Episode Review of Babylon 5 Season 1: "Mind War"

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Episode Information

Title: "Mind War"
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Director: Bruce Seth Green
Rating (out of 4 stars): *** 1/2
Reviewed on: January 30, 2009

Synopsis from The Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5


A rogue telepath of incredible power threatens the station.

When the episode opens, we see the rogue telepath, Jason Ironheart, being pursued by Black Omega fighters (we will find out later in the series that these belong to the PsiCorps). Ironheart destroys the other ships somehow and takes a jumpgate to B5, where we later see him renting quarters.

Sometime later, two Psi Cops, Bester and Kelsey, arrive at B5 searching for Ironheart. They have a meeting with Sinclair, Ivanova, and Talia Winters. Ironheart was an instructor of Talia's at the PsiCorps Academy. The Psi Cops state that Ironheart had been assigned to covert operations before he went rogue, and they believe he might be trying to sell his knowledge (which Talia protests). They give Sinclair scant details and refuse to answer the question about how dangerous Ironheart might be.

Since Talia is a former associate of Ironheart, the Psi Cops order her to submit to a telepathic scan to ensure she is being truthful about having no contact with him. Talia is very uncomfortable at the prospect of a scan, but she has no choice. The Psi Cops stalk around her while she holds her head and the music plays a fittingly grating tone. Sinclair orders an end to the scan, but the Psi Cops are ready to stop anyway, having discovered that she's telling the truth. The Psi Cops order Sinclair to find Ironheart.

After the meeting, Talia is approached by Ironheart, who purposely waited until her inevitable scan. He convinces her that he needs to talk to her, and they go someplace secluded, despite the Psi Cops explicit orders to Talia to not contact Ironheart. Ironheart tells Talia that he volunteered for an experimental PsiCorps program whose goal was to improve the strength of telepaths and if possible unlock their telekinetic abilities. This involved extensive genetic manipulation through painful injections.

But, Ironheart says, it finally worked: he woke up one day as if he had been blind and now could suddenly see. He can perceive and manipulate objects down to their atoms. His abilities are still growing, which is causing him problems, as he has trouble controlling his abilities when they increase. Since now he is telekinetic, his lack of control leads to "mindquakes" which cause the entire station to shake.

When Ironheart acquired his new abilities, he was also able to look into the true intentions of the PsiCorps. He had imagined that they wanted stronger telepaths and telekinetics primarily for defense and information-gathering, but instead, they wanted untraceable assassination techniques. He also realized that the PsiCorps was extending its reach within EarthGov and beginning to manipulate politics and industry. He realized he couldn't let the PsiCorps figure out exactly how they had "created" him, so he killed the lead researcher (to prevent replication of the work) and escaped. Now he just needs time to finish "becoming", although he doesn't know what he's becoming. He has another mindquake, and he tells Talia to get away from him for her own protection.

Meanwhile, Garibaldi has traced Ironheart's stolen ship to the station and has narrowed down where to search. Before the search is complete, Ironheart's mindquake provides an energy source to home in on, for both the security men and the Psi Cops. However, Ironheart has surrounded his location with a spherical forcefield.

Sinclair is furious, because the Psi Cops didn't mention Ironheart's telekinetic abilities, and now there are injuries and damage to the station. The Psi Cops reluctantly fill Sinclair in on the basics of Ironheart's story, although they portray Ironheart as becoming violent, paranoid, and irrational over the course of the experiments. They add the additional information that Ironheart has an "off switch", which is a phrase that will shut him down if it is telepathically projected into his brain. This can only be done if the Psi Cops get Ironheart in sight. Sinclair and Ivanova (especially) are appalled at the risky experimentation, but Sinclair agrees to do what they can to get the Psi Cops near Ironheart.

Ironheart lets Talia covertly enter his protective forcefield and finishes telling her his story. He only wanted to come to B5 to see her and rest a little bit before the end, and he regrets the injuries that have happened.

Talia leaves Ironheart and convinces Sinclair to meet with Ironheart alone, telling Sinclair that Ironheart doesn't want to hurt anyone and revealing that they were lovers previously. Not surprisingly, given Sinclair's past risk-taking, he agrees, and Ironheart convinces him to try to get him off the station secretly.

Sinclair orders Garibaldi to clear a path between Ironheart's position and his ship, but not to tell anyone why. This is a rookie mistake for someone dealing with telepaths - Bester immediately scans some of the security guards. Even if the security guards don't know the whole story, they'll know what parts of the station are being cleared, and Bester is perfectly capable of putting 2 and 2 together to get 4.

Sinclair and Talia are escorting Ironheart (who is having a mindquake) through the station when they are confronted by Bester and Kelsey. Ironheart begs them not to hurt him, because he doesn't want to hurt them. The Psi Cops try to send the phrase for the off switch, but Ironheart is stopping them. Sinclair tries to distract the Psi Cops, but has to slug Bester in order to break his concentration. Kelsey perseveres, and when she realizes she's not going to be successful, she draws her gun. Ironheart vaporizes her instantly. The vibrations from the mindquake distract Ironheart, and Bester manages to get off a couple shots at him; they don't seem to have any effect. Ironheart finally gets to his ship and departs from the station.

He parks his ship some distance outside the station and waits. As the other watch, a huge ball of light flares up around this ship, with dazzling colors and images. Ironheart's voice bids farewell to Sinclair, and tells Talia he's giving her a gift. Talia passes out, and the light, which is presumably Ironheart, disappears.

Later, Sinclair tells Bester that the only story the B5 personnel will corroborate has Ironheart's ship exploding, killing him, and fails to mention any disobedience on Talia's part. If Bester doesn't go along, Sinclair will raise a stink about how Bester withheld crucial information and acted irresponsibly to get Kelsey killed. Bester agrees relatively easily. Talia is not in on this meeting - we see her grieving in her quarters and moving a penny with her new-found telekinetic abilities.

A subplot throughout this episode concerns a new prospecting mission that Catherine Sakai is hired to conduct. The mission is to study the planet Sigma 957 in better detail, since indications are that it could be extremely rich in minerals. However, since the planet is in Narn space, Catherine needs Narn approval to visit it; G'Kar refuses to give it, saying that strange things happen near the planet and it's a dangerous place. Catherine thinks he's being petty and manages to go over his head to get approval. When G'Kar finds out, we see him requesting that some Narn heavy fighters be sent to the planet.

Catherine begins her survey of Sigma 957, but then some enormous, unidentifiable ship suddenly appears for a few moments, and then disappears through some kind of odd-looking jump point. The close encounter drained most of the power from Catherine's ship, so she is stuck in it in a decaying orbit. The Narn fighters arrive to help her and escort her back to B5. When Catherine questions G'Kar about his motivations in saving her, he replies, "Why not?" When she presses him about the strange ship she saw, he compares those aliens to Narns and humans as being like humans and ants.

This episode is fun and exciting for its look at what unleashing powerful telepaths might be like. Who hasn't mused about the benefits of having mental powers like telepathy and telekinesis? Here we see that it's not necessarily all fun and games, but that the same kind of might-makes-right applies to any ability.

Through the Psi Cops, we learn that Talia is fairly restrained in both ability and arrogant attitude compared to the strong telepaths. The Psi Cops' lack of empathy concerning human experimentation is disturbing, and we don't even know about Bester's attitude concerning "mundanes" yet! The casual way the Psi Cops violate basic PsiCorps rules - scanning and projecting thoughts without permission - bespeaks their arrogance. Interestingly, the lower-level security guards and workers don't seem bothered by it nearly as much as the command staff. Do the command staff have something to hide, or are they just well-educated and experienced enough to understand just why the PsiCorps rules exist?

Ivanova's hatred of the PsiCorps is barely held in check here, especially once she hears of the experiments. However, when she sees how the Psi Cops treat Talia, she does seem more sympathetic to Talia.

What will become of Ironheart's warning that the PsiCorps is starting to pull strings in EarthGov and the military? Frankly, it's not hard to believe that it could happen. As Ironheart said, telepaths are the ultimate blackmailers. All it would take is one ambitious telepath to scan the right political or military leader to learn all kinds of secrets. And the organization of the PsiCorps lets that information be put to more purposeful uses than just the gain of one person. As Ironheart said, the only way to guard against telepaths is to have loyal telepaths to shield and defend. This is a very sticky problem.

The subplot involving Catherine Sakai is interesting, but almost distracting once the Ironheart plot starts climaxing. There seemed to be two points to this subplot: first, there are some strange and mysterious things going on in some places; second, G'Kar isn't all bad. The first point is pretty obvious, but it's definitely effective to not get an "answer" about what Catherine saw.

The second point is delivered a little heavy-handedly. Catherine was very naive to have to ask G'Kar why he saved her. Obviously since he did it, he thought it was worth it to him, despite his "why not?" response. Now Sinclair will owe him a favor, or at least think about him in a better light. In addition, he doesn't know if Catherine might have told anyone about his warnings to her about Sigma 957 - had she disappeared or died, someone might have interpreted those warnings as a threat, which could have caused a problem for him. So while I don't think G'Kar saved her for no reason, I do think that it's an indication that he's starting to think a little farther than just his immediate goal of humiliating and/or killing the Centauri.

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