Babylon 5 Review – “The Wheel of Fire” (Season Five)

Now this is the way to end a series.

Cast

Bruce
Boxleitner
as John Sheridan.

Claudia
Christian
as Susan Ivanova.

Jerry Doyle as
Michael Garibaldi.

Richard Biggs as
Stephen Franklin.

Mira
Furlan
as
Delenn.

Bill
Mumy
as
Lennier.

Peter Jurasik as
Londo Mollari.

Stephen Furst as
Vir.

Andreas
Katsulas
as G’Kar.

Jeff
Conaway
as
Zack Allen.

Patricia
Tallman
as
Lyta Alexander.

Tracy Scoggins
as Elizabeth Lochley.

21 out of 22 episodes were written by series creator
J. Michael
Straczynski
.
(The eighth episode was written by Neil Gaiman, but
it’s a safe bet
that nothing in that episode happened with the
approval of JMS.)

Directed by various individuals, including Janet
Greek, Mike Vejar,
Stephen Furst, and J. Michael Straczynski
himself.

Past TV
reviews, including those of the first four seasons of
this series, can
be found here.

Original Airdate

This season originally aired in 1998.

Synopsis

The human civil war is over, but that doesn’t mean
there aren’t other
wars that need to be dealt with.

High Point

Man, this is a hard choice. “The Ragged Edge” was
the first episode
this season that really grabbed me. “The Corps Is
Mother, The Corps
Is Father” significantly altered my view of Bester,
despite the fact
that it hinged on something that seems inconsistent
with his interest
in Lyta. (If personality can change a P10 into a
P12, then wouldn’t
that contradict his “a P5 is a P5” speech when he cut
a deal with Lyta
in season four?) Hell, any episode in the last half
of the season is
in the running for this. In the end, I’d say it’s
the production of
“Sleeping in Light,” particularly when one looks at
the credit
sequence.

Low Point

The aforementioned inconsistency. It’s the only
point all season that
really irked me. (The first half didn’t grab me as
previous seasons
had, but it didn’t bother me, either.)

Other Comments

I have a few general comments to make about the show.
Here they are,
in no particular order.

The new opening sequence didn’t fit the first few
episodes. At first,
it seemed wrong not to kick it off with a new version
of “It was the
year of…” By the time I hit disk five in the DVD
set, I realized
that it really did work. The show had always been
about characters
running in crisis. That changed by the end of this
season, though;
the crises were dealt with, and all we had left with
the characters.
In the end, it was the perfect sequence, summarizing
the entire series
to date, tying threads together, and reminding the
audience of what
these characters had been through.

The “telepath war” wasn’t what I expected. I didn’t
feel the threat
that it should have been. Part of that was probably
due to the fact
that this war was seen coming several seasons before,
but had always
been regarded as something that could be dealt with
later. Without
some more attention to it then, it was hard to build
the appropriate
tension when it did arrive. Instead, we got a
situation crucial for
the development of Lyta as a character, and not much
else.

Finally, this proves what television can be. Most
sitcoms irritate me
to no end; the return to a weekly status quo gets
boring. How many of
those shows demonstrate little or no change in four
or five years?
Now, how many of us can say the same about our lives?
Hell, four
years ago I was working at CERN, with
plans to finish a Ph.D. in Physics and work in
research. Bureau42.com
was still Technopagan.org, and Dave was doing it all
himself. Now,
I’m Acting Director of the local Sylvan Learning
Centre, with no
Ph.D. and no idea what job (if any) I’ll have in
September. I can’t
think of anyone I know who is exactly where they were
five years ago.
People change, and the lives around them change with
them. That’s
what this series showed us, and that’s why it worked
so very damn
well. It had the space battles and the politics that
other successful
sci-fi shows have had, but they didn’t resonate this
well for me as a
viewer because they didn’t have the same focus on the
characters.
This season wrapped up the characters as well as the
plotlines. The
series finale was the most powerful hour of
television I’ve watched,
and it makes me very, very sorry I missed this show
in its original
run. It plays out very well on DVD, but I wish I
could have had the
experience of interaction with other fans as the show
ran, with the
speculation and discussion that ran between new
episodes and all the
other fun that must have come with it.

The movie collection is due out on DVD on August 17.
I’ve got my copy
on pre-order, of course. If anyone out there can
tell me if the
commentaries I have on these DVDs (which I’ve avoided
so far) have
spoilers for those movies, I’d appreciate it. I’d
like to start
watching those commentaries, but I don’t want to
stumble across any
information that was meant to be revealed properly in
a movie I’ll be
watching later.

The Review

The originality of the show is still
impressive, particularly
in the way it wrapped itself up. This had better
action that most
other space shows, but that’s not the way they ended
it, because the
characters always came first. This tied off
the stories that
the characters had been living through for all of
these years, putting
the crises on the back burner for a change. Most
shows wouldn’t have
the guts to do that, but then, most shows aren’t this
good. This
served the characters in ways that fit who they were,
but don’t
necessarily match up with what the viewers would want
to see from
them. I give it 6 out of 6 for guts alone.

The effects were, once more, on an obvious
budget. There is
no doubt about what they want to show us, but you can
still tell which
shots have effects and which don’t. I give it 4 out
of 6.

The story started out slowly, but was still
well written.
Once it picked up, it didn’t let up. I give it 5 out
of 6.

The acting is well done, again. Peter
Jurasik, Jerry Doyle,
and Andreas Katsulas get credit once more for acting
without looking
like they’re acting. Their interactions with each
other are always
priceless. I give it 5 out of 6.

The emotional response from the first half
of the season was
tame compared to what had come before. Seasons two
through four just
kept building and moving, without a break or a
misstep, so the slower
pace this season started with was unexpected. It let
me relax a bit
too much, so I didn’t get quite as locked in as I had
before. Then
came “The Ragged Edge,” and the old ferver was back
for most of the
season. Things started calming down in the politics
in the last two
episodes, but the work with the characters kept me
locked in there
very well. I think this may have replaced
Quantum Leap as
the best series finale I’ve ever seen, too. I give
it 5 out of 6.

The production felt, as usual, like very
talented people
didn’t get the budgets they wanted. With obvious
errors like Bester’s
dialogue in “The Corps Is Mother, The Corps Is
Father” (at the end of
his briefing, they reuse footage of him delivering
one line while they
dub in a completely different line, so the lip sync
doesn’t even come
close) mixed in with some great looking sequences, I
just kept getting
the impression that things were either rushed, or
they couldn’t afford
to go back and reshoot things that they could have
reshot on other
shows. These people deserved better. I give it 4
out of 6.

Overall, this is great. Yes, it’s not
perfect, and I have
some complaints, but the story this concludes is one
of the best
television has ever seen. The production flaws and
low budget effects
won’t bother anyone who has gotten through the first
four seasons;
don’t even try to watch this if you haven’t seen the
first four. I
recommend it to anyone; watch this season, and those
that came before
it. I give it 6 out of 6.

In total, Babylon 5: The Wheel of Fire
receives 35 out of 42.

9 replies on “Babylon 5 Review – “The Wheel of Fire” (Season Five)”

  1. UncleJam says:

    Telepath War

    The “telepath war” wasn’t what I expected. I didn’t feel the
    threat that it should have been. Part of that was probably due to the fact that
    this war was seen coming several seasons before, but had always been
    regarded as something that could be dealt with later. Without some more
    attention to it then, it was hard to build the appropriate tension when it did
    arrive. Instead, we got a situation crucial for the development of Lyta as a
    character, and not much else.

    Ah, but that wasn’t the Telepath War. That little piece of fun
    is still to come. I don’t want to give away any spoilers (not that we have been
    given many at this point), but it occurs sometime between the end of B5 and
    the beginning of Crusade. Some of the changes with
    telepaths in the latter series are a direct result of that conflict. There is more
    info in the last book of the Psi-Corps novel trilogy.

  2. TwistyHat says:

    I want a Vorlon battlecruiser

    I don’t think there was an inconsistency regarding the telepath rating. The scitzo guy was a P12, but one of his personalities THOUGH he was a P10. The mind can play drastic tricks with people in the real world, like hysterical blindness for instance. A patient can’t see, yet there is nothing wrong with the eyes, or cases where people are paralysed or deaf because of psychosomatic reasons. Ie, a part of the unconscious mind makes this decision and the rest of the body accept it as real.

    And like the other guy said, this wasn’t the telepath war, this was the spark which causes Lyta to organize an army. We may never see the real war.

    Oh, and *I* am exactly where i was five years ago. But i suppose i can’t recommend it.

    • UncleJam says:

      Re: I want a Vorlon battlecruiser

      I have an even simpler explanation: It’s really only an inconsistency if you believe that Bester is telling Lyta the truth.

      Show of hands: how many people believe anything Bester says without a gun to his head?

      Yeah, I didn’t think so.

      (Hell, even with a gun to his head, I still wouldn’t believe the little weasel!)

      • SteveMB says:

        Or, Simpler Yet

        I have an even simpler explanation: It’s really only an inconsistency if you believe that Bester is telling Lyta the truth.

        Good point. Also, Bester might have been sincerely mistaken (maybe he didn’t know at the time that a split personality could manifest different telepathic power levels) or oversimplifying (even if Bester knew that such a thing was possible, it’s an oddball special case that wasn’t really relevant to his objective).

  3. Trekkie says:

    OK, Forgive me while I go postal.
    I have a hard time keeping myself under control when it comes to Babylon 5. As far as I am concerned Babylon 5 was the best, brightest, most amazing television show ever produced of any genre. JMS is a god with this story line. It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever experienced in my life and I’d die content if I never enjoyed something like this at this time.

    So as I wipe the drool out of my mouth real quick, I need to point out something that I’ve been doing the last four weeks. I’ve watched Seasons 1 through 4 for the last three weeks. A few days on the weekend I’ve watched 5 episodes a day before I just couldn’t take it anymore because of the emotional rush that I experience when watching the amazing story line.

    Season 5. I’m about four episodes into this season and I’m not watching it at near the pace I watched Seasons 1-4. Not that Season 5 was bad, it’s just that the emotional investment compared to the previous four seasons is so light initially you just don’t get ‘hooked’ near as much as Season 3 and 4 especially. I think that was because season 4 was so hurried in that you had to finish the shadow war & the earth war in 22 episodes. If they knew they were having a season 5 the earth war wouldn’t have wrapped up until season 5. I think it took them about 5 – 7 episodes to figure out what to do.

    Episode 3 I think it is with the ‘bob and mack’ was great to me. You followed none of the main characters and got to see the ‘workin man’ perspective which I thought was great. it took a bit to get Tracy Scoggins integrated in but the way they did it was wonderful in the end.

    And the stuff that kept me up hoping at night through 1999 was that the way they ended the Babylon 5 sequence with the ‘all new’ staff could have spawned a second story line completely new/different from the first 5 years.

    I’ve not watched TNT since they pulled the stunt with Crusade/B5 and refuse to ever watch the channel. It’s removed from my lineup/TiVo and I never watch them. bastards.

  4. Trekkie says:

    Oh Yeah.
    And “Sleeping in Light” was the. best. single. episode. of television. ever.

    He made my wife burst into tears by the end of that one. She never watched Sci-Fi shows with me until that series (for that matter doesn’t watch many of them still) and yet when I watched the DVD sequence she dropped everything and watched every single one of them with me. Not that we don’t do stuff together mind you, just normally when Sci-Fi comes on (ST, Andromeda, etc. OK Farscape different story, she liked that one too) she’d leave the room and go putter around the house or something.

    • Trekkie says:

      Re: Oh Yeah.
      need to go wipe the foam off my mouth and get back to work :)

    • J_W_W says:

      Re: Oh Yeah.

      And “Sleeping in Light” was the. best. single. episode. of television. ever.

      He made my wife burst into tears by the end of that one. She never watched Sci-Fi shows with me until that series (for that matter doesn’t watch many of them still) and yet when I watched the DVD sequence she dropped everything and watched every single one of them with me. Not that we don’t do stuff together mind you, just normally when Sci-Fi comes on (ST, Andromeda, etc. OK Farscape different story, she liked that one too) she’d leave the room and go putter around the house or something.

      I think Severed Dreams is the best single episode of television ever. Sleeping in the Light is only the best series finale ever. ;-)

  5. smeep says:

    The Weak Point as I see it
    This series was near and dear to my heart, and as such, I watched every episode that I could when it first ran, even though I had to hunt through the TV Guide listings for awhile, when they started moving it all over the schedule.

    Anyway, the weak point in my mind was the exploration of Garibaldi’s alcoholism… again. Sure, it was more effective this time, because it directly caused some major events, and was more realistically dealt with, but we visited this previously. It was also more realistic in what caused his relapse this time. I just didn’t feel it necessary to visit this again. One more complaint I had about this season… the closing credits music. Awful. Horrible.

    One more note: I’d be interested in seeing a review for the Highlander TV Series, now that they are coming out on DVD. The first season had some horrible sword fights (Joan Jett’s stands in my mind as the absolute worst), and in general was a little unwatchable (at least until the finale). The other seasons I’ve watched so far are alot better, and have some good stories to them. The only thing I recommend is not watching the extras for each episode. They frequently give away future plot lines. I hate that. Perhaps they assume that I’ve seen this all during it’s first run.

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