Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Richard Compton
Although The Gathering is generally listed as the first episode of Babylon 5, it was actually a made-for-television film that served as the pilot for the series. The first real episode of the series is Midnight on the Firing Line. It boasts a somewhat different cast than The Gathering for various reasons. Susan Ivanova (Claudia Christian) is “new” to Babylon 5, sent there by Earth Force to be Sinclair’s (Michael O’Hare) second-in-command. Talia Winters (Andrea Thompson) is the new commercial telepath employed at the station, replacing Lyta Alexander. Vir (Stephen Furst) makes his first appearance as well. He’s a somewhat blundering Centauri who is seemingly sent to Babylon 5 as some sort of punishment. His first action is informing Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik) of an attack on a Centauri Agricultural Colony, Ragesh III.
Initially, there is no indication of who is responsible for the attack. The diplomats on Babylon 5 meet and all claim their governments have no knowledge of the attack. When Londo finally sees a transmission from the battle, he sees that the ships are of Narn origin despite Ambassador G’Kar’s (Andreas Katsulas) denials. The two argue and almost come to blows until station security intervenes. Londo is frustrated throughout the episode. His own government doesn’t want to do anything about the Narn attack on the colony. He previously used his connections to get his nephew stationed there and he’s worried about him as well.
This is the first trial of the purpose of Babylon 5. It’s supposed to be an intergalactic United Nations to try to stop any more wars from happening. Sinclair faces resistance from Earth in taking a hard line against the Narn. He sends Ivanova to the Council meeting in his place so the meeting can take place without the orders he received from Earth. Sinclair heads off with the Delta Squadron.
G’Kar produces a transmission from the Ragesh colony where Londo’s nephew states the Narn were invited there when Centauri wouldn’t help them with uprisings. Londo argues the transmission was made under duress, but G’Kar also reveals that the Centauri government also did not want to force the issue. Londo’s frustration builds until he is inclined to take matters into his own hands. is on his way to deal with the situation personally when he literally walks into Talia Winters, who tips off Garibaldi.
When Commander Sinclair meets with the Vorlon Ambassador, Kosh, he tells Sinclair that they should let the Centauri and Narn fight it out as they are “a dying people, we should let them pass…” When Sinclair asks if he means the Centauri or the Narn, Kosh answers “Yes.”
The dialogue in this episode is epic. There is so much to pay attention to and listen to as the characters are beginning to define themselves. There’s some great interaction between Londo Mollari and Security Chief Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle) in the beginning as they have a conversation detailing the relationship between Earth and Centauri. It’s humorous while at the same time making the point that the two civilizations don’t trust each other. When I first watched this, I didn’t pay as much attention as I should have to the dialogue. What seems to often be a throw-away line, often is foreshadowing a future event. J. Michael Straczynski retained creative control throughout the series run and was responsible for most of the stories. This enabled him to insert lines that seem meaningless at first, but after watching it all the way through, then going back and watching it a second time, there’s a lot more to it. I’ve watched the series probably about once a year or so and I still pick up on things I missed.
It’s a bit of a frosty introduction between Susan Ivanova and Talia Winters, the new telepath assigned to Babylon 5. There’s a story building there. Ivanova has a talk with Winters where she details her problem with telepaths. Talia is very pro-Psy Corps while Ivanova has a very real reason for not liking them. There is also foreshadowing in a brief clip of a news report from Earth about the Presidential race.
There’s humor to be found with some cryptic fun where Garibaldi is trying to get someone to join him for “his second favorite thing in the universe.” The levity is a good break in what is a pretty heavy storyline.
HBO Max is broadcasting the episodes which have been remastered from when they originally aired in the 1990s. The special effects are so much better. I can remember watching the DVDs on my large-screen television and it was hard to distinguish the lines of the ships as they traveled in space. It felt like watching a 3D movie without the glasses on. The prints have been cleaned up and everything seems very sharp. There’s still a feeling of the action sequences of the ships being like a video game, but it’s so much better than it was, overall.
Midnight on the Firing Line uses a diplomatic crisis as a jumping-off point for the series and manages to do it very well. The characters are all given enough to do to be interesting and reveal a bit about them, although it seems like G’Kar and Londo have the most to work with. It’s something else that is a bit of a set-up for the tone of the entire five-year story arc. All in all, this is a great place to start with the show if you wanted to skip The Gathering for whatever reason, although the pilot does a great job of setting up the series.
Previous episode in the series (link): Babylon 5: The Gathering
Next episode in the series (link): Babylon 5: Soul Hunter