Season 1: Signs And Portents (1994)
Narns, Minbari, hot telepaths, it’s all you could ask for in a sci-fi show. Well, I didn’t ask for Ikarran War Machine’s, and hopefully neither did you? You would think that with a whole season’s worth of material I would be a tad bit more with the witty, but then you don’t know me.
Season one of Babylon 5 was all about a show getting its footing. That’s why for the most part it ends up being a run of the mill average season of science fiction on TV and TV in general. There are the highest of highs and the lowest of lows with a lot of middling material in-between. The comparison has oft been made that Signs And Portents is like the first chapter of a novel, it’s essential but it’s not the best. I agree completely with that description, although it is amazing that a season that is so universally decried by Babylon 5 fans contains quite a few gem episodes.
The main focus of Signs And Portents rested on laying the groundwork for what was to come. There wasn’t one single riding theme of the season outside of laying that groundwork, but there were a few major themes that came along with that groundwork. The issue of Sinclair, the missing hours in his life and the secrets the Minbari may hold were highlighted. Also pushed to the forefront was the idea of major powers at work in the galaxy that were beyond the ability of anyone to comprehend.
In essence Signs And Portents ends up being a stand alone season that isn’t a stand alone season at all. Confusing? I know, I confuse the hell out of myself all the time. But, what I mean is that while Signs And Portents is an integral part of the greater story of Babylon 5 it also feels very much like a season unto itself because of how much more episodic in nature the storytelling is. That’s not a bad thing mind you, but it is an interesting distinction between the heavily intertwined later seasons where the show relies more on the connected story arc than stand alone episodes.
Babylon Squared (1.20)
An episode that builds, builds, and builds drama and tension to an incredible climax. What makes this episode stand out so much is that it doesn’t rely on the attraction of time travel to sell the episode or try to explain said time travel. Babylon Squared treats time travel as a radical occurrence that can’t be explained, only experienced. Babylon Squared is also the fulcrum episode for the entire series. All that came before and after hinges on this episode. But Babylon Squared doesn’t reach too far, it foreshadows all these events and happenings while staying self-contained. Fantastic, fantastic episode, the best of season one and one of the best of the entire series.
What can be said about Infection, other than the fact that it is easily the worst episode of all of Babylon 5, and one of the worst episodes of TV period. Bad acting, bad writing, predictable plot and story, Infection featured everything you don’t want in an episode of television. The less time spent talking about Infection the better.
Most Surprising Episode:
Who knew that a sci-fi TV show could tackle the issue of religious rights versus the right to live so well? This is the episode that allowed me to realize that Babylon 5 was more than just and average sci-fi show and was willing to take on non sci-fi issues in a hard manner. Believers also featured bits of foreshadowing for much later in the series and insight into the thought process of a very different type of commanding officer. There were a few better episodes in season one, but none as surprisingly good as Believers.
Most Disappointing Episode:
Luckily Garibaldi’s alcoholism will be handled in much better and convincing fashion in season five, because it was handled abysmally in Survivors. Survivors had many other faults, and big ones at that, but what makes it so disappointing is that it had the potential to plow through a great topic with gusto and instead it handled said topic frivolously and dropped the ball. Alcoholism is not something you can jump into and right back out of like Survivors tries to put forth and that’s why Survivors is the most disappointing episode of season one.
Line Of The Season:
Londo Mollari, Signs And Portents (1.13)
Londo’s frustrated declaration of what he wants to Mr. Morden from Signs And Portents is extremely powerful and evocative. “I want my people to reclaim their rightful place in the galaxy. I want to see the Centauri stretch forth their hand and command the stars. I want a rebirth of glory, a renaissance of power. I want to stop running through my life like a man late for an appointment afraid to look back, or to look forward. I want us to be what we used to be. I want… I want it all back the way that it was.” That line of dialogue shows the complexity of Londo while also revealing how simple and base his desires really are. This line also shows off how complex Babylon 5 can be while wrapped in the guise of simplicity.
Line That Made Me Cringe The Most:
Delenn, Soul Hunter (1.02)
Sinclair has just finished telling Delenn that they have no idea who the man they have in custody is as well as being completely clueless as to any facts about him. Delenn sees him and responds, “You Don’t Know? You don’t know what that thing is?” This unfortunately highlights a running problem in season one and the rest of the series. The writers need to put clunky and unnecessary dialogue into the episodes.
Battle Sequence Of The Season:
Raiders versus Babylon 5, Signs And Portents (1.13)
I told you I was a fleet junkie, so it’s only natural that you would get this topic at the end of the season. There won’t be a correlating “worst battle” topic, because I honestly didn’t have a battle that was bad enough to fit it. But, back to the topic at hand. While seeing the Shadows in action was undeniably cool, there was only one battle sequence in season one that was cool, dramatic and intelligent. Not only was the showdown between the Raiders and Babylon 5, with accompanying Starfuries, cool and dramatic in tone, feel and look, but the music was excellent and the cutting between the space battle and the actors was perfectly handled. The CGI looked excellent, but most importantly it wasn’t just people lining up and shooting wildly at each other. The battle was extremely tactical and the first sign that Babylon 5 had a better handle on sci-fi space battles than any show that had come before.
A+ (100): 0 Episodes
A (90-99): 4 Episodes
B (75-89): 6 Episodes
C (60-74): 7 Episodes
D (45-59): 4 Episodes
F (0-44): 1 Episode
Signs And Portents was a season that was great at points, bad in others, but mainly was caught in-between. Not good, not bad, merely decent.
The Ombuds Have Decided:
Signs And Portents is really at its best when it strays from the standard Star Trek type of storytelling. Episodes such as Deathwalker, Believers, Babylon Squared, Signs And Portents and Chrysalis highlight this. These episodes take the standard clichés of science fiction and turn them on their ear, offering new and exciting insights into old ideas.
The writing was tremendous at times, especially in Babylon Squared, Signs And Portents, Chrysalis and Deathwalker. There was a density and an insightfulness to the writing in most episodes. The writers didn’t think we were idiots and they didn’t treat us like idiots and we were given complex stories as a result. The acting could be a mixed bag. Sometimes it was tremendous, it goes without saying that Peter Jurasik as Londo and Andreas Katsulas as G’Kar were always spot on, but other times the acting left you with a bad taste in your mouth. Guest actors hamming it up so much that they distract from what is happening in the scene, etc..
The score sputtered a bit to start but after a few episodes it found its footing and became the one consistent in the series that would never deviate from being great. Finally there was the stage sets, prosthetics/make-up and the CGI. The stage sets were always top notch, transporting the viewer into a different world seamlessly and without incident. Make-ups and prosthetics were one of the defining factors in my acceptance of the show. G’Kar is the best example, in that mask that character of G’Kar came completely to life for me. He was able to not only express verbally but physically as well. The make-up did hit a few snags with a few forehead bump aliens and the terrible looking N’Grath, but still a positive year for them. Last we have the CGI, another hit or miss feature in the first season. At times it looked great, the vessels of the Shadows and the Vorlons, the Ipsha Battleglobe, etc.. But, at other times it looked very bad, most of Infection, the missiles from Epsilon 3 in A Voice In The Wilderness, Parts 1 & 2. But, the CGI was more hit than miss.
All in all season one of Babylon 5, Signs And Portents ended up being a season that isn’t a bad thing to see. It’s not the best of viewing and it’s not a season of TV I would blindly recommend to a fellow TV watcher. But, it’s also not bad TV and not something I would recommend people to stay away from. In every sense of the phrase, Signs And Portents is a middle of the road season of television.
That’s all for the first season of Babylon 5. Next up I’ll start tackling some movies, and maybe even a few comics, before starting up season 2. Till next time when I’ll sprinkle your ears with a bit of Stardust.