Exploring my DVD collection and my addiction to owning complete sets. Why I own, and why I thingyou should look at the complete series of... Babylon 5.
Babylon 5 is about the eponymous space station and the people who live and work on it. The station is built by Earth and is a meeting place for humans and the four other major races and many minor ones.
The following may contain very mild spoilers, although it tries to avoid doing so. The "The Ending" section will mention if a show had a resolution or a cliffhanger (but no description of what happens).
1993, 1994 - 1998
Ending: Series - Bitter-sweet resolution; Spin-off material - no ending.
Creator: J. Michael Straczynski.
Created with a pre-planned 5 year story-arc, Babylon 5 is about a space station in a time of fragile peace between the major alien races and the looming war that would engulf them all and change the universe forever. Unlike normal series (especially before this) where a shows mysteries would be dragged out and the twists and turns seem like they were being made up as the show went along, the pre-planned arc makes the story flow a lot better, even more than some more recent attempts. Each season covers 1 (Earth) calender year.
Pilot - "The Gathering" (1993)
The pilot sets up many of the ongoing mysteries of the show well. While some of the flaws are ironed out in the special edition or by the time the show goes to series, the problems with directing, acting and the age of the effects still show.
Season 1 - "Signs & Portent" (1994)
The most episodic of the seasons and the one with the most episodes written by writers other than Straczynski (10 of the 22). There are quite a few bad episodes in this season, and the good ones will probably feel dated for the modern viewer. As the season progresses we learn more about the mysteries set up in the pilot, and more questions are raised.
Season 2 - "The Coming of Shadows" (1994 - 1995)
Major changes occur, a new enemy appears and the truth a number of the mysteries from the pilot is revealed. The quality of all the episodes is better than the previous season (with only 7 not written by Straczynski).
Season 3 - "Point of No Return" (1995 - 1996)
The nature of the new threat to the galaxy emerges and the crew faces the fact that Earth is becoming more and more totalitarian and must reconsider their loyalties as all the races stand on the brink of war. Every episode is written by Straczynski, as the series hits its peak years.
Season 4 - "No Surrender, No Retreat" (1996 - 1997)
The war comes, but even when it is finished it results in civil war for more than 1 major race and empire building and just plan rebuilding by others. Every episode is written by Straczynski, as the peak years of the series continue. Unsure if the season would be the last, a lot of the threads are wrapped up.
Season 5 - "Wheel of Fire" (1998)
The process of rebuilding begins and the series comes to an end. All but one episode written by Straczynski (although two have shared story credit). With the threads wrapped up in the previous season and the new ones that were meant to start last season starting now the first half of the season feels a little tacked on and the second half is a long wind-down. The final episode (filmed as part of season 4), however, is the perfect closure for the show.
Babylon 5: In The Beginning
A prequel with a framing story set between the last 2 episodes of Season 5 (although between events in Season 3). Meant as a starting point for new viewers to get them past some of the quality issues of the pilot and season 1, it gives away some of the mysteries revealed in the first few seasons. It is also a bunch of moments of the Earth Minbari war cobbled together which will appeal to existing fans, but leave new viewers with a less than coherent story. Probably best watched between episodes 9 & 10 of season 4.
Babylon 5: Thirdspace
A standalone story set on the station between episodes 8 & 9 of season 4. Although not needed for the series and opening up the question of things left behind it is worth watching for the horror-older-than-time in space.
Babylon 5: River of Souls
Another standalone movie. Set between episodes 20 and 21 of the season 5, on the station after most of the crew from the series have moved on. Still worth watching.
Babylon 5: A Call to Arms
Set after River of Souls but before the final episode (between episodes 21 and 22 of season 5), the movie sets up the premise for the spin-off Crusade. With Crusade ending without closure, the film is best avoided if you want an "ending".
Babylon 5: Legend of the Rangers - "To Live & Die in Starlight"
Set between episode 21 & 22 of season 5 and A Call to Arms, another pilot, this time for a series that was never made, this opens up another things left behind storyline with no resolution.
Following on from A Call to Arms with some of the characters introduced in that and some new ones and picking up where the telemovie left off. Only 13 episodes were made and the series is left unresolved.
Straight to DVD
Babylon 5: The Lost Tales
A very cheap (and very cheap looking) anthology movie with 2 stories, Lochley on Babylon 5 facing a character claiming to be possessed by the devil and Sheridan facing the prophecies future of the Centuri and Earth and their possible conflict. Supposed to the first of a number of Lost Tales produced, the poor quality lead to Straczynski refusing to do any more.
As outlined above the series starts weakly, with a very poor pilot and poor first season, with the show really taking off in Season 2 and with an excellent season 3 & 4. It does trail off in season 5, but it is worth staying around for the final episode. The quality of the spin-off material varies, with some worth watching, and some not, and with some leaving the show without closure.
The first season is episodic, but some of the mystery is slowly revealed over it so its needs to be watched in order, but from season 2 on the show becomes less episodic and more and more a serial.
The final episode of season 5 is a brilliant but sad ending to the series giving the viewer closure. Some of the other material (A Call to Arms, Crusade, Legend of the Rangers) open up new questions which are left without closure, however.
Watch it if...
- You want a story with a beginning, middle and end that was (and mostly feels) planned, as opposed to the ad hoc nature of most shows (with the warning about extra material.)
- You're interested in important (if dated) science fiction series, this leading the way in bringing science fiction out of the episodic and into the arc based series we see today.