THE LATE, GREAT BABYLON 5
Babylon 5 (1993 – 1998) is second only to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in my mind. In my last post I took the time to discuss one of Babylon 5’s most important characters – Londo Mollari – and so I thought it would be appropriate to discuss the show in its entirety (spoiler free of course). The show is not only solid entertainment, but its background offers insight and advice to anyone who wants to tell a rich, thought-provoking story in television. Each season is like a chapter in a book, or rather a novel in a book series. The next season builds on the former while telling events critical to the overall story that make it distinct from the other five.
Babylon 5 is unique among all television shows, and indeed, all movie franchises, in that the entire story was planned out, from beginning to end, before the show’s pilot aired across America. However, the story originally envisioned by the creator, J. Michael Straczynski (JMS), was not the one that aired.
So what happened? If what aired was radically different from what JMS originally wanted, why didn’t it all fall apart? Why didn’t the show get cancelled in its second season rather than airing the five the creator wanted and needed?
When crafting a story for television, especially one as ambitious as Babylon 5’s, you have to account for variables outside the universe. Most consequently, something may happen to one of the actors playing an important character (the actor may be unsatisfied with her role and will want to leave). Thus a writer has to go far beyond a structured story to account for factors beyond the show’s control. In case of X, Y will come in, and thus event Z will not happen. Indeed, the chief protagonist of Babylon 5 departed after season one, forcing JMS to bring in the backup. Reverse trap doors if you will.
Now, even with the most intricate level of planning and forethought, a writer cannot possibly foresee every obstacle along the way. With the threat of cancellation looming over the show as season four was airing, JMS decided to wrap up a major story arc that was intended to spill over into the beginning of season five. He did not want to leave the fans feeling ripped off. They were in the middle of filming the season finale of season four, which would later be the series finale in season five, when another network decided to pick up the show and continue it for its fifth and final season. But JMS could not take back what had already been done, and as such, the first half of season five was boring compared to the action-packed events of seasons three and four. Season one is largely seen as the worst season, a bore, as it had the duty of laying the groundwork for the next four seasons and the writing was inconsistent ranging from good to cheesy bad. To add, there were some plot lines that didn’t work as is the case in any large story. Babylon 5 is not perfect – no show is – but it largely succeeded in what it set out to do.
The story of the last of the Babylon stations is a must-see for any avid television fan. At the very least, it is deserving of a good try.
Two more interesting facts:
1. Londo’s arc was largely unchanged from the original vision to the final product.
2. Ninety-two of the show’s 110 episode were written by JMS.