"Midnight on the Firing Line" is the first regular episode of the science-fiction television series Babylon 5.
During a shift change at the Centauri agricultural colony of Ragesh 3, a fleet of ships emerges from hyperspace and begins attacking the colony.
At Earth Alliance Station Babylon 5, Lt. Cmdr. Susan Ivanova, new to the station, is in search of Commander Jeffrey Sinclair in the Zocalo. Garibaldi suggests she try the Observation dome, where Sinclair generally goes to be away from the commotion when the dome is on standby. Ivanova finds him there and tells him "There's a problem."
Garibaldi is accosted by Centauri Ambassador Londo Mollari; the two lightheartedly joke about past Centauri-Human relations before Londo's diplomatic aide, Vir Cotto, arrives with news of the attack on Ragesh 3.
In council chambers, Mollari demands any information Commander Sinclair has on the attacks; he has not been able to receive a reply from his government. Minbari Ambassador Delenn and Narn Ambassador G'Kar enter and offer their condolences. Mollari turns and asks G'Kar suspiciously if he really knows nothing about it. "I'm as astonished as you are," he claims. Sinclair calmly suggests that the ambassadors each attempt to contact their governments; he plans to call a meeting of the Babylon 5 Advisory Council and the League of Non-Aligned Worlds later.
In Command and Control, Ivanova tells Garibaldi that the station has just received a distress signal from a ship under attack by raiders. Garibaldi leaves C&C to investigate in a fighter as the signal is lost.
Commercial telepath Talia Winters steps into C&C as Garibaldi leaves to officially report following her arrival on the station, per Psi Corps regulations. Ivanova curtly rebuffs her introduction and attempt at conversation.
Ivanova enters Sinclair's office, finding him listening to a news report on the upcoming Earth Alliance presidential election, inquiring if there's been any news on the situation with Ragesh 3. They discuss the possible culprits, and Sinclair dismisses the idea that the Minbari might be responsible, claiming that they are too honorable to launch a sneak attack; Ivanova is surprised to hear him compliment the Minbari after having fought them in the Earth-Minbari War ten years earlier.
Vir enters Londo's quarters with news of a signal from the relay station at Ragesh 3. The two watch footage of the attack, and Londo identifies the attack vessels as Narn. He storms out of his quarters, shouting epithets aimed at G'Kar.
Garibaldi and another fighter approach the damaged transport. They find the ship devastated and all of the crew dead. Garibaldi concludes that whoever carried out the attack used weaponry much more powerful than is customary for ordinary raiders.
Londo approaches G'Kar, who is eating in the Zocalo; he vows to "strike back hard" in retaliation for the Narn attack. The two exchange insults, G'Kar commenting on how the wheels of fate have turned since the Centauri occupation of Narn. The two come to blows and are separated by security personnel. G'Kar angrily threatens Mollari: "One night you'll wake up and find our teeth at your throat."
Back in his quarters, Londo apologizes for the incident to Commander Sinclair. Londo tells Sinclair of a prophetic dream he once had, a vision of his own death where he saw himself and G'Kar, both 20 years older, strangle each other to death. He also tells Sinclair of his nephew, Carn, who he had arranged to be assigned as head researcher on Ragesh 3 because it was a "safe" position. Sinclair cautions Mollari about the dangers of escalating the conflict, but Londo is apathetic about the "paper fantasy" of peace. "Only one thing matters," he claims. "Blood calls out for blood."
Ivanova comes up to Garibaldi as he eats in the Zocalo; they discuss the attacks and Ivanova leaves just as Talia attempts to approach them.
Sinclair goes to visit Vorlon Ambassador Kosh; Sinclair enters Kosh's quarters to find Kosh visible only as a source of light behind a screen. Kosh agrees to attend the emergency council session Sinclair has called, but states: "They are alone. They are a dying people. We should let them pass." When Sinclair asks which race he is referring to, the Narn or the Centauri, Kosh simply answers "Yes."
In C&C, Garibaldi uses Ivanova's console to track down which company sold the supply routes to the ships recently attacked by raiders.
Vir, in Londo's quarters, attempts to get the Ambassador to go to the council meeting. Londo, drunk, tells Vir of the message he just received from the Centauri government, who have decided to take no action in response to the attacks. He tells Vir, though, that they will not tell the council of this, and see if the other races can take action and thus embarrass the Centauri government into acting.
Talia enters a transport tube; Garibaldi is inside and she asks about the best way to open a conversation with Ivanova. He suggests that Talia approach Ivanova while she's eating dinner at the casino, after her duty shift. Talia then rebuffs an offer by Garibaldi to join him in his quarters and share his "second favorite thing in the universe."
G'Kar enters the garden, where he finds Sinclair; G'Kar vows that the Narn will take vengeance on the Centauri for their occupation of the Narn homeworld. G'Kar reminds Sinclair that the Narn supported Earth during the Earth-Minbari War, but Sinclair accuses the Narn of cowardice -- selling to anyone who would pay, and launching sneak attacks.
Garibaldi meets up with Sinclair in a corridor and informs him that he's discovered the raider's strategy: the raiders cracked the database of the company which sold transport vessels jumpgate access. The only ship not yet attacked, though, was booked by a refugee transport service and is filled with civilian passengers.
Sinclair, in his office, speaks with an Earth Alliance Senator; Sinclair seeks an authorization to vote for military intervention. The Senator is hesitant to authorize action so close to an election, and tells him to abstain from the vote. Ivanova, who has been watching from the doorway, informs him that a flight of starfuries is ready to intercept the raiders. Sinclair comes up with the plan to lead the mission himself. Telling Ivanova that she "never heard" the conversation, Ivanova is left to chair the council meeting and vote in support of sanctions.
As Ivanova calls the council meeting to order, G'Kar bursts in, claiming that the attack was justified because, a hundred years earlier, Ragesh 3 was a Narn world. Delenn speaks up against a "cycle of hatred," but G'Kar counters that actions merely constituted justice. He brings in a live transmission from Ragesh 3, featuring Londo's nephew Carn, who claims that the leaders of Ragesh 3, suffering internal disputes, requested assistance from the Narn after receiving no reply from Centauri Prime. Londo asserts that the statement was read as gunpoint and dismisses it as "lies." G'Kar brings up the fact that the Centauri government itself opposes military action and cautions Mollari against using the council to further personal vendettas. G'Kar moves to dismiss all charges against the Narn.
Sinclair leads the squadron of fighters to intercept the raiders, who are already attacking the refugee transport. He successfully fends off the attack and pursues the raiders back to their base in a nearby asteroid belt.
In his quarters, Londo assembles a hidden weapon. On his way to murder G'Kar, he bumps into Talia, who telepathically senses his intentions. She locates Garibaldi, who intercepts Londo and intervenes, threatening even to kill Londo if he tries to take revenge. "This isn't the way;" he tells the ambassador. "Not now, and not here."
Sinclair approaches G'Kar with his discovery from the raiders' base: a Narn officer, supplied along with weapons sold to the raiders by the Narn. Intercepted transmissions logged on the base also confirm Mollari's assertions that the attack was entirely unprovoked. Sinclair threatens to bring the evidence before the council unless Narn forces withdraw from Ragesh 3.
In the casino, Talia approaches Ivanova at dinner and the two strike up a civil conversation. Ivanova explains her earlier hostility: her mother, a telepath, refused to join the Psi Corps, and opted to take drugs to suppress her telepathic abilities instead of going to prison. The drugs lead Ivanova's mother into a deep depression, ultimately lead to her suicide.
Later that evening, Garibaldi shares "second favorite thing in the universe" -- a Duck Dodgers cartoon -- with a very perplexed Ambassador Delenn. Sinclair watches election returns, showing a victory for the incumbent president. He falls into bed just as his link goes off once again; Ivanova tells him: "Commander, there's a problem..."
"Midnight on the Firing Line" was originally titled "Blood and Thunder." It is also retitled "Sabre Rattling" on British DVD covers.
Although "The Gathering" was filmed as the pilot episode and was intended to be followed immediately with regular episodes, there was actually almost a year between the broadcast of the pilot and the broadcast of the first episode -- therefore "Midnight on the Firing Line" functioned in part as a second pilot. As a consequence, several cast members left the series: Tamlyn Tomita (Lt. Cmdr. Laurel Takashima), Patricia Tallman (Lyta Alexander) and Johnny Sekka (Dr. Benjamin Kyle), hence the introduction of Lt. Cmdr. Ivanova and Talia Winters in this episode. For that same reason, the episode also recaps many of the relationships between races touched on in the pilot: the Earth-Minbari War, the occupation of Narn, and the decline of the Centauri Republic. However, "Midnight on the Firing Line" was not the first episode to be filmed; that status belongs to "Infection."