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Old October 29th 16, 21:04   #1
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The Babylon 5 Official Viewing Order Pt. 1 (Intro)


Anyone who desires to view the entire run of Babylon 5 cannot suffer from a feint heart. The task appears overwhelming, and many have dubbed the television series the most intimidating Sci-Fi show in existence. Some even labeled it the “Gravity’s Rainbow” of TV. Babylon 5 originally aired from 1993-1998. During and after the course of this five season run, the show presented 110 episodes, spawned four television movies, one (incomplete) spin-off series of thirteen episodes, a pilot for a second (but never commissioned) series, and one direct to DVD release consisting of two episodes.

The show’s creator (producer and primary writer), J. Michael Straczynski (JMS), crafted a richly mythic, overreaching tale -- a virtual science fiction epic -- with a clear and specific “Five Year Arc,” which had a set beginning and would have a definite ending. The downside of such an approach, however, meant that a viewer could not simply start watching the show at just any point. They would not recognize not to mention appreciate the more important story developments. They would not enjoy the complex character interactions, revel in their growths and changes, nor would they care about any of this. By the 3rd season, moreover, they would utterly fail to understand the plot.

Nevertheless, JMS sought to make a great “science fiction television series.” That meant the show must prove itself both good science fiction and good television. JMS succeeded spectacularly, and Babylon 5 quite rightly earned a reputation for excellence. He geared it towards adults. He tackled complex and controversial topics. He zealously kept his vision unaltered, and he relentlessly drove the series toward his preconceived conclusion.


5 thus tells an ultra-serialized story. When it began, the show not only aired individual episodes (i.e. a “conflict of the week”), but each episode served as one part of a slowly forming ongoing plot for the season, still watchable as a separate chapter, yes, but, taken together, formed a larger story. Ultimately, that first season became, as fans would come to learn, the opening chapter of a much grander space opera, which grew more complex and more pressing as the seasons progressed.

In other words, each season presented a set number of episodes with specific plots that took place during a given year. Taken together, these episodes revealed a larger plot for that season. The five seasons together then formed one enormous and sweeping plot. In short, we find plots within plots within a single plot: telling us the story of Babylon 5’s founding (the last of the Babylon Stations) to the formation of the Interstellar Alliance (AD 2258-2262).

This novel approach for a television series, in fact, would prove wildly ahead of its time, and thus became the influence for future serialized television shows (e.g. LOST, 24, Fringe, Walking Dead, Designated Survivor, et alii). Babylon 5, however, in many ways surpasses anything that has followed, precisely because JMS knew how the series would end before it began. Babylon 5 is so sweeping, in fact, that many who claim to have watched the whole thing to its bittersweet end actually have not.



The original series alone seems, at first glance, stunningly long -- 110 hrs of viewing -- and then it adds almost 30 hours of movies and spin-offs. Some of the episodes can prove quite dense at times, others rather corny, but they all require your attention. Moreover, the viewer suffers occasional cheesy dialogue, performances offer some over-the-top and, at other times, sub-par acting. The earliest episodes also possess cost effective and somewhat obviously reused sets (though production quality increased greatly by the 3rd Season), and, as with any TV series, the audience must claw through a handful of plodding episodes -- especially during the show’s 1st and 5th Seasons.

Nevertheless, Babylon 5 claims many of the genre’s most spectacular moments -- many of those still unparalleled on television. These moments include some of the most dramatically powerful, humorous, climatic, and heart-wrenching scenes. The show seized many great triumphs with its captivating and intricate plots as well as having a whole pantheon of complex, multi-faceted, ever changing, and widely diverse characters. These characters encounter intense intrigue; frustrating mysteries, suffer reversals of fortune, and provide their audiences moments of brilliant introspection with a fair number of shocking revelations -- all peppered throughout with light humor, clever interactions, and quite sly inside jokes and dialogue.


Even with all this acknowledged brilliance, Babylon 5 still remains the most underrated science fiction show in existence, because it requires such a serious commitment, and this necessarily limits its fan base. For any viewer to experience fully everything it offers, they must watch the whole show from beginning to end. Only with such a commitment, will any aficionado of science fiction come to cherish all these particulars, which the show’s most vocal adherents expound, that gave rise to this well-deserved reputation.

At its best, Babylon 5 challenges the audience’s ideas of democracy, the power of faith, government authority, legitimacy, loyalty, censorship, privacy, slavery, imperialism, sacrifice, tolerance, xenophobia, honor, devotion, existential threats (like plagues, invasions, suppression), racism, fanatic religions (and religious intolerance), as well as force its audiences to witness clashes between moralities and beliefs.

The show depicts diplomatic maneuvering, civil conflicts, wars, coups, assassinations, genocide, legal fights, romance, political campaigns and intrigue, betrayal, revelation, and ethical dilemmas. During those events, the show’s often rotating ring of rich and unique characters will grow, develop, change, mature, overcome, display flaws, and, in several cases, even fail or die (long before killing-off major characters on TV became “vogue,” a trick now practically driven into the ground [e.g. Game of Thrones]).

The relationships of Babylon 5 in fact often come to drive the show’s development as much as the underlying plots through which they move. Character developments become most prevalent during the show’s fifth and final season.


While the majority of single episodes, or in a couple of cases, a pair of episodes, of the 1st Season, as well as a handful from the 2nd Season and a few from the 3rd and 5th, stand alone as self-contained dramas, a certain number of those episodes become pivotal to the “big picture” (which JMS called "WHAM" episodes). Nevertheless, JMS’ incredible focus on a multi-season plot meant that even the earliest, most self-contained episodes, and, in most cases, the more “plodding” ones, have singular moments connected to future episodes, revealing key information or some important clue, which, if missed, make understanding the “larger picture” JMS painted more difficult to understand let alone appreciate.

The practical realities of syndicated television production also meant JMS planned from the outset for the logistics of creating such an ambitious series on a limited budget with the necessities of broadcasting, which a fluctuating schedule demanded (e.g. “sweeps week,” which still existed at the time). He also knew he had to allow for and even anticipate unforeseen circumstances, which might arise during the course of filming and airing a show -- a show that required years to tell its story -- such as actor availability (the unexpected early departure of Michael O’Hare being the most well-known example among the show’s fans).

JMS called those specific contingencies, for example, “trap doors.” He could exit any character at any time and transfer the major developments to another one. He could also move story lines, expand or retard them as required, alter particular plot points, while still remaining true to his original vision.

When production began, moreover, such advance planning allowed JMS to schedule together the filming of specific episodes that might use the same sets or featured a recurring guest star, thus greatly reducing costs, or, alternatively, allow for additional post-production time on the more visually complex ones. Once completed, JMS would then set the actual airing order. For example, the crew filmed the 1st season finale 12th, but obviously aired it last

Last edited by Alkibiades410; October 30th 16 at 15:45.
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