At 26th January of 1994, "Babylon 5" began airing on TNT. "Babylon 5" is an American science fiction television series created by writer and producer J. Michael Straczynski, under the Babylonian Productions label, in association with Straczynski's Synthetic Worlds Ltd. and Warner Bros. Domestic Television. On November 25, 1998, after five seasons and 109 aired episodes, "Babylon 5" successfully completed its five-year story arc when TNT aired the 110th (epilogue) episode "Sleeping in Light".
It was the dawn of the third age of television, many years before networks would discover the power of long-form storytelling, when Warner Brothers helped former "Murder She Wrote" writer J. Michael Straczynski realize his dream to cross "The Lord of the Rings" with "Casablanca"...in space!
The resulting series would revolutionize television storytelling. It's easy to forget now, in the age of "Battlestar Galactica", "The Walking Dead", "American Horror Story", "Breaking Bad", "Sons of Anarchy", "Lost", "Deadwood", "The Wire", "Homeland", and oh so many other series, that there was once a time when long-form storytelling was all but nonexistent on television. Prime time audiences, it was believed, were too fickle and inconsistent to follow stories that play out over multiple seasons.
Now, in the age of internet recaps, fan and insider podcasts and the proliferation of media about media, the long form is seen as a way to promote viewer loyalty and online buzz. It is the one-off, bad-guy-of-the-week series that now feel like the dying breed. "Babylon 5" represented not only a turning point in the form of television drama, but in the relationship between show creators and their audiences. Straczynski and Warner Brothers were aware that the show would rise or fall with word of mouth and were thus unprecedentedly open about their process and about the production of the series.
The show takes place aboard the eponymous space station Babylon 5, located in neutral territory in deep space. Babylon 5 is the fifth of the Babylon stations. The first three were destroyed by terrorists and the fourth mysteriously disappeared before coming online. Babylon 5's primary purpose is diplomatic. It's a galactic UN/WTO, providing a place where the galaxy's different alien races can negotiate trade and territory. It was established 10 years after a war between Earth and an alien race known as the Minbari ended with the mysterious surrender of the Minbari just at the moment of their final victory at The Battle of the Line. Basically Gettysburg...in space!
The Major Players of the series are:
Jeffrey Sinclair - The first commander of Babylon 5, Jeffrey Sinclair was abducted and held by the Minbari during the Battle of the Line. Sinclair was hand-picked by the Minbari government to run Babylon 5, bypassing several more-qualified candidates.
Delenn - The Minbari ambassador to Babylon 5 and member of the Minbari government's ruling Grey Council.
G'Kar - The Narn ambassador to Babylon 5. The Narn are a prideful, warrior race who had once been subjugated by and are now in ongoing conflict with an imperialist race known as the Centauri.
Londo Mollari - The Centauri ambassador to Babylon 5, Mollari's conflict with G'Kar is both political and personal. Mollari's life is the tragic tale of a man ever caught between goodness and greatness.
Alfred Bester - a high ranking member of Earth's secretive "Psi Corps," an only somewhat totally fascist organization run by telepaths. Played in "Evil Chekov" mode by Walter Koenig, this character could only have been improved by the judicious application of a goatee. Bester was not a regular character on the show, but he does play a critical role in the unfolding of the main story arc.
John Sheridan - Babylon 5's second commander, assigned to the station after Jeffrey Sinclair is recalled to Earth for bad acting. Sheridan is the only human captain to have ever scored a victory over the Minbari in battle. Sheridan's wife, Anna, disappeared along with the rest of the crew of the archaeological research vessel Icarus while investigating a mysterious alien world, giving truth to the old adage that one should never sign up for duty onboard a ship named "Icarus."
In addition to these main players, there are a number of well-developed supporting characters, including Babylon 5's human command staff (security chief Michael Garibaldi, first officer Susan Ivanova, chief medical officer Stephen Franklin) and diplomatic support staff (Vir of the Centauri, Lennier of the Minbari, N'Toth of the Narn.) These characters acted as so-called "trapdoors" for the main characters.
Straczynski knew that telling a five-year story on television would leave him vulnerable to losing actors, so he always made sure that there were backup characters available to fill in for each of the main characters. Ever the author of virtuous lemonade from necessary lemons, Straczynski makes this "trapdoor" strategy a theme of the show. Many of the characters, most notably Delenn, are heard to comment that should they fall in their struggle, others will rise to take their place.
The first season of Babylon 5 consists mainly of Star Trek-like alien-of-the week episodes. The main arc episodes in this season present many questions without providing many answers. Signs, portents, prophecies, significant glances, secretiveness and evasiveness lay over Season One like a shroud. The key issues addressed are Sinclair's experience at the Battle of the Line and the subsequent Minbari surrender, the conspiracy to overthrow the government of Earth and the subsequent assassination of President Santiago, and the emergence of a new...or rather, very, very old...alien race that threatens the galactic peace.
Season Two introduces Babylon 5's new commander, John Sheridan. Straczynski, having difficulty both with Michael O'Hare (who didn't adjust well to acting on television) and with the excessive narrative weight he'd laid on Sinclair decided to split Sinclair into two characters, one who would play out the messianic human/Minbari destiny and the other who would command the forces of Light in the Shadow War.
The main arc of Season 2 deals with the buildup to the Shadow War. The Shadows' modus operandi is to stir up trouble among the younger races, and we see those conflicts playing out in this season, in particular the Narn/Centauri conflict, the dissolution of the Minbari ruling order and Earth's continuing slide into Orwellian dictatorship.
In Season Three, the conflict with the Shadows becomes a shooting war as Delenn and Sheridan, lacking adequate support from their home governments, consolidate their defenses around Babylon 5. At this point in the series, it becomes increasingly difficult to isolate essential episodes. As the Shadow War story arc builds, there are fewer and fewer one-off episodes.
What was difficult in Season Three has become impossible in Season Four. Babylon 5 was originally planned to play out the Shadow conflict and the liberation of Earth from President Clark well into Season Five, but the show was threatened with cancellation after Season Three, so Straczynski pushed the conclusion of the war into Season Four. He also took upon himself the herculean task of writing each episode of the season himself. As emperor Cartagia says, you can't leave these things to others, they never get it right!
This Fifth and final season focuses on Sheridan and Delenn's efforts to found a new galactic government, conflict with a race of Shadow allies known as the Drakh who are consolidating power in the Centauri Republic, and the clash between telepaths and mundanes (or normals or muggles or whatever.) What was impossible for Season Four is much easier for Season Five.
Having won a reprieve from cancellation, Straczynski found himself without adequate time to develop a compelling second half to his story. Consequently, this season has more standalone episodes and many of the major arc episodes set up stories that are paid off in other media including the television movies, novels and comics.
At the 2014 San Diego Comic Con, Straczynski announced that a "Babylon 5" movie is planned to go into production in 2016. It is to be a reboot of the story, but potentially one using old cast members in different roles. Studio JMS would produce it on a budget of $80–100 million if Warner Bros. do not take up the offer.
Despite it's much smaller budget, B5 was able to present a fully realized universe. Through ingenuous use of virtual sets, to CGI space scenes, they were able to present a complete world. If you haven't seen it lately, watch it again to remember how good it was. If you've never seen it then you don't know what you're missing.
#TV #Television #SciFi
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