WARNING! If you are watching Babylon 5 reruns for the first time, absolutely do not read this article!!! SPOILERS ABOUND!
“The Interstellar Alliance, based on the homeworld of the Minbari Federation, was founded in the Earth year 2261, shortly after the end of the Shadow War. Twenty years ago. Twenty years of history. Those of us who’ve survived have seen it all... and those of us who understand, have been waiting and dreading the arrival of this day.” — Michael Garibaldi
And so begins the final saga of Babylon 5.
I have watched “Sleeping in Light” more than a dozen times since it first aired on November 25, 1998. And yet despite that, I have no idea what to say about it. The words “heart-rending” and “masterful” come to mind, for a start. We have followed the story of Sheridan, Delenn, Ivanova, Garibaldi, and so many others for so many seasons. They have become a part of us, in a way. I had the good fortune to be introduced to B5 in January of 1998, just when the TNT reruns were starting from the beginning of the series. And so, over the next few months, every day I and my family watched as the story progressed from a tale about a bustling station on the edge of space to a grand epic about the fate of the galactic community itself. We watched as we were slowly drawn into the stories of so many people, and how they grew to care for each other.
But who would have thought that the grand saga of Babylon 5— the tale of a “armies of light, and soldiers of darkness... about great empires, and terrible mistakes”— a story of love, and loss, and victory... and hope— would end like this? It’s obvious, in the end, and its sheer simplicity is what makes it so outstanding. Instead of one last battle, one last adventure... we get to say “goodbye” to our friends in a simple get-together around the dinner table.
Babylon 5 is a story about people. About triumph, and hope. As Vir said, a story “full of sadness, and hope and wonder... and a terrible sense of loss.”
John Sheridan and Delenn. As the central love story of the series, you know that they led a happy life. But of course, reality came back to bite them, leaving them with only twenty years together, because of Sheridan’s sacrifice at Z’ha’dum. It’s twenty years more than they would have had otherwise, but it’s still heart-rending. The two actors played off each other perfectly in all of their scenes, hitting home all of the emotional notes. Even though we’d missed nineteen years of their life together, we could just feel the sadness emanating from both of them, despite how they (the characters) were trying to cover it up. And through them, we felt sad at the passing of Sheridan, and by extension the series.
Susan Ivanova. The tragedy of Ivanova in this story is how she dealt with her life after Marcus died. We never got to see that, which is a serious crime, but I think we can figure out what happened— she threw herself into her work, becoming even more career-oriented and driven than before. But it was shallow, and pointless... just as she said, “there’s no joy anymore.” Susan becoming Entil’zha isn’t a magic fix, but it’s a touching parallel— Marcus was a Ranger. And in that, it’s the perfect closure for her story.
Michael Garibaldi. After years of getting folded, spindled, and mutilated— both physically and mentally— it’s reassuring to know that sometimes, things really do work out. Garibaldi got to live the Good Life, finally, and the perfect evidence of that is is cute, confident, and talented daughter. By her mere presence, you know that Michael finally managed to settle down and find some of the stability that he was constantly reaching towards throughout the series. And for me personally, it’s reassuring to think that there’s always a chance of finding your place where you least expect it.
Stephen Franklin. It doesn’t seem like we know much about his life after moving on— but just by being there, you know he’s had a happy life. On the station, he threw himself into his work, the ultimate work-a-holic. But now, he takes time off to see his friends, to relax, to... live.
Vir Cotto. Sure, we’d known that Vir was going to become Emperor— a terrifyingly amusing prophecy at the time! And although we’d seen Vir gradually maturing as the series progressed, seeing him dressed as the Emperor, in a position of true authority, really drove home how much he’d changed.
But there’s one character I haven’t addressed yet... and that was B5 itself. It just wouldn’t be right if we didn’t return to the station one last time... but not as we remembered it. There’s irony of its emptiness— for five years, we saw the station with a quarter of a million people, coming and going. Dozens, sometimes even hundreds of extras in the background... “layers and layers of people.” We got the sense of winding down... the empty corridors, the strewn debris. The sense of emptiness. And triumph. This was where the impossible happened. “We can end this. Not just for now, not just for the next thousand years, but forever! ... Will you stand together???”— it contrasts so suddenly with the throngs of cheering people... and an empty corridor. When we began, there were predictions, premonitions, and visions of B5’s destruction. Emperor Turhan once asked Kosh how it all would end, and Kosh responded, “In fire.” And so it did... but not in a way anyone ever expected. Like the phoenix of old myths, it was a glorious funeral pyre... but not the end by any stretch of the imagination. Babylon 5’s mission was interstellar peace and understanding, and despite its destruction, it succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.
Ultimately, “Sleeping in Light” is a show about goodbyes. It’s not a sorrowful and unhappy end, or a sudden conclusion to the story. But instead, closure. “A good day, a happy day” as Sheridan put it. The final chapter of one of the finest sagas ever to appear on television.
“Babylon 5 was last of the Babylon stations. There would never be another. It changed the future, and it changed us. It taught us that we have to create the future, or others will do it for us. It showed us that we have to care for one other, because if we don’t, who will? And that true strength sometimes comes from the most unlikely of places. Mostly though, I think it gave us hope. That there can always be new beginnings... even for people like us.” — Susan Ivanova
There are always more stories to tell. The Drakh War, the Telepath War, Lyta and G’Kar and their adventures across the galaxy, Lennier’s shame, Garibaldi’s success... not to mention Crusade. (Curse you, TNT!) It was the end of the story. The end of the journey. Friends lost and found, victory and defeat, love and hate... But in the end, it was all about the future. About us.