The Babylon 5 re-watch is on! These are my thoughts on the episodes as I work my way through the full five seasons (plus the movies).
at this link.
The pilot was definitely not one of the high-points of the series. The directing is stiff, the dialogue is stilted, and the acting is often wooden, especially the human characters most of whom show a lack of commitment to their roles at this point (a clear exception is Jerry Doyle as Mr. Garibaldi). The alien characters make a better show of it, especially G'Kar and Mollari who steal every scene they are in (as they would throughout the series), and even Delenn stands out better than most of the human characters. Of course two of the Earth people in the pilot would not continue on (with Tamlyn Tomita replaced by Claudia Christian as the X-O and Johnny Sekka replaced by Richard Biggs as the doctor), and Patricia Tallman (telepath Lyta Alexander) would skip out for a couple of seasons before returning as a regular. The CGI may seem pretty cheesy at times to the modern eye, especially close-up shots, but the fact is that it looked pretty first-rate when this originally came out.
The other unfortunate thing about the pilot is that it essentially delivers a crime mystery instead of a more science fiction oriented tale, but that still gave JMS the chance to introduce the main players for his epic tale and start to establish who they are. We definitely see some hints of the depth of the characters he has created, especially with Mollari, G'Kar, Delenn, and Garibaldi. Plus, the pilot starts to establish the character interplay such as the friendship (of sorts) between Mollari and Garibaldi, the friend / enemy relationship between Mollari and G'Kar (the Narn has the upper hand early on, but that will change soon enough), and the alliance that Delenn starts to build with Sinclair that will then pass on to Sheridan.
An important strength of this show is that it set out to tell an ongoing story, but it didn't feel the need to layer mystery upon mystery to that tale. The X-Files was just getting started at FOX and Lost was over a decade away, so their convoluted mysteries had not heavily influenced sci fi TV at that point. Sure, B5 has its mysteries that it establishes early on (i.e. the "hole" in Sinclair's mind), but it is not trying to obfuscate the story at hand and keep the audience in a perpetual wtf-mode. While The X-Files and Lost would get plenty of mileage from that, many lesser shows followed that path only to deliver muddy, confusing yarns that went nowhere. Babylon 5 fortunately followed a much more linear path and used its mysteries and allusions judiciously throughout its run without becoming overwhelmed by them.
Essential Viewing? Yes, I guess so since it sets up the story. The pilot can be plodding at times and weighted down by exposition, but what follows is worth it. And it gets much better from here.
Interesting Fact: J. Michael Straczynski re-edited a “special edition” of the pilot after TNT picked up the show for its fifth season. That includes fourteen minutes that were not in the original movie and he also cuts out a few parts. The new version also replaces the original score by Stewart Copeland with one by the show’s regular composer Christopher Franke. The special edition is the one included in the Babylon 5: The Movie Collection DVD and that is the one that I viewed for the re-watch.
Buy Babylon 5: The Movies from Amazon.com: