Babylon 5 was, beyond any shadow of a doubt, the best American SF show since the original Star Trek, and the most influential. Though never amazingly popular here in the states, pretty much every genre program since has owed at least an indirect debt to ground plowed and made fallow by it. Joseph Michael Straczynski conceived of it as a five year ‘novel for television,’ an arc-based program with a definite beginning, middle, and end, and while the hype is, as ever, hyped and somewhat unbelievable, he did, in fact, accomplish most of what he’d intended, though not really in the ways he intended it ( http://www.republibot.com/content/hidden-evolution-babylon-5 and http://www.republibot.com/content/hidden-evolution-babylon-5-part-ii-%E2... ) Though it’s since stumbled through several ill-fated spinoff/revival attempts, and been overshadowed by flashier, more popular productions, it holds up really well, far better than any of its peers from the era, and it’s still a pretty compelling, complex, fascinating story.
It is, however, rather daunting for newbies to jump in to. I mean, there’s something like a hundred and thirty-five hours of B5 and B5-related stuff, set in a completely new fictional universe that pretty much no one knew anything about at the time. It was threatening for Trekies then, and a huge investment of time for people with only mild curiosity now.
We’re going to be going through the series slowly, looking it over, and pointing out things of interest for the benefit of any of you out there who want to follow along. I had *intended* to do the entire franchise, including books and comics - in chronological order with the episodes, but that has quickly proven to be too daunting a task for me, so we'll just do our normal Retrospeculative treatment.
PLAY BY PLAY
Babylon 5 is a massive space station five miles long, orbiting a planet in the Epsilon Eridani solar system, ten and a half light years from earth. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epsilon_Eridani ) It’s a La Grange colony ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trojan_points#L4_and_L5 ) built on a heavily-modified O’Neil Cylinder design ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O%27Neill_Cylinder ) Nearly a decade earlier, there had been a massive space war between Earth and an alien race called the “Minbari” which very nearly rendered our species extinct. In the hopes that such wars could be avoided in the future, the earth Government decided to build a space station in neutral territory, located more-or-less evenly between earth and the four other major alien governments: The Minbari, the Narn, the Centauri, and the Vorlon.
It’s function is basically a diplomatic establishment, but it also functions/pays the bills by working as a free trade port, and there’s lots of traffic coming through all the time. Think of it as a kind of United Nations located in Casablanca, and you’ll get the feel they’re going for here.
The whole “Babylon Project” hasn’t exactly been prosperous thus far. The first three attempts to build a Babylon space station were destroyed by internal sabotage, the fourth one appeared to be going fine, then disappeared without a trace 24 hours after being completed. (These are all details that’ll pay off later in the run of the series) Babylon 5 was, hence, built on a shoestring budget, and without a lot of confidence that it would work, or even survive. (Which is a clever way to explain the threadbare sets, since the series itself was run on a shoestring budget, and without a lot of confidence on the part of many people) Thus, even before we get going, the station is somewhat beleaguered by real-world problems like money, public confidence, trade patterns, government contracts, political tension, and stuff like that. That may not sound like much nowadays, but in a decade dominated by the sterile Maoist utopia known as Star Trek, it was both revolutionary and a breath of fresh air.
As the show starts out, the station has been up and running for a month or three. Representatives from three alien races are already on the station - Minbari, Centauri, and Narn - and the fourth and final one - the Vorlon - is en rout. Earth is represented by the guy who actually runs the station, Commander Jeffrey David Sinclair, who is, himself, a veteran of the Earth/Minbari war.
Literally within a minute of coming on board the station, Ambasador Kosh - the Vorlon - is the victim of an assassination attempt, and is in a coma. This happens shortly after a Telepath arrives on the station at roughly the same time Sinclair’s girlfriend does, so they both seem suspicious,