- Season One (1993-1994)
I've tried to get into this show before. I remember when the pilot movie ran as part of the PTEN package, can't remember if the regular seasons were part of that too (I was a big fan of Time Trax). My friends got into it and I never did. When it was repackaged for TNT in the final season I tried to get into it again, I think they marathoned the whole series and did that little "In the Beginning" movie to try to bring newcomers up to speed. I still didn't get into it. I sort of got into the spinoff Crusade but that was twice-screwed by the network and cancelled quickly. I tried once more when B5 made it to the Sci-Fi Channel and was billed as being returned to the glorious widescreen it was always intended as, although the chat boards said they screwed that up, lost the original films, and had to crop down the full screen version which is why half the time people's heads are cut off. I remember making it past the first season but not very far. Not sure why it never took for me. Now I've got the DVDs, I think based on that butchered widescreen. Heads are cut off. The space CGI looks pretty bad, and I don't mean that as a knock against the technology of the time which is limited, to be sure, but it also looks like it's been blown up for widescreen and it is highly pixelated. It hardly looks like an official release at times. But none of that hurts the story, and this time I am determined to make it through. I made it through 2003 Battlestar Galactica, I can make it through this.
It's the year 2258. Humans have ventured out into space and met up with alien races the Minbari, Centauri, Narn, Vorlons, and a League of Non-Aligned Worlds that I guess can supply any random alien of the week as needed. They have come together to create the Babylon space station which they sometimes refer to as being the size of a small country. Its intended purpose is to provide a common space for the races to work out their differences. Someone doesn't like that so the first three Babylon stations were blown up and the fourth somehow vanished never to be seen again. It's like that scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail
where the father talks about building castles that kept sinking into the swamp until finally the last castle didn't sink.
The pilot movie introduces the main players; Captain Sinclair is the human commander of Babylon 5, the rest of the races have ambassadors which meet with him in a council every so often. The movie tells us two important things: first, the Vorlons have never been seen in their true form so they wear clunky "encounter suits" to hide themselves, and second that humans are the only race, I think, that have naturally occurring telepaths. The telepaths are all assigned to Psi-Corps which is a special branch of Earthgov. The plot for the movie has Kosh, the Vorlon ambassador, being poisoned so the doctor has to look beneath his suit to cure him, which provides a nice explanation later when the doctor character was recast (he had to be removed from his position after breaking the taboo).
The season continues and a couple of other characters are recast. We get a new telepath, with Talia replacing Lyta. A new second in command with Ivanova replacing Takashima. And the new Dr. Franklin. Michael Garabaldi was there from beginning, the head of station security. He seems like a tough TV cop when he has to be and cracks jokes the rest of the time, but sometimes his jokes come at inappropriate times and there seems to be something off about the character.
Londo Mollari, the Centauri ambassador, seems like the most well-rounded character. His humor comes from being an old man who no longer sweats the small stuff. He's seen it all and is somewhat content to remain a fat cat in a position of privilege that doesn't work too hard most of the time but is a tough negotiator. Not too hard to see why he's in most of the episodes. Even though he does an accent that no one else from his race seems to have, and does not belong to the actor either.
G'Kar, the Narn ambassador, is part of a warrior race that are warriors mostly because they were once enslaved by the Centauri and had to fight for freedom. He only appears in a handful of episodes throughout the season and is mostly played for laughs, which seems a little odd.
Delenn of the Minbari is very spiritual and often advises Sinclair on a course of action but soon the backstory tells us that they are also fierce warriors and were Earth's first contact in space and they fought a war with Earth that they would win easily until they decided to surrender to Earth for reasons unknown. That secret starts to become an important plot towards the end of the season.
Each of the three ambassadors has an assistant, Vir for Londo, Na'Toth for G'Kar, and Lennier for Delenn. It's interesting their names appear in the credits for every episode but they each only appear a handful of times. Must be nice to be paid as a regular when you're really guest cast.
Most of the season is episodic adventures around the station. We see there is basically a homeless class lingering on the outskirts of the station. There are people cutting deals and the station is a hub of commerce in the sector so all sorts traipse through. Midway through the season Talia gets some kind of mental upgrade from another telepath and I'm assuming it pays off later, because it's not mentioned again this season. We also find out part of what happend to Babylon 4, lost in a time storm of some kind. A mysterious helmeted figure arrives to unstick it in time and is revealed to be an aged Sinclair.
The biggest recurring plot, which really involved just a few episodes towards the end of the season, concerns friction between B5 and the Earthgov. There is a growing movement called the Home Guard who don't want human resources helping aliens. There is Earthgov management cutting B5's budget (maybe that's an analogy for the network?) And then the potential assassination of Earth's president which may be a bigger conspiracy.
At the center of it all is Sinclair. I've heard the story from showrunner JMS about how the actor Michael O'Hare was ill and barely made it through the season, but it doesn't really show. At the time we thought he was maybe recast as the lead because the network wanted a better actor. It's debatable whether Bruce Boxleitner who arrives in season 2 is better, but he's more expressive I think. O'Hare, I'm sure a very nice fella, he's sort of limited. Maybe it's his monotone speech. I don't know, I sort of like him like I like John Wayne. Not a very good actor per se, but a strong presence? It's a pity the man had health issues that took him out of the game, luckily he was able to come back for some guest spots later I understand (haven't seen them yet).
The seams show on this series, but I don't think it matters. It seems like what it is, a show shot on a shoestring with a bunch of relative newcomers who are trying to do something big and they aren't quite equal to the task yet, but they are trying. I do realize writers JMS and Larry DiTillio had a lot of Saturday morning cartoon credits, I actually downloaded Captain Power, but this was their first big shot at network TV (syndicated, at least). I don't think it's as polished as Star Trek TNG or DS9's first seasons but the fact that it can be mentioned in the same sentence is high praise.