Thoughts on Rewatching Babylon 5

So, I’ve been rewatching Babylon 5, and I’m now about halfway through Season 3. I’ve been noticing some things and figured it would be a good time to post about them.

A lot of people really dislike Season 1 of Babylon 5 including Chuck Sonnenberg. I’ve always like Season 1 the best, and watching it this time I still liked and, more importantly, didn’t really notice a drop off in quality between Season 1 and Season 2. I suspect that feelings about Season 1 are impacted greatly by how much you like Sinclair and Sheridan as commanders. I like Sinclair and hate Sheridan, and so am always going to feel that there’s a bit of a drop between Season 1 and Season 2, and am always going to like Season 1 more because that’s the only season where I get to see Sinclair. If you hate Sheridan and like Sinclair, you’ll probably like Season 1 as much if not more than the later seasons. On the other hand, if you greatly prefer Sheridan then Season 2 is going to be when they finally got a proper commander and so things finally started rolling.

In watching this, though, it struck me why I dislike Sheridan: he’s a goofball, a hot head, and a bit of a jerk, which makes for a sharp contrast with Sinclair. Chuck says that Sheridan giving his speech to an empty room says something about Sheridan (see around 15:00) and I agree: it portrays him as an obsessive goofball. The speech, though aimed at the crew, wasn’t for or about the crew. It was about Sheridan, about what he felt he needed to do to feel comfortable. As presented, it seems far more a superstition than a ritual, and even as a ritual it was annoying and something that any reasonable person could understandably sacrifice given the circumstances. Or, if it was that important, he could have finished it the first time since he only had something like thirty second left in it, although that might have looked bad as well (then again, it would have prevented him saying it all over again).

But this also comes up in how they discuss the “Black Star” incident. Sheridan emphatically says that it got them the only victory they had in the war and he wasn’t going to apologize for it, but it comes off flat because before that Sheridan never seemed to express any sadness or regret at doing it or the way he did it. He sees it as a tactical victory and the main use of the device is to present him as someone who has an unconventional approach to tactics, but it’s not presented as a desperation move or something that he feels bad about. So when he makes that declaration, its merely a response to Minbari criticism, and not something like Sisko’s “I can live with it” from “In the Pale Moonlight”, which is a conclusion that they believe and, possibly, want to believe.

Of course, this is the big thing that “In the Beginning” absolutely ruins. In the series proper, it’s presented as a pure tactical maneuver: Sheridan sent out a — presumably fake — distress call after mining the asteroid belt, the Minbari ships showed up, he set off the nukes and blew them up. This then gives the Minbari a reason to be angry: he used a distress call which is commonly used to call for help to trick them into his trap. Given that the Minbari at least claim to hate deception, this would give them another reason to consider it dishonourable. On the other hand, given that the Minbari were clearly in their “Kill all humans!” mode at the time, it’s not likely that they came to help, and likely came to finish them off anyway. Plus, that sort of deception is common in war, and so there’s the possibility that the Warrior Caste were upset at the losses and were casting it as a deception because that was a complaint that the Religious and Worker castes would find more reasonable than “He beat us!”.

But “In the Beginning” scuppers this. The distress call was real. Sheridan didn’t put the nukes out as a deliberate attempt to destroy the ships, but instead as a desperate fallback in case some showed up first. The Minbari were clearly there to finish them off and were known to do so. Suddenly, all the ambiguity is gone and Sheridan was completely and totally reasonable and honourable, and the Minbari were just whiners. Yes, there’s a limit to how much the people complaining could know, but if we watch “In the Beginning” we know what happened, which damages the Minbari in our minds far before they should be. It’s for this reason that, even though I always do it, I don’t recommend watching “In the Beginning” before watching the series, as it does ruin that scene.

I also think that Season 2 seems to start slower than it should, likely because we have to be introduced to Sheridan in the first episodes when for everyone else that was already done.

I will say one thing for Sheridan’s character: there’s a scene where Garibaldi is scanning for listening devices while Sheridan rambles until the all-clear is given. If you want someone to ramble incoherently and meaninglessly for a while, Sheridan is definitely the character to give that job to.

I was also struck — as I usually am — by how fast the series moves. By the end of Season 2, Sinclair is gone, Sheridan is in, we have the explanation for the Battle of the Line, the Rangers are instituted, the Narn-Centauri war has started and ended, the Inquisitor comes, the Shadows and Vorlons are revealed, and Talia is unmasked and leaves. That’s a lot of the plot arc right there. I don’t know of any other show that had so many major plot points in only two seasons.

Anyway, I’m still enjoying it, and hope to finish it and Crusade by Christmas.

One Response to “Thoughts on Rewatching Babylon 5”

  1. More Thoughts on Rewatching Babylon 5 | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] As I commented before, I’m not a Sheridan fan. And maybe it’s because I’m binging on it more than usual — watching 1.5 to 2 disks (6 – 8 episodes) a day — but this time I found that the Sheridan/Delenn romance really, really grating. They seem to develop feelings for each other very quickly and it’s often really insipid. JMS has never really been good at romantic dialogue, but at least it isn’t as bad as the “Don’t touch me unless you mean it!” line. Still, I didn’t enjoy it very much. […]

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