Where No Shadows Fall

Vir Cotto Babylon 5 Header

Any visitor to this site knows that I’m a massive Babylon 5 fan.

I love the show.

Love it.

As sacrilegious as it is to some science fiction fans, Babylon 5 shares equal place for me with Star Trek, Space: 1999 and Star Wars, three shows that defined my childhood.  Each hold equal first place for different reasons, and each is special in its own wonderfully unique way.

But… one way in which Babylon 5 is head and shoulders above most, if not all other science fiction shows (even Star Trek and Space: 1999), is in its story and the way that story was executed.

Yes, Sheridan really pissed me off toward the end of the series and I’ll never forgive the character for the way he treated Lyta, yes the conclusion to the Shadow War was a little rushed but that was the studio’s fault and no one elses, and yes Season 5 had a really average first half, but over all that show kicked ass.

The incredible story J. Michael Straczynski wrote would not have transferred to the screen though, without the excellent performances of its main cast.  The characters he created were brought to life, beautifully, by a collection of exceptional actors.

One of those actors was Stephen Furst, who, sadly, passed away on Saturday.

Stephen played Vir Cotto, the efficient, long-suffering aid to Ambassador Londo Mollari.  He was Londo’s conscience, his foil at times, and his friend when that character most needed one.

Stephen played the role with humour, sensitivity and passion, making a character that could have been one-dimensional an integral part of that series.

Stephen first came to the notice of audiences in 1978, in the movie Animal House.  From there, he appeared in multiple roles in television and film, and eventually moved into directing and producing.

To some, he was Flounder from Animal House or Doctor Elliot Axelrod from St. Elsewhere, to many he was Vir from Babylon 5, but to others he was an activist and spokesperson for the American Diabetes Association.

It was that disease that took Stephen’s life, as it took his father’s life in 1972.  Stephen died from complications related to diabetes at his home in California at the age of 63.

He will missed.

Vir Cotto 3

J. Michael Straczynski, when he heard the news, made the following posts to his Twitter account:

First, in response to a notification from another Twitter user, Jeremiah Holt:

“Goddamnit… a really decent, great, kind guy.”

Then:

“On behalf of everyone who worked on Babylon 5, Stephen Furst will be missed profoundly and everlastingly.”

In another post:

“Lost Babylon 5 Main cast: Michael O’Hare, Andreas Katsulas, Jeff Conway, Jerry Doyle, Richard Biggs, now Stephen Furst, all too soon.”

JMS Post RE Stephen Furst

Space: 2049 extends its deepest condolences to Stephen’s family and, alongside them, his colleagues and his fans, we grieve his loss.  Deeply.

It is our sincere hope he is sleeping in starlight, in a place where no shadows fall.

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Babylon 5

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When I started this blog, my big hurdle was the simple fact no new episodes of Space: 1999 had been produced in about 40 years, and the planned sequel, Space 2099 was never made.  While I’d be doing my own “fan-take” on a new series, that wouldn’t happen over night, so I decided the blog would feature retrospectives on Space: 1999, interesting developments in science that might lead to a settlement on the moon or Mars, and features on those shows that shared the same spirit as Space: 1999.

One of the things many a Space: 1999 fan loved about the series was it’s focus on the metaphysical and philosophical, as well as the scientific.

1999 postulated, in its first season, that there was an intelligence at work in the galaxy that was influencing the direction of Moonbase Alpha as it plunged from one end of the galaxy to the other.

While that focus was largely lost in the second season, it is something many fans remember.  In fact, many fans blame the cancellation of the series on that loss, and believe Space: 1999 would have continued if season two hadn’t changed the premise of the show so dramatically.

Thankfully, about 18 years after Space: 1999, another brave series decided to add some metaphysics and philosophy into its story-telling, and create a science fiction show that wasn’t just about futuristic science.  Babylon 5.

That metaphysical ‘feel’ changed as the series progressed, but it still posed important questions about humanity and the constructs of faith and power and didn’t often give easy answers to the issues raised.

Babylon 5 Characters

Babylon 5 was created by J. Michael Straczynski, and aired across five years from 1993 to 1998, starting with the two hour movie “The Gathering” in 1993 before the first season commenced airing in 1994 with the episode “Midnight on the Firing Line.”

J. Michael Straczynski envisioned the show as one long novel, and considered each year of the five year saga a chapter in that book.

Season one (chapter one) was titled “Signs and Portents” and dealt with the Commander of the station, Jeffrey Sinclair, discovering what happened to him during ‘the Battle of the Line’, while introducing a host of fascinating characters and building on the eventual discovery of a dangerous enemy.

Season two (chapter two) was titled “The Coming of Shadows” and introduced us to a new Commander of the station, John Sheridan, after Michael O’Hare (the actor playing Sinclair) was let go for reasons that are sometimes still debated by fans today.  The season introduced us to the mystery of a changed Ambassador Delenn, the rising fortunes of the Centauri Ambassador, Mollari, and introduced us to the Shadows – the ancient enemy of the enigmatic Vorlon.

Season three (chapter three) was titled “The Point of No Return” and focused on Earth as it fell under the sway of a dictator, as Delenn and John Sheridan set about creating a ‘conspiracy of light’ to fight the darkness permeating the galaxy in the form of the Shadows.

Season four (chapter four) was titled “No Surrender, No Retreat” and pushed our heroes to extremes as the conflict between the Vorlon and Shadows threatened to wipe out billions of lives.  As Delenn and the Minbari stepped up to lead the forces of light as the most powerful of the young races, Sheridan decided he had no choice but to attack his homeworld and overthrow a government he no longer believed in to save humanity from the machinations of a madman.

Season five (the final chapter) was titled “The Wheel of Fire”.  It was here that Babylon 5 kind of went off the rails for a little bit.  As season four played out, J. Michael Straczynski didn’t know if his show would be renewed for its fifth and final season.  As a result, he rushed the conclusion of the Shadow War, and when renewal came had to shift the show’s focus to a few other concepts to complete his five year vision.

The season went from weak to strong, and finished with a literal bang.  The weak?  The telepath war which began the season.  Watch it, and you’ll see that the episodes featuring the telepath issue weren’t the series’ strongest.  As the season progressed, it introduced a new threat and focused heavily on the fallout from the end of season four and the series became brilliant again.

Babylon 5 the series ended with the amazing episode “Sleeping in Light” – one of the most beautifully written and impressively performed season finales in history.  “Sleeping in Light” was filmed at the end of season four (just in case), and when the series was renewed the episode was held until the actual close of the show.

As well as five seasons, Babylon 5 also created a series of movies along with two spin offs – one that lasted one season (Babylon 5: Crusade) and one that never made it past the pilot stage despite the fact it was actually an excellent idea (Babylon 5: Legend of the Rangers) and was wonderful to watch.

The films were by and large good, with the first two being exceptional: Babylon 5: In The Beginning and Babylon 5: Thirdspace.  The third film, Babylon 5: River of Souls wasn’t as strong as the previous two films and the fourth film, Babylon 5: A Call to Arms, was okay, but served more as a pilot for Crusade.

A fifth film was produced as a concept for an anthology series – Babylon 5: The Lost Tales.  Lost Tales was planned to be the first of many anthology editions, but no more were made due to funding issues.

The Lost Tales

Babylon 5 was an extraordinary series that tackled intense and meaningful themes, and many of them were similar to the themes tackled in Space: 1999 – free will and order versus chaos, religion and spirituality, politics and the abuse of power.

At the time, Babylon 5 was known as “the anti- Star Trek“, much as Space: 1999 had been, and both shows shared very similar fan wars with Trekkers.

Babylon 5 was, and for many of us today, still is a phenomenon.

Despite some really bad sets, everything else about the show was fantastic (I still can’t work out why the doors were such a ridiculous shape).  The special effects were revolutionary for the time with B5 being the first show to embrace computer generated imaging.  The acting was first class, the directing was often inspired, and the writing was unlike anything science fiction television had ever seen.

The creator of B5, the amazing J. Michael Straczynski, also engaged the internet like no one ever had before (way before social media), and it was, arguably, this and the connection he built with his fans, that kept the series alive.  Of note, Straczynski also wrote most of the episodes of the show – which is huge and at the time, unheard of.

If you love science fiction and haven’t watched Babylon 5, you need to.  It is a sci-fi masterpiece.

You can pick the series up on Amazon, or find it in any good DVD and Bluray store.

To learn more about Babylon 5, follow these links:

The Lurker’s Guide to Babylon 5

The Babylon Project

Babylon 5 on Wikipedia

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