Babylon 5 Season 1 Episode 1: Midnight on the Firing Line

The first regular episode of Babylon 5 aired 11-months after the premiere movie. Now operating with a budget and a real cast in place, they began their series with “Midnight on the Firing Line.” 2 things right off the top: I hope they reran the movie before this premiered as this episode doesn’t set things up at all- The Gathering isn’t required to enjoy this (i guess…) but there is a certain barrier to entry that would be well eased by seeing all that world building (although, The Gathering is in no way referenced in this episode which I find odd to say the least.) Secondly, the title of this episode makes no sense as on screen text shows that this episode starts at 10:00 AM not midnight.

Anyway.

Episode 1 begins with a long cold open setting up the plot of the episode- and unmotivated attack on a Centauri civilian colony- and somewhat establishing the world of the station. We also get our first glimpse of the new uniforms

 

I have to say the leather lapel and collar really break up the fabric balloon effect of the original costumes. We also get our first shot of new XO Lt. Commander Susan Ivannova (Claudia Christian). As there’s no real way to determine how much time has actually passed since the movie- at least enough time to get new haircuts – there’s no way to really establish how integrated into the crew Ivannova is. That said, I can’t really say how close a relationship Laurel Takashima had with anyone either so I guess B5 isn’t super concerned about people and relationships just yet. One thing is certain, Christian is a far more confidant actor than Tamlyn Tomita was.

We also get our first look at our opening credits! I think I have mentioned before that I am kind of a credits sequence nerd and this is…over a minute long! The dour monologue, the restatement of the premise weekly (nicely sidestepping the need to ever reference the movie I guess) the line “Humans and aliens surrounded by 2 million 5 hundred thousand tons of spinning metal. All alone. In the dark.” It’s all so damn much for a weekly series.

The main plot about the Centauri colony gets folded into another plot about supply ships being attacked by raiders. In the movie it was established that Commander Sinclair was a pilot in the war so off he goes to investigate

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I kind of love how these fighters drop out of the station. It’s a cool re-imagining of the typical hanger concept. In the meantime it’s revealed that the perpetrators of the attack on the colony are the Narn! Oh no! Londo and G’kar get into a fight and Londo decides he has to kill the Narn ambassador. Before he can though he runs into (literally) new station telepath Talia Winters (Andrea Thompson) who gives us B5 standard telepath is scared after a mind scan acting:

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Vague staring into the middle distance! Now we know it’s serious! But, no one gets killed, the Narn are defeated and the raiders are stopped to and everything is fine.

There are also a couple of subplots that are worth mentioning. There is some lip service paid to a Presidential election on Earth. Upshot is everyone is very concerned with voting so I guess that is a thing that gets better in the future. Secondly, the President is shown in a weird black & white photo and my first thought was that it was a news story about an ancient Hollywood couple? Why was it in black and white? Color exists! We’ve seen it!

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It’s one of the many aesthetic quirks about this show that I just do not get.

Moving on, there is also a subplot about Garibaldi’s (Jerry Doyle) “favorite thing” which is heavily implied to be sex. Every time he mentions it, there is a lasciviousness to his tone that is really gross. But, it’s revealed at the end that it’s really watching old Duck Dodgers cartoons (on the standard 13″ CRT monitors) while eating popcorn. He tries to get Delenn to join him in his frivolity.

It works as well as can be expected.

Questions

Since I am knew to the B5 world, there are some questions I have, things that I am super unclear on that the narrative has not fixed. Primarily with episode 1 is how the hell does hyperspace work? In dialogue, they seem to know far in advance when there is a hyperspace approach, I assume because there has to be some reservation on their “jump gate” (I think).

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But, at the beginning of this episode we see an…uh…hyperspace tunnel(?) open without a gate present

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Which begs the question: What is the point of the gate?

Tropes

B5 has already established a certain number of tropes to be uniquely their own. I’ve already shown you this week’s 13″ CRT monitors but let’s not overlook the…

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Oxygen masks!

Non-Spoiled future guessing

I am trying to avoid spoilers as much as possible, but I have watched A LOT of TV before so I have some thoughts.

— Garibaldi is going to have a weight problem storyline? As Chief of security, he needs to keep in shape, but all we ever really see him doing in his off time is eating. I already showed you the popcorn but check out this dinner

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That is ALL for him. And Ivannova gives him a look like “Really dude?” I’m just saying, I see a fitness story in the offing.

— This is less a prediction than a “what might have been” had this show aired a little later. I get the impression that there is a sub-textual flirtation brewing between Ivannova and Talia. Ivannova tells a long story about why she doesn’t like telepaths because of mom-related trauma. Talia is sympathetic. I’m not sure if it was intended, or the actors were just feeling a certain way or maybe I am just reading into it, but I think if this show had aired later than 1994 there would have been a relationship there.

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I mean, Claudia Christian can sure do longing looks, right?

This episode (and the next to be honest) was really boring. The raider plot and the colony plot merging was a nice touch but either one of them was likely enough for a full episode at this point in a series. I still don’t know really anything about the characters, the species, the reasons for any of this to be happening. They really need to step up the characters and relationships because this plot-driven nonsense is honestly really boring.

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