SJ Review #107

Episode: 107 - The War Prayer
Director: Richard Compton
Writer: D.C. Fontana
Cast: Nancy Lee Grahn (Shaal Mayan)
Tristan Rogers (Malcolm Biggs)
Rodney Eastman (Kiron Maray)
Danica McKellar (Aria Tensus)
Michael Paul Chan (Roberts)
Diana Adair (Mila Shar)

An anti-alien group, the Homeguard, carry out a string of brutal attacks against aliens onboard the station, whilst Londo has to cope with a couple of refugees from Centauri Prime...

"The War Prayer" is only the second episode to be written so far in the first season by someone other than J. Michael Straczynski. The other was "Born to the Purple", by Lawrence G. DiTillio, a somewhat disappointing episode that fails to capture the feel of Babylon 5; D.C. Fontana does a somewhat more impressive job.

The two main plots (the Homeguard attacks and the Centauri lovers) are handled extremely well, the good script aided by decent actors all round (particularly Lee Grahn as the Minbari poet, Shaal Mayan) and some deft directorial touches - the attacks on Shaal Mayan and the lurker Roberts are both handled expertly, the former being particularly atmospheric (with the flicking knives) and the latter being suitably violent. The director, Richard Compton, does a far better job with "The War Prayer" than he did with "Infection"; this may be more due to a decent script this time, though.

From an acting point-of-view, the Centauri plot benefits from the always-dependable Peter Jurasik (Londo) and the ever-improving Stephen Furst (Vir). In scenes together, their individual talents combine to create very memorable scenes (as with the Centauri banquet in "The Parliament of Dreams"). Unfortunately, some of the more humorous scenes are somewhat spoilt by Christopher Franke's 'funny' music; the short twiddly parts of the score that accompany every slightly non-serious scene in this episode. Thankfully he never does this again in the series, as it definitely lowers the dramatic impact of scenes, and certainly does nothing to improve them.

Unfortunately, the third plot, concerning Malcolm Biggs and Ivanova, is unbelievably cliched - old lover returns to station, they get back together, it is revealed that he is in fact a Bad Guy (copyright American television series), she helps bring him down. Yawn. This is standard lazy plotting at its worst.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this episode is the way it enriches the Babylon 5 universe; we learn more about Centauri traditions and society, we see more evidence that things are not good on Earth, with the activities of the Homeguard (following on from the dubious activities of the Psi Corps in "Mind War"). Episodes like this, which are not arc material to any great extent but which still feature elements that makes the background of the show more colourful and interesting, are vital in creating a realistic future history.

Aside from introducing more rumbling undercurrents to the EarthGov situation, this episode is fairly unremarkable; it is entertaining enough, but has something of a "so what?" feel to it. Things are wrapped up too neatly and everything returns to normal, as if the events in the episode never really occurred. This affects a number of season one episodes - watching them without the benefit of knowledge of the other four seasons, it probably does not matter too much, as the universe is still being introduced. Looking back after nearly five years, one cannot help but feel that the show should be going somewhere a little faster. Of course, with the next episode, "And the Sky Full of Stars", it does get moving.

Rating: 6/10 - A few irritations, such as the music and the lazy plotting, spoil an otherwise very entertaining episode, featuring some excellent acting.

Points for Discussion (no spoilers for future episodes):
1. How far does the Homeguard's influence spread?
2. What happens to Aria and Kiron?

Future Arc (may contain spoilers for future episodes):
1. Homeguard are introduced.
2. Londo is somewhat unhappy, despite his jovial outward self.
3. More rumblings back home.

Simon Jones, reviewer.

1998 Simon Jones.