Winning both Hugo and Emmy Awards, Babylon 5 has become a modern-day science fiction classic series popular around the world. Series creator J. Michael Straczynski conceived of the series as a novel told over five years – plotting out the main story beforehand so he knew roughly how each storyline would progress, even if forced to change the exact details along the way. In that way, Babylon 5 was both ambitious and ahead of its time when it debuted in 1994. By using long story arcs before the format became popular in episodic television, the series became a fan-favorite and dedicated viewers were treated to quite a ride.
Here are some of the more memorable episodes from Babylon 5.
Confessions and Lamentations
Season 2, Episode 18
A deadly disease is sweeping through the Markab race with a 100% mortality rate, and Doctor Stephen Franklin races to find a cure. Sounds like a pretty standard sci-fi plot, right? Not for Babylon 5. Babylon 5 has always tried to focus on the reality of a situation despite the sci-fi setting of the show. “Confessions and Lamentations” is one of the perfect examples of this: By the end of the episode, the plague is not cured and the status quo is not restored. The entire Markab race is killed by the plague, and questions of religious faith versus science are addressed.
In the episode, the existence of the Drafa Plague in Markab society is a closely guarded secret. It had once wiped out the inhabitants of a remote island who were known for their immoral lifestyle. The Markab came to see the plague as a punishment from the gods, so when the disease returned, the Markab hid its existence, believing that their faith would protect them. It is this secrecy that doomed them – for even though a cure is found, it comes too late for the Markab population.
The episode offers emotional gut punches one after the other. From scenes of the dead Markab on Babylon 5, to Delenn’s shattered emotional state after spending her time with the Markab during their final hours, “Confessions and Lamentations” sears itself into your memory simply because you were probably not expecting that exact outcome. The episode is also notable for highlighting Dr. Franklin’s increased use of stims to stay awake, an issue that would become part of his character arc as the season progressed. (Watch the episode on Go90.)
And Now For a Word
Season 2, Episode 15
Babylon 5 experimented with its episode format every now and then. “The Deconstruction of Falling Stars” took a look at the future of the Babylon 5 universe through a series of short stories. “The Corps Is Mother, the Corps Is Father” is told from the point of view of two Psi Cop trainees under the tutelage ofAlfred Bester. “A View from the Gallery” focused on two low-level Babylon 5 maintenance workers as they go about their daily routine and interact with the command crew and live through the day’s crisis. But the episode that began the trend was “And Now for a Word.”
The entire episode is told in documentary style as an ISN news crew films on the station. In amongst scripted interviews and sponsorships, the footage includes candid moments that help drive the story forward. The viewer has to piece together the story through the fragmented information they receive, but that information is filtered through the lens of a news agency that is looking for the most interesting story while also seemingly creating a propaganda piece to further the Earth’s government’s pro-human stance.
“And Now for a Word” takes a look at the situation on Babylon 5 from the other side, or at least from the view of what is being told to the average citizen. The episode got a sequel of sorts in the Season 4 episode, “The Illusion of Truth,” which also dealt with an ISN reporter on the station. (Watch the episode on Go90.)
Sleeping in Light
Season 5, Episode 22
“Sleeping in Light” is the series finale of Babylon 5. It was originally filmed at the end of Season 4 when it was unclear if Babylon 5 was to be renewed for a fifth season. The series was eventually renewed, and “Sleeping in Light” was held to close out Season 5, with the newly filmed “The Deconstruction of Falling Stars” taking its place as a season finale.
Set 20 years after the end of Season 5, it focuses on John Sheridan’s final days as he knows that his life is nearing its end. Sheridan gathers his friends together to say goodbye and remember their lost comrades. It is a touching and emotional episode that sees viewers say goodbye not only to Sheridan, but to Babylon 5 itself.
“Sleeping in Light” is not perfect. Having been filmed so far in advance means that it did not acknowledge the events of Season 5 in all but the broadest strokes, and did not address the fates of characters like Babylon 5’s new commander, Captain Elizabeth Lochley. But on the flip side, the episode does feature the “return” of Susan Ivanova, who was not in Season 5. Regardless of its flaws, “Sleeping in Light” is the perfect way to end the series. (Watch the episode on Go90.)
War Without End, Parts I & II
Season 3, Episodes 16 & 17
The two-parter “War Without End” is Babylon 5 at its finest. The series is well known for the long-running storylines that weave throughout the narrative; plot points introduced in one season may not pay off for several more years. It is a testament to the vision and storytelling prowess of J. Michael Straczynski that everything is resolved in a way that not only makes sense, but is entertaining as well.
“War Without End” resolves several plot arcs at the same time and sheds light on several more. The mystery of Babylon 4’s disappearance that was highlighted in Season 1’s “Babylon Squared” is revisited; original Babylon 5 commander Jeffrey Sinclair returns; and the reason for the Minbari surrender during theEarth-Minbari War is expanded on. Due to the time travel nature of the episodes, “War Without End” deftly weaves in events from the past and future to create two of Babylon 5’s most compelling episodes.
The two episodes are littered with wonderful character moments, and highlight one of Babylon 5’s most underrated and forgotten elements: comedy. Babylon 5 has always balanced more serious story elements with lighthearted comedy and character moments — Garibaldi’s love of cartoons and G’Kar mistaking a picture of Daffy Duck for one of his “household gods” being a prime example. “War Without End” moves seamlessly between serious storytelling (Babylon 4 and the Shadow War) and comedy (the alien Zathras who is one of ten brothers all with the same name but different pronunciations). (Watch the episodes on Go90.)
Season 3, Episode 10
“Severed Dreams” pays off almost three seasons of storytelling. The Earth government becomes more and more draconian in its policies, clamping down on civil liberties and freedoms ever since President Santiago was assassinated at the end of Season 1 and replaced by President Clark. After ordering the bombing of civilian targets on Mars, planets of the Earth Alliance begin to declare their independence.
Forewarned by members of a resistance to Clark’s regime within the military, Sheridan learns that Earth Alliance ships are on their way to take control of Babylon 5. Unwillingly to submit to President Clark’s control, Sheridan declares independence for Babylon 5. A fierce battle between Earth forces on both sides of the conflict erupt around Babylon 5.
“Severed Dreams” is effectively the halfway point of the entire series, serving as an end point for several ongoing storylines, but opening the way for new ones. It is also the point where Babylon 5 moves into high gear in terms of the coming wars that Sheridan and his crew fight in. From here on in, the Shadow War and Earth Civil War are positioned to be major story arcs moving forward. Babylon 5 was the galaxy’s last, best hope for peace. (Watch the episode on Go90.)
All episodes of Babylon 5 now air on the Go90 website and app.