As I had mentioned when I first began these reviews many moons ago, when Babylon 5 first aired, I only managed to watch until the early episodes of season four. So it is only now, some twenty-five years after its original air date, that I am finally getting to see season five for the first time and bring to a close my own Babylon 5 odyssey.
I approached season five with some trepidation. It is common knowledge among B5 fans that the show was disrupted from its natural story arc because of the demise of the PTEN network on which it was carried and the uncertainty of whether a fifth season would ever be commissioned. There is also plenty of suggestion on the internet from other fans and reviewers that, because of this, season five is not as good as it could or should have been and certainly not on a par with what has gone before. My expectations were therefore certainly lowered going in. With all that said, let’s jump in…
Warning: Spoilers Ahead.
What? What the heck was that? OK, so you just tried to cram four seasons worth of information into a sixty second montage. I get that at the time you were airing on a new network and potentially recruiting new viewers (albeit for one season), but honestly, for me, until the credit roll actually gets going, this is a chaotic mess and isn’t an auspicious start. Probably my least favorite of all the seasons’ opening titles.
Season five begins with No Compromises. In this episode, we are introduced to two new characters (WTF moment #5) – Captain Elizabeth Lochley (Tracy Scoggins) who has come aboard B5 to assume command in Sheridan’s stead, and Byron Gordon (Robin Atkin Downes), the leader of a group of rogue telepaths who seek safe haven aboard the station. While Lochley is trying to get to grips with the day-to-day machinations of the station, it is clear from very early on that the rogue telepath thread is supposed to be the “hook” for this season.
I had said in my review of season two, that I thought changing major characters in a show with an established and dedicated fan base was a bold and risky move. In this particular instance it was absolutely necessary due to the fact that Claudia Christian, whose Ivanova character would have been the natural successor to Sheridan, had not renewed her contract with the show and needed to be replaced. In addition, Straczynski himself also mentions on the DVD featurette that there were a number of problems with the story now, because of the compressed timeline of the previous season. Season four was originally planned to end with the episode Intersections in Real Time. This would have meant that the war with Earth would have carried us in to season five and the character of Byron and the telepath storyline would have been introduced more as a sub-plot. One can easily see how much of a smoother transition this would have been but alas, it wasn’t to be.
Whilst Byron is a mildly interesting character and Downes does the best he can with the material he’s given, the rogue telepath subplot just doesn’t have enough “oomph” to get this season going. Instead of being one story thread in a tightly wound cord of story threads – as we’ve come to expect from B5 – this IS the cord that is dangled in front of us that we’re expected to latch on to and put our faith in – and frankly, it’s just not strong enough.
As a writer myself I can sympathize with Straczynski. I can’t even imagine what he must have felt like when he was told that a fifth season was going to be awarded when he had already truncated and closed most of his storylines at the end of season four. It’s not like he could go back and rewrite things the way he had originally planned – season four had already aired. As a result, all he could do was pick up the pieces he had left and try to flesh it out enough to limp it across the finish line. Unfortunately, it shows.
Perhaps that is why episode two, The very long night of Londo Mollari, (Ep.2 ) follows. This episode is like a warm, cozy blanket of Babylon 5 goodness and reminds us of everything that was great about the show in its previous seasons. If there is one saving grace for season five, it is that Londo and G’Kar – arguably the show’s two most beloved characters – get to finish their evolution and complete their story arcs.
G’Kar is now a sagely scribe, working on completing the book that will be his life’s work, whilst Mollari continues to plunge headlong towards his dreadful destiny. In The very long night of Londo Mollari, a serious health issue leaves Londo unconscious and close to death. In its unconscious state, Londo’s mind forces him to revisit some ugly moments from his past, many of which feature G’Kar who, whilst Londo would be hard pushed to call a friend, he at least now has a mutual respect for. Londo emerges from this jarring reminder of his own mortality with some newfound perspective. Also in this episode, Lennier tells Delenn that he can no longer serve as her attaché (for reasons known only to him and us) and that he is resigning his post to go and train as a ranger.
Sheridan’s first task as President is to convince the alien races to form a new alliance (Ep.3 A Paragon of Animals), a task that will become increasingly difficult as the season goes on because someone is attacking Alliance trade routes (Ep.9 In the Kingdom of the Blind) and he neither knows who is responsible nor how to protect the other races from them. Faced with this uncertainty, the other races are understandably reluctant to sign up for membership to something that seems to offer no immediate benefits, if any.
I had said earlier that the fragments of story left for season five felt like they needed to be fleshed out to complete a full season of shows and nowhere does this feel more evident than in episode four, A View from the Gallery. Here, two maintenance workers saunter around the station discussing everything they see and hear along the way, including some conversations they have with some of our main characters. In the midst of all this, a hitherto unbeknownst alien race is attacking the station and attempting to breach its hull. It is such a bizarre and awful episode that I would suggest you avoid it at all costs. It is arguably the worst episode in the show’s five-year history and hearkens back to the early stand-alone episodes of season one. There are other episodes in the season that feel like this too – namely Day of the Dead (Ep. 8) – which features an equally bizarre cameo from comedy/magician duo Penn and Teller, and The Corps is Mother, the Corps is Father (Ep. 13), which appears to be just a vessel for Walter Koenig to flex his acting chops and features an adulation story that’s so unbelievable it’s cringe-worthy. At this stage in the show these episodes are just disappointing given everything that has come before and the season would be so much better and stronger without them, but with the remaining storylines stretched out so much they’re paper thin and I’m sure, a contractual obligation to write a certain number of shows, what else was Straczynski supposed to do?
Apart from these stand-alone episodes, Byron and the rogue telepath storyline dominate much of the first half of season five. Along the way Lyta becomes romantically involved with Byron who goes from enigmatic leader to cult figurehead to martyr, and in the wake of his passing she converts to his cause.
There is much speculation online about how the rogue telepath thread might have been handled had the character of Ivanova featured in season five. Would it have been Ivanova who championed their cause instead of Lyta? It was no secret that she had a vehement dislike of the Psi Corps after what they had done to her mother and that she also had latent telepathic abilities. There’s also an argument that says Byron’s character is not necessary at all – and in fact Lyta could have easily fit that role for she too dislikes Bester and the Psi Corps and, despite finding a home on Babylon 5, she has always been used by the other characters when their needs required her, only to be discarded and tossed aside once her duties had been fulfilled. So yes, whilst B5 was Lyta’s home, it is safe to say that she was never truly happy there and could have easily harbored resentment against the other characters. Under these circumstances it is easy to see why Lyta might have wanted to go and live with other “Teeps” and be among people like herself. She could easily have adopted the role of figurehead for the rogue telepaths and even set up an underground railroad through B5 for the Teeps that followed. Had that happened, what would an Ivanova/Lyta relationship have looked like? (I refer you to the middle of season three) Who knows? But that’s all hypothetical and that’s not what happened. What happened was that we got Byron, and I would argue that Byron’s character is necessary because without him, the introduction of Lochley, just isn’t enough of a hook to get us in to season five. Lochley is Captain, and as such, we expect her to act in certain ways within certain well-defined parameters. At least with Byron, we all had to sit up and pay attention and question who he was and what his motives were.
With the telepath situation on Babylon 5 “resolved,” attention now turns towards who or what is attacking the alliance trade routes. It is this sub-plot that will now motivate much of what our principal characters do in the second half of the season and bring the show home.
In The Ragged Edge (Ep.12), Garibaldi travels to the Drazi homeworld to see if he can gather some intel on the attacks. The problem is, Bester’s arrival on B5 to deal with Byron has sent Garibaldi in to a tail spin and he’s hitting the bottle again, creating a situation that has tragic consequences and almost blows the mission.
With Londo’s ascendance to Emperor of the Centauri Republic imminent, his relationship with G’Kar has taken an interesting turn. Sensing all is not well on Centauri Prime, Londo travels home with G’Kar in tow as his personal bodyguard. The relationship between these two characters is truly my favorite part of the Babylon 5 series – once the most bitter of enemies, they have evolved to have a mutual respect for each other and could perhaps even be considered friends. For me, seeing their story arcs through to completion is worth schlepping through some of the other less rewarding episodes of season 5.
Londo is right to be concerned. It is clear he is no longer wanted or welcome on his homeworld. He returns to Babylon 5 shaken and upset but also blissfully unaware that Sheridan and his peers are accumulating evidence that all points towards the Centauri being responsible for the trade route attacks.
G’Kar’s return with Londo is met with reverence from all of the Narns aboard Babylon 5. It seems in his absence, his writings have been found and published as “The Book of G’Kar” and this has elevated him to God-like status among his people. It is a position he neither seeks nor revels in.
In And All My Dreams Torn Asunder (Ep. 16) Londo is confronted with shocking and damning evidence. He is both outraged and appalled. Outraged because he is distant and ignorant of what is actually happening on Centauri Prime and blindly and vigorously defends his people, and appalled that his so-called “friends” could accuse him of something so awful. And All My Dreams Torn Asunder is a good episode because it reminds us (if we needed reminding) of the tragedy of Londo Mollari. Let us make no mistake, Londo clearly started out on Babylon 5 as one of its villains – a social climber who would stop at nothing to elevate his status among his people. But what makes Londo an interesting character and worthy of our empathy is that when the justification for his actions is stripped away he at least can see the true awfulness of his crimes. It is in these later seasons that Londo is finally reconciling his past with the Centauri he has become – lamenting over what was necessary because of his race and position – and that is why these accusations from the very people who have witnessed his transformation cut so deep.
Londo returns to Centauri Prime to see if there is any truth in the Alliance’s accusations and is horrified to find his world under attack and the Regent (Damian London) the architect of a plan that leaves them totally defenseless. The Fall of Centauri Prime (Ep. 18) However, it seems that the Regent is not in control of his own mind and there is another force pulling the strings at the Centauri Royal Court. Londo discovers, to his horror, that his earlier alliance with the Shadows is going to have terrible consequences both for himself and his people and the results of his decisions over the past five years are coming home to roost.
From this point on, Season 5 begins to wind down toward the final episode. All of the major characters close their story arcs and there is a slow and gradual departure as they each go their way to start new lives or to escape what their lives have become aboard the station. Some of these goodbye’s are genuinely poignant. There’s a sense that these weren’t just characters leaving the show, they were actors leaving a cast and crew that had literally been family to them for five years. I liked the slow wind down and the fact that characters left over a period of a few episodes.
So, is season 5 of Babylon 5 worth your time? I would say definitely yes if, for no other reason, than to see Londo and G’Kar complete their story arcs. Maybe because I came to this season expecting the worst I was pleasantly surprised by it – There’s definitely moments of greatness in it that hearkens back to earlier seasons. That said, season 5 would be infinitely better if it lost a couple of episodes (namely A View from the Gallery, Ep.4, and The Corps is Mother, The Corps is Father, Ep. 13)
For me, there’s also some questionable decisions in the storytelling in season 5, primarily Lochley and Sheridan’s prior relationship. It’s brought up in conversation between Lochley and Garibaldi, I assume, to give Lochley’s character more gravitas, but Lochley gets so little character development in the season that this revelation really adds nothing and as a result just comes across as weird.
With all that said, Lochley was no Ivanova – and that’s a good thing. Scoggins had the unenviable task of trying to insert herself in to a show that had a huge following and was at the end of its run. Not only that but she was arguably replacing a character that the fan base loved. The worst thing she could have done was to try and make Lochley Ivanova’s replacement and to her credit she didn’t. She attacked the role of Lochley and made it her own. Scoggins did the best she could with what she was given but unfortunately the writing in season 5 really didn’t give her the time or opportunity to flesh out her character. I think Scoggins is at her best in Day of the Dead (Ep. 8), where we learn a little of Lochley’s backstory and see a more human side of her. It’s too bad there’s not more of this in season 5.
The other plot thread that also didn’t really sit well with me was Garibaldi’s relapse back in to alcoholism. Any fan of the show knows that Garibaldi had a difficult relationship with the bottle but always managed to keep himself on the straight and narrow. In season 5, a confrontation with Bester finally tips him over the edge. For me, Garibaldi’s fall from grace is more of a plot device than it is a character study. It’s not handled with any where near as much aplomb as Franklin’s stim addiction in Season 3. With Franklin, we saw his struggle and we understood how he got there. Here, Garibaldi claps eyes on Bester and before you know it, all that will power he’s shown for four years is gone and he’s back on the laughing juice. This all plays out nice for the story – Garibaldi messes up a few things and is dismissed from his post and that sets up his eventual departure from the station – but the nuances of his addiction just aren’t there. Again, because of the condensed nature of Season 5, this storyline just feels rushed and as a result just doesn’t come across as very well done or believable to me.
And then we come to the final episode, Sleeping in Light (Ep.22). There are those that suggest you should just watch Babylon 5 up until the end of Season 4 and then jump straight to Sleeping with Light. I disagree. I think there is enough good stuff in Season 5 to make it worth your while. It is true that Sleeping with Light was shot at the end of Season 4 filming because it was expected to be the final episode of the show at that time, prior to the final season being picked up by TNT. In this respect, it is arguable that there is perhaps some continuity from the actors and as a result, some truly poignant moments in the episode – but certainly nothing that warrants skipping over all of Season 5.
I struggle with Sleeping in Light. It’s unquestionably a great episode – it delivers everything that we are expecting from foreshadowed events. Frankly, I just find it odd.
Sheridan’s twenty-year gift of life is nearing its end so in his last days, he gathers his friends around him for a last reunion and to say his goodbyes. That’s all well and good. However, he then decides to leave them all, including the great love of his life, Delenn, to go on one last, solitary, “Sunday Drive.” Again, I know I’m being pedantic and it’s just a story, but I find it strange that a character that’s spent his whole life forging alliances and being a great mediator, would choose to die alone. Perhaps, Sheridan’s reunion with Lorien is preordained for a certain time and place. Perhaps, after such a full and chaotic life, Sheridan just wants to find some true peace at the end.
By a strange coincidence, as I come to a close with these reviews a quarter century after the show first aired, it has been announced that that the entire 5 seasons of the show will be available for streaming on Amazon Prime so, if these reviews have piqued your interest, or you’ve enjoyed them and just want to take a trip down memory lane, head on over to Amazon where you can binge watch Babylon 5 to your heart’s content.
And so, my own odyssey with Babylon 5, the TV show, comes to an end. I have to say that for the most part it was a thoroughly enjoyable and riveting ride. Babylon 5 attempted to do something that had never been done in sci-fi on TV before – tell a complete story over a 5 season arc. Had it not been for network interference, for the most part, thanks to Straczynski’s brilliant writing, the cast that brought these characters to life week after week and the crew that facilitated and realized the vision for the station, it succeeded in that goal.
Babylon 5 set a precedent that would be, and still is, followed for years to come, not only in science fiction but in dramatic episodic television across all genres.
Ep1. – No Compromises
Captain Lochley comes aboard to take control of Babylon 5. Byron seeks safe have for a group of rogue telepaths. A disgruntled Earth Force soldier stalks Sheridan before his inauguration.
Ep2 – The very long night of Londo Mollari
A serious health issue makes Londo re-evaluate his life. Lennier resigns his post as Delenn’s attaché.
Ep3 – A Paragon of Animals
Sheridan has trouble getting the alien races to sign on to the new Alliance. Garibaldi convinces Lyta to enlist the help of the rogue Telepaths.
Ep4 – A View from the Gallery
Life on Babylon 5 as seen through the eyes of two maintenance workers. An alien race attacks the station (???)
Ep5 – Learning Curve
A young Minbari ranger-in-training tries to be a hero and pays the price for his actions. Garibaldi is suspicious of Lochley.
Ep6 – Strange Relations
Bester arrives on B5 to round up the rogue telepaths. Lochley reveals a surprising secret.
Ep7 – Secrets of the Soul
After an attack on one of the telepaths, Byron struggles to keep his followers in line. Lyta and Byron become romantically involved. Franklin discovers a terrible truth about the race known as the Hyach.
Ep8 – Day of the Dead
A Brakheri custom makes many members of the station come face to face with ghosts from their past. Comedy duo Rebo and Zooty visit the station.
Ep9 – In the Kingdom of the Blind
Someone is attacking Alliance trade routes. Mollari visits the Centauri Royal court with G’Kar in tow, narrowly surviving an assassination attempt. The Telepaths adopt drastic measures to secure themselves a home world.
Ep10 – A Tragedy of Telepaths
Lochley enlists the help of Bester to deal with the Telepaths. G’kar discovers his aide, Na’Toth, imprisoned on Centauri Prime. The Alliance frays around the edges as trade route attacks continue.
Ep11 – Phoenix Rising
The Telepath situation aboard Babylon 5 gets out of hand and breaks in to all out conflict. Garibaldi confronts Bester.
Ep12 – The Ragged Edge
Garibaldi travels to the Drazi homeworld to investigate the attacks on Alliance ships. G’Kar’s book is published elevating him to God-like status.
Ep13 – The Corps is Mother, The Corps is Father
Bester takes two new interns on a hunt for a rogue Psi Cop Student.
Ep14 – Meditations on the Abyss
Delenn sends Lennier on a covert mission to try and confirm what they know about the attacks. Londo nominates Vir to be the ambassador to Babylon 5 once he becomes Emperor.
Ep15 – Darkness Ascending
Lennier finally has the proof about the attacks on the Alliance. Garibaldi’s old flame from Mars pays him a visit. Lyta strikes a deal with G’Kar
Ep16 – And all My Dreams torn Asunder
Londo is confronted with shocking evidence. Garibaldi’s mistake may mean the end of the fragile Alliance.
Ep17 – Movements of Fire and Shadow*
Vir makes a request of Franklin and Lyta. The Narn and Drazi ignore Sheridan’s call for restraint and strike against the Centauri homeworld. *(DVD Commentary by Bruce Boxleitner, Patricia Tallman, Tracy Scoggins and Peter Jurasik)
Ep18 – The Fall of Centauri Prime
Londo discovers the true force behind the Centauri Empire and makes a deal that will affect the rest of his life. Lennier confesses his true love for Delenn. Londo ascends to Emperor and distances himself from everyone in an attempt to keep his dreadful secret.
Ep19 – The Wheel of Fire
G’Kar returns to Babylon 5 to find his popularity elevated even more. Lyta is arrested for supporting the rogue telepaths’ terrorist activity. Garibaldi is suspended from his position.
Ep 20 – Objects in Motion
Garibaldi and Lise learn that there is a threat on their lives. G’Kar comes to the conclusion that he must leave the station before his status gets out of control. Garibaldi and Lise leave for a new life on Mars. Lyta and G’Kar leave.
Ep21 – Objects at Rest
Franklin leaves for his new assignment on Earth. Sheridan and Delenn leave for the alliance headquarters on Minbar. Lennier leaves Sheridan in a deadly situation. Londo visits the couple on Minbar and bequeaths them a sinister gift from the Drakh.
Ep22 – Sleeping in Light
Lorien’s gift of life expires. Sheridan assembles his friends around him as he approaches his last days. Babylon 5 is decommissioned.