Today, I continue looking into the top 5 episodes of each season of Babylon 5. (If you missed my top 5 of season 1, you can find it here.) We have reached season 2, which if you follow the 5-act structure, would make this the rising-action season. And boy, does that name fit what happens throughout this season perfectly.
Please note, as with last time, there will be spoilers.
Commander To Captain
Before starting, I want to address one of the biggest changes in this season. Specifically, the departure of Sinclair and the introduction of Sheridan.
Michael O’Hare was a great actor. He portrayed the introspective but unwary war survivor without a purpose, Jeffrey Sinclair, to perfection. But sadly, due to real-life complications with mental illness, he had to depart the show. You can watch JMS explain what was going on here.
Enter Bruce Boxleitner as John Sheridan. Bruce portrays Sheridan with a sense of southern charm that instantly makes Sheridan likable. He’s heroic, smart, funny, and kind. So, the transition between the two main characters is seamless and isn’t jarring from my personal experience.
JMS utilized what he called “trap doors” for characters. Which means, if the actor left, the character had a reason to go but their presence would remain in the story. Therefore, Sinclair is not fully gone; we will see more of him. But, he will not find his purpose on the Babylon 5 station.
5. “Confessions and Lamentations” Season 2, Episode 18
This episode is actually one of the few separate from the primary ongoing story arcs. The only arcs it’s connected to are Stephen Franklin’s character arc (which next season expands upon) and the romance between Delenn and Sheridan. That isn’t to say that the events of this episode are not brought up again, they certainly are. (A nice touch in future seasons is that the Markab’s seat on the League of Non-Aligned Worlds remains empty.)
What makes this episode great is how it addresses that epidemics often claim lives due to stigmas attached to the disease. Be it AIDS or the Black Plague, massive epidemics are often blamed on others rather than the disease itself. The religious extremists will often say it’s a punishment for the infected’s sins. And that is exactly what is happening to the Markab.
The political ramifications of such an epidemic are even called out. Babylon 5 undergoes quarantine because Dr. Franklin attempts to find the cause and cure of the plague.
Various members of the Markab race become outraged because it implies that they themselves are sinful and impure. (As that was the stigma applied to the Drafa Plague centuries ago.) The Markab isolating themselves to pray hinders Franklin’s progress and spreads the disease faster.
Babylon 5 demonstrates it was no ordinary show of its time in the scene where Franklin finally finds the cure. However, he is too late. They open the door and every single Markab is dead. Delenn and Lennier, who were there as moral support for the Markab, are disturbed by their experience. That scene is absolutely heart-breaking.
Favorite Exchange Of The Episode
Delenn: “I would like to be allowed into the isolation zone. I’ve spoken to Ambassador Fashar, and he is willing to allow us entry.”
Delenn: “They’re in pain, frightened, dying. Minbari are taught that at such a time the afflicted should be ministered to, comforted.”
Sheridan: “They’re not your own people, Delenn.”
Delenn: “I didn’t know that similarity was required for the exercise of compassion. They are afraid. We wish to do what little we can.”
Delenn: “Lennier has asked to accompany me.”
Sheridan: “Delenn, I cannot allow this!”
Delenn: “I understand the risk, Captain! If the disease is only limited the Markab, we should do all we can. But if it’s not, then we must give comfort. Because very soon we will require it ourselves.”
Sheridan: “You will be exposing yourself to massive contamination! If I let you into that isolation zone, I – I can’t let you out again!”
Delenn: “I know.”
Sheridan: “Alright, I’ll tell security to let you through.”
Delenn: “Thank you. Don’t look away, Captain. All life is transitory, a dream. We all come together in the same place at the end of time. If I don’t see you again here, I will see you in a little while at the place where no Shadows fall.”
Sheridan: “Delenn, when I do see you again, call me John.”
4. “In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum” Season 2, Episode 16
This episode weaves several story arcs together and answers major questions. War refugees from the Narn-Centauri War are flooding into Babylon 5, causing overpopulation. Sheridan must make a decision of whether to turn away the wounded and dying or allow them in.
Franklin overworks himself treating the refugees and turns to using stims to keep himself awake.
The Ministry of Peace sends Nightwatch to establish a foothold on Babylon 5. Finally, Sheridan comes face-to-face with Mr. Morden, who was on the same ship his wife, Anna, was on when it exploded.
What this episode does very well is keep everything on a personal level. Sheridan abuses the privileges of his command because he wants revenge for his wife. However, forcibly, he lets Morden go as the entire fate of the galaxy rests on The Shadows not attacking first.
Ivanova notices Stephen overworking himself and forces him to take a break. He is slowly being consumed by his work as he does nothing besides doctoring.
Talia is personally invited to the Nightwatch meeting. Specifically, because they want to demonstrate what they deem as “unpatriotic” behavior can be violated even with a thought. What better way to do that than to have a telepath present?
The episode portrays on many levels just how dire the changes happening in the galaxy are. And things will only get worse from here. After all, as Kosh says, “If you go to Z’ha’dum, you will die.”
Favorite Exchange Of The Episode
Vir: “Mr. Morden.”
Morden: “Vir, I was expecting Ambassador Mollari.”
Vir: “He was recalled to Centauri Prime for consultations about the war effort.”
Morden: “And how is your war going?”
Vir: “Why do you ask me questions when you already know the answers?”
Morden: “Just making conversation. Here, sit…Sit! You don’t like me, do you, Vir? I find this surprising. After all, my associates and I are doing everything we can to help your people reclaim their place in the galaxy. I should think you’d be grateful.”
Vir: “Is there a reason you sent for me?”
Morden: “I sent for Ambassador Mollari. But you’re here, he’s not, and it can wait. If restoring the Centauri Republic means nothing to you, what does? What do you want?”
Vir: “I’d like to live just long to be there when they cut off your head and stick it on pike. As a warning to the next ten generations that some favors come with too high a price. I would look up at your lifeless eyes and wave like this!”
“Can you and your associates arrange that for me, Mr. Morden?”
3. “And Now For a Word” Season 2, Episode 15
This is arguably one of the most experimental episodes of Babylon 5. Instead of being a traditional episode, it is actually a news broadcast from ISN, reporting Babylon 5‘s current political situations. The main goal of the report is to talk about whether or not Babylon 5 is still worth funding. (As the Narn and Centauri have recently gone to war.)
President Morgan Clark uses this to his advantage by taking the stance that Babylon 5’s mission doesn’t work. He also kicks out pro-Babylon-5 politicians, like Senator Hidoshi.
From this new lens, we see how each character reacts when their views are broadcast publicly. Many of them put on a mask, hiding behind the tribal mentality.
Londo is especially apparent at doing this. He flushes away all the doubts he had about the war in favor of the traditional, Centauri-aggressor mentality.
G’Kar twists the tragic story of his father’s death in order to explain his anger towards the Centauri. Even though, as seen in season 3, his father asked him to be honorable, not aggressive.
Others, such as Sheridan, are as honest as they can be within reason. Sheridan calls out the recent jingoism that has permeated Earth since last season. However, he knows if he goes too far, Clark’s regime will target him before the growing resistance is strong enough to strike.
The episode gets very meta with the real-life cut to commercials. It acknowledges the commercial breaks and even has a fake commercial break within the episode. This adds to the world-building as we see the Psi Corps blatant propaganda, complete with a subliminal message at the end, freely broadcasted.
Favorite Exchange Of The Episode
Quantrell: “Certainly, we have rebuilt our military forces to a point far in advance of where they were fourteen years ago. If the Earth-Minbari War started today, I think things might have gone a little differently. So, while I’m not sure how much concrete benefit we derive from Babylon 5 any longer, I suppose it still does keep us in a highly visible position with other races. And of course, it’s very important to interstellar commerce and trade.”
Sheridan: “Well, with all due respect to Senator Quantrell. Speaking as someone who did his part in the front lines, I’d have to say we still haven’t fully recovered from the Minbari War. And we haven’t anywhere near the level of technology we would need in an event of another major conflict. And anybody who thinks we can hold our own against the Minbari, the Centauri, and, God forbid, the Vorlons, is just plain kidding himself.”
Cynthia: “You sound angry about it.”
Sheridan: “No. I’m not…It just…it just sounds to me like jingoism and self-deception and armchair quarterbacking. Anytime you lose a war, you just…you just wait a few years, and you’ll hear from everyone who thought that we could have won if they had done the fighting.”
Cynthia: “Except, of course, Captain, we didn’t lose the war. The Minbari did surrender.”
2. “The Coming of Shadows” Season 2, Episode 9
This is the episode from which the season derives its title, and it’s easy to understand why. The events of this episode tie everything that comes afterward together in this season.
Lord Refa continues his machinations to put a young man named Cartagia on the Centauri throne. He does this to restore his people to their former glory.
Londo slips further into a pit of darkness he can’t escape from, no matter how much he wants to. The Narn-Centauri War begins, perpetuating the cycle of violence the two races are stuck in. Finally, The Rangers make their first appearance by revealing that Sinclair left to be their leader.
What is intriguing about this episode, besides the excellent character work between G’Kar and Londo, is Emperor Turhan. He is unlike any Centauri we have met, with the exception of Vir. He regrets the past, believes in hope, and wants to attempt to reconcile the differences between the Narn and Centauri.
In classic Babylon 5 style, he doesn’t get to do that and dies, allowing Refa and Londo to enact their plans. His last words to Londo and Refa are chilling: “You are both damned!”
Londo is uncomfortable with the way things are going. But, he continues on because he knows that if he steps out of line, he’ll end up dead. It is haunting to watch him have the prophetic nightmares about his future. They demonstrate that, no matter what the consequences, his actions will catch up to him.
Peter Jurasik and Andreas Katsulas once again give it their all, just like the rest of the cast. However, pay special close attention to the faces they make during the toast scene. I can’t watch that scene without my heart sinking; they just sell that moment.
Favorite Exchange Of The Episode
Franklin: “I just came from seeing the Centauri Emperor.”
G’Kar: “How is the poor fellow? I was so looking forward to meeting him and opening up…a dialogue.”
Franklin: “Funny, he was looking forward to meeting you too. He had a message for you. Given his present condition, he asked me to relay that message for him.”
G’Kar: “I have no time for threats!”
Franklin: “He wanted to say he’s sorry.”
Franklin: “He came all the way out here, risked his health, and endangered his life, so that he could stand beside a Narn in neutral territory and apologize. For all the things the Centauri have done to your people. For all the things his family did. He said we were wrong. The hatred between our people can never end until someone is willing to say: I’m sorry. And try to find a way to make things right again. To atone for our actions. Said it was the only choice he made in his life, and now that seems to have been taken away from him.”
G’Kar: “I had – I had no idea…”
Franklin: “No, I’m sure you didn’t. Maybe that’s the biggest tragedy of the whole damn story.”
1. “The Long, Twilight Struggle” Season 2, Episode 20
We have come to not only the best episode of season 2, but also, my personal favorite of the entire series. It balances it’s tone from a bit of lightheartedness with Draal to perhaps the darkest moment in the series when the Centauri bomb Narn with Mass Drivers. I have yet to meet someone that watches this episode and isn’t deeply affected by particular moments. It’s a tour de force in writing and is a spectacular watch.
From little details like the inter-cutting of G’Kar’s desperate prayers of hope, while The Shadows slaughter the Narn fleet. To how Londo’s face is remorseful and sad when G’Kar is giving his speech. However, the moment G’Kar looks at him, his face turns angry, becoming the mask he must wear as the Centauri aggressor. Or even Delenn’s subtle head drop when Draal mentions Anna as she can’t tell Sheridan the truth regarding his wife.
The bombing of Narn is horrific. Mass Drivers are scientifically one of the scariest sci-fi weapons and to see them used so casually shows just how ruthless the Centauri can be. Peter Jurasik runs the gamut of emotions from horror, shock, guilt, and shame. Londo knows this all happened because of him, and there is nothing he can do about it.
The other scene that stands out is the meeting of Babylon 5’s Advisory Council. Londo wears his mask of aggression the entire time, even though he is clearly disturbed by it all.
Andreas Katsulas delivers G’Kar’s speech with such emotion that it brings me to tears every time. G’Kar’s transition from angry, vengeful Narn to remorseful survivor is agonizing to watch. What a phenomenal piece of television!
Favorite Exchange Of The Episode
Londo: “Because the Narn home-world is now a protectorate of the Centauri Republic, we reserve the right to determine who can speak for Narn. As a result, Ambassador G’Kar may no longer represent the Narn in any official capacity whatsoever! His appointment as Ambassador to Babylon 5 is hereby withdrawn. And as the only member of the Kha’ri still at large, Citizen G’Kar will return to Narn for trial.”
Sheridan: “I’m afraid that’s not possible. Prior to this meeting, Ambassador G’Kar asked for sanctuary on Babylon 5. As is it is within my province to make such decisions, I agreed.”
Londo: “Surrender by all members of the Kha’ri is stipulated in the Narn-Centauri Agreement.”
Sheridan: “Oh, I’m sure it is, but I didn’t sign that agreement Ambassador! Neither did Earth.”
Delenn: “As cosponsor of Babylon 5, the Minbari government supports this decision. The neutrality of this station applies even to the wishes of the Centauri. Citizen G’Kar may remain here for as long as he chooses.”
Sheridan: “Face reality, Ambassador Mollari. If your government is serious about all these rules, you are going to need someone here whom all the other Narn will recognize as credible!”
Londo: “If this is your decision, then I cannot stop you. Nevertheless, at this moment G’Kar is no longer an official representative of Narn and must be removed from this council!”
Sheridan: “We will wait anot-“
G’Kar: “No dictator, no invader, can hold an imprisoned population by force of arms forever. There is no greater power in the universe than the need for freedom. Against that power, governments and tyrants and armies cannot stand! The Centauri learned this lesson once…we will teach it to them again. And though it take a thousand years, we will be free!”
Convening The Babylon 5 Advisory Council
Season 2 is where Babylon 5 takes off. Season 1 was all set-up, and it was very good at that. But this is where the payoffs start happening and they won’t stop until the end of the show.
Every plot thread and character arc moves forward in new and intriguing ways. This was something that was unique to Babylon 5 for a long time. It was the first American TV show to attempt the serialized narrative. It’s amazing to see how much the TV landscape changed so much thanks to this magnificent show.
Join me in three weeks when I look at the top 5 episodes of season 3. The year is 2018; the name of the place is The Daily Fandom!