Monday, March 9, 2015

My Top Ten "Babylon 5" Episodes

Because occasionally we all need a reminder that this series existed and was special in so many ways, here are my ten favorite episodes of "Babylon 5," listed in chronological order.  With this list, more than any other, I provide strong warnings that there are spoilers! Spoilers everywhere!
"By Any Means Necessary" - "Babylon 5" took pains to distinguish itself from the concurrently running "Star Trek" series early on.  In this episode, Commander Sinclair has the equivalent of a dockworker's strike on his hands, where some creative bureaucracy ends up being much more effective than any lofty speeches to resolve the issue.  And then we have one of G'Kar and Londo's more memorable spats over a plant G'Kar needs for a religious occasion.
"Babylon Squared" - I always love a good time travel story, and "Babylon 5" has some impressive ones.  This episode, where Babylon 5 receives a distress call from its long-missing predecessor, Babylon 4, sets up a lot of interesting things that happen later on in the series.  I find the lead-up more fun that the payoff, since the teases are so well handled.  Also, it's our first encounter with the priceless Zathras, caretaker of the Great Machine and follower of "The One." 
"The Coming of Shadows" - After all the lead-up and all the portents, war finally breaks out between the Narn and the Centauri directly due to Londo's manipulation of the events around the Emperor's visit to Babylon 5.  Watching Londo and G'Kar struggling against destny and their own natures is a thrill, and it's even more impressive upon rewatch when you realize everything that's going to follow from the decisions the characters make in this episode.
"Acts of Sacrifice" - The bulk of this one is devoted to G'Kar's efforts to rally support for the Narn as the war with the Centauri rages on.  It's excellent in the way that it shows G'Kar's priorities shifting and his nobility rising to the surface in the face of adversity.  However, the reason that this episode is on the list is because it's the one where Ivanova has to have sex with an alien ambassador.  What results is surely Claudia Christian's finest moment.
"The Long, Twilight Struggle" - The huge scope of "Babylon 5" was something I always admired, the way that the conflicts between characters could play out on a truly massive scale.  Nowhere is this more apparent than the final defeat of Narn, which G'Kar and his allies do everything to try and prevent, but only manage to delay.  It's one thing to see the good guys lose, but another to see the good guys lose, resulting in the destruction of an entire civilization.
"Severed Dreams" - It's hard to pick out specific episodes from the third season to single out for praise because so much is going on at once.  I'm going with "Severed Dreams" as the biggest highlight of the year, where the command crew of Babylon 5 finds itself in open opposition to the Earth government after quashing an internal takeover attempt. It's a big turning point for several of the storylines, and also gives Delenn her most memorable badass dialogue.
"Into the Fire" - The end of the Shadow War felt anticlimactic in some ways, especially since it happened at an awkward spot near the beginning of the fourth season, and lead straight into the much less interesting Mars arc.  However, you've got to love how some of those little plot threads get wrapped up - the Shadows and Vorlons being assured they won't be alone beyond the rim, Londo standing up to the Shadows, and of course Vir's farewell to Mr. Morden.
"The Deconstruction of Falling Stars" - I went back and forth on this one because I find parts of it tremendously didactic and ham-handed.  Then again, I've never seen a dramatic television series tell this kind of story, which charts the effects of our heroes' actions over almost incomprehensible amounts of time.  This was nearly the last episode of the series, but I think it works better as an interlude before the final season, to hammer home some of the show's big themes.
"The Fall of Centauri Prime" - The fifth season of "Babylon Five" is wildly uneven, but G'Kar and the Centauri characters get a hell of an arc that's worth sitting through all the filler.  Londo Mollari finally gets what he always wanted and dooms himself forever in the process.  As much as I love G'Kar for everything he stood for, it's the tragic Londo who is my favorite character for his terribly human frailties.  I am so glad we got to see his final triumph and downfall.
"Sleeping in Light" - The final goodbye is thankfully a smaller, quieter, and more personal one.  We get Ivanova back and a reunion of old friends, before Commander Sheridan and Babylon 5 itself take their final bows.  There's the grand gestures and the myth-making, of course, because Michael J. Strazcynski just can't seem to resist putting in those final flourishes, but this time all of it feels entirely earned and entirely right.   
Honorable mentions: "Believers," "Soul Mates," "Point of No Return," "War Without End," and "Z'Ha'Dum"

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