In the first article in this series, I covered the first half of Season 1 for Babylon 5. The subtitle for the entire first season is Signs and Portents. This is significant because the first season lays the groundwork for storylines and character arcs that will continue throughout the remainder of the show’s run. It is in this season that we begin to see the grand epic J. Michael Straczynski envisioned begin to unfurl.
Throughout the first part of Season 1, we are introduced to a wide assortment of characters. Some that I did not mention in the first essay are the Vorlon Ambassador, Kosh, who was voiced by Ardwright Chamberlain but the man in the suit was Jeffrey Willerth; Dr. Stephen Franklin, played by the late Richard Biggs; and Lennier, aide to Ambassador Delenn, played by Bill Mumy (Will Robinson from the original Lost in Space). Each of these characters brings something to the show that enrich the experience.
Franklin is a principled doctor and hell on wheels when those principles are challenged. He is also the only member of the regular cast to be African-American. This is not a slight against Straczynski but there has always been a dearth of people-of-color in science-fiction. One kudo I will give the creator of the show is that race never played a factor in the storytelling. As Straczynski mentioned at Phoenix Comicon in 2013, he wanted to depict the fact that human culture in the 23rd century had overcome the racism and bigotry of the past. Noble sentiment that this is, I can’t help but think that if Babylon 5 were made today, there would be a more concerted effort to diversify the casting.
Kosh is one of the more enigmatic characters on the show and that is largely by design. A member of the ancient species known as the Vorlons, Kosh wears a ridiculously cumbersome encounter suit that must have been hell to wear on set for Jeffrey Willerth. The character’s dialogue is stilted, usually consisting of as few words as possible. But as the quotes on this page show, Kosh drops pearls of wisdom to the other characters (and through them, the audience) that have great bearing on the events the show is depicting.
The character of Lennier fits into the trope of the inexperienced ingenue, only in this case a male character. His arrival sets up Delenn to become the teacher and in so doing, grow as an individual. This often leads to comical scenes, which I’ll touch on in a bit, as Lennier is given a crash course in the foibles of the other species living on the station.
Of the remaining ten episodes in the season, there are only two real duds, “TKO” and “Grail”. The rest of them are excellent character portraits and set pieces that advance the meta-plot of the series and introduce mysteries that won’t be paid off for some time.
The biggest game changers are “Signs and Portents”, “A Voice in the Wilderness, Part 1 and 2”, “Babylon Squared”, and “Chrysalis”. Each of these episodes begin to lay the groundwork for the vast arc that will consume much of the show over the subsequent three seasons.
“Signs and Portents” introduces us to the character of Mr. Morden, played to perfection by Ed Wasser. Morden is the kind of character you could see selling sand to people who live in a desert. Slicked back hair, sharp suit, and an easy smile, Morden arrives to ask each of the Ambassadors a simple question: “What do you want?” It is Londo Mollari who provides the best answer for the purposes of Morden and his associates, who make an appearance near the end of the episode. The introduction of this mysterious race starts an avalanche in the galaxy that threatens to destroy everything. And it is the beginning of Londo’s descent into darkness.
All right. Fine! You really want to know what I want? You really want to know the truth? I want my people to reclaim their rightful place in the galaxy. I want to see the Centauri stretch forth their hand again, and command the stars! I-I want a rebirth of glory, a renaissance of power. I want to stop running through my life like a man late for an appointment, afraid to- to look back, or to look forward. I want us to be what we used to BE! I want…I want it all back, the way that it was! Does that answer your question?Ambassador Londo Mollari, “Signs and Portents”
The two-parter “A Voice in the Wilderness” brings up the fact that the planet Babylon 5 is positioned next isn’t as abandoned as everyone believed. A vast underground machine of incredible technology is discovered there when the attendant of the machine begins dying. A suitable replacement is needed or the station and everyone on it will be destroyed. It is in this episode that we get to see a glimpse of who Londo used to be in his younger days, as well as giving Commander Jeffrey Sinclair (portrayed by the late Michael O’Hare) some wonderful moments of the exasperated command officer trying to figure out a solution while dealing with people who seem to want nothing more than to start a fight.
The third principle of sentient life is its capacity for self-sacrifice, for a cause…a loved one…for a friend.Ambassador Delenn, “A Voice in the Wilderness (Part 2)”
Out of all of the episodes, “Babylon Squared” might be the most frustrating for first-time viewers, mainly because there aren’t a lot of answers provided at the end of the episode. In the lore of the show, the first three Babylon stations were destroyed due to sabotage. The fourth station disappeared right before it was set to go online four years before the start of the series. The reappearance of the station in a sector of space surrounded by an unstable tachyon field (theoretical particles that can travel faster than light) sends Garibaldi and Sinclair on a rescue mission to evacuate the personnel before the station disappears again. The mystery of what happened to cause Babylon 4 to reappear and then disappear again doesn’t get answered for another two years, until well into Season 3. But it does present some intriguing questions that hook you into the story even deeper, especially the stinger at the end (which I won’t spoil here).
Last but certainly not least is “Chrysalis”, the season finale. While “Signs and Portents” introduces one of the bigger elements to the overall meta-plot, it’s this episode that really kicks off the changes that will carry the show forward. This is the very definition of a “wham episode”. The status quo of the series is upended completely (multiple times). It can feel a bit rushed at times but that’s only because there are so many moving parts but all of them are given their time to shine. When Sinclair says the line “Nothing’s the same anymore” at the end of the episode, this is Straczynski telling the audience to strap themselves in, because the ride is going to get bumpy as hell from here on in.
The ending of the first season pays off the promises of the first half, continuing the development of all of the major characters and introducing us to some new key players that will shape the universe the show exists in. But for all the answers provided by the end of “Chrysalis”, there are more questions, which is the mark of any good story. The conclusion of an arc should always bring about change and growth, which propels the story to explore the next arc. Season 1 of Babylon 5 accomplishes that goal. If you’ve reached the end of the first season, you should have plenty of incentives to continue watching the show.