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I really enjoyed B5, but I was always a little unhappy with season 4. Season 4 has some of the strongest and darkest moments, such as the scenes on Centauri Prime and Narn involving Londo, G'Kar, and the emperor. But I always felt they packed too much in, that they ended the Shadow War too quickly and that they started and ended the Earth Alliance war too quickly. I know JMS always meant to have 5 seasons, but when I watched season 4, I feel that maybe they were facing the axe and felt they needed to have a proper resolution before it was too late.

Did JMS always plan to have two wars in season 4? Or was season 4 supposed to be the Shadow War exclusively, then followed by retaking Earth in season 5, but was changed because of fears of cancellation?

Looking for a JMS statement if possible. Thanks.

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According to the excellent article "The Babylon 5 That Never Was",

During season four, while PTEN was still in the mix, everything pointed to it being the last season of the series. Major cast members had expiring contracts and there was no way to sign them without the go ahead for season five (which came incredibly late at the last second). Thus, JMS chose to complete the series in 4 years instead of five.

JMS stated on several occasions that if season four was to be the last season, the major story points could and would be completed. The last half of season four would all be arc stories without any filler at all. And this is just what he did. What we see in the last half of season four would have been interspersed through the next year in the original design.

So your suspicion that Season 5 was originally planned to contain the resolution to the war against Earth Alliance is spot on. A late confirmation that there would be a Season 5 is what led to the Shadow War resolution and the recapture of Earth being written into the same season.

Note: If you read other parts of the article, you should keep in mind that it was written before the death of actor Michael O'Hare (Commander Jeffrey Sinclair), and hence before J. Michael Straczynski's revelation that O'Hare departed the show after Season 1 due to mental illness.

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    Great, exactly what I was looking for. – user53311 Sep 20 '15 at 16:03
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    One exception: The Season 5 finale was filmed as part of Season 4, then pushed back when they knew a 5th season was coming – Izkata Sep 20 '15 at 18:07
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    wow! and i always thought O'hare left because of a contract or creative dispute. There were rumors at the time of problems on the set. – SteveED Sep 21 '15 at 2:02
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    @Izkata and that's why Ivanova is there, despite the actress having left the show ;) – o0'. Sep 21 '15 at 15:28
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To further expand on Praxis' answer, this answer looks at some of the specific timings. According to JMS, the Shadow war was intended to be wrapped up around episode 9 of season 4 with "Into the Fire" being a two part episode.

The rest of season 4 was supposed to begin the Earth war, introduce the colony of telepaths and end with "Intersections in Real Time" as the season 4 cliffhanger. The Earth war was then supposed to wrap up around 9 or 10 episodes into season 5. The Byron story arc was supposed to be more interwoven into the later half of season 4 and early season 5, which would make for a more seamless transition into the latter half of season 5.

Even more unfortunately, JMS lost a lot of his notes for early season 5 due to a cleaner mishap and so the Byron story arc became much more prominent than it was supposed to be, since he was the character that JMS remembered most clearly.*

In spite, or perhaps because of the alterations to the timeline that the impending cancellation caused, many people now regard Season 4 as the best season of the show.

*source: Babylon 5 script books.

  • Thanks for this. I don't see the conflict with the previous answer. The part about the shadows war ending in mid season 4 is in the green text in that answer, and the bit about other arcs.. The other answer told me the main thing I wanted to know, that JMS was forced to consider ending the show at 4 seasons, which I always thought. – user53311 Sep 21 '15 at 1:13
  • "So your suspicion that Season 5 was originally planned to be dedicated to the war against Earth Alliance is spot on" - this statement is a little strong. Less than half of season 5 was supposed to be dedicated to the Earth war. – Stephen Sep 21 '15 at 1:21
  • @Stephen : Hi, nice work on your answer. I just noticed the discussion of mine. "Dedicated" was perhaps a poor word choice on my part. I only wanted to confirm that the recapture of Earth would have taken place in Season 5. I'll adjust the phrasing. Thanks. :-) – Praxis Sep 21 '15 at 1:33
  • @Praxis and I'll edit mine. – Stephen Sep 21 '15 at 1:45

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