My leave is almost over, but we’re not quite done looking at my favorite science-fiction shows. We
still have time to look at two more seasons of Babylon 5” and maybe even a little bit
more. I had a harder time picking the
best episodes of season four than any other season. There are simply so many great episodes in
that season that it would be a lot easier to pick the ones that aren’t
The Summoning:“The Summoning” marks the return of two major characters and the beginning of the end of the Shadow War. It also begins the greatest run of episodes
in the entire Babylon 5 series. The return of Garibaldi is
actually a little anti-climactic after it had been built up in the previous
episodes- Zack Allen receives some information and stages a routine rescue
mission. But there are three great
reasons to include this episode. First,
Marcus and Ivanova make an incredible discovery- the Vorlon fleet is on the
move, meaning that the Shadow War is about to go into overdrive. Second, the insane Emperor Cartagia presents
a bewildered Londo with an imprisoned G’Kar as a present for his loyalty. Third, there’s a great scene in which the
Drazi ambassador tries to rally a revolt against Delenn, who’s been leading the
alliance in the absence of Sheridan, only to have Sheridan
himself walk into the scene and take over. Sheridan’s
entrance remains one of the great moments in the series.
Falling toward Apotheosis:The fourth season has a
great way of turning things upside down.
It’s full of intrigue and betrayal.
In this episode, Sheridan turns on the
Vorlons and evicts them from Babylon
5. Meanwhile Londo begins plotting
against the Centauri Emperor, Cartagia.
Characters once thought to be bastions of good are now seen as part of
the problem while other characters thought to be destined for evil are now seen
as part of the solution. It’s a great
role reversal for both Londo and the Vorlons.
There are also some solid character moments as Garibaldi voices his
distrust of Lorien and his hold on Sheridan,
and as Lorien and Sheridan tell Delenn about how he survived the explosion on
Z’hadum and what it means for his future.
The Long Night: Picking up where “Falling toward Apotheosis” left off, “The Long Night”
new offensive against both the Shadows and the Vorlons as well as Londo’s
intrigues against Emperor Cartagia.
There’s a wonderful balance between the two stories. One features epic battles in space. The other features the more personal battle
of a fight within the palace walls. Plus,
there’s the culmination of the surprising alliance between Londo and
G’Kar. Londo has been plotting
Cartagia’s assassination for several episodes and the moment has now
arrived. But that moment doesn’t go the
way anyone expects- Londo, G’Kar, Cartagia or Vir.
Into the Fire: It’s the end of the Shadow War. Every
one of the races is involved in the epic battle, the biggest in history. Ivanova arrives just in time to join the
fray, with a half-dozen First Ones in her wake.
And the final confrontation comes down to a psychic encounter between
Sheridan and Delenn on the one hand and the Shadows and the Vorlons on the
other. Normally, I wouldn’t prefer a
psychic battle over a space fight, but this one works really well (and even
better upon repeat viewing). However,
some of the best scenes are reserved for the epilogue of the Centauri
Ambassador assassination. Vir has a
great scene in which he struggles with feelings of guilt and remorse. Londo has an even better scene when he
realizes that he’s been touched by Shadows and asks Vir to kill him so that
Centauri Prime might be spared. And, of
course, there’s the final fate of Morden and Vir’s opportunity to make good on
his wish- waving hello to Morden’s head on a pike.
Rumors, Bargains and Lies: I’m going against the grain on this one a little bit as this episode
doesn’t always rate highly with other fans.
But there are two reasons why I chose it. One, I find that for the first time, I really
enjoyed the Minbari specific story, from the earlier episode “Atonement”
through “Rumors, Bargains and Lies” to the conclusion in “Moments of
Transition.” But of the three, my
favorite is this one. Delenn and Neroon
meet in space in an attempt to plan a peace between their warring castes. However, their own people fear that they’re
about to be betrayed and turn on their leaders.
Neroon is attacked openly but the religious caste uses subterfuge in
attempting to blow up the ship while making it look like a reactor accident. Fortunately, Lennier has been learning
mistrust and manages to save the day, as well as saving Delenn’s trust in her
own caste. It’s a great episode for all
three Minbari, and the twist at the end makes it even better.
No Surrender, No Retreat: You know that the episode which bears the title for the season is
going to be good. “No Surrender” is no
exception. In this case,Sheridan begins an
offensive against Earth by sending some of his own forces to the Earth colony
on Proxima III. So there’s a great
military conflict at the center of the episode. The battle is tense, as Sheridan tries to separate the forces which
might be turned to his cause from those that have actively engaged in war
crimes. Several of the opposing ships go
through their own quick stories with betrayals, mutinies and arrests. There are also some great scenes back at Babylon 5 as Londo tries to enlist G’Kar in publicly supporting Sheridan.
The Face of the Enemy: The Garibaldi story isn’t one of my favorites in this season, in
part because I don’t care for the guest actors who are a part of it. But its climactic resolution makes my list of
the best episodes of the year anyway. I
appreciate a good tragedy and Garibaldi’s fall is complete when he finally
betrays Sheridan and hands him over to Edgars’ men. But
the second half of the episode is even better when Bester confronts
Garibaldi. Bester’s long confession of
manipulations is beautifully acted by Walter Koenig and beautifully edited with
flashback sequences that help us tie the whole plot together. Bester’s involvement only compounds the
tragedy and Garibaldi becomes an incredibly sympathetic figure in an
Babylon 5 generally does a good job of balancing two stories- pairing incredible space battles with intense personal conflicts.
That was certainly the case earlier in the season with “The Long Night”
and it’s true again with “Between Darkness and Light.” This time, the space battle is led by Susan
Ivanova as she truly comes into her own as a military commander. She leads the White Star Fleet into a known
ambush against forces loyal to President Clark and discovers that Clark’s people have somehow managed to merge human and
Shadow technology. The battle is brutal,
and Ivanova is gravely injured. The
smaller conflict features the Mars Resistance, with Lyta Alexander on the side
of the good guys and Garibaldi somewhere in the middle. Thanks to Lyta and Dr. Franklin, Garibaldi
manages to convince the head of the Mars Resistance to let him lead a rescue
mission of Sheridan.
Endgame: Continuing from “Between Darkness and Light,” “Endgame” is part of the great climax to the
fourth season. Having liberated the
colonies, the Babylon 5 forces turn their eyes towards Earth.
One of the things that I enjoyed in this episode was the way in which
all of the characters come together for the common cause. Garibaldi, Lyta and Franklin are part of a
plan to immobilize the forces around Mars so that Sheridan’s fleet can jump right to
Earth. And Sheridan leads another great fleet, with
human forces at the forefront and his alien allies in reserve. Throughout the season, there had been
betrayals and divided loyalties and characters.
Now, they’re together once again.
Yet, one of the most memorable moments is the lone betrayal- the choice
Marcus makes to abandon the fleet at the final moment and fly back to Babylon 5 in an effort to sacrifice
his life to save Ivanova. In retrospect,
I’m not that happy about it as Ivanova leaves the series after season four
anyway and we end up losing two great characters instead of one. But there’s no denying the emotion of the
The Paragon of Animals: The title comes from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” in which the young
prince refers to humankind as “the paragon of animals.” In this case, it’s meant ironically. Garibaldi has proposed to Sheridan that the new Inter-Stellar Alliance
should use telepaths as spies. Garibaldi
approaches the charismatic leader of the telepaths, Byron, with this suggestion
and is turned down. He asks Lyta
Alexander to try again on his behalf.
Meanwhile, Sheridan and the Alliance have to deal
with raiders who have threatened to wipe out an entire colony. The intervention leads to the first big test
for the fledgling Alliance as they discover that one of the member races may be supporting the raiders
behind the scene. Plus, there are some
great scenes with G’Kar as he writes, reads and revises the Alliance’s Declaration of Principles. It’s a great episode for intrigue, personal
confrontations, drama and dialogue.
The Day of the Dead: It’s the Brakiri festival of the Day of the Dead. A mile-long section of Babylon 5 is mystically transported to the
Brakiri homeworld and those inside receive visitors from beyond the grave. We learn about Captain Lochley’s past and
Lennier’s future in foreshadowing that he will betray the Rangers. We see Londo and Garibaldi reunited with old
loves. And outside the zone of influence,
Sheridan and Delenn host the comedy duo of Rebo and Zooty.
Sheridan to Lochley: “You sold part of Babylon
5 to the Brakiri for a religious festival and it was transported 27 light years
Lochley: “I thought it was a metaphor. I’ll try to be more literal-minded from now on, sir.”
Babylon 5 will tell a story from a different perspective so that we get to see the station in a new light. Unfortunately, these stories usually range
from bad (the media spotlight episode) to mediocre (the Marines) to mildly
interesting (the maintenance crew).
However, there is one change of perspective episode that really works
for me. It’s “The Corps is Mother, the
Corps is Father.” In this episode, we
follow two recruits, Lauren Ashley and Chen Hikaru, as Alfred Bester introduces
them to the Psi-Cops. We get to see a
very human side of Bester. We get to see
the Psi-Corps as an honor-bound institution, like the FBI. And we also get to see its dark side even
more clearly from within such as their callous disregard for the lives of
“mundanes”- those who don’t have telepathic ability. It’s especially fun to see the role reversal
as Zach Allen is cast as the antagonist to Bester’s good cop routine.
Babylon 5’s fifth season can be divided into two distinct halves. The first half focuses primarily on the rogue telepaths who want to set up a colony on Babylon and the war of the telepaths,
although there are plenty of sub-plots including Londo’s problems back on
Centauri Prime and the Alliance’s problems with raiders. In the second half, those two sub-plots come
together in one major plot as the Alliance
discovers that the Centauri are the raiding army. The climax of the second half of the season
begins here. This episode focuses on the
presentation of evidence to the ambassadors of the council. It’s a wonderfully written and edited
episode, from Sheridan’s
morning sadness, to Londo’s frustrated exclusion from the Council, to the
evidence presented by Franklin, Garibaldi and Lennier. It manages to be important- as we witness the
council proceedings- and simultaneously personal- as we witness Londo and Vir’s
crestfallen reactions in their private chambers. The episode also has a tragic end as,
commanded by his government, Londo angrily breaks with the Alliance
and the Alliance
declares war on the Centauri.
Movement of Fire and Shadow/The Fall of Centauri Prime: These two episodes are the excellent
climax of season five. The war against
the Centauri mounts. Vir asks Dr.
Franklin and Lyta Alexander to recover the bodies of Centauri casualties from
the Drazi. Franklin and Lyta discover
that the Centauri ships are being piloted from afar and operated by remote
Shadow technology. Meanwhile, the Drazi
and the Narn push for a more determined attack against the Centauri. Initially stymied by Sheridan, they form a secret alliance and
launch a combined assault on Centauri Prime.
Meanwhile, Delenn and Lennier are traveling to Minbar only to stumble
across a Centauri fleet. Their ship is
disabled and they’re stranded in hyperspace.
Meanwhile, Londo finally discovers what’s wrong at court. The Centauri regent is being controlled by
the Drakh, servants of the shadows who are seeking revenge on both the Centauri
and the Alliance. In the second episode, Sheridan arrives too
late to prevent the bombardment of Centauri Prime, Londo stoically agrees to
become an agent and a victim of the Drakh, Lennier confesses his love to Delenn
and Londo becomes emperor alone. Londo’s
story is especially melancholy. As he
notes to G’Kar, he has all the power in the world and no choices at all.
Babylon 5 is the rare and wonderful exception. In these two episodes, the
cast slowly moves on to their new roles in the world. Garibaldi gets married and takes control of
Edgars Industries. G’Kar proposes a deep
space expedition to Lyta, so that he can escape his followers and she can avoid
the consequences of standing against Psi-Corps.
Franklin appoints Dr. Hobbes as his replacement as head of medicine and Tessa, formerly
Number One of the Mar Resistance, is appointed as the new head of intelligence
for the ISA. Finally, even Sheridan and
Delenn depart as they relocate the headquarters of the ISA to Minbar. It’s not all quiet good-byes, of course. J. Michael Straczynski remembers to mix in a
bit of action for each episode. In a
story reminiscent of the early seasons, “Objects in Motion” includes two
assassination attempts aimed against Garibaldi and G’Kar. And in “Objects at Rest,” we see Lennier’s
betrayal. It happens so late in the
season that I always think that it’s not going to happen, despite the earlier
foreshadowing. For that reason, it gets
me every time.
Babylon 5 would have anything left to do or say. And yet, here we are with an
excellent epilogue to the entire series.
This final episode takes place 19 years in the future as
Sheridan prepares for his death. In the beginning of season four,
we learn that Lorien extended Sheridan’s
life for 20 years, but no more. Those 20
years are now up.
Sheridan summons his closest friends to Minbar for one last party. It’s a day of joy- the reunion of old friends and sadness.
Sheridan’s approaching death and the memory of other departed friends. It’s
wonderful to see some of our favorite characters in new and happy
circumstances, especially Garibaldi who’s a happy head of industry and father
of a teenaged daughter. And it’s
wonderful to see Ivanova one more time.
Babylon 5 also branched out into a number of made-for-tv movies. These movies are not
usually the best showcase for the franchise.
They can be horrifically bad (The Legend of the Rangers) or
significantly flawed (In the Beginning).
Yet a few can be genuinely entertaining (The River of Souls) and even
excellent. The best of the bunch is
“Thirdspace.” It’s not an easy task for
a B5 movie. They’re often set at moments
in the show’s past or in mid-season, which means that the movie can’t embark on
significant changes for the characters or the station. It has to stay within the confines of the
season, with everything in the same place at the end. Yet, “Thirdspace” manages to tell a riveting
story within those confines. A discovery
in hyperspace leads to the presence of a large and ancient artifact outside of
the station. The show begins with
political maneuverings regarding the artifact as John Sheridan stakes his
claim, Earth agencies try to take it away and alien governments want in on the
action. But that’s just the
preliminaries as the artifact awakens.
The characters discover that it’s a portal to another dimension. But their curiosity is offset by their fears
as they learn that the other dimension is home to a race even more violently
destructive than the shadows. The movie
becomes increasingly tense and features several dramatic betrayals. It’s a little silly that Sheridan has to personally deliver the
nuclear device- shades of Sinclair’s solo heroics in season one- but the movie
manages to be riveting in spite of that flaw.
If there’s one movie worth re-watching, it’s “Thirdspace.”
And that’s five seasons of Babylon 5, plus a little more. J. Michael Straczynski set out to tell a five year story with a beginning, a middle and an end. And he accomplished exactly what he set out
to do. While not every episode was
excellent, there were more than enough great moments to make up for it and
plenty of episodes worth mentioning in a “Best Of” column. I hope you enjoyed the column- and the
series- as much as I did.
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