Babylon 5
The Complete Fourth Season: No Surrender, No Retreat

Starring: Bruce Boxleitner
Warner Home Video
RRP 54.99
Z1 27972
Certificate: 12
Available 19 April 2004

The year is 2261: the year everything changed. As the Shadow War intensifies, the human crew of
Babylon 5 must also contend with the threat posed by their own planet's corrupt government. Meanwhile, Ambassador Mollari struggles to save the Centauri Republic from its insane new emperor. And Minbari Ambassador Delenn discovers that all is not well on her home planet either...

SPOILER ALERT! It's difficult to discuss this show without giving away several major aspects of its ongoing storyline. Therefore, if you have never seen this season before, you might wish to stop reading now. (You should also put off watching creator J. Michael Straczynski's introduction until last, since it is rather revelatory about events to come!)

When this season was in production, Straczynski found himself in the difficult situation of not knowing whether his series would be renewed for its fifth and final year. Rather than risk the show being cancelled before his complex ongoing narrative could be resolved, he opted to bring the major plot arcs to a close here. Consequently, much of this season passes by at breakneck speed.

If anything, the pace is too fast at times. The first six episodes cram in numerous elements, such as the reappearances of Captain John Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) and Security Chief Michael Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle), the capture of G'Kar (Andreas Katsulas) by the Centauri, the introduction and departure of Lorien (Wayne Alexander), a cryptic and powerful alien who takes over the role of mentor from Kosh, the introduction and assassination of the barking-mad Centauri Emperor Cartagia (Wortham Krimmer), and bring the Shadow War to a close - some would say a premature one. It is a particular shame that we don't get to see more of Krimmer's excellent turn as Cartagia, a kind of futuristic Caligula, before he is dispatched. In retrospect, perhaps Straczynski should have held over the disintegration of Minbari society (dealt with in the episodes Atonement, Lines of Communication, Rumors, Bargains and Lies and Moments of Transition), which has little impact on other events in any case, and instead devoted three or four more episodes to the conclusion of the Shadow War.

What is annoying is that once the War has been brought to such a swift resolution, the characters make conspicuously frequent references back to the threat of the Shadows and their servants. You can almost hear Straczynski pleading with his audience: "No, don't turn off. There's still plenty more exciting stuff to come..."

And indeed there is! The latter half of the season cannot be faulted for pace or excitement, as the focus shifts towards Earth and Mars, and events drag inexorably towards a deadly confrontation between Sheridan's forces and those loyal to the corrupt regime of President Clark. Cue more rousing dialogue and stunning CGI space battles.

As with the previous season, it's often hard to think of this series in terms of individual episodes. The first six instalments in particular are really one long, continuous - and nail-bitingly gripping - adventure. Things get a little more episodic after that, with more stand-alone stories such as The Illusion of Truth, an excellent semi-sequel to the second season's And Now For a Word and the aforementioned Minbari episodes. Another batch of six towards the end of the season, beginning with No Surrender, No Retreat and ending with Rising Star, form another inseparable narrative. Within this latter run is a curious beast: the experimental Intersections in Real Time, which ties in seamlessly with the surrounding events but functions as a stand-alone episode as well. Focusing entirely upon the questioning of Sheridan by a disarmingly unconventional but nevertheless ruthless interrogator (Bruce Gray), this instalment would work almost as well if taken entirely out of context, as, for example, an episode of The Outer Limits or a short stage play. The season concludes with another oddity, The Deconstruction of Falling Stars, which flashes forward to various points in humanity's history and thus affords a few tantalising hints as to what will happen in Season Five.

In addition to familiar special features such as the 22 promotional trailers, three episodic audio commentaries (with Straczynski, Boxleitner, Doyle, Peter Jurasik, alias Londo Mollari, and Patricia Tallman, a.k.a. telepath Lyta Alexander) and short "data files" about various characters and concepts from the series, we are also treated to a gag reel and Celestial Sounds, a profile of composer Christopher Franke's marvellous incidental music. Some of this music features in the No Surrender, No Retreat Suite, which accompanies a dramatic montage of clips from this season.

Though not as flawless as some fans would claim, Babylon 5's fourth season is an undeniable masterpiece of storytelling and television production.

Richard McGinlay

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