August 25, 2014

Babylon 5: "War Without End, Part 1"

Former station commander Jeffrey Sinclair returns to Babylon 5, setting off a mission that will take the White Star through a temporal rift and six years into the past. There a special team comprising Sinclair, Delenn, Sheridan, Marcus, Ivanova and the idiosyncratic alien Zathras must prepare to steal the earlier space station Babylon 4 and sent it 1,000 years into the past.

Time travel can give you such a headache when you start thinking about it. The two-part "War Without End" kicks off with a bundle of revelations and plot twists, and in the process sets itself up as a masterwork in forward planning. Two seasons earlier Sinclair and Garibaldi travelled to Babylon 4 when it mysteriously popped back into existence four years after vanishing without a trace. That episode, "Babylon Squared", left an enormous number of questions unanswered, and it's a genuine pleasure to see Straczynski revisit that storyline two seasons down the track to replay the events from the other side.
One of the biggest surprises when I rewatched Season 1 was just how much I liked Michael O'Hare as Sinclair. Back in 1994 he was widely criticised for being wooden and unconvincing. 20 years later it's obvious to me that he was naturalistic and understated. This makes his return here an absolute pleasure. He has a great rapport with Bruce Boxleitner, and it's nice to see him interact with old castmates like Mira Furlan and Claudia Christian.

There's a real sense of importance to the episode as well: I don't simply mean that some long-running plot threads get brought up and explained, I mean that the way the scenes are written, directed and performed give them a very strong sense of gravitas. This is the kind of seriousness and grandeur I expected from "Interludes and Examinations". Better late than never, I suppose.

This episode ends with the time-travelling strike team preparing to send Babylon 4 a thousand years into the past, and Sheridan lost somewhere in time after the gadget he wore specifically to prevent this from happening failed. It's a great cliffhanger: Sheridan on Centauri Prime years into his own future, the capital city ablaze, the Shadow War won but a terrible price paid. That's quite ballsy writing there: a time travel story that doesn't simply resolve the plot left open in Season 1, but which deliberately foreshadows the future of the series. It's exceptional stuff.

This is the 11th good episode out of 16, giving Season 3 a quality ratio of  69%.

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