And So it Begins…The Audio Guide to Babylon 5

Editor’s note: The first part of this post is spoiler-FREE! Even if you haven’t seen B5, you may read without fear. The spoilery part is well-marked. In addition, my customary footnotes appear before the spoiler territory, so you don’t have to worry about accidentally reading something while scrolling past. You’re welcome. ;)

B5AG

So it begins, indeed! I could not be more excited you guys. Seriously. Not only is it exciting to be doing (yet) another podcast, but to be talking about Babylon 5 (my second*-favorite thing in the universe) every couple weeks? I’m like a kid in a candy store. Or better yet, like a tourist in the Zocalo!

Okay, let me take a step back here. Pure squee got the better of me. Allow me to start this over in a more sedate and coherent manner. Thank you for your patience.

Dear reader, I have some news for you! There is a brand spanking new podcast out in the wild for your listening pleasure. That’s right, the dream that is The Audio Guide to Babylon 5** has finally been given form! Every two weeks, Chip (of Two-minute Time Lord fame), his wife Shannon, and I get together to talk about one of our favourite sci-fi shows of all time. That’s right folks; I can do more than just Doctor Who!

We’re taking it episode-by-episode, so if you’ve never seen the show, I encourage you to watch along with us. The first half of every B5AG ep will be spoiler-free and safe for newbies. Then we’ll pop through the jumpgate into spoiler territory*** and talk about how events we’ve just watched fit into the grand scheme of things. Continuity FTW!

If you’re a B5 fan, or if you’ve ever considered giving it a chance, I do hope you’ll check us out. We should be available on iTunes within the next couple of days. Until then you can get episodes at our website, or subscribe to the RSS feed. And if you’re a tweety type, be sure to follow us @B5AudioGuide!

Okay, now that’s out of the way, I’m going to talk some more about Babylon 5. And podcasting. Yeah, I know. Quel surprise.

A couple months back, Chip and I guested on a B5-themed episode of The Incomparable. It was oodles of fun, and really got my B5 fan-brain engaged. In addition to watching the four eps we talked about, my preparation included a perusal of a B5 episode guide. I wanted to refresh my memory about what happened over the course of the five-year story. As I looked at all those titles and short synopses, I jotted down a few˚ notes.

I feel that now is a good time to share those thoughts. Will my initial impressions of these eps still hold true once I’ve watched them again? There’s only one way to find out. Read on, and then listen!

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*Okay, maybe my third-favorite thing.

**Which, from here on in, I’m going to abbreviate as “B5AG”.

***Don’t worry, it’ll be clearly delineated so you won’t accidentally hear something you don’t want to.

˚Okay, many notes.

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WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD!

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Babylon 5 – A Catalogue of Gut Reactions

Please note I don’t have impressions here for every single story. Just the ones that jumped out at me with particular memories I thought were worth capturing. If there’s something missing, it’s not because I don’t like it. It’s because on that day, I didn’t have anything much to say about them. If you want to hear my thoughts on those, subscribe to the podcast! (And then be very patient until we get there…)

Season 1, Signs and Portents – 2258

Born to the Purple – I’m a sucker for a love story. When I rewatched this, I was surprised how early it was in the run of the show. I see now they were establishing Londo’s character, but as I came to B5 from the middle, he was already pretty well established for me. It’s impressive how his character develops naturally, rather than changing to suit the narrative. He reads like the same person in a believable way.

Mind War – I like the telepath side- (not sub-) plot. I’m a sucker for a vast, powerful organization that can’t be trusted. And telepaths. They’re neat. I liked getting some of Talia’s backstory. And, of course, Bester.

Believers – Okay, so I don’t like this one, but it’s an ep that’s always stood out for me because of how difficult it is to watch it. It cuts to the heart of me.

By Any Means Necessary – This might be the first ep I ever caught part of.

Grail – David Warner + the holy grail. ‘Nuff said.

A Voice in the Wilderness, Parts 1 & 2 – I’m a sucker for quite a lot of things, it seems. Here, it’s a mysterious planet that’s home to relics of an ancient race. Plus, it feels like things are really starting to happen on a grand scale. There’s so much energy and tension here. It’s gripping.

Babylon Squared – Arc! (I’m a sucker for that.) Also, time-travel!

Season 2, The Coming of Shadows – 2259

Here it gets harder for me to talk about things episode-by-episode. So much of what I love is the arc, that it’s hard for me to separate what happened when. Seasons 3 and 4 were the only ones I watched week-to-week as they aired, and that was only my first time through. All my other viewings were binge-watching, so episode borders get fuzzy.

A Race Through Dark Places – Bester! Telepath underground railroad! Woo!

The Coming of Shadows – Arc! Fortellings! First sign of the Rangers! Eee!

Gropos – I love Dodger. She’s the kind of female character you so rarely see on television in any genre. She’s not “special” in any way, except in that she’s a person who’s charismatic and sure of herself. She approaches life and sex in a way that’s surprisingly mature, but is the way I’d like to think most people approach it by the time 2259 rolls around.

Acts of Sacrifice – Ivanova’s courting of an alliance with the Lumati is kind of hilarious (despite the awkwardness of the…climactic scene). Also, Paul Williams! He’s great AND he wrote “Rainbow Connection”.

And Now for a Word – Innovative! I enjoyed seeing my beloved station through different eyes (even if it was frustrating at times). So very effective.

Knives – I quite like the Londo story here. It’s heartbreaking to see him recognize the position he’s in and the fact that he put himself there. It’s even more heartbreaking to see he doesn’t do anything to bust himself out of it. The stories that end frustratingly are often the ones that stick with me most. You could strip away everything else, leaving only Londo and G’Kar, and I’d still love B5.

Confessions and Lamentations – Another one that breaks my heart. Sniffle.

Divided Loyalties – I love Lyta! I’m still super-pissed about Talia though. That thread is left dangling. My nerd-brain! It hurts!

Season 3, Point of No Return – 2260

Matters of Honor – Marcus! (I don’t really remember much else though, and I admit I had to look it up to find out this was his first ep.)

Passing Through Gethsemane – I think it’s a law that Brad Dourif must be in at least 80% of all sci-fi and fantasy productions. And I’m okay with that, because I think he’s great whether he’s playing Wormtongue or a Mentat. This story shakes me to my foundations. Nature-of-reality stuff freaks me out, and the idea that one’s entire life could be a lie is both fascinating and chilling.

Point of No Return – I like the politics in this one. The sneaky way they hobble Nightwatch (the command coming through the political office) is my kinda victory. Legal loopholes FTW! (Can you tell I play D&D?)

Severed Dreams – Delenn kicks ass (as she breaks the Grey Council). Sheridan kicks slightly less ass, but it’s still awesome when he declares independence.

A Late Delivery from Avalon – Here is where my Babylon 5 journey really begins. As far as I can remember, this is the first ep my friends and I watched a good chunk of. It caught our attention–probably at first because of Michael York, but it held us! At the end, we were all nodding and saying “Wow! That was pretty damned good! Want to get together a bit earlier next week and see how the next one is?” (Then in the next ep, “Ship of Tears”, Bester showed up to negotiate, so we were pretty solidly hooked.)

Interludes and Examinations – Koooooooooooosh!

War Without End (Parts 1 & 2) – I love me some more time-travelling arcy goodness. It was nice to see such a sweet wrap-up for Sinclair, and the reveal of who Valen really was COMPLETELY BLEW MY MIND. (The next 3 eps really, really suffered in comparison though. I didn’t much care for any of them. “Walkabout”, “Grey 17 Is Missing”, and “And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place” always stick out in my mind as eps I’m not fond of.)

Z’ha’dum – The crazy triangle with Sheridan, Delenn, and Anna (especially the bit about Delenn knowing Anna could’ve been alive) is delightfully soap-operaey without being soap-schmaltzy. Sheridan’s plan on Z’ha’dum is pretty damn badass and action-heroey. That’s how you end a season!

Season 4, No Surrender, No Retreat – 2261

Falling Toward Apotheosis – So much happens in this one! The part I remember most is G’Kar and Londo on Centauri Prime. Now we know how G’Kar loses his eye! For some reason I never expected it to happen during the period of time that’s covered on-screen. I guess that was dumb of me, but it just seemed so incredibly brutal. Very effective. And back on B5 you have Sheridan, Lorien, & a piece of Kosh taking down the new Vorlon ambassador. Damn! I really like how the Vorlons don’t stay mystical good-guy-angel-types. They turn into a-holes just like everyone else.

The Long Night – Holy crap, Vir becomes an assassin. That’s completely unexpected and totally awesome.

Into the Fire – I still have strong memories of watching this one for the first time when it aired. My friends and I had been onboard for over a season at this point, and we were utterly wrapped up in the show. When this was over, all three of us stood, no, jumped up and started whooping and hollering. I can’t remember another episode of television that created that kind of response. Also, how ballsy is it to wrap up such a huge part of the arc in the middle of the season? Dayum JMS. Well played. (Yes, I realize there were production-based reasons for this, and they weren’t certain they’d get a fifth season. Still, it came as a huge surprise, which made it all the more effective, IMHO.)

Racing Mars – I love watching Dr. Franklin and Marcus together. They make a double act worthy of Robert Holmes. And I just adore Marjorie Monaghan as Number One. She’s tough and kinda stiff, and it completely works for me. Also, it’s yet another example of a female in a role of power and there’s no “ohmigod a WOMAN’s in charge? Gasp!” (These elements stretch into “Lines of Communication” as well.)

Rumors, Bargains and Lies – Again, you have my kind of political chicanery as Sheridan tricks the League into becoming an Alliance. It could only be better if there was an Oxford comma in the title.

Intersections in Real Time – It’s so weird and different from anything that came before. It put me off balance as much as it did Sheridan, and I’m okay with that.

The Deconstruction of Falling Stars – Magnificent. What a satisfying way to wrap things up, give an epilogue, and still have me come out smiling (and maybe weeping a bit).

Season 5, The Wheel of Fire – 2261

The Very Long Night of Londo Molari – This one is worth mentioning not because I like it, but because I sorta don’t. I think it’s important, but I feel the execution is clunky and overplayed. I just got bored. I’ve softened to it a bit, but it’ll never be my favorite.

A View From the Gallery – I was super-excited about this one because, at the time, I was near the height of my obsession with Harlan Ellison. And, while it’s not an episode I go back to often, I really do like seeing our heroes from a different perspective. There’s something about the tone of most season 5 eps that didn’t quite jibe with me, and this suffered from that too. (It was as if everything seemed a little too slick. Everyone was a little too…not comfortable, but maybe not as young and hungry, if that makes sense.)

Secrets of the Soul – I really like Lyta, but I never saw ANY chemistry between Byron and her. That turned me off to the whole telepath subplot, which I might have otherwise gotten into. A false-ringing love story is a quick way to make me check right out. The mystery Dr. Franklin uncovers with the Hyach is pretty interesting though. I like a good mystery.

Day of the Dead – It’s Neil Gaiman so everyone must love it, right? Well, not so much. At least not on first viewing. It seemed too odd and touchy-feely. Now that I look at season 5 as a whole, I see there were a few episodes like that, and it’s not like B5 doesn’t have a history of trying new things (overall I think that’s great). This particular attempt dipped too much into magical territory for me. I guess I just don’t like unexplained mysteries.

In the Kingdom of the Bilnd – No Thank You. Byron’s ultimatum strikes me as ridiculous. So what if telepaths were engineered? It’s like saying test tube babies should get special treatment. Equal treatment and lack of persecution, absolutely, but a whole planet? Plus his methods are appalling. And stupid.

The Corps Is Mother, the Corps Is Father – I do love me some Bester. And again, telling the story from someone else’s perspective. I adore the depth it adds to the characters, the setting, and the story itself.

Wheel of Fire – G’Kar’s horde of followers amuses me to no end. Pregnant Delenn is hilarious. I never completely warmed to Captain Lochley, but I really appreciated seeing this side of her–something a little more personal helped. I just wish it had maybe come sooner.

Sleeping in Light – There’s little argument (amongst my friends, anyway) that this is a less-satisfying end than “The Deconstruction of Falling Stars”, but I think it admirably does what it sets out to do. It’s about a reunion, and to me it evokes all the feelings a reunion often does. You’re happy to be with the people who were so important to you, but you constantly feel like you’re chasing something that’s not quite there anymore. Underneath the laughter and the camaraderie, there’s the distinct and somewhat sour realization things are never going to be the same again. I felt exactly that while watching it. And of course, at the end, I balled.

 

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11 thoughts on “And So it Begins…The Audio Guide to Babylon 5

  1. Hooray! I actually brought B5 with me (on two microSD cards) in anticipation of the new podcast. It’s finally here! Although I admit I couldn’t wait, and I’m almost done watching season 3 already…

    • Erika Ensign says:

      Haha! I can’t say I blame you. I already know I’m going to struggle with the pace. I will always want to watch the next episode NOW!

      On the other hand, I think the series will develop nicely at a slower pace, so I’m king of looking forward to what I get out of it when I have some time to think about each episode before forging ahead to the next one.

  2. So Bryan Cranston was in ‘The Long Night’! And not just a bit part, a heroic and tragic role that is central to the plot. And I had forgotten Majel Barrett was in ‘Point of No Return’. Of course I remembered Walter Koenig was in B5, but honestly he’s much better as Bester than he ever was as Chekov. He makes a very sinister villain. That’s just one more way B5 is better :)

    Oh, and about the lack of female roles. On rewatching, I think the gender asymmetry is specific to the races, and should be considered a cultural detail. Centauri society seems highly segregated, so the lack of female roles is a result of most scenes taking place on B5. Women are common at court, but primarily as extras :(

    Female Narn roles are extremely rare, with Na’Toth being the principal exception. Perhaps this indicates a less rigid, but still segregated society. The Minbari seem to have gender equality, and although early seasons lack female roles other than Delenn, later seasons have more roles for women (but still as extras). Among the more exotic aliens there isn’t a clear indication of gender (are all Drazi male? Or can we just not tell the difference), and unfortunately they cast all male actors for the roles. Same applies to the Vorlons. The human roles are still biased towards men, but women have prominent roles at all levels and professions. Not perfect, but better than Star Trek :p

    Oh, and another area where B5 shines is in its treatment of homosexuality. The show has arc episodes dealing with (a certain character’s) personal life, and portrays a loving relationship in a tender and convincing manner. And the rest of the crew tacitly accept (that person’s) orientation, with no impact on the rest of the plot. And of course JMS originally wanted a transgendered angle with Delenn beginning as a ‘male’ Minbari and transforming into a female human, but that was abandoned after ‘The Gathering’ when they revamped the prosthetic makeup. So there is at least one reason to watch the pilot…

  3. Stephanie R says:

    I totally “bought my husband” the complete series on DVD “for his birthday”, just to prepare for this podcast! I didn’t realize you had started. I am SUPER excited to start listening & rewatching this amazing series. Thank you for starting this! (big Verity fan too :) )

  4. [audio src="http://traffic.libsyn.com/tindog/B5PC_FEEDBACK1_FROM_TIN_DOG.mp3" /]

    mp3 feedback about the new podcast.

  5. Elisabeth says:

    I know this is old but I just found it. I discovered B5 by accident the very first time it aired, and I was captivated. I didn’t get to watch most of it until quite a few episodes had gone by (and a wonderful friend provided them to me on VHS – yes, video tape) but then, fangirl dreams come true, I got a job on the show. I was assistant sound effects editor for season 3, and sound designer for seasons 4 and 5, the TV-movie specials, and 13 episodes of Crusade. It was the best job I had during my few years in the industry, and the show and its creators will always hold a special place in my heart.

    • Erika Ensign says:

      Oh my goodness! that’s so awesome! Let me say “Thank you” for helping create something I love so much. (And I’m including Crusade in that too–I think it was underrated.)

      I love hearing B-5 origin stories. They’re even more fun when they have a happy ending like yours!

  6. Jacqui Bourke says:

    I got to the B5AG through Verity and am loving it. Rekindled my love for the show. I tracked down the boxed set (a little more difficult as I’m in Australia and Amazon etc are somewhat restricted here) but the joy and delight when the box arrived with DVDs containing all episodes, films and Crusade. Many thanks for doing this I really enjoy the podcasts (both of them). Thanks also to Chip and Shannon. Guess this may be the start of a long commitment and distant listening relationship.

    • Erika Ensign says:

      I’m so pleased! I just love when I have a reason or impetus to rediscover something I love, but haven’t looked at in a while. I bought all the boxed sets I didn’t have when we got started with the podcast, so I understand your feeling of delight when they arrived! I haven’t picked up Crusade yet, but I’m sure I will. Whether we decide to cover it or not on the show, I’ll definitely watch it when we finish B5!

      I know we’re going slow, but we appreciate anyone coming along for the long, LONG ride. :)

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