Babylon 5 ran from Feb 1993 – Nov 1998. At the time, it was compared often to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which ran nearly parallel to B5, from Jan 1993 to June 1999. Comparisons between the two shows never really entered the “Star Trek” vs. “Star Wars” nerd-faction religious wars, due to both series’ lower levels of popularity, but they both deserve a lot more attention than their more popular brethren.
Babylon 5, the station itself, was a mis-mash of alien and human occupants and their environments bears a lot of similarity to James White’s Sector General (a series of short stories, novellas, and novels that really ought to have been made into a television series by now, really). Indeed, I always thought of B5 as the non-pacifist version of Sector General. But I digress.
It’s very difficult to discuss this show without discussing the next one (or the one after that, or the one after that), or referring to the pilot; if you want to discuss something with a major plot point: please rot13 it. That’s a simple encryption that will allow the folks who want to avoid spoilers to avoid them and allow the people who want to argue them to argue them.
We good? We good! Everybody who has done the reading, see you after the cut!
Open cut, Ragesh 3 Centauri Agricultural Colony.
Who are the Centauri? They look like people with odd haircuts, that’s all for now. One low-level redshirt guy appears to be relieving another low-level redshirt guy. Alert! Jump point forming in sector 3!
Fighters and cruisers exit from a wormhole nearby and blast the space station, which is able to communicate that they’re under attack, but not able to identify their attackers, before they’re blown to smithereens.
Abrupt cut to B5. (If you’re a bit jarred by abrupt cuts, the show smooths out as it goes along and they cut down a bit on how many story threads go on in any particular episode. At the beginning, though, we jump around a lot.)
As yet untitled (tip: Chief Warrant Officer and Chief of Security) Michael Garibaldi, who looks like Bruce Willis’s older brother, is hailed by as yet unnamed (tip) Lt. Commander Susan Ivanova. A brief exchange establishes that she’s new to the station, the default person-to-person communication techology is called the “link”, and that Commander Sinclair likes some quiet time to himself, but apparently doesn’t get much of it. Ivanova departs to find Sinclair in the Observation Dome. There’s an interchange between Centauri Ambassador Londo Mollari and Garibaldi, which establishes quickly that the Centauri are an empire well along the declining curve, the Centauri don’t appear to take the diplomatic mission on Babylon 5 very seriously, and Londo is a bit of a huckster. Londo’s new aide (the entire contingent of the Ambassador’s support staff) Vir Cotto arrives to inform him of the attack, and we cut to the show intro.
Reproducing that in full, here:
It was the dawn of the third age of mankind – ten years after the Earth-Minbari War. The Babylon Project was a dream, given form. Its goal: to prevent another war, by creating a place where humans and aliens can work out their differences peacefully. It’s a port of call – home away from home – for diplomats, hustlers, entrepreneurs, and wanderers.
Humans and aliens, wrapped in two million, five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal . . . all alone in the night.
It can be a dangerous place, but it’s our last best hope for peace. This is the story of the last of the Babylon stations. The year is 2258. The name of the place is Babylon 5.
Already you’re slammed with a ton of information. Don’t worry if you don’t absorb it all, the “why is that group of aliens angry at that other group” and “who is that person” are solidly covered over the first 10 episodes. Babylon 5 dumps a ton of stuff on you at a go in the early episodes (something that they ease down as the series goes on) but they do a lot of reinforcement. If you don’t remember who somebody is when they show up on a screen, you’ll be reminded by the time they do anything important. There are a lot of neat little details that get pulled in later in the series, though, so the more attention you affix to the series the bigger the payoff is, later. If you liked Lost because you thought there was a big, consistent storyarc going on and you thought that obvious details were going to come back later (and especially if you were filled by nerdrage when you found out that the first wasn’t really true and the second was very ad-hoc), you’ll appreciate the fact that the details that stick out? They stick out for a reason, and yes there is a five-season long story arc going on.
Back to the episode.
Londo is yelling at Sinclair. He wants to know what the humans know about the assault. Sinclair calmly asserts that he only knows what Londo knows; Ivanova asks if Londo has heard from Centauri and he shakes his head angrily, indicating again that either the Centauris don’t give a lot of information to their head diplomat on B5 either because they’re not invested in the project or for some other reason. Two other aliens, also apparently diplomats, arrive, a woman with an odd headdress (tip: Minbari Ambassador Delenn) and our first really alien-y looking alien (he looks like one of the aliens from Alien Nation dressed up in a Klingon outfit, (tip: Narn Ambassador G’Kar), who offer diplomatic condolences to Londo. Londo challenges G’Kar, do the Narn really know nothing of this? The planet that was attacked is apparently simply an agricultural station, of little or no military value, and thus we’re all primed for “this attack is an outrage!”
Sinclair suggests that everyone go back and bug their home governments, and calls for a general meeting involving “the Council” and “the League of Non-Aligned Worlds”.
Cut to the Bridge. Garibaldi enters, Ivanova tells him that some distress call has been picked up; she thought it was related to the attack on Ragesh 3, but it’s apparently raiders. Garibaldi says, “I knew they’d be back sooner or later”, so apparently raiding on shipping is an issue. He exits (possibly his worst-acted bit in the series) and entering is Talia Winters, a registered commercial telepath rated by Psi Corps who is announcing her arrival on the station as required. So now we know that mental powers exist, they’re highly regulated, and judging from the interplay, Ivanova apparently doesn’t like ’em much. Garibaldi heads out in a fighter to check on the distress call with a wingman. Chief of Security has Captain Kirk leadership syndrome.
Nerd digression: The Starfury fighter makes its first appearance on-screen. It is the staple Earth fighter and mightily resembles the Gunstar from The Last Starfighter. This is not accidental, as the two main designers were friends with Ron Cobb, who designed the Gunstar. The ship’s movements in space are much more realistic than in, say, the Star Wars series, where the X-wings and Tie Fighters motion is more like atmospheric flight than flying in the vacuum of space. The design of the ship – as many of the B5 ships – is partially dictated by polygon count… the more polygons involved in the construction of the digital object, the more computational power is required to render the graphical images that make each frame of the animation. I’m not going to harp too much on the computer graphics in this series, because the original images are dated and making them look better (at this point) really would require them to be redone. However, the transfer of B5 to digital media has a long and troubled history among fans, you can go down that rabbit hole starting here, if you like.
Cut back to Sinclair, in his office. In the background, the future version of CNN. Apparently there’s an election going on back on Earth. Will this play into intergalactic politics? (Is the Pope Catholic? No religion). Ivanova enters and asks if he’s had an update from home, Sinclair replies with a no, and that’s unusual. Ivanova asks Sinclair who he thinks is responsible, the Mimbari maybe? Sinclair claims they’re too honorable for such a thing, which elicits minor surprise from Ivanova as apparently Sinclair fought the Mimbari during an apparently recent Earth-Mimbari war. How are we supposed to know this? Oh, right, that’s in the intro! Sinclair is revealed to be the latest in a long line of generational fighter pilots “going back to the Battle of Britain”. There’s an “election politics at home” throwaway moment where Ivanova reveals she doesn’t like one of the two candidates, Santiago, largely for the sorts of reasons that people on the FP would freak out about, he has no chin (no politics).
Over to Londo’s cabin. The Centauri homeworld is calling with video of the assault on Ragesh 3, which reveals that Narn fighters were involved in the assault. Londo stomps out, furious with G’Kar.
Cut to Garibaldi checking on the attacked ship, which is dead in space, and apparently damaged by weapons more powerful than those customarily used by raiders. Is this attack related to the attack on Ragesh 3 after all?
Back to the station. Londo finds G’Kar and confronts him. G’Kar claims he “just found out” about the Narn attack, and that “there must be a reasonable explanation.” The ensuing short conversation reveals then Narn were once attacked by the Centauri and are holding a grudge. Londo loses his temper, the two tussle, and are broken apart by station personnel. G’Kar angrily advises Londo to “sleep lightly” as the Centauris’ time has passed. Up to this point, the Narn has seemed to be the reasonable diplomatic one, and Londo the more uncontrolled, but the fight reveals that perhaps G’Kar is more potentially ruthless and violent than his counterpart. Guess that Klingon-lookin’ outfit is a hint.
Cut again, to Londo’s quarters. Sinclair is visiting. Londo is apologizing for losing his temper and attacking G’Kar, but (he says) he’s destined to kill the Narn eventually, as the Centauri have the ability to foresee their own deaths, and he’s dreamed of G’Kar and himself strangling each other to death twenty years hence. True or yet another Centauri yarn? Londo is putting drinks back at a quick pace. Sinclair announces the possibility of a political coalition against the Narn. Londo is mildly interested, and tells Sinclair that his nephew was on Ragesh 3, a position that Londo got him to keep him out of the military. Sinclair says the Narn want a military conflict, to break apart the multispecies truce, but that the mission of the space station is to promote the peace. Londo finds the diplomatic fencing to be ultimately pointless, and suspects that war is ultimately inevitable, and if his nephew is dead he will see to it personally.
Cut to Girabaldi and Ivanova, Garibaldi is eating. They discuss the raider attack on the freighter. It’s the third time the raiders have struck in this sector, says Ivanova. Garibaldi mentions the advanced weaponry, and mentions that trade routes are secret, so the two of them suspect a leak. The telepath Talia walks up as if to address Ivanova, she strides away quickly before she can be addressed.
Cut to Sinclair, asking for permission to enter Ambassador Kosh, whom we haven’t met yet (tip: the Vorlon ambassador). The quarters contain unbreathable-by-humans atmosphere, so Sinclair slips on a breathing mask and enters. There’s a large suit that looks like alien Iron Man armor sitting to one side, inert, and a large privacy screen behind which a light moves. Sinclair addresses the screen, saying that there is an emergency session, and that he wants to know if the Vorlon have a position on the attack on Ragesh 3, and if the Ambassador will attend. A distorted affirmative-sounding noise issues forth, and Sinclair turns to leave, at which point there is a flash of light and the armor suit animates. The Ambassador speaks now in discernible English: “They are a dying people. We should let them pass.” Sinclair queries, “The Narn or the Centari?” to which the Ambassador simply response, “Yes.” Apparently the Vorlon are not overly impressed with the two squabbling species.
Back to the bridge, Ivanova is threatening to break Garibaldi’s wrists for using her station (this is why I have a Kinesis, nobody can use my computer even if they want to unless they’re familiar with it). Garibaldi says he might have a lead on the leak that led to the raider attack on the freighter. Quick cut again!
Back to Londo’s quarters. He’s drunk and belligerent and his assistant Vir is trying to get him to the meeting. Londo reveals that the Centauri leaders have told him that they’ll do nothing about Ragesh 3. Londo is openly contemptuous of his leadership. Londo’s plan is to go to the meeting, say nothing of his homeland’s decision, and try to convince the Council to agree to do something, which may embarrass the home leaders to do something. I’ll say this for Londo, he may not be a stellar diplomat when it comes to speaking diplomatically, but he’s a pretty cagey schemer.
Another cut, and we’re back to the telepath Talia running into Garibaldi in an elevator. She asks for advice in talking to Ivanova. Garibaldi offers her a tip on finding Ivanova off-duty, suggesting that she might be easier to approach. This interplay between the two women is the weakest part of the episode – minor spoiler – it’s all a framework for some exposition. Garibaldi makes what sounds like a very bad pass at Talia, she rolls her eyes but smiles, but leaves anyway.
Back to Sinclair, in a garden/hydroponics area. G’Kar shows up, and Frank Talk Ensues. The Ambassador attempt to ply on the support the Narn gave to the humans during the Earth-Mimbari War, Sinclair points out that the Narn would sell weapons to anybody, talks some smack about humans being good at war, and calls the entire race of Narns a bunch of cowards for sneak-attacking a civilian outpost, and basically dares the Ambassador to come get some. “I’ll see you in Council” is the parting shot, and he stalks out. In the corridor he runs into Garibaldi who has figured out the pattern of the raider attacks on shipping, and reveals that the next target is a ship that has been repurposed as a refugee transport recently. Commercial cut.
Back from commercial, a remote Senator is reading Sinclair the riot act. There’s an election in 24 hours. Delay the vote in Council. Keep the Earth Alliance out of it. Earth is ordering him to abstain if necessary. Ivanova enters at the tail end, unseen by the video pickup. As the call is cut, she reports that Garibaldi is ready to lead a fighter squadron to intercept the raider attack on the refugee transport. Sinclair gets a brainstorm, decides to take over the squadron, which means he can’t attend the Council meeting, and Ivanova can take his place, as second in command. Follow the agenda. And if the vote comes up? Well, she just never met Sinclair and didn’t get the updated orders from Earth, she can vote with the Centauri. Basically asked to ignore orders from Earth, she nods, she’ll go along with the plan. Fighters scramble and head out.
Ivanova calls the Council meeting to order. We get a pan of some of the members of the League of Non-Align Worlds, lots of aliens (makes sense from production standpoint that the main players in our interstellar drama are three fairly-human looking races, the Vorlon in his armor/environmental suit, and the Narn… only G’Kar has to spend too much time in makeup every week). Ivanova calls for the vote on sanctions/military blockade. G’Kar calls for justice, claiming the Narn are only retaking that which is rightfully theirs. Delenn recognizes the Narn claim to the planet, but asks where the cycle of violence ends. G’Kar insists they don’t want war (the actor does a good job of playing the “public diplomat” persona well, he always was one of my favorites in the show). Cut to the fighters. Time for some action, the raiders are indeed attacking the refugee ship. Cut back to the Council meeting. G’Kar insists that the Narn did not shoot first, and offers video testimony to support this. Londo’s nephew comes onscreen, obviously reading from a script, saying that there was civil disorder on the planet and that multiple calls to the Centauri homeworld led to no response, so they asked the Narn to intervene. Londo calls B.S., saying that the statement is obviously coerced. G’Kar responds by accusing Londo of ignoring his own government, saying that the Centauri have ordered him to vote against “a response that is inappropriate” (how does G’Kar know?) G’Kar asks the council to dismiss, one of the League offers a second of the motion. Cut!
Back to the fighters. They drive off the raiders, and we get to see the raider command and control ship. “Gotcha!” calls Sinclair. Cut!
Back to Londo, who is in his quarters, assembling a weapon from hidden compartments. Has the vote been called? Did the Centauri lose? We’re not sure, but Londo apparently plans to assassinate G’Kar, because he bumps into Talia the telepath in a corridor and she sees the mental image of Londo’s plan. She tells Garibaldi, who intercepts Londo and threatens to gun him down if he pulls a weapon. “Not this way, Londo,” says Garibaldi, “you know that if you kill G’Kar none of those colonists will survive.” Londo begrudgingly steps away, Garibaldi tells him he’ll be by in an hour to search his quarters for weapons, and that he doesn’t want to find anything. Londo asks if Garibaldi would actually have killed him, and Garibaldi says yes, but he’s just as glad that he didn’t have to. Paperwork. The two separate.
Cut to elsewhere. G’Kar enters, apparently summoned by Ivanova. Enter Sinclair and Garibaldi, who reveal that a Narn operative was found on the raider’s ship (“The Narn will sell to anybody”) along with data crystals of transmissions between the agent and the attacking force on Ragesh 3, confirming Londo’s version of the events. “Leave Ragesh 3 or we bring this up in the Council” is the play, G’Kar concedes.
Garibaldi and Sinclair stride through a passageway, dialogue wrapping up the loose ends. Cut to Ivanova with her hair down in the bar, watching the election returns (the incumbent, Ivanova’s not-preferred candidate, is ahead in exit polls). The telepath arrives, the two talk it out. Ivanova reveals that her mother was a natural telepath who didn’t want to join Psi Corps. The only choice available to telepaths who aren’t raised in Psi Corps are given three choices: go to jail, or take drugs that suppress the natural abilities. There are side effects to the drugs, though, and Ivanova’s mother fell into depression and eventually committed suicide. Ivanova thus has a thing against Psi Corp.
Cut again, Garibaldi and Ambassador Delenn are in his quarters, watching Duck Dodgers in the 24th (and a half) Century” with Daffy Duck, apparently Garibaldi’s “second favorite thing in the Universe” and the source of his original bad-pick-up line to Talia, earlier. Delenn is befuddled, but gamely trying to be amused.
Last scene, Sinclair is watching the final election returns. The incumbent has in fact been declared the winner. Santiago’s platform is revealed: cut the budget, keep Earth out of war and a veiled reference to xenophobia. Sinclair shuts the program off, along with the lights, and attempts to go to bed, only to be Linked by Ivanova: “Commander, there is a problem”.
I lost count, but I think there were six of those lines in this episode.
We’ve been introduced, briefly, to the major players. The Earthlings and the Mimbari, who fought an honorable war and appear to be pretty affable allies, the Narn and the Centauri, who had a decidedly less honorable war and appear to be pernicious enemies, and the Vorlon, who are Terribly Mysterious. Earth politics are non-monolithic and likely go against our Commander Sinclair’s natural proclivities. Psi Corp is another power actor, possibly with its own agenda.
For the old hands, who’s your favorite character that is revealed at this stage of the game? I’ll fess up, I’m a fan of G’Kar. For the new followers, be nice to Garibaldi, he gets better as time goes on.