Babylon 5: Midnight on the Firing Line   First Watch 
December 28, 2017 4:07 PM - Season 1, Episode 1 - Subscribe

On the Earth-led station Babylon 5: The Narn invade Ragesh 3 in a sneak attack, to retake it from Centauri. Raiders are a problem near Babylon 5. The Earth Alliance elects its president. "Blood calls out for blood."

Key points:

-Narn and Centauri hate each other, as a result of a century of harsh Centauri colonial rule over Narn territory and Narn citizens. G'Kar is the Narn ambassador. Londo is the Centauri ambassador.
-The Narn invasion of Ragesh 3 involved using Londo's nephew as a pawn of their propaganda campaign. Londo does not take this well.
-The Centauri governmental response to the Ragesh 3 invasion is relatively passive. Londo does not take this well, either.
-The Minbari and the humans ended a very serious war relatively recently.
-Sinclair plays games with direct orders when it suits him.
-Centauri have prophetic dreams of their deaths, and Londo recognizes G'Kar as his future killer.
-Vir, Londo's aide, is the only ambassadorial 'second' introduced this episode. The others (Lennier, Na'Toth) appear later.
-Kosh, the Vorlon ambassador, is enigmatic almost immediately: "They are alone. They are a dying people. We should let them pass." "The Narn or the Centauri?" "Yes."
-The station has a problem with raiders.
-Santiago and his VP, Clark, have been re-elected as the Earth Alliance executive team.
-Garibaldi is the chief of security, as well as a horndog with a thing for cartoons.
-Psi Corps is... very controlling of telepaths, and Ivanova hates Psi Corps specifically and telepaths generally because of how Psi Corps treated her mother. Talia Winters is a telepath-for-hire on the station; she tries to mend fences with Ivanova.
-Babylon 5 is a joint military-civilian installation lead by an Earth Force commander.
posted by flibbertigibbet (23 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I started watching it for the first time, so hell: why not.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 4:07 PM on December 28, 2017 [8 favorites]

(To be clear, I've seen up to the first third of season 2. I'm trying to note things that I know or suspect will be important later, but generally these recaps will be spoiler-free as I can't spoil much.)
posted by flibbertigibbet at 6:58 PM on December 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Is this on one of the more popular streaming networks?
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:46 PM on December 28, 2017

It can be hard to recognize 20 years down the road, but after so much Trek and Star Wars and Buck Rogers, that moment when a starfury dropped thrust to spin around and shoot the enemy chasing it was fuckin' magic.

God only knows that the show doesn't hold up particularly well, what with Michael O'Hare's wooden acting and his replacement and the cheapo sets and a lot of the acting outside the most major characters and the plot hacks and compression to get the main story done when it looked like they'd only have 4 seasons. But there is a core to this show that was really something special, especially set against the shows and movies that came before it.

Somewhere there is a timeline where Paramount went for JMS's pitch and funded the show properly, and I'd love to see what B5 looked like there.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 9:47 PM on December 28, 2017 [13 favorites]

It is available to stream (US only) at Go90 and can be bought just about anywhere you can buy TV. I'm buying it on iTunes as my husband's original-run DVDs had problems playing on my computer.

There was just enough in this episode to trust my husband's opinion and keep watching despite serious misgivings. I started watching DS9--also for the first time--at about the same time, and DS9 is technically a much more competent show. B5 has bad (flat) lighting, bad sets, frankly horrible alien outfits in season one (one major character gets an upgrade in s2). In these early episodes, there's a feeling that everyone knows their lines--but often not much more than that. Timing is off, blocking and positioning is awkward, delivery is stilted, etc.

But there is something I'll say about these early B5 episodes compared to DS9 episodes. The resolution to early DS9 episodes often undercut the point of the episode: "Crisis! One trusted member of the staff is a KILLER!" and end with "...but not really." The punch of the moral (or political, or whatever) crisis was routinely deflated in the climax.

In B5? Things tend to escalate (although you may not realize it at the time) instead of deflate. The Narn invaded another world then lied to try to make it ok, and the Centauri response was weak... and it has consequences both in this episode and for the rest of the show. This is not true of every episode (like, oh, say... Infection, or Grail), but generally things build on one another. And it's nice to see.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 8:02 AM on December 29, 2017 [4 favorites]

And So It Begins...
posted by euphorb at 3:31 PM on December 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yeah.. ok. I'm on board with this.
I've seen Babylon 5 through once a while ago, it'd be good to revisit.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:33 PM on December 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

I first (started) watched this (I think it was past the halfway point of the series) while I was exiled to Iowa State for a semester; I made friends with the geekiest of the geeks and one group of them got me watching B5 with them.

Yes! Newtonian physics! (re: Starfuries)

Patricia Tallman!

Dirty/lived-in/used/grungy space station with public spaces!

I think it was in the early '00s when I went and watched it from the start through to the bitter made-for-tv-movies end.

I recently lent my collection to my supervisor and he and his gf has been first-watching this, two episodes at a time several times a week (and she normally hates everything).

When I was watching The Wire, I couldn't put my finger on why McNulty seemed so familiar until... oh, right, Garibaldi.
posted by porpoise at 3:47 PM on December 30, 2017

That said, the first season is cheesy as _frig_. It's amazing that anything important story-wise survives from it into the significantly more interesting 2nd, 3rd and 4th seasons.

I never managed to watch it in first run. I remember people grumbling about where and when the syndicated channel would shuffle it off to in any given week, but I think I first caught it on a SciFi Channel rerun, when the Lurker's Guide was more or less completely filled out. I never cheated, and the guide was pretty good about spoilers anyway, but it was nice to check back and realize "ah, that's what dude mc duderson in the background was doing."
posted by Kyol at 8:05 AM on December 31, 2017

posted by Sebmojo at 2:47 PM on December 31, 2017

I've watched B5 start to finish maybe five times through? I absolutely love this story. Used to keep a sound archive, subdivided by Londo, Kosh and Miscellaneous. (I still routinely quote this show IRL.)

It was also the only one of these I could get my (generally TV-averse) SO through - she stopped Farscape about four episodes in, and I can't even get her to start a Trek spinoff, but she cried when [$redacted_spoilers_occurred].

I'll have to look around and see if I still have an old, beat up copy someplace.

Here's one of my old favorite links about the show: the Down Below sound archive. It's crazy spoilery if this is your first ride, but contains some killer bloopers.
posted by mordax at 10:41 PM on December 31, 2017 [1 favorite]

My bf at the time made me start watching it. I made it to a big season 3 reveal and said “Really? That’s the big reveal? I’m done now.”

Also, the woman reading A PAPERBACK NOVEL in one of the earliest episodes drove me insane. Of all the cheap, lazy decisions. I could never get past that.
posted by greermahoney at 6:02 PM on January 2, 2018

yo, my nerdren, imma give it a shot. missed it on bc gue to, you know, but the show is a pillar and I feel an obligation. Tried a few years ago and gave up hard after like half the first season, too early I know.

Anyway, I'm in.

(PS. my wife went to highschool with someone in the cast, I can never remember who)
posted by mwhybark at 1:07 AM on January 6, 2018 [1 favorite]

Mr. Creepygirl and I will give it a shot. We’ve gone through the series once before, and both have a severe Michael O’Hare allergy. So we’ll probably only jump in for a handful of Season One episodes, but once Season Two and the arc starts cracking, we’ll be in it for all the episodes.
posted by creepygirl at 3:50 PM on January 7, 2018

Somewhere there are lists of which early episodes have Series Content in them and which are just thingies-of-the-week.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 3:52 PM on January 7, 2018

What I have always loved about this episode is that it introduces some images and ideas that will be with the series for the next four years, which is awesome. I won’t say anything more, but just know that this show plays the long game with some of the concepts and ideas it introduces.

I’m thrilled to discover that the Lurkers Guide still exists; it is a fantastic resource for episode analysis and keeping track of connections.
posted by nubs at 9:47 AM on January 8, 2018 [2 favorites]

I don't want to reopen the whole B5/DS9 door too much, but will just leave this article here - it touches on the history of both shows and the tensions that were there at the start (and it does contain some minor spoilers for future episodes of B5 and guest stars but nothing that touches on the major arcs.) It's all history now anyways.

As to this particular episode, I'm still impressed with just how much there is to it: there's a lot that will get built on, eventually, and events here still resonate at the end of the season. Watching this back when it aired, that felt incredibly fresh and rather unlike, say, The Next Generation, or even DS9.

The episode does a lot of heavy lifting - it's been almost a full year since the pilot movie aired, so it has to do all the legwork of establishing the universe, the setting, and some of the characters as well as tell a story. And it contains the seeds of the Londo/G'Kar arc that will play out for the entire rest of the series.
posted by nubs at 2:22 PM on January 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oh, and just because - some information about spoo (which G'Kar noted was quite fresh that week), according to jms:

What is spoo?
(Spoo is also Oops spelled backward.)

Spoo is/are (the plural of spoo is spoo) small, white, pasty, mealy critters, rather worm-like, and generally regarded as the ugliest animals in the known galaxy by just about every sentient species capable of starflight, with the possible exception of the pak'ma'ra, who would simply recommend a more rigorous program of exercise. They are also generally considered the most delicious food in all of known space, regardless of the individual's biology, almost regardless of species, except for the pak'ma'ra, who like the flavor but generally won't say so simply to be contrary.
Spoo are raised on ranches on worlds with a damp, moist, somewhat chilly climate so that their skin can acquire just the right shade of paleness. Spoo travel in herds, if moving a total of six inches in any given direction in the course of a given year can actually be considered moving. They stay in herds ostensibly for mutual protection, but the reality is that if they weren't propped up against one another, most of them would simply fall down. They do not howl, bark, moo, purr, yap, squeak or speak. Mainly, they sigh. Herds of sighing spoo can reportedly induce unparalleled bouts of depression, which is why most spoo ranchers wear earmuffs even when it's only mildly cold, damp, wet and dreary outside. If there is any life-or-death struggle for dominance within the spoo herd, it has not yet been detected by modern science.

Spoo ranching is one of the least regarded professions known. Little or no skill is required, once you've got a planet with the right climate. You bring in two hundred spoo, plop them down in the middle of your ranch, and go back to the nearby house. Soon you've got more. When it comes time to cull out the ones ready for market (the softest, mealiest, palest, most forlorn-looking spoo of the pack), little physical effort is required since they're incapable of rapid movement without falling over (see above). They do not resist, fight, or whine; they only sigh more loudly. When spoo harvest time comes, the air is full of the sound of whacking and sighing, whacking and sighing. Even an experienced spoo rancher can only harvest for brief periods of a time, due to the increased volume of sighing, which even the sound of whacking cannot altogether erase. (also see above) Some have simply gone mad.

Spoo are the only creatures of which the Interstellar Animal Rights Protection League says, simply, "Kill 'em."

Fresh spoo (served at an optimum temperature of 62-degrees) is served in cubed sections, so that they bear as little resemblence as possible to the animal from which they have just been sliced. Spoo is usually served alongside a chablis, or a white zinfandel.

Further information on the care, feeding, eating and whacking of spoo can be found in the second edition of the Interstellar Guide to Fine Dining.
posted by nubs at 3:51 PM on January 16, 2018 [6 favorites]

Watching this, it is pretty obvious how wooden the commander’s acting is compared to others - but Lando and G’kar are just there right from the beginning. In my view, they are the ones that really carry the series.

Also “bones to make little flutes for Narn children”. You can forget how deep the hate goes sometimes, but that was a perfect clarity.
posted by corb at 1:26 PM on February 25, 2018

Watching this, it is pretty obvious how wooden the commander’s acting is compared to others

This is a criticism I struggle with these days, given what we know now about Michael O'Hare's mental health issues.
posted by nubs at 3:02 PM on February 26, 2018

So, I've finally started watching this. A bit of background: I've heard of the series since the original airing, but I've also been aware of JMS' insistence that DS9 stole his thunder, which I've never really bought--I think that he thinks that he was much more original than he really was, with just about all of the comparison points that he cited back in 1992 being not only pretty common SF tropes but also ones that Trek had already used in one incarnation or another; one way to think of DS9 is "'The Trouble with Tribbles', only serious". (I went to nubs' link above, then to the io9 article that it derives from, and thence to the comment that's supposedly the "smoking gun"... and then to the replies to that comment, which point out that the commenter got the history of PTEN, UPN, and the WB all wrong. Also from the commenter: "I was told they purposely took what they liked from the B5 script and put it in the DS9 script. In fact, there was talk of leaving the B5 script in tact and just setting it the Star Trek universe." No shit? JMS would let Paramount do that?)

Anyway, having finally watched an episode of this series, I can say with some confidence that the two series are not very much alike in any way that matters. There is a very definite feel of being dropped into the story in mid-stream; I didn't realize that there was a pilot before this one, and I'll be going back to watch that before continuing on with my first watch. (To follow up on my question above, the series is now on Amazon Prime.) Some things worked better than others; the CGI used for the space shots and combat hasn't aged well, and the actor playing Londo is doing so broadly enough that some of Trek's Large Hams might take pause, and that includes Shatner. I didn't think that O'Hare was particularly wooden--he struck me as a quieter, older version of Christian Bale--so much as he didn't have a lot to do. On the other hand, I recognized some of the actors from other things; Andreas Katsulas was the Romulan Commander Tomalak on TNG, Stephen Furst from Animal House, of course, and Claudia Christian from the very underappreciated SF movie The Hidden. Londo's overexuberant acting is mitigated by his being deadly serious about killing G'Kar, and I really liked the scene near the end where Ivanova is telling Winters about her mother.

So... I'll start working on the series, and see if I can't catch up.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:35 AM on November 6, 2018

I envy you Halloween Jack; B5 hasn't aged well in a few places, but if given the chance to go back and watch it all again with fresh eyes, I would love that opportunity. A few suggestions:

-don't worry overmuch about watching "The Gathering"; Midnight on the Firing Line does what is needful on the place setting front in a much shorter time frame. if you feel the need to be completionist about it go for it, but it really doesn't add much;
-know that S1 has a lot of flab in places; be patient with it.

And just to add to the file of where you might know actors from: Peter Jurasik (Londo) as Sid the Snitch on Hill Street Blues
posted by nubs at 11:50 AM on November 6, 2018 [2 favorites]

This show is so weird. On the one hand, it has deadly serious ongoing storylines and themes. On the other hand, it has more camp than any Buck Rogers gee-whiz sci fi ever did. And it tries to hold onto both. And it's so cheap-looking and SO 1990's. And yet it's trying so hard, never taking the lazy path. It's simultaneously a masterpiece and a trainwreck.
posted by rikschell at 6:33 PM on May 14, 2023

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