J. Michael Straczynski demonstrates a stage magician's knack for misdirection in this episode, transforming what seems like an innocuous standalone episode with a few arc elements into one of the key episodes of the second season.
Intrigued by one ship's mysterious disappearance and other strange reports, Sheridan - feeling increasingly desperate to get out of the station and into space again - latches onto the excuse to lead a survey team to investigate. He figures it will be a quick trip: jump in, run a few scans, jump out again. The mission takes a deadly turn, however, when an unidentified alien ship jumps out of hyperspace, destroys the survey team, and takes Sheridan captive.
Sheridan finds himself inside a sort of space laboratory, where samples of various alien species have been taken and are being tested in combats to the death. As Sheridan works with a Narn prisoner (Marshall Teague) to find a way out of their cage, Ivanova finds herself greeting a distinguished visitor to the station: General Hague (Robert Foxworth), one of the Joint Chiefs, who has confidential business of his own to discuss with Sheridan... if, that is, the captain ever makes it back to Babylon 5 alive.
Meanwhile, Delenn answers a summons by the Gray Council, who have called her to face judgment for her decision to proceed with the unauthorized metamorphosis. When Delenn arrives, she makes a startling discovery: the identity of the Council's newest member!
Like many Babylon 5 episodes, All Alone in the Night follows a straight plot-subplot structure. There are two story strands: the "A" plot of Sheridan's abduction by the alien ship, and the "B" plot of Delenn's encounter with a newly hostile Gray Council.
What's unexpected, and provides an already enjoyable episode with a jolt in its closing moments, is the sudden appearance of a "C" plot that has been secretly running through the show from this season's very first episode. As we discover exactly why Sheridan was chosen to succeed Sinclair as Babylon 5's commander, the character takes on a little added dimension. It's a small payoff to that wonderful scene at the end of A Spider in the Web, where Sheridan talks with Garibaldi about his interest in conspiracies. It turns out Sheridan is part of a conspiracy of his own, and that Sinclair's and Garibaldi's claims about President Santiago's assassination may not have been so completely ignored as initially seemed to be the case.
The Delenn/Lennier plot strand is extremely strong. Delenn's shock as she discovers that her place on the Council has been taken by Neroon is palpable, and starts to pay off some of those Season One hints that the strife between the religious and warrior castes has been threatening to unbalance Minbari society. John Vickery is again superb as Neroon. The grudging respect and obedience of Legacies turns here to full disgust, as he spits his words as Delenn with an expression that suggests Delenn is something Neroon would not want to step in. Given that a little over half a season ago, the council was all but begging Delenn to step up as their leader, her fall from grace in their eyes (with even her closest allies refusing to hear her or acknowledge her) shows just how much she has given up in pursuit of her destiny.
Bill Mumy's Lennier is also given a chance to shine. After being virtually ignored for much of Season Two, his devotion to Delenn comes into full focus in this episode, in which he refuses to allow even Delenn to dissuade him from following her. Lennier risks his own future out of loyalty to Delenn, and somehow manages to remain quiet and unassuming while doing so. Lennier is aware of what he's risking, he will risk it anyway, and he will even give and receive amusement from the situation. A cipher when he was introduced, this episode reminds us what a terrific character this quiet, simple-seeming man really is. Frankly, I think Delenn chose the wrong husband... but then, I'm getting way ahead of the arc here...
Bruce Boxleitner, meanwhile, gives a strong showing in the episode's "A" plot. His pain, fear, and anguish on the alien ship is palpable. To an extent, this experience is to Sheridan what And the Sky Full of Stars was to Sinclair: the character is given a taste of hell, and is left briefly disoriented by the experience.
Which leads directly into that intriguing dream sequence, in which Sheridan sees Ivanova, Garibaldi, Kosh, and himself, all in versions that appear to be very different from the people he knows. That Ambassador Kosh echoes his own words in the dream upon Sheridan's return leaves both the captain and the viewer wondering just what the elements of that dream will mean, when it all pays off down the road.
I wish I could say the revelation of the ending made Sheridan a more interesting character to me. It should have done so (particularly coming at the end of a very strong episode for both Sheridan and Bruce Boxleitner). Unfortunately, the script places this reveal right after a very awkward scene in which Sheridan bemoans the fate of a young pilot and awkwardly voices survivor's guilt: "He was just a kid... Why am I alive?" The dialogue is very clichéd and trite ("It's not fair," Sheridan says. "Death never is," Dr. Franklin replies gravely), and makes text emotions which should have been left as subtext.
As with Revelations, Boxleitner reveals an inability to rise above weak material. He's very strong in the rest of the episode. But in this one scene, his acting stays entirely on the surface; I didn't see Sheridan in this scene, I saw Bruce Boxleitner ACTING - and I'm afraid the name "Kirk" flashed unbidden into my head.
Other than this minor misstep, most of the rest of the show avoids false notes. I did think Sheridan and Ta'Lon (OK, OK, "unnamed Narn") escaped from the alien ship a little too easily once they lift that door, but that's a nit-pick. And at least Sheridan's put through a taste of hell beforehand.