The Moviehunter

Pulp Culture
'Babylon 5' ends as it
should -- with silence

December 3, 1998
By Franklin Harris

It ends with neither a whimper nor a bang but with measured, deliberate silence. And that is as it should be, even if others think differently.

After five years, 110 episodes and four made-for-television films (counting the two-hour pilot), "Babylon 5," the most ambitious television series of all time -- and certainly the most ambitious science fiction series of all time -- came to an end.

It wasn't the ratings that did in "Babylon 5."

"Babylon 5" ended simply because its time had come. The show's creator, J. Michael Straczynski, always intended "Babylon 5" to run five years and no more.

It was to be a story with a definite beginning, middle and end. The characters would change and grow over time, as would the universe around them.

"Babylon 5" is, in part, a reaction against the static sci-fi world of "Star Trek." And if "Deep Space Nine" seems to be going somewhere these days, credit the competition.

For the uninitiated, "Babylon 5" is the story of a space station, Babylon 5, located in neutral territory. Intended as a place of commerce and diplomacy, it becomes the staging ground for two wars: one against an eons-old race known only as the Shadows, the other to liberate Earth from a dictatorial government of its own making.

The commander of "Babylon 5" is Earth Alliance Capt. John Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner), a hero of an earlier war between Earth and a race called the Minbari.

As the series progresses, Sheridan forges a coalition of alien races that defeats the Shadows, frees Earth and eventually becomes the Interstellar Alliance.

Sheridan also dies -- and comes back.

Well, Sheridan has help, of course. Lorien, an alien we learn is the oldest being in the universe, postpones Sheridan's death for 20 years, allowing Sheridan to complete his wars and unite the galaxy.

It's all very Arthurian.

The series finale, "Sleeping in Light," jumps ahead those 20 years. We see Sheridan's end, the reactions of his loved ones and the final fate of Babylon 5 itself.

It's one of those rare occasions when SF becomes a three-hanky affair.

But if the reaction on the Internet is any indication, many fans are less than thrilled with the show's tearjerker sendoff, which is devoid of the great space battles and other assorted pyrotechnic thrills characteristic of other SF finales.

As nice as exploding Death Stars are, there are none to be found in "Sleeping in Light." And would you really expect to find such things in a story with "sleeping" in its title?

And while Babylon 5 does meet its end in a gigantic explosion, it's not as part of some desperate struggle. Instead, Earth's government decides it's cheaper to blow up Babylon 5 than to maintain it.

The station is blown to smithereens because of budget cuts.

As for Sheridan, he feels his end drawing near and, so, invites his friends to one last dinner party. There they reminisce about those they've lost over the years. And, afterwards, Sheridan takes a ship out into space, where he again meets Lorien, who takes him to his final reward, out beyond the rim of the galaxy.

Sheridan, like King Arthur, disappears to Avalon, leaving behind legends of an eventual return.

In the end, "Babylon 5" isn't about devastating wars or the forging of alliances. It is about the people who live through and create such great events. And it's about the one, small corner of the universe where some of those people lived and died.

Some fans complain that "Sleeping in Light" leaves too many questions unanswered. But to obsess over the few dangling details is to miss the point of the series. "Babylon 5" is about Babylon 5. That the story of Babylon 5 takes place in a universe full of unanswered questions only makes the series richer. There are many stories in Straczynski's universe, and Babylon 5's is but one.

Next year, assuming TNT can straighten out the scheduling mess caused by the NBA lockout, a new tale of the Babylon 5 universe will begin.

"The Babylon Project: Crusade" promises to be a bit less ambitious that its predecessor. Still, with a name like "Crusade," one never knows.

And that, too, is as it should be.

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