The end of season one of Babylon 5 comes like a whirlwind. The series has been building and as we hit the final episode, JMS pulls out all the stops and gives us one heck of a cliffhanger. Actually it’s less of a cliffhanger and more of an “end of chapter one”. The series plays out like five chapters of a book and in the end, season one has a sense of finality to it. If we’re practical, the series plays out like a 5-book series, with each episode per book, an individual chapter. Regardless, this is an ending in some ways and Sinclair’s final thoughts sum it all up: “nothing’s the same anymore”. But what exactly does that mean?
As the story ends, Michael Garibaldi has been shot by his second in command. His life hangs by a thread. After a secret message from Kosh, Delenn has entered a cocoon, the titular Chrysalis. Earth Force One, with President Santiago on board, has been destroyed, leaving Vice President Clark in charge. Sinclair doesn’t know what this means for the station. From the moment the episode opens, it has the sense that things are escalating quickly. But it’s a tour de force that leaves the viewer reeling and full of questions. In this way, it works like a cliff-hanger; you can’t leave the series now.
One of the neat things about the show is that each season takes place over the course of a year. As this story takes place right on Dec 30th and 31st of 2258, there’s the sense of ending built right into the structure of the episode. It also allows the next season to start like a real new year; it’s not just a new year for the show, it’s a new year for the characters too.
Let’s not ignore the other great thing about this series: the setup. Watch most shows and Chekov’s gun is introduced in act one to be used in act three. It’s a common trick but often comes off as too convenient. Take for instance in the Doctor Who New Year’s day special, Resolution, which for some reason, Aaron walks around town with a microwave. It makes little sense and comes off as really idiotic, until we realize it has to be used for the finale. It’s too convenient. Batman at least had the “Bat-shark repellent” but that was a small spray can! By contrast, Babylon 5 sets up ideas weeks and even years, before they pay off. Sure this requires some work on the part of the audience; we need to remember things and make connections, but this is where Straczynski treats the viewer like we have a brain – something most television shows fail to do completely. Think about it: in TKO, Walker tells Garibaldi to watch his back; it’s his parting line in the episode. Great use of foreshadowing! Another, in And the Sky Full of Stars, there is a newspaper visible which reads: Psi Corps in Election Tangle: Did Psi-Corps Violate its Charter by Endorsing Vice President? Does this play a role in the assassination of the President? Are they behind it? Again, foreshadowing, or just a red herring? Knowing that the series, and specifically lead writer J. Michael Straczynski, is so adept at long-term planning, one has to wonder what that means about The Shadows and the corp. Remember, just two episodes ago, in Babylon Squared, Jeff sees a future where they are fighting an invisible enemy.
Speaking of Babylon Squared, attentive viewers might recall that at the end of the episode, we saw future-Jeff on camera, but not future-Delenn. We hear her and even see her arm, but we do not see her face. Perhaps the cocoon offers a reason? What will she look like when she emerges? So many questions, one boggles that this was a series that aired on network television, making viewers wait week to week and season to season. And we are left wondering so much… What was Delenn’s question to Kosh that prompted her going into the cocoon? Why did she need to see Kosh before she did it? What was that sound when Kosh opened his encounter suit? What was Delenn so intent on telling Jeff and did Kosh know? Kosh does advise Jeff that “you have forgotten something” so he must have known. How will the death of the President impact the station? Was the Psi-Corp actually involved? Who killed the President? And was Kemmer, Garibaldi’s pseudo-niece, with the president when the ship exploded?
I echo Sinclair’s words: “Nothing’s the same anymore!” And I can’t wait to see where it goes from here! ML
The view from across the pond:
“Nothing’s the same any more.”
Well, you can say that again. After five months of jogging along with the occasional exciting episode, suddenly everything kicks off here, and the episode throws all kinds of major developments at us and then ends. It left me with a feeling of, “oh, is that it?”, which is a daring way to end a series, but it certainly leaves you wanting more.
It’s quite interesting, because I had always assumed the style of writing that introduces more and more mysteries and takes ages to answer them really only started with Lost, and was a universally terrible idea, but here is a very similar approach to series writing that vastly predates Lost, and does it all a whole lot better (assuming we do eventually get coherent answers to all the mysteries). Several aspects of this episode have been built up to over the course of the first series, and now we seem to be building towards something a whole lot bigger.
The full cast is involved in this episode, for the first time I think. Oh, what about Talia? Was she in it? She’s so boring that I tend to blot her out of my mind anyway. It’s also the first time the lineup is used as it must surely have been intended, with each ambassador having an aide to chat to, in order to communicate the plot to the viewers, which makes more sense than what has happened a lot so far: using the aides as substitute characters for their bosses.
I enjoyed all the big, exciting developments: Garibaldi getting shot, Delenn turning into something else (although I’m hoping this doesn’t mean the end of Mira Furlan’s involvement, because she’s great), Sinclair getting engaged (although I had forgotten he was even in a relationship):
“Look, do you wanna get married, or don’t ya?”
Last of the romantics. We also learnt this week that Kosh, or Mr Riddles as I’ve come to think of him, is actually capable of a straight answer, but only if we aren’t aware of what the question was:
“Just one word. He said yes.”
He also doesn’t mind getting naked, as long as Delenn’s the only one watching.
At long last G’Kar was back, having been absent from B5 for what seems like forever. His big dramatic discussion with Sinclair was undermined a little by his fluffy, white dressing gown. It takes a real man to wear a dressing gown like that. Oh, and I think we have our funniest moment of the series:
“What are those Earth creatures called? Feathers, long bill, webbed feet, go quack?”
“Cats. I’m being nibbled to death by cats.”
So, onwards to series 2. I’m really looking forward to seeing that big spidery ship again, and finding out who is inside it. An enemy that seems all-powerful always makes for an interesting story. I can’t wait to find out if B5 will beat the odds… RP
In regards to story elements that appear too convenient, and it may be my own regard for what’s nowadays being popularized as synchronicity, it’s imaginably appealing enough for the audience (even in the case of someone carrying a microwave oven for whatever reason) to learn what the too-convenient element will be used for. It’s like a twist ending or revelation that clarifies a story. That was certainly so in A Beautiful Mind. So I for one don’t mind so much and in defence of an openly troubled father like Aaron striving for reconciliation, I’ll empathize in the sense of keeping something around with you for the sake of giving it or yourself some value. That microwave had value, despite how overwhelmingly convenient, and so that made me feel better for Aaron.
In the case of a buildup for a great cliffhanger like this for Babylon 5, depending on how it might affect the shock value that we all naturally enjoy in cliffhangers, a commonly noticeable gun is a quite fair one for a new SF franchise just finding its foothold on television. It was similar enough with the first season cliffhanger of Manifest. It may have felt common. But in relation to how it’s supposed to work for the specific SF series format that’s using it, it’s effective in its own right.
Thank you both for all your reviews for Babylon 5: S1. 🌎🌏🌍🌌🖖🏻
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Glad you enjoyed them Mike! Onwards to Season 2…
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