It’s been twenty-five years since Babylon 5 first aired, forever changing the way television was made. Babylon 5 was the first TV show to use all CGI for its special effects instead of models. It was also the first American TV show to tell a serialized narrative that had a conclusive ending. Finally, it was the first TV show to tell its story in a five-act structure, much like a novel, with each season representing an act of the story.
Babylon 5 was revolutionary and the techniques it pioneered are still being used in modern television. So, to celebrate this magnificent show, I will be looking at the five best episodes from each season every three weeks over the next few months.
To quote Kosh “And, so, it begins.”
5. Midnight on the Firing Line, Season 1 Episode 1
Babylon 5 has one of the strongest opening episodes I have ever seen. The only show that gives it a run for its money would be the 2003 Battlestar Galactica. It begins with a solitary Centauri agricultural colony that is attacked and quickly destroyed. This show is about galactic politics, so an unwarranted attack is a great way to get the audience’s attention, while also addressing many of the concepts this series will touch on.
A year had passed between the production of the pilot movie, The Gathering, and the first season. As a consequence, some characters were no longer on the show as their respective actors had moved on. This is acknowledged in the show and becomes an integral part of the plot in later seasons. The new characters added, such as Susan Ivanova and Talia Winters, are immediately engaging.
The interaction between them at the end of the episode is one of my favorite scenes but it’s incredibly tragic, especially in hindsight. Andreas Katsulas and Peter Jurasik disappear in their respective roles as G’Kar and Londo. As a result, they are the characters that are the most defined and the most tragic of the series, and in the beginning, the most interesting. Seeing them embody everything that is wrong with the endless cycle of violence between the Narn and the Centauri is a joy to watch.
This episode is fast paced, which is ultimately the only problem with it. It suffers from heavy exposition and a convenient wrap up to the main plot. However, it doesn’t get too caught up in that because there is a lot of foreshadowing of things to come. Each character has something to do which allows the viewer to begin connecting with them.
Favorite Exchange Of The Episode
Sinclair: “Ambassador, I know this is hard for you, but if this escalates into war, you’ll give the Narns exactly what they want – a chance to divide us so they can move in. There are other ways. Babylon 5 is here to help keep the peace.”
Londo: “Commander, please. On the issue of galactic peace, I am long past innocence and fast approaching apathy. It’s all a game, a paper fantasy of names and borders. Only one thing matters, Commander. Blood calls out for blood. If Carn is dead there will be war…today, tomorrow, the day after. It doesn’t matter. If it’s the last thing I do, if it’s the last breath I take, there will be war. This I swear to you, Commander. This I swear.”
4. Deathwalker, Season 1 Episode 9
This is one of the few episodes of Babylon 5 that will appear on this list that is not written by show creator J. Michael Straczynski. He did, after all, write 92 out of 110 episodes, plus all the TV movies. This show was his passion project and the quality of his scripts reflected that. The writer of this episode is Lawrence G. DiTillo, a long-time friend of JMS.
What makes this episode stand out from the rest of the season is the themes it touches on. Jha’dur, the last surviving member of the Dilgar race and a war criminal, attempts to make a deal in order to avoid being tried for her crimes. The deal involves a serum for immortality she had created after performing several experiments that left whole worlds dead. Would you make a deal with the devil if it meant you could save lives? A fascinating premise for an episode as it shows the political ramifications of such a deal.
This episode isn’t entirely standalone, which is often the case with non-JMS episodes. For example, the b-plot of the episode focuses on Talia’s interaction with Kosh and a cyborg name Abbut. In this part of the episode, we get hints of Talia’s true nature, which will come out next season. We also get flashbacks to provide some backstory for her, which is something that will come up again in an episode that didn’t make this list.
It’s also the first appearance of Senator Hidoshi, a pro-Babylon 5 politician, and the saying “Understanding is a three-edged sword.” The backstory of the Dilgar Wars bringing Earth into prominence in the galaxy is good world building and will be brought up several times. It also demonstrates just how new Earth is to galactic politics.
Favorite Exchange Of The Episode
Lennier: “I am sorry, Commander. I have caused this evil woman to escape her just fate.”
Sinclair: “The Windswords did shelter her, didn’t they? And your government knew about it.”
Lennier: “No, not at first. When we went to war with Earth, the Windswords came to the Council with weapons – terrible weapons created by this monster. That’s when the Council first learned she was with them. Of course, we could not reveal it then, and like all secrets long kept, we cannot bear the shame of admitting it now.”
3. Mind War, Season 1 Episode 6
This episode is well known for its introduction of the fan-favorite villain, Alfred Bester, played to perfection by Walter Koenig. This is the role I associate him with, despite me being a major Star Trek fan. The moment Bester walks on screen, he has a unique presence that is all at once intimidating yet likable. He is one of those “you love to hate him” characters.
Bester is a Psi Cop hunting down a rogue telepath, Jason Ironheart, that used to be a teacher at the Psi Corp Academy. Jason had experiments done to him by the Psi Corp in an attempt to create a stable telekinetic for their own twisted ends. For example assassination, and it’s not like the Psi Corp wants to assassinate anyone later this season, right? Little do the Psi Corp know they actually stumbled upon the next step of Human evolution as seen in season 4.
This is a fascinating episode from the get-go with interesting ideas about telepathy and how it would affect our everyday lives. The episode sets up many things that will become important in later seasons, for instance, the Walkers of Sigma 957. And the music by Christopher Franke is amazing, it’s both foreboding and mysterious, creating the perfect tone for what the episode is about.
G’Kar’s statement of “No one here is actually what he appears.” Is a clear statement by JMS that Babylon 5 is no ordinary show. Up until this point, G’Kar was being portrayed as a villain, which is a trope played with in this episode. G’Kar is not a villain, and that is JMS’ point. He knew what he was doing and was encouraging the audience to stick around to see what was in store.
Favorite Exchange Of The Episode
G’Kar: “There are things in the universe billions of years older than either of our races. They’re vast, timeless. And if they’re aware of us at all, it is as little more than ants, and we have as much chance of communicating with them as an ant has with us. We know. We’ve tried, and we’ve learned that we can either stay out from underfoot or be stepped on.”
Sakai: “That’s it? That’s all you know?”
G’Kar: “Yes. They are a mystery, and I am both terrified and reassured to know that there are still wonders in the universe, that we have not yet explained everything. Whatever they are, Ms. Sakai, they walk near Sigma 957, and they must walk there alone.”
2. Chrysalis, Season 1 Episode 22
If there is one thing Babylon 5 does right, it’s boiling down galaxy-changing events to the personal level. This is the season finale of season 1, and it is heart-breaking. The galaxy is changing and not for the better. Londo has sold his soul to The Shadows in exchange for his people to return to the glory they once had. The fall of Londo Mollari is a tragic story and one of the best character arcs I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing.
This episode is a gut-punch, and that is what makes it spectacular. The Narn and the Centauri are having their usual squabbles, this time over a Narn base that the Centauri believe is violating their treaty. Meanwhile, newly elected Earth President Luis Santiago is on a good-will tour when Earth Force One explodes. His Vice President, Morgan Clark, was conveniently not onboard. The Shadows begin making their first moves in their game to make the galaxy descend into conflict.
Finally, Delenn begins a metamorphosis, that was prophesied to happen by Valen, the Minbari’s greatest leader. Garibaldi’s crawl scene is well-acted by Jerry Doyle. Not only is it intense to watch a great character fight for their life, but the implications of his wound is greater than the physical damage. Garibaldi is paranoid and slow to trust. This makes him both an excellent detective and Chief of Security. The fact that someone he trusted shot him in the back, will cause him to lose his ability to trust for a very long time.
This episode demonstrates that JMS was not kidding when he said this series had a 5-year plan. This finale changes everything and makes you want to immediately watch the next episode. As Sinclair says “Nothing’s the same anymore.”
Favorite Exchange Of The Episode
Londo: “What have you done?”
Morden: “Only what you asked me to do. You had a problem with Quadrant 37, we took care of it for you.”
Londo: “Yes, but you killed ten-thousand Narns!”
Morden: “I didn’t know you cared. Ten-thousand, a hundred-thousand, a million, what’s the difference? They’re Narns, Ambassador – your sworn enemy.”
Londo: “Yes, I know, but I didn’t think…I thought that you might find a way to protect our ships or – or cripple their forces, not…”
Morden: “Ambassador, your name is being spoken at the highest levels of the Centauri government. They don’t know how you did it. They don’t care. They credit you with saving them from another embarrassment without creating a war in the process. They’ve noticed you, Ambassador…which was the point of the exercise. I hear they have great plans for you.”
Londo: “Yes, but ten-thousand…in cold blood?”
Morden: “Ambassador, you’re a hero. Enjoy it.”
1. Signs and Portents, Season 1 Episode 13
This is without a doubt one of the most important episodes in the first season of Babylon 5. Each season has a title and that title is also the name of an episode in that respective season. Season 1’s title was Signs and Portents. It sets up so many things and introduces the face of The Shadows, the scarily mysterious Mr. Morden.
The episode ties various threads established in previous episodes together to show that there is a greater plot unfolding. Sinclair is taking steps to find out what happened during the 24 hours he cannot remember during the Battle of the Line. A strange man by the name of Mr. Morden shows up and begins to ask every ambassador the question “What do you want?” Londo makes the worst decision of his life. Meanwhile, Lord Kiro hires Raiders to attack Babylon 5 in order to steal The Eye, an old Centauri heirloom, which he believes will allow him to become Emperor.
The Raiders had been a threat in a few of the previous episodes. The fight against them is shown to be a major battle for the crew. The reason for this is twofold, they were kind of the only reoccurring villains of the show at the time and to contrast what is to come in later seasons. Their destruction at the hands of The Shadows is symbolic, showing that they were small time and the real threat is just starting to show it’s hand.
I love that the audience is not shown the full confrontation between Morden and Kosh. It’s kept mysterious which gives the audience a sense of larger forces at play. So we, much like the characters, are kept in the dark over what is really happening in the galaxy.
Favorite Exchange Of The Episode
Morden: “What do you want?”
Londo: “To be left alone.”
Morden: “Is that it? Is that really all, Ambassador?”
Londo: “Alright. Fine. You really want to know what I want? You really want to know the truth? I want my people to reclaim their rightful place in the galaxy, I want to see the Centauri stretch forth their hand again and command the stars. I want a rebirth of glory, a renaissance of power. I want to stop running through my life like a man late for an appointment, afraid to look back or to look forward. I want us to be what we used to be! I want…I want it all back the way that it was! Does that answer your question?”
Morden: “Yes…yes, it does.”
Convening The Babylon 5 Advisory Council
Babylon 5 is my favorite TV show of all time, if my gushing about these episodes wasn’t evidence enough. Many people think that season 1 is quite weak when compared to other seasons, but I found that a lot of key episodes are in it.
In fact, I had a hard time narrowing down my list of great episodes in season 1 to just five. I think that is a testament to how great the writing of this series is. If you have never seen this series before, first of all, I’m sorry for spoiling some plot details, but you should check it out as it is currently streaming on Amazon Prime. However, this is only in the US.
Join me in three weeks as I look at the top 5 episodes of season 2. The year is 2018, the name of the place is The Daily Fandom!