Babylon 5: Mind War

b5I often compare Babylon 5 to a book and Mind War feels like the first chapter following the prelude.  In fairness, it’s probably better compared to a series of books with each episode representing a chapter and each season being a book.  However you choose to look at it, Mind War sees things ramping up with the arrival of powerful psi-cops, led by Alfred Bester (Walter Koenig of Star Trek fame).  I don’t know what’s stranger, seeing a “bad” Chekov or one without a Russian accent!

Bester, named after the author of the same name, is a great character.  (If you haven’t read Bester’s “The Demolished Man, a story about a telepath, you’re missing out!)  Through him, Talia and Ironheart, we get to understand more about the telepaths of the 23rd century.  Talia explains that telepathy is like being in a hotel room, able to hear the voices in the next room.  You have to try to focus if you want to know what’s going on in someone else’s head.  But she’s a P5, a lower rating than someone like Bester, a P12.  What is it like for a P12, or higher?  Jason Ironheart is more powerful than a P12, and he says he can see through people like glass, but he can’t fully control his abilities.  Maybe he doesn’t see and know all that he thinks he does but we may never find out.

The idea of creating stable TK, telekinetic, abilities is fascinating but made more frightening by the idea that one could kill with that ability.  Mentally pinch shut someone’s carotid artery and watch them expire without a trace… well, that’s horrifying!   Thank goodness Sinclair has enough moral fiber that he can talk to Ironheart and hear his side, but then, that may go back to Jeff’s willingness to put himself on the line.  (It’s interesting that a man who puts his life on the line repeatedly, also fought in the Battle of the Line.  But that may be me just playing with semantics!)

I want to drive home the point once again that Babylon 5 takes place in a universe we can relate to:  Sinclair has budget meetings (these will be addressed in greater detail in future episodes).  People do business on the station.  Catherine came back to the station (“see you next Wednesday” from Parliament of Dreams) to do business regarding a planetary survey to locate Quantium 40, a rare material needed to build Jump Gates.  And the people are diverse.  As G’Kar tells Catherine, “No one here is exactly what he appears.”  This is as much to the audience as it is to the character.  This is especially important coming from G’Kar, the “obvious” villain from The Gathering. 

There’s also an interesting subtext to the Sigma 957 subplot.  Catherine’s encounter there may be in relation to the abundance of Quantium 40, but G’Kar says he knows there are things bigger than he can conceive in the universe and that we are mere ants by comparison to some of them.  We see the effect of one of those things at Sigma 957.  It’s both terrifying and awe inspiring.  G’Kar nails it with that description but the question remains: was it a random event, or something more?

And considering I’ve been keen to point out news articles and broadcasts, it’s confirmed by Ironheart that the Psi-Corp is pulling the strings back on Earth, within the government and the courts… who knows how high that goes?  This story sets the wheels in motion.  Mind War represents a major step up for the series.  While there will be a few more non-JMS episodes, this has changed the momentum.  It will ramp up again soon.  But first…

There are some interesting departures in this story.  Jason departs with the phrase: “I’ll see you again in a million years”.  He may have been evolving but does he believe mankind will get to that same level one day?  Or is there some other meaning behind his words?  Or was it just a goodbye?  Bester leaves the station with that most famous of Prisoner salutes and the words “Be seeing you”.  I wonder what that means exactly…  I guess we will find out.  Eventually.   ML

The view from across the pond:

When I started to watch B5, persuaded by Mike’s love for the show, he explained that it was a slow series to grab you but it was worth persevering.  Wait for episode 6, he said.  Episode 6 is the one where it really gets going.  I’m a little puzzled.  Last week’s I actually enjoyed, and I would say it was the first point at which I would make a decision to stick with B5 for the long haul, irrespective of this project.  Up to that point I found the whole thing just about watchable, but rarely offering me anything worth tuning in for another week.  But this one just collapsed for me like a soggy soufflé.

The main problem, and I know it’s superficial, was the acting.  It’s something I’ve struggled with from the start, and it depends on which characters each particular episode focusses on.  It’s why I enjoyed last week’s so much: G’Kar is a fabulous character, acted brilliantly.  Mind War focusses heavily on Talia Winters, and Andrea Thompson so far is taking cheesy acting to her own special level.

Do you know what’s it’s like when telepaths make love commander?

Ewwwwww.  We don’t want to.  There is also a lot of focus on guest character Catherine Sakai, who is acted by Julia Nickson in a similarly hammy manner, but the prize this episode goes to Felicity Waterman as Kelsey, simply one of the most melodramatic performances I have ever seen, and not even in a so-bad-it’s-good way.  Is she trying to be British with her accent or something?  One thing’s for sure.  She corners the market here in pursed lips acting.

I’m no expert in Classic Trek, but even I recognise Walter Koenig.  Isn’t he the wrong Trekker to be doing a mind meld though?  He’s a level above every other actor in this sorry mess, which still only places him a bit below average.

You. Don’t. Know. What. You’re. DOING!!!!!!!!!

But as I said, that’s all superficial and I know Mike will ask why I’m not looking beyond that, so here goes.  By and large, this episode is familiar sci-fi territory: powers of the mind getting too strong and getting out of control; a corrupt organisation trying to harness special abilities for their own purposes.  I’ll throw an anime title at you: Charlotte.  It does all this a million times better, despite being a lesser known series.

Having said that, there are one or two interesting ideas.  The ability to murder somebody without leaving a trace of the crime by using telekinesis was a new idea on me, and a scary one that would be worthy of being the premise of an entire television series.  And G’Kar’s “why not?” speech at the end was fabulous, as it drove home the point that this is a series that gives us shades of grey.  G’Kar is far more interesting than a moustache-twirling villain.  I also enjoyed the ant comparison, and the acknowledgement that there are forces in the universe that are beyond our understanding.  Perhaps that’s something we need to acknowledge more.   RP

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About Roger Pocock

Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com Co-writer on junkyardview.wordpress.com Administrator of frontiersmenhistorian.wordpress.com
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6 Responses to Babylon 5: Mind War

  1. DrAcrossthePond says:

    Well I was going to say “you have me at a disadvantage” but the truth is, I suspect it is I who have you at the disadvantage. I have hindsight with this series. I will come back to this episode periodically as we move forward. Talking to another friend of mine, who is currently watching and in season 4, I found myself drawing his attention back to the opening speech from the pilot, so I think you will have to wait and see why I felt this one is so strong.
    Having said that, yes, the acting leaves a lot to be desired in both the random “British” PsiCop (thought she was fairly pretty…) and Talia. I wish I could say otherwise, but she is by far my least favorite character!

    ML

    Liked by 1 person

    • Roger Pocock says:

      That’s where I think my first-time-viewer perspective should be of interest, because as much as I take your point, if an episode requires knowledge of later episodes in order to be enjoyed then that’s a clear failing. I think what Talia lacks is any aspect of her personality we can warm to. She’s a completely cold character.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. scifimike70 says:

    Walter Koenig, shortly after Trek, had also played an SF villain named Oro in The Starlost. He was remarkably good enough to spread his talents for playing SF villains with Bester. Even though Oro wasn’t in league with Khan or the Master, Bester certainly came close.

    Liked by 1 person

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