As the Narn/Centauri conflict rises, both G'Kar and Londo find themselves facing the consequences of some of their recent choices in this small-feeling but effective outing, an episode which benefits greatly from focusing on the show's two best characters and actors.
As the Narn/Centauri conflict continues, G'Kar presents evidence to Sheridan and Delenn that the Centauri are targeting civilians. Both Sheridan and Delenn are disturbed, but neither is able to promise G'Kar aid. His earlier statements about crushing the Centauri are acting against him, and neither government is particularly eager to get involved in another war when the wounds of the Earth/Minbari War are still relatively fresh.
As Sheridan and Delenn try to navigate a non-military way to aid the civilian Narns, G'Kar finds himself dealing with another problem. The Narn population of Babylon 5 is becoming incensed by the Centauri's presence on the station. After an incident in which a Narn is killed after being jumped by a Centauri, the Narn prepare for a major action against the station's Centauri residents... an action that would completely undo G'Kar's efforts to enlist allies, and would leave the Narn fighting their war entirely alone.
Meanwhile, Ivanova is given a diplomatic mission of her own: secure an alliance between the humans and an advanced alien race known as the Lumati. But Ivanova finds herself not entirely prepared for the Lumati's traditional way of sealing alliances... Sex!
Any episode which focuses on either Londo or G'Kar benefits from two immediate strengths. The first is that both characters are the most layered, textured, and fascinating characters on the show. As early as The Gathering, both characters immediately owned any scene they were in. The other, of course, is that Peter Jurasik and Andreas Katsulas are so perfectly cast and so adept at a variety of emotions and acting styles that they buoy even weak episodes into being watchable. Given interesting material, Jurasik and Katsulas cannot help but deliver the goods.
This episode is a very personal one for both characters. Both G'Kar and Londo must face the consequences of their choices. G'Kar, seeking allies to help the Narn fend off the Centauri, finds his deeds of the previous two years coming back to haunt him. How many times, in Season One, did we hear him brag about his dream of "grinding the Centauri bones into flutes for Narn children" and the like? Those words are well remembered now. Even Sheridan - who never really got to see that side of G'Kar - has read the reports and talked to the others on the station. When G'Kar comes to Sheridan and Delenn for help, his previous statements and actions come back to haunt him. It is not just the desire of Earth government to remain neutral that G'Kar must overcome; he is literally battling against the specter of his own past.
Londo also discovers a price that he has to pay. He spent Season One thirsting for the respect of his people. Now that he has it, he discovers that the respect of strangers is not so sweet as he had imagined. The episode's first image of Londo sees him dressed in a more stylish and somber black, sitting wearily in his chair as a fawning Centauri businessman attempts to elicit a favor.
The entire set up reminded me very much of the opening shots of The Godfather. Londo may have found respect, but his new "friends" are anything but. Everyone wants something from him, he bemoans to Vir. He has become "a wishing well with legs."
Worse still, he is losing one of the few genuine friends he had. There is something pitiable and a little bit painful in Londo's scenes with Garibaldi in this episode. He attempts to be the jovial Londo of old, but his laughter is forced and his camaraderie feels desperate. I don't think I have ever felt sorrier for Londo than I did in the scene where he sat alone in the bar at closing time, stubbornly waiting for Garibaldi to show to share a drink. Even at the end, as the two men finally do drink and agree that it is "good to have friends... if only for a little while," there is no sense of reconciliation. Rather, they are toasting the end of their former closeness. The war - which Londo started - has destroyed their friendship, and only now does Londo realize how much he truly valued it
In Season One, I generally really enjoyed J. Michael Straczynski's attempts at humor. I loved Londo's grumbling comedy in A Voice in the Wilderness, and even enjoyed the infamous "Hokey-Pokey" scene (Draal confessing that he liked the song, with Delenn telling him not to say anything, made for the perfect punchline).
But in Season Two - despite the season as a whole seeming like a more polished product - the humor has crossed the line for me from amusing to annoying. I cringed through the subplot a few episodes back where Sheridan and Ivanova were sleeping in the captain's office to avoid paying rent. The comic subplot here, with Ivanova convincing an alien species to ally themselves with the humans only to discover that she must have sex to seal the deal, is just as irritating. The "sex scene" seems to divide B5 viewers, from what I can see: some find it hilarious, others embarrassing. I'm afraid I have to count myself in the latter category. I thought Ivanova was a great deal funnier in Season One, when she was generally the straight-man; in Season Two, she seems to the butt of every comic subplot Straczynski comes up with, and she just isn't as funny in the "Lou Costello" role as she was in the "Bud Abbott" one.
My only other gripe is fairly minor. In the scene in which Sheridan and Delenn present their proposal to G'Kar, to surreptitiously save a few Narns here and a few Narns there, the script forces G'Kar to state out loud "no ships... no intervention?" Much more effective is what follows, as G'Kar thanks both Sheridan and Delenn through gritted teeth, doing his best to show gratitude for what he is receiving while concealing his disappointment at what he is not receiving. Here, Katsulas' ability to play anguish makes the scene memorable. But making G'Kar first state his disappointment: (a) makes text of the subtext; and (b) is unnecessary, given Katsulas' ability to sell virtually any emotion on virtually any line. It's a nit-pick, but does demonstrate another unfortunate Straczynski tendency: the tendency to overwrite, when less would perhaps have been more.
This episode does mark the final appearance of Mary Kay Adams' Na'Toth. The character disappeared hereafter, and was not even mentioned again until late Season Three (why is such a great show so bad at major character departures?)
In any case, Adams never made much of an impression in the role; in fairness to her, she was only in two episodes and was given virtually nothing to do in either of them. Still, I am very glad that when Na'Toth reappeared much later in the series, she was once again played by Caitlin Brown, whose Season One Na'Toth was unquestionably a stronger and more interesting character - a genuine foil for G'Kar, rather than a mere lackey.
(loses a point for the Lumati subplot and - specifically - for the teeth-grindingly annoying "sex" scene)