Babylon 5 : seasons 1-4 review



Babylon 5 is just the best SF TV series, ever.

Why? Because of Executive Producer J. Michael Straczynski 's 5 year long underlying plot arc, which is complex and interesting, with surprising twists and teasing foreshadowings. Because there is no techno-babble 'magical' science used to solve problems in one episode, only to be forgotten in the next. But mostly, because none of the characters is two dimensional, wholly good or wholly bad, and they all grow and change: some start out comical and sympathetic, but are corrupted by taking the easy route, only to achieve a partial redemption; some start unpleasant and shifty, but are ennobled by their struggle; some start noble, but turn out to be evil in their own alien way; some start out suspicious of other races, but learn trust and respect. And not all members of each particular race are interchangeably alike.

The story centres on the Earth-run space station Babylon 5, and unfolds in real time (one year of plot arc per season). A major war between Earth and Minbar has recently ended, and various alien races -- Minbari, Centauri, Narn, and the mysterious Vorlon -- have sent ambassadors to B5 to help build understanding, to help prevent another war. The many intrigues unfold slowly, and it gradually becomes clear that a further unseen, shadowy, inimical race is involved, and has been, for millennia. The main story is of the gradual discovery of these Shadows, and the final conflict with them, in the hope of bringing a lasting peace to the galaxy -- with lots of wonderful subplots.

The underlying arc means that events happen in one episode, but the significance does not become clear for a while, maybe a season later. Probably the best example of this is the linked episodes Babylon Squared from near the end of season 1, and the two part War without End from near the end of season 3. We see one side of the story in the earlier episode, and then the same events from the other side in the later episodes, two years later. It takes real vision and planning to pull this off so successfully.

It may be the best SF TV series ever, but it does have its flaws. The acting and dialogue can be rather wooden at times; some episodes, particularly non-arc ones, can be a little trite. The ongoing plot lines make it difficult for newcomers to enter the series part way through. (So don't! Get the videos and watch it from the beginning. It's worth it.) In particular, season 4 was rather rushed: it seems that JMS wasn't sure there would be a 5th season, and so crammed two season's plot arc into one, with consequent loss of some of the depth and subtlety of earlier seasons.

Nevertheless, this is great stuff. Once the fifth season is over, I'm going to start watching again from the beginning, this time with my knowledge of what is to come, and enjoy spotting all those foreshadowings.


Rating: 1

[ unmissable | great stuff | worth watching | mind candy | waste of time | unfinishable ]

reviewed 24 December 1997