SJ Review #106

Episode:106 - Mind War
Director: Bruce Seth Green
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Cast: Walter Koenig (Alfred Bester)
William Allan Young (Jason Ironheart)
Julia Nickson (Catherine Sakai)
Macaulay Bruton (Garibaldi's aide)
Felicity Waterman (Kelsey)

Synopsis:
Two Psi Cops arrive on the station in pursuit of a dangerous telepath, whilst Sakai explores a barren world called Sigma 957...

Review:
Babylon 5's main strength lies in its carefully planned plot arc; the big story that flows through all the little stories throughout the series' episodes. Some episodes deal with the arc greatly, some hardly touch upon it and others mix arc and non-arc material together.

The first five episodes of Babylon 5's first season, up to and including "The Parliament of Dreams", were not arc-intensive episodes. Most included events which contributed to the overall arc ("Midnight on the Firing Line" set up the hatred between the Narn and the Centauri, "Soul Hunter" introduced the concept of Minbari souls...), but none dealt with it directly. They were just laying the foundations.

"Mind War" takes an entirely different approach, consisting of two main plots that deal very directly with two major parts of the arc - that of the telepath or, to be more specific, Psi Corps problem and that of the ancient beings known only as the First Ones. It handles both plots very well. However, the lack of any non-arc material makes the episode somewhat heavy-going for a new viewer - the sudden change from the non-arc to the arc style is fast and unexpected. A further plot dealing with less galaxy-threatening events may have been a useful countermeasure.

However, this does not detract from the episode itself. The script is excellent, featuring a whole host of good, strong SF ideas (telepathy, telekenesis, amazingly powerful aliens, government conspiracies) as well as the usual B5 attention to detail and realism.

The main plot, involving Jason Ironheart, benefits from the superb guest actors of William Allan Young as the rogue teep and Walter Koenig as the Psi Cop Bester. Both shine in their roles, delivering a quality to the guest acting not seen since W. Morgan Sheppard's portrayal of the Soul Hunter in episode 102. Unfortunately, Felicity Waterman's Psi Cop, Kelsey, is absolutely dire. She horrendously overacts, and always looks as if she is trying desperately hard to control exact fine movements of her lips (particularly amusing is her attempt to look threatening, when she almost curls her lips and snarls).

Thankfully her role is kept to a minimum, and Koenig's performance more than makes up for the lacklustre performance of his partner. He injects a wry sense of humour into Bester, giving him much more potential for the future than had he been a standard 'bad powerful bloke'.

The secondary plot, concerning Sakai's expedition and her run-in with the Walkers at Sigma 957, is also well-handled. Nickson fits the role like a glove, and works very well with O'Hare (Sinclair). The special effects involving the alien ship/creature are simply stunning: the ship design is wonderful, and the CGI itself is very good. Enhancing this plot is the addition of G'Kar (Andreas Katsulas). Take any plot and add a seasoning of G'kar and it will inevitably improve in flavour, due to Straczynski's wonderful writing for the character and Katsulas' outstanding acting talent.

Bruce Seth Green directs the episode well. The scenes involving Ironheart are full of tension, and the mindquake effects are imaginatively done. Smaller touches, such as the shot of the ant at the end of the episode, are also well-realised, lending a certain intelligence to the episode alongside the action and special effects.

This episode really shows the potential of an arc, and it has only just begun.

Rating: 8/10 - An exciting episode that is only marred by the pantomime acting of Waterman.

Points for Discussion (no spoilers for future episodes):
1. What are the Psi Corps up to behind-the-scenes?
2. What happened to Ironheart?
3. What was the phenomenon at Sigma 957?
4. What other experiments have the Corps carried out?

Future Arc (may contain spoilers for future episodes):
1. We see the Walkers at Sigma 957 for the first time.
2. We learn more about the dodgy dealings within the Psi Corps.
3. Talia starts to doubt the Corps.
4. Ivanova shows some sympathy towards Talia.
5. Bester is introduced.
6. G'Kar's more compassionate, philosophical side is shown for the first time.
7. Garibaldi's aide, Jack, is seen for the first time.

Simon Jones,
alt.babylon5.uk reviewer.


1998 Simon Jones.