Babylon 5: Season 1 – Only the essentials, please
So, here’s the deal with the first season of Babylon 5: it isn’t very good. Here’s the deal with seasons 2-4 (and chunks of 5): it IS very good. There are a few problems with season 1:
- Inferior/hokey acting – Michael O’Hare’s Jeffrey Sinclair feels more suited to a a detective in a classic melodrama than a space station commander. Sinclair’s replacement, John Sheridan, is a character with more depth played by a better actor (Bruce Boxleitner/Tron). It would have been worse had they kept Dr. Benjamin Kyle and Laurel Takashima, though the latter can at least be partially chalked up to the notes of network execs. In later seasons, they let Peter Jurasik and Andreas Katsulas do the heavy lifting as far as acting is concerned.
- Inferior special effects – In the show’s defense, it was 1994 with a limited budget. They did figure out how to do better with what they had in later seasons though. Not the made-for-TV-movies though; those are classic overreaching Sci-Fi Channel original quality effects there.
- Fewer relevant/interesting arc plots – It’s just something most incarnations of Star Trek did better (especially the partial contemporary ST:TNG) due to both the nature of the show and generally more irreverent characters.
- There are enough important plot points that you can’t just skip it entirely.
Let’s go through the episodes one by one. The essentials will be in bold. I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers.
0. “The Gathering” (Pilot) – Obviously.
1. “Midnight on the Firing Line” – Essentially a second pilot.
2. Soul Hunter – Some important (but later repeated) bits about Minbari history/culture
3. Born to the Purple – Introduction of Londo’s love Adira; nice bit at the end with Ivanova
4. Infection – Almost entirely self-contained and one of the show’s cornier and weaker episodes
5. The Parliament of Dreams – Little of note, except an Emmy win for best makeup if you happen to be really into that
6. “Mind War” – Introduction of Bester, Psi-Corp plot points; not the most essential, but there’s enough here that I’d be hesitant to skip it
7. The War Prayer – Fairly typical episode from the sci-fi vein of the Arranged Marriage trope
8. “And the Sky Full of Stars” – Important Earth-Minbari war stuff
9. Deathwalker – Skippable, but I’d watch the sections of the episode with Abbut and Kosh (rule of thumb: anything with Kosh is worth watching)
10. Believers – I’m pretty sure every iteration of Star Trek has done an episode like this. It needs someone like Picard to make it interesting and Sinclair is no Picard.
11. Survivors – Meh.
12. By Any Means Necessary – Some nice stuff here with Londo and G’Kar, so I’d watch this one, but isn’t essential
13. “Signs and Portents” – Signs AND portents? Yes, that would qualify. The introduction of Mr. Morden.
14. TKO – I like Ivanova’s (non-essential) half of the episode, but the other half might not be worth it
15. Grail – Not much arc stuff, even according to JMS (creator/writer J. Michael Straczynski)
16. Eyes – Non-essential, but Ivanova-heavy A-plot and fun Garibaldi/Lennier B-plot makes it a fun episode
17. “Legacies” – Not a super episode, but some necessary stuff with the Earth-Minbari war
18. “A Voice in the Wilderness: Part 1” – Introduction of the Great Machine and a decent two parter
19. “A Voice in the Wilderness: Part 2” – Well, you watched Part 1, you should probably watch Part 2
20. “Babylon Squared” – Lots of arc stuff going on and probably the best Season 1 episode
21. The Quality of Mercy – Introduces the alien healing machine, but nothing that won’t be recapped later in the series
22. “Chrysalis” – Season finale and probably the most essential first season episode
That’s approximately 10 hours, which sounds like the right amount to me. Good luck with season 1, which can be found streaming for free on The WB’s website (B5‘s first few seasons ran on a Warner Brothers owned network) or along with the rest of the series on Netflix.
Arbitrary song of the day: Battles – Ice Cream