This installment is Part 5 in a series! To read from the beginning, click here!
The Babylon Diaries: Season 5 – Introduction
May 17, 2011
I’ve finished grad school. Over the last six months, I have waded through the most consistently demanding work I have ever encountered. Over the past 120 hours, I have completed and submitted the most important piece of writing I have ever been assigned. For the last day and a half, I have marveled at the idea that I actually have nothing to do.
Something has been nagging at me, though—there’s a loose end I haven’t quite tied up and it’s been sitting patiently on my DVD shelf for longer than I care to admit. The final season of Babylon 5. I think it’s time.
Now, I realize this isn’t the true end of Babylon 5. There are still a few TV movies to watch and a short-lived spinoff that I do plan to review, but Season 5 is the last big hurdle I have to clear. As I mentioned in my S4 wrap-up, I’m approaching this with more than a little trepidation. I’ve been writing these articles for too long to pretend I don’t know how divided fans feel over Season 5. From my own point of view, I’m just not sure there’s a story left to tell. Our plots have pyramided and our characters have arced. Is there really still anything to say?
Then again, there’s some lady on my DVD cover who is looking at me like I owe her something, so I guess I should stop worrying and see what she wants.
Onward and upward, one last time, to Babylon 5: Season 5: The Wheel of Fire!
Dramatis Personae in 2262
The hard-nosed former captain of Babylon 5 who ended the destructive Shadow War and led an army retake Earth from the tyrannical President Clark. When last we saw him, John had resigned his commission with Earthforce as punishment for his actions but finally married Delenn and was elected the first President of the Interstellar Alliance.
Nosy and suspicious by nature, Garibaldi had been the long-standing Security Chief of Babylon 5 until the PsiCorps messed with the brain last season and used those emotions to drive him away from the station and his friends. After realizing what had happened, however, Garbaldi returned to help Sheridan and the others rage against the machine. At the end of last season, Garibaldi had reunited with his old flame, Lise Hampton, and found himself potentially at the helm of the multibillion-dollar company, Edgars Industries.
Dr. Franklin is Babylon 5’s evenhanded Chief Medical Officer. Last year, he played a critical role in retaking Earth by coordinating with the Mars resistance and using Shadow/human hybrid telepaths to disable and destroy Earthforce ships.
Originally Garibaldi’s right-hand man, Zack was promoted to Head of Security on Babylon 5 after his boss’s resignation. Zack has spent the last few seasons harboring a crush on psychic Lyta Alexander, though the events of Thirdspace seem to indicate that he’s given up the chase.
Lyta was originally Babylon 5’s telepathic representative of the PsiCorp, but went on the run after the events of The Gathering. She returned in Season 3, having been modified in unknown ways by Vorlon technology. She rejoined the PsiCorp out of desperation last year, but sided with Sheridan to retake Earth from President Clark. There have been hints that Lyta’s powers are stronger than she knows and that she has the potential to be something even greater than she imagines.
Lochley has been installed as the new Captain of Babylon 5 at President Sheridan’s request. She is an efficient and effective leader, but whose side is she on? And why does Sheridan think so highly of her?
Delenn is the Minbari Ambassador to Babylon 5. She’s soft-spoken but hides deep steel underneath. In an attempt to bring the two races together, she underwent a transformation at the end of Season 1 and emerged as a human/Minbari hybrid. She and Sheridan led the war effort against both The Shadows and President Clark, and, after a long courtship, were finally married at the end of last year.
Lennier is Delenn’s long serving assistant who fought valiantly aboard the White Star Fleet during both wars. His feelings for Delenn have deepened over the years and have become more obvious as time has gone on.
Londo began as the washed-up Ambassador for the diminishing Centauri Republic, but began to rise in prominence after striking a deal with a human “associate” of The Shadows, Mr. Morden. Londo soon realized he was in over his head, however, and, last year, he masterminded a conspiracy to assassinate the insane Emperor Cartagia. Londo ascended to Prime Minister after the assassination and, at the end of last season, was chosen to become the new Emperor of the Centauri Republic.
Neurotic and conflicted, Vir Cotto is Londo Mollari’s long-suffering attaché, who spends his days playing Jiminy Cricket to his boisterous friend and superior. Last year, Vir also found himself embroiled in Londo’s assassination plot and unexpectedly wound up as Cartagia’s assassin. It has been prophesied that Vir will succeed Londo as Emperor after Londo’s death.
Once the proud, bitter Ambassador of the Narn Regime, G’Kar has been mellowed by recent events and turned him into something more of a philosopher poet. He spent a good deal of time last season in prison, wrote a book, and even began trying to heal the past with his longtime adversary, Londo Mollari.
Other Persons of Interest
Cold and cunning, Bester is a top agent of the PsiCorp and an ever-present threat to Babylon 5. Last year, he kidnapped Michael Garibaldi and installed programming in his brain that affected Garibaldi’s behavior throughout the season. Bester’s lover, Carolyn, was captured and altered by the Shadows, but was not used by Sheridan in the final drive back to Earth.
The mysterious and powerful Byron is the leader of a small group of rogue telepaths on the run from the PsiCorp and looking for a homeworld of their own. He is able to convince Sheridan to give them temporary refuge on Babylon 5, but to what end?
Virini is a long-serving Minister in the Centauri Royal Court. After the death of Emperor Cartagia, he was appointed Regent and asked to rule until a permanent successor could be found. When last we saw him, an unknown creature had attached itself to his shoulder. It’s purpose is unclear.
Montoya is a Captain in the Rangers, currently in command of White Star 27 (which he has named “The Maria”). Strong, resourceful, and possessing an excellent head of hair, he serves as a teacher to Lennier throughout the season.
Well, it seems a bit of time and has passed since the end of Season 4 and life on our chaotic little space station has started to return to normal. Our old, familiar gang is getting ready for the Alliance’s Presidential swearing-in ceremony aboard Babylon5, and we are introduced to the new station CO, Captain Elizabeth Lochley. Of course, as things can never get too peaceful around here, she isn’t on the job for more than a day before an assassination threat is revealed against fledgling Alliance President John Sheridan, who has traded in his Battle Beard for a Diplomacy Goatee. At the same time, she is visited by the mysterious Byron, who leads a group of refugee telepaths looking for a home. Oh, Babylon 5, how I’ve missed you!
Despite my joy at watching this show again, No Compromises was only just okay as a season opener. It actually felt a lot like the premiere of Season 2: an episode not really designed to titillate, just meant to get us going. It even had a new station commander getting a “no welcome” welcome.
Observing the new dynamic of our characters is interesting—they’re all getting along way too well. It’s just not natural, I tells ya! Of course, I assume Lochley will introduce some new form of tension. I’m not really getting a read on her yet, but I like characters who are nit-picking pains-in-the-butt and her little speech to Corwin about “a properly run station” seems to indicate she fits that bill. I’m just not sure how much of a major player she’ll really turn out to be. If Sheridan handles all the political decisions, Delenn handles the diplomats, Zack runs station security, and Garibaldi is in charge of the Space CIA (my two cents: *really* bad idea), what’s left for her to do?
Also, I can’t say I’m a fan of Byron, who looks a little too Final Fantasy for my tastes. His face is on the box, though, so I guess he’s sticking around. A colony of telepaths on the station, huh? Well, they’ve been teasing a Telepath War for four seasons; maybe that’s where we’re headed.
G’Kar: Do you want to be president?
G’Kar: Put your hand on the book and say I do.
Sheridan: I do.
G’Kar: Fine. Done. Let’s eat.
Whew! For a few minutes there, I was convinced this was going to be a Babylon 5 clip show.
After a heated argument with Zack Allan over a bottle of impounded Centuari wine, Londo suffers a massive heart attack (Vir’s response: “Oh my God! Which one?”) and falls into a coma from which he may not recover. Inside his head, he goes on an exploration of himself and must make the decision whether he truly wants to live or die. Elsewhere, Lennier feels replaced in Delenn’s life and makes the decision to leave her service and Babylon 5 for good.
I really wanted to like this episode. I even acknowledge that this is the Londo Mollari story that probably *had* to happen before his character could ever be allowed to move on. Honestly, though, the whole concept is just too played out for me to care that much. Luckily, Peter Jurasik and Andreas Katsulas give performances that are far superior to the material they have to work with.
As unimpressed as I was with the A-story, Lennier managed to break my heart on the flipside. Delenn is obviously the love of his life and seeing her with someone else, even someone he respects as much asSheridan, is simply too much for him. Bill Mumy totally steals this episode away from his costars. Poor Lennier.
Of course, with that said, I can’t imagine his departure is going to last very long unless his name is gone from the opening credits next episode. Part of me kind of hopes it is.
All the bottles here are empty? The metaphor’s getting a bit thick, don’t you think? — Dream Londo
Hey, an episode with some energy behind it!
While struggling to convince members of his new Alliance to sign their Declaration of Principles, Sheridan receives a message from a dying messenger about the Enfili, who wish to join the Alliance but have been under relentless attack from raiders for the past ten years. Meanwhile, Garibaldi enlists the help of Lyta Alexander in convincing Byron’s coven of telepaths to lend their services to his covert intelligence operations.
And telepaths are really what this episode is all about, once you get past the hubbub surrounding the Enfili and the perennial B5 whipping boys, the Drazi. I really liked seeing Lyta attempting to cope after being present in the mind of the Enfili’s dying messenger and I appreciated the brief reminder of Alfred Bester, who’s due for an appearance any episode now. What I’ve decided I don’t like, however, is Lucius Malfoy and his little cult down in Brown sector. I understand their beefs and I think they have a legitimate point of view, but that holier-than-thou attitude is going get old fast. Plus, I just know they’re going to end up vengeful and violent, and now it seems that they’ve got their slimy hooks in Lyta, who’s totally going to go all Patty Hearst on me.
And how painful was it to watch Sheridan at the very end of this episode? He was *this close* to offering Alliance membership to Byron, only to have his concentration broken. And then, when he picks his train of thought back up? He runs in exactly the wrong direction with it. This is going to come back to bite him so hard.
The universe speaks in many languages but only one voice. The language is not Narn or human or Centauri or Gaim or Minbari. It speaks in the language of hope. It speaks in the language of trust. It speaks in the language of strength and the language of compassion. It is the language of the heart and the language of the soul. But always it is the same voice. It is the voice of our ancestors speaking through us. And the voice of our inheritors waiting to be born. It is the small, still voice that says: “We are one.” No matter the blood, no matter the skin, no matter the world, no matter the star: we are one. No matter the pain, no matter the darkness, no matter the loss, no matter the fear: we are one. Here gathered together in common cause we agree to recognize this singular truth and this singular rule: that we must be kind to one another. Because each voice enriches us and ennobles us, and each voice lost, diminishes us. We are the voice of the universe, the soul of creation, the fire that will light the way to a better future. We are one. – The Alliance Declaration of Principles (uh, for now)
A View from the Gallery takes place as Babylon 5 is bracing itself for an attack by the advance wing of a hostile alien force looking for worlds to invade. Although we start the episode following Captain Lochley (which I wouldn’t have minded), our focus quickly shifts to two less likely protagonists: Mack and Bo, a pair of maintenance grunts who are tasked with keeping our favorite tin can afloat. We then follow Mack and Bo through the ups and downs of the attack, watching them with fascination as they eat lunch and tinker with service panels, waxing poetic about life on the station and trading gossip about the rest of the cast. Then, thankfully, the episode ends and hopefully never comes back.
Man, this was just… poor. I understand the intent of the writer and I can see how the episode is supposed to work, but Mack and Bo are probably the two least interesting people they could have chosen. Star Trek: TNG did a seventh-season episode called Lower Decks that was in this vein, focusing on a group of junior officers who only knew Picard and Riker and Worf as their bosses and never got to sit in at the big briefing tables. I like Lower Decks quite a bit. Why does it succeed when A View from the Gallery fails? Lower Decks works, I think, because we get characters who have actual skill sets—they’re engineers and tactical officers and scientists. They’re not in charge, but they’re involved. Mack and Bo are just handy with a wrench. They’re not Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in this story, they’re Statler and Waldorf. They sit at ringside with no real role to play and chatter back and forth like they escaped from the Satellite of Love. Their interactions with the cast are minimal and their contributions are nearly nonexistent.
That said, there were a few nice things in this episode. The brief encounter with the telepaths was neat, though I will pimpslap Byron myself if he keeps quoting Shakespeare. I thought Doc Franklin had a nice soliloquy about why he became a doctor. To their credit, Mack and Bo have a couple of funny observations, addressing what I assume were some of the comments and criticisms of the fans (I smirked at their confusion over what happened to Ivanova).
I mean, I guess I don’t hate it like I hated All Alone in the Night back in Season 2, but A View from the Gallery sucked in plenty of its own special ways. If anything from this episode comes back into play this season, then maybe I’ll consider revising my opinion. Until then, I say boo.
Mack: [about GKar and Londo] So, how long do you figure they’ve been married?
Before I jump into this one, I just want to mention that I like this year’s revamped title sequence. It feels much cleaner than the “split screen” credits from Season 4 and it doesn’t try to be as flashy as the “starburst” credits we saw Season 3. Also, I like the new sword and shield emblem. It sort of brings home the idea that we’re starting a new era of Babylon 5. The “Created by J Michael Straczynski” stamp end the end feels a little kitschy, though.
So, let’s move onto Learning Curve. This episode definitely contained things that I enjoyed, but that list unfortunately does not include the Minbari Junior Rangers who filled up the most of our 42 minutes. The Rangers, it seems, are visiting B5 to consult with Delenn on some of the growing pains they’re experiencing now that membership has expanded to all of the other Alliance worlds. When two of their padawan Rangers venture into Downbelow and run afoul of an aspiring crime kingpin, Ranger Justice must be dispensed to give them the peace of mind they’ll need to continue their training.
So, yeah, all that seemed kind of disposable. It was kind of interesting to learn some of the beliefs and traditions of the Anla’shok, but is any of it actually going to come back around and matter during the rest of this season? I would bet not. Thus far, Season 5 feels an awful lot like Season 1, so I guess they get points for symmetry. I guess. It seems to me, though, that the last season of a show should be all about bringing things to a close instead of introducing new elements that they’re never going to return to.
The moments that entertained me in Learning Curve were mostly minorish interactions that simply orbited the Ranger story. First off, I loved Captain Lochley’s speech to Garibaldi about her choosing the “wrong side” in the Earth conflict. She’s been a bit of a nonentity until now, but my opinion of her has just gone up considerably. Also, my understanding is that B5 is run by Earthforce, yet it remains an independent state. It’s also home to the Alliance, but they are technically independent from B5. Now, the show has reintroduced the Rangers, who work for the Alliance, but are also (seemingly) independent of them as well. How is all of this supposed to work together? Are they just ultimately trusting one another to do the right thing? That sounds awfully risky, President John.
Oh, and I liked to cliffhanger about Lochley’s past! I’m assuming she’s Sheridan’s old girlfriend or something, which would insert some interesting tensions on top of everything else. I suppose we’ll learn all about it soon, now that Garibaldi has hired Robert Smith from The Cure to investigate.
Lochley: So, what kind of terror are we talking about here, Delenn?
Delenn: The kind that cripples. The kind that destroys. Not from without, but from within. As soon as he can stand, whether he is fully healed or not, Tannier will prepare to face his terror. Those who harmed him now have power over him. He must take back that power or he will never be whole again.
Bester’s back, and this time he’s got the law on his side! He and the PsiCorp return to Babylon 5 to apprehend Byron and his band of telepaths. As a member of the Alliance, the crew is forced to allow Earth to mete out justice according to its own rules. In other words, the rogue teeps have broken Earth law and must face the consequences.
I definitely had a good time with the turnabout in this episode. Lochley doesn’t like Bester but she doesn’t hate him like the rest of the cast does, and, frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if she was glad to have Sephiroth and his acolytes hauled off the station. Then again, her resolution to the whole thing was pretty clever, so perhaps I’m not giving her enough credit.
I was definitely shocked to the revelation that Lochley was Mrs. Sheridan 1.0, but maybe I shouldn’t have been, given Delenn’s reaction at the end of the last episode. I’m interested to see what kind of dynamic develops from this. In other news, I think Lyta has been fully indoctrinated into Byron’s little cult. I’m curious, though, how he truly views her, especially now that he knows how much power she is capable of generating. Then again, maybe I just keep wanting him to turn into a bad guy. He hasn’t done anything wrong exactly; he’s just really rubbing me the wrong way.
Zack: Where are you going?
Lochley: To pound someone, Mr. Allan. You win. I’ve just decided: if you can’t join ‘em, beat ‘em.
After finishing Secrets of the Soul, I was convinced that this episode had one really important story to tell and another that was interesting but ultimately irrelevant. As I thought about it, however, I started to realize that I was wrong. The A-story (the “important” one) follows the telepaths and Byron’s increasing struggle for his people to remain nonviolent on a station that simply doesn’t want them around. The B-story is about Doctor Franklin collecting medical data from a new Alliance member, the Hyach, and a horrible secret that he discovers about their past.
Although I didn’t see it at first, both of these stories are actually parallels. Franklin’s story is about the death and decline of a civilization after they dealt poorly with a bad decision made by a past generation. Byron’s story ultimately leads to a discovery about the origin of telepaths: a (perceived) bad decision made by people long gone (the Vorlons). Based on Byron’s Malcolm X speech at the end of the episode, this revelation seems to be sending them down a dark path and how the rest of the station deals with it may determine whether the Alliance, too, is destined for death and decline or if they’re worthy of something more.
By the way, this episode finally gave me a reason to like Byron at least a little bit, and a reason to lower my opinion of Zack, which is a shame. I’m also no longer convinced Byron’s going to become a full-on bad guy this season. In fact, I think it’s a lot more likely that he’ll get himself assassinated, which will send his people off the deep end. Then again, my track record as guessing these things has been pretty sucky. I guess we’ll wait and see.
Zack: [trying to convince Lyta to stay] Give me five minutes.
Lyta: Zack, if Byron asked me to follow him into hell, I would do it gladly with a smile on my face because I believe in him. What could possibly you say in five minutes that would change that?
What a wonderful treat this was. Of course, would you expect anything less from the pen of Neil Gaiman?
In Day of the Dead, Captain Lochley sells a portion of Babylon5 to the Brakiri for a single night of celebration, known as the Day of the Dead. That evening, everyone staying within the bounds of the new Brakiri territory – including Lochley, Londo, Garibaldi, and a here-on-vacation Lennier – are visited by a ghost from their past.
I love this episode. It’s very reminiscent of Conversations with Dead People from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, although perhaps the comparison should be flipped since this one came first. It doesn’t really advance any story, besides dropping a few hints about Lennier’s ill-fated career choice, but I’m glad to put all the Big Stuff aside for a moment. Questions like “why” and “how” are addressed, but aren’t all that important. This is simply a handful of our characters getting to sit and talk in a way that Babylon 5 doesn’t usually allow.
I was overjoyed at the return of Dodger, who really made an impression on me in her single Season 2 episode, and seeing Mr. Morden again was fun, even though he didn’t get to do all that much (and his hair is different. It bugged me for some reason). More than either of those, though, I was pleased that I finally got a peek behind the curtain at Elizabeth Lochley and I think I like what I see. Her story existed entirely outside of any context, but managed to be sad and affecting. Consider me impressed.
I also got a kick out of seeing Penn and Teller as famous comedians Rebo and Zooty, although they were a comparative lowpoint of the episode. Their plotline wasn’t important or necessary, but it was interesting. Plus, I like the fact that I don’t particularly enjoy Future Humor. Call me old fashioned, I guess.
Lochley: Are you a ghost?
Zoe: I don’t think so. I don’t believe in ghosts.
Well, this was a busy little episode, wasn’t it? In the Kingdom of the Blind continues one plot, introduces another, and resurrects a third!
In a continuation of the events from Secrets of the Soul, a newly radicalized Byron blindsides the Alliance by threatening to release secrets he’s telepathically gathered unless they provide a homeworld for his displaced psychics. This comes on the heels of a rash of attacks on transport freighters that seem less like typical pirate raids and more like a coordinated military assault. We don’t know why or who (my bet is on the slow-motion Predator aliens from last season), but it’s got the Alliance in an uproar.
The B-story involves Londo’s return to Centauri Prime and the return of the shoulder-eye thing from last season, which has apparently grown into a giant demon that controls the regent. I’ve always enjoyed the Centauri political stuff, and this was no exception. In particular, I loved watching G’Kar interact with the political elite and his speech to Vole about the soldier who whipped him.
I didn’t entirely love In the Kingdom of the Blind, but this really felt like a step in the right direction and a lot more like old school Babylon 5. I was also pleased to see that my assumption that Byron had switched from Martin Luther King to Malcolm X wasn’t exactly right. I’m kind of mystified why this background extra is suddenly a voice of authority, but I like the notion that the telepaths may be splintering into different factions. In fact, that whole scene felt a little bit like a frustrated Jesus and his obtuse Apostles. Wait, now they’ve got me comparing Byron to Jesus. Sigh.
On a sadder note, this is the first B5 episode I’ve watched since Jeff Conaway died. RIP Jeff, you will be missed.
What time is dinner here? – G’Kar
I found A Tragedy of Telepaths interesting in it’s exploration of how governments work. On Centauri Prime, Londo and G’Kar find G’Kar’s old aide, Na’Toth, chained up and forgotten in the palace dungeon. Even though the war is long since over, she cannot be released until a new emperor is crowned. On Babylon 5, both the telepath situation and the random attacks on traders force Sheridan and Lochley to make decisions that will solve short-term problems but likely set a dangerous precedent for the future. I don’t know whether any of these ramifications will actually show up in this season, but I can appreciate a script intelligent enough to realize that the decisions made by these people are never done in a vacuum.
The return of Na’Toth didn’t interest me much, but getting closure on her character was kind of nice. Yet again, I really liked seeing G’Kar and Londo work together, and it was nice to see the old angry, vengeful G’Kar peek out over the diplomat/philosopher exterior he has crafted for himself. I’m getting more than a little sick of the squabbling Alliance, but my opinion of Commander Lochley continues to rise and I’m really starting to accept her as part of the show. Especially if she keeps sleeping in her underwear.
Why is it that we always break up our history by the wars, not the years of peace? The Hundred Years War, the War of 1812, the first three World Wars, the Dilgar War, the War of the Shining Star, the Minbari War, the Shadow War. Why the war, but not the peace? Because it’s exciting. And because, at some level, people like to see something big fall apart and explode from the inside out. And right now, John, we’re that something. – Michael Garibaldi
Hmm. So, Phoenix Rising gave me a lot to think about. With Bester and his PsiTroops combing the station, the situation between Byron and the militant telepaths comes to an inevitably tragic head. I’m a little conflicted on the very end with the chemical spill: a part of me was genuinely moved, but the rest of me thinks it was beyond sappy (also maybe a little disrespectful, given this was only about five years after the siege in Waco, Texas). The whole thing wasn’t quite what I anticipated but it wasn’t entirely unforeseen, either.
What I didn’t expect was to get more insight into Bester. Even before he came right out and voiced it at the end, Bester’s devotion and honest-to-goodness love for the PsiCorp really struck me in this episode. Between his confusion after the standoff and Lyta’s final proclamation of “Tomorrow, we begin again,” I really hope this isn’t the end of the telepath story. In fact, the more I dwell on it, I’m wondering if the whole purpose of the Byron character wasn’t to inform the direction of Lyta’s character. It seems certain she’s not going back to the Corps, but is she on her way to becoming something else?
Also, I’d be remiss not mention poor Garibaldi, Asimov’d into submission. It seems to have completely broken his spirit. I’m praying that he’s not going to end up all angry and unlikeable again.
Every race to develop telepaths has had to find some way to control them. Through laws, religion, drugs… extermination. We may not be pretty, but we’re a hell of a lot better than the alternatives. – Alfred Bester
I knew this episode was an ‘A’ from the moment I stopped to think about it, but perhaps that seems odd given that it doesn’t really break any new ground. We see that Garibaldi is indeed drinking again and that it’s messing with his job performance pretty severely. We learn that the Centauris are mixed up in the mysterious raider attacks that are destroying Alliance transport ships (and I can’t believe I didn’t put *that* together before now). We see G’Kar complete his transformation into a spiritual leader, which is a payoff that has been becoming for a long time. Also, we get the first sign that it’s the beginning of the end for our show: Doctor Franklin has accepted a transfer off-station, effective January 1, 2263. And it’s all done so damn well!
Even though The Ragged Edge didn’t have any big reveals or shocking revelations, this really felt like what B5 does best: the writers are moving the chains and spinning their webs, dangling just enough in front of me to make me want more. I liked getting to see the Drazi homeworld, too. It’s amazing how much of a civilization they can evoke in the mind of the viewer with just a couple of cultural anecdotes. Plus, a mention of Doctor Kyle! He’s alive!
Londo Mollari: [about the Book of G’Kar] And am I in here?
G’Kar: Not by name. By description. Na’Tak Burella–it’s a colloquialism.
Londo Mollari: Which means?
G’Kar: Prideful wind-catcher.
Londo Mollari: Well, as Mr. Garibaldi says, “I think I’ll wait for the movie.”
This week on PsiCops, a dangerously unstable telepath known as a mind shredder murders his roommate and goes on the run from the Corps. Lucky for us, the brooding, dedicated Alfred Bester is on the case. Together with cadets Ashley and Chen, he must wade through the arrogance and hostility of Babylon 5 long enough to bring this criminal to justice!
I totally dug this episode, especially coming on the heels of Walter Koenig’s performance in Phoenix Rising. Seeing a story that’s all about Good Guy Al instead of Scumbag Al is nice reminder about the power of perspective. Bester is a hero in the world of the Corps. He is entrusted with the most dangerous assignments and idolized by the up and coming officers. Honestly, his unwavering belief in his cause, disregard for “backwater” authority, and flippant dismissiveness of his antagonists could have gotten him his own movie franchise in the 1980s.
Bester’s entire worldview is shaped by the teachings of the PsiCorp and is repeatedly reinforced by the attitude he encounters when he has to deal with mundanes like Zack. Of course, the end of the episode reminds us just how messed up PsiCorp priorities are, but it’s still nice to take a good long look across the battlefield every once in a while. You never know what you might find.
Small note: I noticed they changed the end of the title sequence and got rid of the “Created by” stamp that I disliked. I hope it stays that way, but I’m guessing not.
As much as it might offend their sense of perspective, not everything is about Babylon 5. – Al Bester
Meditations on the Abyss features three characters who haven’t seen a lot of action this year, all learning to get along in new surroundings. First is Lennier, who has returned to Babylon 5 at the behest of Delenn. She assigns him as a trainee on White Star 27, but asks him to secretly collect evidence on the possible Centauri involvement with ongoing attacks on Alliance ships. Meanwhile, G’Kar is settling in as a reluctant religious leader amongst the Narn and finds an unexpected ally in Dr. Franklin. Finally, in another nod towards the end of our series, Vir learns he will replace Londo as Centauri ambassador to Babylon 5 once Londo ascends to emperor. And, of course, no episode is allowed to make the viewer feel too happy, so it all ends with Garibaldi, still falling down drunk and edging closer and closer to embarrassing himself in public.
With the exception of that last part, I felt Meditations was a good, solid bridging episode that was neither too heavy nor too lightweight. I was happy to see Lennier succeeding in the Anla’shok, even if he’s there for the wrong reasons, and I liked how Captain Montoya showed the evolution of the Rangers organization since the Shadow War. The G’Kar stuff was nice, though I thought Dr Franklin’s Foundationist beliefs were the more interesting part of that subplot. I also really enjoyed getting to see Stephen Furst again. Bodyguard G’Kar sort of replaced Vir Cotto in the early part of this season and I’m not sure how many more episodes Vir will really have the chance to participate in, so I’m glad he was allowed to cut loose a bit here.
More than anything else, though, I really appreciated all the little touches in this episode, like G’Kar’s long-awaited eye replacement and the callback to Londo’s dueling swords. Maybe I’m just getting nostalgic, but it feels like I’m catching more and more small references to past episodes. Is it intentional on the part of the writers? I don’t know. Maybe I’m just seeing what I choose to see.
In any case, one thing I’m definitely seeing this season is a lack of Captain John. I knew that his promotion into President John meant he had to exist in a more administrative capacity, but I don’t feel like I’ve seen him blow something up in the longest time and it’s starting to bug me. I mean, I liked this episode—I did—but the Sheridan/Delenn/Zack/Franklin dinner scene reminded me just what I’ve been missing. Maybe this season will pick up the slack on the back nine.
Being Anla’shok means understanding that there is nothing to fear in death except the failure to complete our assigned mission. Death is not the enemy. Death simply is. – Captain Montoya
There’s a-doin’s a-transpirin’ on Babylon 5! Lise, the widow of William Edgars, walks back into Michael Garibaldi’s world and calls him on his drinking, which he lamely professes to be totally in control of. Lyta Alexander has indeed assumed Byron’s mantle and seeks out G’Kar to help her settle a telepath homeworld. Lastly, Lennier finds proof that the Centauri are behind the mysterious raider attacks plaguing the Alliance, but may not live to deliver it.
Darkness Ascending was another good, solid episode that ratchets up the stakes for next week, when I assume the cat will come tearing out of the bag. Sadly, I’ve noticed that I don’t really care. I understand the threat that these attacks present for the Alliance and I understand why everyone is so concerned, but since we never *see* them and they aren’t directly impacting our characters, they’re not registering very high on the Peril-O-Meter.
Garibaldi’s drinking is losing my interest, too. Again, I understand the danger, but after rescuing the Earth from government fascists and battling invisible space spiders, alcoholism seems a little meh. I will say, however, that his opening “It’s Your Fault” dream was pretty cool and then waking up to find Lyta staring at him with glowy alien eyes was more than a little terrifying (No joke – I jumped and started swearing at the TV). Speaking of Lyta, I loved the fact that they referenced she and G’Kar’s conversation alllllll the way back in The Gathering (I told you they were doing a bunch of callbacks!) and I liked that G’Kar seemed to drop his “enlightened sage” persona while they talked. He’s been a little too pious lately.
Also, while I’m harshing on B5, Lennier has *got* to get over his thing with Delenn. The dedication is impressive, I guess, but one person dying for love per series is pretty much all I can stand.
Oh, and you mentioned wondering what my pleasure threshold is. I just recently found out… I don’t have one. Have a very, very nice day. – Lyta Alexander
This felt a whole lot like old-school Babylon 5: the Centauri are formally accused of attacking transport ships and get kicked out of theAlliance, while Londo is struggles with forces inside his government that he cannot control. Garibaldi is finally caught drunk by Zack and, due to his negligence, manages to allow the Alliance/Centauri standoff to erupt into a shooting war. It’s all going downhill, full speed ahead…
…and yet it all feels a little too familiar to be scary. And All My Dreams, Torn Asunder is still an ‘A’ episode, but, just because the circumstances have changed, doesn’t mean we haven’t seen this before. Londo making offended speeches to the council? The Centauri standing (nominally) alone against the rest of galaxy? I *want* to love it and don’t deny it’s all well done, but it just feels a little tired.
But I also don’t want to overlook the many wonderful things in this episode: Peter Jurasik does an outstanding job as a man (er, Centauri) that is suddenly fighting for a cause he doesn’t believe in. Vir has a much smaller part, but Stephen Furst is equally excellent at soberly displaying his frustration, anger, and confusion at both his government and the part he is being forced to play. G’Kar and Londo’s relationship really shines in this episode as well. After everything they’ve endured, I love seeing the respect that now underlies their constant sniping.
Sheridan also delivers a great “angry” speech (which I’d like to think would chastise the other Alliance members pretty satisfyingly but they probably all just got huffy over it), and Delenn has a wonderful moment at the end that I’ve transcribed below.
The last big scene that struck me was Zack’s impromptu intervention for Garibaldi. Although bits of it felt a little melodramatic (they even point out the cliché during the scene), I thought both actors did a great job keeping it real and grounded. Garibaldi mentions that Zack has had problems of his own in the past, which I don’t think the show has brought up before. I can only assume that was written more for Jeff Conaway than Zack Allan, given the actor’s long history of substance abuse. It’s a nice touch, but I’d like it better if it hadn’t killed him before I saw this.
We are all born as molecules in the hearts of a billion stars, molecules that do not understand politics or policies or differences. Over a billion years, we foolish molecules forget who we are and where we came from. In desperate acts of ego, we give ourselves names, fight over lines on maps, and pretend that our light is better than everyone else’s. This flame reminds us of the pieces of those stars that live on inside us. The spark that tells us: “You should know better.” The flame also reminds us that life is precious, as each flame is unique. When it goes out, it is gone forever and there will never be another quite like it. So many candles will go out tonight. I wonder some days if we can see anything at all… — Delenn
Now *this* felt like the Babylon 5 I remember! Movements of Fire and Shadow finds a surprisingly on-the-ball Garibaldi coordinating the war effort from B5, but he’s essentially operating on his own as our cast has spread out across the galaxy, each in their own special kind of trouble. G’Kar remains imprisoned in the Royal Palace while Londo struggles vainly to mount an opposition to the regent. Lyta and Dr. Franklin visit the Drazi Homeworld at the behest of Vir Cotto to try and claim Centauri bodies only to discover that there are no bodies to recover (and Lyta got hardcore! Holy Crap!). Delenn rushes home to Minbar to try and push through the creation of a new type of White Star but is intercepted by warships and blown nearly to hell. Lastly, of course, is President John, in direct control of the fleet (woo!) and on his way to intercept the Drazi and the Narn, who are hellbent on bombing Centauri Prime back into the Stone Age.
Movements was a tremendous episode from top to bottom and easily the best “story” episode of the season so far. There’s tension on all fronts and I have no idea how it’s all going to shake out (the title of the next episode, The Fall of Centauri Prime, doesn’t instill me with confidence in a happy ending, however). I loved seeing the Shadow technology make a return (and a Drakh! And some creepy, creepy, creepy aliens! What *were* those things?!) and I liked the acknowledgement that a government might not be in any great rush to announce their findings to anyone else. Mostly, though I’m just basking in the fact that I can’t wait to watch the next episode. I haven’t felt like this in a while.
You picked a terrible moment in your social evolution to develop principles. Perhaps you can start with something simpler. The moral equivalent of the opposable thumb, for instance. – G’Kar, to Londo Mollari
How unexpected. The Centauri War is over, Londo has acceded to Emperor, and Delenn and Lennier got rescued. By rights, everyone should be all smiles and yet… that’s a TV ending. Nothing in real life really ends that way and neither do things on Babylon 5.
In his ascension to Emperor, Londo makes a sacrifice that caught me by surprise and left me honestly moved. He’s a hero, in his own way, even if he will almost certainly be remembered as a villain. I realize the series isn’t quite over yet, but will that really be enough time to discover the Drakh plot, formulate a plan, and rescue the Centauri Republic from their clutches? I somehow doubt it. Instead, I feel like the Drakh will survive in the shadows, as shadows of shadows, and pull their puppet’s strings to reach their own goals. At least for now.
Londo’s speech to his people was haunting and familiar, like something out of Germany after the First World War The Centauri are beaten and disaffected, about to be ground into the dirt by the bootheel of reparations. Does that make Londo their Adolf Hitler; charismatic, deeply passionate, and promising that the Centauri will pull themselves up by their bootstraps and become great once again? I hope not. But I think so.
In the middle of all this misery, however, there was one moment of real beauty: Londo and G’Kar embracing in forgiveness. I never thought I’d see it and, if this is going to be the end of their story, I can’t think of a better way for them to go out.
Understand that I can never forgive your people for what they did to my world. My people can never forgive your people. But I… can forgive you. – G’Kar, to Londo Mollari
So, The Wheel of Fire doesn’t involve any wheels or fires, but instead ties up two of this season’s long-running plot threads. First is Michael Garibaldi’s drinking problem, which I haven’t been the biggest fan of. It isn’t that it wasn’t handled well; it was that I just didn’t see any purpose to it (beyond giving Jerry Doyle something to do). Now, its intent is made clear: this is the kick in the pants that Garibaldi needs to get him to leave Babylon 5. I appreciated the relatively grounded way it was handled in this episode, though I also liked Tracy Scoggins’ performance while giving her Big Speech.
The other plot involves Lyta Alexander, who has slowly turned into a ruthless badass since the death of Byron eight episodes ago. Apparently, her deal with G’Kar has provided her with the means to fund terrorist actions against the PsiCorp back home and Earth is none too pleased. Unfortunately for them, her telepathic abilities are now all crazy scary and she can pretty much do whatever she pleases.
I definitely dug this episode, even though it reinforces just how soon Babylon 5 is ending. Londo is gone for good. Dr. Franklin is transferring to Earthdome. Garibaldi is headed to Mars. Lyta and G’Kar are off to unknown territories. Sheridan and Delenn are pregnant.
The times, they are a-changing, eh?
G’Kar: Why does the universe give us puzzles with no answers?
Franklin: Payback, maybe? Evening up the scales a little? The other day, I was thinking about what you said about God a few weeks ago and I remembered an old human saying: “Can God make a rock so big that even he can’t lift it?”
G’Kar: Yes, I’ve heard it, but—
Franklin: I wonder if that’s the wrong question. I wonder if the right question is: “Can God create a puzzle so difficult, a riddle so complex, that even he can’t solve it?” What if that’s us? Maybe a problem like yours is God’s way of doing to us a little of what we do to him.
I really, really liked this episode. It’s a goodbye episode, the same as The Wheel of Fire and The Fall of Centauri Prime, but this one feels a little more content to simply be what it is. There’s a plot involving an assassination attempt on Garibaldi and Lise Edgars, who showed up last episode, but even the script doesn’t seem to be taking it all that seriously. Instead, it exists as an opportunity to give us one last Garibaldi story—one that we *want* to hear about. No life-wrecking telepaths, no pitiful binges. This is Michael Garibaldi doing what he does best and coming out on top. It was nice to see again before the end.
Also, Objects in Motion saw the departure of Lyta Alexander and G’Kar, on their way to explore the universe. If anything, it felt a little undercut by the Garibaldi story, but it still managed to feel a little romantic and a tiny bit sad. I liked it plenty as well.
I should also mention the return of Number One, the former head of the Mars resistance. Tessa (her real name) is hired to replace Garibaldi as the new head of Covert Intelligence for the Alliance. She doesn’t actually have a big part to play in the episode, but she’s indicative of the general vibe of the show lately: The Next Generation. Our characters’ stories are ending, but the universe isn’t just going to stop. They’ve started something larger than themselves, and it will keep going long after they’ve left or stepped down or gotten fired. Life continues and the galaxy keeps spinning, even if we’re not around to see it.
I believe when we leave a place, part of it goes with us and part of us remains. Go anywhere in the station, when it is quiet, and just listen. After a while, you will hear the echoes of all our conversations, every thought and word we’ve exchanged. Long after we have gone our voices will linger in these walls, for as long as this place remains. But I will admit that the part of me that is going, very much will miss the part of you that is staying. – G’Kar
I’m not going to lie: even the title of this episode made me sad.
Objects at Rest puts the final few pieces of our story in place. Dr Franklin gets his transfer to Earthdome, Sheridan and Delenn move to Minbar, Londo begins to enact the twisted wishes of his puppetmasters, and Lennier commits the betrayal foretold by Morden in Day of the Dead.
The episode itself has even less of a plot than Objects in Motion, but that’s not a criticism. I would have been heartbroken if a series this good ended with a five-minute wrap-up and an Animal House-style, “Where are they now?” montage. This was the long, slow goodbye that I complained about not getting at the end of Season 4. Just like all the recent episodes, Objects at Rest is about reminding us where our characters came from, where they might be headed, and who is taking over once they’re gone.
Our souls are a part of this place. Our hopes, the foundation of our future, and we will pass this way again. – Delenn
I thought we were done, but it turns out there’s still one last loose end to tie up: the death of John Sheridan. Despite everything else that has come to its inevitable conclusion, I somehow thought we might get to skip this one. Silly me.
Like The Deconstruction of Falling Stars at the end of Season 4, Sleeping in Light isn’t about a particular B5 plotline. However, unlike the sweeping, epic nature of Deconstruction, this episode is smaller and quieter. It’s about the characters. The crew and the citizens of Babylon 5 have always been the heart and soul of this show, and to go out on anything else would be doing them a disservice.
The story is simple: John Sheridan is dying. It’s been twenty years since the events of Za’Ha’dum and Sheridan’s miraculous resurrection. On Minbar, John has been having dreams of Lorien and knows that his time is almost at an end. He sends out letters, visits with old friends, and then takes one last Sunday Drive toward the outer rim and the next step.
Sleeping in Light is, quite simply, a beautiful series finale. Maybe the best series finale I’ve ever seen. We hear bits and pieces about how the Alliance has evolved and what it’s accomplished, but mostly it’s about our cast. We discover where they are and what they’ve been up to. We learn that Garibaldi found a family and a little bit of happiness. We learn that Vir grew up to be more like Londo than you might have guessed. We also learn that not everybody is still around, and that’s okay, too.
Sheridan’s death was wonderfully mythic. It hangs over the episode; I prepared myself for his collapse every time he drifted into a happy memory or took an extra moment to respond to a question. But I didn’t want to see him keel over in a hallway, just like nobody really wants to know that Patton was killed in a car accident or that Elvis died in the bathroom. Sheridan is spared that kind of mortal end and, instead, is given something far more special and far more worthy.
As hard as most of Sleeping in Light is to watch, I really wasn’t prepared for the trip back to Babylon 5. It broke me up. I have been quietly anticipating the station’s destruction ever since Signs and Portents back in Season 1, but I always assumed it would be done in the same spirit of hatred and petty jealousies that have surrounded it since day one. It never entered my mind that it might be anything else. However, the end of Babylon 5 didn’t come because of death or war or a failure to understand. It came because of transformative change—change that it helped create. The Babylon Project was not a failure, but a wild success. The decommissioning and demolition of Babylon 5 is a happy thing. A catharsis. Of course, I think I’m still allowed to be a little sad.
Babylon 5 was the last of the Babylon stations. There would never be another. It changed the future. And it changed us all. It taught us that we have to create the future, or that others will do it for us. It showed us that we have to care for one another because, if we don’t, who will? And that true strength sometimes comes from the most unlikely places. Mostly, though, I think it gave us hope that there can always be new beginnings, even for people like us. – Susan Ivanova
Final Thoughts on Season 5
Okay. I’m going to try really, really hard to be even-handed here. The last few episodes of Babylon 5 were astounding and I would put them toe-to-toe with any other series I’ve ever watched. Season 5 was a little wobbly, though, and, when taken as a whole, maybe I don’t like it as much as I think I do. So, let me try to put aside my happy thoughts and get granular.
For starters, we should talk about the telepaths. Byron and his cabal never quite worked for me the way I think they were supposed to. I understood their plight and acknowledged their point of view, but it’s tough to truly sympathize with a group of people who are this whiny and self-righteous. Of course, I was willing to give them a partial pass as the season was clearly building toward the Telepath War. Remember the Telepath War? The one they’ve been teasing since the first season? What happened there? I know that they were setting up other important things that needed to occur, but you can’t lean that heavily on a plot point and then expect people to be content when you just let it go.
Also: Al Bester! What happened to him? He’s been a major player for five years and they gave him such interesting, meaningful development this season! And suddenly he just disappears? Not cool! Bester has an inevitable fate (at least in my mind) and the writers just ducking out on his story constitutes some serious ball-droppage. Unless he’s got his own movie in the works, I’m going ahead and declaring this a Miscarriage of Justice.
And what about everybody else?! Where were they this season? Yes, some of them (G’Kar, Lyta, Londo) remained fairly solid, but, thinking back over The Wheel of Fire, I’m having a hard time coming up with any memorable episodes centered around people like Zack or Delenn or even more than a handful of cool moments they were involved in. Also, the positions of some cast members this year may have been logical progressions for their characters, but President John Sheridan and Garibaldi the sleepy drunk can’t hold a candle to Captain John Sheridan and Garibaldi the wily cynic. This wasn’t really something that I actively thought about while watching, but, the more I consider it now, the more disappointed I am.
As I look back on a lot of Season 5, my thoughts continuously turn to the negative: dangling plot points, underwhelming story arcs, A View from the Gallery. This season was a messy, messy effort in so many ways. In fact, the high I was riding when I started to write this has pretty much evaporated. But, you know what? That isn’t fair. For all the nitpicks and all the complaints I could level at The Wheel of Fire, most of them wither in the shadow of stellar episodes like Day of the Dead and The Fall of Centauri Prime. I though Lochley was a fun (if underused) addition to the cast, and I loved seeing characters like Corwin and Ta’Lon emerge from the sidelines and step up to the plate as the series wound down. By the time we reached the pan shot of the Next Generation crew on the Babylon 5 bridge during Objects at Rest, my breath had been taken away like few shows have ever done. I’d watch another TV series about these people. Or at least read a spin-off novel or two. With moments like that, I think calling this season anything other than satisfying would be an out-and-out lie.
I made a mocking comment earlier in the article about the symmetry between Season 1 and Season 5 of Babylon 5. It was intended to be a derisive jab, but I think it may have hit on something true. Both seasons are about making peace work; one according to the old rules and the other according to the new. Our characters started off making choices and decisions that were based around the world they were born into. Five years later, they are still being forced to choose and to sacrifice but it’s in service of a world they’ve helped to mold. They have created important, lasting change in their world, and it didn’t ever feel forced or rushed or easy. They are different people than when they started. Where most TV shows in their fifth season rely on familiar characters that you can easily define by a single trait, this is cast full of depth and variety. In five seasons, they have created a feeling of familiarity that doesn’t come from being able to place them in easy-to-sort boxes, but from recognizing them as a collection of distinct personalities that you can love or hate, that you would befriend or despise, and that you can relate to because little bits of each one might remind you of yourself.
After so many delays in this article series, so many stops and starts and problems I couldn’t have imagined, I’ve come to the end of Babylon 5 feeling one thing I never would have expected: refreshed. As somebody who watches too much TV and way too many movies, I often find myself getting cynical about the state of the industry and about my own ability to still enjoy oversaturated genres like science fiction. I can’t count how often I wondered whether or not I really had the time or the motivation to delve into yet another story about a heroic space captain and his wacky alien friends. However, every single time I’ve stepped back on this path, it felt right. Even measured up against ten years of television like The Wire, Battlestar Galactica, and Breaking Bad; the intelligence, wit, and maturity of Babylon 5 still felt like getting hit with a bucket of cold water. I am so, so impressed.
Back when I was in college, around the year 2000, I was in a Literary Critical Theory class with my friend John and we were asked a variant of the ‘desert island’ question. If you had to pick one movie, one TV show, one book, and one album to send up in a space capsule to explain the human race to the aliens, what would they be? John’s TV show was Babylon 5. I didn’t get his choice then and neither did anyone else the class, but I do now. Babylon 5 is a show about the best and the worst of humanity. It’s about how we want to be, how we usually act instead, and how we refuse to give up on the belief that we can be better. For all its flaws, Babylon 5 is captivating, intelligent, and undeniably worthy television. It has been an amazing journey for me. Thanks for coming along.
November 8, 2011