Imagination Connoisseur, Kal Kamel (a.k.a. S’wak Props), helps us dive a little deeper into Babylon 5 and the great storytelling that helped shape that legendary, Sci-Fi series from the 1990s.
You often lament the fact that a huge problem with Star Trek Discovery is the quality of its writing. It’s really sad that the writers can’t even maintain a coherent storyline when its seasons only consist of 14 or 15 episodes. With each episode, it felt like the writers were making things up as they go along, and often times, they totally ignore what happened in the previous episodes. When we compare this to the epic Dominion War arc in Deep Space Nine or even Enterprise’s third season Xindi arc, it is apparent that the writing of Discovery is clearly sub-par.
To me, the perfect example of longform storytelling in a sci-fi setting has got to be Babylon 5. The show’s unique characteristic comes from the fact that it was plotted and meticulously planned out by one writer: J. Michael Straczynski. JMS famously had an idea of where every character and plot thread would end before any episode was shot, even creating exit strategies in case a particular cast member left during the course of the show. And because of that, he was able to write such complex long-term plots which would last the entire five seasons of the show.
Nowhere is this more evident than the link between the first season episode “Babylon Squared” and the third season two-parter “War Without End”. The ending of the two-parter was so satisfying and tied up loose ends from the season one episode so well that it still amazes me every time I rewatch the show. I still get goosebumps when Sinclair appears from the chrysalis with the two Vorlons hovering above him and reveals himself to be Valen. The puzzle of “a Minbari not born of Minbari” was thus satisfactorily solved.
Babylon 5 is available on Amazon Prime currently, albeit only in standard definition. It looks dated as heck with its low budget 90s CGI (they were, after all, created on a Commodore Amiga, lest we forget) but if the new viewers can get through that, they would be rewarded with rich science fiction storytelling from the likes of Peter David, Harlan Ellison, Neil Gaiman and of course, JMS himself.
One of the things on my wishlist is a 4K remaster of the complete Babylon 5 collection (sans Crusade and Legend of the Rangers, which I couldn’t be arsed about) with updated CGI. That, I’m afraid, will remain a pipe dream. JMS tweeted last year that Warner Bros., which holds the TV rights to the show, has no intention of remastering the original episodes and won’t spend an additional penny on Babylon 5, or even work on a revival of the series, due to some apparent grudge against PTEN, the original network on which the series aired. JMS went as far as comparing Warner to “a monkey with its fist around a nut in a jar” and they’d never let another company take over the intellectual property because if it were to do well, it could be potentially embarrassing for them.
In other words, “They’re my toys! You can’t have them!”
While Babylon 5 was definitely perfect for its time, it makes me wonder if a modern audience would accept it. As we can see with Star Trek Discovery, good science fiction storytelling has been dumbed down in favor of grand spectacle and cheap twists. I fear the slower, almost theatrical melodrama often portrayed in its episodes wouldn’t get anywhere with a crowd that demands seizure-inducing pacing and a high-profile death every episode. But like you always say, “hope springs eternal”.
Kal a.k.a. S’wak Props