6a00e54ee394bf883300e553ff77458834-800wi 510ZEB88ZBL._SS500_ While I’m on leave, the “Fluit Notes” column is taking a bit of break
as well. Instead of writing about comics, I’m taking a look at
some of my favorite science-fiction shows. For the past two weeks,
I’ve paid tribute to the best episodes of “Farscape.”
Starting this week, I turn my attention to current comic book writer
J. Michael Straczynski’s television opus, “Babylon 5.”


Season One

The Parliament of Dreams: First of all, I love that title. Second, and more importantly, I love the way in which this episode introduces us to
the other races and to new characters such as Na’Toth and
Lennier. In “The Parliament of Dreams,” Earth hosts a
festival in which each of the races on
Babylon 5 can share their
religions with each other. We get to see Londo and Vir whooping it
up, having a great time celebrating their fertility goddess. We get
to see 105_024G’Kar fend off an assassination attempt in one of the
first glimpses of the multiple sides of this character. And we get
to see a serene Minbari ceremony. This episode doesn’t always
rate well with other fans because of the romance between Sinclair and
Catherine Sakai. Though a little over-written, I don’t mind
the romance. Plus, despite being polar opposites, Londo and G’Kar
are two of my favorite characters from any series and I love the way
that they’re each deepened and developed in this episode.


Mindwar11 Mind War: JMS has often spoken and written about the ways in which his show tried to be different from Star Trek in terms of alien prosthetics, space
battles and plot consequences. But one of the best first season
episodes noted the debt that Babylon 5 had to Star Trek as a
trailblazer when actor Walter Koenig (“Chekhov”) shows up
as the villainous PsiCorps cop Alan Bester. It’s a great role.
Bester is confident, manipulative, sleazy and wonderfully sarcastic.
Plus, this episode introduces the PsiCorps- a significant
organization in the Babylon 5 universe- as well as some of the moral
questions it entails about privacy, freedom, responsibility to the
state and control.


109_218 Deathwalker: One of the things that I loved about “Babylon 5” was the way
in which it would raise moral questions without necessarily giving
pat answers. “Deathwalker” is an excellent first season
example of this. Deathwalker is Jha’Dur, a scientist who
experimented on numerous species while looking for an immortality
serum. The episode features understandable outrage, but also
surprising alliances and betrayals. And “Deathwalker” is
able to use this science-fiction setting to comment on real world
debates of the past (Nazis) and the present (the Balkans). There’s
also the great ending, with the Vorlon ambassador declaring to the
other races, “You are not ready.”


113_184 Signs and Portents: This episode serves as the title for the entire first season, and
with good reason. It has quite a bit of action, as the crew of
Babylon 5 tries to protect ships from raiders. Babylon 5’s
political complexity is so great that we sometimes forget that the
show featured some great dog-fights in space. But the bigger
developments are the quieter ones as various seers and guests point
to the future direction of the series. The best guest is the
mysterious Morden, who asks both Delenn and Londo “What do you
want?”- a suitably subtle introduction to this important
character.


118_130 A Voice in the Wilderness, Part I and II: One of the things that I love about
science-fiction in general is the sense of wonder and discovery. “A
Voice in the Wilderness” delivers. The seemingly innocuous
planet below the Babylon 5 station suddenly becomes a factor when
seismic activity activates its automatic defenses. Sinclair and
Ivanova have some great exploration and discovery scenes. Back on
the station, Delenn is visited by her mentor Draal, giving her the
rare opportunity to be joyful. And Londo rediscovers something about
himself that he thought he had lost- the initiative and bravery of
youth. “Babylon 5” keeps adding layer upon layer to
its world, its alien races, its political climate and its characters.
It’s a simultaneously complex and captivating show. This
two-part tale, with its surprising alliances and antagonists, is a
wonderful example.


120_273 Babylon Squared: “Babylon 5” isn’t known for its sense of humor.
But this episode can be hilarious, while at the same time keeping
the sense of tension high. The humor is thanks to guest star,
Zathras, an alien mechanic who is both confused and confusing. The
tension is thanks to the sudden reappearance of Babylon 5’s
predecessor Babylon 4. The other station was thought lost. And it
was. But it was apparently lost in time rather than lost completely.
The arrival creates a strange predicament for the Babylon 5 crew and
results in a great story full of mystery and action.


122_275 Chrysalis: “They’re going to kill him.” “Do you want to get married or not?”
“You will not see me again as I am now.” “They’re
going to kill the President.” “There is someone else out
there.” “And so it begins.” “The Commander
was right. We were at a crossroads and now there’s no turning
back.” “Destiny is on our side.” Delenn confronts
the Vorlon ambassador Kosh, Garibaldi finds out about a plan to
assassinate the president of Earth, Londo continues to get involved
with Morden and G’Kar increases his role as an agitator after a
Narn military base is attacked. All of the plotlines of the first
season seem to simultaneously come together and fall apart in this
episode. “Chrysalis” fully captures JMS’ intention
for this series. He wanted to tell an epic story about a great
conflict between civilizations and a personal story about people’s
lives on a space station. Babylon 5 became both of those stories
together. “Chrysalis” is personal- as Delenn embarks on
some surprising changes- and important- as the Narn lose a military
outpost and Earth loses a President.


Season Two


201_34 Points of Departure: It’s not easy for a show to replace a key character. But
“Babylon 5” does just that. The former commander of the
station, Sinclair, has been reassigned as the Earth Ambassador on
Minbar. This episode introduces Sheridan as the new commander of the
station. We see some of his confusion and consternation at the many
problems that the station faces on a daily basis. But we also see
his competence and charisma as he handles each in turn. Bruce
Boxleitner quickly establishes Sheridan as a character to care about.
I also like the turnabout in terms of relationships. Sinclair had
been friends with Garibaldi before this post but not Ivanova. Now,
Sheridan has a past relationship with Ivanova but not Garibaldi.
There’s also a bit of humor as Sheridan keeps trying to give
his “good luck” speech, only to be interrupted by the
various crises that the station seems to deal with on a daily basis.


208_149 Soul Mates: This is another episode that I like because of its combination of humor
and intrigue. In this episode, all three of Londo’s wives
arrive on the station. Londo, growing in influence and power,
announces his intention to divorce two of them. The wives quickly
turn on Londo and on each other as they try to keep themselves in the
lap of luxury and the life of power. It’s interesting how the
wives use different methods to try and convince Londo that they
should be the one and Londo’s choice at the end is a perfect
surprise. There’s also a second story about Talia Winters’
ex-husband Matthew Stoner. It’s not bad, but I wish even more
of the episode had been given to Londo and his wives. And there’s
a fun third story in which Delenn struggles to cope with the changes
to her body and turns to Ivanova for advice. Most of the best
episodes are written by JMS himself, but in this case, guest writer
Peter David delivers one of my favorite episodes.


209_354 The Coming of Shadows: Another show that serves as the title for the season-
usually an indication of an important and excellent episode. Londo’s
rise to power is accompanied with his fall from grace, and this
episode captures that as well as any other. When the Centauri
emperor visits the station, Londo is caught up in a web of intrigue.
Meanwhile, G’Kar has his own reasons for distrusting the
Centauri emperor and wanting him dead. “The Coming of Shadows”
is a great episode, constantly confounding our expectations with
twists and betrayals.


212_184 Acts of Sacrifice: Ambassadors Londo Mollari and G’Kar are the two best characters in Babylon 5. And this episode features them both in highly dramatic
and poignant scenes. Londo is learning that his newfound fame and
prestige has brought a lot of false friends. He’s suddenly
lonely for friends who liked him before he was famous. He reaches
out to his assistant, Vir, and to Garibaldi. The scene with
Garibaldi is especially sad as Garibaldi is reluctant to pal around
with the new, dark Mollari. G’Kar’s situation is even
more intense. He’s losing control over the Narn population on
the station and failing in his efforts to elicit support for the Narn
in their war. This leads to two great scenes. The first one is
powerful as G’Kar stands up to those who would challenge him.
The second is poignant as G’Kar breaks down in tears, when the
offers of assistance fall well short of his expectations. They may
be aliens, but Londo and G’Kar are incredibly human in this
excellent episode.


218_171 Confessions and Lamentations: “Confessions” isn’t always counted among the classic “Babylon 5” episodes because it
doesn’t have a lot of impact on the larger storylines of the
Shadow War. But I think it’s one of the best anyway. Like
many of the best episodes, “Confessions” raises moral
questions without clear answers. In this case, the moral issue has
to do with an alien race that is succumbing to a fatal plague.
Straczynski uses the scenario to examine some of the prejudices
surrounding AIDS. Yet he does so in such a way that we’re
sympathetic with several of characters caught up in the crisis.
Plus, this fatal disease brings out the incredible compassion of
Delenn and Lennier in one of the most heartbreaking stories in the
series.


220_289 The Long, Twilight Struggle: One of the things that made “Babylon 5” great is the way in which everything changes. The story moves
forward. The status quo isn’t static. “The Long,
Twilight Struggle” changes everything. The war between the
Narn and the Centauri reaches new levels as the Centauri invade the
Narn homeworld. Our emotions are torn as viewers. We feel sorry for
G’Kar as his homeworld is attacked, especially in light of his
failed attempt to keep the defensive forces in place. But we also
feel sorry for Londo. We like this vivacious ambassador, and his
fall into darkness is moving. Plus, JMS relieves the tension with a great scene between Vir and Lennier.


222_135 The Fall of Night: I love the complexity of “Babylon 5.” The season two finale is a great example. While Sheridan and the crew of Babylon 5
are responding in one way to the Centauri-Narn conflict (offering aid
to Narn refugees), the Earth government has the polar opposite
response (signing a treaty with the Centauri refugees). Meanwhile,
the Ministry of Peace and Nightwatch continue to infiltrate and
influence the station, testing resolve, honor and duty. Our heroes
Sheridan, Garibaldi and Ivanova show that they’re not simply
heroes when it’s easy to tell who the bad guys are. They’re
willing to stand up for what’s right, no matter who they have
to stand against. And, oh yeah, we finally find out the secret of
the Vorlons as Kosh reveals himself in an attempt to save Sheridan’s
life.


Season Three


301_279 Matters of Honor: This is a great opening episode. Since Earth won’t help in the growing Centauri conflict, Sheridan sets up a secret war council
of his own. We’re introduced to the Ranger Marcus and a new
ship, the White Star. And we see Sheridan in action, blowing up
Centauri mines, fighting a delaying action against a Shadow ship, and
even finding a way to destroy it. We also see Londo regret his
actions at the end of season two and try to back out of his agreement
with Morden and the Shadows, only to discover that it’s too
late (hence, the season title “Point of No Return”). And
we also learn that the Shadows have connections on Earth and in
PsiCorps. Even though there’s a pretty good battle in the
middle of the episode, the real heroism comes when the heroes decide
to stand up for what’s right, no matter who might be against
them.


303_286 A Day in the Strife: I’ve previously commented on the political complexity of Babylon 5. One of the great things about this show is that the alien
races are as complex as the humans. In this case, the Narn send a
new ambassador, Na’Far, to take G’Kar’s place.
This results in some great arguments about protecting the population
vs. fighting for freedom. There are also great scenes in which Londo
disparages Na’Far’s Narn pride, G’Kar agrees to
hand himself over to the Centauri and Narn fighter Ta’Lon shows
G’Kar that his true weapons are his heart and his mind.
There’s also a nice sub-plot in which Londo sends Vir to Minbar
to re-establish the Centauri mission there.


305_307 Voices of Authority: One of the things that I look for in science-fiction is a “sense of wonder.” I want to be dazzled by things that don’t
exist in our world. “Voices of Authority” delivers the
dazzle. Susan Ivanova is tasked with contacting the various first
ones, in order to ask them to join the war against the Shadows. Her
task brings her to the great machine from “A Voice in the
Wilderness” and the First Ones on Sigma 957 from the first
season. Plus, we get a look at one of the First Ones, an Easter
Island-like figure. Even better, we see Ivanova stand up to the
first ones in a major step for the character. Yet the episode isn’t
all razzle and dazzle. There’s a real sense of urgency to this
mission as the conflict with home continues to heat up thanks to the
arrival of a new political officer, who wants to seduce Sheridan and
intimidate Zach.


309_128 Point of No Return: They say there’s going to be a revolution! Sheridan has been working without the consent of EarthGov for a while, and even
occasionally thwarting the President’s plans. Finally, he’s
pushed to the point where he has to declare his position openly.
When the President declares martial law, shuts down ISN
(Inter-Stellar Network) and attacks Mars, Sheridan has to decide
where his loyalties lie. Although he initially complies with the
order of martial law, he then uses his powers to arrest the
NightWatch for obeying illegal orders from outside of the chain of
command. With his position secure, Sheridan then declares Babylon
5’s independence from Earth in protest of the President’s
actions. One of the things that I like best about this episode is
the way in which lesser characters, particularly Zack Allen, are
caught in the middle. He doesn’t always understand what’s
going on and he’s caught between conflicting loyalties. Zach
puts a human face to the political problems. Plus, this a great
episode for G’Kar who offers his people in service to the
greater good.


Severed-insidebattle Severed Dreams: The Babylon 5 station was created for the purpose of maintaining peace within the galaxy. That dream of peace is over and Babylon 5
has become the focal point. Now, the heroes face the consequences of
their actions in “Point of No Return” as they have to
defend themselves against an attack from Earth forces. The Earth
forces which have opposed President Clark’s illegal actions
retreated to Babylon 5 for repairs. That brings a major Earth fleet
loyal to the President into the fray. Babylon 5 doesn’t
feature a fight every episode. But when it does, it makes for some
great television. This is one of the best (though there’s an
even better battle in “Shadow Dancing”) as Earth forces
fight each other. There’s also a great gun battle on the
station as the new Narn security force fights off a loyalist
invasion. And the Minbari finally enter the fight on the side of
Babylon 5.


316_889 War without End, Part One and Two: One of the things that makes Babylon 5 so great is the way in which it all fits together. Seemingly minor incidents
in the first season pay off in later years. And glimpses of the
future accurately fore-shadow events in later seasons. The result is
that time-travel, one of my least favorite science-fiction
situations, is a welcome part of this particular puzzle. In these
episodes, we witness the return of Babylon 4, Zathras and former
Commander Sinclair. We also see what the future holds for current
Commander Sheridan. And all of this takes place in the midst of a
story filled with action and danger. Oh yeah, and a lot of humor too
as there are multiple Zathrases running around the same station from
different points in time. I love his self-deprecating way of
muttering to himself: “Zathras can never have nice things.”
“Zathras lives badly. Will probably die badly, too. Which is
good. There is symmetry.”


320_32 And The Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place: Londo’s fall from grace was one of the great stories from season two. G’Kar’s rise as an
important leader is one of the great stories of season three. In
this episode, Londo and G’Kar work together to take down one of
Londo’s former allies, Lord Refa. It’s a great moment as
bitter enemies find common ground. And it’s another great
moment when Lord Refa receives poetic justice for his crimes at the
hands of the Narns. The scene in which Lord Refa runs for his life
is wonderfully contrasted with a religious concert back on Babylon 5.
It’s one of the most memorable moments from any season.


322_170 Z’hadum: There’s only one rival to Walter Koenig for the honor of best guest actor on Babylon 5. It’s Bruce Boxleitner’s wife
in real life Melissa Gilbert who shows up as Sheridan’s long
lost wife Anna. But this is no friendly reunion. Anna arrives just
as the relationship between Sheridan and Delenn has reached a
critical stage. The timing is perfect… for the show, if not
for their relationship. Plus, we soon discover that Anna is an agent
of the Shadows sent to invite Sheridan to visit their planet Z’hadum.
Once again, the intrigue proves to be more intense than the actual
battle scenes. Sheridan is torn personally in a way he hasn’t
before. There are real questions about Sheridan’s course of
action. The rest of the crew are left to wonder if the heart is
about to be torn out of their rebellion. Plus, Z’hadum has a
great cliffhanger ending and a great epilogue. Justin tells Sheridan
of the Shadows’ strategy of growth through chaos, Sheridan
shoots the Shadows before he can be corrupted and he calls a nuclear
device down from orbit. Then, we’re treated to a G’Kar
voiceover that is wonderfully written and deftly delivered.


That’s been a lot of great episodes, but that’s certainly not all of them. Come
on back next week for Part Two of “The Best of Babylon 5.”

Screencaps for this article are from:

http://www.jumpnow.de's B5 Picture Archive

Babylon 5 Virgin

http://ani-bester.livejournal.com

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