Some moments in life are just….special.
The evening of Friday August 21, 1998 was one of those moments. Fleeting, magical, induplicable. An evening in which plans, machinations, hopes, and dreams all coalesced into a few hours of joy, pain, anticipation, and heartbreak. An evening of intense emotion and unbreakable unity as three people…acquainted by mutual friends but living entirely separate lives…were brought together by common passion and singular purpose. An evening in which we would all learn whether the blood, sweat, and tears we had shed for the last 5 ½ years would amount to even a hill of beans, or whether our convictions and beliefs and support for a beloved TV series would be lost in time like tears in rain.
And so it was that myself, Aint It Cool News perennial RoboGeek, and Vinyl Boy gathered at my house in the woods as the rain was falling, the wind was blowing, and lightening danced across the horizon. The mood was pleasant and cordial, but there was another feeling gliding beneath the surface. Beneath the silly and childlike excitement over the rite of passage we were about to undertake, was a sobriety, a gravity. The same kind of feeling one might feel when saying goodbye to a friend or loved one for what you know will be the last time. The same feeling you get when you know that no matter how you approach the issue, a cherished way of life is about to be lost forever.
Plans had been canceled. Schedules had been smashed. Phones had been turned off. Now it was just the three of us, and two hundred and twenty-something minutes of video playback. The last five episodes of BABYLON 5.
This show means different things to different people. I can not speak for my friends, perhaps they will soon use this space to speak for themselves. I can tell you only what it meant to me.
Many, many years ago I remember standing in a grocery store while my then wife and her daughter waited in the car. I was only supposed to run in and get bread, but a STARLOG magazine caught my eye. In it, an interview with some guy named J. Michael Straszynski - who talked about a series he was interested in producing that would re-define the way Science Fiction television would be presented and regarded. I read the entire article, immediately went home to call my friends to tell them about this guy and his idea. And I told them "this is going to work".
"It’ll never get made" was the general response.
It did get made.
Since the series’ first TV movie premiered in 1993, BABYLON 5 has moved with me, and stood beside me. When I learned that a marriage I believed to be happy and perfect was about to be shattered forever, BABYLON 5 was there on the night my wife moved out to be with her younger "lover". After my little boy was born, he and his mother were sleeping soundly together for the first time in 50 hours. I breathed a sigh of relief…turned the volume down low as not to disturb them…and watched "The War Prayer" before I too drifted away. While I lived in a hospital for two weeks…uncertain whether my son would live or die…I trundled out to a darkened waiting room with my blanket and pillow to watch "Comes the Inquisitor" and "The Fall of Night". During this same time, people I had encountered on Internet BABYLON 5 newsgroups somehow got wind of the accident that was trying to take my little boy from me, and sent to me - someone they had never met and knew only through BABYLON 5 - gifts I could pass on to my son. A little purple dragon which squeaked and shot out his tongue when its tail was goosed, an autographed picture of Michael O’Hare inscribed directly to me. And more. Voices of friendship and support calling out from the darkness, simply because of "a TV show."
This might give one a rudimentary sense of what BABYLON 5 means to me, Glen Oliver. I would not say BABYLON 5 is a perfect show. In fact, I would say it has disappointed me from time to time. But is has also inspired me, intrigued me, and in many ways has re-defined what I expect from a television series. BABYLON 5 has done more for me than I could ever do for it, but by sharing this article with you, I hope to make you more carefully consider what the series has meant *to you* - the viewers. Because soon it will be going away, and because the series’ last five episodes are very much about evaluating what someone or something means to you. They are about holding on to ideas and love and friendships and memories, they are about drawing *meaning* from that which we cherish.
I WILL NOT SPOIL THE LAST FIVE EPISODES OF BABYLON 5 IN THE FOLLOWING REVIEWS. There will be a few plot points here and there, but nothing too damaging or telling - I promise. I will offer a "TV Guide" like description of the first four episodes (one or two sentence descriptions of rudimentary content), and give you *impressions* on whether or not the episodes are successful or failures, individually and collectively. For the final episode, "Sleeping in Light", there will be nothing which tells you *anything* about content or structure. I’m sorry if this disappoints some readers, I’m sorry if this negates the "scoop" quality of this report. But this is the way it’s gonna be.
My goal here is not to beat other websites to the punch by vomiting out entire plotlines. My goal today is to give readers of this page and fans of this show a sense of what to expect ‘round November, to prepare them for what is coming, and…in my own humble way…say goodbye to "the little station that could." After all BABYLON 5 fans have gone through, after all series creator J. Michael Straczynski has done to make this project happen, I sure would hate to see the magic or thunder of these final five episodes negated by someone like me. It’s already happened elsewhere on the Net…to some extent at least…but hey, different strokes for different folks.
My having these episodes so soon after Coaxial’s affiliation with Sonic Images (who produce BABYLON 5 soundtracks by the boatload) could imply these final five episodes were leaked from within Sonic itself. SONIC IMAGES HAD ***ABSOLUTELY NOTHING*** TO DO WITH MY SECURING THESE EPISODES ON TAPE. Period. End of story.
And now, the final five episodes of BABYLON 5. "The Fall of Centauri Prime", "The Wheel Of Fire", "Objects In Motion", "Objects at Rest", and "Sleeping in Light".
"The Fall Of Centauri Prime"
Guests: Wayne Alexander, Simon Billing, Damian London, Robin Sachs; written by J. Michael Straczynski, directed by Douglas E. Wise.
As Delenn and Lennier drift further off-beacon in hyperspace, a Drakh representative reveals its unfortunate plans for Londo and Centauri Prime; the Alliance weighs the socio-political ramifications of the Narn’s recent attack on Centauri Prime.
"In all of this bombing, who will notice a few more craters?" - Centauri Regent
As can be gathered from the title, "Fall" is a Centauri-heavy episode which brings the immediate Centauri crisis to resolution, puts Londo at odds with the universe, and features a very critical moment between Londo and G’Kar.
References to BABYLON 5’s first two TV movies - one rather obvious and one rather oblique - are thrown in, adding irony and spice. Many questions relating to the Centauri mythos are answered, but a few more events are launched and left unresolved in the process. One gets the definite sense that what happens in this episode is pointing us towards the savaged "future" Centauri Prime witnessed in the "War Without End" and "In The Beginning", but the plotline of "Fall" is firmly grounded in the here and now.
This is very much a rite or passage episode. As if life in the Babylon universe is moving away from a troubled and tumultuous adolescence, towards a sadder, sometimes tragic adulthood. An interesting study in "power", and the price of having it. While probably the final five episode most directly affecting the BABYLON 5 story arc, it is perhaps the least effective of the lot. But the last shot is a killer…
"The Wheel of Fire"
Guests: Monique Edwards, Denise Gentile; written by J. Michael Straczynski; directed by Janet Greek.
Garibaldi finds an unlikely ally in his fight against alcoholism; Lyta’s angst comes to a frightening head; and a couple of surprises.
"I tell ya…the next person who acts irrationally? I swear I’m gonna shoot myself in the head." - Sheridan
Heavy on Garibaldi and his developing trouble with alcoholism. A rather surprising amount of time is spent on the subject, and making us understand what it must be like to live in such a trap. BABYLON 5 has never really made a point of "lecturing" or "educating", yet unique exception and attention is given to this issue in "The Wheel of Fire". I know people with this problem…who need help…and TWOF made me think in ways I hadn’t thought before, consider things I’d not slowed down to contemplate before. None the less, it will be interesting to see how fans en masse react to this slightly incongruous and a-typical issue-oriented plot.
"The Wheel of Fire" is a VERY densely packed episode, so much so that the above two sentence summary doesn’t begin to do it justice. It sets into motion some major elements that do not see closure before the end of the series (the fate of the teeps, for example, is a major "holdover" element from TWOF), but will almost certainly play a part in BABYLON 5 future history.
In fact, much of "The Wheel of Fire" lays the groundwork for foreshadowed events that are never visualized or synopsized in the course of the final five episodes. Presumably, some of the material will show up in the much-talked about but perpetually in-limbo feature film, and one would suppose that some of the elements could well resurface in future TV movies as well. And…to preserve the magic…perhaps a few things are best left un-visualized altogether. No offense to Mister Straczynski, but sometimes our imaginations are very powerful storytelling devices in and of themselves.
None the less, if the *current* BABYLON 5 mythos is ever explored in further depth (not counting the forthcoming spinoff series CRUSADE, which is something of a detached concept), "The Wheel of Fire" might well be the birthplace of - and springboard for - stories yet to be told.
Execution of Lyta subplot a complete slam dunk. She gets some nice screen time and a juicy part.
"Objects in Motion"
Guests: Denise Gentile, James Hornbeck, Marjorie Monaghan; written by J. Michael Straczynski, story by J. Michael Straczynski and Harlan Ellison; directed by Jesus Salvador Trevino.
The questionable past of Edgars Industries catches up with Garibaldi and Elise; G’Kar grapples with the weight and responsibility of being "an icon" to his people.
"We are all the sum of our tears…" - G’Kar
Very interesting contemplating the G’Kar plotline in "Objects in Motion." It unfolds as a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of worshiping someone you don’t know very much about…a warning against putting too much faith and stock in someone without fully realizing what their intent truly is. Ultimately, it is a plea not to *idolize* someone who is just a person doing a job - and isn’t even asking for worship. Suggesting that doing so is unfair and unreasonably demanding.
One has to wonder if any of the above notions *might* serve as a parallel to - or statement about - BABYLON 5 overlord J. Michael Straczynski’s controversial internet presence, or his astonishing (and almost messiah-like) popularity within the series’ fan populace.
Initially looks like it’s gonna be a replay of "No Compromises", but veers off in another direction altogether.
"Objects at Rest"
Guests: Marshall Teague, Jennifer Balgobin, Simon Billig, Joshua Cox, Marjorie Monaghan; written by J. Michael Straczynski, directed by John Copeland.
The Alliance government is ready to relocate to its new digs on Minbar. This being BABYLON 5, there has to be *some* trouble along the way, doesn’t there?
"There is a time for enlightenment, and a time for things to get done…" - G’Kar
"Objects at Rest" is the second to the last episode of BABYLON 5. Or, if one considers the notion that the last episode to air ("Sleeping in Light") was actually produced to conclude the previous season (before our current fifth season became a reality), one could see OAR as *the* last episode of the series, and "Sleeping" as more of an epilogue.
"Objects at Rest" also sets a few more cliffhangers into motion. If you haven’t noticed, this is a recurring theme in the last few episodes. OAR very much suggests that the closure of Straczynski’s five year story is more a chronicle of "the end of a specific era" than a final word on matters Babylonian. There is a powerful sense that as one stream of storytelling ends, others tales are hanging on Starczynski’s fingertips, just waiting to escape onto a keyboard.
The unresolved nature of "Objects at Rest" is a bit off-putting at first, but the story is well told - and the subtlety and sweetness of the last five minutes go a long way towards solidifying an episode which might otherwise have been frustrating (given the fact that it is at the end of the series, and still leaves some questions unanswered).
Big surprise involving some key characters, a "wow" moment, to quote fellow viewer Robo Geek. Comes totally out of left field, but is completely logical - and even alluded to earlier in the series if you were paying enough attention.
"Sleeping in Light"
Guests: withheld to avoid spoilage; written and directed by J. Michael Straczynski.
"…there can always be new beginnings, even for people like us."
Well, what can I say? I don’t really know what to say, to be completely honest. "Sleeping in Light" is J. Michael Straczynski’s first and only directoral effort on BABYLON 5. The end of the current B5 story, planned to be so from early in the series’ inception.
Over a year ago I…ummmmm…learned a whole lot about "Sleeping in Light". Before doing so, I was a bit skeptical. Straczynski…very confidently…had used the Internet to tell newsgroup participants that just about everyone who had read the SIL script had been reduced to tears - that cast members were calling him up to congratulate him on this most singular accomplishment.
"Yeah, right…" I thought to myself. "How do you top all the things the show’s already done? How can you make any episode more effective than the cumulative effect of what we’ve already seen?" None the less, Straczynski had thrown down the gauntlet - and I had to find out for myself whether or not his claims would prove true. As if circumstance and fate were sensing my every desire, this opportunity would present itself a few short months later.
And when I…ummmmmm…actually learned a lot about "Sleeping in Light", it was painful and heartbreaking, I didn’t want it to happen. I would have done anything to be able to reach in and adjust the universe in a way to prevent that which I knew was coming.
And yes, I cried.
Then came the wait…for over a year…to see if "Sleeping in Light" would live up to the potential that had been suggested by my "education", and the hope that had been forwarded by its creator.
Then…at long last…came my chance to actually *see* "Sleeping in Light". Last Friday, with two BABYLON 5 worshipping confidants at my side. ‘Twas a tough room, to say the least. A lot of convincing had to be done - this thing had to be pretty damn good to "work" on me when I already knew so much about it. SIL had to *soar* to impress RoboGeek, who has seen plenty of emotion and heartbreak himself this year. It had to be good beyond the capacity of human achievement to move Vinyl Boy, who is as unemotional as the most rigid Vulcan.
There was a somber, quiet air in the room as the final tape loaded into the video cassette recorder. We all knew that…no matter what future adventures the Babylon universe had in store for us…this was the apex of five years of late-night viewing, e-mail protesting, angry phone calls to television stations, and thousands of hours of gossip and conjecture. Even though we looked like we had decided to pull the plug on a loved one, we sat there heroically as the cassette clicked into the machine…the tape whirred and spooled through the internal mechanisms of the VCR…and watched the end unfold.
I was the first to fall, about half way through. Something about it just *got* me, stirred me, spoke to me. And I cried - more than I cried when I received my initial "SIL education" a year earlier. I looked over to RoboGeek, who was sitting across the couch from me like a mannequin, expressionless and cold. I glanced at Vinyl Boy - who always yaps to the TV screen and quickly looses patience with most programming. He was frozen in time, silent and motionless.
The universe had stopped.
Then the closing credits…I looked back to Robo, whose eyes had filled with great, big tears. He looked at me, like he wanted to say something but couldn’t find the words. He didn’t have to, I understood. Then I glanced to Vinyl Boy, who was clearly fighting back his emotions, managing a soft and trembly "that was effective."
And it was over. And we talked - about the show, about whether or not the final five episodes were satisfactory. About how to present news of our having seen them to the masses.
There is much I want to say about "Sleeping in Light". But the concept of the story is so elegant, so simple, that giving you any hint at all about its nature would probably be saying too much, create too many inaccurate preconceptions. I will say this: I’ve never had strong feeling either way about the moral and ethical propriety of spoilers. But I encourage you to stay as far away as possible from spoilers to "Sleeping In Light". Go into it virginally, try not to know what’s coming, what might be happening in the hour to come.
If you can accomplish this, I genuinely believe you could well be in for one of the most powerful hours of dramatic television to come around in a long, long time…
So now THE BIG QUESTIONS:
Are these episodes any good?
Personally, I feel the opening of this current fifth season was rather weak, and that the series had only begun to find itself once more in the four (or so) episodes which aired immediately before we revisited The Wasteland of Perpetual Re-runs.
I would say that the final four episodes of this season (not counting "Sleeping", as it was initially filmed to accompany last season) are the best episodes we have seen all year. They are among the best stylistically, among the best conceptually and dramatically. They are taut, unpredictable, funny, and moving. Artistically consistent with a reassuringly familiar ambiance.
There are genuinely chilling moments within each episode, moments of shock and surprise that might well take your breath away. This is the way BABYLON 5 used to be. This is the way BABYLON 5 ought to be remembered.
How much resolution can we expect from the final five episodes?
Not as much as one might think, actually.
As indicated above, some threads are definitely left dangling - which presumably will be addressed in future B5 related projects. This gives the final episodes a somewhat interesting feel. These episodes leave one with the strong sensation that *an era* is coming to an end, that a specific chapter in a much larger story is being closed - but that the story in toto is actually far from over.
This gives rise to a multitude of questions. Should the story of BABYLON 5 be more firmly resolved by the end of the current season? Is it good that we’ve come all this way only to be left with a few important threads hanging?
I suppose this depends on what happens next. While I still argue that some elements of the *overall* story are best left to our imagination, I worry that leaving so many pointed elements dangling in the wind might ultimately negate the overall effectiveness of BABYLON 5 if…by some horrible chance…these elements were never brought to a resolution in future projects.
Imagine a virginal viewer ten years from now, looking back on the series as a whole, wondering "Well, what happened to _______ and ______?", or, "Did _____ ever come back?", and not being able to find those answers. Could be frustrating, I think. Could make the project seem a bit unfinished or unrealized when all is said and done. Of course, if we are ultimately shown the stories we are hoping and expecting to see concluded? Then these open endings are brilliant, maybe even daring. Time and opportunity will judge this issue.
What is the general tone of the series' final episodes? (and in conclusion…)
Perhaps more surprising than any plot element was the very *nature* of the episodes themselves. Once more, Straczynski turns the tables on his viewers, once more he takes you a completely different direction than you thought you were headed.
In a way, he re-defines the very meaning of his series. Viewers who looked at B5 and saw only spaceships, Computer Generated Imagery, and sprawling space battles will get a healthy dose of the *true* meaning of this series. When you walk away from the final five episodes, you won’t be thinking about how cool the SA 23 Mitchell-Hyundyne Starfury is. You’ll be thinking about what a nice person Doctor Franklin is, about how that Lochley chick really is pretty cool after all, about how much John Sheridan has grown-up since the first time we saw him. You’ll be thinking about how cast and characters of BABYLON 5 are more than just faces on a TV screen - to the viewer and to each other - and you’ll contemplate how special that factor really is.
You may also find yourself thinking about saying things you’ve always wanted to say, but have never gotten around to saying. About doing the things you’ve always meant to do, but have never done. About how the clock is always…*always*… ticking for each and every one of us. And how it’s up to us, alone and collectively, to make every moment count.
Finally, you may come to realize that all the sound and fury, blood and guts, joy and heartbreak that have come before amount to nothing at all without the *people* and personalities with whom we’ve experienced the events. In this sense, BABYLON 5 is indeed about a Shadow War and the insurrection against oppressive Earth governments, but it is also about protecting the perfect moments…the smiles and the tears…which make us who we are.
When all is said and done, BABYLON 5 is about being *alive* - and learning what to do with that most fragile of gifts and opportunities. Its space battles and wars of god-like creatures are just stumbling blocks on *our* road towards the greatest adventure of all - meeting and knowing ourselves, and each other.
"The Fall of Centauri Prime", "The Wheel of Fire", "Objects in Motion", "Objects at Rest", and "Sleeping in Light" will air on TNT towards the end of this year.