Friday, May 24, 2013

TV on DVD Review: Babylon 5 - Season 5

Stars: 4 out of 5
Pros: Final piece of a well told story
Cons: A few things left hanging; slow start
The Bottom Line:
The final chapter
Slow start but satisfying

"Where Is It Written That All Our Dreams Must be Small Ones?"

I'm going to start right off with a warning.  If you are at all interested in the TV show Babylon 5 DO NOT READ THIS REVIEW UNTIL YOU HAVE SEEN THE FIRST FOUR SEASONS.  (Yes, I am shouting on purpose.)  See, Babylon 5 was a rare thing on TV in the 90's.  In fact, it's goal of telling one story from beginning to end over the course of the show's predetermined run (yes, Lost, I'm looking squarely at you) has not truly been attempted or equaled since.  So, when you jump into Season 5 of Babylon 5, you'll find yourself a bit lost on who the characters are and what in the world is happening if you aren't familiar with the show.  As you stick it out, you'll have some major events spoiled for you.  And even if you enjoy what you see here, it won't have the richness of knowing the complete story.  I can't recommend starting at the beginning highly enough.

But enough monologuing.  Let's get to the meat of the review.

Season 5 of Babylon 5 takes place in the year 2262.  The action still centers on Babylon 5 itself, a space station deep in neutral territory designed to be a center of trade as well as an intergalactic UN of the future.  The action this year focuses on the first year of the new Galactic Alliance that now President Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) and his wife Delenn (Mira Furlan) have founded with the assistance of Centauri Emperor to be Londo (peter Jurasik) and Narn Ambassador G'Kar (Andreas Katsulas).  But they will have their bumps along the way.  Sheridan goes up against the station's new captain, Elizabeth Lochley (Tracy Scoggins) when he allows a colony of telepaths to live on board, for example.

However, the real danger seems to be happening back on the Centauri homeworld.  Something sinister walks the halls of the palace, and even Londo doesn't know what it is.  Meanwhile, the members of the Alliance are having their ships attacked, seemingly at random.  Who is behind these attacks?  Can Sheridan keep the new Alliance together?

Season 5 does have its weaknesses, especially coming off the perfect season 4.  Since this season was a very last minute reprieve, the majority of the story arc going had been wrapped up at the end of season 4.  This makes the first few episodes slow as they need to get things in motion again.  Once you are three of four episodes in, you are once again hooked on the story.  Unfortunately, it never quite gets over the feeling that this is a coda instead of part of the main story instilled by the slower first few episodes.

Even with the five year story arc, some plot threads are left dangling.  I only feel that one of them has not been satisfactorily dealt with, however.  The biggest thread was actually closed out in season three before it was opened here.  The gaps in that thread as well as some of the other minor ones have been handled quite well in some of the tie-in novels released when this season originally aired in the late 90's.  Only one feels like it is left to dangle, but it also feels much like life.  After all, not all of your life's happenings fit neatly into five year arcs either.

What continues to draw me to this season is finding out the fates of these characters.  I love all the major characters of this series, so watching what several of them go through this season is heartbreaking.  It is the logical outcome for them, and that makes it even more powerful.  Others get good news, which I just love.  The acting is wonderful.  All the actors are as deeply invested in their characters as we are, so they are able to pull out every nuance to perfection.

The special effects also take a huge step forward this year.  You can tell just how far CGI came in the five years the show was on the air.  Some of the shots still stand up beautifully 13 years later.

Then there's the series finale.  Since season 5 was such a last minute deal, it was actually filmed as part of season 4, even bringing back a character that was written out of season 5.  It's set about 20 years in the future and really does feel like a cap on the excellent story.  Every time I watch this episode, I choke up with emotion at what I am seeing in some of the scenes.  I was going through the series with a couple of friends, some new to it and some already familiar with it.  After we were done, we immediately started talking about the power of the final episode and how it felt like a completion to the show.

These days, story arcs are common on TV show, but even then there has been no real effort to duplicate what Babylon 5 did.  Yes, it has a science fiction setting, but even without that, if you like good story telling with strong characters, you absolutely need to watch this series.  Season 5 might not be the strongest, but it completes this so well that if you have watched the series to this point you will be glad you continued to the end.

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