Babylon 5: Thirdspace (1998)


“One mistake. One mistake out of so many. So many others.”

Al’s Rating: Thirdspace.  The final frontier.

Al’s Review: In the course of my Babylon 5 articles, I have sometimes used “Star Trek” as a derogatory term for episodes that I found to be lacking in their B5-ness. I’ve honestly worried (probably more than is warranted) that my opinion of Trek will come across as derisive or negative, when the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Gene Roddenberry’s original idea for Trek was that each episode would be a self-contained experience: the crew discovers a problem in the first ten minutes and resolves it in the last ten minutes.  Ultimately, there is never any change to the status quo and no lasting scars are left on our heroes. This allows viewers to jump in on literally any episode, have a good time, and hopefully come back for more without the worry of having missed something important in the interim.

Babylon 5 never worked that way. It set out to tell a five-year story where empires rose and fell, characters lived and died, and changes were irrevocably made to both our cast and the galaxy they inhabit—in other words, it set a very different expectation.  So whenever an episode felt more like it belonged in Roddenberry’s universe than Straczynski’s, I would mentally label it as such. However, it doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. Case in point: Babylon 5: Thirdspace.

Thirdspace was the second of four Babylon 5 TV movies that were created for TNT.  Although it aired in the middle of Season 5, the story actually takes place in the middle of Season 4, between the end of the Shadow War and the start of the war to retake Earth. While chasing off a raider attack, Ivanova and Delta Squadron discover a massive artifact drifting in hyperspace near Babylon5. Tests show it to be over one million years old, and a shifty space archeologist, Dr. Elizabeth Trent, believes it is a doorway to another realm.  This realm, which she calls Thirdspace, could provide nearly instantaneous travel, making it both the ultimate form of transport and the ultimate weapon.

However, telepath Lyta Alexander, whose body was modified by ancient Vorlon technology, begins speaking in strange warnings and scrawling messages on her wall. Some of the citizens of B5 also begin to experience hypnotic dreams of a dark city and a great evil. Soon, riots are breaking out all over Babylon 5 and the artifact has begun leeching power from the station. It seems that the doorway to Thirdspace is about to open, but the question arises, what is waiting on the other side?

I liked Thirdspace a lot, much more than B5’s previous attempt at a big movie, In the Beginning. This definitely feels more like a complete adventure rather than a handful of interesting moments stitched together and stretched over 90 minutes. There’s a slower, more deliberate pace than what I’ve been used to from the TV show lately, but there are still some cool space battles at the end, just in case you’re falling asleep.

The acting from both the regular cast and the guest stars is at its usual high level (except for this one extra in the security team who has, like, two lines but delivers them dripping with so much overwrought emotion that I can’t believe nobody slipped and fell on it.) In particular, I liked watching Lyta disintegrate into insanity and adored Zack’s elevator scene with her. It puts a nice button on their relationship, I think. Shari Belafonte also does a decent job as the movie’s antagonist, Dr. Trent, who isn’t evil but way too ambitious for her own good. She doesn’t have tons of screentime, but she manages to hold her own against Bruce Boxleitner in their scenes together, and that certainly indicates something.

The CGI in Thirdspace also feel like it’s gotten a bump from the regular episodes.  It could just be that I’ve gotten used to style of the show, but I really liked the space battle against the invaders and thought that the creatures inside the artifact were pretty neat in an evil, Space Jellyfish sort of way.  Sadly, the ultimate climax of the film doesn’t look nearly as good as everything else and Captain Sheridan’s spacesuited journey into the artifact just comes across as lame and crummy.

Despite the disappointing ending, a lot of the time Thirdspace spends trying to be weird and creepy actually comes off pretty well. Between Lyta acting crazy and Ivanova having visions of other worlds and mysterious crawling tentacles, the tone of an honest-to-goodness mystery is evoked, which isn’t really territory B5 has ventured into aside from the “gigantic conspiracy” kind. It doesn’t always work as well as they wanted it to, but I think they largely succeed in making an interesting, light, Lovecraftian horror story.

The plot links tangentially into the series proper, dealing with the idea of leftover Vorlon technology (which we got into a teensy bit during Season 4 with the Drakhs), but Thirdspace mainly stands on its own two feet.  The plot is entirely self-contained, beginning and ending in 90 minutes instead of getting spread out over 22 episodes. You don’t need to know tons about the characters or the overarching plot of Babylon 5 to enjoy the film.  Heck, I watched it with my father—whose interest in space starts and ends with the Houston Astros—and we both had a good time. For all intents and purposes, this is an extra-long Star Trek episode. It’s a fun and engaging story where our crew discovers a threat to the galaxy, saves the day, augments their understanding of the universe, and walks away none the worse for wear.  I’m pretty okay with that.

Now, Ultraman must face his greatest challenge!


  • That elevator scene is easily my favorite Zack moment in the series so far. Apparently, it was only added in when the film came up a few minutes short.
  • Shari Belafonte, who plays Dr. Trent, is the daughter of singer Harry.
  • William Sanderson is back as Deuce. We haven’t seen him since episode 115, Grail, way back in Season 1.
  • Sheridan’s nuke password is “Abraxas,” a deity in Gnostic mythology and a really bad Jesse Ventura movie.

Groovy Quotes

Alex: I want to thank you for your time, Miss Alexander. You are a lovely young woman. And if I was thirty younger, and you were a little blind in one eye, what a wonderful life we could have together.

Delenn: John, whenever something comes into our proximity that has to do with the unknown, your eyes light up like two tiny suns. And do you know what words these two tiny lights spell out?
Sheridan: What?
Delenn: Mine! Mine, mine, mine, mine, mine, mine!
Sheridan: Oh, now that is a lie!
Delenn: Minbari do not lie.
Sheridan: Well then it is slander.
Delenn: To be slander, it must be false. That’s two down.
Sheridan: Well then it’s damned inconvenient.
Delenn: The truth always is.

Ivanova: Well, the vultures are starting to circle.
Zack: I thought the vultures only circled after you were dead.
Ivanova: Maybe they know something we don’t.

Ivanova: [upon seeing all the people running around in the docking bay] Do you think anybody would notice if I just… killed a few of them?
Franklin: Well… how many?
Ivanova: I don’t know… uh, ten?
Franklin: Oh yeah. They’d notice.
Ivanova: Six?
Franklin: Go for it.

Lyta Alexander: One mistake. One mistake out of so many. So many others.

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  1. In the Thirdspace novelization, as he makes his way towards the Thirdspace gate, Sheridan is thinking about Tony Curtis during the pie fight scene in The Great Race.

    • I love the comparison, but what are the chances that Sheridan has seen a 200 year-old Jack Lemmon movie? I suppose Garibaldi could have showed it to him…

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