Babylon 5: Sleeping in Light

Babylon 5 ArtworkSleeping in Light.  The words appear on the screen in the opening but there are no opening credits.  20 years have gone by since the last episode and Michael Garibaldi says that this is the day they all dreaded.  John Sheridan is dying.

One of the reasons I love Babylon 5 is that it introduced me to the finale.  Not the ending, you understand, but the finale.  Many shows end, and they often have what they call a finale, but they really just end.  Take one of the greats: Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Picard plays poker with his crew and realizes he should have done it long ago, and off they go to their next adventure.  Lost has an ending but no one is really sure what the hell it means, but that was the whole show.  Game of Thrones ends a chapter, but their world keeps going.  For the last 3 episodes of Babylon 5, we’ve been watching JMS clean up plot points.  Sleeping in Light finishes the tale.  There are things we don’t learn about that took place in that 20 year interval, but this really puts the finishing touches on the story.  It gives us a boxed set, ties a ribbon on top and says, “here is a series to be proud of.  Share it.”

There is a lot to love about this story because it’s got so much going for it.

 Continuity

Sheridan has been having the dream of Lorien telling him he has a limited time in Falling towards Apotheosis.  Lorien returns to see Sheridan off.  Sheridan goes to the Coriana system, as the message said in Day of the Dead(“When the long night comes, return to the end of the beginning”).  Susan is a general now and she will take over as head of the Rangers.  Her absence has seen her grow.  Vir is Emperor as the prophesy stated all the way back in Point of No Return.  Michael Garibaldi has a daughter and “Uncle” Stephen still comes to visit him.  When leaving the station, Vir gives his little wave; the one he gave Morden’s head.  And there is a sense of poetic beauty to the undermining of expectation from season two’s The Coming of Shadows: Emperor Turhan asked Kosh how it would all end.  Kosh repled, “in fire”.  It sounded ominous, but the reality becomes clear as the station is destroyed.  (If I have one gripe it’s the idea that it had to be destroyed because it was “a menace to navigation”.  That’s like saying a grain of salt on the kitchen floor was a menace to walking.  News flash: space is big!)

 Emotion

Some of the goodbyes, as my good friend once said, don’t just pull on the heartstrings; they rip them out and stomp all over them.  Sheridan watching the sunrise is such a simple act filled with so much beauty.  Delenn going out to watch the sun rise for the rest of her life is symbolic of the love they shared.  Sheridan’s Sunday drive is a thing I could not undertake; I think I’d rather spend my last hours with the woman I love, but he thinks strategy to the end, and it pays off.  Like Valen, Sheridan’s body vanishes and the Minbari wonder if one day he might return!  I even found his clothing comment a sweet statement about aging – it’s “a little snug”.  And the story Vir shares about Londo hearing the Pak’Ma’ra singing is beautifully delivered.  Vir has grown.  In fact, we’ve been on a real journey with his cast – no one is as they were when it started.  That’s another big difference about this show; the characters really do change.

Cameo

It’s lead writer JMS himself who appears in the show, shutting the place down for the last time.

Cinematics and score

While many of the visuals are wonderful (including that gorgeous sunrise), the real victory is where the music merges with cinematography.  That ending of the station being detonated with that magnificent piece of music is breathtaking.  The final lesson of the series, spoken by Ivanova, is a glorious ending while the music gently wraps the series.

Tribute

The tribute at the end to the cast and crew is magnificent.  I’ve watched  it in slow motion and all I can say is, what a great job.  But it’s not enough.  What follows are images of the stars of the show from their first and last appearances.  It’s amazing how much they’d changed over the years.  And I’m glad Marcus was not forgotten in that!

The series is a giant in the world of science fiction.  Like Susan says, there will never be another.  Oh, there will be other greats, but B5 got there 30 years ahead of those others and did things no other had done nearly as well up until then; it paved the way for what we call binge viewing and it showed us just how good science fiction television could be.

“This Journey has ended…”

Sleeping in Light, while a gloriously heartfelt episode about endings, reminds us that too many of the cast are gone from our world.  I’d like to raise the same toast Sheridan does to his friend: “To absent friends, in memory still bright.”

G’Kar – Andreas Katsulas
Michael Garibaldi – Jerry Doyle
Dr. Stephen Franklin – Richard Biggs
Vir Coto – Stephen Furst
Zack Allen – Jeff Conway
Ambassador Delenn – Mira Furlan
Our good and dear friend, Commander Sinclair – Michael O’Hare
(IMDB links above)

There are many more from the cast including Zathras, Ben Kyle, William Edgars, Elric the Technomage, Frederick Lantz, Justin, Lady Morella…  The list is disturbingly long.  But Babylon 5 left its mark.  Delenn said it at the end of Season 4: Babylon 5 endures.  And so do all of the cast who made this amazing piece of history.

“The flame also reminds us that life is precious, as each flame is unique. When it goes out, it’s gone forever. And there will never be another quite like it.”  The B5 flame is not fully extinguished.  Join us as we explore the movies, and then we will dive into Crusade, the spin-off series in the coming weeks.  Ending on a slightly happier quote, can I get a “woohoo”?  ML

The view from across the pond:

Well that was a bit miserable, wasn’t it. An episode about Sheridan dying and the station being decommissioned and blown up isn’t exactly what I was hoping for as a finale. To be fair, what it did, it did well. Sheridan’s choice of how to spend his final few days was compelling to watch, gathering together his old friends and then heading off for a “Sunday drive”. He wanted “to feel space beneath me one last time”, but also I think there was perhaps a sense of wanting to leave people with happy memories of him. Some animals go off to die alone, and maybe there’s something of that about Sheridan taking a ship and heading off into space. The death of Sheridan was nicely paralleled with the destruction of the station, the two “still tied together, even now.” It was good to see Ivanova again, although that only happened because this episode was held over from Season 4, and the flipside is the absence of Lochley and bizarre inclusion of Marcus in the end credit sequence, unavoidable due to contractual reasons. Speaking of that holdover, the episode was a good fit despite the extra year of stories, with the exception of Franklin asking Garibaldi whether to book one seat on the flight to see Sheridan or two. While that would have made sense a year ago, it seemed like an odd question in light of the fifth season, and was the only time the episode didn’t feel like an exact fit. Of course Garibaldi was going to go. JMS turning off the power on B5 himself was a nice touch. And it wasn’t all misery, because Sheridan’s death was shown to be a new beginning for him. I like it when sci-fi writers embrace the idea of the afterlife in this way.

By and large, though, it was all a bit melancholy and slow. Appreciation of this episode will probably come down to personal preference, but I don’t like an unhappy ending. Saying that, I do realise the many ways in which this is not an unhappy ending, but ultimately Sheridan leaves all his friends and goes off to die, while the station gets blown up. Oddly, I found the latter of the two much more emotional to watch.

No, unhappy endings are not for me. I don’t like them one little bit. So let’s not have one here. Let’s move past this dismal episode, and the way Season 5 has limped to a close, and look at the bigger picture of Babylon 5 as a whole. Mike recommended this series to me and has championed it for a long time. I think it’s fair to say it’s his favourite. Now that I’ve seen it, I can understand why. The world building is superb, and really draws you in. As a viewer, you feel that universe. You live in it. I don’t share Mike’s view that it’s the best thing since sliced bread. In fact, I think the vast majority of episodes turned out to be very poor quality indeed, especially the first couple of years, but luckily with bursts of absolute brilliance. When Babylon 5 is good, it’s really good. I just would have liked that to happen a bit more often, and although Mike will disagree vehemently with this comment I do think having the same writer for nearly all the episodes harmed the series far more than it benefited it. I also think JMS never quite understood how to structure a series. He hit the big moments at random times, and then left us with frequent anticlimaxes. He also got a bit Lost with his plot threads, leaving far too many of them dangling at the end. After watching this episode I took a look at some of his comments at the time, and he mentioned some of the plot threads as being saved for a book series, but when those plot threads include a telepath war, something that he endlessly teased in the television series, I don’t think that’s good enough. It’s like somebody offering you sweets constantly for years and then never giving you the sweets, eventually telling you to go and buy a cake with sweets on the top if you want them.

I wanted to have a quick run-down of the main characters, because I think that’s important in an understanding of where this series did well and where it went wrong. It’s useful to keep in mind some other ensemble shows, and think about our feelings for the main characters by the end. Maybe think about the nearest rival to B5: Star Trek: DS9. By the end of that I knew and loved each and every one of those characters. As for B5, it’s a mixed bunch.

At the disappointing end of the scale, I never did warm to Franklin. He was a character with major problems in the first couple of years, and he never really did anything significant enough to redeem himself. He was just… there. Also just there, was Zack, who was a fun character, but rarely rose above the role of a generic security man. Bill Mumy as Lennier was consistently underused for most of the run, and when JMS did eventually find something to do with him it was a love triangle that went nowhere, capped off with a completely out-of-character murder attempt. The poor bloke never even got a proper conclusion to his story, with nothing said about what became of him: forgotten about to the end. Lochley was a competent replacement for Ivanova but was similarly under-utilised, there to fill Ivanova’s boots and little more. Also at the disappointing end of the scale we obviously need to place the regulars who didn’t work and were abandoned. Anyone remember Warren? And as for Talia…

Let’s take things up a notch, and look at some of the characters who worked well. I liked them, but I never quite loved them. In this category, I would have to place Delenn, Sheridan and Garibaldi. Now, you might say those are the three most important characters, so maybe that’s a bit of a problem. I didn’t dislike any of them, but equally none of them ended up making a huge impression on me. They were competent character types, well acted. That’s it. While we’re about it, Sinclair and Na’Toth go here too.

OK, I love a happy ending, so I’ve saved the best until last. Let’s have a self-indulgent countdown of the best of B5’s regular characters:

Coming in at fifth place, Marcus. I won’t repeat myself for those who have read my reviews of the previous seasons, but he was funny and he was brave and he was different, and I loved him.

At fourth, Londo. JMS expertly took the viewers on a journey from being irritated by him, to hating him, to loving him. Peter Jurasik took everything that was thrown at him and always rose to the challenge. Londo might just have had the most extraordinary character arc of anyone in sci-fi, ever.

At third, Lyta. I never thought I would be saying that, after her dismal appearance in the pilot episode. But she returned a different character after different experiences, and gradually grew into a fascinating superbeing. She might have become my favourite of all, if JMS had only followed through with her storyline and made a proper season out of it. For the Buffy fans, Lyta should have been our Willow.

At second, Vir. Endlessly likeable, always funny, but so often having something to say that made me stop and think. He was just a character you couldn’t fail to love.

And of course, who else could I name as the best character than G’Kar. His character arc was an extraordinary but very true journey from anger to peace, while always retaining his razor sharp wit. His lines were rarely less than sheer poetry, and Andreas Katsulas was a genius. There were times when I don’t think I could have stomached continuing with the series if it wasn’t for G’Kar. He was magnificent.

So there you go. A series that I think relied on a very literal handful of characters we couldn’t fail to love, and hit some amazing high points, mainly with the big battles but also with the thoughtful Byron story during the first half of the final season. Although I might be tempted to name G’Kar as the best sci-fi character ever, I doubt I would even place Babylon 5 in the top 10 of sci-fi series I have watched, but when it was firing on all cylinders it was great. Ultimately, I just have to say this: thank you Mike. I’m very glad I watched Babylon 5.

This isn’t quite the end, though, because we will be watching the movies and the spinoff series. Loyal readers, please come along with us on the final leg of our journey…   RP

About Roger Pocock

Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com Co-writer on junkyard.blog Editor of frontiersmenhistorian.info
This entry was posted in Babylon 5, Reviews, Science Fiction, Television and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Babylon 5: Sleeping in Light

  1. Ben says:

    “Londo might just have had the most extraordinary character arc of anyone in sci-fi, ever.”
    It’s reason alone I rank B5 among the greats. Love G’Kar, but in my opinion Londo’s story is the most rewarding on repeat viewings.

    Regarding the telepath war, it sounds like you’ve done your research. But even the books, movies and spinoff dance around the edges of it. The intention was it could be a feature film some day. Lennier’s redemption would have been part of it as well.

    Lacking a movie, flashbacks were planned for Crusade. But wanting out of their contract, TNT sabotaged that series with insane notes until JMS pulled the plug. So the war does remain a major hole in the B5 story. But I guess that’s life, nothing goes exactly to plan.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the series. Enjoy the last bits left, though they’re definitely a mixed bag. After “The Lost Tales” even JMS decided it was best to leave the B5 universe well enough alone.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. scifimike70 says:

    Babylon 5, the original series of the B5 universe at least, has come to an end and has proven, even in the wake of Star Trek, Dr. Who and X-Files, that a truly great SF series can endure in our hearts with just five seasons. Crusade and the specials may have more to say about that. But B5 will and most deservedly so be timeless for being its own franchise, even with all its obvious SF influences that preceded it. Thank you both for all your reviews on one of the 90s’ most pivotal SF classics. I think that the Junkyard reviews on other space-age shows, even Trek, will be greatly affected by a lot of what your own reflections have expressed here.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. ShiraDest says:

    “a menace to navigation”
    I wondered about that, too,
    and I really felt like I was saying goodbye to old friends, which is why I had to make a new one up! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

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