Review for Babylon 5: Season 3
Babylon 5 is Earth’s first great contribution to the galaxy, a massive space station located in neutral space, a monument to peace and co-operation, with a quarter of a million inhabitants. It’s where the five great powers meet, Humans, Minbari, Centauri, Narn, and Vorlons, as well as the League of Non-Aligned Worlds, to peacefully resolve their differences, to trade, to just get along. At least that is the dream. But given the quarrelsome nature of the ambassadors, particularly the Narn G’Kar and the Centauri Londo Mollari, that’s a difficult ambition to achieve, made all the harder as it becomes clear that many on Earth don’t believe in the Babylon project anymore. On top of that, there are lingering resentments between the Minbari and Earth Alliance, following the war ten years previously in which the all-powerful Minbari inexplicably surrendered, and the Minbari Ambassador Delenn’s enigmatic nature doesn’t offer any further clarity. As for the Vorlon Ambassador Kosh, no one knows what he’s thinking...
So much for peace and co-operation! The previous season saw the fractious relationship between the Narn and the Centauri boil over into all out war, but given Londo’s new benefactors, that turned out to be a one sided war indeed, quickly ended when the Centauri used illegal mass drivers to devastate the Narn homeworld. But that was just a skirmish ahead of the main event. All through the previous year, rumours and innuendo about a secretive, ancient race continued to grow. While those in the know hoped to bide their time and build up their forces, time was not on their side, and soon images of a Shadow vessel were appearing on the news. At the same time, one of the Vorlons’ closely guarded secrets was revealed, and it now looks inevitable that the ancient conflict will reignite once again. And even while the Earth government appears to be making all the wrong moves back home, Captain Sheridan on Babylon 5 finds that he’s at the head of a fledgling resistance against the oncoming storm.
22 more episodes of Babylon 5 are presented in this Season 3 Collection, Point of No Return, across 6 discs.
1. Matters of Honor
3. A Day in the Strife
4. Passing Through Gethsemane
5. Voices of Authority
6. Dust to Dust
8. Messages From Earth
9. Point of No Return
10. Severed Dreams
11. Ceremonies of Light and Dark
12. Sic Transit Vir
13. A Late Delivery from Avalon
14. Ship of Tears
15. Interludes and Examinations
16. War Without End, Part 1
17. War Without End, Part 2
19. Grey 17 is Missing
20. And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place
21. Shadow Dancing
The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer is the same mixed bag as season 1’s, and it looks as if it will be a constant going through the five seasons. You have clear and sharp live action film elements, albeit occasionally afflicted by print damage and minor scratches. The space effects shots are cropped and zoomed from the video masters, and any live action shot with effects is also going to be cropped and zoomed, as are the credit sequences, and crossfades between live action and effects. The Season 2 problem with occasional horizontally stretched effects shots isn’t an issue with Season 3. It’s not a great transfer, but... it is watchable.
You get DD 5.1 Surround English, 2.0 Surround French, with English, French, Dutch and Arabic subtitles. The show was originally broadcast in stereo, so the surround doesn’t offer much more than that in the way of discreet placement of effects and action. But still, the general experience is quite immersive, and enjoyable. The dialogue is mostly clear, although volume levels are low. An occasional flick on of the subtitles might be required. Christopher Franke maintains the show’s style, one of symphonic electronica.
You get six discs in an Amaray case, with four discs on either side of two central hinged panels, and two discs front and back. The inner sleeve has an episode listing. Each disc presents its contents with animated menus. The episode select screen also offers the previews for each episode, presented in 4:3 format.
Disc 1 offers a 6:07 minute introduction to the collection from creator J. Michael Straczynski, the cast and the crew.
Disc 3 has a commentary on Severed Dreams by J. Michael Straczynski. It’s an interesting one on the show’s second Hugo Award winning episode, and also a pivotal one in the series.
Disc 4’s audio commentary accompanies Interludes and Examinations and features Bruce Boxleitner (Sheridan), Jerry Doyle (Garibaldi), Richard Biggs (Franklin), and Ed Wasser (Morden). This one’s a bit of a free-for-all, with the commentators tending to talk over each other.
The rest of the extras are on disc 6.
The commentary on Z’ha’Dum features J. Michael Straczynski, and once more it’s an interesting one to listen to.
Behind the Mask: Creating the Aliens of Babylon 5 lasts 8:12, and takes a look at the make-up processes, with significant input from John Vulich.
Building a Better Narn sees John Vulich returns with actor Marshall Teague (Ta’Lon) to demonstrate how the Narn make-up in particular is applied. This lasts 7:22.
Designing Tomorrow: The Look of Babylon 5 lasts 9:59, and examines the more ‘realistic’ approach to the show’s production design.
The Universe of Babylon 5 is another chapter of the video encyclopaedia that looks at the terminologies, characters, and events in the show, and this season in particular.
If you can find it, there’s an Easter Egg linking to a gag reel.
Babylon 5 just went from strength to strength in this third season, really establishing itself as a force to be reckoned with when it comes to sci-fi television. Its epic tale really grew in scope, as the scale of the story that J. Michael Straczynski wanted to tell became clear. The odd thing is that in my mind, Babylon 5 had grown to be visually more epic and dramatic than it actually is. The distance of time has made its grand sweeps of galactic war and interstellar politics a visual memory, when the actual fact of the matter is that the story was always visually quite small, aside from the odd battle sequence. Babylon 5 always represented the galaxy in microcosm, and what happened in the wider universe was reflected in the stories that were told on the station, through the eyes of the regular characters. It has the brilliant effect of making the story seem far larger than it actually is. Most people recall President Clark as one of the big series villains, but it’s stunning to realise just how rarely he appears. The same goes for the Centauri Emperor Cartagia, who in my mind was almost a regular character, but in actual fact, may have been named, but has yet to be seen on screen, even at the end of season 3.
It’s hard to discuss Season 3 in isolation, as it really is the middle fifth of an epic novel, a saga, and context is key. In essence it’s all about the continuing developments in the Shadow War, but you could say that there are two distinct arcs to season 3’s narrative. The first is the continuing drift towards isolationism and dictatorship on Earth, and its effects on the station. That culminates in episode 10, where the situation flares out of control on Earth, leading to Babylon 5, and its command staff breaking away, declaring independence. Thereafter it seems that Earth’s importance to the story fades, as the Shadow War continues to intensify.
Of course if you’re going to fight a space war, it helps if you have a spaceship, so the first episode introduces Babylon 5’s hero ship, the White Star, which makes a continuing impact through the season, right up to the final episode. The first episode also introduces a new character, and a new force for good in the series, the Rangers, a gathering of members of all species, trained on Minbar to fight the Shadows, although mostly comprised of Minbari and Humans. The new character, Marcus Cole is a human with a rather whimsical soul, who quickly falls for Ivanova, but who has a core of steel when it comes to battle. I have to say that just like most of the decisions that Straczynski made with the story, Marcus Cole initially struck me as out of kilter in the show, but subsequent developments always rewarded sticking with the story. That’s one of the advantages that Straczynski had with Babylon 5. Given free reign by the studio to tell the story he wished to, he wasn’t beholden to anyone, and could take the characters and plots in wholly unexpected directions.
Certainly giving the station’s doctor, Stephen Franklin a drug addiction was a brave choice, and having it develop over the season, sending the character literally rock bottom before redeeming him is a choice that no other network would countenance in those days. In terms of character arcs, the most significant one would be that of John Sheridan’s growing closeness to Delenn, the former foe of the Minbari now falling in love with the Minbari ambassador; having finally moved on from the loss of his wife Anna. It’s perhaps the one joyous and pure arc in the show so tainted by shadows, pun intended, and of course it all gets subverted for the final episode in the season. G’Kar and Londo are at each other’s throats again, but G’Kar comes to a crossroads where he can either continue on his self-destructive path, or put aside his hatred and learn to sacrifice for the common good. He makes the right choice, but Londo on the other hand tries to pull back from the dark path that he has chosen, and is dragged back onto it. An early scene in the season sees the two of them trapped in a lift following a terrorist bombing, and there’s bittersweet justification for G’Kar given all that he has suffered. But the two still have some semblance of common ground, which leads to an unexpected development later on in the season, when Londo has to deal with a political opponent, and G’Kar turns out to be an unlikely ally.
Still, the severance from Earth puts many of the human characters’ arcs in something of a holding pattern. Ivanova might have had to deal with the ‘betrayal’ by Talia Winters, and the revelation that she was a latent telepath, but being cut off from Earth actually protects her from the Psi Corps scrutiny that you might have expected. For Garibaldi, his arc at first is tied up with the main storyline, with a significant fraction of his security forces subverted by Night Watch, the brownshirt analogy that has arisen with President Clark’s power grab, and the friction that results with his second in command, Zack Allen, coloured by the betrayal he suffered at the end of the first season when President Santiago was assassinated.
In terms of drama, the first half of the season is the strongest, with the growing fascistic movement on Earth constantly increasing the tensions on the station. The problems with the orders from Earthdome, the direction in which their leaders are heading, the increasing presence of Night Watch colours everything on the station, actually pushing the Shadow War to the background. So when the shoe drops, and all hell breaks loose in the Earth Alliance, with Clarke’s dictatorial power grab overwhelming the loyalist forces, it’s a stunning and effective moment in the show. It’s all the more effective in that it’s humans versus humans, instead of humans versus aliens, and given our own history (and present), it’s something that we can immediately relate to.
Once the last dregs of Night Watch are cleared out, it almost seems like a false dawn. The tension levels on the station plummet, the characters find some degree of comfort, and with the protection of the other races, Babylon 5 seems to get back to normal. The real danger at this point is external though, the ever encroaching Shadows and the intensification of their initial background machinations to outright aggression, setting worlds against each other in war. The tension does start to rise again, even if the interpersonal conflicts on the station have toned down. That is of course until that epic cliff-hanger of a season finale.
You might get the impression from this review that Season 3 is all one big storyline, and it is, but you do get the odd individual episodes that stand out still. Passing Through Gethsemane is an interesting look at crime and punishment, with a serial killer having had his personality erased is now given a new life contributing to society, but that’s a punishment that doesn’t take the families of his victims into account, having to live with the face of the killer given a reformed personality. A Late Delivery From Avalon has always stuck in my memory, a man claiming to be King Arthur arriving on the station, running from a tormented past. But by far the niftiest episodes are the War Without End two-parter, which show the other side of the Season 1 episode Babylon Squared, when Babylon 4 suddenly reappeared. The reason behind that space station skipping through time is finally revealed, and it adds to the tapestry of the Babylon 5 universe in an epic way. At the same time as answering some questions, Sheridan becomes unstuck in time, gets some glimpses of the future that open up a whole new set of questions.
For quite a while, John Sheridan was told by the Vorlon Ambassador Kosh that if he went to Z’Ha’Dum, he would die. And at the end of season 3, he went to Z’Ha’Dum, but not for the reason that you might have expected when Kosh made that warning. By this time, Babylon 5 was essential viewing, and I can’t remember how I dealt with waiting for the resolution of that cliff-hanger. Fortunately this time I don’t have to.