Babylon 5 Has Disappeared From Netflix Instant Queue: Now What Do I Do?

 

(Click images to enlarge)

For the past few weeks, I have been watching on Netflix Instant Queue. I have fond memories of this show from childhood. But, they’re the sort of blurry “I like the dude with the sideways mohawk and the lizard face guy” memories that are more akin to remembering the pictures from a book you haven’t actually read than a real impression of the show.

I was 7 or 8 years old when Babylon 5 premiered, so it shouldn’t come as a shock if I didn’t grasp some of it’s main concepts when it originally aired.

My family also watched while I was growing up. But, at some point the show got moved to an inconvenient time slot and we stopped following it. As a result, I didn’t actually see the whole show until two years ago. Personally, I’m glad things happened that way. I don’t think 12 year old me could fully appreciate the brilliance of episodes like “The Visitor” and “In The Pale Moonlight”. Because I got to see the show through adult eyes, I was able to really appreciate how good it is. DS9 has subsequently become one of my all time favorite shows.

I know mentioning DS9 in the same breath as B5 is a dangerous proposition, as there are still many people out there who cling to the old 90s rivalry between the two or who insist on perpetuating the idea that DS9 was a B5 rip off. I’m not trying to start a flame war here, nor am I going to waste energy on further beating that long dead horse. I’m just trying to give everyone a little background on what lead me to rewatch B5. I’m of the mind that if you like Sci-fi, you can easily enjoy both shows.

I’ve heard time and time again that if you’re a fan of DS9′s story arcs and strong character pieces, then you will love B5. In fact, my father insists that B5 was better than DS9. So, being the Sci-fi nerd that I am, I was thrilled to find out the show was available to stream on Netflix Instant Queue. Given how little I remember of the plot, I was prepared to have a similar experience to the one I had watching DS9. I looked forward to seeing familiar faces with the benefits of the maturity and experience I did not yet possess during the show’s original run.

I must admit though, the of B5 is largely horrible. Most fans of the show seem to know this already, but I really can’t stress enough how unbelievable awful some of the first season stand alone episodes are. They make the relative low points of DS9′s first season look like Citizen Kane by comparison. Bear with me though, because I am headed somewhere positive with this.

To give everyone a better understanding of how I feel about the show, I’m going to give you a quick snapshot of some of my thoughts on all the episodes I’ve seen so far.

WARNING! POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD!

 
The Gathering – Oh boy, those Amiga effects really have not stood up to the test of time. I feel like I’m watching , or maybe a really weird game. For some reason, I thought was named Rondo in my memory. That should say something about how much of this show I actually remember. The were cool in 1993, and they’re still cool now.

 

Midnight On The Firing Line – This is a little bit better than The Gathering. Episodes that focus on Londo and are always more entertaining than episodes that feature the excruciatingly dull human cast.

 

Soul Hunter – Oh man, really? An alien comes to the station in order to steal souls. It’s hard to say who was worse in this episode, or the guest star. Michael O’Hare is so wooden, I actually started referring to him as “Commander Pinnochio” right around this episode. This is a candidate for MST3K if I’ve ever seen one.

 

Born To Purple – Londo acts the fool when he finds himself being seduced by a beautiful bald woman with sinister motivations. I like Londo, so this was a huge improvement over Soul Hunter.

 

Infection – To be honest, I blocked this one from my memory. The only thing I can really recall from this episode was the hilariously clunky bit of exposition in the beginning when the reporter asks what happened to Babylon 1 through 4. I guess in the future, terrorist attacks and trillion credit space projects disappearing into thin air just aren’t relevant enough news stories to be remembered for more than a year. Then again, if our current international space station went missing, I’m not sure anyone would notice. As a matter of fact, I’m not sure most people are even aware that there is an international space station to begin with, sad as that fact may be. So, ok episode, carry on.

 

The Parliment Of Dreams – The station holds a week of religious ceremonies, and apparently Earth is the only world present with multiple faiths. Does anyone else find that odd? Oh well. The sequence at the end where Sinclair shows off all the different religions of Earth was kind of a nice touch, and had a sense of optimism that was done in a uniquely B5 way. I also appreciated G’Kar’s B plot. I’m not sure if G’Kar dealing with an assassination attempt was supposed to be funny, but I laughed all the same.

 

Mind War – This episode has Star Trek’s own Walter Koenig in it, which makes for a fun casting choice if you’re a fan of . The idea of someone being able to kill you with a thought is pretty cool. But, the cheesy ending hurts the episode a bit.

 

The War Prayer – I had to fight hard not to fall asleep during this one. Londo helps a young couple out of an arranged marriage, *yawn* and a bunch of pro-earth terrorists cause trouble on B5. The terrorist plot had potential, but was quickly stomped on by an obvious ending and horrible acting on the part of the guest stars.

 

And The Sky Full Of Stars – This is the first episode most people seem to cite as being actually good. I don’t know about all that, but it’s a little better than the preceding episodes. This one deals with Sinclair’s missing 24 hours during the battle of the line. Some strange stuff happens, and he gets beat up a lot. We also find out is somehow involved in all this and *ZOMG* will have to kill Sinclair if he ever finds out the truth of what happened. The problem with this episode is that it’s all set up with relatively little pay off. Also, I’m far more interested in what happened to B4 than Sinclair’s missing time. But, having been told many times that all my questions will eventually be answered, I’m ok with this episode being more of a building block than an actual story. This one is miles ahead of “infection”, at any rate.

 

Deathwalker – And we’re back to MST3K fare. Some super evil woman named Deathwalker comes aboard the station with a powerful drug that can make anyone immortal. The catch, in all it’s mad scientist B movie glory, is that you have to kill people to make the drug. For some reason. Since this woman has committed terrible crimes, some people want her dead. Some people just want the drug, at any cost. Obviously, disagreements ensue, and in the end the Vorlons sneak off like the silent bad asses they are and blow her ship up. Good for them, I say! Most of B5′s guest stars should have met the same fate, as far as I’m concerned.

 

Believers – Now, THIS is what I would call the first really good episode of B5! struggles with his sense of medical ethics versus an alien family’s religious views and the results make for some compelling drama, even though I did see the ending coming long before I was supposed to. It didn’t matter though, the episode was well played and I enjoyed it.

 

Survivors – I fell asleep during this one. But, I think the basic gist here is that is a former alcoholic with a troubled past. Also, the president has enemies.

 

By Any Means Necessary – A labor dispute gets ugly and an obnoxious prick from the Earth senate labor committee is sent in to be the one note villain of the week. Around this point, I found myself wondering why I was still watching the show. Between the terrible guest stars, the dated CG, the random changes in the show’s aspect ratio, the dull as dishwater humans… Well, you get the idea.

 

Signs And Portents – FINALLY! The show picks up a little bit here in what I’m told is the first real foray into the larger story arc in the series. Plus, as a bonus, a lot of stuff blew up in this episode. I’m not always a fan of action sequences. I tend to like more “talky” sci-fi. But, since the rest of the season was so sleepy in comparison, this was a nice change of pace.

 

TKO – I’m aware that this is a particularly hated episode of B5, and that a lot of people claim this is the worst episode of the entire series. To be honest, I didn’t think it was THAT bad. Don’t get me wrong, it definitely wasn’t good either. But, it wasn’t as painful as the first couple episodes in the season. Or, perhaps by this point I had seen enough horrible material from season one that I had lowered my standards to the point where this episode came off as at least passable entertainment. Neither the A or the B plot are anything to write home about. Garibaldi has some random friend who wants to compete in an alien boxing match, and Ivanova finally deals with the death of her father.

 

Grail – This is another episode a lot of people seem to hate, and that I didn’t mind. It has the guy who played the evil Gul in “chain of command” in it, which is awesome because, unlike most of B5′s guest stars, this guy can actually act. The main plot is about this guy looking for the holy grail, and there’s a fairly amusing peripheral plot about Londo locking himself in his quarters after he hears that there’s a Na’Ka’Leen Feeder on board the station. Ok, it’s not great. But, I didn’t fall asleep. So, it’s clearly better than “survivors”.

 

Eyes- This episode starts off with what seems like a hilariously obvious bit of awkward product placement for the 1993 Kawasaki Ninja Motorcycle. Garibaldi practically launches into a commercial for the bike after asks him what he’s building. I mean, he literally sounds like he’s going to end the scene by saying “if I lived in 1993, I’d run down to the nearest Kawasaki dealership and buy one with all the amazing special add-ons that could be purchased back then, in the past, because I’ve been told *by history books* that this thing came with a great warranty and that Kawasaki always delivered the best costumer service possible for their riders. I’ve also heard they had company wide discount sales during the month of July with low APR fees on loans and no sales tax until December! In the past, of course.”. However, I see on the Lurker’s Guide to Babylon 5 that J. Michael Straczynski has said they were not paid by Kawasaki to write that unintentionally hysterical scene. So, I’m actually somewhat mystified as to how all that blatant brown nosing made it into the final script.

The rest of the episode is kind of a missed opportunity due to the use of another hammy, over the top cartoon villain. However, I loved seeing as a telepath. Jeffrey Combs is one of my favorite Trek actors, so bonus points to this episode for having him on board. Oh, I also can’t forget to mention the ending scene where Lennier and Garibaldi ride their newly built crotch rocket around the station like teenagers in love, because riding a fast motor vehicle around in an indoor, crowded pedestrian area is exactly the sort of sensible example the chief of security should be setting for others on the station. Also, because the Kawasaki Ninja is an amazing bike, from the past!

Computer: The motorcycle was often considered a sign of freedom, sexual prowess and rebellion.

Lennier: Sexual Prowess?

Garibaldi: That’s right! Imma get your heart racing in my skin tight jeans, be your teenage dream tonight. Let you put your hands on me, in my skin tight jeans, be your teenage dream tonight!



(in case anyone really needed the soundtrack for this scene)

 
Legacies – This is the second episode of B5 I can really recommend as being good. A quick glance at Wikipedia tells me that this episode was written by none other than Trek veteran, DC Fontana! Being a woman who loves Sci-Fi, DC is something of a hero to me. She wrote for Trek when the Sci-Fi world was still very much a boys club. She suffered through a lot of sexism and even wrote under a male pen name for many years. In fact, I confess, I wasn’t even aware of DC’s gender before the advent of Wikipedia. As someone who aspires to write a Sci-Fi novel or two myself one day, I feel that I owe a lot to pioneering women like her. But, enough fangirl gushing, this episode keeps up a good pace throughout, has a fun mystery and even gives us an unexpected twist at the end. This is the episode that finally got me to buy into watching the rest of the series.

And then…

DISASTER STRUCK!

As of July 1st, Babylon 5 has been pulled from Netflix Instant Queue. WHAT THE FRAK!?! I was just starting to get into it! I suffered through almost all of season one, only to be rewarded with this?

Adding insult to injury for B5 fans, the new Sci-Fi show that will be replacing it in the instant queue line up is none other than… STAR TREK! Was Instant Queue not big enough for the both of them? Let the conspiracy theories begin!

No, no I kid. Everyone put your flame throwers down. I have to admit though, it would have been kind of ironically amusing if it had been replaced with DS9. But, no, it has been replaced with everything but DS9. Netflix now offers (YAY!),   (Which I love, but have already recently rewatched and don’t really need to see again), (OK, sure. Why not?) and (eh… Yay?).

So, now I am left with a serious dilemma. Should I keep watching this show? After all the complaining and mocking I did for the first fifteen episodes or so, one would think it would be easy for me to walk away and dismiss B5 as a show better left remembered than seen. However, I have somehow managed to become invested in the story. So, where do I watch it now?

Let me make it clear for all of you that I am a deeply impatient person. I don’t want to wait for DVDs to come in the mail, especially since I know my boyfriend has many things in line on our Netflix queue that he would want to see before I could throw B5 in there.

I am also very cheap, so I’d really have to be convinced to pay to see the rest of the show. I’m willing to shell out money for something I know I like and will want to see many times again. I’m just not sure yet if B5 will turn out to be that kind of show for me. I certainly don’t ever need to see the majority of season one again, that’s for sure.

So, where does that leave me? As it turns out, it leaves me with The WB online! They have the show available to stream (with commercials, not that I mind that terribly) on their website. However, the online episodes seem to end part way through season two. Does anyone out there know if the WB rotates the seasons?

Well, if all else fails, I see Amazon does have all the seasons available used for reasonable prices. But, still, I would rather have continued on with Netflix. Oh well.

I suppose I will figure out a way to keep going with B5 because, as Ambassador Kosh would say; the avalanche has already started. It’s too late for the pebbles to vote.

Vorlons: what DON’T they know?

Here’s a sampling of some of the various B5 stuff I may eventually break down and buy on Amazon and eBay, for everyone’s withdrawal needs!


 

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I am pretty frustrated about this… was annoyed when I got the “this video is unavailable as we work to make it better for you, try again in a day or two” warning trying to watch on the 30th… then a total rebuke tonight. (the 2nd) I had missed all of seasons 1, 2 and most of 3 and was planning to simply rewatch the whole thing… yes season 1 was awful, but like you I was getting into it by the end. I had 2 episodes to go on it and bam! Thanks for the WB news, but I looked and they have episode 17 in place of 21… I was needing 21 and 22 so that is a bit frustrating as well.

This is really a total failure on the part of netflix. No notice, no warning and they act like nobody would care or notice. Yes, I’m happy that ST is on there now but come on… a reason would not remove my frustration but it would certainly give it focus.

oops, that’s 22 and 23 (the last 2) that I needed, and 22 (which has 17 in it’s place on WB) is in the spot for 14… so things are all honked up there. Have yet to have a successful stutter-free stream either, so looking for another avenue.

I would say keep watching. I am in almost exactly the same boat as you, only I got further into season 2 before Netflix cut it off. Here’s the reasons to stick with it:

1) Michael O’Hare leaves after season 1 and is replaced with veteran TV actor Bruce Boxleitner. The biggest problem that first season had was bad acting, particularly from O’Hare. He is a stage actor to the core and it shows. Boxleitner’s character is one of the more interesting ones on the show and JMS uses him to take the show in different directions.

2) The show becomes much more story-arc driven. This requires a lot fewer guest actors and that helps a lot. Season 2 is where JMS really took over (look at the writing credits for each season to see what I mean). The writing is a lot tighter, the plots more meaningful, the characters more fleshed out.

If you need an example of how much better the writing gets, in 1996 the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation went to Babylon 5 for “The Coming of Shadows” instead of DS9′s The Visitor, Apollo 13 (not really scifi but still), Toy Story, or 12 Monkeys.

The next year Severed Dreams beat out a weaker bunch. The 4th season didn’t see a nomination, but I can’t see how you can pick just one episode from that season, which is apparently why none got nominated. There’s easily 3 or 4 in there that could have been nominated.

The final year of the show, Sleeping in Light was nominated as well. So, if you’re keeping score, for 3 of the 5 years it was on and won it twice. In the same time period, DS9 was nominated twice and didn’t win. This is the same number of nominations and wins that Star Trek: The Next Generation got and one more nomination and two more wins than DS9 ever saw.

3) In short, I would recommend watching the second season on The WB Online. If you don’t like the show after that, it’s not your thing. However, I suspect that you’ll be ordering those DVDs before you run out of episodes to watch.

Thanks for the thoughtful reply Rory! I’ve decided to keep going with the show. I have managed to see the first couple episodes of season two with Bruce Boxleitner, and I am noticing a lot of general improvements in the writing. I figure a lot of shows have rough first seasons, so I’m glad I stuck it out.

Take Star Trek: The Next Generation, for example. I love TNG, and I think over all it was an awesome show. But, I wouldn’t waste any time trying to argue that the first season wasn’t, for the most part, a disaster. I mean, in a battle of suck vs suck between, say, TNG’s “Code of Honor” and B5′s “Infection”… well, it would be a pretty tight race.

I do think DS9′s first season was better than B5′s first season, but I attribute a large part of that to DS9 being a spin off series. DS9 didn’t have to spend long periods of time establishing the basic premises of it’s universe, because the Star Trek mythos was already so popular and so familiar to sci-fi fans at that point. Sure, they had to set up the station specific stuff. But, it’s not like they had to do long exposition episodes about Starfleet and what it represents.

In contrast, B5 had an immense amount of universe building and back story to try to ram into one season while maintaining enough stand alone episodes to keep the audience interested in returning for a second season. Not to mention that B5 quite obviously had a smaller budget to work with than DS9. Getting a project like that off the ground is no small task. So, I’m willing to forgive it for giving me some of the *really* awful stuff it did in the first few episodes.

As for the three or four episodes of season two I’ve now seen, I do think Bruce Boxleitner is a better actor than Michael O’Hare. Plus, Sheridan’s back story seems to bring a little much needed conflict and drama to the role of station commander. However, I have to confess, part of me got used to O’Hare’s hammy speeches and general overacting and even kind of misses him. What can I say? I also love Avery Brooks, even when he engages in shameless scenery chewing. OK, I admit it, especially when he engages in shameless scenery chewing. I also prefer the way O’Hare reads the intro speech. When Boxleitner reads it, he sounds a little too chipper about it; almost as if it were a vacation ad.

The Babylon Project was our last, best hope for peace, a self-contained world five miles long located in neutral territory, a place of commerce and diplomacy for a quarter of a million humans and aliens, a shining beacon in space, all alone in the night. It was the dawn of the third age of mankind, the year we installed a hot tub in the zocolo. This is the story of the last of the Babylon stations. The year is 2259. The name of the place is Babylon 5. Green sector resort packages for ambassadorial staff start at just $75 credits!

But, that’s just my opinion. I definitely think he has the potential to be a much more interesting character than Sinclair, and I’m excited to see where JMS is going to take him.

I’m a little less sold on Delenn’s new look. The characters all seem amazed by her transformation. I just see… hair extensions. But, I get what they’re going for and I’m going to use my suspension of disbelief to get past what I see as a relatively minor costume change, and try to see what the characters see here.

One other minor disappointment in the second season I’ve noticed is the recasting of G’Kar’s aide, Na’toth. I thought the actress who played her in the first season had a real screen presence, and I really enjoyed her scenes. The actress who plays her in the second season is so flat in her performance, that she’s more like a receptacle for exposition lines than a real character. That’s a shame, and kind of feels like a missed opportunity.

So far though, the real stand out character in this story is definitely Londo. His scenes are always compelling to watch, especially when he is playing off of G’Kar or slowly questioning the motives of creepy helper guy. Sorry, I’m not sure if creepy helper guy has a name yet at this point in the series. My alternate name for him is “Mirror Universe New Kid On The Block”, or MUNKOTB for short. Seriously, that guy is totally Jonathon Knight in space.

*that awkward moment when everyone reading this remembers that this site is run by a girl, as I’m pretty sure none of the male sci-fi fans put THAT particular association together…*

All told, I’m looking forward to the coming of the shadows to see what kind of crazy pay back MUNKOTB is going to want from Londo for all this help. I’m working an event in Boston this weekend, so I’ve got a five hour bus ride ahead of me in the morning. I think I’m going to download a few episodes for the trip, either on my iphone or my laptop.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to watch some B5 in peace en route. But, you never know. One time, on the way back from DC, I was reading a book I purchased at the Holocaust Museum called “The Pink Triangle” about the fate of gays during the holocaust. It’s a heart breaking, amazing book for anyone out there who has an interest in WW2 history. I was about an hour into the trip, when the guy next to me decided to try to strike up on a conversation with me.

He asked me what the book was about and I replied simply “WW2″, not wanting to take the focus off of my reading. To this he responded; “there were two world wars?” in complete seriousness, as though I was the first person ever to give him the late breaking news that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Habor seventy years ago. Face. In. Palm.

So, I’m really hoping that I can get through this bus ride and enjoy the show without some guy creepin’ up on me and saying something stupid like “So, you’re into, like, dudes with lizard faces? That’s cool. I can deal with nerd stuff. I like sci-fi too. You seen that new transformers movie? That’s some high concept stuff right there.”.

Full disclosure, I’ve heard that line before. *shudders*

Anyway, I didn’t mean for this reply to turn into an essay. I’ll probably post another blog about B5 when I finish the series. I’m interested to see how it stacks up against my other favorite sci-fi shows, DS9 and the reimagined Battlestar Galactica.

Cheers, and thanks again for your comment!

@Todd Yeah, I finished the first season on the WB and then ran into the same problem you’re having. If all else fails, and you’re as impatient as I am, you can always download the show from iTunes. Amazon also has them available as an instant video download at a slightly better price. Here’s the link:

Sadly, buying used copies of the DVDs is still the cheapest *cough* legal way to see the episodes that aren’t up online yet. I actually tweeted the WB Online (@TheWBdotcom, for those of you on Twitter) the other day to try to find out if the posted episodes perhaps rotate from time to time, but I got no response. I’m hoping that they do. But, in the mean time, buying the DVDs or downloading the episodes is the best I’ve got.

P.S. When you tried watching it on the WB, did it show you the same commercial, twice in a row, during every single commercial break? Gods! If I had to watch that dog stick it’s butt out of the window of that car in the name of Starburst fruit chews one more time, I think it it would have ruined candy for me for the rest of my life!

Hmmm… on second thought…

*thinks of current weight, bikini fit and upcoming summer vacation plans*

…maybe that’s not such a bad thing. I’ll be watching that commercial, Clockwork Orange style, until I’m incapable of digesting sugary junk food anymore, if anyone needs me!

I was watching them too. Bloody corporate overlords and all that.

Watch them. Season 1 is 90% crap, Season 2 is hit and miss, picking up towards the end, and 3-4 will knock your socks off. Seriously some of the best sci-fi TV available. The reason, of course, is by season 3 the network had taken their gloves off and let JMS have total control, no more notes, no more Top-Gun style fighter pilots appearing out of nowhere just for demographic appeal, just pure sci-fi goodness. So keep at it, you’ll be rewarded.