Babylon 5 - Season 4
I wrote about Season 3 a while back (has it been that long? the last few months have flown by... we're one third of the way into 2007 already!), and I was thoroughly impressed by the show, which just seemed to keep getting better and better and ended with a fantastic climax with Sheridan facing the Shadows on Zahadum and Mr. Garibaldi being whisked away, entombed within a shadow vessel. Although it's been several weeks since I finished Season 4, I felt like posting my belated thoughts on it anyway.
I haven't checked on this to be sure, but I think JMS once again scripted the entire season himself. There are no standalone episodes in this season, they're all part of the two major story arcs that play out. The first arc is the resolution of the Shadow conflict, which is wrapped up very quickly; a little too quickly, in fact. I'm not sure if this is because the show was, for a brief while, destined to end after the fourth season before being picked up by TNT for a fifth, but the Shadow conflict certainly felt rushed. Sheridan's messianic return, Garibaldi's 'rescue', the sudden violent turn by the Vorlons, and the final battle between the Army of Light and the Shadows / Vorlons are all fantastic story elements, but just lack the depth that was present throughout season 3. It could have been absolutely brilliant, but ends up being just great. In any case, it's a satisfying conclusion to everything that the show was building up to - the maturing of all the 'younger' races, who finally put aside their differences to unite behind a common cause.
The one storyline within this part of the season that wasn't lacking in depth was the drama on Centauri Prime, featuring the unlikely (but foreshadowed) alliance between G'Kar and Londo as they dealt with Emperor Cartagia's narcissistic insanity. The real juicy character stuff, as always, centres on Londo and G'Kar, and what happens to them here is a perfect culmination of their respective stories. Katsulas and Jurasik are, as always, absolutely fantastic. Vir also features prominently and is the perfect foil for Londo (although he experiences some shocking weight loss towards the end of the season. Dude, Atkins diet?).
The second story arc that comprises the rest of the season is handled brilliantly and involves the conflict between President Clark's Earth government and Sheridan's Babylon 5 Alliance, a conflict that began in earnest early last season. I must admit, I was pleasantly surprised that the resolution to this conflict would be such a huge part of the B5 storyline. Somehow, I expected the big finale to be the end of the Shadow Wars. This turn was unexpected and refreshingly original. There are several sub stories at play, the most interesting of which is the tragic fall of Michael Garibaldi, who subtly and believably breaks away from B5, feeling disillusioned with Sheridan and his 'cult of personality'. Garibaldi's storyline finally gives actor Jerry Doyle some terrific moments, and he doesn't drop the ball - I was hating him and feeling sorry for him at the same time. Also impressive is Bruce Boxleitner as Sheridan, a character who goes through a hell of a lot in Season 4 - from being 'reborn' to being betrayed and tortured to shouldering the responsibility of leading a rebellion against his own government, Boxleitner brings a sense of dignity to the role, but one that's laced with weariness. I have to admit, I was wrong when I snickered at the 'boy scout' goofiness he exhibited in Season 2. If anything, it puts all of that in a new context, because Sheridan is truly a changed man by the end of Season 4.
Sheridan's storyline revolves around keeping the fragile Alliance together to fight Clarke's forces, while also attempting to bring people over to his side. Among the other sub-stories is Ivonova's - she becomes the 'Voice of the Resistance', broadcasting the truth and attempting to undo the damage done by Earth Gov's propaganda machine. Her relationship with Marcus also plays a major role towards the end, and Claudia Christian, like Jerry Doyle, gets to flex her acting muscles a bit more this season. The Minbari have troubles of their own as Civil War breaks out between the two major castes - the Warrior and the Religious - forcing Delenn to take drastic measures to bring the conflict to an end. There are some interesting revelations made here about story elements touched on way back in Season 1. Mira Furlan doesn't get that much to do, but she does get to show the 'badass' side of Delenn's personality, which was a nice change.
Another character who gets a substantial amount of screen time this season is the telepath Lyta Alexander, who aids the Alliance while dealing with her own problems as an unregulated, super-powered telepath. Patricia Tallman's portrayal of Lyta is a mixed bag however - sometimes quite good, and sometimes quite awful. There's a fairly significant storyline featuring the Mars resistance that features Dr. Franklin (Richard Biggs) and Marcus Cole (Jason Carter), as well as another regarding the Psi Corps and a conspiracy against it that features Garibaldi and Bester (Walter Koenig) as key players, as well as a businessman named Edgars (Effrem Zimbalist Jr.).
It all ends incredibly satisfactorily, with pretty much all the loose ends tied up and all the major character arcs and storylines resolved. Long-form epic stories like this always run the risk of disappointing by not living up to expectations in the last act after all the buildup, but JMS delivers in style with Season 4. There's just so much that happens after the Shadow War; juggline all of those elements simultaneously without dropping any was no mean feat. By this point in the story everything's already set up - we know the characters and we know what the situation is and what's at stake. It's literally the last act of a long story, and as such it flows with a relentless pace and with plenty of incident. Which is in stark contrast to Season 1, which was all set up and no payoff!
Put together, the four seasons of Babylon 5 constitute the best televised narrative I've ever seen. It may suffer from some flaws - occasional dodgy acting and excessively expository dialogue - but the gestalt of all of its storytelling elements is a show of undeniable brilliance. I don't know what Season 5 is about - though I suspect it'll have something to do with the telepaths and the Interstellar Alliance. Whatever it may be, I look forward to it with great anticipation.