As part of our continuing service to you, The Correct, we continually find things for you to be in favour of. In our crazy, fast paced, webmanic society, it’s easy to miss something. Our “A Case For” series presents something (a TV show, film, Book, Band etc) that might deserve a look.
Our first installment “A Case For: Farscape” was presented by one of our regular readers, and we encourage that sort of behaviour. If you have something you’d like to make a case for, write it up and send it to us at email@example.com . See the end of the article for more info.
Now, on to this installment.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I submit to you that Babylon 5 was one of, if not THE, greatest science fiction shows of our time. Now, I know you’re thinking “Didn’t you write a list of 35 reasons Babylon 5 rules?” Yes. Well, sort of. But this time, i’m all serious and junk.
Many of you missed B5 when it originally ran. This is understandable. It was a syndicated show, and ran at strange times. It also had a strange episode order, running say, episodes 1,2,3,4 then, instead of random repeats, it would show 1,2,3,4 again, then move on to 5,6,7,8 etc. Also, you may have been turned off by the low budgetness of the first season. Again, understandable, and as we will see later, justified.
I will now explain why your lack of B5 is actually holding you back as an individual, and as a nerd in general…
B5 takes place in the years 2257-2262. Each season covers roughly a year, in some shape or form. The show is set on a space station, 5 miles long, in neutral space. It’s run by Earth, but acts as a diplomatic meeting place (a U.N., if you will) for a number of races in the galaxy. Humans are known as the diplomats of the galaxy, and have dealings with a number of races. Of these, the most important are
The Minbari: a race of enlightened, bald beings with protruding bone structures around the sides of their heads. The Minbari fought the humans in past, after a disasterous first contact, which almost led to the destruction of the human race. Only one battle was ever won by Earth forces, when Cmd. Sheridan was able to destroy a single Minbari vessel. The Minbari ruthlessly ripped through the Earth forces. At the 11th hour, as they closed on Earth, the Minbari suddenly, and without reason, unconditionally surrendered.
The Centauri: A very old race, apparently in the decline of their power. There are many connections to the Roman Empire, and they take ceremony and appearance very seriously. They see some value in relations with Earth, and have agreed to engage in diplomacy.
The Narn: A warrior race, snakelike in appearance. They have been at odds with the Centauri, and the two will take any chance to renew hostilities.
The Vorlons: A mysterious race of beings of awesome power. Vorlons are mysterious and keep their council to themselves. They are rarely seen outside of their Encounter Suits, though rumor has it they are known to all the races in one form or another.
1. Story Arc
The first reason you should watch this show is that it has arguably the best story arc of any show I can think of. Writer/Creator J. Michael Stracyznski plotted out the entire 5 year arc, and developed background for all the characters, races, and the universe itself. Very few things are left to chance, there isn’t a lot of ret-conning, and it all ties up nicely in the end.
Too often these days we have shows start out with a lot of promise, only to see it collapse under its own weight (cough Battlestar Galactica cough). If anything, B5 is the opposite. It’s first season is it’s weakest, hands down. The stiffness of it’s lead character (Michael O’Hare as Sinclair), some fairly awful “monster of the week episodes”, and a general attempt for the show to find its footing make for some trying moments. From season 2 through 4, it’s gold. Themes are introduced, hinted at, referenced, and then brought back with great impact.
Notable evidence: The fate of Babylon 4, Valen, A political assassination, “I will not be there for you…”
2. Things That Happen Matter
One of the things I LOVE about this show is that it has consequences. Now, I’m going to spend a bit of time in this article ripping on Star Trek, but know that I don’t really hate Trek. I’ve seen every episode of TOS, TNG, DS9. I suffered through a few seasons of Enterprise, and even watched Voyager, hoping it would get better.
The big difference between Star Trek and B5 is that n the B5 universe, when something happens, it matters. There is no reset button, no time loops… errr. ok, thereis one of those, but it’s on an entirely different level of awesome. Basically, people die, things change, nothing gets put back to normal at the end of an hour. Decisions and consequences play a huge role in B5. When a character decides to use that Ace in the Hole, it’s gone, and using it might mean disaster for that person down the line. And man, do things matter…
Notable evidence: Kosh, Going to Z’ha’dum, A fairly big decision made in season 3 regarding a political situation on Earth that I don’t want to spoil here.
3. The Mythology
Tricky to expand of without giving things away, but there is a lot of importance to most of the characters and their actions in the series. Star Trek introduced a race of Empaths, and dabbled a bit into their background and structure. B5 gives us telepaths, and not only explains how they go about their business, but invents a regulatory body to watch them. Then he explains in depth how that body works, gives us a great villain within them (Walter Koenig) and then continues on to make them very important in the scheme of things. We have the Vorlons, creatures of mystery and power, who are more involved in our world than we know, and their backstory becomes the focus of major events. On B5, even simple questions like “Who are you?” and “What do you want?” become meaningful. We don’t just imagine what the rules of the world look and act like, we see them. We get a good understanding of why and how they act.
Oh, and if I haven’t won you over yet, the whole thing is loaded with Lord of the Rings influences, from the elf like Minbari to the planet Z’ha’dum. Hell, the major enemy is called the “Shadows”, you know, like those things that lie in Morden (oops, I mean Mordor).
Notable evidence: The appearance of a certain “Inquisitor”, Valen, The Rangers, The First Ones.
4. The Ships
The ships on B5 are extremely well thought out. Each race is distinct from one another, the designs say something about that race, and they just look great. From the Narn’s wedge-like dagger ships, to the Minbari’s sleek curved vessels, to the living squid thingies the Vorlons use, they’re all great.
B5 itself is an O’Neill Cylinder, with a rotating section that allows for artificial gravity. The Earth Starfury design (loosely based on the Gunship from Last Starfigher) was so well thought out that NASA approached JMS for permission to develop a work vehicle based on the Starfury for the ISS.
Notable Evidence: Starfury, Shadow vessels, The Agamemnon, The White Star.
5. The Characters
In the B5 universe, characters are important. They grow, and change. Their decisions mean something, and their choices influence events. Even the assistants to the Ambassadors matter, they change and grow and have impact on things. Part of the problem of a multi-year arc planned in advance is the reliance on the actors. If one of them decides to leave, it changes things. JMS added a “trap door” to his characters, a way to remove them and have the story continue without them if needed. In fact, this happened on more than one occasion. I’d wager the introduction of a second Captain (Bruce Boxleitner) altered things a fair bit. Can’t say more without spoiling, but that was a big one.
The strongest performances in the show belong to Peter Jurrasik as Londo Molari and Andreas Katsulas as G’Kar, and their progress through the story is miles beyond what other sci-fi shows pass off as character growth.
Notable Evidence: Lyta Alexander’s story, Vir’s “smile and wave”, Bill Mumy’s Lennier
In closing, B5 gives you more of everything that a sci-fi fan could hope for. It’s grand, sweeping, touching, important, and well made. If you’ve avoided watching because it wasn’t on a network, or because you thought it was competition to your precious DS9, give it a shot. Besides, DS9 was pretty much built from JMS’s show bible for B5, so you’d probably like it. You know those REALLY good shows, where you remember a particular season because it was so good. This is one of those.
If you have a show or film or book or band you’d like to make a case for, we’d love to hear from you. Read the rules below, and drop us a line.
1) Give us 5 good reasons we should care, or watch, or listen etc. Make them compelling. Remember, you’re trying to sell this to us, and our readers.
2) Send pictures along with the article. Admin_rock doesn’t like to work harder than he has to, so be sure to send pics, or links to pics in the article.
Check out the previous installment(s) to see how it’s done.