Originally Posted by erik myers
Until Season Four. After countless time slot changes and near-cancellation every season, B5 was officially given the axe. So JMS had to collapse the arc in order to wrap it all up. As a result, Season Four is a powerhouse. Not an ounce of fat. I defy anyone to watch it, even now, and not find themselves sucked in.
(Based upon the various Babylon 5 script books published by JMS over the years:)
If Season 5 had been a "lock" from the start (i.e., renewed before TNT's last-minute pickup):
Every TV season, a certain percentage of viewers are sampling shows that are new or at least new to them, deciding what they're going to watch on a given night and time. So JMS always tried to start each season off a little "slower," with a couple of mostly stand-alone stories and shows that could explain some backstory in small doses so that new viewers could get up to speed without being overwhelmed. (This is exactly how S1, S2, S3, and S5 begin. S4 is really the only exception)
So, Season 4 would have stretched the mystery of Sheridan a bit more, given us one or two "calm before the storm" episodes showing the effect of the Shadow War and the search for the First Ones, and then plunged us into the climax of the war.
JMS originally penciled "Into the Fire" in as a two-parter on the schedule, but he says he changed his mind when he sat down to write it, since it mostly would have been the exact same identical story simply padded out with another big battle or two. Then the focus would have shifted to the brewing Earth and Minbar Civil Wars, concluding with Sheridan's interrogation in "Intersections in Real Time" as the Season 4 cliffhanger.
The major difference in this alternate universe is that this mysterious guy named Byron would turn up on B5 during the fourth season, and start quietly establishing his colony of telepaths on the station without anyone quite noticing during the last five or six episodes of the season. We'd see the teeps in the background, and they'd be involved in "B"- and "C"-stories, and thus become a much more organic part of the storyline -- and be established while the station was still an independent entity, before EarthGov took over again and re-established Psi Corps' authority over the Human teeps there.
Again, things would have ramped up a little slower at the start of Season 5, going into the final three or four concluding Earth Civil War stories/episodes at the beginning of the season, to let newbies catch up with the universe. Ivanova would still have been mortally injured battling Clark, and Marcus would have died saving her. Ivanova would have taken command of B5 on Sheridan's recommendation, but their relationship would have changed.
With Clark gone, Ivanova would suddenly be a symbol of EarthForce, healing the wounds of the Civil War. As Earth's representative, she'd find herself at odds with President Sheridan over some issues -- a new and uncomfortable position. She'd especially be conflicted about the Teep Colony, and want its members to leave the station.
Because Byron's teeps are rogues, Capt. Ivanova would legally be required to report them to Psi Corps....regardless of her personal feelings. As the responsible commander, Ivanova would not lightly ignore the law. Sheridan's decision not only to keep the colony going on B5, but to use the teeps as undercover agents would not only put her in an impossible position professionally, it would also put the entire station and its mission at risk.
Add to this her attraction to Byron himself, whose cause she admires, and who -- at least superficially -- reminds her of Marcus. This emotional confusion would lead her into a brief affair with Byron...but she'd soon realize that Marcus really was her last chance at true love. (I wonder if Byron would have used her and betrayed her, as Talia 2.0 had.) Certainly Ivanova's latent telepathy would have come center stage, and a thread opened way back in S1 finally paid off.
In the end, when the teeps turn to blackmail and hostage-taking, it would be Ivanova who would have had to call in Bester and the Corps to end the crisis. (...Imagine the irony.) Byron's fate and their brief, doomed love affair certainly would've served to put the wounded, bitter Ivanova of "Sleeping in Light" into much greater perspective.
Lyta would have been somewhat starstruck by Byron, and probably more than a little in love with him, but he would have focused on Ivanova until it was too late, either out of cynical self-interest or genuine affection. Unrequited love is a major theme of B5. Still, that would have served to put Lyta in the ideal position to become his heir and successor, and to carry on his work, still eventually leading up to the eruption of the Telepath War.
That's mostly it. As JMS said when he realized early on that Season 4 was probably going to be it, he could look at his S4 and S5 outlines, which comprised 44 episodes. Drop 5 standalone episodes from each, and you've got 34. Do "Into the Fire" in one show, you've got 33. Shift all the Teep material into S5, and you lose the equivalent of 6 more. Now you're down to 27.
Do the Minbari Civil War in fewer episodes, drop some "B"- and "C"-stories and other subplots, and you find that you can end the major story-threads and still get to "Sleeping" without doing violence to the storyline if you have to end in S4, because nobody will miss the stuff you don't introduce. OTH, if you do get a S5, you can start fresh telling the story of the first year of the Alliance, Londo's fall, and setting up the Telepath War story that he hoped might follow Season 5 in one way or another.
In any event, it turns out that the biggest problem he had was Claudia Christian's almost-literally-last-minute decision not to return for S5. He simply didn't have time to totally restructure his S5 outline, not given that he was already on deadline for the first scripts and the start of pre-production as soon as the cast all returned from the U.K. (where they were attending a convention).
He had to come up with a totally new commander, introduce her, alter the Lyta/Byron dynamic, and blend it with the growing Centauri story. (Which was there right from the beginning. For much of what most people remember as "the Teep arc," the Teep-story is actually the "B"-story in episodes that primarily focus on other issues, and the whole thing only runs eight episodes total.)
That weakened that section, as did the simple absence of the latent teep Ivanova. Four years of history was supposed to pay off in that part of the season, and the main character wasn't there. Under the circumstances, I'm surprised the whole thing is as great as it actually is.