Television 

Six Thoughts on Babylon 5‘s “Sleeping in Light”

By | November 3rd, 2022
Posted in Television | % Comments

232 weeks ago, we stepped onboard humanity’s last, best hope for peace. There, we met a Captain and his crew, some Ambassadors, and a host of strange but endearing aliens & humans. Some we saw again, some we did not. Some stayed for a while, some a little, and others until the bitter end. Many came later and met the same varied fates.

232 weeks ago, a story started – haltingly and with missteps – that grew to be deeply affecting, intricately constructed, and regularly stellar. We began a journey there that would take us to the stars, to the depths, and to places beyond the rim. It was grand, it was epic; it was small and it was intimate; it had its failings yet it was rarely boring and it was always thoughtful. It grew from its rocky beginnings to blossom into something magical and moving and poetic in all it did.

232 weeks is a long time. A lot can, and has, happened, and it is only upon reflection that we can see the wholeness of the picture, as well as the holes that still remain in it. If there is one thing that remained constant, week by week, episode by episode, it was this: the passage of time was always present and always felt, baked deep into the bones of what we experienced. This was not a show to be watched but a world to see and lives to experience, bit by bit, season by season.

And now, we’ve reached the end of the final of those seasons, ready to look back and see.

22 weeks ago, a new Alliance was founded, ushering in a new era with old struggles, unexpected conflicts, and the worry that it would all fall apart before it could begin. 22 weeks ago, the future was uncertain but there was hope it could be better than what was. 22 weeks ago, Babylon 5 began to say its goodbyes to the familiar and the long-lasting.

22 weeks later, it is time for a final farewell.

Spoilers ahead.

1. Let’s Do the Time Warp Again

I knew going into “Sleeping in Light” that it took place after a time-jump, something that was necessitated by the season four shenanigans I detailed in the penultimate episode. It made good sense and I’m always down for a flash-forward style finale, allowing for a final resolution while keeping the door open for future adventures with the same characters. What I didn’t realize was how large of a jump it was.

See, I had this impression from reading “Becoming Superman” as well as the few oblique references to the finale I’d come across while doing background research for past episodes that the jump was only a couple years after season 4. This would give us a conclusion to the broad strokes of what was going to happen in season 5 while leaving the door open for it to be a true cap to an uncertain final season.

I had this image in my head of the crew sitting around the war table, beaten and ragged from this Telepath War I kept seeing referenced or perhaps the Drakh’s plan coming to fruition. Maybe this was in the aftermath of it, or maybe it was the start of the final push. Whatever it was, it ended with the crew leaving Babylon 5’s bridge, with Garibaldi grabbing a drink on his way out in a subtle thumbing of the nose at JMS for his drinking habits. This was backed up by moments in “The Wheel of Fire,” “Objects in Motion,” and “Objects at Rest” which reinforced a 2-year timeline and a resolution of threads.

Instead, we jump ahead 19 years (originally 20 from s4) to 2281 on Minbar. Sheridan’s time has finally come and he gathers his friends, the ones who remain at least, and then we get the chance to see him, and the station, off. The drink Garibaldi grabs is an empty commemorative shot glass and there is little, if any, discussion of larger plots or events. It is a coda, an epilogue, and vital for a closure I didn’t even know I needed.

Never have I been more glad I was so very wrong.

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2. Sing Me A Tune, You’re the Theme Song Man

For the first, and I believe only time, Babylon 5 aired without an opening credits sequence. All there was was a cold open and the episode title. In the era of streaming and prestige TV and The CW, I know it’s not unheard of for shows to forgo a full 30-seconds to a minute and a half theme with credits in favor of nothing or a 5 second eyecatch. And anime regularly do it when they need more time for story or particularly serious episodes but for an American TV show in the late 90s, that’s bonkers!

I honestly couldn’t believe it. I was waiting for the triumphant horns to kick in. For one of the previous season’s themes to start up. For something to provide the kind of TV structure we’ve come to expect. Instead, all we got was an eyecatch midway through and a modified credit sequence at the end with a new, somber farewell theme. As sad as I am that we don’t end with any of the openers, I’m glad we didn’t.

JMS and the Babylon 5 cast & crew have, by this point, become masters of tonal control. When they want things to be funny, they’re funny. Serious, serious. Sad, it’ll tear your heart out. “Sleeping in Light” needed to be a quiet, melancholic, nostalgic and deep affair. It needed to touch the soul and provide the kind of farewell even the most hard-hearted viewer would appreciate and call satisfying. Taking the theme out and letting the episode speak for itself accomplishes this, laying the groundwork for a near non-stop cry fest with pit stops along the way for quick laughs and remembrances of good times past.

I genuinely don’t think this finale would have worked as well as it did if we had an interruption, at any point, of these credits. By moving them to the end, they also serve as a capstone for the series and lets them get creative with them. And boy oh boy do they get creative with them.

3. You Won’t BELIEVE What These Celebrities Look Like Now

I wish I could scrub through each bit of the credits frame by frame to truly give my impressions of these final credits but HBO Max sadly doesn’t let me do that. Instead I can only get a few glimpses at the many, many crew & production staff photos that lead us into the full shot that kicks off the credits proper.

Seriously. Just let me scrub frame by frame!

I really love this idea. It once more emphasizes the ground level nature of Babylon 5 by reminding us of all the people it took to make Babylon 5 come to life and the fun they got to have during its production. It (sort of) puts faces to the often faceless names at the end of every episode and it’s just a great way to start the send off while also still keeping with the fiction of this episode having been part of an ISN special documentary.

I also definitely got choked up when we got to see the side-by-side credits for the principal cast. You really see how far everyone has come and how different and more natural the makeup and prosthetics got from the pilot episode. It’s really moving and it evokes a feeling of finality that is unlike any other the series has evoked, primarily because it’s formatted like an In Memoriam.

Again, what a brilliant and subtle framing. Within the fiction of the world, these final credits ARE effectively just that while for us, it is an acknowledgment that this truly is the final time we will see these characters as they are/were. We are being asked to remember them and their journey, re-living as much as we can in our minds as their names and faces pass by, and giving us the proper time to say goodbye ourselves.

I should also point out here that the credits do not include any of the season 5 crew or Lochley nor any of the former cast members who left prior to season 4 (Sinclair and Winters) or minor characters/antagonists, no matter how major they are in our hearts (Zathras, Na’Toth, Bester, Morden.) This was for contractual and union reasons having to do with credits and thus it not being able to be updated for s5.

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Where it was a storytelling decision happened earlier in the episode over dinner and drinks.

4. A Life Lived

If it feels like I’ve been avoiding talking about the actual meat of the episode, it’s because I have. It’s the finale! What happens in the episode is not only reflective of itself but of the show as a whole. You’d think I’d want to dig into all the new developments and resolutions. And, normally you’d be right. Normally I’d have a few episode-long threads to pull on or delve deep into and then analyze.

Not so with “Sleeping in Light.”

Not a lot actually happens here thanks to a straightforward A-plot (Sheridan dying) with only tiny branches making up what would otherwise be the B & C plots (Babylon 5’s fate and Ivanova’s job offer). We also learn relatively little we didn’t already know, and many questions remain – such as Lennier’s fate, Chekov’s Keeper in the Jar, and the results of Lyta’s quest and journey of self-discovery. This made it difficult to figure out how to structure or break the episode up in a satisfying way along my usual axis.

Let me show you what I mean.

“Sleeping in Light” takes place on the eve of Sheridan’s death, 20 years since being resurrected by Lorien. He knows he’s dying and gathers all his friends onto Minbar to see him off. We get glimpses into Franklin, Garibaldi, Ivanova, and Vir’s lives as they are now and once on Minbar, they talk, they reconnect, and then Sheridan departs for Babylon 5, where we learn it is being decommissioned, and then to “the end of the beginning”: Coriana VI, where he passes beyond the rim after a surprise cameo from Lorien. Finally, Delenn, Garibaldi, Franklin, Zach, Ivanova, and Vir leave Babylon 5 for the final time and the episode concludes with this gorgeous shot.

If you think I wasn’t crying when taking this screenshot, you’re dead wrong.

Obviously I’d have to tackle the unanswered questions the episode leaves dangling but once I’d done that, what remained? I could go front to back, starting with Sheridan’s dreams, discussing the “where are they now”s, the time spent with his friends, Sheridan’s brief return to B5, his conversation with Lorien, and then the destruction at the end, but that feels too piecemeal and too Sheridan centric, probably because the episode is pretty Sheridan centric.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s all interesting stuff and it would have worked. In the end though, I think it would have missed the point of “Sleeping in Light” and its function as the series finale. It would obfuscate the most important aspects of this finale: the emotional elements, the interactions, and the feeling that we’re watching lives and not characters. Aspects one can see prioritized in every aspect of production and elucidated through even the tiniest of actions.

Nestled in the center of the episode is a dinner scene. It’s the first and only time we see the whole cast of this episode together. The general mood is chaotic and nostalgic, full of stories and corrections, channeling the ebb and flow of conversation between close, old friends. Beginning in happiness and laughter, things soon turn to the melancholic before finally ending on the somber. You get the sense that they’ve spent years and years apart but that it makes the reunion all the more joyous.

When we drill down to the specifics, a different picture is painted. Pay attention to each person at the table; their faces and body language tells additional stories hidden within and beside the main focus. What side of the table they’re on speaks volumes to the characters’ level of acceptance of Sheridan’s upcoming death too, with Delenn & Sheridan acting as the poles.

While the human boys are recounting this Pak’ma’ra encounter, thereby delaying, or perhaps hiding, their grief with boisterous tales of relative youth, Ivanova is mostly silent, struggling. Delenn is the only one who notices, and wordlessly reaches out to check on her and offer a little comfort. Vir is somewhere between the two, engaged with the story but reserved and uncomfortable, worn down by his position and the history that got him there. He wants to join in but isn’t equipped for it. Sheridan is as he seems, something that’s always been his thing, though it’s also as a result of being, by this point, at peace with what’s to come.

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As for Delenn, it’s telling that the only cutaway we get of her during this part is her smiling at John’s unbridled enjoyment. It’s a loving smile born of relief. You can almost see her sigh before the camera cuts away as the sadness tries to reassert itself. The only other time we see her face here is when they’re recounting lost friends.

Each character sans Sheridan lists one: Garibaldi & G’Kar, Vir & Londo, Delenn & Lennier, and, tellingly, Franklin starts to say Marcus before Ivanova completes the name. While they say the names, we witness Franklin and Ivanova’s shared heartache, Delenn’s 1000-yard stare, Garibaldi wide, carefree grin and Vir’s seriousness turning, ever so very slightly, to a smile. Their reactions and who they name tells a story about themselves and their relationship to those lost.

I love old man Stephen.

This is just one of a multitude of scenes, treasure troves of tiny character moments built through conversations and self-reflection, that are stacked one on top of another to construct “Sleeping in Light.” I picked this scene to highlight in particular though because it’s a microcosm of what this episode does well and what it wants to say about Babylon 5. It could have easily been a scene where we got exposition about the last 20 years or talked about what Sheridan was going or not going to do.

Instead, Vir tells a moving story – in a nearly 2 minute long unbroken shot no less – about him and Londo once hearing a Pak’ma’ra’s song and how Londo crying. A story he tells not because it serves any greater narrative purpose but because of how it moved him, how it moved Londo, and how he’s thinking about all they’ve lost and are now about to lose. He says almost none of that aloud, of course. That’s left to Stephen Furst to communicate.

See, for all its grand storytelling and intricate plotting, Babylon 5 was always a character drama at its heart. Focusing on the former in the finale feels wrong because that’s not what the finale wants to do. It wants to provide closure on our emotional attachment to these characters by way of concluding Sheridan’s own. It wants to focus on the characters, how they’re feeling and what they’re thinking. By the ways they interact and how they may or may not change because of it.

The show was propelled by these interactions and so that is what the series must end on. Not the big questions. Not on “where they are now”s. But on the moments between people that shape lives and the moments that remind us of that power.

5. Watching the Sun Rise and Set and Rise Again

You may notice that I left out one major piece of the finale in my initial summary: Delenn. This was because I think her emotional arc acts as a parallel A-plot to Sheridan’s. Both are reckoning with his impending death but while Sheridan has to come to terms with no longer being, Delenn has to come to terms with continuing to be long after he is gone. AND she has to do it with him assuming she will be alright because she is Minbari and has always been alright.

He is wrong, of course, and it’s absolutely devastating to watch Mira Furlan convey that wrongness throughout “Sleeping in Light.”

Delenn has always been a strong character, one who felt deeply but always managed to find the positives in even the most dire moments. She understands the mysteries of the universe far more than Sheridan or the others and is thus able to accept more difficult truths and live with them. Still, the loss of the man she’s loved for 20 years, a loss she knows is coming to the day, if not the hour, hurts.

It’s easy for John to be at peace with it; he’s not the one who will be left grieving. And so we see Delenn struggle and rely on ritual, as they have always done until she has to let it all go and face John, that he has to leave and while it won’t be for a long, long while, they will say good morning to each other again.

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But first they must say good night.

6. Boom

Before I go, there is one other loss we see in “Sleeping in Light” that I should talk about: that of the station itself. I didn’t realize just how right I would be last time when I said that the show ended with the station. It makes sense, of course, that both Sheridan and Babylon 5 would go at the same time. It’s poetic, even though he’s technically the second captain. I think we can give it to him considering all they went through together.

Ivanova was right, just a few years off.

It was surreal getting to see the sets empty and looking kinda derelict. It feels wrong, somehow. Like we were seeing something that was never meant to be seen. The ghost of what was overlaid onto what is, creating a dissonance that is hard to shake. It’s the perfect companion to Sheridan and also the perfect contrast.

Beloved by their friends but long estranged from them, it was only in their final days that they met up once more, not to go back but to move on. It’s a hard process and it takes time, something JMS knew well. Hence giving us this final episode to say goodbye properly to the station, its crew, and to the show as a whole. It wouldn’t have felt right otherwise.

One of the big questions posed by “Sleeping in Light” is how do people act when they know an ending is near. Some accept it, some are frustrated by it, others want to accept it but struggle. Some move on before it arrives and still others cling on until the bitter end. There is no singular answer and I like that all the series finale does is present us with the characters having their reactions and working through them, rather than constructing a tidy narrative to end things on.

It’s why Garibaldi’s taking of the shot glass from the station is such a powerful but subtle moment. It’s an act of nostalgia and preservation, an acknowledgement that something is needed to commemorate the event and act as a token of remembrance, saying “I was there and it has not been forgotten.”

I feel like, in some way, that’s what these reviews have been.

When I wrote my first review way back in 2018, Babylon 5 was unavailable on any major streaming platform and when it was, it was in terrible shape. Its physical releases were long out of print and unlike other juggernauts of the genre, didn’t see much syndicated play on TV. Despite its massive influence and despite being beloved, it didn’t have much of a footprint anymore. It was a fandom in decline and on the verge of being decommissioned.

JMS' one cameo: the guy putting the station to rest.

Thanks in part to the series being re-released in HD (HD!!) on HBO Max to stream and other digital platforms to purchase and a potential reboot from JMS himself, that is no longer the case, if it ever truly was. But that feeling remains.

It’s hard to say goodbye to something you love. You drag your feet, you delay, you try your hardest to make it seem like it’s no big deal when you know it’ll be a huge deal right before it’s time. I’m doing it now and Babylon 5 did it too, with past episodes, sure, but mostly with “Sleeping in Light.”

For all my pontificating and analysis and whatnot, “Sleeping in Light” is JMS giving us 45 minutes to prepare ourselves for the end of the show and preparing us to be OK with the end of the show. Hence the focus on Delenn preparing herself for Sheridan’s departure, Sheridan preparing himself for his own end, and Zach, Ivanova, Garibaldi, Delenn, Vir and Franklin preparing themselves for Babylon 5’s end, and a script that’s half memorable quotes and half ones that will leave you a sobbing wreck.

It was the right move and it paid off. I cried nearly non-stop throughout the episode and yet I left the finale feeling satisfied. The series began with the construction of the station and it ended with its destruction. The episode begins with a sunrise (after some bad dreams, of course) and it ends with another. We didn’t need to know everything and we never will. That is life and that is what Babylon 5 has always presented: life, in all its messy glory.

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The wheel turns but there is hope, always, in what’s to come.

If you're not crying with just this image, I dunno what to tell you.

Thank you for joining me on this journey. I hope I made some sort of sense here in the finale. It’s truly been wonderful to write about and think about this maddening, wondrous, thoughtful, messy, and meaningful show all these years. Season 5 was not the easiest to review, and this finale was maybe the hardest of them all. I hope I did it justice.

I think I did.

Perhaps I’ll return in the future, should a certain network pick up a certain reboot, or perhaps I’ll see what the deal is with the ill-fated Crusade or the B5 films. I don’t know yet. What I do know is, whatever is to come, this project has reached its end. But this isn’t goodbye. It’s just a farewell.

We will pass this way again on the station that wrapped humans and aliens in two million, five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal . . . all alone in the night.

This is Elias. For the last time. Signing out.

Best Lines of the Night:

1. Sheridan: “Well, I thought you were going back to sleep.”

Delenn: “I decided to go out in search of the same air molecules you were looking for, on the theory that if they were good enough to lure you out of our bed, I should investigate my competition.”

2. Sheridan: “When I was a kid, every Sunday dad would take us out for a drive. We never knew where we were going. That was half the fun. We’d just go. He’d say: ‘Pick a direction.’ And one of us would point and…off we’d go.

“Tomorrow is Sunday, Delenn. And I’m going out for a drive.”

3. Vir, recounting Londo: “There are 49 Gods in our Pantheon, Vir. To tell you the truth, I never believed in any of them. But if only one of them exists, then God sings with that voice.”

4. Ivanova: “I’ve buried so many friends, Delenn. I’m beginning to resent it and I don’t want to. It seems like some days…there’s no one left to play with. There’s no joy anymore. I don’t know what I’m doing anymore or why.”

5. Sheridan: “There’s so much I still don’t understand.”

Lorien: “As it should be.”

6. Sheridan: “You look beautiful.”

Delenn: “I’m told by a reasonably reliable source that today is Sunday on the Earth Calendar. One dresses up on Sunday, does one not?”

Sheridan: “One does.”

Delenn: “Have you been outside yet? It’s a pretty day. The perfect day…for a Sunday drive.”

Sheridan: “It is…a perfect day.

7. Sheridan: “Goodnight, my love. The brightest star in my sky.”

Delenn: “Goodnight. You, who are my sky…and my sun…and my moon.”

Sun's coming up.

//TAGS | 2022 Summer TV Binge | Babylon 5

Elias Rosner

Elias is a lover of stories who, when he isn't writing reviews for Mulitversity, is hiding in the stacks of his library. Co-host of Make Mine Multiversity, a Marvel podcast, after winning the no-prize from the former hosts, co-editor of The Webcomics Weekly, and writer of the Worthy column, he can be found on Twitter (for mostly comics stuff) here and has finally updated his profile photo again.

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