I’m watching ‘Babylon 5′ for the first time this year. (What can I say, it’s not exactly something you do over a weekend.) It’s funny, because I remember all of my friends and most of my acquaintances absolutely rhapsodizing about the series when it was on, while I kind of didn’t get into it because nobody really started talking about how awesome it was until Season Three, and all of them talked about how you had to get into it from the beginning to really understand what was going on right now and this was a pre-DVD era so tracking down the episodes didn’t seem worth my time right that second.
But what a lot of them wound up saying was that Seasons 2-4 were great, but that Season 5 was a big letdown and that while there were great moments, ultimately JMS’ goal of doing a single five-year long story told in episodic form had to be considered a failure, due to the ways he had to unexpectedly truncate the story out of fear that they wouldn’t get a Season Five, then just as unexpectedly elongate the epilogue when it got greenlit after all. (And I’ve also been told it didn’t help that Claudia Christian didn’t come back for Season Five. But the Cult of Ivanova has faded over the years, from its fever pitch of 1996.) Now, I will issue the caveat before I speak further, that I am currently getting ready to watch “Z’ha’dum” later tonight, so I’m not even into Season Four yet let alone Season Five. But knowing what I do know about the series that’s coming and the series I’ve already seen (which is actually quite a bit, since it’s not exactly easy to avoid spoilers for a twenty-year-old TV series)…can you show me anyone who’s done this better? For that matter, can you show me anyone who’s done it nearly as well?
I’ve been thinking about this a bit, since the question first occurred to me, and nothing’s coming to mind. ‘Lost’ and ‘BSG’ both have a legion of fans who will be quick to tell you how badly the series finales fared as actual summations of the show as a whole, not to mention how clear it became at the halfway point that these guys didn’t have a plan for the endgame and were just winging it. ‘Heroes’? They didn’t even have a plan for Season Two, let alone a potential series conclusion. ”X-Files’ tried, but was hamstrung both by its showrunner’s terminal phobia of revealing any of the series’ secrets, and by the departure of most of the cast by the end. ‘Fringe’, by all accounts, had some great ideas but a confusing and inconsistent logic in explaining key plot points. ‘Buffy’ and ‘Angel’, while good, never seemed to have a long-term plan…they were content to go it one year at a time, with some notions about down the road if needed. (Which is why Anya suddenly becomes a vengeance demon again…and then just as suddenly becomes human six episodes later, because those six episodes crucially fell over a season break.) ‘Stargate’ and its spin-offs, ‘Star Trek: DS9’, ‘Highlander’, ‘Hercules’, ‘Xena’, ‘Walking Dead’, ‘Fringe’, ‘Eureka’, ‘Warehouse 13’, ‘Doctor Who’…it’s not that these weren’t good series, but none of them even tried to do what ‘B5’ did. About the only series I can think of that’s consciously having a beginning/middle/end structure along these lines is ‘Game of Thrones’, and we can’t judge that until it’s over.
So, is it fair to say that the series that have tried to have long-term, overarching, series-long storyarcs have wound up illuminating just how tricky it is to pull that kind of thing off, and made ‘Babylon 5’ look all the more impressive by comparison? Or am I giving some of the shows above (or a show I forgot to mention) short shrift? Or am I going to be changing my tune once I see how Season Five plays out? Your thoughts below!