Aside from Lennier, Ivanova and the frequent guest stars I just mentioned, B5 brings in dozens of outside names every season. I can’t think of an episode that didn’t feature at least one one-off or recurring guest star, and a lot of the time it’s pretty effective. Wayne Alexander, who plays several of these roles, was a recurring favorite of mine.
Racial PsychologiesThis is primarily a Season 1 and 2 thing, but one of Straczynski’s better moves was giving each major species its own background and personality, and having them manifest through that species’ ambassador on B5. Londo dreams of the vanished days of his once-great Republic, and sets horrible plans in motion based on those dreams. G’Kar’s race was repressed by Londo’s, and his species is still looking for its place in the universe. That’s evident in Katsulas’s acting. A lot of the humans are veterans of the Minbari War, a war they only won when the Minbari surrendered (they were about to win), and they’re still visibly freaked out about it. It's good casting, acting and writing all together.
The Big Ones
Season 1, Season 5In fact, those might be the show’s two best seasons. Season 1 featured Michael O’Hare instead of the wooden Bruce Boxleitner, and Season 5 got a lot of things right that hadn’t worked previously. It expanded some characters’ roles and scaled back others, gave Lyta Alexander a personality and introduced Robin Atkin Downes (“Lord” Byron) and Tracy Scoggins (Elizabeth Lochley). It’s perhaps an indictment of Straczynski’s inflexible arcs that his show’s best seasons were largely free of the series’ two longest-running storylines, but what can you do? Babylon 5 was best when it was universe-building, and that made up the meat of S1 and S5.
The Offbeat EpisodesMost of the B5 episodes followed a pretty specific formula. Station is hanging out, outside force/person/technology enters the station, someone wants to capture/speak to/negotiate with said force/person/tech, mayhem ensues. According to Wikipedia, Straczynski’s ideal show differed from the Star Treks of the time by having the universe come to the station, not having the station go and explore the universe.
I’m fine with that formula. But once or twice a season, the creators would try something completely different. It could be a news report on the state of the station, or following around random maintenance workers we’d never seen before, or taking a snapshot a million years in the future. All of these episodes served as a welcome change of pace, and most of them were pretty darn good.
A Bigger, Older Universe