Midnight on the Firing Line
|"Midnight on the Firing Line"|
|Babylon 5 episode|
|Episode no.||Season 1|
|Directed by||Richard Compton|
|Written by||J. Michael Straczynski|
|Original air date||January 26, 1994|
"Midnight on the Firing Line" is the first episode of the first season of the science fiction television series, Babylon 5, following the pilot episode, The Gathering. It first aired on January 26, 1994, and was notable for being the first regular episode in a television series which used computer-generated imagery as the primary means for its special visual effects. The episode also marked the beginning of the first science fiction television series where the entire series had an overarching storyline, which the writer J. Michael Straczynski described as "a novel for television".
According to Straczynski, the title refers to his feelings about the episode and the series. The studio had told him, "Well, we've got a pilot, we don't know if the market will sustain more than one space SF series, no other SF series has done well lately...maybe we ought to air the pilot first, and get the ratings, before committing to a series." Straczynski wrote, “I knew we'd come under considerable fire, figured it was cool.“ He also mentions that the title is related to a line in a song by Harry Chapin, “…and if our future lies on the firing line, are we brave enough to see the signals and the signs…”.
The Narn military attacks Ragesh 3, a colony of their long-term enemy, the Centauri, destroying an orbiting space station before it can contact the Centauri homeworld.
The Centauri ambassador on the Babylon 5 station, Londo Mollari is informed of the attack, but the identity of the attackers is not known. Freezing a frame of a video broadcast, Londo identifies a Narn ship. Londo confronts the Narn ambassador, G'Kar, who says he has only just learned of the attack, countering that the Centauri have been making similar attacks and oppressing the Narn people for a very long time. A fight breaks out between them.
Londo apologies to station commander, Jeffrey Sinclair, but saying he will kill G'Kar.
Meanwhile, raiders are attacking transport ships near the station, with more powerful weapons than they previously had.
G’Kar plays a video recording from Ragesh 3, where Londo’s nephew Carn appears to state that the Narn were invited to come to the colony.
After leading a force of Starfury fighter craft to defeat the raiders, Commander Sinclair finds a Narn agent and Narn weapons on the raiders' base. The agent has communication logs proving the Ragesh 3 attack was unprovoked and that Carn was forced to make the recorded statement at gunpoint. With this evidence revealed, G’Kar is forced to tell the Narn to withdraw their forces.
Production, Visual and Sound Effects
This episode marked the first time a regular episode in a science fiction series used computer-generated imagery for all its visual effects, being followed closely by the series Seaquest DSV. Other than interior sets, Babylon 5 did not use physical models for its scenes involving space and spacecraft exteriors. The visual effects were created by Foundation Imaging using 24 Commodore Amiga 2000 computers with Video Toaster software, 16 of which were dedicated to rending each individual frame of CGI, with each frame taking on average 45 minutes to render. In-house resource management software managed the workload of the Amiga computers to ensure that no machine was left idle during the image rendering process.
According to Straczynski, the photo of the Earth Alliance president shows the Douglas Netter, an executive producer for the show, and the woman running against him in the election is the wardrobe designer, Ann Bruice.
Music for the title sequence and the episode was provided by the series’ composer, Christopher Franke, a band member of Tangerine Dream. The voice effects for the Vorlon ambassador Kosh were also designed by Franke, with the character voiced by Ardwright Chamberlain. Due to Kosh's encounter suit costume being too large for the set doors, the character was never shown entering or leaving through a door.
As Babylon 5 was conceived with an overall five-year story arc, the episode was written as both an individual story, and with another level, where the hints of the larger story arc were given. The series’ creator, J. Michael Straczynski indicates that the episodes can be watched for the individual stories, the character stories, or the story arc. He writes, “In the case of "Midnight," can you follow that show and enjoy it absolutely on its own terms? I believe that is the case. There's another level there, the ‘little clues and hints’… which will just skate past most casual viewers and not in any way interfere with their viewing of the episode...but if you're paying attention, and you catch them, it adds a new level. The more you see, the more you begin to perceive that second level. It's a cumulative effect that doesn't diminish the single episodes as stand-alones.“
As the series’ creator, Straczynski felt very close to the project, and felt that aside from perhaps wanting more sets to be available for the episode, there wasn’t really anything about the episode that he would tweak. He was particularly interested in the effect of characters lying onscreen, with the unsuspecting audience finding out about it over time. He writes, “At one point, Garibaldi confronts Londo with this as reason for why he doesn't trust the Centauri. Londo shrugs it off as a ‘clerical error.’ There will be a few points in the series when we'll get information, and we'll buy into it...and discover after a while that that character bald-facedly lied to the other character (and, by proxy, to us). “ 
Rowan Kaiser, writing in The A.V. Club, wrote that she was impressed that the series is bold enough to bring together two main characters, Londo and G’Kar, who are deathly enemies. Kaiser writes about Londo’s prophetic dream where he and G’Kar both die, their hands around each others’ throats, “It says ‘This will pay off. Keep watching.’ Even though ‘’Midnight On The Firing Line’’ isn’t the greatest episode—it’s fine, with some good and a few bad moments—that promise, that conflict, suggests that Babylon 5 is far more ambitious than it seems.” Kaiser considers this episode as deeply ironic: “What makes it interesting initially is how it sets up the core premise; what makes it interesting later on… is how those premises get subverted by the events in the narrative. It’s almost brilliant how perfectly some later episodes mirror this one.”
Elias Rosner, writing in Multiversity Comics, wrote, “[...]this show proved that sci-fi TV could be something grander than an episodic adventure. The year is 2258. The name of the place is Babylon 5.”. Rosner notes that this episode, “hits the ground running”, introducing several major characters and plot exposition in the first seven minutes. He writes that the make-up and set design are “stellar”, G’Kar and Londo are “show stealers”, and that the show makes fictional politics interesting. He writes, “Straczynski…shows his talent for long term planning and character work here. No plot thread feels unnecessary, with small payoffs that have the beginnings of something larger or large payoffs that are a necessity of the TV medium of the time.” 
Science fiction review site Joe’s Corner writes, “…the humans are flawed, and the aliens as well. As in Firefly, the people of the future are plagued by the same torments and failures that we are.” The reviewer is particularly impressed by the Vorlon Ambassodor, Kosh. “When he speaks, he sounds like many voices speaking at once, and his words are cryptic and bewildering, but later turn out to be profound.“
Film producer Jeremy Rosen writes, "I find it interesting that the first episode of the series solves a conflict through no official action at all. ...So much appears to hinge on personal interaction, which is really what the series itself hinges upon." He continues, "I believe “Midnight on the Firing Line” is one of the best episodes of a generally poor season. ...But in episodes like this ...the season lays down its future legacy of great writing and characterization."
- ”Midnight on the Firing Line” https://tv.apple.com/us/episode/midnight-on-the-firing-line/umc.cmc.2ij1wu0l6b4imo0nkvsenhz0i Accessed 2020-11-29.
- Ryan Britt. 5 Things that Babylon 5 did that changed science fiction forever. July 11, 2019. https://www.syfy.com/syfywire/5-things-babylon-5-did-that-changed-science-fiction-forever Accessed 2020-11-29.
- ”Midnight on the Firing Line” Guide page: JMS speaks. On ‘’The Lurker’s Guide to Babylon 5’’ http://www.midwinter.com/lurk/countries/us/guide/001.html, accessed 2020-11-29.
- Babylon 5: Midnight on the Firing Line [television episode], 1993. Warner Brothers.
- How 24 Commodore Amiga 2000s created Babylon 5. [web page], GenerationAmiga. https://www.generationamiga.com/2020/08/30/how-24-commodore-amiga-2000s-created-babylon-5/ Accessed 2020-11-29.
- ‘’Midnight on the Firing Line’’. Joe’s Corner [web page]. http://joescorner.thesilverscream.com/index.php/babylon-five-1 Accessed 2020-12-01.
- Rowan Kaiser, Babylon 5: “Midnight On The Firing Line”/“Soul Hunter” The A.V. Club. 6 August 2012. https://tv.avclub.com/babylon-5-midnight-on-the-firing-line-soul-hunter-1798173098 Accessed 2020-12-01
- Elias Rosner, ‘Five Thoughts on Babylon 5‘s “Midnight on the Firing Line.”’ Multiversity Comics. 23 May 2018. http://www.multiversitycomics.com/tv/babylon-5-midnight-firing-line/ Accessed 2020-12-01.
- Jeremy Rosen, 'Midnight on the Firing Line' Babylon 5 - Axes & Alleys [web site]. 4 November 2009. http://www.axesandalleys.com/midnight-on-the-firing-line/ Accessed 2020-12-01.