The larger ideals cannot exist if the smaller ones are destroyed in the process. If there is one thread that exists throughout the second half of Season Two for Babylon 5, the paraphrased quote from the episode “There All the Honor Lies” sums it up well. Given the amount of depth the second half of the season contains in its episodes, I’m going to be writing a third part for season 2.
By this point in the season, John Sheridan has been well-established in his new role as the leader of Babylon 5. And as the ending of “All Alone in the Night” reveals, Sheridan is secretly looking into the death of President Santiago (the assassination that occurred at the end of Season 1). In the remaining episodes of season two, however, we see the personal cost of his principles rise dramatically. Along with Sheridan’s journey, we begin to see the cracks forming in other characters as well, which will lead to disastrous decisions and consequences in the following seasons.
There are a few episodes in the second half of the season that don’t really work that well, such as “And Now For a Word”, “Hunter,Prey” and “Acts of Sacrifice” (despite the hilarious “sex scene” involving Susan Ivanova and an alien ambassador). I promise, it’s worth its weight in gold, as you can see here. Aside from these two, though, the other episodes are outstanding pieces of storytelling and really drive home how much everything is going to hell in this universe.
The second half of the season starts kicking you in the gut with “There All the Honor Lies” which focuses on the repercussions of placing Sheridan in command of Babylon 5. As mentioned in my previous essay, Sheridan is hated by the Minbari at large for his conduct during the Earth-Minbari War, specifically mining an asteroid belt with nuclear weapons and tricking a Minbari War Cruiser into the blast radius. In this episode, we see how far some Minbari are willing to go to remove Sheridan from his post. In the Minbari culture, lies are considered a stain on a person’s honor, unless they are lying to save the honor of another. This notion of the ambiguity of truth is a facet of Straczynski’s storytelling that he comes back to in a big way in Season 4. This episode also marks the point where we begin to see a deepening emotional connection between the show’s two leads, Sheridan and Delenn, which will only grow as the show progresses.
“In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum” is another Sheridan-centric episode but this one deals with the fallout of his wife Anna’s death. Earlier in the season, we are told that Anna died as part of a research project out on the Rim of known space aboard a ship called the Icarus (which is apt given the mythological connotations the name suggests). It is here that we find out that Mr. Morden was also a crew member of the Icarus. We are finally given a glimpse of the main adversaries that have been spotted periodically throughout the first two seasons, the associates of Mr. Morden known as the Shadows. This ancient race of insectoid beings is among the oldest races in the Babylon 5 universe and they are hell-bent on sowing as much chaos and destruction as possible. The episode also confirms something that was unspoken during the course of the show up to this point: the Vorlons (the species Ambassador Kosh is a part of) are also one of the oldest species still kicking around the Milky Way.
For all these revelations, though, the main dramatic point of the episode is the question posed by Zack Allen (played brilliantly by the late Jeff Conaway): how many lives is a secret worth? That is the question Delenn and Sheridan have to ask themselves and answer through their actions leading into the great war with the Shadows. If keeping a secret meant the deaths of thousands or millions of people but could ensure the survival of billions more, would you keep the secret? There isn’t an easy answer to this kind of moral dilemma and it is in that gulf of ambiguity that Straczynski is able to add layers of emotional depth to the series.
The episode “Knives” is a bit of a breather from the previous episode but no less emotional. Here we begin to see the personal cost to the calamitous decisions Londo Mollari has been making up to this point. We are introduced to one of Londo’s oldest friends, Vocator Jaddo (played by the late Carmen Argenziano, who some might remember from Stargate SG-1). Jaddo is about to be labeled a traitor to the Centauri Republic by Londo’s coterie of conspirators that instigated the Narn-Centauri War (which is still ongoing at this point in the story). In order to save himself, Jaddo challenges Londo to a duel to the death and deliberately throws the match to ensure his family is protected from the resolution that would brand him a traitor. For the first time since making his ill-fated alliance with Mr. Morden and others, Londo is beginning to realize his decisions have far-reaching consequences that he never considered.
One of my favorite episodes from this season is “Confessions and Lamentations”, simply because the acting in the episode is superb and the story breaks my heart no matter how many times I watch it. One of the species from the League of Non-Aligned Worlds that have been seen throughout the show is known as the Markab. This episode introduces a virulent plague that is striking down the Markab with terrifying efficiency. For anyone who has lived through the AIDS Epidemic or the current state of affairs with the Coronavirus, this episode is terrifying in its authenticity. The main focus of the episode is Dr. Stephen Franklin, who is racing against time to figure out the course of the virus and develop a vaccine to cure it. As this goes along, we see Stephen relying more and more on a drug called stims (basically sci-fi amphetamines) to keep going. This drug use will continue to haunt the character as time goes on.
Most shows that tackle this kind of subject matter find a happy ending by the end of the episode and a return to the status quo of the universe. Babylon 5 is not that kind of show. By the time we arrive in the middle of this epidemic, the path is already set and the Markab are paying the price for their refusal to accept reality. This part in particular hit home for me with our current efforts for the Coronavirus. The Markab shown think that the plague is a judgment from the gods rather than a pathogen, which means that they refuse to accept that any of their people could be carriers. By the end of the episode, we see the price that is paid for this combination of arrogance and ignorance.
The depth and emotional range shown in these episodes really goes to show that the second season of Babylon 5 is where the show started coming into its own. By this point, the show has firmly established its voice and the direction it’s moving toward. I’ll be finishing up the second season of Babylon 5 with one more article. For the following seasons, I’ll end up breaking those up into smaller articles because there are wonderful arcs that really need a greater amount of focus than I can fit into a single article.