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 dramatic events of season four…
“This was the year everything changed.” Babylon 5 season four was the climax of the show – the threat of cancellation meant that J. Michael Straczynski brought events from what would have been season five into a single season of storytelling. Some moments may have felt rushed, the Shadow War over quicker than anyone could have thought and there might have been a small narrative slump before the Earth civil war ignited, but there was no denying the passion and epic scope of the year 2261.
Season four was the year that saw the end of Morden, the Shadows and the Vorlons, the year Earth truly turned on each other, the year Garibaldi became the unthinkable – a villain thanks to the mind-manipulations of Bester. It was also the year that introduced the Drahk, saw a Minbari civil war, and changed the nature of the galaxy forever with the introduction of the Interstellar Alliance. A grandiose experiment, fulfilled (if a little rushed) on Straczynski’s terms, this was the height of Babylon 5; season five, the spin-off Crusade and the various TV movies would never reach these epic, narrative heights again.
With that in mind, here are the five best episodes in another stellar season…
The third episode of Babylon 5‘s fourth season is a hugely revelatory one; after the ominous slow build up in the opening two episodes, this sees the paused Shadow War reignite. From Ivanova and Marcus Cole’s dreaded discovery of the Vorlon fleet in Hyperspace – transforming their biggest allies into enemies – to Sheridan’s triumphant return from the dead at the episode’s end, this an exciting change of pace. But it is the torture of G’Kar under the cruel hands of Centauri Emperor Cartagia that becomes one of most memorable, horrific moments of the entire season. Londo and Vir looking on in disbelief and shame as G’Kar is whipped close to death The elated Cartagia revels in the pain being inflicted throughout the harrowing scene; witness this torment, Londo takes the first steps towards redemption as he decides the emperor needs to die.
Into the Fire
It might have ended quicker than expected (partly due to J. Michael Straczynski’s concerns that season four would be the last), but the climax to the Shadow War in episode six was certainly dramatic to the very end. Sheridan forces the Vorlons and the Shadows into a direct confrontation, using the White Star and League of Non-Aligned world fleets as bait in the middle. The battle is superb, the tension palatable and sets the scene for a tense final stand-off as Sheridan stands up to both races, aided by Lorien and the last of the Old Ones to tell these two races to “get the Hell out of our galaxy!”
It is also a great, heroic story for Londo too; wiping out a Shadow Base on the Island of Selini and then putting the treacherous Mr Morden’s head on a spike (there’s an amusing callback to season too as Vit waves with understated triumph). With millions of lives in the stake, including Centauri Prime, this is a sweeping epic conclusion, wrapping up a core part of the show. Was it over too abruptly? Perhaps, but the Shadow War certainly went out in style.
Intersections in Real Time
Sheridan‘s interrogation at the hands of Clark’s forces is a real tour de force in the height of the Earth civil war that dominated the latter half of the season. It plays out like a twisted piece of surrealist theatre, Sheridan subjected to the same questions, the same mind games, all under the cruel supervision of Bruce Gray’s cold, clinical interrogator. The interplay between Bruce Boxleitner and Gray is mesmerising, rooting out each other’s weakness, remaining resolute to their own convictions and even maintaining a measure of respect as the good captain is systematically broken down. The final twist – Sheridan dragged to his execution only to find himself about to start the same ordeal under a different interrogator – is the final twist of the knife that makes this episode a harrowing, intense affair from beginning to end.
Between the Darkness and the Light
The intensity of the Earth civil war reaches a whole new level in the subsequent episode that sees Ivanova and the White Star fleet go head to head with Clark’s secret forces; an armada of Earth ships developed with shadow technology. While half of the episode sees Garibaldi seek redemption in freeing Sheridan with custody, this battle is the moment ‘Between the Darkness and the Light’ is most remembered for. Ivanova’s cold fury sees her wipe the enemy from the galaxy while being mortally wounded in the battle. It is a bittersweet moment for what is her greatest achievement in the show, particular this impassioned speech…
“Who am I? I am Susan Ivanova, Commander. Daughter of Andre and Sophie Ivanov. I am the right hand of vengeance and the boot that is going to kick your sorry ass all the way back to Earth, sweetheart! I am death incarnate, and the last living thing that you will ever see. God sent me.”
The battle for Earth culminates in the next episode and what an explosive, daring finale it is. Sheridan lays a daring trap, drawing Clark’s forces to Mars where the Shadow tech-controlled Telepaths are used to shut down the enemy, as Lyta, Garibaldi and Franklin leads the battle from the red planet. The jump to Earth leads to a nail-biting moment as Clark commits suicide and turns Earth’s defences on the planet with the grim message ‘scorched Earth’. The White Stars are forced to block the attack, and the timely arrival of the enemy ships, turned allies, is a huge punch the air moment.
While there would be two episodes left to wrap things up (‘Sleeping in the Light’ gets shunted to season five with the surprise renewal for a fifth season), ‘Endgame’ is the culmination of four years work, It is bold, daring and tragic too; while Sheridan saves the day, Marcus sacrificing himself to save Ivanova is a real tear-jerker, particularly his dying line “I love you” before the credits roll. A real tragic love affair to the very end…
And the worst episode of season four?
The Illusion of Truth
This not a bad episode. In fact, I rather like it. But given the quality of season four, it does stand out as a bit of a failed experiment. Taking inspiration from season two’s superb ‘And Now For A World’, this episode sees ISN travel to Babylon 5 to get the scoop on what is really happening on the station. While there are some ingenious moments, the twisting of events to tell a story of alien persecution is so obvious that it surprising that Sheridan never saw it coming. Perhaps if it has been another full episode told within the perspective of the broadcast, it may have been more successful…
Season four of Babylon 5 was a huge, momentous year for the show; picking a top five episodes becomes even more difficult when each installment is much of a longer, complex story told over 22 episodes. It also means there are no truly terrible episodes either.
Are these the big episodes or are there others that stand out? Let us know in the comments below…