Babylon 5. In the heyday of the 90s with the three Star Trek franchises, Stargate starting up and The X-Files, there was Babylon 5. I remember it airing an hour or so before TNG but I never actually got around to watching it until around 1999. Its follow-up show Crusade was cancelled by FOX (still bitter about this) but it was there that I was intrigued by Babylon 5. And I didn’t look back, it knocked DS9 out of top spot of my favourite television shows ever.
No matter how many times I re-watch this show, it’s just as mindblowing and amazing an experience for me as the first time I watched it on television. Despite its smaller fan base (compared to the other sci-fi shows that were out there at the time–and shows that followed), it’s been recognised as stellar sci-fi by the Hugos (won in 1996 and 1997 for Best Dramatic Presentation) and by NASA (I think it was NASA…the science community, suffice to say). I sort of condensed my reasons why I loved the show in my 100 Things but here’s my 10 reasons why you should watch Babylon 5.
In no particular order after the cut:
The Epic Scope
Think The Lord of the Rings. Think Game of Thrones. Think Dune. The scope of the Babylon 5 universe is immense; according to its creator, J. Michael Straczynski, he actually envisioned a detailed timeline of this universe 1000 years forward and 1000 years back. So that’s pretty big (and you get a feel of this in the series 4 finale, “The Deconstruction of Falling Stars”). I wish I was this imaginative to come up with something so vast, so complex and so epic.
Lots of articles about the show, and JMS described the show as such, mention how B5 is supposed to be a five-season/year video novel and that’s exactly what it was. The way the stories developed and the pacing of the various story threads really did feel like you were reading a novel, and maybe that’s one of the many reasons why I love the show so much. There’s a reason why this aspect about the character was revealed, why this person did that, why this detail was mentioned–it all fits in, it all has a reason for being there and being mentioned. If you marathon the show from start to finish, you’re in for a treat because elements that were mentioned in series 1 (for example…mmm, trying to be a spoiler-free here as possible, the episode “Babylon Squared”) would crop up again in a later series. The way everything fit in is quite remarkable, B5 is one of the few shows were I really have no qualms about in terms of continuity and storytelling.
Babylon 5 is one of the rare television shows were I loved all of the characters. Every single member of the main cast, and yeah, I would say even the secondary/recurring characters. They’re all unique, they all have their different quirks (Michael Garibaldi with his Daffy Duck/20th century references, Susan Ivanova and how much she hates mornings, John Sheridan and his oranges) and personalities (Ivanova with her Russian realism, Delenn and her coolness, Londo Mollari and his melancholic bombastic persona). They have their flaws and you see them face these issues over the course of the series. They’re not static, they evolve over time and aside from the overarching plots, it’s just fantastic to watch these personal character arcs and see what they’re going to do next. Even a number of key antagonists were fairly fleshed out and nuanced (Psi Cop Alfred Bester comes to mind here–played by the awesome Walter Koenig).
Additionally, the comradery and dynamic between the characters are just so much fun to watch on-screen. There’s never really a bored moment between characters because the contrasts are just so interesting and it shows in the dialogue, whether they’re playfully bantering, having a serious conversation together or biting each other’s heads off. Case in point (of happy, bantering times):
The early days when Commander Sinclair was still in charge
Related to the character development and their personal story arcs is the drama. It’s not melodramatic per se but there’s definitely a lot of obstacles that all of these characters face, some with very dire and far-reaching consequences. Others are just sad. An excellent example of this is the character of Ambassador Londo Mollari (100 Things). His character arc was just one of Shakespearean heights with the choices he makes and the emptiness it brought. There’s one prime video I want to show to convey this but it’s also a massive plot point so just take my word for it, lol, it makes for good drama 😉
I loved that nothing was really utopian in the B5 universe–and if it looked utopian, chances are there’s some chinks underneath the surface that no one can see. I was always impressed with the Earth Civil War and the way it gradually developed, the various factions involved and the themes that it tackled. The decay of the Centauri Republic, reminiscent of the Roman republic, was also very interesting to watch unfold and the methods various figures took to reclaim for lost time. I hadn’t quite come across such diversity in political structures and dynamics in space opera before (though DS9 did portray this to some extent and then later there was the BSG re-imagined series).
The technology featured in B5 was pretty realistic. I was especially impressed with the concepts for gravity, the design of the station itself and the ships. It looks weird at first, especially if you’re coming from a show like Star Trek, but it makes sense, and it’s in thanks to scientists and physicists who explained the realities of how everything would actually work in space. It gives a realistic feel to, let’s say, fight sequences between Starfuries, the way they glide even when their engines stop, or the way the ships in general move. It’s really cool and very interesting.
No matter how bleak the story can get at times and how pushed up a corner the crew ends up in, the humour manages to lighten the mood, even for a little bit. And perhaps it’s more an indication of my odd sense of humour but those humourous moments really crack me up. For example:
Okay, perhaps there is a slight bias here, a lot of Londo’s scenes are actually very, very funny (and the most easily accessible on YouTube) but there are a ton of other great moments from other characters in the show! 🙂
Did I mention there’s quite a bit of sass in this show?
Like any good, epic story, Babylon 5 is filled with major themes that the story tackles series after series: the argument of free will, the debates between order and chaos, authoritarianism and freedom, dominion and slavery, life and death and the sacrifices we make for the better good or to save a life. These themes further add to the overarching storylines as well as the individual character arcs, whether it be John Sheridan’s role as the leader of the Resistance and against the Shadows or Londo Mollari’s rise to power and glory. Some really fantastic dialogue came out of these themes–I almost posted this one video but then realised it’s rather spoilerish at the end xP But then I found this scene instead; G’Kar had some of the best monologues in the show:
“You can learn much from silence.”
But there’s also a lot of other themes that’s more relatable: themes of friendship and unrequited love and addiction. The last is actually very interesting and I didn’t realise how great it stood on its own as a theme but addiction is a major theme that’s tackled over the course of the series, whether it’s drugs or alcohol or work. It’s interesting, and realistic, I think.
Hands down, my favourite series in the show. The first two series were all about moving everything into position, introducing the players and the conflict and all of the elements that are going to be involved and the payoff is here, series 3. There is a lot that happens in this series, both in terms of the 2 big storylines (the Shadow War, the growing problems back on Earth) and there’s a lot of character development and arcs that also interweave into those stories, resulting in a lot of bad-ass moments. And this finale? Massive spoilers there but suffice to say it was such a game changer, one of my top favourite episodes from the show xD
The series finale
I’ve mentioned it before (major spoilers if you click this link; I’m not even going to embed the vid here) but the series finale is the best I’ve ever seen in television. It was just perfect, from the music to wrapping up all of the major character storylines–because the series finale was really all about the characters–it was just the perfect, heart-wrenching goodbye to this television show. And it’s also very satisfying.
Chills down my spine every time I hear the finale’s theme song–I think it also really sets the tone to what the finale feels like:
And those are my 10 reasons why you should check out Babylon 5! Did I convince you? Oh, and a wee bit of a warning if you do decide to pick up the show: yes, season 1 does start off a little…slow, but don’t worry, stick through it and trust me, it’ll be worth it 🙂 And don’t forget (starts around 3:11):
If you’ve watched the show or whatnot, feel free to browse through my tags (as I did post a bit about the show in the past year) and drop me a line in the discussions there 🙂