In 2258, on the remote Centauri colony of Ragesh III, an unknown force appears and attacks, quickly overwhelming the small defence force. On the space station of Babylon Five, Centauri Ambassador Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik) is introducing his new attaché Vir Cotto (Stephen Furst), who brings news of the attack. An emergency meeting of the Babylon Five Advisory Council is called. Station Commander Jeffrey Sinclair (Michael O’Hare) advises that they adjourn and consult with their governments.

The station’s new Second-in-Command, Lt. Commander Susan Ivanova (Claudia Christian), receives a distress call from a transport ship, and Security Chief Michael Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle) heads off to investigate. The new Resident Telepath Talia Winters (Andrea Thompson) arrives to check in, but Ivanova brushes her off. Londo receives a recording from the colony and sees Narn fighters. Enraged, he confronts Narn Ambassador G’Kar (Andreas Katsulas), who has just been informed of the matter himself. They trade insults until Security separates them. Later, when Sinclair visits Londo, the latter admits that his nephew is a leader of Ragesh III and Londo had a dream of his nephew dying. He also dreamed of himself and G’Kar dying with their hands on each other’s throats. The Centauris have a long history of enslaving the Narn.

Garibaldi reports that the raiders are getting heavy weapons from somewhere. Londo is informed that the Centauri Republic is going to ignore the attack because the colony is insignificant. Londo tries to get support for sanctions against the Narn. That night, G’Kar tries to get Sinclair to side with him. Next day, the League of Non-Aligned Worlds meet, and Sinclair is ordered to vote against the sanctions. Garibaldi is about to intercept the next raider attack, but Sinclair decides to fly the mission himself. He sends Ivanova to the meeting and, uninformed, she votes for the sanctions. At the meeting, G’Kar tries to point out that the Centauri colony had originally been seized by force from the Narn. Minbari Ambassador Delenn (Mira Forlan) objects, and Londo’s nephew appears on the screen to say that the Narn did not attack but were actually lending assistance. Arguments ensue and a vote is called.

Sinclair finds the raiders and engages his fighters. The raiders retreat, but Sinclair thinks they are trying to draw him away, so he heads in the opposite direction and thinks something is hiding in an asteroid field. Back on the station, Londo assembles a weapon, but telepath Winters senses his intention to kill G’Kar. She warns Garibaldi, who talks down Londo. When Sinclair returns, he tells G’Kar that he found the Narn agent in charge and has determined that Ragesh III was invaded by Narn and Londo’s nephew reported the reverse under duress. G’Kar backs down. Talia finally meets with Ivanova and finds out that the Psi Corps had hounded Ivanova’s telepathic mother to death. President Luis Santiago wins re-election as President of the Earth Alliance.

Babylon Five was conceived as a novel for television, each episode a chapter. The entire 5-year run was written in detail ahead of time by J. Michael Strraczynski. Like Joss Whedon’s characters, the humans are flawed, and the aliens as well. As in Firefly, the people of the future are plagued by the same torments and failures that we are. The entire series takes place between 2257 and 2262. The Earth/Minbari war is over, the Narn and Centauri still struggle. The Space Station Babylon Five was built after the debilitating war in order to prevent another such confrontation. Located in the Epsilon Eridani system, it is an O’Neill cylinder five miles long. The first three were destroyed under suspicious circumstances during construction, the fourth mysteriously disappeared upon completion. The animation team had the station spinning at a near-Earth gravity simulation, as determined by a physicist fan of the show. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory regularly offered technical information.

The series features endless diplomatic duelling between Molinari and G’Kar, and Jurasik and Katsulas are wonderful. The actors were fast friends and, though Straczynski didn’t like improv because it might influence storylines, they kept everyone in stitches. Delenn, who has only one speech in this episode, but a good one, represents the highly religious and mystical Minbari. The word Minbar means a pulpit in a mosque. Earth politics will become important later, as will the telepathic Psi Corps. My favorite race is the Vorlons, represented by Kosh (voice by Ardwight Chamberlain), who always appears hidden in his encounter suit because the atmosphere he breathes is poisonous to most species. When he speaks, he sounds like many voices speaking at once, and his words are cryptic and bewildering, but later turn out to be profound. Kosh was never shown entering or leaving a room because his encounter suit would not fit through the door.

In the series’ creation, Straczynski was influenced by Asimov’s Foundation novels, Childhood’s End, The Lord of the Rings, Dune, and the Lensman series. Sometimes the special effects are not what they could be, but SF on TV has always had to scramble for attention and funding from networks. The studio was in an old hot-tub factory near an airport and scenes were often interrupted by planes overhead. For me, the fully formed civilizations are the treat, as real as the Vulcans and Klingons, the Bajorans and Cardassians. The emphasis is not so much on action and spectacle as on dialog and character and humor. Some SF can get away without those three things, but not the best. Some of the humor misses the mark, of course, but some characters, like Ivanova, and the Mollari/G’Kar sparring team are endearing and often extremely funny. The Earth Alliance is like the Federation, but not as perfect. The spaceships are quite beautiful, more Art Nouveau than Art Deco. The series won two Hugo awards in two consecutive years.