Why I Dislike ‘Babylon 5’

Well, my story on Best and Worst Sci-Fi TV Openings got FARKed, and my blog got slammed with hits, which is a very good thing. I originally wrote it for GGL – but our new editorial direction is to get away from “Gamer/Geek Lifestyle” stories, and stick to “professional gaming” stories. Which is fine – I’ll just write for my blog.

Lots of people had suggestions for the best and worst list. Some of them were even polite. After reading them all, my only regret is that I did not consider the original opening sequence for Red Dwarf for the best list.

I was surprised to learn that some Firefly flans don’t like the Firefly theme song. That’s crazy. I hate Country music as much as the next intelligent person of taste; but that theme is great. (Please note: Firefly fans are referred to as “Browncoats” or “flans.” If you don’t understand why we say “flans” or “flanvention,” please read the following two words aloud: “Firefly fan.”)

Of course, I got slammed for hating on Babylon 5. That was my point about why B5 fans are so annoying. It’s not that people enjoy B5 – knock yourself out. It’s that they get so incredibly upset when you point out the fact that their show is mediocre.

I watched the first episode of B5 when it first aired. Wanna know why I stopped watching? An alien is murdered when a poisonous skin patch is applied – to his environmental suit. Not to his skin, but to his spacesuit. That’s when I stopped watching.

But some of my friends went on about how great the writing was, how the overarching storyline was so cool (although they admitted that often, the individual episode stories were quite lame). But I couldn’t get over the disconnect between the expensive CGI exteriors (which were often so busy, you couldn’t tell what was going on – see BSG, or even late-season DS9, to learn how to do space battles properly) and the CHEAP CHEAP CHEAP “sets.” I mean, we’re talking Buck Rogers-level sets.

Now Doctor Who has always gotten by on great writing with cheap production values. But Doctor Who’s production values were consistently cheap, and the writing was consistently great. So was the acting, as the show had the entire stable of classically-trained British actors to choose from. Even die-hard B5 fanatics will admit that the acting was a mixed bag.

B5 was not a bad show. But it was not a great show. It was not the fantastic touchstone of modern sci-fi its fans want you to think it was. Again, if you’re a fan, good for you. But stop trying to convince me that B5 is worth my time. It’s not.

31 Comments

  1. I watched the first episode of B5 when it first aired. Wanna know why I stopped watching? An alien is murdered when a poisonous skin patch is applied – to his environmental suit. Not to his skin, but to his spacesuit. That’s when I stopped watching.

    –begin Comic Book Guy voice–
    What you fail to see is that the alien was NOT murdered, he survived..
    –end Comic Book Guy voice–

    This reveals the level of thought you must have put into in watching the series..oopps..first episode (and if that’s all you saw, how can you judge the entire series..like the first episode of MASH was so terrific right??)

    The original version of the pilot was dreadful..the Lucasized “special edition” was somewhat better..but towards the end of the first season, things were falling in beautifuly.

    Forced into a tiny budget, gathering up all the amiga computers he could find to do the animation and the ever present threat of being cancelled before realizing his vision fully..could YOU have done better? honestly..

  2. That’s not the point. Bad is bad. Skin patches on space suits is bad. I did see other episodes. Working heroically to produce bad on a tiny budget is still bad.

  3. I liked B5 okay but I was never a seriously devoted fan. I very much wanted to “really get into it”; I tried. I’m not that much of a nit-picker. If there’s a good story and interesting, likable characters I can overlook some science/technical problems. B5 just didn’t click with me.

  4. The science details are bad … not that that’s any different from any other science fiction television series.

    I think it’s the politics and intrigue that people enjoy. That, plus long term story lines that span several seasons, perhaps.

  5. The show was whatever when it first aired. It wasn’t until Bruce Boxleitner (sp?)came on that the story really picked up it’s pace. The First Ones and Shadow War are worth the viewing for any sci-fi fan worth their salt. It really was unique.

  6. Now hold on one second there.
    I like Babylon 5 and, of course I noticed the skin patch on the environmental suit was a glaring plot mistake. Yet, I overlooked it for the sake of the story. (just as I overlooked the theme song for Firefly, a show, btw, that should have been continued).

    However, I don’t think you realize how well written B5 actually was. It has influenced shows after it’s creation. Previously, Sci-Fi show plots were pretty much one to two show plots. Characters returning now and again; yet the basic plot and loose ends tied up at the end of the episode (or two). While other shows had characters showing up throughout, or re-accuring, they did not continue the plot conflicts, developments, and interactions between episodes (forget about seasons). Now I’m not talking about “Q” popping in from time to time, or Davros showing up again. I’m talking about continuing love interests, interactions or character conflicts affecting the plot many episodes or seasons later, continously. Drastic changes happening in character’s personalities. Political and military conflict. Plot hints and foreshadowing long periods of time before the result is seen.

    B5 was more an space opera than just a show. That’s why people liked it, for the story.

    Deep Space 9 started to adopt that format the last couple of seasons; I’m assuming because of B5. Other shows, besides soap operas, also have started using the ongoing, interwining and complex story lines to attract viewers. It’s good and it works.
    Didn’t need an expensive set to like a good story.
    No I must admit, even I didn’t watch B5 the first season. Wasn’t really into it, thought “yeah… it’s o–kay, eh”. Yet the second season, after watching 2 episodes in a row, I was hooked. Had to rewatch the whole series, just to catch up.
    (imagine if I only watched one Dr. Who episode)

    And I really liked it. Now imagine how a diehard B5 Fanatic feels.

  7. Firefly fans not linking the theme song? I guess there is no music that will be universally loved. I thought it was great. Firefly was certainly one of the best written genre show though because it was so short we can’t really know if they could have kept it up.

    Your notion that Amb. Kosh was poisoned by by a patch put on his “enviromental suit” is false. That is not what happened. Kosh (or at least his “hand”) was OUT of his suit when he was poisoned. This might not be obvious to a cursatory viewing but it is the case. It becomes especially obvious if you know the rest of the series.

    As for B5 it certainly had strengths and weaknesses. The JMS’s writing could be beautiful one moment but dish out clunky dialogue the next. But overall it was a series well worth viewing especially seasons 2 through 4.

  8. Your notion that Amb. Kosh was poisoned by a patch put on his “enviromental suit” is false. That is not what happened. Kosh (or at least his “hand”) was OUT of his suit when he was poisoned. This might not be obvious to a cursatory viewing but it is the case. It becomes especially obvious if you know the rest of the series.

    I know that the space-elf who poisoned him wasn’t a priest, but the Vorlons are obviously angels to anyone who sees them outside their suit. Could the space-elf really bring himself to poison an angel?

    Not to mention that vorlons are telepathic so he should have read the intention out of the person’s mind. How many times in the series at one point or another does a teep get the faraway, “I’m about to sneeze” look of performing telepathy and see a flash of a person’s murderous intent.

    Not to mention that the sophisticated technology in his suit SPECIFICALLY designed to detect cloaked beings (i.e. the shadows) should enable him to see through puny human changeling technology.

    Not to mention how it is that a poison could be created for a race with a completely unknown biochemistry.

    Not to mention that his sentient ship, not 5 feet away should have acted to protect him from the threat .

    Not to mention that the medical facilities on his ship should be capable of some kind of auto-treatment when he knows for a fact that he’ll be the only vorlon ever on the station.

    Don’t get me wrong, I loved Babylon 5 (warts and all) but the rest of the series makes that plot hole more glaringly wrong, rather than fixing it.

  9. While I agree that the pilot episode of B5 had major plot holes (some inherent, and at least one caused by the fact that Laurel Takashima was immediately replaced, so her part in things was never made clear), Kosh wasn’t poisoned through his encounter suit. I can’t speak to the original version, but the special edition clearly shows that he was outside the suit, extending his hand to Sinclair, when it happened. What’s always baffled me is why he revealed himself to Sinclair in the first place, even given Sinclair’s ultimate role in things.

    But, on the subject of that scene, you gotta give JMS props for revealing a major plot point of the entire series right under everyone’s noses without it being obvious until you watch War Without End, three years later.

  10. I know that the space-elf who poisoned him wasn’t a priest, but the Vorlons are obviously angels to anyone who sees them outside their suit. Could the space-elf really bring himself to poison an angel?

    Here’s the thing. No one knows what Vorlon’s look like outside of their encounter suits until the end of the second season. They’re very mysterious like that. So to say “how could they murder an angel?” is just fallacious.

    Furthermore, the pilot episode was just that–a pilot episode, where it tried out some ideas that it later threw out. I don’t even like watching it, and I lovethe rest of B5.

    For someone to judge an entire show on only the pilot is just plain dumb. End of story.

  11. Anything with Michael O’Hare in it is instantly doomed to failure. That said–

    The reason B5 has such a huge contingent of fans *is* largely thanks to an overarching storyline. One of the main reasons the show didn’t seem to ‘grow’ much in terms of set design or budget costs is largely because something that ambitious doesn’t typically pull in a lot of viewers. Sci Fi tried repeating this with Farscape — having a plot that, if you missed so much as an episode, you’d be lost — and found out that even if you throw butt-tons of money into design, good writing and a competant cast, it’s really hard to snag new viewers if you’re not constantly syndicating the older episodes from the series.

    What Babylon 5 did, though, was it paved the way for something *like* Farscape. The more people start paying attention to Sci Fi shows that are overarching plots — plots that *do not* compromise in order to pull in new viewers, like a novel might — the more diversity you see in other series’ as they start being created. I’d go so far as to say that Farscape wouldn’t have had a snowball’s chance in hell if not for B5 setting the precident that it did.

    Like it or not — and this is speaking as someone who is more than willing to point out what’s mediocre about the show — JMS broke a lot of the typical, overused rules. Babylon 5 is one of the few shows that stuck to its original modus operandi, without skipping back to the monster-of-the-week let’s-save-the-world-again hole. It’s campy, it’s got some serious issues with the CG and design, but once the series kicks off and gets going past S1, there’s a lot of consistancy that’s worth seeing.

    That’s about as far as I’ll defend it, but that’s also one of the things that I think people should look at. If you’re tired of sci-fi the way it is, start looking at the groundbreaking material that’s been put in place. Stray away from Trek and the two Stargates and look at the series’ that are legitimately attempting to buck off the standard television show conventions.

    There is no diversity if there’s no one brave enough to break the mold — something I have yet to see Trek do in any of its series’ past the first one.

    ~Eisenkreis

  12. I’ve been slowly rewatching B5 on DVD and I got to say that the first three disc of season one were excrutiating to get through. I am reminded of one episode where the Captain Sinclar and Ivanova have a fire fight with some of the “Home Guard”. I looked uber cheesy, as if they were fighting in a closet hiding behind “shipping crates” that had all the heft of empty cardboard boxes. I could easily see people get discouraged and stop watching B5 if these episodes were the only ones they saw. However I felt the stories got better quickly after that. True the acting a sets maintained the same level of quality. But I’ll suffer some for a good tale.

  13. “An alien is murdered when a poisonous skin patch is applied – to his environmental suit. Not to his skin, but to his spacesuit.”

    Pfft. ;p It wasn’t either. It was slapped on his corporeal form. You know- he extends his, erm, hand… to shake Sinclair’s, and “Sinclair” puts the poison on it.

    Granted: I started watching B5 at age thirteen. It’s a great show to teens. Hell, I still love it to bits… I find a lot of the necessary diplomatic stuff to be boring, but the character interaction is great. So is the dry humour. And all that fatalistic stuff going on- that’s cool, too.

    It’s basically a show that took four years to say what “National Treasure” said in two hours… not that I think that’s a bad thing. I’m all for treason. Great stuff.

    I dunno. It had magic to it. Kind of like… what makes people watch Star Trek? (I can only guess at that; I can’t stand ST for the same reason you dislike B5.)

    Perhaps it’s the underlying message. There has to be something about a show that continues to draw people to it that makes it so likeable.

  14. Unfortunately, you’re trying to rationalize what are entirely arbitrary preferences. You can no more prove that B5 is less of a show than the new Battlestar Galactica than you can prove that Patsy Kline is superior to Nine Inch Nails. All you can do in the end is say “Everything I like is awesome. Because I like it. Period”.

  15. babylon 5 was utter tosh.
    most of the characters dressed like extras from a christmas pantomime.
    and don’t get me started on the drug dealing house-fly

  16. As has been pointed out- Kosh extended his “hand” (and we only see a “hand” because it’s from Lyta’s mental POV) outside of his suit (there’s no indication that he revelaed his entire self, thus one would not see the “angel form”) and that’s where the poison was applied.

    As to WHY he revealed his hand- we hear Kosh, upon seeing Sinclair, say “Entil’zah Valen”. He recognized Sinclair for who he was (or, rather, who he would be).

    It’s also possible to suppose Kosh knew he had to reveal his hand to be poisoned because Sinclair, and thus Valen, knew it had to happen and this information was passed on to Kosh to allow it to play out.

  17. Unfortunately, you’re trying to rationalize what are entirely arbitrary preferences. You can no more prove that B5 is less of a show than the new Battlestar Galactica than you can prove that Patsy Kline is superior to Nine Inch Nails. All you can do in the end is say “Everything I like is awesome. Because I like it. Period”.

    I want to respond to this, because it’s a pernicious idea that many Americans have adopted, supposedly out of a well-intentioned egalitarian impulse, but really out of intellectual laziness.

    NOT ALL AESTHETIC JUDGMENTS ARE ARBITRARY.

    Please, read that over and over until it sinks in.

    Even bad art can serve a valuable purpose. Certainly, many of the pop culture memes I enjoy constitute bad art — they are poorly concieved or executed. And some good art fails to touch me on any level.

    But there is bad music and good music, bad art and good art. There are few steadfast rules to make these determinations. But the determinations can be made.

    Thomas Kinkade is bad art. Van Gogh is good art. If you like Kinkade and hate Van Gogh, fine. Good for you. You have no taste in art. If you’re happy having poor taste in art, fine.

    BSG is demonstrably better than “Charmed.” Writing, acting, production values, social message, aesthetics. You enoy “Charmed” more? Fine. But it’s not an “arbitrary” matter of personal taste that one is superior art.

    I personally would not call B5 “bad” art. But I can’t endorse it as “good” art, either. I will say this — discussing the merits of B5 as art is at least an intelligent conversation. Not so for “Charmed.”

  18. just because no-one has raised this point re: the poison and the unknown physiology. The Volons were known to the Mimbari for 1000 years. Not everyone knew them, but at the very least Delenn knew what they looked like outside of their encounter suits, Dukhat did too. Also, I do have to point out that the poison and the plot to kill Kosh may well have been developed by the Shadows and used by third parties (as much of their dealings were). Which I believe answers the point about why Kosh didn’t see through the changeling net. There were lots of things from the pilot which seemed to not make sense, but as a viewer you were treated like someone with intelligence and patience – that the answers would come and that you would be rewarded for your patience.

    There are a lot of Tv shows which assume that you cannot remember anything which happened more than a week ago. B5 broke the mould and to this day there are few if any which have taken the novel for TV approach and made it to the end of the story. There are lots of shows now where the story continues and there are arcs, but none with an arc laid out before the show started allowing ideas to develop over months and years before paying off. B5 was like reading a book, each chapter is complete but you’ll only enjoy it if you read it in order and all the way to the end. Anyone who hasn’t will have an opinion but not an “informed” one.

  19. Ok so you didn’t like B5, but what really gets me it that you seem to put the new BSG above such great shows as the new Dr. and B5, and let me tell you brother, the new BSG is as good as SG:Atlantis, which is to say, not that good at all.

    It has all the elements of a good show except good writting (could someone explain to me the stupid, oooh so stupid planetary detour, made no sense to me). Just splice the second season up to the Cylon ace episode (sounds familiar, it should if you ever watched Above and Beyond another would be great show that lost it) to when they get back to the ships.

    And if someone says the writers had to find a way to get Boltar aboard the Cylons ships, please….

  20. “the new BSG is as good as SG:Atlantis, which is to say, not that good at all.”

    The new bsg is SO much better than sg-atlantis that this post was written by an obvious moron! And it’s better than b5 as well, but I still love b5 .

  21. I stumbled across this post while searching for something else on google, and I just thought that I’d add a comment.

    As many ppl have already said, the first thing you’re missing (or intentionally omitting) is the influence that B5 had. It really was one of the first shows to break that one story per episode mold successfully (It went the full 5 seasons that it was intended to go, I call that successful). Like serial SciFi and drama shows on TV? You know who to thank (at least in part).

    The second thing is that according to what you write in this posts and your comments, you watched a few episodes. Who knows if you watched them in order and contiguously or not. The simple fact of the matter is that this show demands an attention span of longer than a few episodes. That’s where the payoff is; that’s why it’s so rewarding.

    If you can’t get over that hump, then ok, you’re not going to like the show, that’s fine for you. But to then say the whole thing sucked when you didn’t even watch the whole thing the way it was intended to be watched is pretty silly.

    This is especially true of your line in the top 10 worst list about how all 110 episodes sucked. You can’t honestly believe that that’s a valid opinion if you haven’t seen every episode to make that judgment call (btw, good job backpedalling from that obvious flame-bait remark in this post). Anyway, It’s like reading a single page of a novel and proclaiming that the entire thing is bad. You can have that opinion all you want, but that opinion isn’t actually worth much.

    I’m not saying that art judgments are arbitrary or equal just cuz; they’re not. There definitely are standards that can determine the worth of something aesthetically. What I’m saying is that INFORMED opinions are actually worth more than UNINFORMED opinions. And you seem to be in the latter group with regard to B5.

    You can pretend all you want, but one thing that all real (good) critics do is actually watch/read/play/etc whatever it is they’re reviewing in its entirety or as close as is feasible. Next time you want to present yourself as more than just a troll looking for a good comment fight, you might think about doing the same (especially when you start talking about standards of aesthetic judgment and the like). Thanks for reading.

  22. Thank you for commenting. It was a good comment.

    I don’t remember what I said in the OP, but I watched five or six B5 episodes. I had several friends who were B5 evangelists, although “apologist” might be the better term.

    I say apologist because, while they always touted the show’s overall story arc, they readily admitted that many individual episodes were very poorly written.

    Anyway, I genuinely think you can get a feel for a TV show by watching it a handful of times. If you cannot, then that’s a flaw in the TV show.

    Certainly I was being flippant when I said “all 100 episodes sucked.” I have not seen all 110. But I find it hard to believe that the weaknesses I identified in the episodes I watched were not endemic.

  23. Loves the series the first time through. Recently rewatched it and I was wincing a lot. A lot of telling rather than showing in the 4th season and the 5th season was regrettable all around. The interiors and costumes were horrible. The races were goofy Lord of the Rings reworks. Still that overarching storyline… While in the middle of things the first go around there was something rather special about it all. Something bigger than life that TV did not generally provide.

    Regarding the poisoning of Kosh. I never had trouble with that. I’d assumed some kind of nanotech was on the patch and they cut into the suit to do their damage. I assumed that Kosh probably knew it wasn’t Sinclair (even if that’s how his psych showed it) but was so arrogant as to believe the Space Elf could actually hurt him that he stepped right into the trap. Minor point, hardly something I would disregard the entire series over.

  24. I can’t believe some people here are touting the “acting” on B5, or anything else. I fought through the first 5 episodes on Netflix, and could go no further. The writing seems poor, but it’s hard to tell with that horrible acting. People in this thread have compared it favorably to Charmed(not very good), Atlantis and others, but it has the worst production value and acting of all in the Sci Fi universe. I’m hard pressed to think of any Sci Fi show that is not better. Even the old fist fighting Kirk episodes of Star Trek hold up better. The station leader is a chunk of wood and his second in command is a chunk of petrified wood. The only characters decently portrayed are the secondary characters.

  25. ” August 10, 2006 at 2:38 pm

    I watched the first episode of B5 when it first aired. Wanna know why I stopped watching? An alien is murdered when a poisonous skin patch is applied – to his environmental suit. Not to his skin, but to his spacesuit. That’s when I stopped watching.”

    So you can accept the hyperspace concept, English speaking aliens, and the PPG (a gun the penetrates skin and clothes but not the station walls)… but you have a hard time with a poison patch that penetrates a space suite and make someone sick?? Sorry your logic escapes me.
    I bet ur the same guy who argues the light saber is a scientific impossibility…
    who cares man its sci fi go with it!!! if its not for u go watch 90210 with your girlfriend.

  26. Pingback: cialis
  27. You need to go watch the pilot again; the poisonous skin patch was applied directly to his hand, this is clearly shown when the telepath scans the victim’s memory.

    Season one is a bit slow going at first but if you stick with it you’ll find that season 2 to 4 are exciting, entertaining and well worth the hours spent (despite the bad CGI, which the great costumes don’t quite make up for). Also you will find that, actually, there aren’t any major plot holes throughout the whole series, you know the sort that crop up almost very other episode of Star trek….

  28. So…you watched one episode, and didn’t like it. And, it looked cheap…because it WAS. (They had a really, really small budget). The CG was so good, because they had to invent new techniques of CG.

    And, you stopped in the first season, one of the two WORST seasons.

    In short…you don’t like Babylon 5 because you didn’t give it a chance. I understand that you don’t like the show. But give it a CHANCE. Plus, as people pointed out…you missed a PLOT POINT. Kosh COULDN’T have been poisoned through an environmental suit. So…WHY did he reveal his real hand to Sinclair?

    Babylon 5 was also METICUOULSY plotted out, from season 1 to season 5, and ESPECIALLY in seasons 2-4. And, even the ‘bad’ episodes are much better then the ‘bad’ episodes of Star Trek DS9. (The best show to compare it to). The overplot is better, too. (DS9 relied too much on faking like the had a plan, and Gul Dukat, especially, lost his ‘steam’ as an adversary, having to shift from a nuanced villain to, essentially, a Satanist).

  29. If you rewatch that episode, in the footage of the alien getting poisoned, his hand comes out of his suit.

    ***SPOILER***
    Spoiler Follows (The show’s old, so, whatever…)
    The hand is a glowing hand. The alien is a glowing alien. In the image of the alien getting poisoned, he shakes hands with his actual hand.

    Now, I won’t get into the rest of the episode, other have already, but the poison was not applies to his space suit.

Leave a Comment.