I suspect I'm alone in this, but I really do think that out of the show's three main 'battle arcs'--the original break from Earth ("Messages From Earth" through "Ceremonies of Light and Dark"), the final battle against the Shadows and the Vorlons ("The Summoning" through "Into the Fire"), and the fight to liberate Earth ("No Surrender, No Retreat" through "Endgame")--it's the last one that is the most successful and the best made. There's a darkness and a complexity to the storyline that simply wasn't there before. Sheridan is leading a partly alien fleet to attack his own home planet, in a decision that, while ultimately correct, is still questionable. The face of the enemy is not only familiar, it is our own (in sharp contrast to the Shadows and the Vorlons, who have no faces). The stakes are higher on a personal level, too--Sheridan is captured and tortured, Garibaldi betrays Sheridan and then discovers that he's been used by Bester, Ivanova is mortally wounded, Marcus dies. And, of course, when the whole thing ends, the aftermath isn't fireworks, parades, and dancing in the streets, but recriminations, back-room deals, and unsavory political machinations. It's probably the most successful storyline in the show's run, the one that came closest to truly affecting me, and a good high point to end the story on.
Which is not to say that the arc didn't have its weaknesses. I realize that once you get into the battle episodes, character exploration gets left by the wayside, but for most of the latter half of the fourth season the show is shedding sympathetic characters, so that by the time the great victory comes around, there's no one left to root for. Sheridan becomes cold and thoroughly unlikable. Delenn, apart from a rather boring interlude on Minbar in which Neroon steals all her scenes, is given nothing to do. Ivanova and Franklin are sidelined. Lyta gets shoved into a closet and only taken out when a really strong telepath is suddenly needed (which, in all fairness, was pretty much her character arc from day one, and Talia's before her). Londo and G'Kar, after going through an unearned, quickie reconciliation, are reduced to comic relief.
The only character who remains even vaguely compelling is Garibaldi, who practically from day one was the most interesting member of the cast for the simple reason that he constantly confounded the viewers' expectations. Sure, he was the paranoid, hard-boiled detective who often had more in common with the criminals he chased than the masters he served, but he was also the guy who resigned his commission rather than stand by and watch as Sheridan violated Morden's rights; the only one of Franklin's friends who noticed that the good doctor was sinking into substance abuse, and the only one to make serious efforts to reach him and offer him help; the man who, instead of an afternoon of casual sex with an attractive woman, would rather have a frank talk about his feelings. Throughout the fourth season, we see Garibaldi in a deep crisis--he loses a significant amount of time, alienates himself from his friends, becomes disillusioned with their cause, and is the only credible person who dares to suggest that there might something unwholesome about the cult of personality that rises around Sheridan.
But, of course, as we discover at the end of the fourth season (and as, in all fairness, we probably should have guessed beforehand), Garibaldi hasn't been in control of his actions. The crisis was not of his own making and the emotions he felt weren't his and therefore we shouldn't give any credence to the legitimate points that he raised in his altered state. Even more disappointing is the fact that, once Garibaldi is cleared of responsibility for his actions (quick! Break Lyta out of that packing crate!), he interacts with his friends as if nothing's happened. The next time we see him, he's trading quips with Franklin, and although Sheridan throws him a nasty look when they next meet, the two of them have no meaningful interaction, no discussion of Garibaldi's actions and any residual guilt or resentment there might be on either side. This lack of communication persists not only until the end of the fourth season but until the end of the show. In other words, Garibaldi's slide into darkness, the only meaningful character arc of the season, has neither significance nor consequence, and as a result the entire battle-for-Earth arc seems flatter and less engaging.
The argument could be made here that there's no time for heart-to-heart talks in the final episodes of the fourth season, crammed as they are with, you know, the battle for Earth. This argument crumbles when you notice that much like the rest of the show, these episodes are padded like an attack-dog trainer. I've often wondered why Babylon 5, with its emphasis on multi-episode and even multi-season storylines, never instituted a permanent 'previously on Babylon 5' segment before each episode. Then I realized that if they had done this, the writers would have found many of their most pivotal episodes clocking in at about 25 minutes. For example, the 'In the beginning, the ancient races bestrode the stars like giants' spiel is repeated about half a dozen times during the two years in which it is relevant. In "Endgame", the penultimate episode of the fourth season battle for Earth arc, the fourth act begins with a newscaster showing us several minutes of the gigantic space battle we just finished watching at the end of the third act. Even better is the revelation, in that same episode, of Marcus' decision to sacrifice his life for Ivanova's--first we see Marcus watching Franklin's MedLab reports and realizing that an alien device exists that will allow him to give Ivanova his life energy; then we see Franklin watching that very same recording; then we get a flashback of the scene to which the recording refers--all told, maybe five or six minutes that could have been used to, say, show us how things are now between Sheridan and Garibaldi.
For all their flaws, however, there was enough in the closing episodes of the fourth season to make me sorry that the story was ending, which means that it was very considerate of J. Michael Straczynski to end the season (and, as far as he knew at the time, the show) with the assiest hour of television he's ever put his name on, "The Deconstruction of Falling Stars". Seriously, what it is with the mockumentary style? Over the show's lifetime, Straczynski uses it three or four times, never to any great effect. I realize that he was working ten years ago, but surely, even then, people knew that mockumentaries always sound like a good idea and are only rarely successful. As a final statement about the show, "Deconstruction" seems to determined to concentrate not on Sheridan and Co.'s accomplishments but on the fact that later generations doubted their motives, their morality, and their very existence. This emphasis can be taken as a reinforcement of one of the show's most powerful themes, introduced all the way back in the pilot and constantly reiterated--that no matter what you've been taught to believe, one person can fight the system, make a difference, make the world a better place--by showing us how even after Sheridan's victory, those who follow him can't quite wrap their minds around the magnitude of his ambitions and accomplishments. I see it as a rather mean-spirited, in-your-face attempt to garner just a bit more sympathy from the audience--see how unloved, how unsung my characters are by their own contemporaries, and even by the generations that followed them! But in the end, they were right! They created something that will last a million years and bring humanity to its rightful place in the stars! How dare anyone doubt them!
To understand just why the tone of the episode makes me uncomfortable, here are some of Straczynski's comments about "Deconstruction" on The Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5:
That, and the truth that in 10 years the naysayers will be forgotten, and made irrelevant...but the show, the *show*...goes on. And will be around long after they and I have gone to dust. And all people will know when they see [a title card at the end of the episode, which reads "Dedicated to all the people who predicted that the Babylon project would fail in its mission. Faith manages"], 50 years from now, was that some jerks said it couldn't be done, and they were wrong, because they are *always* wrong.Straczynski is comparing his own accomplishment--getting a television show made and appealing to millions of viewers worldwide, which is by no means an insignificant accomplishment--to that of his characters, and he bashes his own detractors by having cartoonish villains nip at the heels of his larger-than-life heroes. What he fails to acknowledge, here or at any other point during the show's run (except rather obliquely during "Comes the Inquisitor") is that faith, confidence and determination, while necessary for the success of any great undertaking, are not sufficient to ensure that success. Believing in yourself is a good thing, but only if you're right to do so--somehow it isn't surprising to discover that Straczynski has missed that half of the equation.
 A moment of silence, please, for Jason Carter and his beautiful hair. Between them they brought more energy and charisma to their performance than the rest of the cast put together.
 Not to mention his completely untenable and immoral use of unconscious people as living weapons.
 The only other character of which this can consistently be said is Lennier, and he didn't get anything near the amount of screen time and storylines that Garibaldi did.
 And boy, wasn't Franklin just there to pay the favor back when it was Garibaldi's turn to fall off the wagon in The Season That Must Not Be Named.
 This isn't made entirely clear. According to Bester, Garibaldi's programming simply accentuated already-present qualities--paranoia, distrust of authority figures, irritability. A few minutes later, however, he tells us that subconscious commands quickly overrode Garibaldi's own personality, leaving the original Garibaldi trapped in his own head and powerless to act on his own desires. There might have been an interesting discussion of the degree to which programmed Garibaldi's actions tracked with Garibaldi's own impulses--surely he wouldn't have betrayed Sheridan, but what does it say about him that a simple tweak can bring him to the point of becoming a traitor? Sadly, the show never dealt with these questions in any meaningful way.
 And I think there's a case to be made for Sheridan feeling guilty and Garibaldi feeling resentful.
 In a storytelling device only slightly less hackneyed than the detective who plays a certain segment of a recording over and over again because he's got an idea, dammit!
 It's possible that the fifth season episode "A View From the Gallery" might be able to wrest this crown away from "Deconstruction", but some other, braver soul than I is going to have to rewatch it and make the final determination.
 The only decent one that comes to mind is the X-Files episode in which Mulder and Scully stumble upon a taping of Cops.
 Also, it could be Straczynski trying to get just one more dig at the journalism profession, which he seems to hold in slightly more contempt than he does politicians. Journalists on the show ran the gamut from shallow and insensitive (we know the journalist in "And Now For a Word" is evil because she makes Delenn cry) to cynical propaganda-mongers.