The Puffin-style Babylon 5 Viewing Guide

The Puffin-style Babylon 5 Viewing Guide

Around 2009, I did my first real watch of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It quickly became my favorite Star Trek series, and I’ve gone through it two more times since. The legendary, spoiler-free Puffin.net Deep Space 9 Viewing Guide has been a companion every time. I think the guide is a valuable tool for anyone out to watch the show.

Midway through a rewatch of Babylon 5 I started in 2021, I was inspired to do my own spoiler-free guide for B5, in the spirit of that guide.

Babylon 5 box art
Those ship designs hold up.

Babylon 5 is an oddity – a serialized TV show in an era where such a thing was unheard of. It was an epic space opera told on a modest budget, drenched in maximalist 90’s style and culture (newspapers in space?!). And almost the entire show was written by ONE guy. The Earth Alliance is a peak-capitalist mess – a far cry from the Federation in Star Trek – and the encroaching darkness in the series hits quite a bit closer to home in the 2020’s.

I was delighted to find that, for all its flaws and badly-aged humor, the series is just as gripping and enjoyable as it was when I watched it as a kid. My hope is this guide will help you enjoy it as a new (or returning) viewer.

  • A couple of notes:
    • I use the standard TV series shorthand “S#E#”. S1E2? That’s season ONE, episode TWO.
    • The rating system goes (in descending order): Great ⇒ Good ⇒ Fair ⇒ Meh, and I’ve marked when I consider something essential.
    • The guide does not currently include all the TV movies and spin-off media.
    • Am I missing something? Leave me a note.

The Viewing Tracks

Here’s a couple of ways you might go through the show:

The ‘Sinclair’ track – The simplest approach. Start with S1E1, head through the guide in order. Make sure to watch the Essential episodes. Skip anything else you want.

The ‘Sheridan’ track – Let’s skip right to the start of the big serialized arc at the middle of the show. Start with S2E1 to get our feet wet with the characters and world, then watch S2E9 “The Coming of Shadows” and follow guide from there. When you reach S4E9, skip that and watch the TV movie “In the Beginning”, since it covers the same ground. When you reach the end of Season 4, watch S5E22 to wrap up the show.

SEASON ONE: SIGNS AND PORTENTS (1994)

  • S1E1 • “Midnight on the Firing Line”Good • Key characters and alien races, earth politics. Essential.
  • S1E2 • “Soul Hunter”Good • Dr. Franklin, Minbari/Human history
  • S1E3 • “Born to the Purple”Fair • Londo, first Vir
  • S1E4 • “Infection”Fair • Filler
  • S1E5 • “The Parliament of Dreams”Good • Alien cultures and partying. Londo.
  • S1E6 • “Mind War”Good • Psy Corps, first Bester. Talia.
  • S1E7 • “The War Prayer”Fair • Earth/Minbari tensions.
  • S1E8 • “And the Sky Full of Stars”Good • Key Sinclair history, Earth/Minbari war history.
  • S1E9 • “Deathwalker”Good • Filler
  • S1E10 • “Believers”Fair • Filler
  • S1E11 • “Survivors”Fair • Garibaldi.
  • S1E12 • “By Any Means Necessary”Fair • Londo/G’kar.
  • S1E13 • “Signs and Portents”Good • Important character introduction. Essential.
  • S1E14 • “TKO”Meh • Ivanova, alien UFC.
  • S1E15 • “Grail”Fair • Filler
  • S1E16 • “Eyes”Good • Earthforce.
  • S1E17 • “Legacies”Fair • Minbari.
  • S1E18 • “A Voice in the Wilderness” (Part 1) • Good • Delenn/Draal. Mars.
  • S1E19 • “A Voice in the Wilderness” (Part 2) • Good • Earthforce, Epsilon 3, Mars.
  • S1E20 • “Babylon Squared”Good • Babylon 4. Key mysteries set in motion. Essential.
  • S1E21 • “The Quality of Mercy”Fair • Talia, Franklin.
  • S1E22 • “Chrysalis”Good • Garibaldi. Huge developments. Essential.

SEASON TWO: THE COMING OF SHADOWS (1994-5)

  • S2E1 • “Points of Departure”Good • Intro Sheridan. Essential.
  • S2E2 • “Revelations”Good • Delenn, G’kar.
  • S2E3 • “The Geometry of Shadows”Good • Ivanova. Techno-mages!
  • S2E4 • “A Distant Star”Good • Sheridan, cool spaceship.
  • S2E5 • “The Long Dark”Fair • Filler.
  • S2E6 • “Spider in the Web”Fair • Talia.
  • S2E7 • “Soul Mates”Good • Londo, Talia.
  • S2E8 • “A Race Through Dark Places”Good • Bester, telepaths.
  • S2E9 • “The Coming of Shadows”Great • Key Narn/Centauri developments. Essential.
  • S2E10 • “GROPOS”Fair • Filler. Franklin, Garibaldi.
  • S2E11 • “All Alone in the Night”Meh • Kosh. Agamemnon. Sheridan.
  • S2E12 • “Acts of Sacrifice”Meh • G’kar. Badly aged humor.
  • S2E13 • “Hunter, Prey”Good • Earth conspiracy. Fun
  • S2E14 • “There All the Honor Lies”Good • Sheridan. Was there a jump in budget?
  • S2E15 • “And Now For a Word”Great • ISN episode. Narn/Centauri war.
  • S2E16 • “In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum”Good • Mr. Morden. Shadows. Psychics. Nightwatch. Essential.
  • S2E17 • “Knives”Fair • Sheridan, Londo. Centauri culture and politics.
  • S2E18 • “Confessions and Lamentations”Fair • Plague. Cheesy comedy.
  • S2E19 • “Divided Loyalties”Good • Talia. Key Ivanova moments. Psychics, Earthgov.
  • S2E20 • “The Long, Twilight Struggle”Good • Pivotal Narn/Centauri war. Rangers. Essential.
  • S2E21 • “Comes the Inquisitor”Good • Vorlons. Delenn.
  • S2E22 • “The Fall of Night”Good • Vir/Lennier. Nightwatch, Shadows. Great music. Cheesy VFX. Essential.

SEASON THREE:  POINT OF NO RETURN (1995-6)

  • S3E1 • “Matters of Honor”Fair • Mr. Morden. Rangers. Intro Marcus. Essential.
  • S3E2 • “Convictions”Good • G’kar/Londo. Space Catholics?
  • S3E3 • “A Day in the Strife”Good • First contact. Garibaldi. Narn occupation. Franklin.
  • S3E4 • “Passing Through Gethsemane”Fair • Space Catholics. Lyta. Twilight Zone-ish.
  • S3E5 • “Voices of Authority”Good • Earth conspiracy. Nightwatch. Draal.
  • S3E6 • “Dust to Dust”Good • Nightwatch. Bester. Key G’kar development.
  • S3E7 • “Exogenesis”Good • Creepy filler! Very X-files-esque.
  • S3E8 • “Messages From Earth” (1 of 3) • Great • Key Nightwatch/Earth developments. Cool space fights. Bad humor. Amazing cheesy fights. Essential.
  • S3E9 • “Point of No Return” (2 of 3) • Great • Majel Barrett! Key Londo/Vir. Key Earth developments. Gripping. Essential.
  • S3E10 • “Severed Dreams” (3 of 3) • Great • Lots of stuff BLOWS UP. Huge changes. Epic. Essential.
  • S3E11 • “Ceremonies of Light and Dark”Fair • Nightwatch. Bad comedy.
  • S3E12 • “Sic Transit Vir”Good • Vir! Weak food humor.
  • S3E13 • “A Late Delivery from Avalon”Meh • Filler. King Arthur?
  • S3E14 • “Ship of Tears”Good • Bester. Key psychic development. ISN. Starfurys! Politics.
  • S3E15 • “Interludes and Examinations”Great • Adira. Shadows. Mr. Morden. Key Kosh, key Franklin developments. Cool space battle. Essential.
  • S3E16 • “War Without End: Part One” Good • Sinclair. Babylon 4 (make sure you watched S1E20!). Zathras? Essential.
  • S3E17 • “War Without End: Part Two”Good • Key Londo revelations. Sinclair. Babylon 4. Essential.
  • S3E18 • “Walkabout” Great • Franklin. G’kar. Smooth jazz. Space battle.
  • S3E19 • “Grey 17 is Missing”Meh • Even JMS said this one is a skip.
  • S3E20 • “And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place”Great • Refa, Centauri politics and scheming. Religious leaders. Essential.
  • S3E21 • “Shadow Dancing”Great • Key Franklin development. Shadows. Huge battle. Essential. It’s pretty much all essential from here through season four.
  • S3E22 • “Z’ha’dum”Great • Sheridan/Anna. Iconic moments and key Shadows developments. Essential.

SEASON FOUR: NO SURRENDER, NO RETREAT (1996-7)

  • S4E1 • “The Hour of the Wolf”Good • Centauri politics. Key story developments. Essential.
  • S4E2 • “Whatever Happened to Mr. Garibaldi?”Good • Key G’kar development. Londo. Essential.
  • S4E3 • “The Summoning”Good • Key Vorlon development. Key Garibaldi. Essential.
  • S4E4 • “Falling Toward Apotheosis”Great • Dark. Lots of key developments. Essential.
  • S4E5 • “The Long Night”Great • Crucial developments. Multiple iconic moments. Bryan Cranston! Essential.
  • S4E6 • “Into the Fire”Great • Lots of stuff BLOWS UP. Iconic scenes. Huge payoffs. Big dramatic speeches. Essential.
  • S4E7 • “Epiphanies”Fair • Lyta. Earth. Garibaldi.
  • S4E8 • “The Illusion of Truth”Good • ISN episode.
  • S4E9 • “Atonement”Fair • Delenn. Flashbacks. One semi-important revelation. Optional: Skip this and watch TV movie “In the Beginning,” it covers the same Earth/Minbari war events with more detail/explosions/etc.
  • S4E10 • “Racing Mars”Good • Garibaldi and Sheridan.
  • S4E11 • “Lines of Communication”Good • Drakh. Important Earth developments. Cool space battle.
  • S4E12 • “Conflicts of Interest”Fair • Garibaldi! Zathras! Lots of Zathras?
  • S4E13 • “Rumors, Bargains and Lies”Great • Minbari castes. Delenn. Reebo and Zooty revealed?!
  • S4E14 • “Moments of Transition”Good • Minbari war. Psychics. Lyta.
  • S4E15 • “No Surrender, No Retreat”Great • Key Earth developments. Great Londo/G’kar moments. Cool space battles. Essential.
  • S4E16 • “Exercise of Vital Powers”Good • Garibaldi. Psychics. Intrigue.
  • S4E17 • “The Face of the Enemy”Good • Key Earth developments. Garibaldi! Essential.
  • S4E18 • “Intersections in Real Time”Utterly Great • Sheridan. Pitch black. The best episode of the series (says I). Essential.
  • S4E19 • “Between the Darkness and the Light”Good • Garibaldi. Essential.
  • S4E20 • “Endgame” (1 of 2)Great • Key Earth civil war. Essential.
  • S4E21 • “Rising Star” (2 of 2)Fair • Key Earth civil war. Essential.
  • S4E22 • “The Deconstruction of Falling Stars”Good • Anthology. Any other detail is a spoiler. 🙂

SEASON FIVE: THE WHEEL OF FIRE (1998)

  • S5E1 • “No Compromises”Fair • Interstellar Alliance. Intro Lochley. Psychics. Essential intro to season 5.
  • S5E2 • “The Very Long Night of Londo Mollari”Fair • Londo episode. Lennier.
  • S5E3 • “The Paragon of Animals”Fair • Alliance.
  • S5E4 • “A View from the Gallery”Meh • Lower decks. Psychics. Great vfx.
  • S5E5 • “Learning Curve”Fair • Rangers. Zack. Marvelous cheesy 90s fight.
  • S5E6 • “Strange Relations”Meh • Bester. Psychics. Lots of explosions.
  • S5E7 • “Secrets of the Soul”Fair • Byron. Lyta, Zack. Franklin. Psychic sex!
  • S5E8 • “Day of the Dead”Great • Neil Gaiman-penned. Cool Lochley/Londo/Garibaldi development. Reebo and Zooty?
  • S5E9 • “In the Kingdom of the Blind”Good • Centauri intrigue. Drakh. Essential.
  • S5E10 • “A Tragedy of Telepaths”Fair • Telepaths, Centauri.
  • S5E11 • “Phoenix Rising”Fair • Telepaths.
  • S5E12 • “The Ragged Edge”Fair • Garibaldi, Drazi.
  • S5E13 • “The Corps is Mother, the Corps is Father”Good • Psi corps, Bester.
  • S5E14 • “Meditations on the Abyss”Fair • Lennier, rangers.
  • S5E15 • “Darkness Ascending”Good • Lennier, telepaths.
  • S5E16 • “And All My Dreams, Torn Asunder”Good • Centauri arc.
  • S5E17 • “Movements of Fire and Shadow”Good • Centauri arc.
  • S5E18 • “The Fall of Centauri Prime”Great • Centauri arc.
  • S5E19 • “The Wheel of Fire”Good • Narn religion. Garibaldi.
  • S5E20 • “Objects in Motion”Good • Garibaldi, G’kar.
  • S5E21 • “Objects at Rest”Good • Lennier. Windup to the finale.
  • S5E22 • “Sleeping in Light”Great • The big finale. Essential.

SPIN-OFFS and TV MOVIES

  • The Gathering • TV movie • Fair • Fascinating prototype of the show. Many changes, but many things stick. Low stakes, but worth a look for the very cool Michael Mann-esque sets and the original take on Delenn.
  • In the Beginning • TV movie • Great • Prequel. Earth/Minbari war. You can watch this in place of episode S4E9 for a lengthier flashback in continuity. Not essential, but you will be blessed by continuity gods if you watch.
  • Thirdspace • TV movie • haven’t watched
  • The River of Souls • TV movie • haven’t watched
  • A Call to Arms • TV movie • haven’t watched • Sets up Crusade spin-off series.
  • Crusade • TV series • haven’t watched
  • The Legend of the Rangers • TV movie • haven’t watched • Backdoor pilot on Syfy, never went to series.
  • The Lost Tales • Direct to DVD anthology • haven’t watched