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Old October 29th 16, 21:12   #2
Join Date: Oct 2016
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The Babylon 5 Official Viewing Order Pt. 2


Still, the logistics of the initial two seasons, but especially the 1st season, almost immediately created continuity-of-storyline problems for such a serialized series, a type of show, we must remember, almost unheard of before Babylon 5. Occasional scheduling problems, or network demands, required some episodes to air in an order deviating from JMS’ intent. In most cases, the impact proved minor: some discontinuity in dialogue, maybe an abrupt or unexplained change in tone from one episode to the next. In a couple of occasions, an episode ended with obvious foreshadowing or a cliffhanger that became inexplicably separated by another unrelated episode -- though, in one particular case during the 3rd season, the airing out-of-intended-order actually improved continuity and has now become canonical.

For some of the episodes, however, the broadcast sequence would not really matter. JMS purposely designed a handful for the first three seasons (and the fifth, because the show had moved to a new network) specifically for insertion anywhere in the season. Rearranging these episodes would not break the overall continuity. This practice became nonexistent during the most important and dramatically powerful 4th Season. Nevertheless, even the “plug-and-play” episodes possess an original intended “slot.”

Several syndicated and foreign networks, furthermore, would ignore the episode “broadcast order” provided by Warner Bros and simply aired the episodes in production order. This resulted in an entirely scrambled storyline for Season 1 and hit an audience with some jarring inconsistencies during Season 2. It also presents difficulties for incorporation of the movies, and this practice especially complicated Crusade, because of extremely difficult circumstances behind the camera, which effectively obliterated JMS’ intended plot for that series’ (admittedly less intense) three year arc of a planned five year run.


Since Babylon 5 and its spin-offs aired, however, JMS (and to some extent the most devoted fans) established an “official viewing order,” which maintains not only the continuity of storyline but also displays the fashion, tone, effect, manner, and tale that JMS intended. This “official order,” i.e. the precise episode plotting within the season plotting within the overall series plot, thus established a canonical timeline -- a definitive calendar that creates an in-universe chronology -- only alluded to or mentioned quite casually in a few of the episodes during the show’s run. That chronology not only dictates the order one should watch the series itself but also shows how a viewer incorporates the movies, the spin-off series, and the DVD release.

I will post later in this thread that “official viewing order” as originally sanctioned by JMS (with certain caveats) along with the most widely accepted chronology it created for the fictional Babylon 5 universe. I have listed the episodes below by title in the order one should watch them all to experience the entire epic from beginning to end. This order, of course, differs considerably from the one in which the series and films actually aired during their initial runs (especially in the case of Crusade).

Caveat 1:
ongoing and strong arguments exist among diehard fans about the 2nd made-for-television movie In the Beginning. It takes place a decade before the series itself begins, but production occurred during the 4th Season. The story reveals several “mysteries” presented and subsequently uncovered during the run of those four seasons (especially illustrated, for example, by the very first appearance of Delenn). Because of this, some fans advocate one should view this film during or after Season 4 while still others say after Season 5 (as a kind of flashback).

Technically, the movie opens during Season 3’s The War Without End, after Lando has Sheridan taken to his cell, and it ends just before Lando sends guards to bring both Sheridan and Delenn back to the throne room.

Nevertheless, JMS voiced his preference: “frankly, if I were going to introduce someone off on B5, I’d definitely want to start with In the Beginning, which sort of skims in and out of the overall storyline in a beautiful fashion.”

The result becomes one of effect. The movie will act as an Ancient Greek Chorus. It lays the foundation for the Babylon 5 universe and sets-up the tale of the series to follow. Thus, the audience begins the show already knowing most -- but not all -- of the answers for several of the questions that surface during the pilot and first three seasons (though in several cases they know only part of the answer). The characters, however, do not know those answers nor, with a couple of mysteries, even understand the actual question. The audience thus watches to see how all of these revelations come to affect them.

A quick side note
: In the Beginning also creates two “mysteries” in its final scene. One of these, however, the audience will not even recognize as a mystery until the 3rd season. Then, when the audience watches War Without End, they will realize both mysteries while receiving the answers at the same time (unique, as far as I know, in television history) and then be hit with a third mystery.

Regardless, the four seasons, as they unfold, offer the characters the needed revelations while at the same time adding a fuller context and even some missing information for the audience regarding these questions that practically land in our laps by viewing the prequel movie first.

Having experienced the show both ways, I strongly prefer this route.

Caveat 2:
fans simply cannot agree on the 1st Season. It contains the largest number of “self-contained” episodes for the entire show. Moreover, the show was, of course, brand new, and the “growing pains” it experienced meant several episodes, as explained above, aired “out-of-order.” Nevertheless, this season, above all others, could in any case move around episodes without jeopardizing (given some thought) the overall dramatic continuity. This actually makes sense, given that this season serves as an extended introduction for everything that follows and serialization remained at a minimum, so the show could collect an audience.

When the show first aired, furthermore, the crew employed internet marketing to create a “buzz” among online readers in advance of episode broadcasts, with JMS participating in online communities such as USENET (in the newsgroup) as well as GEnie and CompuServe. In 1995, Warner Bros. started the Official Babylon 5 Website (on the now defunct Pathfinder portal). In September 1995, furthermore, they hired a fan to take over the site, move it to its own domain, and to oversee the Keyword B5 area on America Online.

During this time, some of the show’s most ardent devotees created the Lurker’s Guide to Babylon 5. It grew to become the most complete online resource for fans of the show. JMS provided his “official arrangement” of the episodes, which had a handful of deviations from the broadcast schedule.

This is the order I prefer.

Nevertheless, JMS has also sanctioned the monograph Across Time and Space: The Chronologies of Babylon 5. It contains two complete calendars: Terry Jones' “Babylon 5 Historical Database” and I. Marc Carlson's “Timeline of the Babylon 5 / Crusade Universe.” Together, these two documents remain the only sources that provide the complete picture of the Babylon 5 universe, and how it fits in the history of the world, while also weaving the entire Babylon 5 universe into one, cohesive narrative.

In doing so, it completely rearranged the episodes for Season 1 from both the initial airings as well as JMS’ originally sanctioned ordering. While interesting, this new chronology also moves only a couple of episodes in Season 2 but simply restores the broadcast order for Season 3, that latter of which ignores the comments JMS made online during and after production. It then goes on to create jarring inconsistencies for Crusade, because it takes into account episodes that never aired (see next caveat).

I have nonetheless listed the order dictated by Across Time and Space as an alternative -- for those of you not prejudiced like I am by JMS’ original preferred sequence.

I opine it a coin toss as to which order proves better or more cohesive

Last edited by Alkibiades410; October 30th 16 at 15:47.
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