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New to B5? The Joy of Jumping In

A while back, Shannon guested on Random Trek with Scott McNulty. Scott and Shannon compared Babylon 5 and Star Trek (as we often do on this show!), and they observed that B5 is a commitment. We’ve talked about this here ourselves. The idea is this: In order to truly appreciate the show and know what’s going on, one must start at the beginning and watch the story unfurl episode-by-episode. You can’t just jump in in the middle and appreciate what’s going on.

But you know what? I don’t think that’s true.

Now wait a second. Before you jump down my throat, know that I fully support the idea of starting from the beginning of a serialized show. (That shouldn’t be a surprise, as that’s kinda how our podcast is laid out.) It’s the best way to see a property play out the way the creator envisioned it. In fact, I have trouble purposely doing anything different myself. My nerd-brain just does not like it. But honestly, I sometimes think my nerd-brain exerts too much control. What am I missing out on because of it? Possibly a lot.

I’m not just talking about B5 here. This goes for any serialized media.

Shannon and Scott mentioned the soap-opera aspect of B5, and I think that phrase perfectly illustrates my point. You don’t go back to the beginning of a soap opera. My great grandma started listening to The Guiding Light as a radio show back in the 40s.1 Can you imagine trying to go back to start at the beginning? It’s a thing you’re simply not meant to do. (Nor can you, I suspect.) The same is true of long-running comic book series.

And when it comes to Babylon 5 in particular, I happen to know jumping in mid-stream works like gangbusters! In B5’s case, it may actually be preferable.2 Season 1 does a great job of building the world, but it’s undoubtedly rocky, as they were (understandably) still finding their feet.

I discovered the show by accident during season two. My friends Max and Jeff and I got together to watch Star Trek: Deep Space 9 every week. Babylon 5 was on just before that. Eventually we caught enough B5 that we started watching entire episodes. Deep Space 9 night quickly became Babylon 5 night. Would that have happened had we started at the beginning of the series? I very much doubt it. We dipped our toes just as the show’s arc was starting to heat up. That’s what drew us in.

Not only did it draw us in, but it held on tight. All three of us became proper hooked. So much so that as soon as earlier episodes were available (thank you TNT marathons), we did go back and watch from the beginning. I have to say it again: If we’d started from there, I really doubt we’d’ve stuck with it long enough to get hooked.3

B5 is not alone in this. I’ve dived into a few shows mid-series. I never saw an episode of The Good Wife until last year when Twitter scuttlebutt told me Something Huge had happened.4 That made me curious, so I jumped in with the earliest episode available On Demand. (It was only a handful of eps back from The Big Thing.) I enjoyed it so much I’m still watching the series. And no, I feel no need to go back and watch the first 4 seasons. The writers did an excellent job of including backstory and flashbacks, so I feel like I’m caught up.

If I had balked at jumping in, I would never have watched The Good Wife. Four seasons before I even got to That Thing everyone was talking about? Nah. Way too daunting. I wouldn’t have committed that heavily just to investigate the buzz.

I’m not saying watching from the beginning is a bad thing. It’s great! But if the need to start at episode 1 will keep you from trying something, think real hard about that. Regardless what your nerd-brain might tell you, it is possible to enjoy something without consuming ALL of it in order–even if it is highly serialized like Babylon 5.

So I encourage you, dear reader, to jump into B5 with us right here and now. If you’re somewhat interested, but daunted by our back catalogue, ignore it! Throw nerd-caution to the wind and dive in with “The Coming of Shadows”. I strongly suspect you won’t be disappointed.

Editor’s note: This blog originally appeared in a slightly different form on Erika’s personal blog.

Footnotes

  1. Or possibly 30s!
  2. Not that I want to dissuade folks from starting with episode 1 (or even episode 0!). If you’re willing to take it from the top, we’d be happy to have you along! We’re just as happy to have you pop in with whatever episode is current (to us) when you read this post. Specifically, “The Coming of Shadows” could work quite well, as some major stuff kicks off in this episode.
  3. As we’ve discussed on the show, I really am a fan of season 1, but back then I was an impatient, impetuous college student, and I can’t imagine the three of us sitting still for episodes like “Infection” and “TKO” at that time.
  4. The people I follow are too nice to out-and-out spoil anything, so I just knew Something Had Happened.

6 thoughts on “New to B5? The Joy of Jumping In”

  1. Pingback: Lunar Obverse
  2. After all, I started Doctor Who, years and years ago, “in the middle”, and learned to love the show just fine thereby 🙂

  3. There’s an inevitable tendency, when talking about B5, to stress the 5-year arc and that it was planned as a whole. But as, well, a real TV series being made in the ’90s which had to stay on air and sell advertising, B5 was also planned as something that new viewers could start watching without having seen previous episodes.

    JMS’s cleverness in planting all those subtle little details whose importance only becomes clear in time is rightly celebrated, but one can also appreciate how clever he was in making sure that one didn’t need to have seen all those subtle little details to get something out of the story.

  4. Great essay! Like many people I started in early season 2 (I think) and then watched through the end of season 4 regularly. I missed all but of a few episodes of Season 5 the first time around since B5 moved from broadcast TV to cable, but I/my family picked up on what was happening. It means that now that I’m watching from episode 1 I get brand new episodes to watch in addition to those I remember fondly 🙂

  5. Great wee essay Erika. Scrambled was my approach to B5. I’d heard some buzz as early as Mind War, but had only a junk old telly. I remember struggling to get a signal through about half of the episode; turning the aerial this way and that, yet only getting shadows!

    I turned back then and did not return until Season 4 debuted. Within a few weeks I had the tapes for the last of Season 3, and in the next months bought anything SE1 arc related and most of the next two series. It was like hunting for comics in those days, were the back issue bins offered up all random choices. A set of indoor markets provided most of my fix with tapes at £2 each. Then I found them in the place next door to that, a high tower of VHS in a shop which appeared the only other things they sold was carpets and rugs!

    Season 1 was my last purchase as the strip of tapes lined the floor of the living room like a small motorway. I think I might not have stuck with the show if I went straight on after Mind War?

    Starting from episode 1 is more the way of it with drama nowadays. Breaking Bad, The Wire, Game of Thrones, all plotted for the arc. The trend let me to have enough faith in Oz to order the box set after seeing episodes 1-3, something I rarely do. Sadly, like so many other shows the quality dipped later, and I wish I’d known! I’m glad to hear people are still jumping in.

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