In the final episode of Babylon 5, everything comes to an end. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Babylon 5.
Trigger Warning: For extensive talk of death
I realized something after this episode was over: as season five progressed, it shrank in political scope and grew in emotional intensity. The focus of these last few episodes in the show is odd out of context. Does a story really need three whole hours to, more or less, just show what happens after the end? This is about closing the chapters in each characters life to hint at the next one, and most other shows would jam this into one big finale, rather than stretch things out.
But in context, this is what Babylon 5 did consistently for most of the show. It stretched things out. It allowed stories to grow and expand and become terribly complicated, but the living, breathing thing that remained was one hell of a story to experience. So it makes sense that not every detail of the Drakh War was wrapped up. We know what precipitated Sheridan and Delenn’s involvement (their son and that sixteen-year waiting game set up in “Objects at Rest”), and we know some of what happened as the Drakh began to lose control. We also know that G’Kar and Londo saved the Centauri people when they strangled one another to death. Do we need all the details of what happened in between? No, I don’t think so.
I would also posit that this gives us another structural element that made this so compelling to me. “Sleeping in Light” is about absence. It’s about the absence that will come when Sheridan dies and leaves an awful, depressing hole in the world and in the hearts of the people who he touched. It’s about the absences we get here from those who’ve passed away: G’Kar, Londo, Lennier, and Marcus, all vital, necessary characters in the canon, make no appearance in the series finale. But in an episode about loss, doesn’t it hit that much harder to have everyone talk about these characters? Doesn’t it feel more realistic that not everyone made it to that point twenty years into the future? What about the absence of potential? This finale shockingly brings back Susan Ivanova, who is now a General and completely unhappy. She spent all that time away from Babylon 5, and what did it get her? Success, yes. Power. A higher position. But we find out that in all that time, she never found the same happiness she had when she was with her friends aboard the station. There’s a vacancy within her, one that she must accept when she is reunited with all her old friends.
Death can often be sudden and inextricable, so I found a poetry in Sheridan’s knowledge of his impending death and the choices he’s made. I say that because I’m thinking about how his death affected Susan long before he actually passed away. She’s unnerved in the presence of Sheridan, and I don’t think it was just because one of her very best friends was dying. This final gathering forced her into a state of awareness, one that eventually influences her decision to accept Delenn’s offer to be the leader of the Rangers. Her decision to be away from Babylon 5 after Marcus’s death is deeply understandable, and yet, it didn’t bring her joy. So what will? What gave her a chance to do what she wanted? I hope it’s her new role, her chance to change the galaxy and enforce peace.
But like all of these characters and the previous two episodes, the show tells story by not giving us everything. We don’t see Lise, but we get to see Garibaldi’s young daughter. There’s no Lyta, and we’re left to wonder how her journey with G’Kar went. What became of Lennier in those twenty years? Did he forgive himself? Did he ever figure out who he wanted to be? We don’t know. But how many people have drifted in and out of each of our lives? How many of us had important people around us who, for whatever reasons, simply went away? That’s one of the reasons that “Sleeping in Light” has such a somber tone. The future isn’t perfect; it’s often bittersweet; and even this joyous reunion is tinged with a very realistic tragedy.
Everything ends. Everyone ends.
Let’s go back to what I said a little bit ago, though. Sheridan knew his death was close, and because of that, the show allows him to choose. He chose to reach out to five different people who meant something to him: Garibaldi, Ivanova, Dr. Franklin, Vir, and Zach. He chose to host a gathering, not of shadows, but of happiness. He wanted to celebrate his life! He wanted to give himself a send off that was not comprised of fanfare or bureaucracy or military tradition. It was loud and boisterous.
And then it was quiet. Y’all, I love SO MUCH the callbacks to Minbari culture and the sea, and the whole Sunday drive story? Yeah, prime shit to utterly ruin me. In the end, though, it allowed Sheridan to have agency, even if it was painful to watch. Seeing the horror and disbelief on Delenn’s face as she hugged Sheridan for the last time? Her stretching out her hand, beckoning him to take it again? Sheridan NOT TURNING AROUND BEFORE HE LEFT? Oh, a knife in the heart, y’all. A KNIFE IN THE HEART. But Sheridan had to do it his way, and that included a final stop at the one place that affected his life more than anywhere else: Babylon 5. The metaphor of the station’s decommissioning is not lost on me, and that’s because it was one of twenty things that utterly ruined me. Those shots of Sheridan reminiscing about history in a station that is now hollow. Vacant. Empty. Only in a literal sense, though. Because it’s actually full: of memories. Voices. Lives. Experiences. Of cataclysmic change.
Throughout it all, of course, is the ticking clock. There is an undeniable inevitability working here because I knew there’d be no last-minute save. None! This show committed to its premises and promises SO MUCH that I fully believed that this was all the end of Sheridan’s life. Because of that, I was able to immerse myself in the sadness of it all, in the calmness of it all. When he arrived in Coriana 6, I could not imagine a better place for him to finish his life. He’d already gone through it here once, but this time, it would be finished for good. As sad as it was, Lorien’s words to Sheridan were comforting. Sheridan would not and could not come back. This was it. He lived his life as best as he could, and now it was over.
So Sheridan closed his eyes, and he fell asleep, and the light washed over him.
Delenn curled up next to his absence.
And the universe kept on going. Because it always does. Sheridan was now an object at rest in a universe full of objects in motion. It would soon be time for others, but in this moment, Sheridan got to greet his end in peace.
As for the others… well, Susan Ivanova chose a new future, too. So did Zach! That was a Ranger uniform I spied in his scene with Vir, right??? Garibaldi returned to his family and his business. Dr. Franklin continued to save lives in new ways. But before live could go on, a life had to end.
Two lives had to end.
Because Babylon 5 itself had to go out in a blaze of fire, as predicted so very long ago. (I can’t quite remember the specifics of how that came to be. Was it Lady Morella who said something about that?) This huge, physical part of the lives of each of these characters had to go away, and it was a surge of light that took it out.
Sheridan and the station are asleep in light.
And everything comes to an end.
Next week, we’ve got three films on the schedule, then all of Crusade, then one last final film. We’ll do our big wrap-up party after that, and I’ll go over this season’s predictions. So, while I’m done with Babylon 5, I’m not entirely done. Just a little more!
The video for “Sleeping in Light” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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