Babylon 5

Series Rewatch – Babylon 5: The War Prayer – Youth is Wasted on the Young

Written by D.C. Fontana and J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Richard Compton

This episode sets up a number of things for the future, although it seems, at first, like it is a stand-alone story. What’s important here is the acknowledgment of an “Earth First” movement that will have ramifications throughout the show. Not everyone on Earth is happy about our peace with alien races and accepting them as equals.

Minbari Ambassador Delenn (Mira Furlan) has a good friend, Mayan (Nancy Lee Grahn), from Minbar visiting her, on the way to a cultural exchange on Earth. Mayan is a renowned Minbari poet. On the way back to her quarters, she is attacked and told to stay away from Earth. Security Chief Michael Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle) thinks it’s part of “Home Guard”, a loosely organized pro-Earth group that has been attacking aliens on Earth, Mars, and now Babylon 5. Mayan’s attack was the sixth one in two weeks.

Pro-Earth? They’re nothing but hate peddlers playing off fear and ignorance to turn human against alien

– Commander Jeffrey Sinclair

There’s a great interaction between Lt. Commander Susan Ivanova (Claudia Christian) and Garibaldi when there is a Centauri freighter arriving with detainees and they both profess to be too busy to deal with it. He threatens to pull her illegal coffee-bean plants out of hydroponics, which we learned about in a previous episode. That’s one of those Easter eggs present from seeds sown a few episodes back. When Ivanova goes to take custody of the detainees, she learns they are two young Centauri who are demanding to see Vir (Stephen Furst). While she is there, she runs into Malcolm Biggs (Tristan Rogers), an old friend of hers, coming off of a transport.

The two Centauri taken into custody are Vir’s cousin, Krion Maray (Rodney Eastman), and Aria Tensus (Danica McKellar), two young lovers trapped in arranged betrothals neither of them wants. Instead, they wish to be wed to each other. Centauri Ambassador Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik) doesn’t see why they don’t follow through with their betrothals. In the Centauri race, marriages usually are not for love – they are designed for families to maintain or gain power. Londo intends to just send them back to Centauri. However, the two are attacked when they steal a moment together in the gardens.

This sets off a violent chain of events. Narn Ambassador G’Kar (Andreas Katsulas) and other aliens believe the perpetrators are being allowed to remain free because they are human. Meanwhile, Sinclair and Garibaldi have a security tape that shows Malcolm trying to recruit humans for his movement. When they show the video to Ivanova, she agrees to help them. They bait Malcolm into introducing them to other members of the movement and to telling them his plans.

Although it seems to be a stand-alone story, there’s a lot in The War Prayer that is setting up the climate for the future. In particular, this applies to the anti-alien sentiment among Earthlings. Unlike other science fiction series, Babylon 5 takes the position that everything isn’t hunky-dory in the future between humans and aliens. The rhetoric spoken by the “Pro Earth” people Garibaldi questions is eerily similar to what we hear out of the “America first” people now. Since this was written thirty years ago, J. Michael Straczynski was either eerily prescient or humans have always been this way and will continue to be this way in the future.

Ambassador Mollari: My shoes are too tight.
Vir: Excuse me?
Ambassador Mollari: Something my father said. He was old, very old at the time. I went into his room, and he was sitting alone in the dark crying. So, I asked him what was wrong, and he said, “My shoes are too tight. But, it doesn’t matter, because I have forgotten how to dance.” I never understood what that meant until now. My shoes are too tight. And, I have forgotten how to dance.
Vir: I don’t understand.
Ambassador Mollari: Nor should you.

The real gem here though is the somewhat comedic B plot involving the Centauri. First of all, we have Vir being exposed as to posing as the Centauri Ambassador to his family, much to Ambassador Mollari’s amusement. The Centauri culture seems to be much like Europe during the time of Kings, with marriages taking place strategically to empower the various houses. The thought of these two young people wanting to marry for love is alien to him. It’s the first time we see a picture of Londo’s three wives, whom he terms “Pestilence, Famine, and Death.” He has empty marriages, which is why none of those wives are with him at the Station. It creates a sympathetic character who is starting to look back at his lie and have regrets, despite all of the meanness we see from him much of the time. His underlying melancholy becomes even more evident when he finds a suitable solution for the situation.

There are a few other things thrown out there during the episode which are interesting. When the attacks are still going on, Sinclair visits Ambassador Kosh, who denies his race is interested in the affairs of other races, while at the same time it is apparent he is studying Earth’s history. He shuts down rather than respond to Sinclair’s questioning about that. We get a little more revelation about Ivanova’s background in her interaction with her old flame, Malcolm. She left him eight years before due to being dedicated to her career, which he didn’t like. It’s also notable that both major guest stars here – Nancy Lee Grahn and Tristan Rogers – were regulars on the soap opera General Hospital.

The War Prayer sets many things in motion, just as the previous episode did. At the same time, it stands on its own nicely. The main plot is rather predictable but still works, especially watching it after knowing the events which will take place in the future. Written by the legendary D.C. Fontana, it has some great storytelling moments, even if there aren’t very many surprises.

Previous episode of the series (link): Babylon 5: Mind War

Next episode of the series (link): Babylon 5: And The Sky Full of Stars

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