It was the dawn of the third age of mankind, ten years after the Earth/Minbari war. The Babylon Project was a dream given form. Its goal: to prevent another war by creating a place where humans and aliens could work out their differences peacefully. It’s a port of call, home away from home for diplomats, hustlers, entrepreneurs, and wanderers. Humans and aliens wrapped in two million, five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal, all alone in the night. It can be a dangerous place, but it’s our last best hope for peace. This is the story of the last of the Babylon stations. The year is 2258. The name of the place is Babylon 5.
Ahem. As a large component of this blog is me yelling at you about things I love (Or it would be if I posted more often), I’m going to take you through one of my favourite shows, Babylon 5. I’ll try to avoid spoilers where I can and I’m also not going to touch on the whole ‘Which came first?’ issue with B5 and Star Trek: Deep Space 9. Suffice to say that issue has kept internet message boards flaming for years, with the two fandoms openly hostile, something that helped prompt Majel Barrett Roddenberry (Widow of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry) to appear during season 3, as a gesture of goodwill to calm things. More about that later…
Beautiful ain’t it?
The show was planned around a 5 year arc, unlike much episodic TV at the time. There’s no end of episode reset button either – events carry on, relationships mend and fracture and plot points from early episodes can and do come back. Yes, this means you have to watch it all, just in-case you miss an obscure bit of plot. It also has an impressive knack for quality, even if the A plot of the episode is a bit weak, the B plot will make up for it. This also got us genuine character development – look at the evolution of Londo and G’Kar over the 5 seasons and the changes are astounding. Oh, and in another important distinction from Star Trek, humanity are still frequently a bunch of dicks. There’s none of the utopian society hippie nonsense from the 60’s, just humanity – flawed and emotional, as capable courage, compassion and acting like total *bleeps* in equal measure. All that and the station has toilets and the uniforms have pockets!
The main cast of season 1
I was introduced to the show around the time season 5 began airing, which left me with a lot of questions, not all of which could be answered without spoilers. It took a few episodes, but I was soon hooked. I also have the show to blame for my love of the mandarin collar and for almost any foreign accent I do to turn into Londo Mollari within about 30 seconds. (My wife thinks it’s a great impression by the way) It’s near unique in that its creator J. Michael Straczynski (AKA JMS or the Great Maker if you’re being formal) wrote 92 out of the shows 110 episodes –including all of seasons 3-5, bar 1 episode and that was written by some guy named Neil Gaiman. (Fun Fact: He got an an alien race in the show named after him!) It also had ships that obeyed the rules of physics in space (And the Starfury is a beautiful thing), the first large scale use of CG in televison and a wonderful knack for episode titles – Parliament of Dreams, And the Sky Full of Stars, The Geometry of Shadows and Ceremonies of Light and Dark to mention but a few.
The Star Fury – almost as cool as the X-Wing and scientifically accurate to boot!
The titular station is the fifth of the Babylon stations, intended as a diplomatic outpost in the wake of the Earth-Minbari war, which started thanks to the mother of all diplomatic SNAFU’s and ended in mystery, with the Minbari surrendering on the verge of victory. Why? That would be telling… As for the station’s name, that’s simple – it’s the fifth of the Babylon stations. The first 3 stations were destroyed by sabotage and the fourth, well that’s an interesting story…
In true SF tradition, each of the races has a distinguishing feature – the Narns are lizards, the Minbari have bones coming out of the backs of their heads and the Centauri have some of the most awesome hair ever seen. One of the things that JMS was striving to avoid was the rubber forehead look so common to TV aliens and for the most part he succeeded. Perhaps the greatest example of thing was Vorlon ambassador Kosh, who resided in a sealed encounter suit and spent his time being mysterious.
The Jukebox. (Kids, ask your parents)
So, I’m giving you a brief look at big episodes season by season. We’ll try to avoid spoilers, but some minor ones may slip past, more so as we move into the later seasons. It’s an average first season, containing more than a few of the standard SF tropes (Alien martial arts tournament, rubber suit monster etc), but those episodes are saved by either the B plot (As previously discussed) or by dropping hints at future events. Yeah, the CG is dated, but this was done 20 years ago on a tiny budget (Rumor has it roughly the half of an episode of Star Trek, but what shines are the story and character, something it shares with classic Doctor Who. And there was a rumour that JMS wanted to hire Tom Baker to appear in his Doctor Who costume in the background of an episode…
I’m bypassing the pilot movie, (The Gathering), mainly because I don’t own it. Instead, we kick off with the first episode aired, MIDNIGHT ON THE FIRING LINE:
Well, it’s a pilot, and as pilots go it’s not bad. We meet our main cast (Well, most of them), get a fair whack of exposition (The Narn and Centauri hate each other while the Vorlons take cryptic to new levels) and the scene is set for the show. I’ve seen better pilots and I’ve seen worse. Still, the payoff for the running gag about Garabaldi’s (second) favourite thing in the universe is magnificent.
Wait, is that Mr Chekov dressed in black? Why yes, that is Walter Koenig and he’s fantastic. We know human telepaths exist (As they do in several of the others races), but it’s our first look at their governing body, the Psi Corp and well, they dress in facist black. What were you expecting, pastels?
SIGNS AND PORTENTS:
The episode that gave the season it’s title, the first time we meet Mr Morden and the first major revelation of what was to come. And it all starts with a simple question, just 4 little words: “What do you want?”
A VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS PARTS 1 AND 2:
Londo Mollari reciting the Hokey Pokey. There’s a hell of a lot that goes on in the two-parter, with some great revelations and future events hinted at, but really, what more do you need?
One of the great mysteries of the show is answered (Well, sort of…) and more questions are asked, which is what happens when you involve time travel. We also meet Zathras and to hive any hints as t what I’m talking about would be criminal.
The first season finale, in which a conspiracy is unearthed, Ambassador Delenn embarks on an alternative lifestyle and a whole lot of stuff happens. There is happiness and doom in equal measure and a dark cloud on the horizon, with none of that ‘everything wrapped up nicely’ BS, cause that’s not what this show is about.
And so we come to the end of season 1. Uneven and in some places down right terrible (TKO, I’m looking at you) in places, but worthy of praise, it did it’s job of introducing characters and hinting at things to come pretty well. What really makes it was when you’d seen the entire show and realised just how much of the ground was laid during season 1.
So, what does Ambassador Kosh actually look like? What the hell happened to Delenn? What is this mysterious new enemy? Some of these questions may be answered soon, when we look at season 2, The Coming of Shadows…