3 out of 5 stars for The Gathering (the pilot movie)
5 out of 5 stars for Seasons 1 through 4
4 out of 5 stars for Season 5
This is not meant to be a full review of all five seasons, as books have been written about B5, and I haven’t watched most of it in ten years. This is being written in remembrance of Jerry Doyle, a great actor who played head of security, Michael Garibaldi, and to encourage you to try the show if you haven’t watched it. If you like science fiction at all, you won’t be disappointed.
Babylon 5 (B5) was the first T.V. series structured like a book, with a beginning, middle and end — envisioned to be covered in five seasons — all outlined from the beginnng. J. Michael Straczynski is the creator of B5, the originator of this break-though approach, and did most of the writing (110 episodes). Do not despair over changes in actors — all of the replacements until season 5 work well. Do not be put off by the aliens, especially the Centauri (pictured to the right). The acting is great, the different alien types are well thought-out and distinct as are the individual characters. What makes this show excellent is that the story is complex, and the forces of events require drastic and unexpected changes in the people, how they view themselves, how they behave, and also the power and roles of their home-worlds — all of it orchestrated beautifully. In extreme summary, B5 is an earth-created space station designed to be a neutral place for diplomacy for the five most powerful types of aliens, many of which have been at war or have long-held animosity — like the U.N. after WWII.
The pilot movie was barely good enough to inspire me to start to watch this show — the characters seemed to have odd sharp corners to their personalities that didn’t fit. Unfortunately, the pilot contains important plot points. I suggest reading the summary of the pilot, linked below, and then start watching B5 with the series.
I just re-watched season one episodes one and two, and the special effects are dated. Even though the show had cutting edge CGI, it was 20 years ago and does look a bit cheesy. In the first episode some of the actors are still fitting into the skin of their characters, and there’s a little too much explanation for the viewers going on in the first few scenes. (Jerry Doyle is in the first scene.) By the second episode that is all over.
In season two, the captain of B5 changes from the beloved Michael O’Hare’s Jeffrey Sinclair to Bruce Boxleitner’s John Sheridan. I thought it would be a terrible change, but after the initial disappointment, Bruce was fine. (Michael O’Hare had mental health issues, which weren’t disclosed until after his death in 2012.)
A special treat is Walter Koenig, a frequent guest star from 1994-1998 as Alfred Bester, a senior Psi Corps officer (mind readers and controllers). I thought, “Oh, no, how can Chekov do this role, it’s going to be awful,” but instead he was deliciously malevolent. I had no idea Walter has such dark evil eyes.
So what happened to Season 5? The three main blows were:
- Claudia Christian, who played second in command Susan Ivanova, quit the show. She was one of the best characters, one of the most frequently used, and a strong woman in science fiction when so many female actors were not able to seem commanding, or bring forth a truly menacing vibe. I felt her loss keenly. This brings me to the Lurkers Guide to Babylon 5 , a still-active fan-site for B5 that still looks like a 1995 website. It was such a friendly, gossipy site, and here you can read both JMS’ and Claudia’s version of what happened: http://www.midwinter.com/lurk/misc/cc-leave.html. It is quite long, but at the end I recall deciding Claudia was a dirty rat for destroying a big chunk of my beloved B5. I note the movie career she left the show for never happened. The fifth star in season 5 was lost mainly because of this.
- Bruce Boxleitner, B5’s Captain John Sheridan, left the show (I don’t remember why, but there was no drama), to be replaced by Tracy Scoggins’ Captain Elizabeth Lockley. She was not a very good actress, and the most menacing she gets is to emanate superior frostiness. She’s not horrible, actually had a few good scenes, and it was possible to continue to enjoy the show in spite of this change. One third of a star was lost because of this, but Patricia Tallman came back as Lyta Alexander (a telepath) in Season 5, so that added a third of a star back.
- Warner Brothers had told JMS to plan for only four seasons, and so the end of the fourth season is a little odd as he was trying to wrap as many things up as possible, but psych!, you will be getting a fifth season after all. It led to some disjointedness.
In spite of all this, that last season still earned a 4 out of 5 stars, and you won’t even mind so much out of eagerness to find out how it ends, and since you’re prepared now for the loss of important actors.
There were also several movies made as part of the B5 fictional universe, and a spin-off series Crusade. The diagram at this webpage shows how to watch them all in chronological order (B5 time).
- Adam Nimoy, Leonard Nimoy’s son, directed two B5 episodes: Passing Through Gethsemane (1995) and Z’ha’dum (1996).
- Mira Furlan, the actress who plays Delenn, was a stage star in Yugoslavia until she moved to the U.S. in 1991. She also played Rousseau in Lost.
- Dr. Sheldon Cooper, on Big Bang Theory, is not a fan of B5. This came up early in the show and I had a beady eye on the writers after that as it was enough to make one lose faith. They have not made a second idiotic blunder in Sheldon’s character, so I let it go.
Babylon 5 is available from Netflix — DVDs only
Amazon streaming videos cost $19.99 per season.