The Wheel of Fire
The last minute renewal for Babylon 5 was something of a mixed blessing. On one had it meant that the show would continue and J. Michael Straczynski would now be able to complete his much talked about five-year-plan. But since Straczynski had wrapped up almost every single significant plot thread the previous season he was now stumped about what to do next. Sure, he had a lot of great stuff with Londo planned but that didn’t get going until towards the end of the season. So what the hell was he going to do until then?
Straczynski had twenty-one episodes to fill up and had barely enough story material to cover a quarter of the season. Rather than relinquish some creative control by bringing in a load of new writers and some fresh ideas Straczynski continued to write virtually every single episode himself even though it’s clear by now that he’d reached his burnout point. Granted, the only time he did allow someone else to write an episode it resulted in Neil Gaiman’s dreary ‘Day of the Dead’ but that's still no excuse for not sharing your toys, Joe. Actually, in many ways the series came full circle with season five as Babylon 5 went back to the sort standalone filler dreck everyone thought we’d seen the last of in season one. Worst offender being the abysmal Stoppard homage ‘A View from the Galley’ which looks at an attack on the station from the perspective of two repair workers who sadly, unlike Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, don’t end up dead at the end.
The lack of decent episodes wasn't the show’s only problem this season, it's previously strong characterization seemed to have vanished entirely. They might’ve looked the same, they might’ve even sounded the same but these were not the same characters we’d been following faithfully over the last four years. Despite now being a President of the Interstellar Alliance (with all the power and influence of a UN Secretary-General) Sheridan still stomps around the station like he owns the place becoming the type of character you’d rather punch in the face than follow into the jaws of hell. Delenn, meanwhile, has been relegated to the prestigious role of ‘her indoors’. Elsewhere, Garibaldi roamed aimlessly around the station in a futile search for a decent plot line while Londo and G’Kar spend all season working on perfecting their buddy comedy routine. And with Claudia Christian gone (but sure as hell not forgotten) Tracy Scoggins was brought in to replace Susan Ivanova as Captain Elizabeth Lockley, the station’s new commander and Sheridan’s ex-wife (huh?). It’s perhaps humanly impossible to suspend disbelieve long enough to take the glamorous Scoggins seriously as a tough military leader.
Now that the Shadows were gone and President Clark had been overthrown there were no more enemies to fight and our heroes were all getting ready to live happily ever after. As a result virtually nothing happened for the majority of the season. The only significant event in the first half was a limp rebellion by Gap model telepaths lead by Byron, a walking personality black hole. The only upside to this arc was more focus on Patricia Tallman's underused Lyta Alexander and the always welcome return of Bester, who even get’s his own episode this season, the disappointingly bland ‘The Corp Is Mother, The Corp is Father’. Once all the dull telepath malarkey was done with the season finally starts to pick up some much needed steam as the Interstellar Alliance went to war with the Centauri. But even this conflict fails to provide the same kind of high drama and epic battles the show used to give us. Only the tragic conclusion of Londo’s story in ‘The Fall of Centauri Prime’ makes any kind of emotional impact.
The remaining episodes are all used for some last minute wrap up and a shed load of teary goodbye scenes to rival anything Peter Jackson could come up with. After everyone has gone their separate way Straczynski closes the book with ‘Sleeping in Light’ an elegant and beautiful epilogue for the series and one of the finest series finales of all time. Although it did mange to end on a high note (notably with an episode left over from the previous year) overall season five is a disappointing dud. Despite the less than grand farewell Babylon 5 still remains one of the finest sci-fi series ever produced. Admittedly it was something of a flawed masterpiece thanks to the occasional wooden acting, clunky dialogue, dodgy standalone episodes, cheap sets and a tendency to get lost up its own arse. But with this show Straczynski created something truly unique, an epic science fiction novel for television told in five volumes with a definitive beginning, middle and end. Yeah, the beginning was a bit uneven and the end part didn’t work out as planned but that middle section, boy, was it good.
- Introduction by series creator J. Michael Straczynski
- Audio Commentaries
- Making-of documentaries "Digital Tomorrow: & "Beyond Babylon 5"
- Data & Personal Files
- Additional scenes
- Gag reel