Monday, August 13, 2012

B5 Rewatch: The War Prayer

Hello! Welcome to the Monday installment of the Babylon 5 rewatch! Today I'll be looking at the seventh episode of the first season, "The War Prayer."

Spoilers for everything, of course.

What Happened

Delenn is spending an evening with another Minbari and they are discussing poetry, which Delenn's friend writes. The other woman, Mayan, is a friend of hers from childhood. They discuss how much simpler things were when they were younger and her friend asks if she regrets the choices she made, like being on the station. Delenn says only sometimes. Mayan decides to call it a night, saying she has another performance the next day and then must prepare for her journey to Earth. Delenn says she hopes the Earthers appreciate her spirit. Mayan says if they don't she will be fine and Delenn remarks that it is good to have her there on the station. They say their goodbyes and Mayan leaves. As she makes her way back to her quarters she hears a sound behind her and turns. We see a switchblade flash in the shadows and Mayan is stabbed in the gut. Her attacker burns a brand into her forehead and exclaims, "Stay away from Earth, freak!" before running off.

Delenn is furious when she finds out and berates Sinclair on behalf of her friend. She is not reassured by his promises to catch the perpetrator. Garibaldi laments that she declined protection and Delenn snaps it shouldn't have been necessary and storms out. Garibaldi tells Sinclair that this is the sixth such attack on a prominent alien within the last few weeks, all with the same MO. He also says similar attacks have occurred on Mars and Earth. It is apparently a group calling themselves "Home Guard," part of a "pro-Earth" movement. Sinclair says he will not have such hate groups on his station. He tells Garibaldi to take care of it.

G'Kar sees them and confronts him about the attack, saying Sinclair's people were responsible. Sinclair reminds him this is the work of a fringe group but G'Kar says he doesn't care. If any Narn is attacked in such a manner, he promises there will be bloody retribution. Sinclair warns him in turn, any disruption will be dealt with, even if it means throwing all of the Narn on board into the brig. He leaves and G'Kar watches him go, torn between outrage and amusement at the threat.

Garibaldi heads down to the medlab to question Mayan, under Franklin's supervision. She says all she saw of her attacker was a shadow. Garibaldi tries to get an idea of shape and size at least but she can't give him anything more than "a shadow." The mark on her head looks like the joined symbols for male and female. Garibaldi asks if she can think of anyone who would want to hurt her and she says no. Franklin says he could remove the mark for her but she declines, saying it is a lesson, and one that should not be forgotten.

Garibaldi heads to the bridge, where Ivanova is clearing a Centauri ship to dock with the station. It is apparently carrying detainees of some sort, though the reason for this is unclear. The pilot only wants to hand them over to someone with command rank. She asks Garibaldi if he can deal with it, but he says he is too busy with the attacks to deal with it. She promises it will be a quick matter and he gives in. On his way out the door he says there is just one stop he has to make first. Apparently someone has been trying to grow coffee in the hydroponic garden, which is a big no-no, so he's going to go rip out the planter. Ivanova makes a face of horror, and it is clear the coffee is hers. She says she will go deal with the detainees and grumbles that he plays dirty. He just smirks at her as she leaves.

Ivanova meets the detainees, they are fighting their treatment, demanding to see Ambassador Cotto. She has them taken to the detention sector and the Centauri representative alerted to their presence. Before she can leave the customs area, a man notices her and calls out her name. She turns to see who has hailed her and she greets him as Malcolm, asking what he's doing there. They apparently go way back, but it's been eight years since they last saw each other. He says he's looking for something he never stopped wanting, making googly eyes at her, and she makes a quick exit, claiming she has work to do. He says same old Susan, duty first. She says that's right and leaves. He watches after her.

The two Centauri detainees have been brought before Sinclair and Vir has come to meet them. Apparently one of them is his cousin and they were under the impression that he was the Centauri ambassador on the station. Londo arrives wanting to know why he has been disturbed and Sinclair suggests he ask Vir. Vir introduces them as Aria and his cousin Kiron. Londo asks why they were taken into custody and Sinclair said they stole some credit chips. Sinclair releases them into Londo's custody until the matter can be sorted out. Londo's not terribly happy about this.

Malcolm walks through a busy part of the station and finds Ivanova taking a break. She tells him her shift just ended and he hopes they can talk. We quickly learn they used to be an item. She says that was a long time ago, a different place, a different her. He says that's all the more reason to start over and she excuses herself, pleading tiredness. He tries to stop her but she implores him to just take it slow and let her go.

Vir tries to explain his cousin's situation to Londo. Apparently Kiron and Aria are in love, but their families arranged marriages to other people for each of them. So they fled to Babylon 5. Londo doesn't understand their objections to the marriages, thinking love has very little to do with marriage. He says that their respective betrothed must be both rich and powerful, and he commends their families on their fine choices in partners for their children. He asks the pair to consider what they are doing, reminding them that marriages among their people have been arranged for thousands of years. These alliances meld the noble houses together and keep the fabric of the Republic strong. He says sometimes this is a sacrifice, but they do it anyway because that is what it means to be Centauri. The young couple still doesn't think it's fair. Londo shakes his head and throws his hands in the air, at a loss with how to deal with them.

Garibaldi has a suspect in custody who was caught with illegal weapons. (Holy crap, it's a super young Lieutenant Tao!!!) The suspect, who seems drunk, claims he has a right to defend himself and that the station is dangerous. He clearly isn't a fan of aliens. Garibaldi leads the discussion to the attack on Mayan. Not!Tao's knife had fresh blood on it, but he claims he cut himself. Garibaldi asks if he's ever heard of the Home Guard and he says yeah, they've got the right idea. It's about time humans stood up for themselves, he says, and those damn aliens are ruining everything. Garibaldi has him booked for possession of the weapon and orders a DNA check on the blood from the knife. Not!Tao calls Garibaldi a traitor for "sucking up" to the aliens.

Sinclair dons a breather mask and goes to visit Ambassador Kosh in his quarters. He wants to keep him informed about the attacks and assure him that they are doing everything in their power to catch the perpetrators. He also thinks it would be helpful if Kosh spoke with the other ambassadors. Kosh says he takes no interest in the affairs of others. Sinclair starts to ask him to reconsider but then says he'll respect their wishes. He notices that Kosh is watching a series of images from Earth and asks what he's doing. Kosh say's he is studying and does not elaborate further.

In her quarters, Ivanova opens the door to find a present has been left for her. It is a rose. She smells it and smiles fondly.

Later, she is on the bridge and Sinclair joins her. She asks if they've had any word from Earth Central and he says no. He seems distracted and asks her if she was briefed on what happened when Ambassador Kosh first arrived on the station. Ivanova says all she knows is that a radical Minbari group tried to kill him. Apparently he was poisoned through his hand. Sinclair tells her that earlier he was visiting with Kosh and was reminded of something he had never been able to figure out about the incident. Kosh wears a suit to protect him from the primary atmosphere of the station, so how were the Minbari able to poison him? His hand should have been completely covered.

Ivanova says Vorlon are very secretive, there's really no way to know how much of the suit is functional and how much is just camouflage to hide what they really look like. Sinclair says there is one person who knows. The Doctor who saved Kosh's life, Ben Kyle, saw him without his suit. But he has never told anyone because he was sworn to patient confidentiality. Right after the incident he was transferred back to Earth to work with the President. In addition, the station's first telepath, Lyta Alexander, who is the only member of the Psi Corps known to have scanned a Vorlon, was transferred back to Earth as well. He wonders if there is some sort of connection.

Londo gripes at Vir about the "lovebirds" and the trouble they have caused for him from their families. Vir asks what he is going to do about the situation and Londo replies the only thing he can: send them home. Vir protests, reminding Londo that the two are in love. Londo doesn't think much of that. He shows Vir pictures of his three wives, calling them "Pestilence," "Famine," and "Death." He did not marry them for their personalities, they were arranged. But they worked out. Vir says the pair will just run away again and Londo says that is not his problem. There is a transport leaving for Centauri Prime tonight and he wants them on it.

Sinclair is informed that the Abbai delegation is arriving and he has a liaison officer tasked to meet them at customs. Garibaldi comes in and Sinclair says he hears they have a suspect in custody. Garibaldi says unfortunately they had to let him go, the blood on his knife was his own. They kept him under surveillance though, thinking maybe running loose he'll be of use. He's ripe for recruitment by the Home Guard. The situation on the station is rapidly deteriorating, fights are breaking out everywhere. Sinclair says that is exactly what Home Guard wants. They need to wrap this up quickly. Garibaldi agrees and leaves to get back to work.

Ivanova, meanwhile, has some down time and is having dinner with Malcolm. He asks if she ever regrets leaving him and she says no. It was a great career move for her. He says he never wanted to let her go and still feels the same. She warns him that she is still very dedicated to her career. He says he can accept that now. In fact, he's made plans to set up business on the station. Ivanova greets this news with shock and he tells her he's already secured and office and quarters. He does need some clients and  hopes she can help him with that. But the important thing, he tells her, is that they'll be together again. She seems a bit overwhelmed by the news.

Kiron and Aria have managed to sneak out for bit of a romantic rendezvous before being sent home. As they move to kiss each other, the sound of a knife is heard and a group of shadowy figures attacks them. Kiron tries to fight back and manages to unmask one of his attackers. He and Aria are both knocked out. The attackers scatter when they hear someone approaching. It is Vir, looking for his charges. He gets them to the medlab.

Kiron is in bad shape, in a coma in intensive care. Aria was only stunned and is physically fine. She doesn't really remember much of the attack, however. Franklin thinks Kiron might be able to identify his attacker if he comes out of his coma. Garibaldi gets a call on his link that there is a disturbance in the Central Corridor of the Brown Sector. He and Sinclair leave to check it out and find G'Kar giving a rousing speech to a rapidly angering mob of non-humans.

Sinclair asks him what's wrong. G'Kar cites the attacks and that there has yet to be a single arrest. Sinclair tries to tell them they have a promising lead but G'Kar claims they all know the real reason no arrests have been made: the attackers are human. Garibaldi sees the mob growing ugly and orders his men to get Sinclair out of there. Sinclair wants to stay and make the mob listen to him, but Garibaldi isn't having any of it. He's seen how these situations escalate and he needs to keep the Commander safe. Of course, G'Kar takes offense at Sinclair's retreat, demanding justice. Garibaldi tells G'Kar he can either arrest him for inciting a riot or G'Kar can go back to his quarters now and they can call it a misunderstanding. Seeing the security forces on either side of him, G'Kar grudgingly leaves.

Not!Tao is walking through the station when a pair of aliens, hearing of his disdain for other races, confront and attack him. He fights back for a bit, but there are two of them and they do a number on him before leaving.

Malcolm returns Ivanova to her quarters and she thanks him for a lovely evening. He tells her he was hoping it wasn't over and kisses her. Of course, her comm beeps right about then. She pulls away to answer it, reminding him that this is her duty. Sinclair pops up on the screen and tells her there's been a new riot, she's needed. She tells him she's on her way. She shoos Malcolm out, promising to find him on her next break.

Garibaldi updates Sinclair on the situation throughout the station. He tells him about the attack on Roberts (Not!Tao). Luckily he was under surveillance, Garibaldi says, and they were able to nab the attackers before they killed the man. He's in the medlab recovering. Sinclair tells him to keep a lid on that since it would likely just provoke more trouble. He expresses his frustration with G'Kar. Ivanova comes in, freshly changed but hair still down, and Garibaldi comments on her new look. She chastises him and then they sit down to bring her up to speed.

Aria goes to visit Kiron in the medlab and Vir and Londo both try to comfort her. Londo tells her there is nothing she can do here but she doesn't want to leave his side. Mayan advises Londo to let Aria stay, saying that the Minbari consider love a powerful healing force. Londo scoffs, what if he dies, despite the love. Mayan interrupts him, saying then Aria will suffer enormous grief, but every moment she spends with him will lessen that grief. Londo says he expects nothing less from a poet. She tells him that the capacity and need for love is a defining trait of all sentient beings. Londo says that Aria will learn to live without it. "As you did?" asks Mayan, and he has no answer for her.

Garibaldi calls Sinclair and tells him about an interesting visitor Roberts just had. He plays the video and we see Malcolm approach Roberts on his gurney. Sinclair recognizes him from Ivanova's quarters when he called her the night before. Malcolm tells Roberts that what has happened to him is a disgrace and proceeds to spew the anti-alien propaganda. It is clear he is part of Home Guard. They show the recording to Ivanova. She is surprised, saying she never would have thought it of Malcolm. Garibaldi says eight years is a long time, there was no reason for her to do so.

Ivanova says she is unsure what they want her to do about it though. Sinclair wants her to introduce him to Malcolm, saying he doesn't like all of these alien races pushing themselves on Earth. He says groups like Home Guard are always looking to recruit highly placed friends. If he can get his foot in the door, he may be able to shut them down before they do any more damage. Ivanova agrees, on one condition. She wants to be there when they take Malcolm down. Sinclair agrees. They think the diplomatic reception that evening will be a good place to get the ball rolling. After they leave, Ivanova looks at the rose from Malcolm and tosses it in her trash can.

Vir finds Londo in a garden, saying he has been looking everywhere for him. He wants to tell him something. He says that Londo was wrong about Aria and Kiron. How would their love have destroyed the Republic? Londo says they must respect tradition and Vir goes on a tear about how ridiculous adhering to tradition can be. Londo replies with the non-sequitur, "My shoes are too tight." That throws Vir for a loop and Londo explains it is something his father said when he was very old. He found his father alone in his room crying because his shoes were too tight. He said it didn't matter though because he had forgotten how to dance. Londo says he never understood that until now, but he now feels the same. Vir says he doesn't understand and Londo says, "nor should you," and leaves.

At the reception Delenn brings a member of the Abbai delegation, Mila Shar, to Sinclair and introduces her. She discusses learning about their agricultural techniques. He gives a kind of haughty answer about it being human tech and so state of the art. She then asks about their security and he says it's fine. She says, but wasn't there an attack on a Centauri just last night? He quips, "he'll recover" and leaves the conversation, Delenn watching him go with a look of surprise on her face.

Malcolm, there with Ivanova, approaches Sinclair. Sinclair says the aliens are nervous and puts on a front about not enjoying his role as a diplomat to the aliens. Malcolm chews on this attitude. Later, Sinclair joins Malcolm and Ivanova for drinks and he expands on the theme. He says how much it sucks that the only reason Earth won the war with the Minbari was because the Minbari let them win. Malcolm, sensing a sympathetic ear, begins to tell them about a group, a growing movement, from Earth that wants to put Earth back at the "center of the universe," and get rid of alien influences, hell, aliens themselves. He says it is about getting back to their roots and letting "humans be humans." Ivanova watches this speech with concern, unseen by Malcolm. Sinclair bites and Malcolm says he wants wants them to meet his friends, both of them. Sinclair and Ivanova agree. Of course, it's not that easy. Malcolm would like them to make a "small" gesture to ensure his group that the two of are of the right mindset. Sinclair asks what sort of gesture and Malcolm says in a fervor, "something to put every alien on this station in their place!"

At a council meeting  Sinclair tells them he knows they have been concerned about the recent attacks but there is no longer any cause for concern. G'Kar exclaims his approval that they have finally caught the criminals, then asks why they weren't informed. Sinclair turns to Garibaldi, who briefs them that they have reason to believe the perpetrators have fled back to Earth. Delenn asks if that means they have been identified and Garibaldi says that information is classified.  This is met with outrage by the council in general, but most vocally by G'Kar. He wants to know why they are just supposed to take the Earthers' word that the criminals are actually gone. Sinclair says believe what you like, the investigation is over, and he leaves amid a cacophony of displeasure.

In the medlab Aria calls for Franklin. Kiron has woken up. Franklin is glad to see him awake and says that when he is feeling up for it, Garibaldi has some questions for him. He also says that Londo has been asking after Kiron and would like to have a long talk with him and with Aria.

Ivanova calls Garibaldi and Sinclair to let them know that Malcolm has set up their meeting with Home Guard. He won't give them the place, Sinclair and Ivanova are to meet him in the Zocalo and he will take them there. They are to be unarmed. Garibaldi grumbles about it but Sinclair says it wasn't unexpected. He heads out to meet Ivanova, saying they will keep their links open so that Garibaldi can monitor them in case it is a trap. He says he'll be ready.

Vir and Londo visit Kiron, and Londo informs them that they will return to Centauri Prime, as is their duty. They start to object but he interrupts and says however, when they arrive they will be met by his cousin and escorted to his estate in the capital where they will be fostered until they come of age. They are confused but Vir explains it is an old custom, out of fashion but still allowed. They will live with Andilo and his wives and will be instructed in proper decorum for Centauri of their rank. Aria worries that their parents will object but Londo says Andilo is a powerful man and being fostered by him is a great honor. Then, when they are old enough, Andilo will allow them to marry whoever they wish to marry. Even if it is only for love, he assures Kiron. Realizing the gift they have been given the two thank Londo gratefully. Kiron asks why. Londo tells them they are still children, and children should be allowed to dance.

Garibaldi tracks Sinclair and Ivanova as they enter Cargo Bay 5. They enter with Malcolm and the room appears to be empty but then several figures in ninja clothes seem to appear out of nowhere. Malcolm explains it is black-light camouflage, developed by Earthforce. It's technically still in R&D, but they have friends who got them some prototypes. Malcolm has one of his men activate a jammer and Garibaldi loses their signals. He assembles a team and they move out.

Malcolm tells Ivanova and Sinclair that the attacks on the station, Earth, and Mars have only been a warm up. In two day's time there will be a mass assassination of many prominent alien figures in those locations, including the four primary ambassadors on the station: Londo, Delenn, G'Kar, and Kosh. Ivanova is floored by the scale of such an undertaking and Malcolm shrugs they have friends everywhere. Sinclair asks what he wants of them, Malcolm answers that he expects them to get his people into the ambassadorial wing and then off the station undetected after the deaths. Sinclair says no problem.

Malcolm is pleased and says there is just one more thing, a loyalty test. One of his men pulls Mila Shar out into the room and Malcolm hands Sinclair a gun, telling him to kill her. She begs for mercy and before Sinclair can take the gun, one of the men says the scanner shows a whole lot of people headed their way. Sinclair grabs Malcolm's gun and punches him, Ivanova joins the fight and Garibaldi and his men arrive. Malcolm tries to get a sneak attack in on Sinclair but Ivanova gets the drop on him, telling him to give her an excuse and he's dead. Garibaldi arrests him and Sinclair asks if she is alright. She says she's fine.

Malcolm and his people are taken into custody and escorted off the station as Delenn, Mayan, and G'Kar watch. Malcolm of course throws a fit, saying Ivanova isn't much of a human, siding with the aliens. She says she finds many of the aliens to be more human than he is. He says he doesn't know her any more and she replies that she never knew him.


Ergh. There is an all too common cliche in science fiction where humans finally make substantial progress with space exploration, meet alien life, and quickly become heavy hitters in the galactic scene. It's just such an unrealistic concept (beyond even the fictional aspect of the story). Seriously, going up against any established space-faring race, humanity is going to be at the bottom of the totem pole for a long time. (I think that's why I love Mass Effect so much, actually. Throughout the games humanity is scrabbling to prove itself and is often treated dismissively by pretty much every other race out there. Your protagonist has to work to get recognized and even valid claims of imminent threat are ignored for far too long simply because you're human. It's awesome. But I digress.)

Babylon 5 walks a pretty delicate line on the edge of this cliche. When they got to space they got thrown into a war based on a misunderstanding and were only saved by the mysterious surrender of the much more powerful Minbari right as Earth was on the cusp of being destroyed. And quite frankly, relations between many of the other races in the galaxy were a hot mess as well. The station was created by humans to serve as a neutral territory for all of the races. It is run by the humans because it is their brain child, so humans tend to have the upper hand there and maybe seem, on the surface of the show, to be more powerful/influential than they actually are. But. As the series goes on, we learn how precarious their position is and how they are still scrabbling for the respect of the other races.

So, when we hear people like Roberts say things like "damn aliens ruining it for everyone," it really really gets under my skin. Because humanity, in this story, (thankfully) did not arrive on the scene to colonize virgin planets devoid of other life. No, they entered in the middle of a big ol' heap of mess of other races with long-established alliances, feuds, prejudices, and claims. Humanity came late to the game, and they are just trying to squeeze out their own little corner of the galaxy to lay claim to while trying to get along with everyone else and just see what the heck is out there. So what, exactly, are the aliens ruining? I'll tell you. They are ruining that asinine desire of humans to believe that they are the epitome of existence, to spread out and conquer every square inch of any planet or rock they step foot on and to be the dominant force everywhere they go. How are the aliens ruining this for "everyone," you may ask? Why, simply by existing. By getting there first. Sigh. See also: Malcolm's whole "put Earth back at the center of the universe" speech. (Pro tip: If you want Earth to stay at the center of the universe, you probably should just give up on the whole idea of space exploration in the first place. Only way that's gonna stay the status quo, whether we find sentient life out there or not.)

All of which is to say, that while concepts like Home Guard and the pro-Earth movement in general (which if I remember correctly end up being pretty crucial to the series' overarching story) make complete and total sense in this story, the very ideas still disgust me. I want Garibaldi to find them all and stomp them into the ground and hand them to Sinclair so he can toss them out of the airlock. Because really, humanity didn't ask for representatives like them, thank you very much, and they have no place on a station like Babylon 5. So, kudos to the writing team, really, because man did they ever manage to evoke all kinds of emotion and investment in the story in this viewer.

That exchange with Mayan, Delenn, and G'Kar at the end? That pretty much summed up exactly how I feel about the whole thing. Mostly this episode just made me annoyed at the human race, but glad that there are people like Sinclair and Ivanova and Garibaldi fighting to let everyone just, you know, be.

Random note: When G'Kar says, "Do you think we are pouchlings?" I was struck by sudden images of Narn hopping about with babies in pouches like kangaroos. Seriously. What does this expression mean about Narn reproduction/gestation/infancy? I am intrigued. What a wonderful random little detail to just throw in there and never acknowledge at all!

Also, oh hey, the Centauri are all about the multiple wives. Yay? I mean, that's awesome if it goes both ways. If not, well, grumble. The love story was a nice enough distraction from the main plot, I guess. I think mostly it just served to give us more background on the (randomly medieval in structure) Centauri culture. It also did establish a bit more firmly that while he is for the most part a very practical man, Londo does have a bit of a romantic streak in him.

I should probably also acknowledge that very small exchange between Sinclair and Kosh, and then Sinclair's subsequent conversation with Ivanova. Those are very quick scenes, easily dismissed because they don't really play into any of the other plots. But damn if they are not extremely important. What do the Vorlons really look like? Why are they so secretive? Why were Dr. Kyle and Lyta Alexander sent back to Earth after finding out some of these things? Yeah, we're definitely going to be seeing more about all of that later down the road.

Favorite Quotes

"You're a vicious man." (Ivanova)
"Head of security. It's in the job description." (Garibaldi)

"But they love each other!" (Vir)
"Love, pah, overrated!" (Londo)

"Arranged marriages, every one! But they worked out. They inspired me! Knowing that they were waiting at home for me is what keeps me here. Seventy-five light years away!" (Londo)

"Ambassador I have traveled far and seen much, and what I have seen tells me that all sentient beings are best defined by their capacity and their need for love." (Mayan)

"Such great hatred for so little real reason. It seems incomprehensible to me." (Mayan)
"Human ways are often unfathomable. But in time, one learns to live with them." (Delenn)
"If one has an exceedingly strong constitution." (G'Kar)


And so we wrap up another day of rewatch fabulousness. I hope to see you back here again on Wednesday for "And the Sky Full of Stars."

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