In celebration of the 25th anniversary of Babylon 5, we continue looking at the top 5 episodes from each season. However, if you missed the previous top 5’s, here are Season 1 and Season 2.
This week we are looking at Season 3, which is the ‘complication season’ if you follow the 5-act structure of the show. Interesting fun fact about Season 3: show creator J. Michael Straczynski found it difficult to divide episodes among different writers as he had been doing for the past two seasons.
Because this was the first time anyone had done a serialized narrative on American television, there was no rulebook on how to do it. Therefore, in Season 3, he wrote all 22 episodes himself. This would continue throughout the rest of the series, with the exception of one episode in Season 5 written by Neil Gaiman.
5. War Without End (Parts 1 & 2), Season 3 Episodes 16 – 17
Some may cry foul as this is technically two episodes. But I made the decision to count two-parters as one episode, especially since this one only makes sense if you watch them back-to-back.
This is an episode that everyone remembers because it contains some pretty famous moments and several questions are skilfully answered. Sinclair is back for the final time since, as I said, his destiny was not on Babylon 5. It was, however, on Babylon 4. Interestingly, Michael O’Hare plays Sinclair a little differently than before. Sinclair seems very calm and talks in a way that makes him seem like he’s at peace.
Nonetheless, his arc was all about him trying to find his purpose as he was lost after the Earth-Minbari war. Now he knows his purpose — to become the Minbari’s most important historical and religious figure, Valen. This episode is a masterclass in long-form writing. Babylon Squared was two seasons ago, but many questions were left in the air from that episode.
Now all of them are answered in a very compelling time-travel story that doesn’t get bogged down in the conventional rules of time-travel. Instead, the episode keeps everything focused on character so that we can enjoy watching people we care about solving a time loop that has happened and must always happen.
The explanation of who The One was is a great revelation. For example, the motif of threes are all over Babylon 5, but if you are not looking for them, you don’t notice them. That’s how you correctly do foreshadowing with a dash of misdirection from previous episodes.
Favorite Exchange Of The Episode
Delenn: “This was not part of the plan. I did not expect this. We can’t even know where in time Sheridan has gone.”
Sinclair: “He’ll be alright. (I know what’s coming. Are you alright?)*”
Delenn: “(No. I’m sorry.)*”
Sinclair: “(Don’t be.)* All my life, I’ve had doubts about who I am, where I belonged. Now, I’m like the arrow that springs from the bow! No hesitation, no doubts. The path is clear.”
*spoken in Minbari
4. Dust to Dust, Season 3 Episode 6
This episode weaves multiple plot threads around just one item in a spectacular way. We finally get an explanation of the drug called Dust, which we have been hearing about since the pilot movie The Gathering.
What is fascinating about Dust is that it is a drug designed to give the user telepathic powers. While this has intriguing similarities to many drugs in real life that can be used to unlock particular parts of the brain, here it takes on a more sinister purpose. The Psi Corps manufactured and introduced it into the black market as an attempt to increase the number of telepaths in the Human population. They are preparing for a war while the rest of the galaxy burns in a different one.
Bester comes to Babylon 5 and drops hints of what happened to Talia after last season. It remains left up in the air what exactly happened to her since he could very well be lying. I like this as it left it open for the actress if she ever decided to return. But it also adds to the heartbreak Ivanova has to go through — she will never know what became of her lover.
G’Kar’s spiritual awakening via Kosh stopping his attack on Londo with Dust is an emotional moment I’m still recovering from. G’Kar has to learn to let go of his hate and to extend his hand in friendship. If anyone is to survive the war that is upon them, they must bond together instead of fighting amongst each other.
However, note that G’Kar’s arc remains headed down the opposite road to Londo’s. JMS intentionally paralleled them from the very beginning and that will continue until the end.
Favorite Exchange Of The Episode
G’Quan: “We are a dying people, G’Kar. So are the Centauri. Obsessed with each other’s death until death is all we can see and death is all we deserve.”
G’Kar: “The Centauri started it.”
G’Quan: “And will you continue? Until there are no more Narns and no more Centauri? If both sides are dead, no one will care which side deserves the blame. It no longer matters who started it, G’Kar. It only matters who is suffering.”
G’Kar: “No! No, I have an obligation to honor my father’s name.”
G’Quan: “And how have you chosen to honor that name? What is there left for Narn if all creation falls around us? There is nothing. No hope, no dream, no future, no life. Unless we turn from the cycle of death toward something greater. If we are a dying people, then let us die with honor by helping the others as no one else can.”
G’Kar: “I don’t understand.”
G’Quan: “Because you have let them distract you, blind you with hate. You cannot see the battle for what it is. We are fighting to save one another, we must realize that we are not alone. We rise and fall together. And some of us must be sacrificed if all are to be saved. Because if we fail in this, then none of us will be saved, and the Narn will be only a memory.
You have the opportunity, here and now, to choose. To become something greater and nobler and more difficult than you have been before. The universe does not offer such chances often, G’Kar.”
G’Kar: “Why now? Why not earlier? All this time, where have you been?”
G’Quan/Kosh: “I have always been here.”
3. Point of No Return, Season 3 Episode 9
This episode is when the Clark Administration finally stopped playing games and getting their people into key positions — they are finally ready to strike. As a result, Martial Law is declared across the Earth Alliance and any that don’t comply are being found and killed. Earth has descended into rebellion. Furthermore, the Nightwatch is trying to take control of security, leading Zack to question his loyalties.
Meanwhile, Lady Morella, widow of Emperor Turhan, comes to Babylon 5 to tell Londo his destiny. What is great about her prophecy is that it can be interpreted in multiple ways. Regardless, there are two things clear: Londo has three more shots at redemption and both he and Vir will be Emperor. They cannot avoid their destinies despite how much they might want to.
Interestingly, there are several Star Trek connections to this episode that make behind-the-scenes fascinating. Morella is played by Majel Barrett, Gene Roddenberry’s wife. Apparently, she liked Babylon 5 and had contacted JMS, who is a fan of Star Trek, in order to be on the show.
There was some bad blood between the two shows, especially in their respective fandoms, because of an accusation that Deep Space Nine was based on the original Babylon 5 pitch. Her appearance on the show was supposed to extend an olive branch, so to speak.
The other connection is that the actor who had played General Hauge in previous episodes had been double-booked and chose to appear on DS9 instead of Babylon 5. Hauge is killed off screen which actually adds to the drama of this episode and the next — the de-facto leader of the rebellion is killed and morale is low.
Favorite Exchange Of The Episode
Londo: “Are you ready to start your tour of the station? Our people here are looking forward to meeting you.”
Morella “Almost, another moment. Why have you asked us here, Mollari?”
Londo: “As I said, to show you how our agreement with the Earth-“
Morella: “The Earthers have problems of their own. The alliance was never my husband’s plan for our people. He came to try to prevent the insanity he knew was coming. Instead, his death became the door through which all this pain has entered.”
Londo: “I was there when he left us. He was a great man.”
Morella: “Yes, yes he was. But greatness is never appreciated in youth, called pride in mid-life, dismissed in old age and reconsidered in death. Because we cannot tolerate greatness in our midst. We do all we can to destroy it. This place has become a memorial to his unfinished work. I ask you again, why have you brought us here?”
Londo: “I need you to see for me. I believe that I have been touched. That I am…meant for something greater. A greater darkness or a greater good, I can no longer say. All I have ever wanted is to serve our people. I need to see what is before me. If I should escape it, or embrace it. If there is, any longer, a choice.”
Morella: “There is always choice. We say there is no choice only to comfort ourselves with the decision we have already made. Now if you understand that, there’s hope. If not…I will honor your request, Mollari. Before I leave here, you will have your reading.”
2. And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place, Season 3 Episode 20
The balance of tones in this episode is part of the reason it sticks with you after you finish watching it. On one hand, you have Sheridan at his wit’s end trying to figure out what the Shadow’s strategy is.
He is told by the religious leaders, who are acting as spies and smugglers for the Earth resistance, that he needs someone to talk to. Someone to help shoulder the burden of this responsibility. Therefore, you have a light-hearted, romantic tone for half the episode as Delenn and Sheridan grow closer together and learn from each other.
On the other hand, you have the sheer brutal reality of Centauri politics. The houses of Refa and Mollari are in a feud and Emperor Cartagia has demanded that it must end. Refa and Londo begin enacting plans to take each other out. Refa is young and new to the royal court. Whereas Londo is older and far more experienced in the realm of Centauri politics.
He masterfully manipulates everyone, including his trusted friend Vir, in order to win. The scene where the tables are turned and Refa is going to be killed by a gang of Narns lead by G’Kar is just beautiful. While Londo is doing this out of revenge, not knowing that the true killer of Adira is Morden, it is still so satisfying to watch Refa go down and Londo get his victory.
However, notice how G’Kar doesn’t participate in the actual killing of Refa. He has grown a lot in Season 3 and this scene demonstrates that he has overcome his severe hatred of the Centauri. The righteous warrior has now become the peaceful priest.
Favorite Exchange Of The Episode
Delenn: “Ivanova sent me to find you. She said you haven’t been sleeping. That you have barely been eating. She said that you have been in her words: ‘carrying on cranky.’ I looked up the word cranky, it said grouchy. I looked up grouchy it said crotchety. No wonder you have such an eccentric culture, none of your words have their own meanings. You have to look up one word to understand another. It never ends.”
Sheridan: “Something here doesn’t make sense-“
Delenn: “That is what I thought when I came across crotchety. This cannot be a real word, I said.”
Sheridan: “The Shadows keep attacking random targets. Very illogical. On the other hand, once engaged their tactics are very successful, very logical. It’s a contradiction.”
Delenn: “Unless the random attacks are logical in some way we haven’t yet determined.”
Delenn: “So, you have been sitting here trying to think illogically about logical possibilities or logically about illogical possibilities.”
Sheridan: “Huh. Uh, yes, yes.”
Delenn: “Well, no wonder you are cranky. Grouchy? Nevermind, your face just broke the language barrier.”
Sheridan: “I’m tired, I haven’t had a good nights sleep since Kosh died. I’m having the kind of nightmares that make your hair stand on end.”
Delenn: “Well, that would explain the Centauri. You need food and rest. The Humans, who you have been waiting for, have arrived and would like to have dinner with us-“
Sheridan: “No, no. I don’t have time. If they want to come here the-“
Delenn: “So, I told them yes!”
Delenn: “Since Minbari do not lie, except to save another, my reputation is now at stake. If you say no, I will be publicly dishonored.
Sheridan: “You don’t fight fair.”
Delenn: “True. Dinner is in two standard hours. I will see you there.”
Sheridan: “Pain in the butt.”
1. Interludes and Examinations, Season 3 Episode 15
As the title would suggest, this episode is all about examining where the characters are in their respective arcs. Franklin’s stim addiction has gotten significantly worse. He’s irritable and is treating patients incorrectly, but he ignores the warnings of his fellow medical staff.
Still, Garibaldi takes a special interest in finding out what’s wrong with Franklin, not only because he is his friend, but because he has been in that situation before. Garibaldi is an alcoholic so he understands what it’s like to be addicted to something that you can’t let go of.
Sheridan is having a hard time getting the other races to work together. Now that the Shadow War has begun in earnest, everyone has begun to fear the power that The Shadows have. So, unless Sheridan can prove he can match their power, The Army of Light is no more.
In contrast to everyone else, Londo is happy. The woman he loves, Adira, is coming to visit him. Though, Adira is murdered before she steps off her transport ship. Londo naturally concludes that it must have been Refa because of what Londo had done to him in a different episode. What I like is that the audience is given hints that Morden was behind the poisoning, but we are not told this outright until next season.
Watching Londo take a step back into the darkness, aligning himself with The Shadows once again, just to get revenge is heart-breaking. On top of all this, Kosh is killed for helping Sheridan. Still, what is interesting is that only Kosh was killed and that the Shadows don’t retaliate against the Vorlons. It’s almost like they have an agreement not to kill each other and Kosh was the one and only Vorlon to break that rule.
Favorite Exchange Of The Episode
Sheridan: “I hear you got a saying: ‘understanding is a three-edged sword.’ Well, we got a saying too: Put your money where your mouth is!”
Sheridan: “Yeah, well maybe that’s the only way to get through to you. You said you wanted to teach me to fight legends, well you’re a legend too! And I’m not going away until you agree!”
(Sheridan is blasted with telekinetic energy.)
Kosh: “Leave, now!”
Sheridan: “Up yours!
(Sheridan is blasted with telekinetic energy, drawing blood.)
Sheridan: “So the real Kosh shows his colors at last. You angry now? Angry enough to kill me? Because that’s the only way I’m leaving. Unless your people get off their encounter-suited butts and do something. I’ve got nothing to lose! Hell, my own government wants to kill me and if we lose this war, I’m just as dead! Our only chance is to get the other races on board for this fight and right now you are the key to doing that!”
Kosh: “It is not yet time.”
Sheridan: “And who decides that time? You? You put me in this position, you asked me to fight this damn war! Well, it’s about time you let me fight it my way! How many people have already died fighting this war of yours? How many more will die before you come down off the mountain and get involved? Ships, colonies, whole worlds are being destroyed out there! And you do nothing! How many more? How many more, Kosh? How many more dead, before you’re satisfied?”
(Sheridan is pinned to the wall by telekinetic energy.)
Sheridan: “Go ahead. Maybe one more death will balance out the books. Go on, get it over with. Save us both the trouble later.”
Kosh: “I will do as you ask. But there is a price to pay. I will not be there to help you when you go to Z’ha’dum.”
Sheridan: “You already said, if I go to Z’ha’dum, I’ll die.”
Kosh: “Yes, now.”
Sheridan: “Alright, if that’s the trade-off. If you want to withhold your help when the time comes, that’s fine. I’ll go it alone.”
Kosh: “You do not understand. But you will.”
Convening The Babylon 5 Advisory Council
Babylon 5 Season 3 is one of the strongest seasons of the series. It’s a phenomenal piece of television from beginning to end. It was incredibly difficult to narrow down my list down to just 5 episodes. Therefore, I felt bad for leaving off “Severed Dreams,” the episode that won a Hugo award that year. There is only one episode of this season that I would consider just okay and that’s “Grey 17 is Missing.” Babylon 5 is so good that even its worst episode still has redeeming qualities.
Join us again in three weeks as we journey into Season 4 and find its top 5 best episodes. So many things happen in that season, it’s going to be hard to please everyone with that top 5.