To say that Season 3 of “Babylon 5” had some big moments is an understatement. This is the season that the story has been leading up to in the first two seasons. The arrival of The Shadows, the War that follows, and the trials the characters experience that move them from the relative safety of the first two seasons into the cauldron of uncertainty and rebirth. In case it needs to be stated, this essay will be spoiler-heavy. I’ll also be breaking things down a bit differently for the third season, since there are episode arcs that I want to cover more in-depth.
The second season of the show ended with Ambassador Kosh of the Vorlon Empire coming out of his encounter suit to save Captain John Sheridan from an assassination attempt. This act reveals to all that the Vorlons are becoming more involved in the upcoming war with the Shadows, their ancient enemy. The more important moment from the final episode was the death of Lieutenant Warren Keffer (the much maligned “hotshot” pilot that Straczynski was forced to add to the show by the studio) at the hands of a Shadow vessel.
That event leads into the first episode of Season Three, “Matters of Honor”. A representative from EarthGov arrives on Babylon 5 to find more information on the recording of Keffer’s death (Keffer jettisoned his flight record before being killed). Ambassador Delenn and Captain Sheridan are the first to see the recording and feign ignorance at Delenn’s suggestion. But their situation is complicated with the arrival of Marcus Cole, a Human Ranger from one of the training colonies the Minbari have established. Marcus, played with delightful charm and wit by Jason Carter, is a shattered man who found purpose with the Rangers. He ends up being our main point-of-view for who the Rangers are and what they are meant to represent. He comes to Babylon 5 seeking aid for the other Rangers left behind on the colony, who are stuck on planet due to a blockade of mines left behind by the Centauri.
“Matters of Honor” also introduces a new setting for the series, the White Star. A starship made from Minbari and Vorlon technology, the White Star allows the show to venture out from Babylon 5, expanding the show beyond just what occurs on the space station. There is a fluid grace and beauty to the design of the starship, which quickly made it a fan-favorite. The bulk of the drama from “Matters of Honor” is the first encounter between the main characters and the Shadows. During much of the second season, there were moments where the tactical ability of Captain Sheridan shown through. This episode shows that Sheridan is able to outthink an opponent with superior firepower.
The episode “Convictions” is a standalone episode that deals with a well-worn trope of action/police dramas: the mad bomber. The real heart of this episode, though, are the scenes with Londo Mollari and G’Kar stuck in a damaged elevator due to a bomb-blast. These two characters have been butting heads since “Midnight on the Firing Line”. The difference here is that Londo has played an instrumental part in the destruction of G’Kar’s home-world and the removal of G’Kar’s status as an Ambassador. The best part of the episode, though, is the black humor Andreas Katsulas manages to find in the interactions between the two.
By far one of my favorite episodes from the third season (and one of the best from the entire series) is “Passing Through Gethsemane”. I mentioned in one of my previous essays that Straczynski is an avowed atheist but he is able to write people of faith with humanity and grace. This episode is the best showcase for his skills as a writer. Brad Dourif (best known for some as Grima Wormtongue in The Lord of the Rings trilogy) plays Brother Edward, a kindly monk who is on the station. Over the course of the episode, Edward discovers that he is not who he thinks he is and that revelation leads him to question his faith in a profound way. The title of the episode comes from the Gospels, specifically the scenes in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Christ waits for the Romans to arrest him and begs God the Father to let the cup of self-sacrifice pass him by. Edward wonders if he would have had the courage to face that decision and by the end of the episode, he has an answer. The focus of this episode is on the nature of forgiveness. Is it possible to achieve redemption? Or is forgiveness and redemption just a quaint idea that we use to cover our abiding desire for vengeance?
The episode “Voices of Authority” is the tipping point for the first big arc of Season Three, which is the start of the Earth Alliance Civil War. The arc of this episode begins with the introduction of a Political Officer to Babylon 5, Julie Musante (played with calculated cunning by Shari Shattuck). For those that aren’t familiar with this kind of job, Political Officers were commonly used in the old Soviet Union to make sure the boots-on-the-ground military officers and soldiers were adhering to the political ideology of the party. These were civilian “officers” who were not part of the rank-and-file military system. Musante is written to show how far the Earth Alliance has fallen.
Another key development in this episode is Susan Ivanova’s trip to Epsilon Three, the planet that Babylon 5 orbits and home to The Great Machine, currently in the care of the Minbari Draal (since Voice in the Wilderness in Season One). Through accessing the Great Machine, Ivanova is able to capture a recording showing proof that President Morgan Clark was behind the assassination of President Luis Santiago at the end of Season One (“Chrysalis”). This recording is sent by Sheridan back to their contacts on Earth, which they hope will lead to Clark being ousted from the presidency of the Earth Alliance. Another major step for her is her trip to Sigma 957, which was introduced in the first season as a planet rich in resources but home to an unimaginable powerful species that disables any ship entering the area. As it turns out, this ship and the species it belongs to are one of the First Ones, ancient aliens who were old when humans were first figuring out the wheel and how to use fire. The reaction of the Walkers (the name revealed in outside sources) to the mention of the Vorlon is the first real indication that the supposed “good guys” aren’t what they appear to be (which is an overriding theme throughout the series). The episode also begins pairing Marcus and Ivanova together, which is one of my favorite pairings from the series.
Lastly, the episode “Dust to Dust” is a fun little breather but no less an important episode in the overall story arc of the series. The return of Psi-Cop Alfred Bester is a treat on this series, mainly due to how much obvious fun Walter Koenig had playing the role. In this appearance, he’s tracking down a criminal who is trying to sell Dust, a drug that stimulates the centers of the brain responsible for telepathy in normal people. G’Kar manages to procure a sample but it isn’t made for Narns, so there’s no guarantee it will work. It’s been established well by this point in the series that of all the major space-faring species in the Babylon 5 universe, only the Narn do not have telepaths of their own. It’s revealed that they were wiped out nearly a thousand years in the past and the gene for telepathy hasn’t been strong enough in the subsequent generations.
G’Kar uses the drug on himself, temporarily giving himself telepathy. He makes his way to Londo’s quarters and brutalizes him, both physically and mentally. But in the midst of this assault, his mind is touched by Ambassador Kosh, who uses this opportunity to bring about a change in perspective to G’Kar. This change was already in the works after the fall of Narn in Season Two but it’s at this moment G’Kar is given the push he needs to become someone better than what he once was.
There are a couple of other episodes that occurred during the first part of Season Three (“Exogenesis” and “A Day in the Strife”) but they’re really not the best examples of how good this show is at this point in the series’ run (aside from “A Day in the Strife” helping to show the descent into addiction that Dr. Stephen Franklin is beginning to lose himself in). The next essay will be covering the four episodes that comprise the Earth Alliance Civil War arc, which is probably the tensest series of stories told in the show up to this point.