Nicholas loves reading, writing, and reviewing fiction in his spare time.
The second season of Babylon 5, subtitled The Coming of Shadows, picks up less than two weeks after the end of the first season. All of the left-over plot hooks are examined in the first few episodes of the season, drawing the viewer in while the universe is expanded. And what is coming forward in this season is quite breathtaking and horrifying.
One of the first major changes is a move away from Commander Jeffrey Sinclair as the lead character. The late Michael O’Haire left the show after the end of the first season. The reason for his departure was not revealed until after his death when J. Michael Stracyznski spoke about it at Phoenix Comicon 2013. O’Haire, while a commendable actor and a good lead for the series, suffered from a form of schizophrenia and was experiencing delusions, which affected both his personal and professional life. He left the show to seek the medical treatment he needed, which he received and which allowed him to make a reappearance on the show during the third season to tie up the loose ends of his storyline.
In his place is Captain John Sheridan, played by the charming and sometimes brooding Bruce Boxleitner. For fans of 1980s entertainment, Boxleitner might seem familiar from his work in the Disney film Tron, as well as the television series Scarecrow and Mrs. King. Sheridan is a different kind of character from Sinclair. Whereas Sinclair was a fighter pilot and more diplomatic in dealing with others, Sheridan is a command officer, previously in charge of running an Earthforce destroyer. He’s a take-charge man, sensitive and compassionate, but more than willing to throw down when the time arises.
The first eleven episodes serve to ramp up the tensions established in the first season. Among the stand-out episodes are “Points of Departure”, “Revelations”, “The Geometry of Shadows”, “A Race Through Dark Places”, “The Coming of Shadows”, and “All Alone in the Night”. This isn’t to say that the other episodes are lacking in any way but they don’t have the same punch and impact as the ones listed above.
“Points of Departure” and “Revelations” help to establish the new Captain of the show. Sheridan is introduced while commanding his Earthforce Omega-Class destroyer, the Agamemnon. The episode also introduces us to a recurring character that will appear in the second season in Admiral William Hague, one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in EarthForce. Sheridan is tasked with taking over the Babylon 5 station after it is revealed that Commander Sinclair has been reassigned to the Minbari homeworld as an Ambassador.
Sheridan is a veteran of the Earth-Minbari War, much like Sinclair was. The difference between the two is that the Minbari were comfortable with Sinclair running the station and insisted he be the first commander. Sheridan is considered a coward and criminal by many Minbari for his actions during the war. This makes his appointment as the head of the Babylon 5 command staff create conflict, which is explored throughout the season. The first episode also allows the audience to see some of the cracks forming in the Minbari, who up to this point have been fairly monolithic in appearance.
The first two episodes also reveal the reason the Minbari stopped the war on the eve of their victory. The revelation is difficult to swallow for most of the characters but given the Minbari belief in reincarnation, this would be a serious reason for them to stop the conflict. In “Departures”, we finally see what has occurred to Delenn since the ending of season one. She emerges from her chrysalis as a Human/Minbari hybrid, in an attempt to bridge the gap between the two species. This becomes a major plot-point throughout the season as Delenn’s choice at the end of season one has major political and personal costs she must pay.
“The Geometry of Shadows” introduces the audience to the Technomages, a collection of individuals who use advanced technology to simulate the effects of magic. There is a trilogy of novels released after Babylon 5 went off the air that delve much more deeply into their history and culture and I would strongly suggest getting your hands on them, if you can. The main reason this episode is on my list is due to the interactions between Londo Mollari, the Ambassador for the Centauri Republic, and the technomage Elric, played with magnificent gravitas by the late Michael Ansara (who Star Trek fans would recognize as the Klingon Kang). We are given a premonition by Elric regarding Londo that is prophetic and reveals the horrors that will be unleashed by Mollari.
The episode “A Race Through Dark Places” is a Psi-Corp centered episode, which allows the inimitable Walter Koenig to return as Psi-Cop Alfred Bester. From a writer’s perspective, Bester is such a wonderful character and Koenig relishes every second he gets to play him. The episode is also a showcase for Talia Winters, the resident telepath who played a moderate role in the first season. We begin to see some of the hanging plot-threads from the first season episode “Mind War” unfurl here. It’s a terrific episode because it moves the Talia character forward and reveals to the audience how dark and twisted the Psi-Corp truly is.
I mentioned in my last article that “Chrysalis” was a wham episode, meaning that it shakes up the status quo and changes the landscape of the series moving forward. “The Coming of Shadows” is that for the first half of season two. It is here that Londo Mollari begins his descent into darkness, fulfilling the prophecy given by Elric a few episodes before. The conflict between the Narn and the Centauri was well-established in the first season as a blood feud with no clear ending in sight. By the end of this episode, it is a full-blown shooting war, all started by Londo’s alliance with Mr. Morden and his associates. From this point forward, the story takes a much darker turn and we begin to see the personal conflict between Londo and G’Kar (the Ambassador for the Narn Regime) become writ across the stars of the galaxy.
Like the previous episode I mentioned, “All Alone in the Night” is a game-changer but not on a universal level. The real kick of this episode is Delenn. Her transformation, discussed earlier in the article, does not sit well with her people. As a consequence, she is removed from her position of power within the Grey Council, the ruling body of the Minbari. In her place is another recurring character that will make appearances throughout the first four seasons, Neroon. The loss of her position of authority and the status that comes with it is a huge blow for Delenn and Mira Furlan carries the heartache of it in her face so well. She is one of those actors that can speak more with her eyes and facial expressions than most actors can with an entire script.
Sheridan is captured by aliens while out on a reconnaissance mission and subjected to cruel experiments. This part of the episode’s plotline includes a dream sequence between Sheridan and Ambassador Kosh, the cryptic member of the Vorlons that resides on B5. The portents revealed in this episode don’t begin to pay off until much later in the series but this is the kind of crafty foreshadowing that Straczynski loves to utilize.
Overall, the first half of season two picks up well from the ending of the first season. Questions are answered, new questions arise from those answers, and we are propelled forward into an increasingly hopeless situation. If you managed to stick through the first season of the show, the second season is really where Babylon 5 finds its rhythm and its voice.
© 2020 Nicholas W King