Babylon 5 was a hugely influential piece of sci-fi television, telling both an episodic tale of the crew of a multi-racial space station in the future and a number of complex, war-driven story arcs running across the five years of the show. As it celebrate the show’s 25th anniversary, we look back at the top five episodes of each season, continuing with the show’s second season.
Year two of Babylon 5 (aka 2259), was a huge shake up for the show both in terms of cast, storytelling and the progression of many narrative arcs that had been initiated during the show’s first season. Series lead Commander Sinclair (Michael O’Hare) was replaced by the charismatic Captain John Sheridan (it was only revealed after O’Hare’s death that he struggled with debilitating mental health issues which prevented him from returning). Delenn became half human and later on, Talia Winters was shocking removed when her identity was erased by a covert Psi Corps program, original telepath Lyta Alexander making her first return since the show’s pilot.
But season two was more than just cast changes; this was the year the Shadows emerged, working with the Centauri in a bleak and tragic war with the Narn that heightened the drama through much of the year’s run. It was a season that truly showed Peter Jurasik’s Londo and Andreas Katsulas’ G’Kar at their very best. Sheridan learns of the Shadow’s return and the corruption of Earth, seeded through President Santiago’s assassination in season one, grows more prevalent in the emergence of the Night Watch.
It wasn’t always perfect and still retained some of the more episodic nature of season one, though there was rarely a dud episode, even the weakest having moments of greatness. But when the long-running arcs took over, there really were some outstanding moments.
Here are the five best episodes of season two…
The Coming of Shadows
Over the course of the first part of the season, Babylon 5 does a great job of building up the mystery of the Shadows. Mr Morden’s manipulation of Londo continued and the menace of the alien threat is seeded through several episodes. ‘The Coming of Shadows’ is where things really kick off. The arrival of the dying Centauri Emperor heralds a new era. He wants to apologise to Narn and despite initial thoughts of vengeance, G’Kar is convinced by Sheridan to open a dialogue for peace. But it comes too late, the machinations of Londo and close ally Refa leading to all out war between the two races. It is hugely twinged with tragedy; Londo’s face as G’Kar offers a drink of friendship, knowing that he has ordered Morden to use the Shadows against the Narn, is heartbreaking and the conflict changes the nature of the show forever.
And Now For A Word
One of the things I loved about the humanity of the future depicted in Babylon 5 was the healthy dose of realism and pessimism compared to the utopia presented in Star Trek. Commerce and greed continue, characters drink, unions battle for better rights and there is a media presence in everyone’s lives. ‘And Now For A Word’ is a terrific episode, told through the eyes of an ISN reporter (Kim Zimmer’s Cynthia Torqueman) visiting the station to show Earth a typical 36 hours on Babylon 5. Naturally it is hugely subjective, twisting events for entertainment and the Narn / Centauri war spilling into local space only complicates things. It is a huge amount of fun and the insidious advert for the Psi Corps is just the icing on the cake.
Confessions and Lamentations
‘Confessions and Lamentations’ is a harrowing, emotional episode about the Markab race succumbing to a fatal disease. It starts with a transport full of dead Markab and quickly escalates into a full-blown pandemic as Doctor Franklin rushes to save them. But this isn’t the usual ‘last minute cure finds the day’ story. This is a tragic tale of how the Markab believe the disease is caused by a lack or morality and how the panic of the rest of the station finds them segregated and alone. The tension and pace rockets as the episodes progresses and it quickly escalates; Delenn and Lennier offer support to the Markab as they huddle sick and dying, the child collapsing in Lennier’s arms a horrible moment. But it is the climax to the story that is really shocking, as we discover that the entire world has been wiped out, an entire race dying because they wouldn’t find a cure because they were morally superior. It was a brutal ending and showed just how far Babylon 5 would go.
The Long, Twilight Struggle
Quite possibly the greatest episode in Babylon 5‘s history, ‘The Long, Twilight Struggle’ brings the Narn / Centauri war to a grim climax. Londo’s dark alliance with the Shadows reaches its apex as he uses their terrifying ships to wipe out the entire Narn fleet while he accompanies his warships to the Narn Homeworld; the full, sickened realisation of what he has done is clear on his face as Centauri warships bombard the planet back into the stone age. It is also G’Kar’s greatest moment; forced to seek sanctuary on Babylon 5, his speech to the council about how freedom will prevail and his people will be free is jaw-droppingly haunting and leaves a lump in your throat. If you were to pick the episode that portrayed Andreas Katsulas at his very best, this is it.
The Fall of Night
Another stellar season finale, this serves as a grim epilogue to the events that have taken place this season. Sheridan’s loyalties to Earth are tested as a Narn warship seeks sanctuary while his own people sign a nonaggression treaty with the Centauri. Betraying the orders of Earthforce, he finds the station under attack while he allows the Narn to flee. Sheridan’s speech to himself is full of bitterness, a stark contrast to the by-the-book fresh-faced captain we were introduced at the beginning of the season. The assassination attempt him by the Centauri also reveals Kosh’s true angelic identity that alerts the Shadows to who the Vorlons really are; the fact the poor, tragic Londo sees nothing speaks volumes too. Ivanova laments in the episode’s closing moments “We came to this place because Babylon 5 was our last, best hope for peace. By the end of 2259, we knew that it had failed.” We’ve these words, the scene is set for the long and bitter wars to come…
And the worst episode of the season?
There really isn’t a terrible episode in Babylon 5 season two; instead there are a number of middling episodes that have good moments but fail to make an impact like the big stories listed above. Early on, episodes like ‘A Distant Star’ and ‘The Long Dark’ feel more teases for the bigger Shadow storyline than episodes in their own right, but still have plenty of atmosphere to keep the audience intrigued. ‘GROPOS’ however, an episode in which the station is forced to house hundred to Earth Force troops on route to a military operation, has no such depth. It is filled with a ton of military stereotypes, from tough as nails female solider Dodger to no-nonsense General Richard Franklin, whose strain relationship with his son feels rather forced. Subtlety is definitely missing from this episode.
How do you feel about season two of Babylon 5? Are there episodes you would have put in place of the five listed above? Let us know in the comments below…