Well, here we are, finally: the first hour-long episode of Babylon 5, "Midnight on the Firing Line." The true start of the first season ("The Gathering" was a pilot episode/movie), the episode aired the same week the second-season Deep Space Nine episode "Armageddon Game" did.
I'm also -- and you've likely heard this from me before, so apologies for the reruns -- in the midst of a DS9 rewatch (concurrent with the podcast Mission Log, which is covering it an episode per week), so I'll probably offer occasional updates as to where these episodes stand in relation to DS9. Otherwise, I don't anticipate a whole heck of a lot of comparison between the two shows. A comment here and there might helpful to establish a baseline between them, but otherwise, I don't see me being very interested in comparison. Beyond the history of the shows' development processes, which I covered in the post about "The Gathering," I think it does neither series any favors to harp on that stuff.
So we shan't!
That said, let's dive in on the first season's first episode, albeit with a couple of things kept in mind: that these episodes were made well after "The Gathering" and therefore do have significant differences in tone, appearance, casting, and other aspects. To some extent, "Midnight on the Firing Line" is a different animal than "The Gathering."
Let's explore that a bit, eh?
We begin at:
In this brief opening scene, one of the biggest problems with Babylon 5 is fully on display: this scene looks as if it was filmed inside a spacious broom closet, with actors whose minimal skills were not fully up to the task of the two-takes-maximum filming policy and whose costumes/makeup/hair design appear to have been done under heavy constraints of both time and budget.
In other words, it looks cheap, and it feels cheap. This was the case in 1994 when it first aired, and a reassessment some twenty-four years later with degraded video quality makes it only worse.
I'm guessing we'll talk about this from time; it's going to likely be unavoidable (and it'll be equally unavoidable to keep from mentioning how comparatively better the well-funded Deep Space Nine looked/looks).
That said, if that's how you focus your attentions when watching Babylon 5, you're probably doing it wrong. I'd humbly suggest that if you cannot get past the production realities of the show, it may simply not be a show for you. Some of that shores up by the time the second season arrives; but only some of it. And because of that, it does kind of require patience and tolerance on the part of viewers; if one is unwilling to grant that type of lenience, I totally get it.
Me? I think the effort is rewarded, and amply. But, even so, I do think it is important to remember that not everyone can go there. I'm sympathetic.