I can’t believe we’ve had this blog up for this long without a single one of us doing a review of one of the greatest science fiction television shows of all time, Babylon 5. Just to put it in perspective, I’d have a hard time choosing between it and Firefly. That’s how wonderful it is.
Normally, my reviews are more like in-depth analyses, but this show is so great, I’m going to contain my excitement and review the whole show — all five seasons — with no spoilers, just for you poor unfortunate souls who have never seen it before.
J. Michael Straczynski created the show, and he did it in a unique way. This show follows the traditional five-act plot structure, with one season per act. So, season one is the introduction, followed by rising action, climax, and then season five for the falling action. At the same time, he gives you enough plot points and individual episode storylines to keep you interested the whole way through.
About my only complaint is season five. The idea that you’d need an entire season just for the falling action of your main story arc looks good on paper, but doesn’t actually translate into good story in reality. There are some good points in season five, some funny character moments, but it’s mostly story that is set up, but never paid off, like he was trying to make the point that the battle against evil takes many different shapes, but never really ends. A good effort, but a disappointing end to a spectacular show. My advice: watch it once, just so that you can form your own opinion on it, then later, if you want the complete story, watch the whole thing, up through season four, then skip directly to the series finale at the end of season five.
Babylon 5 won multiple awards during its five-year run, including two Hugos for Best Dramatic Presentation. The special effects, I have to say, are very 1990s, but worlds better than anything in the classic Star Trek series, so if you can watch Kirk and Spock, you won’t be raising too many eyebrows at Babylon 5.
Season one is very near and dear to my heart, even though it’s the slowest of all the seasons. You start out with Commander Jeffrey Sinclair as the commander of the space station, Babylon 5, located in the Epsilon Iridani sector (attention Star Trek fans; that was a nod). The story is set ten years after a major war between the humans — the Earth Alliance, which includes the various human colonies, like Mars — and the Minbari. The whole point of having Babylon 5 was to give all the races a chance to learn to live together peacefully. You have the humans, who run the space station, the Minbari — like Ambassador Delenn — the Centauri — like Ambassador Londo Mollari — the Narn — like Ambassador G’Kar — and the Vorlons — like the mysterious Ambassador Kosh. The Centauri and the Narn are mortal enemies, making the interactions between G’Kar and Londo some of the most hilarious moments of the show. Then, add the human telepaths to the list of characters — like resident telepath Talia Winters, and the downright evil PsyCop Bester (an impressive performance by Walter Koenig) — and things really get interesting.
The show is basically a modern fairy tale — and I’ve talked about this before, in my posts on The Avengers, for example. You have a group of good guys, fighting against what appears to be a superior enemy (who don’t get mentioned by name until season two, so I’m not telling). They find various allies and friends to assist them in this great fight. They learn about each other and learn to trust each other, because if they don’t, they’re doomed, and they know it. Some of the allies are almost supernatural in their abilities (using a science fiction cheat — disguising fairies as superior aliens so that no one notices them); some villains are so evil, you want nothing more than to see them go down, and go down hard.
There are all kinds of wonderful themes, in addition to the obvious good vs. evil one. My favorite starts in season two, and is really paid off in seasons three and four: free will, and the dangers of a totalitarian state. My mother and I watch those favorite episodes over and over again, rewinding and re-watching our favorite few scenes, cheering and rooting for the characters, especially Captain Sheridan (who replaces Commander Sinclair in season two) and Ambassador Delenn. Forgiveness is another big one, as well as friendship, selflessness, and sacrifice.
The humor in the show is the kind of thing you sit around quoting to your friends, just one line here and there, and laugh until you make yourselves cry (yes, Ginny, you know what I mean). 🙂
Here, I’ll give you a little tiny taste:
This show will make you laugh and cry and rage and beg for more. The characters are compelling without approaching the melodramatic. The situations are dire, but the show doesn’t fall into the trap of continuing to escalate the bad scenarios for the good guys to overcome, just to get a rise out of the viewers (*cough cough* Doctor Who). The danger is dire, but believable.
There’s even a hint of religion in the show. Commander Sinclair is a Catholic; Ivanova is a Jew (and one of my favorite episodes includes a rabbi coming to visit her on the station). There’s even a crew of monks who decide to come and live on Babylon 5, and help the crew out with a few things. It’s not preachy; it’s just there if you want to read something into it. Otherwise, the religion is just an aspect of the characters you’ve grown to know and love.
I’d love to go on and on and on about this show, but I promised no spoilers, so I’ll have to cut myself short here. If you want to watch the show, you can get it through Netflix, but only on disc. It’s not available on Amazon for streaming, either. That was so frustrating when I was watching it through the first time, I just went ahead and bought all five seasons on eBay. It was definitely worth it. Binge-watching Babylon 5 is one of my favorite things to do.
If it wasn’t for Longmire being on starting today, I’d go home from work and start re-watching it, just because writing this review has made me remember how much I enjoy the show.
So go watch it. You won’t regret it.
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I think the problem with season 5 is when they were filming season 4, JMS was told the syndication company wasn’t going finance/produce season 5. As a result, JMS had to compress the two seasons’ arcs into one. Then at almost the last minute, TNT agreed to produce/air season 5.
Yes, that’s precisely it. His carefully-planned storyline got squished in the fourth season and then stretched in the fifth with entirely new material that hadn’t been set up according to the standards that the fans had come to expect.
And then, when the network greenlit Crusade, they stipulated that it could have nothing to do with the station. Only someone who had never watched the show would think that was the problem.
I’m half-convinced that these are the same network execs who now work at Fox and tank every good sci-fi show that comes across their desks.
The Babylon Project was our last, best hope for quality television SF.
Careful with that . . . because as any fan knows, you could easily add “It failed.” 🙂
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