The TDF Top 10: Babylon 5
In a new series of features for The Digital Fix, our team of writers are selecting the 10 greatest episodes / two-parters from a whole host of TV shows. This time, we head back into space to look at the 10 greatest episodes of Babylon 5...
In a time where Star Trek dominated the sci-fi television landscape, Babylon 5 was a very different beast. White it shared some similarities with rival Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Babylon 5 was imagined as a five-year novel by creator J Michael Straczynski. Conceived as The Lord of the Rings in space, the show centred around several massive story arcs - the continued fallout and mysteries surrounding the Earth / Mimbari war, the legacy of the telepaths and the insidious Psicorp, the Narn / Cebtauri war, the coming of the Shadows and the galactic conflict that followed and an increasingly corrupt Earth, that would see the station swear independence and then lead a war to free Earthforce from President Clark.
While much of the first two and a half seasons were a mix of stand-alone episodes and arc-based episodes, when the Earth / Shadow war really kicked off, almost every episode until the end of season four was essential viewing. Picking the 10 best episodes / two-parters from the show then, becomes something of a challenge. Is the relatively stand-alone season one, which built the stepping stones for future stories, largely out of the equation? The same for the Shadow build up in season two? Does the conflicts of season three and four dominate? And what about season five, which looses a huge momentum for the first half with the Byron arc and then redeems itself with the fall of Centauri Prime? And that's not accounting for a number of superb stand alone episodes even among the epic storytelling of the larger arcs.
The top ten episodes / two-parters here, are those Babylon 5 episodes that had the most impact. The great character pieces, the revelations, and emotion tour-de force moments. Let us present The TDF Top 10: Babylon 5...
10: The Fall of Centauri Prime (5.18)
Fans have a tendency to rule out season five. With the threat of cancellation, J Michael Straczynski wrapped up the big storylines by the end of season four and while the idea of telling the story of what happens after peace is won is an interesting idea, the pace of the show falls of a chasm for a time with the focus on Byron and his telepath colony. But the second half of the final season certainly recaptures the magic of earlier years as the Centauri are revealed to be behind attacks on the Alliance, all part of a massive act of revenge by the Shadow's allies, the Drahk. The shocking attack on the Centauri homeworld in Movements of Fire and Shadow sees the mighty Centauri Empire reduced to ashes.
All of which leads to the brilliant The Fall of Centauri Prime, an episode that wraps up Londo Mollari's arc in the most tragic manner possible. From his final farewell with enemy turned best friend G'Kar to his long, lonely march to his coronation, possessed by a Keeper, Peter Jurasik absolutely sells Londo's grim fate; he gets everything he wanted and with it, his freedom. It's a forbidding climax to the Centauri Prime arc and one of the finest characters in Babylon 5's history.
9: Confessions and Lamentations (2.18)
An episode that becomes even more harrowing given the currently worldwide circumstances, Confessions and Lamentations is a powerful meditation of death, disease and persecution. Coming amid the climax of the Narn-Centauri war, this season two installment sees recurring alien race the Markab start to sucumb to a 100% fatal disease.
The speed at which the disease breaks down the Markab society is chilling. Doctor Franklin races to find a cure, while Delenn and Lennier provide palliative care to the dying as they are ostracised from the rest of the station. The spread of fear and hatred is extreme, but not all too unimaginable. And it is the final shocking twist - the death of the entire race - that really makes this episode so powerful. Delenn's anguished face as Sheridan consoles her, the dead Markab all around her, is a grim moment, one that lingers long after the credits have rolled...
8: Between the Darkness and the Light (4.19)
The final chapters in the Earth civil war arc in the second half of season eight offer some of the greatest episodes Babylon 5 ever produced. Situated after the disturbing events of Sheridan's interrogation in Intersections In Real Time and the climax of Endgame, Between the Darkness and the Light is a thrilling episode that sees Ivanova go head to head with a terrifying fleet of Clark's Earthforce-Shadow hybrid ships, while Garibaldi faces the consequences of his betrayal.
"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."
This episode offers Claudia Christian's greatest performance as Ivanova as she stares down the enemy; the very image of the Shadow technology onboard Clark's ships shows just how far he has gone. It's a dramatic blaze of glory, ending in a shockingly tragic cliff-hanger as Ivanova is fatally injured, setting her scene for her departure from the show and another tragic death to come next episode...
7: Intersections In Real Time (4.18)
And talking of season four, the episode preceding it, is another Babylon 5 highlight. The show wasn't afraid to be experimental at times, and Intersections In Real Time plays out as a twisted Beckett play as Sheridan is subject to interrogation again and again and again, his world crumbling away before him. The core cast are stripped away, making this episode a two-hander between the oppressor and the oppressed.
Raye Birk is superb as the calm, collected interrogator, finding ways to manipulate Sheridan, to twist his way of thinking and get him to admit his crimes. The scenes are harrowing, Sheridan's poisoned sandwich and the fake execution of the Drazi prisoner both breaking Sheridan down. Bruce Boxleitner 's performance is equally as riveting, fighting back against his interrogation, refusing to yield and even in the episode's closing moments, as he begins to re-live everything again under another interrogator, there is a desperate hope that he might just survive his torment.
6: And Now For A Word (2.15)
Of all Babylon 5's biggest experiments, the second season episode And Now For A Word might be the most successful. The entire episode is framed an ISN special documentary, complete with adverts; the PsiCorp ad is delightfully twisted. Kim Zimmer's performance sharp tongued presenter Cynthia Torqueman is on point throughout, with sly remarks and nods to the audience that make her utterly believable in the role.
The vinaigrettes with the characters are perfect too; from Sheridan's boyish enthusiasm and pride in Earthforce to Ivanova's bluntness (and the hilarious miss-pronunciation of her name). But while the episode certainly plays up the humour, there is also plenty of twists and misdirection, particularly the interview with Delenn that is really uncomfortable to watch. And Now For A Word is such a good episode, Babylon 5 would repeat it - of sorts - in season four's The Illusion of Truth, though it would fail to quite reach the heights of its predecessor.
5: Sleeping in Light (5.22)
Filmed at the end of season four (hence Claudia Christian's final appearance as Ivanova), the finale of Babylon 5 is a bittersweet swansong to the show and one of the greatest TV finales of all time. Jumping forward 19 years, Sleeping in Light sees Sheridan reunite his friends one last time before heading beyond the Rim while Babylon 5 itself is decommissioned.
Going with a quiet character piece, rather than a bombastic finale, Sleeping in Light is full of deeply emotional scenes and performances. The reunion on Mimbar is a lovely sequence, with a Ivanova still broken by the death of Marcus finding a new path and Delenn and Sheridan's final scene, going out for a Sunday drive is heart-breaking, backed by a breathless score by Christopher Franke. But nothing quite matches the destruction of Babylon 5, that soaring music, the flames tearing through the station, which gives goosebumps on every viewing. Coupled with the happier moments - Garibaldi and Franklin on Mars, Vir as Emperor - this is the perfect closure to the five-year saga.
4: Endgame (4.20)
Another fourth-season entry, Endgame is the thrilling conclusion to the Earth civil war, packed with plenty of twists and turns to the very end. Sheridan's final gambit, using the Shadow-tech telepaths to disable the fleet and then jumping to Earth to stop Clark from turning the defences on the planet delivers some of the biggest nail-biting events in the show's history.
But Endgame also offers some big emotional highs and lows. Sheridan's old ship the Agamemnon saving him from death is a fist-pumping moment, while Marcus sacrificing his life to save Ivanova is traumatising. J. Michael Straczynski's script is packed with big moments, with taught direction by John Copeland delivering a satisfying conclusion to everything that had come before it.
3: War Without End (3.16 / 3.17)
War Without End comes in the early days of the outbreak of the Shadow War in season three, serving as an epic sequel to season one's Babylon Squared, sets up the return of Sinclair and the mystery of Galen and even manages a trip into the future to seal the fates of G'Kar and Londo. It's a dizzying state of affairs that brings the former commander of Babylon 5 and Sheridan together in an unravelling time travel mystery that sees the crew of Babylon 5 responsible for the mysterious disappearance of its predecessor Babylon 4.
Sheridan's trip to the future sets up his son with Delenn (even before their relationship began) and the appearance of Drahk that will take control after the fall of their masters. Tim Choate's Zathras makes a delightful return and the spin on the events of season one are an absolute delight. A clever, thrilling epic narrative that sees Babylon 5 at its height, this is a staggering piece of television and a joy to watch from beginning to end.
2: Severed Dreams (3.10)
Severed Dreams is the moment Baylon 5 really shakes everything up. Aftet the focus on President Clark's actions in Messages From Earth and Point of No Return, Severed Dreams sees station break away from Earth in protest and face the full might of Clark's forces in a frenzied battle.
The episode boasts some of the show's biggest battle sequences - the assault on the station by ground forces and Earth Force ships is epic; Narn forces dying during the assault, Starfuries firing on one another, the destruction of the cruisers all offer a relentless forty minutes of television, culminating in Delenn's stand-off with the second wave of enemy ships, that give the character her finest moment to date.
1: The Long Twilight Struggle (2.20)
Babylon 5's greatest characters are Londo and G'Kar and The Long Twilight Struggle offers some of their biggest moments as the Centauri-Narn comes to a brutal end and the full might of the Shadows is finally unleashed. A mix of dramatic action to spine-tingling emotional speeches, this is an astoundingly tragic episode for all involved. The full Shadow fleet finally unmasked is a staggering sequence, while Londo's face as he watches the assault on the Narn homeworld from his ship is chilling.
"No dictator, no invader can hold an imprisoned population by force of arms forever. There is no greater power in the universe than the need for freedom. Against that power tyrants and dictators cannot stand. The Centauri learned that lesson once. We will teach it to them again. Though it take a thousand years, we will be free."
The late, great Andreas Katsulas delivers a haunting speech as G'Kar is stripped of his powers in the powerful climax on the station. Londo, once a pathetic character, cements himself as a villain, trapped by his own actions, while G'Kar, often a villain of the earliest episodes, emerges as a noble, doomed matyr, setting up his transformation into a hero with his defiant stand off against his sworn enemy. Powerful stuff, making this episode Babylon 5's greatest episode of all time...
Babylon 5 is packed with some many great episodes and moments that there were plenty of episodes that almost made the cut. Chrysalis, The Coming of Shadows, The Fall of Night, Passing Through Gethsemane, Point of No Return, Z'ha'dum, Into The Fire and The Long Night of Londo Mollari were just some of the great episodes up for consideration.
What are your favourite episodes of Babylon 5? Let us know in the comments below...
Liked this article? Check out our Greatest TV Characters feature on Londo and G'Kar...