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Retro Review: Babylon 5, “Points of Departure”

Posted on June 28, 2013 at 7:51 pm by Will Wells

Babylon 5

I’ve decided to make my first review here on Geek Legacy one about late arrivals and new beginnings.  Thus, I open with the first episode of Season 2 of Babylon 5, Points of Departure.

This episode has to do a lot of work.  First of all, it has to introduce us to Captain John Sheridan, the actual main character of the series (alongside Delenn).  The previous season featured Commander Sinclair as the leader of the station, but he was always meant to leave at this point in the show (and only return for a brief appearance next season).

Secondly, it needs to recap all the events of the previous season closer.  Delenn is in a cocoon, Garibaldi is in a coma after being shot in the back, and Ivanova is shaken by the President’s recent assassination.

Cast Photo

Thirdly, the episode has to deal with its actual plot – the reappearance of rogue Minbari battle cruiser, the Trigati, that is trying to restart the war between the Minbari and Earth.

Fortunately, the episode is up to the task.  It handles these three very large jobs by weaving the introduction of Sheridan into the situation with the Minbari.  Sheridan, it turns out, won the only victory in the Earth/Minbari War by setting a bunch of nuclear mines and then sending a distress signal.  When the Minbari flagship (and other ships) showed up to kill him (the Minbari didn’t take prisoners), Sheridan ran and the nukes took out the flagship and several support ships.  For Earth, this was a morale raising victory – the only one they had.  For the Minbari, it was an act of murder and cowardice.  Apparently the Minbari don’t approve of a little thing called “tactics.”  One would think that killing those who have surrendered would also be an act of murder and cowardice, but wouldn’t you know it, those wacky Minbari don’t see it that way.  Clearly what they’re really upset about is that Sheridan had the audacity to actually win a battle during wartime!  Shocking, I know.

Minbari ship fires

As to the coma and the cocoon, well those plot points can wait another episode to be dealt with.

The Trigati shows up and rattles its sabers, Sheridan refuses to attack first, the Trigati pretends to attack, and Sheridan sees through the trick and doesn’t fire.  Things get interesting when Sheridan calls in another Minbari ship that he correctly guessed was lurking nearby.  They too order the rogue ship to surrender.  In the end, the crew of the Trigati chooses to self-destructs rather than face arrest and dishonor.

Minbari ship explodes

One question I asked myself as I sat down to rewatch this episode was how well the decades old CGI space scenes were going to hold up.  After all, a lot of late 90s CGI looks pretty awful, and in fact there were people during the original broadcast who hated Babylon 5 because of the CGI.  However, watching it now, I have to say – it still looks pretty good.  A lot of effort was put into making the world look a certain way, and while the ships are obviously CGI, they look so consistent that it isn’t really a problem.  The hull textures look like space ship hulls.  And, I have to say, the weaponry still looks fantastic.  When the Minbari use their green cutting beam to slice up the Trigati, it has a certain visceral quality often absent from science fiction weaponry.

John Sheridan, meanwhile, comes off as a likable guy.  Goofy, almost.  He is quite a contrast to often stoic Sinclair and helps brighten up the show.  Here, in his first episode, we are introduced to his habit of quoting historic figures (in this case, Lincoln).  He will do this throughout the series, usually when giving dramatic speeches.

Sheridan's Speech

Which brings us to the question that all Retro Reviews need to answer: does it hold up?  My answer to that is this: Yes.  The character interactions and the introduction of Sheridan carry the show.  The CGI looks pretty good for being almost two decades old – a lot of other science fiction from the same time period can’t say the same.

Rating: B+

Breakdown: A good introduction to Sheridan and a good story overall.   I didn’t go higher mostly because Babylon 5 requires saving the “A” grade for a few particularly powerful episodes.  While you should typically start a show with episode 1 of season 1, this isn’t a bad entry point to the show.  Highly recommended.

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