No Surrender, No Retreat
So much for best laid plans, eh. When he first conceived of Babylon 5 way back when J. Michael Straczynski had a definitive five year plan for the series. By the fourth season that plan was in serious danger of falling apart. The Prime Time Entertainment Network, the series’ home from day one, was not long for this world and as such the future of the series was uncertain. Fearing that his show would be cancelled before he could conclude the story Straczynski went in to emergency damage control and started wrapping up the all major storylines far earlier than he’d initially planned. As a result season four is the most densely packed season of the show’s entire run as barely a single episode is wasted in Straczynski’s mad rush to bring his story to a what seemed at the time to be a premature end.
After nearly three years of planning and build up the Shadow War, for many years the very driving force of the entire series, was over in the space of just six episodes. The whole thing raced to an underwhelming conclusion that basically amounted to nothing more than Captain Sheridan telling the Shadows and Vorlons off for being naughty and sending them their rooms without any supper for the rest of eternity. Babylon 5 was the first notable sci-fi series to start using extensive story arcs (something that’s practically the norm nowadays) but it was also the first to bring its story arcs to a disappointing resolution (something else that's practically the norm nowadays).
With that major arc out of the way Straczynski gets to work setting up the Drakh threat, built up the growing conflict between Sheridan and Garibaldi, dashed through a Minbari civil war in record speed before finally kicking off the war against President Clark’s fascist government in ‘No Surrender, No Retreat’. The conclusion of Shadow arc might’ve been a letdown but the Earth civil war was Babylon 5 at its absolute best. Only problem was it was over almost as quickly as it had started. Originally the plan was for the Earth conflict to be carried over into the fifth season with the fourth season ending with Garibaldi’s betrayal and Sheridan’s capture. But with the show’s future in doubt everything was wrapped up with ‘Endgame’ and ‘Raising Star’. Straczynski was all ready to end the series then and there but when cable network TNT agreed last minute to finance a full fifth season the final episode 'Sleeping in Light' was pushed back a year and a new season finale was quickly shot on the cheap.
Despite it's ups and downs season four is still a strong season. Even though there are no Hugo winners there are still several standout episodes, most notably Sheridan’s brutal interrogation in 'Intersections in Real Time'. The acting was excellent across the board this season but if there’s a single standout star without a doubt it’s Jerry Doyle. Straczynski sent Garibaldi to hell and back this season and Doyle rose to the challenge with gusto. Sadly this would be the final season for Susan Ivanova as a contract dispute would prevent Claudia Christian returning for the fifth season. With no time to shoot a proper goodbye scene her departure is clumsily handled in voiceover, a disappointing exit for one of the series finest characters.
DVD Extras:- Introduction by series creator J. Michael Straczynski
- Audio Commentaries by Straczynski and cast members
- Celestial sounds
- No Surrender, No Retreat DVD Suite
- Data & Personal Files
- Gag reel