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.