Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Bruce Seth Green
Much of the first season is spent introducing us to characters and concepts which will have meaning later on. In the case of Mind War, it introduces several things which will be important later, while giving the viewer a stand-alone story that is quite compelling.
Psi Cops Alfred Bester (Walter Koenig) and Kelsey (Felicity Waterman) arrive on Babylon 5 seeking a “rogue” telepath, Jason Ironheart (William Allen Young). He was close with the station’s resident telepath, Talia Winters (Andrea Thompson) and they think he might seek her out. Ironheart is on the station but doesn’t reveal himself to Talia until after she has met with Bester and Kelsey.
Ironheart has been experimented on by Psi Corps and his abilities are growing and not able to be controlled. He needs to hide from Bester and Kelsey until whatever is happening runs its course. He tells Talia that the experiments were designed to create telepaths and telekinetics who could assassinate someone without a trace. He then experiences a “mind quake” that threatens to rip apart the station.
Talia tries to contact Jason again and he allows her through his psychic shield. He warns her that Psi Corps is no longer controlled by the government, but starting to be the controllers. He’s seen the whole scope of things with his new abilities. She confides in Commander Sinclair (Michael O’Hare) as to what’s going on, and that she had a relationship with Ironheart. She brings the Commander to Jason to hear what he has to say, and the Commander agrees to help him. They try to get him off the station so he can finish “becoming.” Unfortunately, Bester and Kelsey figure out what’s going on. They try to shut him down, but it doesn’t work. He manages to get off the station and mutates into a being that is all energy and thought. He gave her a “gift” and no one else knows that this gift was an increase in her powers, making her telekinetic.
The secondary story has Catherine Satai (Julia Nickson) and Commander Sinclair settled into something resembling domestic bliss. Catherine is asked to scout Sigma-957, a planet that may be rich in the element Quantium-40. It’s in an area of disputed space and must have the approval of the Narn. Narn Ambassador G’Kar (Andreas Katsulas) warns her off the planet, cautioning her against going there. Catherine goes anyway. She encounters a mysterious vessel there that makes contact and then disappears. She then finds she has no power and will crash into the planet within 2 hours. Fortunately, G’Kar sent Narn ships after her, and she is rescued as she is entering the atmosphere.
Catherine goes to thank G’Kar upon her return. She asks him why he did what he did, and G’Kar is evasive with his answer.
There are things in the universe billions of years older than either of our races. They’re vast, timeless, and if they’re aware of us at all, it is as little more than ants, and we have as much chance of communicating with them as an ant has with us. We know, we’ve tried, and we’ve learned that we can either stay out from underfoot or be stepped on.– G’Kar
This episode is important in setting up the Psi Corps as well as the foil of Bester. In earlier episodes, Ivanova (Claudia Christian) demonstrated her hatred of the Corps, and events in this episode reinforce her distrust and outright hostility towards them. At the same time, it seems that telepaths don’t have many rights. Once identified, they seem to lose their bodily autonomy and function under the close watch of the Psi Corps. Talia must allow herself to be scanned when Bester demands it, even if she knows nothing. It’s Commander Sinclair who makes them stop. This also sows seeds for problems that will crop up in the future.
Unfortunately, what it’s setting in motion here for Talia and Catherine will never pan out. These are two characters that eventually departed the show. Catherine leaves due to the fact that Michael O’Hare had to depart the role of Sinclair for his mental health, while Andrea Thompson left because she didn’t feel like her character was having much of an impact. Of course, that would change down the line, but she didn’t know that at the time. Keep in mind, that this was one of the first series that had an overall story-arc, rather than individual stories in each episode.
This is also our first glimpse of the Shadows, although we don’t know that on first viewing. All we know is something mysterious happens to Catherine when she’s at Sigma-957. Did the people who asked her to scout the planet know what she would encounter? Was she bait to try and draw something out? There are many questions not answered that viewers will have to keep watching for. This episode is excellent at setting up questions to be answered later on.
Walter Koenig has perhaps the best role of his career here, and I say that as a Star Trek fan. He’s given much more to do with his reoccurring role as the Psi Cop who everyone loves to hate. O’Hare gives a great performance as well, showing the Commander coping with all the drudgery of keeping the station operational as well as using his authority to limit what Psi Corps can do there. He must make some hard decisions, and, in the end, he really doesn’t know exactly what happened. Claudia Christian builds a bit on Ivanova with both her hatred of Psi Corps and her willingness to help undermine authority. This will also pay off in the future.
It’s Andrea Thompson, though, who shines. She does great being convincing when she’s being scanned by the Psi Corps as well as her loyalty to her former lover. It’s a shame she left before her storyline could really take off. She gives an impassioned speech about what it’s like to be a telepath and make love, and we learn how hard it is to e a telepath with everyone’s thoughts in your head all the time.
I thought Mind War was the first of many great episodes of this series. Looking back on it and knowing how some things are going to pay off, it’s brilliant. I still recommend watching the series in order to get the whole picture, and this is an episode to look forward to.
Previous episode in the series (link): Babylon 5: The Parliament of Dreams
Next episode in the series (link): Babylon 5: The War Prayer