What Is Built Endures, What Is Loved Endures, and Babylon 5 Endures

So, a few months ago I noticed that the entirety of Babylon 5 was free on Amazon Prime and bade farewell to my free time.

The Gathering

I’m sad to say that although Ivanova was probably my favorite character on the show back in the day, I’m now really upset after rewatching the pilot and seeing the character she replaced! The cast would’ve been way more diverse (especially for an early 90s scifi show!) if Laurel Takashima had remained the first officer, Tamlyn Tomita did a great job portraying her, and she had a really interesting-sounding backstory, too. Ah well.

I do think it’s unbelievably shitty how G’Kar’s character is treated in this. Especially when Delenn specifically points out that the Centauri enslaved the Narn, and instead of being like “I understand why you have animosity towards the Centauri,” she like… just really violently rebukes him??? Because Prejudice, or something??? That part was really uncomfortable, tbh.

Speaking of Delenn, though, I came across this little tidbit when I was reading up on this pilot:

Also, Delenn was originally supposed to be a male character destined to become female at the end of season 1, but since they could not make Mira Furlan’s voice male enough, they decided to play her as a pure female in the series.

I mean, WHAT???

Yeah, sure, awful/transphobic phrasing by Wikipedia there.

But, I mean.

WHAT???????

I know it would’ve been terrible, and it would’ve reinforced very, very Wrong ways of looking at gender just like every “gender swap” that’s ever happened in mainstream TV/movies… but, like. Just imagine having that on TV in the early 90s. It would’ve made a bunch of people feel really confused in ways that probably would’ve helped them out in the long run, right?

(B-Rank)

Seasons 1-4

I always thought season 1 was awful and Sinclair was boring, but I realized during this rewatch that I had actually only ever seen a handful of season 1 episodes! And it honestly wasn’t bad at all. I do still vastly prefer Sheridan to Sinclair (though, I would prefer Ivanova to either, just saying), but on the whole season 1 was still fine, and much more representative of the show as a whole than I remembered.

I also definitely forgot just how much of a letdown the end of the Shadow War was, especially considering all the buildup that went into it. I know this was a result of them going from having 5 seasons to having 4 seasons (and then, at the eleventh hour when the damage had already been done, “haha just kidding there’s gonna be a season 5 after all”), but it still feels like there had to have been a more satisfying way of writing themselves out of that particular corner.

As someone who’s much more politically/socially aware than I was when I watched the show in the late 90s/early 00s, there are also quite a few things about the show’s politics that frustrate me at times. Mostly because JMS is just blatantly a white male liberal, but like, goddessdamn there was some absolutely beyond the pale shit. Like the fact that the show consistently depicts the Narn/Centauri conflict as a “both sides!!!” sort of deal, where the Narn are at least as culpable as the Centauri, the people who enslaved them and bombarded their homeworld with weapons of mass destruction.

It gets even worse at times regarding Sheridan’s resistance to President Clark’s fascist regime. Like a lot of shows/movies that take the on-the-surface-daring step of having the good guys literally be an armed insurrection intent on overthrowing the government, Babylon 5 still takes great pains to position such a movement as a liberal/centrist proposition. Sheridan explicitly expresses that his goal is to remove Clark from office and then “let the voters decide if what we did was right.” Alrighty then.

What really gets me, though, is that Sheridan is just so damn overly concerned with not hurting any of his fellow officers who are knowingly serving under a fascist. You are literally leading an armed insurrection against the government, dude. Take off the fucking kid gloves. Ivanova knows what’s up, though, because of course she does:

“Look, we have to make them understand that if they target innocent people, they can’t run, they can’t hide. I mean, President Clark is issuing the orders, but they’re pulling the trigger.”

Finally, I think the biggest thing that changed for me on this rewatch is just how damn much of a Talia Winters/Susan Ivanova shipper I ended up being. Their relationship is just so damn interesting and so much more well-written than any other romance on the show, and it’s actually canon that they slept together. I desperately wish Andrea Thompson hadn’t left the show, because both of those characters so completely deserved to be happy. My heart broke a little during the Rebirth Ceremony when the secret Ivanova admitted was, “I think I loved Talia,” but I was also so damn happy to hear her say it out loud?

Seriously, though, what a wonderfully-written and patiently-developed relationship. I also really love the dynamic of Talia being a genuinely sweet person and Ivanova being a fairly abrasive person and them starting out in a place where it never seemed like they could meet in the middle (Talia being a member of the Psi Corps, Ivanova hating the Psi Corps). When Talia realizes that her employers (whom she can’t easily escape) are actually evil, and she turns to Ivanova because of the mutual respect that has developed between them… I honestly really didn’t want to end up being a Talia/Susan shipper, because I knew how it ended and I knew it would just destroy me, but I couldn’t help it.

While many of the things I remembered loving about the show actually ended up being a bit overestimated in my memory, this one aspect was such a huge part of me enjoying rediscovering the show, it honestly made it all worth it. I’m also just pretty damn smug about the fact that I was Objectively Right when Ivanova was my favorite character when I first watched the show, even if I had no idea why at the time.

In the Beginning

This is kind of sloppy and weird? Like, especially the idea of Londo telling this story (and having any idea what’s happening during some parts of it that didn’t involve him at all). I guess it was kind of necessary to have a framing narrative in order to gloss over some long periods of time without exposition dumps, but it just felt like a pretty odd choice to have it be that particular character at that particular moment.

The narrative itself was… fine? We’d already seen a lot of what it depicted during various flashbacks throughout the series at this point, but I guess it was cool seeing it in a more coherent form. Some of the musical battle montages were pretty moving, also. And seeing all those Minbari ships jump out of hyperspace around earth during the Battle of the Line was an effective visual (and scary as fuck).

I remember getting the novelization of both this and Thirdspace from the library as a kid, and enjoyed them both quite a bit, but I don’t really remember many specifics about them.

(B-Rank)

Season 5

Season 5 is the most-hated season of the show for a lot of fans (it’s almost always either 1 or 5), and to be honest it’s not exactly super hard to see why. The notorious creative difficulties from having a 5-year plan to finding out you’re only going to have 4 years and having to cram two seasons into one, and then suddenly after all of that finding out you’re getting a fifth year after all would leave pretty much anyone feeling like they had been caught with their pants down. Still, despite season 5 clearly being a little lackluster, I was rather surprised to find that one of the story arcs I was most dreading going into it actually ended up being among the most interesting to me (except for the fact that it ends badly, like almost everything on this show).

So, there’s this colony of telepaths on Babylon 5, right? They’re on the run from the Psi Corps, who are basically the fascist telepath police, and President Sheridan gives them refuge. So far, so good. What’s… really, really interesting, that I never noticed before (because I wasn’t equipped to notice these things back then) was how godsdamned queer coded the whole thing is.

So, okay, right off the bat you have the fact that they’re a commune and they’re at odds with a fascist police force, so we’re already kinda halfway there, right? Then consider Lyta and Byron. I know, I know, straight people, but bear with me for a second here. So, their first meeting, Byron totally calls out the fact that Lyta completely hides who she is to appease mundanes, right? She’s “one of the good” telepaths, right? But the mundanes (straights) don’t value her for who she is! Only what she can do for them. And she has an honestly super unfulfilling life full of frustration, full of feeling like she can’t be who she is. (Yes, this actually works with a lot of different kinds of marginalization, but I’m fixating on queerness because A) I’m gay as fuck, and B) sexuality is going to be A Thing in a second here, I promise.)

So, Byron and his telepaths are more the “live out loud” kind. And at first Lyta is super uncomfortable with that. (Because of internalized telepathphobia yo.)

Byron’s first conversation with Lyta is terribly awkward. At first the way he calls out her repression is kinda shitty, tbh. But after that, he takes great pains to make her feel seen, to make her feel respected. And it’s not just in this first meeting. And it’s not just that they end up becoming romantically interested in each other, she also starts respecting herself more.

The more time she spends with the telepath colony (let’s just say commune from now on, because it’s totally a commune), the more she starts to realize that it’s what she wants for herself. It’s the way to be authentically herself. She starts coming out of her shell. She starts getting happier and more confident.

She starts telling mundanes no. She even starts telling them to just fuck off altogether.

The moment when she becomes fully integrated with the telepath commune is the night she decides to stop going back to her quarters alone when she can be with them instead. It’s also the first time she makes love with Byron. And here’s where it becomes explicitly about sexuality, and about sexuality’s role in healing specifically.

By the way? The other thing that makes this queer-coded is that sexuality and intimacy has always been bundled with the telepaths. It’s interesting, in a show full of unrequited love and a surprisingly chaste relationship between Sheridan and Delenn (despite theirs being one of the most central romantic relationships on the show), we found out about telepaths and sex super early. In season 1, Talia (R.I.P. </3) tells Commander Sinclair, “Do you know what it’s like when telepaths make love, commander? You drop every defense, and it’s all mirrors, reflecting each others’ feelings, deeper and deeper, until somewhere along the line your souls mix, and it’s a feeling so profound it makes you hurt.” By the way, given where the show was at this juncture, that little speech was probably laying the groundwork for Susan/Talia down the line. Sigh. But anyway, we see it dramatized in Lyta and Byron making love. And it’s honestly pretty beautiful even though, y’know, straight people. (But queer-coded!! … I’m just going to keep clinging to that, y’all.)

That was always going to play a role in this subplot, by the way. If Ivanova were still on the show, she would’ve been the one to end up with Byron, and when they made love it would’ve activated her latent telepathy that was mentioned way back in season 2, and the coming out/queerness piece would’ve been even more explicit. (It also helps that Ivanova is as close to explicitly queer as anyone on a 90s scifi show can be, given that she and Talia 100% canon slept together, and JMS always intended them to be a couple, to the extent that he could get away with it.) And while I’m kinda glad that didn’t happen, because, Ivanova/Talia forever, it would’ve been kind of nice in its own way? Because Ivanova had been through so much trauma over the past few seasons, seeing her claim her power and become comfortable with a part of herself she’d never been comfortable with would’ve been kind of incredible, actually. Just… there’s definitely part of me saying “keep the straight boys away from my Susan, k?” but I think I would’ve been okay with it in a blatantly queer-coded story. Maybe. Maybe. (I’m sorry, y’all, I’m weak and gay.)

Of course, I still would’ve rather Ivanova’s latent telepathy been activated when her and Talia ended up making love, but y’know. We can’t always get what we want. (Of course, it didn’t end up happening at all because of Claudia Christensen leaving the show and taking most of its soul with her, not that I blame her.)

Thirdspace

I used to watch this all the time when it was on TNT, and I don’t know why but I remember liking it way better back then. Maybe I was just easier (especially for universes/characters I have a preexisting attachment to).

Having Susan Ivanova back was… I think the cliche is “a breath of fresh air,” but honestly that cliche doesn’t do it justice? Something I’m realizing as I rewatch the show is that she wasn’t just my favorite character, she was really the heart and soul of the show. And as I’m watching things in aired order and this movie aired in the middle of season 5 even though it fits in the continuity around the middle of season 4, I’ve been keenly feeling Ivanova’s absence for half a season now so just seeing her on the show again is such a wonderful relief. Maybe that’s why I liked it so much back in the day.

One of the big details I remembered from previous viewings (actually, I found that I remembered pretty much everything) was a thoroughly awkward elevator “conversation” between Zack and a catatonic/mumbling Lyta. Back when I first saw it, I probably sympathized with Zack, but watching it now I’m more like, “Are you fucking kidding me, dude?” Like. You don’t notice she’s in a catatonic state? You have an entire “conversation” with her without her saying a word??? And walk away from that conversation under the impression that you’ve successfully had a two-sided conversation with a conscious, receptive woman?????? Suuuuuuper creepy, my dude.

Anyway, I thought I was going to love this because I vaguely remembered loving it back when it originally came out, but like apparently all of the Babylon 5 movies, it was honestly just okay.

(B-Rank)

The River of Souls

This was a fine little standalone adventure, I suppose. Nothing to really write home about, but like I said, just fine.

Oh, one complaint. As much as Babylon 5 was usually pretty damn queer-friendly for a 90s sci-fi show, there was a little moment in this where the fact that lesbians exist is supposed to provoke a laugh. And that moment happened in a conversation between three men. So, you know. That was not especially cool, B5.

(C-Rank)

5×22 “Sleeping in Light”

I shouldn’t watch any series finales ever. I only have two reactions to them: mild disappointment, or CRYING EVERYWHERE. I remembered everything that happened in this episode I thought I was emotionally prepared for it. I fucking wasn’t.

There’s a lot of things I can criticize about this show, but its finale is just an emotionally eviscerating portrayal of the logical conclusion of love and friendship and mortality and I hate it, and love it, and hate it.

It’s funny. I don’t even feel bad for Sheridan. I feel bad for everyone around him. I really, really, really, really, really selfishly hope I die before all of my friends and lovers. I am absolutely terrified of it, but losing people you love seems… worse.

The only series finale I can easily think of that was equally emotionally devastating is Six Feet Under. And that show was literally about death.

(S-Rank)

A Call to Arms

Really not worth seeing unless you’re a pretty devoted Babylon 5 fan, but you know what else is new about these B5 made-for-TV movies. The CGI effects did get a major facelift, which was pretty cool all things considered. Although, I still maintain that the original, shoddy CGI was part of the show’s charm.

I… don’t think I’m devoted enough to my rewatch of the show to try to watch the aborted series Crusade, but idk, I’ll give it some thought. This was pretty clearly mostly meant as a pilot for that show to try to effectively pass fans of Babylon 5 seamlessly along to the new show, and obviously given the child series’ run of less than a full season, it didn’t go too well.

The movie itself was… fine, I guess. It didn’t really grab me, and I kind of hate anything that’s super Sheridan/Garibaldi-centric considering all of the interesting women from the show that get left behind, but oh well. Also, the music in this was weird as fuck. Was that a setup for the music in Crusade? I watched a few episodes back when it originally aired, but I really don’t remember much about it. The new ship was cool, though, I suppose?

Also, considering all the buildup to it, the planet-killing superweapon was way too easy to destroy. That’s something basically every movie/whatever other than the original Star Wars gets wrong.

(C-Rank)

Damn. I revisited this show on a whim and experienced in a matter of weeks what I previously experienced over a period of years. It sure was a hell of a ride. I highly, highly recommend Babylon 5 to anyone with any kind of affinity for 90s sci-fi who somehow missed it. There are significant caveats, but… the good outweighs the bad by far, imho.

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