Point of No Return
I've finished Season 3 of Babylon 5, and it continues to impress mightily. This entire season was written by J Michael Straczynski, apparently because it was so arc-heavy. And for the most part, the quality is impeccable - there are admittedly a few standalone episodes that don't quite match the standard of the arc episodes.
The first episode is a sedate recap / resolution episode that sort of ties up a few loose ends before the season begins in earnest with a few standalone episodes. The Shadow War and Earth Government arcs always play along in the background though, and the latter arc comes to a conclusion (at least for the season) in three brilliant episodes - "Messages From Earth", "Point of No Return", and "Severed Dreams". Afterwards, things settle down a bit and start focusing more directly on the Shadow War before the amazing, jaw dropping two parter "War Without End", which sees the return of Commander Jeffrey Sinclair (I truly like this character but will be the first to admit Michael O'Hare can't act) and completes the story of Babylon 4 that was introduced way back in Season 1. A few quiet episodes go by before the excellent concluding episodes of the season.
A note on standalone vs arc episodes - they're all good, but the arc episodes really do rise above the standalone ones, some of which are relatively weak. What's most impressive about the writing is how layered it is - the storylines work on both an epic scale and at a more personal level, juggling multiple themes and characters and plot elements and bringing them together seamlessly.
Character development is consistently strong this season, with the only slow movers being Ivonova and Garibaldi, who are relegated to supporting roles. The introduction of the hilarious Marcus Cole brought some fantastic dry humor to the show; hopefully there'll be more of him. G'Kar undergoes a transformation in this season, while Londo continues to struggle with his dark destiny. The Doc goes through some hard times and has to do some soul searching, Vir gets a short lived career boost where he tries to do a little good, and Zack Allen is forced to decide where his loyalties lie. My favourite characters this season were Sheridan and Delenn, who not only (surprise!) end up together after a protracted courtship, but are forced to bear the responsibility of marshaling a shaky alliance against the Shadows. And finally of course, there's that bloody Vorlon...
The strongest performers are, predictably, Andreas Katsulas, Peter Jurasik, and Mira Furlan, but Bruce Boxleitner and Jason Carter are right up there with them. Another standout in a minor role was Jeff Conaway, who played the conflicted Zack Allen. The rest of the cast are reliable as always - there's honestly no real weak link (although it's hard to be objective about it when you're so invested in the characters). Walter Koening and Brad Dourif make for memorable guest stars, as does Michael York as 'King Arthur' in a somewhat hokey episode.
The production values continue to improve in my eyes, especially the effects which truly shine in some of the space battle sequences (of which I'm certain there's much more to come).
All in all, a fantastic season... I look forward to "No Surrender, No Retreat" with great anticipation.