Really Babylon 5? Really? After the past two seasons the best you could come up with is a curtain wipe with a dodgy dissolve. Meh. If the opening titles were anything to go by you could be forgiven for thinking that Babylon 5 was past its best. Fortunately that was far from the case.
Warning: Spoilers ahead.
Season Four begins as season three ended – with a monologue from G’kar. In The Hour of the Wolf, Captain Sheridan has not returned from Z’Ha’Dhum and is presumed dead. Mister Garibaldi and his Starfury are still missing and Ivanova is walking around in a funk because half the people she cares about are gone. Londo has returned to Centauri prime to find himself the victim of his own political skullduggery and in the service of an emperor, Cartagia (Wortham Krimmer), who is completely insane and Delenn is fasting because of the loss of Sheridan.
Throughout episode one, we’re pretty much left hanging as to what has happened to Sheridan. We learn that the alliance of the league of non-aligned worlds that Sheridan worked so hard to forge is crumbling without his leadership and that the Vorlon, Kosh (2), refuses to attend meetings or assist in any way. Despite having sanctuary on Babylon 5, G’kar is willing to risk everything to go in search of his friend, Mister Garibaldi, and in a similar vain Ivanova, refusing to believe that Sheridan is lost forever, musters Delenn and Lyta Alexander to go on an equally dangerous recon/rescue mission to Z’Ha’Dhum. As a season opener, The Hour of the Wolf may not be as profound as other seasons’ first episodes. It is not so much setting things up for the season to come as it is a continuation of what has gone before. Certainly G’kar’s decision to go after Garibaldi will have profound consequences for him and Londo’s discovery that he is in the service of a mad man will force him into an unthinkable position – but these subplots intertwine and run their course in half a dozen episodes. As B5 fans, we already know we are rushing headlong toward the Shadow war. Really, there is nothing to set up. The burning questions left from season three are, as G’kar puts it – Where is Mister Garibaldi and what happened to Captain Sheridan at Z’Ha’Dhum? We’ll get no hints at the answer to the first question in this episode, but right at the end of The Hour of the Wolf, we get a glimpse of Sheridan alive – or is he?
As we learn in Whatever happened to Mister Garibaldi? (Ep.2), Sheridan now exists in some kind of limbo, where he is accompanied by a strange being who calls himself Lorien. This was about as far as I had got watching the series when it first aired on British television, and I remember Lorien being a somewhat creepy character. If you can see past all the prosthetics and make up, those of you with a keen eye and a good memory will recognize Lorien as Wayne Alexander, the same actor who appeared as Kosh’s “envoy” in Comes the Inquisitor (S2, Ep 21). In both of these roles, Alexander manages to breathe life into a character that is somewhat unsettling.Babylon 5 made a habit of reusing actors for different roles. In these reviews I’ve already mentioned how Ed Wasser went from C&C command staff in the pilot show to the sinister Mister Morden in the following four seasons. Similarly, John Vickery who was excellent in the role of the warrior caste Minbari, Neroon, also had a bit part as a member of the Night Watch in Point of No Return (S3, Ep. 4). Alexander also shows his face again (or not as the case may be) as a drazi ambassador in Intersections in Real Time (ep.18 of this season).
I liked the way the show handled Sheridan’s “situation” here, which Lorien describes as “between moments” because, whilst I’m willing to suspend my disbelief for a lot of things, resurrection from the dead I really can’t do. It’s one of the reasons why I really hated The Matrix. Wait! What? You’re a sci-fi fan and you hated The Matrix. Yes. And here’s why. You cannot get me invested in a universe defined by certain rules, said rules espoused/infodumped by one of your characters (“If you die inside the matrix you are dead”), tag me along for a couple of hours thinking that I know the rules and then break all those rules at the end because you need your hero to survive. (“But Neo, you’re the one and I love you ). That’s nonsense. But The Matrix was a visually stunning movie you say. Yes. Yes it was. As a piece of film making it was goundbreaking, which is why it kept me entertained for a couple of hours, but as far as storytelling goes, you can’t set up your world and then break all the rules ‘cos you feel like it. Doesn’t work. You just cheated your audience. But I digress…
So with Sheridan we’re treated to a couple of episodes of dancing around the “is he or isn’t he” (dead) question. Certainly the crew of B5 all believe he’s dead, and from a viewer’s point of view, it’s impossible to believe that he could have survived the leap of faith he took at the end of season three. BUT – Even though Lorien himself tries to convince Sheridan he has perished, through their conversations we learn that Lorien is not all that he appears. Indeed, his appearance may only be a palatable physical manifestation of a power or entity of truly God like proportions that has deigned to spare Sheridan’s life for a destiny that lies ahead. In his own words, Lorien admits “I cannot create life, but I may breathe on the remaining embers,” and so we’re left with the question – Did Sheridan truly die at Z’Ha’Dhum?
Thus Sheridan returns to Babylon 5 in Summonings (Ep.3) as does security chief Michael Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle). Both men have been irrevocably altered by their experiences – Sheridan in ways he knows and understands, Garibaldi in ways that he does not remember and will not learn about until much later on. Yes, after playing with many of the principal characters in season three, season four was definitely where Straczynski got to mess with Garibaldi.
Meanwhile, on Centauri Prime, Londo finds himself in an unthinkable position. Firstly, that he is plotting against the most important person on his homeworld. Secondly, that he will need to enlist the help of his arch-enemy, G’kar, if he has any hope of succeeding. The two of them strike a pact that will have far-reaching repercussions for both them and their peoples.
And so the Shadow war is upon us. (Into the Fire, Ep.6) For almost three seasons, Babylon 5 has been building towards this moment. There are a number of battle scenes but as we are to learn, the Shadow war is less about brute force and more about ideologies and thus Into the Fire has the potential to be a huge anti-climax. However, once again, thanks to some quality writing from Straczynski and the acting skills of Boxleitner (Sheridan) and Mira Furlan (Delenn) this episode provides satisfying closure to much of what has come before.
After such a powerful episode and the Shadow war over so early in season four it would be easy to think that Babylon 5 would go into a slump. Indeed, it is safe to say that the tension and pace of the episodes that follow are ratcheted down significantly, but really these provide a moment for us, the viewers, to catch our breath, while Straczynski begins to put in place the elements that will lead us to the second climax of season four – the war against Earth.
It’s about this time that Straczynski starts messing around with the character of Garibaldi. As in the previous season, where certain characters had their own tangential story arcs (Franklin, Delenn), in season four it is the turn of Garibaldi. Unable to reconcile his own off-station experience with that of Sheridan’s, the two men grow apart to such an extent that Garibaldi feels he has no choice but to resign as security chief. This is a welcome change. Doyle put in such a solid performance as Garibaldi, week-in, week-out, that it was easy to see the character as just a part of the station furniture. And so, perhaps one of the most surprising things about Garibaldi is that, for a main character and one that has been a major part of setting the story up to this point, when it comes to the climactic Shadow war, he was notably absent. Doyle was as true and honest to the Garibaldi character as the security chief was to the station. Thus, when Garibaldi’s world starts unraveling, it is an interesting departure for both the character and the actor.
Using his contacts and skills, Garibaldi starts his own one-man private investigation firm. However, when he’s hired to provide personal protection, Garibaldi’s past catches up with him. His charge, he finds out, is his ex-fiancee Lise Hampton (Denise Gentile) who we first met in A voice in the Wilderness Pt.2 season one. Lise is now married to William Edgars, one of the richest men alive and now Garibaldi’s employer, and whilst Garibaldi has no idea what he’s getting himself in to, he’s happy to do it just to spite Sheridan.
What Garibaldi will later learn is that he is being used as a pawn in a plot far messier than a toddler eating spaghetti. It will not be until The Face of the Enemy (Ep. 17) that we will get the answer to G’kar’s second question – Whatever happened to Mister Garibaldi?
Amongst all this, Delenn also has another tangential story arc. She returns to Minbar to find that her dissolution of the Gray Council has thrown her people in to chaos and pushed them to the brink of civil war. Through her trials and tribulations we get to learn what really happened at that first-contact meeting that resulted in the Earth-Minbari war and understand the resentments that have long bubbled under the surface between the warrior and religious castes. John Vickery makes a welcome return to reprise his role as Neroon.
And so, once our ensemble cast is all reunited, we are thrown headlong in to the war with Earth.
Now if you’ve read any of my other B5 season reviews, oh, I don’t know, say here, and here and here, you will have heard me talk about Straczynski’s writing with reverence before but nowhere is his brilliance more evident than here. The reward for sticking with Babylon 5 through those early, somewhat hammy episodes of season one is here, at the end of season four. If you’ve watched Babylon 5 religiously from the first episode, then you’ll recognize elements that were dropped into seasons one, two and three comng together here. Straczynski brings numerous different plot points together as he concisely wraps up season four.
That said, the end of season four feels a little rushed and there’s a very good reason for that. As Straczynski mentions in his commentary on The Deconstruction of Falling Stars, because of the impending demise of PTEN, the network that had carried the series so far, he was told to wrap Babylon 5 at the end of this season. As a result, his five-season story arc was being truncated to four. It was only after Sleeping in Light had been shot as both the final episode of the show and as a precaution against cancellation that Straczynski was told that TNT would be picking up Babylon 5 and he would indeed be getting a fifth season. This meant that Sleeping in Light would still remain as the final episode but was pushed out to the end of season five. The Deconstruction of Falling Stars was hastily shot as the season ending episode of season four.
Another unfortunate consequence of the uncertainty of whether or not B5 would get picked up for its fifth and final season was that the options that held the cast members to an obligation to be available for shooting that fifth season could only be extended by thirty days according to their contracts. WB and TNT informed the B5 production office that they would have their decision about the fifth season “by late June or early July of 1997.” Since the options on the cast expired in mid-June, this was cause for some concern. That put the “drop-dead date,” for concluding all agreements relating to a fifth season, at July 14, 1997. The major ramification, should all contracts not be concluded by that date, would be that the production office would have to re-negotiate contracts with the actors. This would certainly involve haggling over raises, and since production had already cut everything down to the barest penny in order to get WB and TNT to agree to go ahead on a fifth season, this would effectively kill the fifth season and end the show.
The details of what happened next are still in dispute with Straczynski and Claudia Christian claiming different things, but the bottom line is Christian did not sign her contract before the deadline passed and as a result she did not reprise her role as Ivanova in season five.Given the popularity of the character and the fact that Ivanova was slated to take over as B5 commander in the final season, this was a massive disappointment for fans who took their ire out on Straczynski and Christian on internet newsgroups. This in turn, drastically affected how Straczynski interacted with fans. Up until this point, Straczynski had been very interactive with fans on newsgroups and messageboards – indeed he could be considered one of the first people to really embrace the Internet for making himself accessible to fans. However, following the backlash Straczynski spent much less time responding to posts and emails and has publicly stated this will be his policy in future.
All that said, for me, The Deconstruction of Falling Stars just does not work. For starters, it’s a massive anti-climax to what is arguably Babylon 5’s finest season. Secondly, it is so alien (pardon the pun) to all that has come before that it just feels out of place. This isn’t Straczynski’s fault. The fact that he came up with anything at all to end the season is a testament to his creativity. I think the reason I dislike this episode so much is because it’s purely a stand alone episode to fill a void and as such it feels like the show is regressing back to those early hit or miss episodes of season one. It certainly doesn’t feel worthy of being the season finale after all that has come before. Not only that, but there’s nothing in it to get us excited about a season five. You could very well be forgiven for thinking that Babylon 5 truly does end here.
However, the real shame in all of this is that there was ever a question of whether Babylon 5 would get picked up for its final season. As fans we can only wonder what might have been had the show been allowed to complete its full five-season arc unmolested – but alas, that is something we will never know.
Ep1. – The Hour of the Wolf
Londo finds himself in the service of an insane Emperor and enlists Vir’s help. G’kar vows to find Mr. Garibaldi. Ivanova, Lyta and Delenn take a White Star to search of Sheridan. Sheridan discovers he is not alone on Z’Ha’Dum
Ep2 – Whatever Happened to Mr. Garibaldi
Sheridan meets Lorien. G’kar is captured by the Centauri. Londo begins to plot to overthrow the emperor.
Ep 3 – The Summoning
Ivanova and Marcus go in search of the First Ones. Garibaldi is found. Sheridan returns. G’kar suffers at the hands of Emperor Cartagia.
Ep.4 – Falling towards Apotheosis
Garibaldi is suspicious of Sheridan and Lorien. Emperor Cartagia makes plans for his Godhood. Sheridan decides he must deal with Kosh and reveals the price he must pay for going to Z’Ha”Dum
Ep.5 – The Long Night
Londo plots against Cartagia. Ivanova is sent to search for more of the First Ones. Sheridan sets a trap for the Shadow fleet.
Ep6. – Into the Fire
The Climax of the Shadow War.
Ep7 – Epiphanies
Garibaldi resigns as chief of security. Bester returns to tell the command staff that President Clark is plotting against them.
Ep 8 – The Illusion of Truth
An ISN news crew reports its version of the truth about Babylon 5.
Ep. 9 – Atonement
Delenn returns to Minbar for a dreaming ceremony. Sheridan sends Franklin and Marcus to Mars Colony to reach out to the resistance.
Ep.10 – Racing Mars
Franklin and Marcus make contact with the resistance. Garibaldi and Sheridan are no longer seeing eye-to-eye.
Ep.11 – Lines of Communication
Franklin and Marcus relay Sheridan’s offers to the resistance. Delenn is forced into an unpleasant encounter.
Ep. 12 – Conflicts of Interest
Garibaldi gets a surprise client for his PI business. Babylon 5 starts broadcasting as the voice of the resistance.
Ep. 13 – Rumors, Bargains and Lies
Delenn seeks to form an alliance with the warrior caste to prevent civil war on Minbar. Sheridan fools the members of the league of non-aligned worlds.
Ep. 14 – Moments of Transition
Delenn returns to Minbar in an attempt to stop the civil war that has erupted between the warrior and religious castes. Lyta strikes a deal with Bester.
Ep. 15 – No Surrender, No Retreat
Sheridan recruits allies from the league of non-aligned worlds and takes the war to President Clark. Londo and G’kar form an unlikely alliance.
Ep. 16 – Exercise of Vital Powers
Garibaldi returns to Mars to confront his new employer. Franklin continues to work with the Telepaths rescued from the Shadows.
Ep. 17 – The Face of the Enemy
Garibaldi commits the ultimate betrayal before learning what really happened to him when he disappeared. Franklin and Lyta take a strange cargo to Mars.
Ep. 18 – Interssections in Real Time
Sheridan is interrogated.
Ep. 19 – Between the Darkness and the Light
Garibaldi pleads his innocence and mounts a rescue attempt for Sheridan. Ivanova foils an ambush by Earth forces.
Ep. 20 – Endgame
The battles for Mars Colony and Earth
Ep.21 – Rising Star
Sheridan returns to Earth and is faced with an ultimatum. Delenn has a proposal.
Ep. 22 – The Deconstruction of Falling Stars
The legacy of the characters of Babylon 5 as seen from different points in time.
My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – Season Three