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; this time it’s the midpoint in the show’s run that was season three…
The third season of Babylon 5 was the show at its very best. Two season’s worth of build up exploded into a number of hugely revelatory and dramatic episodes that saw the station break away from Earth in revolt against corrupt President Clark and the start of the Shadow War. This grim turn of events was set from the opening title sequence as Ivanova said the ominous words “Babylon 5 was the last, best hope for peace. It failed”.
But while everything took a darker turn, there wasn’t all doom and gloom, thanks in no small part to the arrival of Jason Carter’s terrifically British Ranger Marcus Cole; his fiery relationship with Ivanova was a highpoint of the next two years.
2260 was the year in which Babylon 5 went out on its own, in which Sheridan gained the White Star, Sinclair returned, took Babylon 4 into the past and became Valen, in which Bester and Babylon 5 forged a shaky alliance against the Shadows, the season Kosh died, Anna Sheridan returned and the whole galaxy was torn apart by war. This was Babylon 5 at its height. And what a glorious place that was indeed.
Here are the five best episodes of season three. Quite possibly the hardest selection to make yet…
Passing Through Gethsemane
While the other four episodes on this list feature huge turning points in the conflict with Earth and the Shadows, this early season three affair is much more intimate, if just as bleak in nature. Louis Turenne, who had previously played Draal in season one’s ‘A Voice in the Wilderness’ was a welcome addition in season tree as Brother Theo, a monk setting up a small bastion of hope in the wilderness in space. Here he introduces Sheridan to the meek, very sweet Brother Edward (Brad Dourif) who starts to receive horrific, bloody versions of murder. The audience is genuinely compelled to this character, which is what makes the final reveal all the more heartbreaking; he was a serial murderer known as the Black Rose Killer, who has his mind wiped as a form of capital punishment and became Edward. The ambiguity of morality in this episode is fascinating and even when you know what he was, seeing Edward tortured to death by the families of victims of heartbreaking; the final twist of Edward’s killer becoming the latest monk to join Theo’s group leaves the viewer unsettled long after the credits roll.
Messages From Earth
The first of three episodes to deal with Babylon 5’s break from Earth, this begins with Marcus Cole sneaking Nancy Stafford’s Dr. Mary Kirkish into the station with a bleak warning; Earthforce has unearthed a Shadow vessel on Mars. With no other option but to stop Clark gaining this alien tech, Sheridan and Delenn rush to Mars on the White Star, arriving too late to stop the Shadow vessel from breaking free and destroying the complex. Cue a frantic, tense pursuit into Jupiter’s atmosphere, topped by the shocking moment Sheridan’s old ship the Alexander appears to arrest them just as they destroy the Shadow vessel. Suddenly Sheridan can no longer keep his loyalty to Earthforce and distrust of Clark separate. As he makes his escape, Earthforce declares martial law and the stage is set for the conflict to come. ‘Messages From Earth’ is a tense, bleak affair that sees the series’ major threads finally converge.
‘Point of no Return’, the episode between this and ‘Messages From Earth’ was another huge episode, forcing Sheridan and his loyal officers to fight back against the Night Watch within the station; but that sets the scene for this explosive episode which is regarded by many as the show’s best. Sheridan declares Babylon 5 independent from Clark’s corrupt regime and Earthforce promptly sends two destroyers to take it back. The arrival of two ships disloyal to Clark sets the scene for an explosive battle, the like the show had not seen before; destroyer and star furies battling against each other. The tension is palpable, everything is at stake and the drama intensifies as more Earthforce ships arrive as Babylon 5 lies crippled.
But this is also the moment that Delenn breaks the White Council for not getting involved in the upcoming Shadow War and her arrival with Minbari ships and the White Star to save the day is a hugely triumphant moment. Mira Furlan’s fierce delivery of the line “Only one human captain has ever survived battle with a Minbari Fleet. He is behind me. You are in front of me. If you value your lives, be somewhere else!” is surely her greatest moment on the show.
War Without End (Parts 1 & 2)
Okay, maybe I’m cheating here, but this really is one feature-length episode split in two and neither part works without the other. It was the episode that finally resolves the mystery of what happened to Babylon 4 and ties back to the hints suggested in season one’s ‘Babylon Squared’; it travelled back in time a thousand years to become the staging point in the previous Shadow War. What’s more surprising was that it was the crew of Babylon 5 that was responsible for sending it there.
There are a couple of discontinuities but it is otherwise well executed, the presence of a returning Sinclair working with Sheridan and Delenn is a joy to behold and his return to the past to become Valen is a wonderful full-circle moment. Tim Choate makes a welcome return as Zathras too. But it is also the visions of the future that really add the drama; a video recording of Ivanova’s last stand as the Shadows take Babylon 5 to Sheridan’s trip to the future where he encounters a dying emperor Londo, learns that he had Delenn are together and have a son David, and where we see G’Kar and Londo kill each other and Vit take up the mantle as emperor. While we never saw these events again on screen, there are hugely revelatory and set the stage for Londo’s tragic storyline in season five…
The most explosive final of them all, ‘Z’Ha’Dum’ capped a terrific year for the show, where the Shadow War was at its height. After the epic battle with the Shadows in the previous episode ‘Shadow Dancing’ (another episode that narrowly missed this list), the enemy comes calling to Babylon 5, teasing that station’s destruction glimpsed on ‘War Without End’. But this bigger reveal was the return of Anna Sheridan just as John Sheridan had begun his relationship with Delenn. Following her to the Shadow homeworld Z’Ha’Dum, a place Kosh told him he would die, he discovers the horrible truth about his wife and crashes the White Star in the episode’s climatic moments, striking a stunning blow against the enemy but leaving his fate in the air as he jumps into the abyss. With Garibaldi captured by the Shadows, two key players are removed from the board, making for a long and agonising wait for season four…
And the worst episode of the season…
Like season two, there wasn’t really a terrible episode; in fact season three episodes genuinely all have their good points, even this one, which has the first of many great team-ups with stoic Stephen Franklin and lively Marcus Cole. Tracking a missing homeless man Duncan (Aubrey Morris) they discover an alien parasite infecting the populace of Down Below and creating an insidious cult. Apparently one of the reasons it isn’t well regarded is because J. Michael Stracyznki came down with a fever while half way through the script and forgot what he had written when he picked it back up. Perhaps that’s why the story is weaker compared to the rest of the stories around it.
Season three of Babylon 5 was filled with a number of significant episodes and a newfound confidence as it built on the previous two seasons of storytelling. Do you agree with the list? Are there others that should have made the cut? Or are there simply too many good stories just to pick five. Let us know in the comments below…