I’m surprised it took me this long to do a review of this show. And who more fitting than me, its biggest fan! Okay, not really. In fact, when it comes to fandom, I’ve got nothing on some people out I’ve seen out there (you know who you are!) But let me assure you, I’m not without my credentials either. Over the years, I’ve managed to see every single episode of the series, sometimes two, or three times over. I’ve caught all the movies, specials, and even read some of the creators comics. In short, B5 is easily one of the best sci-fi series and franchises that I’ve ever seen and it remains one of my biggest inspirations when it comes to my writing.
Which is appropriate, because what made the show great for me was the writing. Memorable lines, interesting characters, a intricate plot loaded with intrigue and classic sci-fi elements, and above all, a sense of adventure and realism. In fact, one of the actors went on record, comparing the show to Star Trek. Unlike the latter, he said, the stories were not tidy, comfortable things that always ended happily. If anything, things always ended somewhat uncertainly, even where there were happy endings, there was always new things to worry about.
Or, as the character Susan Ivanova said “My father always said there are no happy endings, only new battles.” You could tell Straczynsky wrote the series with just that thought in mind. In fact, he wrote most of the episodes, which is another reason why the series was so tight and respectable. Compared to many other science fiction franchises, the story left very little in the way of loose threads and experienced very few internal contradictions. Naturally, only the most die-hard of fans would notice these things ;), but even if you were a casual viewer, you really got a feeling of consistency.
But I digress, some background…
The story revolves around a space station named Babylon 5, a neutral site which was built in space to act as a sort of diplomatic middle ground for all the races of the known universe to come together and work out their differences peacefully. It was created by humans, with the help of four other contributing races – the Mimbari, the Vorlons, the Centauri and the Narn. The station was first conceived by Earth gov because of the Earth-Mimbari war, which ended ten years prior to when the story is taking place. That war began because of a cultural misunderstanding, and nearly led to the extermination of humanity. And of course, many other races saw the potential, so they joined in.
Administratively, Babylon 5 was run by a human commander, but decisions affecting the overall mission of the station were directed by a Council made up of five members – the representatives of the Centauri, Narn, Mimbari and Vorlon homeworlds, and the human commander themselves. Outside of that, the League of Non-Aligned Worlds, a body made up of thirteen other member races, would also sit in and vote on items pertaining to their own interests as well. However, as the show quickly demonstrated, the station ended up having a purpose far greater than anyone could ever imagine.
Delenn is the Mimbari ambassador, a member of her races Religious caste, a career politician and diplomat, and a seeker of understanding. G’Kar is the Narn ambassador, a man who made his career fighting the Centauri and then serving as a member of the Kah’Ri (the Narn government). Londo is the Centauri representative, a member of a lower house that received the job because none of the more prestigious Imperial houses wanted it. And then, Kosh, the Vorlon ambassador, a race of which very little is know, except that they need to wear “encounter suits” to get around and their species old, power and mysterious. VERY old, powerful and mysterious.
Meanwhile, the station is run by four senior human personnel: Susan Ivanova, the station’s XO: a tough, sardonic Russian woman who joined the military after her brother died in the war. Michael Garibaldi, chief of security, a former Ground Pounder (regular infantry) with a checkered past involving alcoholism. And Doctor Stephen Franklin, the station’s chief physician who specializes in alien physiology and has a history of running from his problems. And finally, Commander Sinclair, the Earth-appointed governor of Babylon 5. After fighting in the Earth/Mimbari war as a regular pilot, he was an unlikely choice for governor. However, he received the position because the Mimbari were insistent that it be him. Many at Earth objected, because it was clear he had a secret that had to do with how the war ended. And the Mimbari, in keeping with their race’s mysterious quality, were told to watch him closely…
In short, the war itself began when the Earth ship that was sent to make contact misinterpreted the Mimbari’s intentions and opened fire on their capitol ship. In the course of the incident, the Mimbari leader Dukhat, a man who favored contact with the humans, was killed. The Mimbari were so outraged by this incident that they declared a holy war against Earth, and for two years they waged it relentlessly. After two years, the Mimbari were prepared to launch their final offensive against Earth. In response, Earth gov decided to evacuate the planet of as many people as possible, and organized a hasty defensive line to protect their evacuation for as long as possible.
The Battle of the Line, as it was called, was largely a disaster. The Mimbari fleet poured in, destroying roughly 90 percent of the defenders. However, in the process, the Grey Council (the Mimbari governing body) decided to capture and begin interrogating human pilots to learn what they could about Earth’s defenses. Sinclair was one such person. After examining him, the Grey Council ordered their ships to stand down and surrendered to Earth. No explanation was given, and all too happy to have come through the war in one piece, Earth accepted. Afterwards, it was revealed that the whole thing was due to a misunderstanding, and the Babylon project was declared.
Season One opens with the usual diplomatic troubles aboard the station. At the center of it is the growing conflict between the Narns and the Centauri. They too have a past, the former having been a colony of the latter for almost fifty years, and having only liberated themselves through attrition and war. Now, the Narns are a major power, aggressively conquering new worlds, taking slaves, and pressing their borders against the Centauri themselves.
In the course of all this, Sinclair begins to uncover clues about what happened to him at the Line. He learns that Delenn is part of the Grey Council, that she was there when he was captured and was one of the people who ordered the Mimbari’s surrender. Little by little, he uncovers the truth, but not until the end of the season, and to keep the audience in suspense, we are left not knowing the full extent of it until later on!
In addition, a curious, dark stranger named Morden comes to the station amidst all the diplomatic chaos between the Narn and Centauri and begins asking all the member races the same question. “What do you want?” Strangely, Delenn becomes frightened by him when she suddenly becomes aware that Morden has dark forces around him, and tells him to leave. G’Kar tells him he wants revenge against the Centauri, and Londo tells him he wants his people to reclaim their former glory. Morden is curiously intrigued by Londo’s answer, but in one final meeting, Kosh tells Morden to leave, that “they are not for you”.
However, Morden quickly begins helping Londo, who in turn asks for a favor when his people are facing a border dispute with the Narns. Morden obliges, and the border colony is completely destroyed. Morden’s “associates” as he calls them, show up in the form of some dark, mysterious ships that look like airborne spiders. They come out of nowhere and blow the entire colony to pieces, and several ships and a station as well. Londo is shocked and a little frightened at the death toll, but Morden tells him not to worry. Londo is now something of a hero because of this deed, the Narns can’t trace it back to him, and the Narns are their sworn enemy. G’Kar is also frightened, mainly because he knows that neither the Centauri nor any of the other races aboard the station had the will or the power to do this. Which, as he says, means that “someone else is out there…”
They also learn that the planet beneath them, Omicron 7, is home to massive, underground alien facility. Contained within are machines as big as buildings, things thousands of years beyond human technology. But most importantly is the alien at the center of the machine. He is dying, and summons Londo, Delenn, and her friend Draal to the surface. The reason, it claims, is because these three “understand sacrifice” and will be called on to make it. However, things become complicated when an alien ship, apparently of the same race as the species powering the machine, jumps in and threatens to destroy the station.
The alien who powered the machine, now in B5’s med bay, tells them to stop these aliens, as they are part of a faction that his race cast out long ago. B5 and a Earth ship are on hand to fight it off, but they are quite evenly matched and the prospect of a firefight doesn’t seem ideal. However, Draal selflessly takes over as custodian of the machine, fulfilling his sacrifice, and destroys the attacking alien ship easily using Omicron 7’s impressive weapons. He then broadcasts to everyone that the planet’s secrets are its own, and he will defend them with all the powerful weaponry he has at his disposal!
Shortly thereafter, the station is alerted to a disturbance in a nearby sector, a disturbance of the temporal variety. Out of nowhere, a space station appears there, Babylon 4! You see, B5 was thusly named because it was the fifth incarnation of the project, the previous four having been failures due to sabotage and , in B4’s case, disappearance! Now, its back, and the station crew are sent to investigate. They find its crew aboard, disheveled and confused from the fact that they appeared to have been pulled through time. And once on board, Sinclair and Garibaldi begin experiencing time jumps, seeing things from the past and future.
Back at the station, Ivanova gets her own glimpse of the future, a transmission of her sending a distress signal just before the station explodes! Bad omens! Back at B4, Sinclair and the local personnel capture an alien who appears to be the one responsible for the tike jumps. His name is Zathros, and when he sees Sinclair, he becomes entranced. However, he quickly realizes that the Sinclair he sees is not “the one”. Curious, as are his explanations. He says the station is being pulled into another time, for the sake of war so that light may win over dark. They try to get more from him, but are forced to abandon the station before it jumps again, presumably for the last time.
Sinclair, Garibaldi, and the whole crew are forced to evacuate. Sinclair tries to bring Zathros with them, but Zathros insists that they leave him behind, and that Sinclair must go because he “has a destiny”. Shortly after they leave, the station disappears into space. Zathros wakes up inside and sees a person standing above him in a pressure suit. He says they are “the one”, but as it turns out, it’s Delenn, but clearly from the future!
Shortly thereafter, Sinclair, Garibaldi and Ivanova are made aware of a conspiracy to kill the President of Earth. On his way to Io as part of a pre-election tour, his ship, Earth One, blows up, apparently due to a malfunction. His VP, who left the tour early and was not on the ship (apparently due to an illness), survives and becomes the new president. In the course of investigating the conspiracy, Garibaldi is shot in the back by one of his own security guards. Clearly, the conspiracy is real, and its perpetrators are even working aboard the station.
Sinclair also learns, finally, why the Mimbari captured him at the Line, what they did to him, and why they surrendered. With this new knowledge on his plate, the president dead, the attack on the Narns, and evidence of a conspiracy all around them, he feels completely lost. He tells his fiancee “nothing’s the same anymore”, and leaves the station shortly thereafter. Delenn, in turn, has been given a message from Kosh. Apparently, its time for her to undergo some kind of transformation, and she enters into a cocoon.
Season one thus ends on New Years of 2258, leaving season two to start in the fictional new year. And as you could tell, it was full of intrigue, unanswered questions, set-ups and had a cliffhanger ending. Get used to it because this show as full of em!