The science-fiction series Babylon 5 aired for five seasons in syndication. More than any other series before it, Babylon 5 consisted of an ongoing story arc – a serial-type show. For this reason, if you miss seeing the shows in order, you do miss out on a lot of the story. I know that because up until now, that’s the way I saw it.
J. Michael Straczynski is the creator of the series. For five years, he shopped the show’s premise around to various studios before it was finally picked up. He wanted to keep creative control close, so he could tell the story he wanted to tell – with a few adjustments for the actors deciding to leave at any given moment. No one could understand the concept of a five-year long story, or the technology involved.
My first viewings of various shows left me confused, and I was unable to really pick up on the story until much later, and even that was piecemeal. Now that the entire five seasons are being released on DVD, I am finally managing to catch the entire series in order; the way it was meant to be viewed.
The first season introduces us to the space station itself and the various characters playing a part in the story. Babylon 5 is touted as the “last, best hope for peace”. It’s a sort of United Nations in the sky where various species meet to work out their differences. A quarter of a million life-forms live on the station at any one given moment, which is five miles of spinning metal above the planet Epsilon III.
The station was built following an Earth-Minbari war which was abruptly ended by the religious caste of the Minbari. The Minbari also had veto power on who the station’s Commander would be, and vetoed everyone until the name of a minor figure in the war was presented to them.
Babylon 5 is a different show than many other shows that purport to show our future. Beginning in the year 2258, viewers see that poverty is not solved; crime is not solved, and these people are nowhere near perfection. J. Michael Straczynski kept tight control over the show, overseeing everything down to the costume design, making them seem more utilitarian with pockets and the like rather than the skin-tight jumpsuits of “other series”. Depending on who you talk to, this is either a very good thing or a bad thing. What I think I will let you know when I have viewed the series in its entirety the way it was meant to be viewed.
Cast of Characters
Commander Jeffrey Sinclair (Michael O’Hare) is the one human chosen by the Minbari to command Babylon 5.
Ambassador G’Kar (Andreas Katsulas) is the Narn Ambassador to Babylon 5. The Narn and Centauri have a long history of war between their races.
Ambassador Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik) is the Centauri Ambassador to Babylon 5. Londo was one of the first characters I really took to, and I ended up liking a great deal. Much credit goes to the acting of Peter Jurasik in this role.
Ambassador Delenn (Mira Furlan) is the Minbari Ambassador to Babylon 5 and a member of the Minbari Council as well as the religious caste on her home world.
Na’Toth (Caitlin Brown) is the Narn assistant to Ambassador G’Kar.
Vir (Stephen Furst) is the Centauri assistant to Ambassador Molari.
Lennier (Billy Mumy) is the Mibari assistant to Delenn, also a member of the religious caste.
Mr. Michael Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle) is Babylon 5‘s Chief of Security.
Lt. Commander Susan Ivanova (Claudia Christian) is a Russian who is second-in-command to Sinclair.
Dr. Stephen Franklin (Richard Biggs) is the Chief Medical Officer of Babylon 5.
Talia Winters (Andrea Thompson) is a Psi Corps officer stationed aboard Babylon 5. She is a telepath and all telepaths from Earth in the future are either members of Psi Corps or have to be on drugs to suppress their abilities.
Ambassador Kosh is a Vorlon who resides in an “encounter suit” so his try physical being is never known.
Midnight on the Firing Line * * * *
The Narn attack the Centauri. This episode gives the history behind the simmering feud between the two races. It also introduces the characters and gives some background of the Earth war with the Minbari. There’s a bit about a terrorist nuclear attack on San Diego which seems a bit more timely now than when it first aired. It’s a good “grabber” episode to draw people into the ongoing story. There are great special effects during this episode.
Soul Hunter * * * *
Sinclair rescues a “Soul Hunter” (W. Morgan Sheppard) who steals souls at the moment of death, but only the elite of a race – leaders, great minds, etc. In this episode there is the first hint that there is more going on with Delenn than just being an Ambassador.
Born to the Purple * * *
A Centauri slave seduces Ambassador Mollari to get access to his Purple “dirt” Files on other Centauri ruling families.
Infection * * * *
A friend of Dr. Franklin’s (David McCallum) brings an archaeological find aboard Babylon 5 which infects his assistant (Marshall Teague). There are some terrific makeup effects here.
There is Bonus Material on this disc consisting of an introduction of the series by J. Michael Straczynski, as well as biographies of executive producer Douglas Netter and J. Michael Straczynski.
The Parliament of Dreams * * * *
An old nemesis of G’Kar’s pays of someone to assassinate him. At the same time, a past love of Sinclair’s comes aboard the station. Meanwhile, Babylon 5 is hosting a religious convention. The last scene alone showing that all of the religions on Earth are still in existence and apparently living peaceably into the 23rd century is one of the most memorable scenes of the series for me. Most other shows seem to feel the need to show humans evolving beyond the need for any religion, while I found it comforting to see it’s still there.
Mind War * * * *
Walter Koenig (Chekov on the original Star Trek series) debuts as Bester, one of the “higher-ups” in Psi Corps on the hunt for a rogue telepath.
The War Prayer * * *
This is the General Hospital episode as current castmember Nancy Lee Grahn portrays a visiting revered Minbari poet. Former cast member Tristan Rogers portrays an old love of Ivanova’s as an organization known as the “Home Guard” stage anti-alien campaigns on the station. Also guest starring as one of a pair of Romeo and Julette-like Centauri lovers is Danica McKellar of The Wonder Years.
And The Sky Full of Stars * * *
Sinclair is kidnapped by the Home Guard in an attempt to peg him down as a traitor during the Earth-Minbari War.
Deathwalker * *
Robin Curtis (Saavik in the movie Star Trek III: The Search for Spock) portrays “Deathwalker”, a war criminal who has they key to immortality. The secondary story involving Talia Winters is more interesting, but relies heavily on what will happen in the series in the future.
Believers * * *
Dr. Franklin cares for a child who’s parent’s religious beliefs prevent him from performing surgery to save him. The episode is fairly slow, but the last fifteen minutes really pay-off.
Survivors * * *
Garibaldi is framed for an explosion aboard Babylon 5. This episode gives good background to his struggle with alcoholism, as well as one of the best looks so far at the world “Downbelow”. This is an area of the station where the riff-raff resides, as well as people who manage to get to the station but have no way to get off, or no place to go from here.
By Any Means Necessary * *
Sinclair mediates a dockworker’s strike as well as a dispute between Londo and G’Kar over various religious celebrants.
Signs and Portents * * * * *
This episode introduces the Shadows to the story, as well as Mr. Morden (portrayed by Ed Wasser). A seer arrives at the station whose prophecy will come to fruition in the fifth season. It is an important episode in the five-year arc. It can also be watched with commentary from J. Michael Straczynski.
TKO * * *
An old friend of Garibaldi’s who is a boxer from earth arrives to fight in the Mutai against alien fighters – something that has never been done before. Meanwhile, Ivanova finally must deal with the death of her father several episodes prior when a family friend, who happens to be a Rabbi, arrives to sit Shiva with her.
Grail * * * *
David Warner portrays a man on a quest for the Holy Grail who arrives on Babylon 5 around the same time as a Nakaleen Feeder. There is a terrific humorous moment at the beginning of this episode where a man has an alien on trial accusing one of his ancestors of having abducted the man’s great-grandfather.
Eyes * * *
A bitter officer passed over for the command of Babylon 5 tries to use Psi Corps to expose Sinclair as a traitor. Although mentioned several times before, this episode really brings to the fore-front Ivanova’s hatred of the Psi Corps, which she blames for the suicide of her mother.
Legacies * * * *
A telepath with an undetermined destiny and a dead Minbari warrior create difficult situations on board the station. The acting of the young telepath is pretty awful.
A Voice in the Wilderness Part I * * * *
Seismic activity opens up a chasm on Epsilon III, the planet which Babylon 5 orbits. It was thought to be a uninhabited and barren, but missiles fired at anyone who now enters the atmosphere seem to indicate otherwise. Meanwhile, the Mars colony is subject to a revolt and chaos.
A Voice in the Wilderness Part II * * * *
A incredible cyber-city is found five miles beneath the surface of Epsilon III, which begins a tug-of-war for ownership of the planet and it’s technology. However, the planet is about to self-destruct unless a new guardian is found.
Another pivotal episode which pays off in the future, the station Babylon 4 mysteriously reappears out of a temporal rift. The skeleton crew is rescues, but no one can figure out who two mysterious creatures are on board, and the revelation of the identity of The One at the end leaves the questions of the future unanswered.
The Quality of Mercy * * *
A serial killer crosses paths with a mysterious alien healing machine used by a former physician (June Lockhart) trying to find the respect she lost so many years ago.
Chrysalis * * * * *
This episode in which an assassination takes place plants the seeds for things to come in the next season. There is the first real glimpse of “The Shadows”, as well as Londo learning of what his “deal” with Mr. Morden might bring. Delenn consults Kosh on the prophecy, and his answer confirms her beliefs. She enters her chrysalis to emerge as something different. This can be viewed with commentary from J. Michael Straczynski.
The sixth disc also contains more Bonus Material. Behind the Series: Making of Babylon 5 is hosted by Walter Koenig and was filmed while the show was being shot. Back to Babylon 5 is more of a retrospective show. The Universe of Babylon 5 contains information on the characters on the show, important events and people to the ongoing story, a tour of the station, and technical information on the ships of the series. For anyone unfamiliar who wants a general overview of what’s going on, The Universe of Babylon 5 is a great tool. It introduces the concept of Jump Gates, talks about the Grey Council, and gives background to each character gathered through the first season, among other information.
I really liked watching the episodes with the commentary, as I found J. Michael Straczynski’s information and anecdotes really added to my understanding of the series. It was amazing watching the two documentaries about the series to see the difference in how he looked during the filming of the series until now. All that creative control sure took its toll on him.
Comparisons exist between Babylon 5 and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and for good reason. Both shows take place on Space Stations and heavily incorporate religious themes into an ongoing arc involving a war against unknown aliens which seem impossible to defeat. Babylon 5 has jum-gates; Deep Space Nine has a stable wormhole. Both allow interstellar travel across great distances. Which came first? Figuring how long J. Michael Straczynski had to shop his concept around, and that this show premiered in February of 1993, and it should be fairly obvious, but I won’t point any fingers. To its credit, I think in the long run Babylon 5 is the better series. It had the ongoing five-year story-arc in place from the beginning, while Deep Space Nine seemed to stumble into it once the series was really going.
I highly recommend this first season of Babylon 5 to science fiction fans. If you’ve only caught a few episodes and been turned off, you’ll benefit greatly from watching it through in the order it was intended. It’s truly a ground-breaking series that enticed great science fiction writers such as Harlan Ellison, Peter David, and D.C. Fontana to its ranks.