumbling, has a moral core that lends him the courage to be Londo's conscience, and in fact to be trusted by Londo at critical times. This was a relationship that was far more than the sum of its parts.

The other characters ranged from adequate to way off. I didn't recognize even the season one G'Kar in that hotheaded rabble-rouser. As usual, Michael O'Hare had some good moments but also plenty of unconvincing ones as Sinclair. I liked the way they ran Ivanovna here, as a woman whose priority is going to be her career, and a career in a traditionally male (to the viewers) field at that. Delenn also had some nice moments.

Babylon 5 first season was called "Signs and Portents," and it introduced a lot of themes with which the show would go on to do great things. Unfortunately, the writers were seemingly content just to introduce them, as if they were checking off boxes in what would be needed for the show's overall arc. That could have done that and still told compelling stories, but they just didn't. The plot here probably merits a 4 or 5, but because of the fine character work, I'll knock it up to 6/10.



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