This is the year things really started to heat up and the overall story arc of this series’ five-year plan began to edge out the more stand-alone episodes. About halfway into the season, Babylon 5 becomes a true chapter-by-chapter affair.
In fact, series creator, J. Michael Straczynski’s saga became so continuity driven, that by the last third of this season, he went from the show’s most prolific writer to its ONLY writer. This Herculean task would challenge him for the next two and a half seasons (and three B5 movie specials) without a break.
Amazingly, this staggering amount of work didn’t decrease the quality of writing; Just the opposite. I’d go so far as to say that jms’ unbroken marathon of scripts running from late Season Two through the end of Season Four is an unmatched body of work in all of science fiction television (perhaps ANY television, period).
Like Buffy and The X-Files, Babylon 5′s Season Two pulled in casual viewers and Season One viewers became unmitigated addicts with no turning back.
Here’s a SPOILER-FREE smattering of the some of the better Season Two Babylon 5 entries (as small a list as I could bring myself to provide!):
REVELATIONS: Without fanfare or preamble, one of the central mysteries of this saga is revealed and a major character will never be the same again after a certain “change”.
AND NOW FOR A WORD: The first (but not last) of Babylon 5′s refreshing experiments in format. This episode is done entirely as a futuristic “60 Minutes” or “24 Hours” type program, which visits Space Station Babylon 5 and digs deep with hard hitting, exploitive journalism, bringing one character to tears and also illuminating the seemingly dark motivations of another.
IN THE SHADOW OF ZA `HA `DUM: An intense episode about personal loss and sacrifice when two powerfully opposed characters square off. Bruce Boxleitner does some of his best work in this episode as John Sheridan’s personal agenda puts him in conflict with his staunchest allies.
DIVIDED LOYALTIES: The less revealed the here, the better. You need to see this one for yourself. A jaw dropping surprise awaits. Without spoiling here, I’ve noticed that whenever Star Trek does the same kind of story that B5 does in this episode, they turn it into a cheap stunt by promoting away any possible audience surprise (Spock’s TNG guest appearance, for example). Here is a good example of how anything is possible on this series without warning!
THE LONG TWILIGHT STRUGGLE: A massive and dramatic conclusion to a major storyline. Breathtaking effects, performances, surprises, and great tragedy capped off with tremendous performances by Andreas Katsulas as G’Kar and Peter Jurasic as Londo.
COMES THE INQUISITOR: The most claustrophobic and intense episode so far, featuring one of the best guest performances by Wayne Alexander (Babylon 5′s favorite utility guest player) as The Inquisitor. This atmospheric and experimental episode (almost a two-person stage play) also features a tour-de-force performance by Mira Furlan’s Delenn.
THE FALL OF NIGHT: A Season-ender, which does the seemingly impossible job of topping Season One’s finale. The (very story-supporting) special effects pushed the state of the art at that time and still hold up magnificently today. The story itself is a pressure cooker, but the topper is a MAJOR series revelation.
Saving the best for last…
THE COMING OF SHADOWS: This Season’s best episode (which is saying something) won the Hugo (A major award from the Science Fiction community) for Best Dramatic Presentation of the Year, beating out other entries in television AND feature films. It’s easy to see why. The drama, subtlety, surprise turns, and razor sharp dialogue are positively Shakespearian. A pillar of the series as a whole. Also, here’s a good model to study for any serious writer of television drama.
Of course, the balance of this season has some dynamite episodes such as GROPOS, SOUL MATES, A RACE THROUGH DARK PLACES, and ACTS OF SACRIFICE.
Season Two is wonderful, with even the weakest episode well worth watching. It’s a solid improvement on a perfectly fine inaugural season…and year three is even better!
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Now that most of the characters had a backstory, the second season of B5 ventured further into it’s 5 year story arc involving the war with the Shadows. Although I never really bought the romantic subplot involving Sheridan (I never felt that Boxleitter and Mira Furlan had much chemistry as a couple), it does work well within the context of the story. The political intrigue of season one expands to include Mars colony, the Psicorp and the usual suspects.
Boxleitter is a better actor than Michael O’Hare and he manages to bring considerable power to the role. The change in the guard (due to studio politics amongst many other things)also allowed for a richer, more indepth back story for the series. Although there are a fair share of clunkers during this season, overall the quality is high. The third season would be where the series really hit its stride.
There are a number of very cool extras on the second set. Once again JMS does a color commentary on a couple of episodes but, more important, Bruce Boxleitner, Jerry Doyle and Claudia Christian provide a color commentary that is quite funny and glib on 1 key episode. I had forgotten that Melissa Gilbert did not play Sheridan’s wife in the brief footage we see of her. Amazing how time will adjust your memory. The special features include a couple of documentaries and are of pretty good quality. There’s a new introduction by J. Michael Straczynski and Bruce Boxleitner that is interesting as well.
The transfer is an improvement over the first season box set Signs and Portents. There’s still quite a bit of scratches and analog artifacts. Most noticable, though is the occasional fuzzy picture quality. This is probably due to the low level lighting in some key scenes and a lack of QC when the digital compression was done. Still, the overall quality is quite good although not comparable to the Trek or DS9 picture quality (particularly for seasons 4-7 with ST:TNG).
Nevertheless, it’s nice to finally have this important series available on DVD. The overall quality of the writing and directing is top-notch and an improvement over the uneven quality of season one. The acting also took a leap forward during this pivotal season with the addition of Boxleitner and a number of strong guest turns.
The second season of the best tv show ever introduces us to a fantastic new character: Sheridan, who is one of my all time favorite heroes. The second season has some of the most increadibly written storys ever told: Coming of Shadows, where the war truly starts to develop, Comes the Inquisitor (one of my top three favorites ever) where we see the importance of a leader’s motivations–doing the right thing for the right reason–maybe one of the most important themes to understand in today’s political climate, The Long Twilite Struggle, where we see some of our favorite characters fall into very difficult positions, sorry can’t elaborate, but it is very moving in hopeful and disturbing ways, and then the season finally which gives us our first view of the man behind the curtain–Kosh. The second half of season two is fast, terrifying and provokative. You will not see more intricate stroy telling or character development in any tv show before or since. Lets keep the sales up so we can get up to season 5 on DVD–Babylon 5 deserves it and so does its fans. Look around, at the reviews on this site and at the messages on its home posting board, see the way this show has educated and inspired people to do better, to be better. It’s a rare thing today, and that is why it should be marvelled at. The Ancient Greeks felt that the Ilyad and the Odysse where the halmark of their civilization, if there was a story that was to equal that in our society, it would be/should be Babylon 5!