ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON 12/7/09
We haven’t engaged in any irresponsible, groundless speculation about Babylon 5 in a while - really since before I interviewed Joe Straczynski ( http://www.republibot.com/content/interview-joe-straczynski ), and since my POP 3 server (Whatever that is) won’t let me check my Email, and since it's Pearl Harbor Day, this seems a fine time to start. Added to which, I’m feeling much less sick than I have over the last 10 days, but still not well enough to do anything useful, so, here we go:
My question is: “What Was Legend of the Rangers” all about? What would have happened if it had gone to series?
For those of you who aren’t up to speed, or may not remember it, “Legend of the Rangers” (Hereafter LOTR) was the second of three failed attempts to spin off Babylon 5. The first was “Crusade” in 1999, which was pretty ambitious, but owing to network politics it was basically dead before it hit the air. The second was LOTR, a Pilot TV movie from 1992, which never went to series. The third, and presumably last, was “Babylon 5: The Lost Tales,” in 2007, an attempt to do an anthology series set in the B5 universe.
Now, there’s been a lot of speculation about where Crusade would have gone, had it been allowed to finish it’s run, but LOTR has been overlooked and ignored and treated as the somewhat embarrassing stepchild of the B5 universe. That’s entirely understandable since it’s really not a very good pilot, with some horribly embarrassing moments, low production values, and so on. All valid complaints of course, but we’re geeks, right? When have we ever let real-world values like “Acting” and “That looked fake” get in the way of a good story? Unfortunately, I think these (legitimate) concerns are overshadowing the cool thing that LOTR might have eventually become.
So let’s try to figure out what it would have become, shall we? It’s Straczynski, so obviously there’s scads of clues…
Ok, first of all, though LOTR was made *after* Crusade crashed and burned, it was set *Prior* to it in the internal chronology of the B5 universe. Babylon 5 covered the years 2258 to 2262, with occasional flash forwards and flashbacks to times before and after that. Crusade’s one half-season was set in 2267, beginning five years (To the day) after the formation of the Interstellar Alliance (Hereafter ISA) and four years after the penultimate episode of Babylon 5.* This means that LOTR took place about halfway between the two shows - about 18 months after the end of B5 (not counting that last episode), and about two and a half years before the start of Crusade.
Call it 2265.
That doesn’t tell us too much, but we can make several surmises: The very first scene of “A Call to Arms” (The chronologically earliest of the three “First” episodes for Crusade) has a reporter talking about how the Senate has approved funds for a memorial for the “Recent Telepath War.” So it takes place prior to 2267, but probably not very much prior. Clearly, the Telepath War hasn’t happened yet when LOTR starts, so we know that it took place in the quarter-decade space between those shows.
We can narrow it down even further, since Lyta told Garibaldi that she’d give him two years to fund money and resources and intel to her rebel group, and if, at the end of that time, he’d done good by her, she’d take his telepathic programming out. Obviously, she’s planning her revolution, and just as obviously she’s not planning on doing anything for two years. That conversation took place very nearly at the end of Season 5, and “LOTR” takes place about 18 months after that, so “Two Years” would be about six months in to the run of the LOTR series, had it been picked up. Say somewhere around 2/3rds of the way through the season. Call it episode 14 or 15, thereabouts. The statement from Crusade about “Recent” obviously doesn’t mean “Just ended,” but it’s close enough in the past that feelings are still pretty raw about it, and they’re evidently still cleaning up the political fallout. So let’s say it ended six months to a year before Crusade. That gives us a window of about 18 months during which the Telepath War would have taken place, and that window - probably not coincidentally - overlaps with about a season and a half of LOTR’s projected run.
Obviously, I’m making a lot of assumptions here. I’m assuming JMS was intending on his B5 model of 5 seasons, 110 episodes. I’m also assuming that he wanted to backstop some of the cool stuff he’d intended to do in Crusade, but didn’t get the chance. We do know for a fact that he really wanted to tell the story of the Telepath War, since he’s made numerous reference to it, and even said once that one of the major purposes of “The Lost Tales” was so he could explore that period some. This show would have been an opportunity for him to do just that.
Then, about halfway through the series, the Drakh Attack would have run - call it episode 11, Season 3 for sake of argument - and the timeline of LOTR would be running concurrently (And probably parallel) with the short-lived Crusade series. The most obvious and annoying dangling thread in the B5 universe is, of course, the Drakh Plague. We know from “Sleeping in Light,” the final B5 episode, that it was cured, we know the Excalibur was looking for a cure, we know from the tie-in novels that Captain Gideon published his memoirs of the Excalibur mission, and they were a huge hit, but that’s about it. We’re bereft of details.
We do know, from various comments online, that the Drakh Plague wasn’t *really* what the show was about, however. JMS has pretty clearly stated that it was a hook to add some urgency to the show and hit the ground running, and he’s repeatedly stated in the decade since the show went off the air that they would have found a cure “Before the end of the series.” He’s even gone on to say “perhaps considerably before.” Recently, when I was discussing this over on B5.com, someone named “Jan” informed me that JMS has since said that a cure for the plague would have been found halfway through Crusade’s second season. (Though he gave no citations for the info. You can check it out here http://www.b5tv.com/showthread.php?t=11739 ) If we assume that’s valid information, and if my assumptions about the timeline are legitimate (A big “If”, I admit) then in “Show Time” that means about 18 months from the Drakh Attack to the resolution of the plague, which would put it right at the end of LOTR’s hypothetical fourth season!
So there you have it: It seems likely that if the show had gone in to production, it would have dealt massively with the Telepath War in its first half, and the Drakh Plague/War in the second half, as a way of exploring/resolving the stuff JMS had initially intended to do with those period.
Of course this doesn’t seem terribly cohesive, does it? I mean, what you’re basically ending up with is two self-contained shows with the same cast. So there has to be something to link ‘em together. Well, the seeds of this are planted in the pilot: We’ve got the Liandra, which disappeared from space for a day, and came back with the crew missing/dead. The ship is haunted, after a fashion, and the vengeful ghosts (Or psychic phenomenon, as like as makes no difference in this case) are trying to out their “Traitor.” Obviously the Traitor has to be someone *in* the Rangers itself. It’s probably not anyone we met on the pilot, probably a major supporting character that would have been introduced very early on in season 1. Let’s say maybe it’s whomever gives them their marching orders, whomever their senior officer in fleet command is. Someone recurring and important, and probably likeable, so that we’d later be better shocked by their outing.
We’ve also got “The Hand,” the mysterious bad guys who are obviously a major threat, yet (Based on what we know of B5 continuity 100 years in the future), don’t end up being as big a threat as the Drakh, since they never get mentioned. (This is a quibble. I don’t mention the Spanish American war much, though it was a huge deal. It just doesn’t stick out in popular consciousness, and that might have been the case when Delenn was speaking retrospectively). It seems reasonable to assume that the “Betrayal” of the Liandra and the Hand threat are linked in some way, but I’m much more hesitant to speculate about that.
Well, that really *is* speculation, isn’t it? All I’ve really done here is point out some well-established B5 historical periods that LOTR would have been running through if it had run. There’s not much debate about what happened when, based on the clues we were given. And it’s not much of a stretch to assume that since he had a show running in the right place at the right time, JMS would have probably tied those events in to LOTR in some fashion. On the other hand, attempting to predict “The Hand” and what have you, given our scant information, would seem dangerous, and the kind of thing that would owe more to my own flights of fancy than anything I could point to and say “He’s a-gonna’ do this, a-yup yup.” Suffice to say that I assume “The Hand” and the various “Liandra Mysteries” (Why was it betrayed? By whom? Where did it go? What happened to it while it was there?) would have been the glue that bridged the two major hemispheres of the series - Telepath War and Drakh Plague - and tied them together.
Having thought on it for a few days now, I suspect that one of the major things LOTR would *NOT* have done would have been to explore the Technomage arc. Again, I can’t prove anything, but based on JMS’s comments about the plague, and the un-produced scripts I’ve read, it seems to me that what “Crusade” was *really* about was the Technomages. Specifically, the Drakh were “Shadows of the Shadows” who wanted to take over, and also punish those who’d harmed their masters. The Technomages had a secret, disturbing tie to this, and of course the EA wanted Technomage tech for their own purposes, and had been aggressively perusing it since before the final Shadow/Vorlon war. (Who did you think the Technomages were running from, after all?) It seems to me that this complex emerging conflict would have filled up the balance of the “Crusade” series, and it’s an open secret that the Excalibur would have ended up going rogue at some point.
All of this was yet to happen, and all of it *still* sounds damn interesting, and I’m still very annoyed that I didn’t get to see that story unfold, but very, very little of it had been set up by the time Crusade died, so it’s not exactly a dangling plot thread per se, it’s more a case of “Stuff most of us never suspected in the first place.” As such, I doubt it would have been touched on in LOTR at all.
And of course we would have had occasional guest-staring appearances from various B5 (And presumably Crusade) alumnus. Since Delenn was Ranger 1 in this period, I can only assume she would have made frequent appearances, but I don’t know.
So that’s what I’ve got, what I suspect. It’s not super-detailed, but it’s interesting enough that I feel cheated we didn’t get to watch it. And I’ll tell you why: JMS is a great writer, no question about it, his scope is grand, his ambitions enormous, his talent consummate, he is very, very, very, very good at what he does, and all my (frequent) speculation and second-guessing of what he was up to on this site is fairly obviously driven by my awe at his abilities.
What makes him all the more remarkable to me, however, is that as good as he is at what he does, he seems to get even *better* when he’s operating under adversity. Take the initial concept of Babylon 5 (Here http://www.republibot.com/content/hidden-evolution-babylon-5 and here http://www.republibot.com/content/hidden-evolution-babylon-5-part-ii-%E2... ) are both pretty good concepts for two series. They’re neat sounding and all, but they’re only incrementally better than things we’d seen before, based on the stuff we’d already seen on TV. Better than Trek, obviously, but not the complete watershed that B5 eventually became. It was apparent fairly early on in the run of the show that the original concept wasn’t going to quite pan out, and so both “Babylon 5” and “Babylon Prime” ended up getting enfolded in to the B5 we saw, which ran half as long, did twice as much, and was, I think we’ll all agree, pretty freakin’ brilliant. To my uneducated eye, much better than the initial concepts offered above.
Likewise, speeding up the various arcs to end the show at Season 4 when it looked like they weren’t going to get a fifth year really helped, it really tightened things up, amped up energy level and drama and sense of danger, and it brought the series to a pinnacle of storytelling that I’ve not seen surpassed or matched on TV since.
My point being that JMS works well under pressure, making changes on the fly so to speak. His changes and allowances for studio reality frequently make his stories even better than they were in initial conception. LOTR may not have been what he was initially going for, but given his obvious abilities, and the obvious constraints he was working in, I’ve come to suspect that in the end it would have been *even better* than Crusade would have been, if it’d been allowed to run as originally planned.
And I’m still pissed I’ll never get to see it.
*- B5’s final episode was set in 2281, long after the penultimate episode.