The Wayback Machine: Babylon 5 (1994)
One of the most talked about (and complicated) sci-fi shows on TV was the beloved Babylon 5. It was exciting, human and tackled social issues ala Star Trek.
Let’s dial the ol’ Wayback to 1994 and take a gander, shall we?
Babylon 5 was created by writer and producer J. Michael Straczynski, under the Babylonian Productions label, in association with Straczynski's Synthetic Worlds Ltd. and Warner Bros. After the successful airing of a pilot movie, Warner Bros. commissioned the series as part of the second-year schedule of programs provided by its Prime Time Entertainment Network.
The pilot episode was broadcast on February 22, 1993. The first season premiered on January 26, 1994, and the series ultimately ran for the intended five seasons. Describing it as having “always been conceived as, fundamentally, a five-year story, a novel for television,” Straczynski wrote 92 of the 110 episodes, and served as executive producer, along with Douglas Netter.
Set between the years 2258 and 2281, it depicts a future where Earth has sovereign states, and a unifying Earth government. Colonies within the solar system, and beyond, make up the Earth Alliance, and contact has been made with other spacefaring races. The ensemble cast portrays alien ambassadorial staff and humans assigned to the five-mile-long Babylon 5 space station, a center for trade and diplomacy.
Rightfully described as one of the most complex programs on television, the various story arcs drew upon the prophesies, religious zealotry, racial tensions, social pressures and political rivalries which existed within each of their cultures, to create a contextual framework for the motivations and consequences of the protagonists' actions. (Deep Space Nine anyone?) With a strong emphasis on character development set against a backdrop of conflicting ideologies on multiple levels, Straczynski wanted to take an adult approach to SF, and attempt to do for television SF what Hill Street Blues did for cop shows.
Generally viewed as having launched the new era of television
Initially written by Straczynski, DC began publishing Babylon 5 comics in 1994, with stories that closely tied in with events depicted in the show, with events in the comics eventually being referenced onscreen in the actual television series.
The five seasons of the series each correspond to one fictional sequential year in the period 2258–2262. Each season shares its name with an episode that is central to that season's plot. As the series starts, the Babylon 5 station is welcoming ambassadors from various races in the galaxy. Earth has just barely survived an accidental war with the much more powerful Minbari, who, despite their superior technology, mysteriously surrendered at the brink of the destruction of the human race during the Battleof the Line.
In 2262, Earthforce Captain Elizabeth Lochley is appointed to command Babylon 5, which is now also the headquarters of the Interstellar Alliance. The station grows in its role as a sanctuary for rogue telepaths running from Psi Cops, resulting in conflict. G’Kar, former Narn ambassador to Babylon 5, becomes unwillingly a spiritual icon after a book that he wrote while incarcerated during the Narn-Centauri War is published without his knowledge. The Drakh, former allies of the Shadows who remained in the galaxy, take control of Regent Virini on Centauri Prime through a parasitic creature called a Keeper, then incite a war between the Centauri and the Interstellar Alliance, in order to isolate the Centauri from the Allianceand gain a malleable homeworld for themselves.
Centauri Prime is devastated by Narn and Drazi warships and Londo Mollari becomes emperor, then ends the war. However, the Drakh blackmail him into accepting a Drakh Keeper, under threat of the complete nuclear destruction of the planet. Vir Cotto, Mollari's loyal and more moral aide, becomes ambassador to Babylon 5 in his stead. G'Kar also leaves Babylon 5 to escape his unwanted fame and explore the rim. Sheridan and Delenn move to a city on Minbar, where the new headquarters if the Interstellar Alliance is located, while celebrating their first year of marriage and the upcoming birth of their son, and mourning the loss of dear friendships. Garibaldi marries and settles down on Mars, where he and his wife share ownership of a prominent pharmaceutical company. Most other main characters, including Stephen Franklin and Lyta Alexander, leave Babylon 5 as well. (Whew! Yes, it was one of the most complex programs on television.)
As shown in flash-forwards earlier in the series, the next several years include the reign of Londo Mollari as Centauri Emperor. Sixteen years later, Londo sacrifices his life to rescue Sheridan and Delenn from the Drakh, in the hope that they in turn can save Centauri Prime. To prevent the Drakh from discovering his ruse, he asks G'Kar, now an old friend, to kill him, but Londo's Keeper wakes up and forces him to kill G'Kar in return. They die at each other's throats, in accordance with Londo's vision many decades earlier, and Vir Cotto succeeds him as emperor, free of Drakh influence.
Three years after Londo's death, Sheridan himself is on the verge of death and takes one last opportunity to gather his old friends together. Shortly after his farewell party, Sheridan says goodbye to Delenn, though in Minbari fashion they use the word “goodnight” to signify their hope of an eventual reunion. Sheridan then takes a final trip to the obsolete Babylon 5 station before its decommissioning. He returns to the site of the final battle between the Vorlons and the Shadows and apparently dies, but is instead claimed by The First One, who invites him to join the other First Ones on a journey beyond the rim of the galaxy. The Babylon 5 station is destroyed in a demolition shortly after Sheridan's departure, its existence no longer necessary as the Alliancehas taken over its diplomatic purposes and other trading routes have been established.
Super nerd word triva: The final episode features a cameo by Straczynski as the technician who switches off the lights before Babylon 5 is demolished. Cool, eh?
Just writing about Babylon 5 makes me miss its world and all its potential. Like Star Trek’s franchise and Lost, it became a part of my so-called life.