Babylon 5 The Coming Of Shadows
Like many of my age group one of the first forms of literature that caught my attention was the science fiction story. This was soon expanded by collecting novels of the same genre. Of all the novels like this that I have encountered there is a special place on my shelves for the space opera. These novels show brave space-men traveling through the uncharted depths of out space engaging in epic battles of unimaginable fury. One of my all time favorites was the six novels that constitute the Lensman saga by "E.E. "Doc" Smith. Since 1970 I have put aside time to reread them every five years or so, the closest thing to this kind of multi-novel space faring adventure was the classic TV series ‘Babylon 5". Throughout the five year run of this series one contiguous story was created with and actual beginning, middle and end; a rarity in this medium. More amazing than that is the fact that each season is itself constructed precisely as if it was a complete novel relating one part of the overall story. ‘Babylon 5’ is a five act play perfectly crafted by a master storyteller, J. Michael Straczynski, or as he is better known in conventions all over the globe, JMS. He originally conceived presenting this series as five novel/seasons and against the odds pulled it off. There have been a short lived spin off and five expository made for television films giving the fans a fully constructed universe populated by a plethora of alien races each with their own well established back stories and interactions. This is one of the best science fiction series ever brought to television and thankfully the entire experience is on DVD. the second season, sub titled ‘The Coming Of Shadows’ picks up where the first season left off building tensions and anticipation magnificently culmination with a season conclusion that will have you leap into the next one.
J. Michael Straczynski has racked up an incredible list of accomplishments ranging from novels to the award winning screenplay for Clint Eastward’s film, ‘The Changeling’. One thing that cannot be said about a script from MJS is it lacks depth. He is perhaps one of the best American story tellers of his generation. In the first season the principle characters and situations. Babylon 5 is a massive cylindrical city in space that is home to a quarter of a million humans and aliens. As the season starts the commander of the station, Jeffrey Sinclair (Michael O'Hare), has been recalled by Earth dome and reassigned as a special envoy to Earth’s previous enemy, the Minbari. Representing this mysterious species is their ambassador, Delenn (Mira Furlan). She had recently undergone a major transformation taking on the look of a human-Minbari hybrid. The change was undergone to help bridge the gap between the two previously warring species. One of the unfortunate side effects is a distrust of her own people resulting in a loss of her political position on her home world. Sinclair’s replacement is more than a little insulting to many of the Minbari. Earth dome choose Capt. John Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner). He was a hero of the recent Earth-Minbari war known by the Minbari pejorative of ‘Star-Killer’. The Minbari were just about to win when unexpectedly the surrendered. This mysterious change in administration did not go unnoticed by second in command Cmdr. Susan Ivanova (Claudia Christian) and chief of security Michael Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle) who accepted him readily but still wondered as to what motivated the unexpected change.
This season is much darker than the previous as the sub title ‘The Coming of Shadows’ would indicate. The Shadows are one of the most ancient and destructive races in the galaxy. Most of the sentient races have myths, legends and prophecies built around this believed extinct race. In this season they begin to make themselves known at first but contacting the ambassador of the Centuri Empire Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik). The envoy of the Shadows, Mr. Morden (Ed Wasser) promises Lando political supremacy by allowing him to spearhead a successful war against their long time adversaries the Narn Regime. Their ambassador G’kar (Andreas Katsulas) is constantly at odds with Lando consistent with the prophecy that they will kill each other. The tensions grow as the war intensifies bring difficult reactions to everyone on Babylon 5. The eternal enemies of the Shadows, the Vorlons are the most enigmatic race in the galaxy. They are so inconceivable different from other species they constantly wear a special encounter suit to provide livable conditions. This armor like apparatus also prevents anyone from the slightest clue of what a Vorlon looks like. Unexpectedly the Vorlon ambassador Kosh (Ardwight Chamberlain) makes the unprecedented move of offering to teach Sheridan how to better understand his race. Sheridan has some vital role to play in the upcoming Armageddon.
JMS masterfully crafts this section of the story balancing the ever increasing darkness and looming grand conflict with little side stories. Some episodes are fully devoted to extending the overall mythos while others either only adds a teasing little hint at something vitally important. Other episodes just lighten the mood keeping things balanced and a relief from the doom on the horizon. One of the best occurs when Ivanova concludes an extremely important trade agreement. The alien’s culture requires such a deal to be sealed by sexual congress. Susan tricks the alien into accepting ‘human style’ and proceeds to perform one of the most hysterical mating dances ever seen. True fans should note that this is a parody of a similar dance Claudia Christian performed in the movie ‘Hexed’.
The analogy to a novel as part of a larger series holds up well. This season can be enjoyed on its own but works best when seen in the correct place in the saga. JMS is incredibly talented and of all his works this is one of his best. Just immerse yourself in this universe and soak it all in.
Introduction by Producer/Creator J. Michael Straczynski and Cast Including