In this week’s Throwback Thursday, I want to talk about my favorite sci-fi show of all time—Babylon 5. I feel like the voice-over intro which begins each episode is a pretty good summary of what the show is about:
It was the dawn of the third age of mankind – ten years after the Earth-Minbari War. The Babylon Project was a dream given form. Its goal: to prevent another war by creating a place where humans and aliens could work out their differences peacefully. It’s a port of call – home away from home – for diplomats, hustlers, entrepreneurs, and wanderers. Humans and aliens wrapped in two million five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal… all alone in the night. It can be a dangerous place, but it’s our last best hope for peace. This is the story of the last of the Babylon stations. The year is 2258. The name of the place is Babylon 5.
Babylon 5 has had a special place in my heart since I was a child. Unlike Stargate SG-1, which I wrote about a while back, Babylon 5 used to be on late at night (like, 10pm) and my dad used to watch it every week. So, sometimes after my mom had put my brother and me to bed, I would quietly get up and sneak into the living room and ask my dad to let me watch it with him. And he would sometimes let me.
Unfortunately, not much of the show stuck in my memory and what did stick might not not been very accurate, so a couple of years ago, I decided to watch it all again. I hoped it would be good, but I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did.
First, the variety of prominent and recurring female characters is awesome. Delenn, Susan Ivanova, Talia Winters, Lyta Alexander and others are all different and amazing. I especially fell in love with Delenn. She commands respect, takes action, always attempts to avoid violence, is a leader, but at the same time she’s not afraid to show feelings and those feelings aren’t presented as a character weakness.
Susan Ivanova is another favorite. In addition to being the tough second-in-command on Babylon 5, she’s also one of the first LGBTQ+ characters on sci-fi TV. She has a couple relationships with men and her relationship with Talia Winters, while not totally explicit, is more like Marceline/Princess Bubblegum rather than, say, Dean/Castiel type subtext. There was one particular episode (“Divided Loyalties”) where it’s made pretty clear that Susan and Talia were intimate, even though it isn’t shown outright. The creator, J. Michael Straczynski, said in an interview that they were indeed intimate but he didn’t want to be explicit because “it’s easier on all around if one steps into the shallow end of the pool first, and walks into the deep end rather than diving in and splashing everybody in the process”. While I do think it’s a bit of cop-out, it’s still better than nothing, and later on in the show (“Ceremonies of Light and Dark”) Susan confesses: “I think I loved Talia” (and my bisexual heart exploded). Unfortunately, we can’t be entirely sure whether Talia actually returned Susan’s feelings because during the development of their relationship, Talia was being controlled by an evil entity spying on Babylon 5. However, I like to think that she did care about Susan and the organization simply took advantage of that. Also, no matter what, Susan Ivanova is a wonderful complex bisexual character.
Another thing I really love is all the different aliens. Although Babylon 5, much like most other sci-fi shows, suffers from the trope of making all alien planets very homogeneous and simplified in their cultures, at least the alien species don’t all look alike and their virtue and belief systems are very different. I especially like the sort of scientific spirituality of the Minbari culture (although it does get more and more outlandish as the show progresses). As a scientist and someone who struggles with faith/religion, I believe and find comfort in the fact that one can find spirituality and wonder simply in the universe around us. And I love that among all the religions/faiths explored in Babylon 5, there’s also place for this type of spirituality.
Finally, the plot for the first three seasons or so is pretty much flawless, in my opinion. It’s a perfect mix of standalone introductory episodes, short arcs and building conspiracies. Later on, it starts becoming more fantasy and less science, but the relationships and character development is still great. I started watching it because all the aliens were awesome, but later on there were just characters I cared about and the show was still entertaining, even if in a little more ridiculous way.
It’s not often that things I used to love as a child manage to impress me now, but Babylon 5’s late night childhood magic turned into a complex well-crafted story populated with awesome female characters. My little bisexual heart will forever look to Susan Ivanova as one of my favorite bisexual characters.