Love this thread. Don’t have much to contribute, as I don’t have the opportunity to do a re-watch at the moment, but loving the overviews and commentary. Thanks!
Same, just vicariously researching through the recaps.
I’m rubbish! I started watching for this thread, watched my usual selection of first season episodes and, um, I’m up to Divided Loyalties now.
I’ll try to come back and chip in to the contemporaneous discussion over the weekend though!
Well, that’s appropriate as I finally get around to talking about Mind War.
Right, shall we quickly shoot out The War prayer, and maybe spend some time on
Signs and PortentsAnd the Sky Full of Stars?
The War Prayer
The writer for this episode was DC Fontana, who is best known for her extensive work on Star Trek, having written and edited episodes of TOS, and worked as a writer,editor and producer on TNG and TAS - including working on the TNG series bible with David Gerrold, and having a co-writer’s credit on Encounter at Farpoint. She quit TNG towards the end of series 1, but retrned to Trek a few times later on - she wrote a novel about Spock’s first mission on the Enterprise under captain Pike, the DS9 series 1 episode Dax, as well as the scripts for a few computer games and an issue of IDW’s Star Trek Year Four comic. She wrote two more episodes of Babylon 5 between this and series 2. Other Cult TV work includes episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man, Land of the Lost, The Fantastic Journey, Logan’s Run, Buck Rogers, He-Man, War of the Worlds, Hypernauts, Earth: Final Conflict, and most recently an episode of Star Trek: New Voyages.
Shal Mayan is played by Nancy Lee Grahan, who is best known as a soap opera star, having had lengthy roles on Santa Barbara (from 1885-1993) and General Hospital (from 1996 to now), as well as a stint on One Life to Live between 1978 and 1982. Aside from Babylon 5, she’s had guest appearances on Cult TV shows including the Incredible Hulk and Knight Rider.
Aria Tensus is played by Danica McKellar. Best known for playing Winnie in The Wonder Years, she’s had a lengthy career as a guest actor, as well as appearing in TV movies and an extensive selection of voice acting for cartoons and video games. She’s also a mathematician, having published a paper in 1998 and written 4 books aimed at getting teenagers interested in a career in maths
Kiron Moray is played by Rodney Eastman, who’s best known for his starring role in Nightmare on Elm Street 3 and 4, and as is often the case for B5 guest actors, a lengthy career in TV movies and as a guest actor on other shows.
Tristan Rogers, who played Malcolm Biggs is another soap star, He had a role on General Hospital between 1980 and 1992 when he was killed off, returned as a ghost in 1995, as the same person but alive in 2006 and in a 2008 spin-off show, and then for like 7 episodes in 2012. He was a regular on The Young and the Restless between 2010 and 2011, and returned to the show after his abortive return to General Hospital in 2012. He’s also appeared in a streaming soap opera called The Bay since 2010.
This episode introduces the Homeguard, a pro-earth, anti-alien group, who were mentioned in Born to the Purple and Infection.
Both Doctor Kyle and Leta Alexander were transfered back to earth shortly after the events of The Gathering, being the only two humans to have seen what a Vorlon looks like.
Ivanova and Malcolm split up 8 years prior to this episode, when she accepted a posting to Io. The Jumpgate in the Sol system is located in an orbit near Jupiter, and the oft-mentioned transfer station at Io serves as a port for it. It’s suggested that this is a prestigious posting.
Londo has three wives, all of whom were arranged marriages for his House’s political and economic gain. He doesn’t seem to like any of them, and is glad to be stationed to Babylon 5 to get awy from them. Centauri Prime is apparently 75 light years from the Epsilon Eridani system (though as we’ll see later, B5 take sinto account that because different planets have different orbital cycles, a Centauri light year might not be the same length as a Human one)
Londo refers to his wives as Pestilence, Famine and Death. Those are three of the Biblical Four Horseman. War is not mentioned.
G’Kar says “Do you think we are pouchlings?” during the scene in the B5 Advisory Council. This is the first reference to the Narn being marsupials.
The botanist Delenn introduces to Sinclair is an Abbai, the first appearance of her race on the show. The Abbai are a pacifist matriarchal race, in secondary material it’s stated that they developed powerful shield technolody, and while the Dilgar occupied one of their colonies, they were unable to take their homeworld. The Abbai defended fellow League of non-aligned World members during the Dilgar War, but did not take part in the assault into Dilgar territory.
This episode reveals that Ivanova is growing coffee in the Hydroponics bays. This was, of course a recycled plot point from the scene betweenTakashima and Kyle in The Gathering which was cut for the broadcast version. With the extended cut of that episode, it’s likely that Ivanova’s taken over Takashima’s crop, and may have been handed over from one XO to the next.
The Deep Space 9 episode The Circle aired shortly after filming wrapped on this episode. In that episode, Quark is cornered in a corridor by unseen assailants who brand his forehead. The titular Circle - who are responsible for this act are a group of Bajoran nationalists who want to remove alien influences on their culture and society, just like the Homeguard here. JMS discussed this online after he saw the DS9 episode and spoke frankly about how there was no way ether episode could have influenced the other, and he considered removing the branding scene, but ultimately decided to leave it in, partially because of messages of support from the B5 fan community.
The episode as written was running short, and as a result a scene cut from The Parliament of Dreams discussing how Kosh got poisoned was inserted here, with a bit of ADR to fill in the craks.
So this is an episode with a bad rep. And it’s one that I’ve dismissed in prior rewatches… but it’s actually OK? Like, there’s a lot of hammy performances, and the story is hackneyed (in the making of show, Andrea Thompson referred to B5 as Casablanca in space - everyone winds up there, and this episode really feels like that), but there’s actually a lot to enjoy, and a lot to think about in this episode as well.
To begin with, this is another one with Richard Compton in the director’s chair, and he uses a lot of interesting camerawork here. Both Shal Mayan’s assault, and when Roberts is jumped by the Drazi are shot in a very different style, with the camera shaking about, lots more darkness than usual, giving the scenes a visual punch that helps to sell the brutality and hatred these scenes represent.
Secondly, the episode adds a lot of depth to both Ivanova and Londo. This episode is the closest we’ve had to an Ivanova-centric one so far, and she gets a few moments to break out of the stiff mold she’s been cast in. What’s well-done is that you can see her soften after she gets the rose from Malcolm, but shifts back into it after she sees the recording of Malcolm. A large part of Ivanova’s arc early on is that she gets hurt when she expresses her emotional side - between this and her father’s death she’s taken to big blows in a short period of time.
Londo’s story here is a bit more stereotypical - the idea of the aged noble who has a change of heart is well-trod ground, but it works well enough here. His “my shoes are tight, but I have forgotten how to dance” speech is really good, and as usual a lot of that is because of Peter Jurasik’s performance.
Finally, this episode’s pretty fucking timely right now, isn’t it? Of course, JMS and Fontana were tapping into sentiment that’s been in and out of the zeitgeist many times, but is back in force right now. Pro-Earth/anti-alien sentiment is a repeated theme in B5, especially at this point - it’s been mentioned in Infection and Mind War, and it stands to reason that this sentiment would be bubbling over on earth in the aftermath of a literally apocalyptic war. And it’s interesting to see Malcolm’s level of suspicion around Ivanova and Sinclair when they feign interest in joining up - given that racist groups in the US were thoroughly infiltrated by law enforcement in the 70s, and a number of prominent alt-right groups have fallen apart in the last year because of suspicion that one or other leader is a cop. As is often the case, the antagonists are more competent than their real-life counterparts.
Honestly, these genre shows with their preposterous fantasy plotlines
Any interest in pressing on?
(I realise it’s been ages since I posted, but in my defence, I was on holiday for a few weeks!)
Finally got around to The War Prayer. Not bad, but fairly predicatable and forgettable.
I quite enjoyed the Vir stuff, but Londo’s reverse-turn seemed to come a bit too easily.
Still haven’t time to watch it but have been enjoying the chat.
And the Sky full of stars
The episode title is a call back to Sinclair telling Carolyn about the Battle of the Line during The Gathering: “The sky was full of stars… every one of them an exploding ship - one of ours”. Of course, that line didn’t make it into the broadcast version of the Gathering, but who’s counting?
Knight One is played by Judson Scott, who’s got a career spanning TV, cinema and theatre - he starred with Al Pacino in a broadway production of Richard III in 1973, and his first movie role was in Every Which Way but Loose. like many B5 guest stars, he’s also been in soap operas - in this case a year on General Hospital. In SFdom, he’s been in V, Charmed, the X-Files, and played three characters in Star Trek - he was Joachim in Star Trek II (he was uncredited due to a mess-up when he and hs agent schemed to get him a higher billing), Sobi in the TNG episode Symbiosis (which also featured Merritt Butrick, who played David in Star Trek II and III), and a Romulan in the Voyager episode Message in a Bottle.
Knight Two is played by Christopher Neame, who’s had a lengthy acting career. Of specific SF interest, he was in two Hammer films - Lust for a Vampire and Dracula AD 1972 - as well as Ghostbusters II, The Prestige and… er Suburban Commando. On TV he was in the abortive Doctor Who serial Shada, Blake’s 7, Earth 2, Star Trek: Voyager and Enterprise, Sliders, Superboy and Northern Exposure (where he played Lenin). He portrayed the villain in the video sequences for Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II, and provided a voice for Knights of the old Republic. And he was one of the first men to appear on TV naked.
The role of Knight Two was originally offered to Walter Koenig, but health issues prevented him from taking the role - which lead to him being cast as Bester. It was then offered to Patrick McGoohan, who’s schedule didn’t match up.
The use of the word Lurker to refer to B5’s homeless population is a reference to the internet term for people who read but don’t contribute to a conversation.
Sinclair’s ill-fated squadmate Bill Mitchell was named after General Billy Mitchell, the commander of the US Army’s air assets in France during WWI, deputy director of the Air Service after the war, and is seen as the father of the modern US Air Force.
JMS stated that this episode was shot using equipment that was very seldom used on TV, in order to make the show seem more surreal. The CGI for Sinclair’s flashbacks/hallucinations was step-printed in order to give those sequences a similar feel.
Similarly, this episode was one of the first truly complex episodes for CG in general. The braodcast version of the Gathering had something like 55 CG shots across the entire episode. By comparison, there are 25 shots in a single 90-second sequence here.
This episode was cut when it was first aired on Channel 4 in the UK. I can’t find any details of what was cut, but presumably it was either some of Sinclair’s torture or the violence when he escapes the Cybernet.
Shortly after this episode aired, Babylon 5 won a Vision of the Future award from the Space Frontier Foundation. Responding to complaints online from fans who thought it was unrealistic that Benson’s body didn’t drift off into space when it was shoved out an airlock, JMS referred to an encounter at the award ceremony where a NASA engineer told him that after the episode aired, he’d run some quick calculations to see what would happen. Starting with a base mass of 2.5 million tons for the station’s structure, adding in a reasonable amount of weight for internal systems, a quarter of a million humanoids, soil and trees for the internal drum, and so on, he came to the conclusion that B5 would have a mass somewhere close to that of a small moon or large asteroid. And as such have a weak graviational field all of its own, enough to keep small objects moving slowly from getting too far.
In character backplot, Doctor Franklin spent a chunk of his youth travelling the galaxy, trading his skills as a doctor for passage on starships. During this time, he treated a number of injured Minbari, and EarthForce tried to requisition his notes to develop bio-wapons in the war. Franklin destroyed the notes rather than allow them to be used this way.
During their discussion, Delenn says that she heard of Franklin’s past from Doctor Hernandez. This is the second time the character would be mentioned - Franklin said she treated him in Infection. She would later appear in the episode Believers, and be mentioned one more time in Objects in Motion in series 5.
During the Battle of the Line, Sinclair’s Starfury has yellow and black stripes on the dorsal wings, and his helmet has yellow and blue stripes with a blue crescent insignia overlaid. Mitchell’s starfury appears to have black and white stripes on the wings and his helmet has two black, white and orange decals - both are different but similar - one in the top right above his faceplate in the middle of the bottom section.
Universe Today headlines:
- Sports: Zero-G Tennis Results Inside
- Is There Something Living in Hyperspace?
- Homeguard Leader Convicted: Jacob Lester Found Guilty In Attack on Minbari Embassy
- Narns settle Raghesh 3 Controversy
- EA President Promises Balanced Budget by 2260
- Psi Corps in Election Tangle: Did Psi-Corps Violate its Charter by Endorsing Vice-President?
San Diego Still Considered Too Radioactive for Occupancy:
A new study published by Earthforce Nuclear Regulatory Office declares San Diego, struck by the American States first act of nuclear terrorism over 100 years ago, still uninhabitable for the next 300 years.
- SPECIAL SECTION: Pros & Cons of Interspecies Mating
- Copyright Trial Continues in Bookzap Flap: Books Downloaded Directly into Brain: Who Owns Them?
- Is There Something Living in Hyperspace? (a repeat)
- New Binary Star Discovered
Inside: Universe Today: Babylon 5 Edition:
- Classified 5-70
- Crossword 60
- Editorial/Opinion 10-11A
- Lotteries 11C
- Horoscope 8A
- HoloComics 9E
According to Knight Two, the highlights of Sinclair’s career:
2218: Born on Mars Colony May 3rd.
2237: Enlisted in Earth Force Defense.
2240: Promoted to Fighter Pilot.
2241: Promoted to Squad Leader
That’s a rapid promotion to squad leader!
And so, opinion:
It wasn’t something that I considered at the time, but think to the pilot episode of pretty much any show contemporaneous to Babylon 5. Character conflicts, budding romances, mysteries and other plot hooks will be seeded within, but they tend to be used as ongoing things. Like in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Data never really gets any closer to understanding humans or gaining emotions during the run of the show. Picard and Crusher and Riker and Troi never deal with their emotional baggages. And yes, there are resolutions to some of those plots in the TNG movies, but those are outside the context of the week in, week out show.
But Babylon 5 set up the mystery of what happened to Sinclair at the Line, and 8 episodes later we get a set of answers. Sinclair was captured, tortured, mind-wiped and returned to his fighter, left to be found by his fellow humans. Of course, it leads to another question: why did all this happen, and did it lead to the Minbari surrender? Even though we do get an answer to this question, the idea of resolving a mystery by making the resolution part of a bigger one is a hallmark of mid-long term storytelling in TV drama. Done poorly, the resolution gets drawn out too long - like Lost is often criticised for doing. Without enough forward planning, the resolution can be haphazard - like is often said of Battlestar Galactica.
In terms of ongoing background plot, Knight Two echoes the same sentiments we got from Vance Hendricks in Infection and Malcolm Biggs in The War Prayer - a mix of an internalised inferiority complex over the Earth-Minbari War, and an externalised mistrust of alien influence on Earth. The show is building heavily on the idea of xenophobia being pushed into the public mindset. Whether they were sent to B5 by a rogue government faction or not, the Knights were there to “prove” that Sinclair was part of a conspiracy to deliver Earth to the Minbari via infiltration and
At the end of the episode, Sinclair has lied to Delenn about what he remembers. This of course ties back to what he says to Garibaldi at the start of the episode - “Everyone lies, Michael. The innocent lie because they don’t want to be blamed for something they didn’t do, and the guilty lie because they don’t have any other choice.”. So is Sinclair guilty or innocent?
As I noted above, this episode apparently used a lot of different cranes and lenses to create a surreal feel, and there’s definitely some of that in the scenes with Sinclair and Knight Two. The camera work in those scenes is very different to the show’s normal look and feel, shooting from below with the strong, theatrical lights above, odd colour-grading in the sequence where Knight Two shoots ersatz Garibaldii in the Cybernet, and the gradual stripping away of all the background elements except the staircase Sninclair clings to. It’s interesting to compare this to the Star Trek TNG Chain of Command two-parter. I think The Sky Full of Stars is more creative, while Chain of Command has the advantage of much better actors.
Overall, This episode is definitely a highlight of the early B5 episodes. Leaving aside the plot relevance, it represents an improvement over the first few episodes in terms of acting, script, it’s experimenting with the form, it expands the amount of CG used, and it’s a good episode overall. Michael O’Hare’s performance, especially when Sinclair breaks out of the Cybernet is another high point. He’s coming into his own in the role at this point, in a way I don’t think teenage Lorcan could ever really appreciate.
I don’t think any other show would have had the nerve to do the slaughter sequence of the Battle of the Line, it would have been off-camera. Instead, with highly limited SFX, they manage to make those computer graphics feel so much more - something B5 would keep doing better and better. A lot of SF shows you want a battle for the effects, B5? Not so much because that battle would be vicious and the depiction would aim for the viewer to feel it, all of it.
Yeah, and even as the effects got better and more ambitious, it was always in the service of the story. Like the battle of Coriana VII has something like a million moving objects in one shot, which is still a record, I think. And yet the cumulation of that battle is still the philosophical conflict.
Any time, and I do mean any, that Shadow dreadnaughts appeared you knew what was going to follow would not be pretty.
So, shall we talk about Deathwalker?
So when I finish Season 3 of Person of Interest I have have to start the B5 rewatch.
So thanks for that
Deathwalker: The “immortality serum” macguffin isn’t great, and it was obvious they weren’t going to allow something like that to stick around, but I liked the focus on the way the different ambassadors dealt with the issues. Some of the acting in this episode felt even more stiff and awkward than usual though.
“You are not ready for immortality”.
For UK/Ireland people, Sky1 recently started showing the show from the start. Five episodes a week, they’re up to S01E13 now.
Jha’Dur is played by Sarah Douglas, who is best known for playing Ursa in Superman and Superman II (and recently in an episode of Supergirl) She was also in Conan the Destroyer, and was on Falcon Crest for 2 years. She has a lengthy career in cult TV, movies and games both as a physical and voice actor, having had roles in V: The Final Battle, Stargate SG-1, Space: 1999, Batman Beyond, the 90’s Iron Man TV show, and many 80’s schlock horror movies.
Ambassador Kalika is played by Robin Curtis. Best known for taking over the role of Saavik from Kirstie Alley in Star Trek III and IV, Curtis also played Tallera/T’Pala in the Star Trek: The Next Generation 2-parter Gambit, and was in Space: Above and Beyond. She largely quit acting in 1999, and was working as a real estate agent by 2004, though she debuted a one-woman show the following year. She’s been a regular at Trek conventions since 2014.
Cosie Costa played Abbut. He has a strong of bit parts credited from the late 70s through late 90s, including such genre classics as Galactia 1980 and Team Knight Rider. The role was written with comedian Gilbert Gottfried in mind, but he wasn’t available.
This episode is the first of three appearances for Aki Aleong as Senator Hidoshi. He’s been active as a musician and actor since 1956, but again mostly in guest roles. His most notable SF credit aside from Babylon 5 is V; The Series, in which he played Nathan Bates’ aide Mister Chiang in 9 episodes. He also had single-episode roles in the War of the Worlds TV series and seaQuest 2032. He’s also involved in campaigns to increase the visibility of Asian actors.
Elements of the beating Na’Toth exacts upon Jha’Dur were cut from the episode when it first aired on Channel 4 in the UK
This episode marks the first appearance of a number of ships: The Drazi Sunhawk, the Vree Xorr, and an Iexsha warship, which is never seen again (indeed, the Iexsha are never even mentioned on the show after this episode)
JMS likened the relationship between the League of Non-Aligned Worlds and the B5 Advisory Council to the UN General Assembly and the Security Council. The League has a single vote equal to Earth, Narn, Minbari, Centauri Prime and the Vorlons. The League can appoint a speaker to the Council for any given session, and that speaker is either empowered to vote as they see fit, or as the League ambassadors decide internally beforehand.
The Dilgar were a race that invaded the League of Non-Aligned Worlds in 2228. They engaged in a genocidal war, experimented on the inhabitants of the worlds they conquered, and were generally awful. The Earth Alliance, having begun to expand in earnest decided to enter the war in support of the League. With the support of humanity, the League were able to drive the Dilgar back to Omelos, their homeworld, and effectively quarantine them in the system. The race was wiped out when their sun went nova a few years later. Jha’dur is the only member of the race known to have survived. Both Garibaldi and Sinclair’s fathers served during the war, as an infantryman and a fighter pilot respectively. Earth would enter an expansionist phase after the war, leading directly to their disastrous first contact with the Minbari.
Speaking of whom, Jha’Dur has been hiding out with the Minbari since she fled Omelos. Note that she’s wearing Warrior Caste clothes when she arrives on the station. And Sinclair’s memory wipe appears to be common enough knowledge that the Wind Sword clan felt comfortable talking about it in front of her.
And speaking of the Wind Swords, JMS confirmed that the Minbari assassin was a member of said clan.
Sinclair’s father was part of the EarthForce task force that retook Balos from the Dilgar
So there’s a lot of episodes of Babylon 5 in the first series or two that really feel like they’re there to say THIS ISN’T STAR TREK, and this is one of them, maybe of the two most prominent from series 1. While as @PaulF notes, the antiagapic is obviously not going to stick around, so it’s not a direct one to one analogy for an episode of say, TNG, but there are plenty of similarities. For the most part, the Enterprise shows up, encounters a moral dilemma - sometimes given an impossible choice, and Picard eventually finds a solution.
Here though, it’s more a descent into Realpolitik, and as a result, the story is mostly a criticism of that mode of politics. There’s no moral element to the Earth Alliance’s decision to ship Jha’dur home. G’Kar at least considers allowing Na’Toth be killed, and is willing to hold the Narn’s support of the League’s desire to put her on trial over them like the sword of Damocles. The League are willing to put aside their desire for justice when they learn of her discovery. The only people who sticks to their moral core are Sinclair - who’s hands are tied and Londo, who doesn’t care and is just amused by the whole thing.
JMS had some good commentary on these elements of the plot, which as is often the case for Series 1 is still quite timely to current affairs:
Your statement about the serum being a means of getting to the truth or her truth at the very least is quite correct. And appropos to current reality. We look back at the Nazis, and others, and say, “Well, WE could never do that.” But of course we could. Fine tune your attention to the frequency of misery and inhumanity, and in short order you’ll pick up Rwanda, and Bosnia and a host of others. Our capacity for greatness is as substantial as our capacity for evil. And we must constantly be reminded of that duality; to pretend it simply isn’t there, or is somebody else’s problem, inevitably leads to tragedy. (For those interested, btw, I would encourage you to check out a short story by Mark Twain, called “The Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg.” I think you will find it most illuminating.)
To switch tracks for one second, for reasons that will be clear in a paragraph or two the B plot feels a bit off for the most part. Like, we know Kosh is enigmatic so far, and we learn that Vorlons distrust telepaths, but there’s a question as to why Kosh puts Talia through everything here, to just get a memory crystal of presumably her thoughts. While this may be relevant to future developments, it really feels out of place set against the rest of the episode.
However, there’s one important thing to note from both plots. Only one person gets what they want in either story - and that’s Kosh. Talia has no choice but to attend the sessions with Kosh and Abbut, despite her discomfort. In the A plot, all the machinations, all the negotiations, all the realpolitik doesn’t matter in the end - a Vorlon cruiser shows up and destroys Jha’dur’s ship. That was going to happen regardless of what her destination was.
God may work in mysterious ways, but he’s a conman compared to the Vorlon.