I'm back with thoughts on episodes 5 through 8. I'll also be addressing shivkala's comments. First, my thoughts on The Parliament of Dreams through And the Sky Full of Stars.
The Parliament of Dreams
I didn't include this episode in my list of S1 'essentials', but, after watching it in its entirety, I realized that I should have, primarily because of two things: 1) the conversation between Delenn and Lennier; and 2) it marks the first appearance of Catherine Sakai.
Even were it not an 'essential', though, the episode would still be worth watching because it gives us some major insight into G'Kar's character as well as into the mindset of the Narn Regime as a whole, since three of the major characters featured in it are of that race. It is also neat to see a bit more of Centauri and Minbari culture, and the 'rebirth'/'marriage' ritual that Delenn leads reminds me very much of a similar scenario from the Firefly episode 'Our Mrs. Reynolds'.
Every once in a while, a series will introduce a character who sticks in your consciousness and won't go away, even if they're not a particularly pleasant individual. Alfred Bester - as brought to delicious life by Walter Koenig - is one such character, and is one of the reasons that Mind War is such a fantastic episode. Koenig's performance makes you want to both hate Bester and secretly root for him at the same time, and it's very easy to see why JMS and Co. continually brought him back from time to time. Another reason that Mind War is so fantastic is because of its focus on Talia Winters. Rewatching this episode made me realize that, of the two main telepath characters introduced over the course of the series, she is by far my favorite. It is a bit of a shame that the plot thread introduced in the episode concerning her telekenetic abilities was dropped when Andrea Thompson left the series, but that's life sometimes. The episode's 'B' plot involving Catherine Sakai is also really great, and gives us a lot of insight into G'Kar's character, showing that there's much more to him than meets the eye.
The War Prayer
I said that I'd talk about why I consider this episode to be one of the S1 'essentials', and so I will. On the surface, this episode seems to be a bit of a standalone episode, but when you look at it in the long run, it does a number of things that ultimately prove to be rather crucial not only to the rest of S1, but also to the rest of the series. The first thing it does is establish Home Guard and the growing anti-alien sentiment on Earth (which ties in rather well with the events of the next episode [more on that in a bit]; the second thing it does is establish Londo's more sentimental side, which is something that comes back into play much later on. The episode also allows Vir to really shine for the first time by giving him a chance to stand up to Londo and speak his mind.
And the Sky Full of Stars
I just mentioned that The War Prayer's introduction of the Home Guard and the anti-alien sentiments breaking out on Earth and elsewhere serves as a pretty neat lead-in to this episode, and the reason I say that is because the anti-alien rhetoric spewed by Knight Two while he's interrogating Sinclair is very similar, if not identical, to the rhetoric that Malcom Biggs uses, to the point that the two characters use very similar terminology when talking about how aliens have screwed things up for Earth.
Beyond the similarities in terms of what Malcom Biggs and Knight Two espouse, the episode gives us a tremendous amount of insight into the characters of both Sinclair and Delenn, giving the viewer much of the information concerning Sinclair's actions at the Battle of the Line that is featured in The Gathering, but in a much more succint and concise fashion.
Now, to address shivkala's comments.
Midnight on the Firing Line
Every other time I've attempted to rewatch the series (mainly through online sources), I've started with the original pilot, The Gathering, but I've come to the realization/conclusion that it really isn't needed, at least not so far as S1 and its story arc are concerned.
I don't mind "The Gathering." Honestly, if you're arguing for "Soul Hunter" because of the things it introduces, then "The Gathering" is important for some of its exposition (which, yes, is repeated later, but so is some of what is revealed in "Soul Hunter.").
A major revelation is the rise and fall of the Centauri Empire in "The Gathering." Londo's speech to Garibaldi rather nicely and succinctly sums up the heights the Centauri Empire had reached and the depths it has sunk into.
Londo Mollari wrote:
There was a time when this whole quadrant belonged to us! What are we now? Twelve worlds and a thousand monuments to past glories, living off memories and stories…selling trinkets! My god, man, we've become a tourist attraction! "See the great Centauri Republic, open nine to five…Earth time!"
It also begins the mystery of Kosh and we meet Lyta and see her interact with Kosh.
Despite my defense of "The Gathering," I will grant you "Midnight on the Firing Line" is a better story.
I actually like and appreciate The Gathering's story, but the execution of that story pales in comparison to what was done in Midnight on the Firing Line. Despite its importance to the overall story of B5, The Gathering is not a very well-produced episode due to things that were ultimately out of anyone's control.
I also think it presents a controversial issue to deal with faith much better than "Believers" did, later in the season. At their heart, both are about the soul and how different cultures view it.
In doing a search to see if there was an existing Babylon 5 discussion thread I could resurrect rather than starting one of my own, I came across a link to a spoiler-free, wikipedia-style listing of those Babylon 5 episodes - by season - which are the most 'essential', as well as an accompanying article discussing things in all of their spoiler-filled detail. While I agree with many, if not all, of the episodes talked about in the article, there is one episode that was excluded from the S1 'essentials' list that I think ought to have been there, and that episode is Soul Hunter.
I hadn't thought about the similarities between Soul Hunter and Believers before, but, now that you've pointed things out, I can definitely see the correlation. I also think there's a neat parallel to be drawn between Soul Hunter's storyline and the religious beliefs portions of The Parliament of Dreams.
It is a very good episode. It really highlights Londo as a character and, of course, presents a very important plot point which will be brought up in a major way in a few seasons.
Born to the Purple
Born to the Purple is hands-down my favorite individual episode of Season 1, and one of my favorite episodes of B5 as a whole. Although it isn't what I would consider to be one of the 'essential' episodes of S1, it's nevertheless a 'damn good tale' that gives us a much deeper look into the life of Londo Mollari than either the original pilot - The Gathering - or Midnight on the Firing Line did.
Londo is by far my favorite Babylon 5 character, and BttP is a big reason why.
BTW, my memory is fuzzy on what exactly it is that BttP introduces and that is followed up on later, so could you give me a refresher? (don't worry about spoilers)
I'll be back later with reviews of/thoughts on episodes 9 through 12.