The ramp-up to the season finale begins with this darkly intricate entry.
As Sheridan attempts to determine the pattern behind the seemingly-random Shadow attacks, Brother Theo welcomes several religious leaders from Earth onto the station. This is not entirely a religious gathering, however. The various representatives have been collecting news and information from back home. They assure Sheridan that, despite what President Clark would like people to believe, there is a resistance in place against Clark - a resistance that appears to be growing.
Meanwhile, Centauri Minister Verini has arrived with Lord Refa. Verini insists that the feud between Londo and Refa is disruptive, and needs to end. Londo agrees, but feels it must end "with action." He offers assurances that he will solve "an embarrassment" that has plagued the Centauri court for too long. Verini acknowledges that such an act by Londo may well elevate House Mollari above House Refa.
Londo's plan involves G'Kar, the only remaining free member of the Kha'Ri. Under Sheridan's protection, G'Kar is untouchable on Babylon 5... but off-station, he will be fair game. Using threats of disgrace to his family, Londo forces Vir to give G'Kar a message: G'Kar's former attaché, Na'Toth, is alive and a prisoner on the Narn Homeworld. This, Londo is certain, will lead G'Kar to travel to Narn to free her.
Still, Refa is no fool. Knowing Londo has something planned, he kidnaps Vir and has a telepath scan him to learn of Londo's plan. When G'Kar arrives on Narn, Refa decides to be there personally to arrest him. He will bring G'Kar to the Emperor, along with G'Kar's silver plate, "with Mollari's head on it."
When I watched this episode for the first draft of this review, I was in the midst of viewing the BBC mini-series I, Claudius. It was fortuitous timing, coming to that mini-series at the same time that I came to the Centuari intrigue-heavy portion of the arc. There were certainly a lot of parallels between the two stories. Of course, I had long recognized that the Centauri were loosely modeled after the Roman Empire. That was as obvious as Emperor Cartagia in Season Four having been modeled after Caligula. But there's an extra bit of fun watching the two separate series, and comparing the characters in one series with their counterparts in the other.
I would compare Refa to Sejanus in I, Claudius. Both men are not actually of the royal family, but finagle their way into positions of authority. Both, by acting as the ears of their respective emperors, effectively rule through their guards and flunkies, each creating a reign of terror. Sejanus' guards took down names of political enemies and people who could potentially block him from getting more power; Refa did much the same when he declared Londo's friend Ursa a traitor (Knives). Sejanus had plans to tie himself to Emperor Tiberius' family, with hopes of ultimately succeeding Tiberius as Emperor. We aren't told of any direct corresponding plan by Refa, but Londo speculates that Refa would eventually have removed Minister Verini to get even closer to the Emperor and the seat of ultimate power.
I'm not sure how directly relevant that digression is to a discussion of And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place. Still, it's fun. Well, it's fun for me. And these are my reviews... so there!
One very pleasing aspect of this episode is the return of Brother Theo. Ironically, Theo's previous episode, Passing Through Gethsemane, opened with a chess match. Meanwhile, the central storyline of this episode is a chess match, with Londo and Refa using G'Kar and Vir as pawns in an attempt to deliver a final checkmate to each other.
The Londo of the late third season is starkly different from the Londos of Seasons One and Two. With Adira's death in Interludes & Examinations, all the joy has gone out of him. It is appropriate that he now dresses in black, for his mood is grim and his face carries a heavy expression. He has the power and influence that Season One Londo only dreamed of, but he no longer has the capacity to enjoy it. Rather than the "women, wine, and song" that Londo valued and made his password in Season One, Londo now has only one thing left to him: his duty to his people.
That, and his thirst for vengeance.
This makes Londo a tragic figure, certainly, but it also makes him a rather frightening one. This Londo might literally do anything. The first time I viewed the episode, when he bullied Vir into acting against his nature by threatening to have Vir's family "whipped through the streets," I believed his threat completely. So does Vir - something he would never have believed of Londo as recently as in Dust to Dust. There, Vir assured Delenn that "someday (Londo) will surprise you." By the end of this episode, I'm no longer sure that Vir still believes that. In the final scenes, as Vir denounces Londo's actions, I get the impression that he no longer sees that great a difference between Londo and Refa.
Londo's manipulations are expertly done, and expertly hidden from the viewer as well. He effortlessly uses Vir and G'Kar both, and ultimately Refa and Minister Verini as well. To invoke a quote from next season, Londo "plays (them) like a puppet!" This is another stark contrast with Season One Londo. Through most of Season One, we would never have believed him capable of such intricate plotting. By the time this episode arrives, we have a much greater understanding of just what he is capable of.
Of course, one thing has not changed since Season One - indeed, since Londo's first major scene, his "shark" monologue to Garibaldi way back in The Gathering. That is Londo's patriotism, his absolute devotion to the well-being of Centauri Prime. Even more than his dislike of Refa, even more than his desire for vengeance for Adira's death, Londo's driving force remains his love of and loyalty to his people. "Let the rest of the galaxy burn," he says in Interludes & Examinations, giving the response Morden and the Shadows so desperately want from him. However, what neither Morden nor the Shadows note is the statement preceding it. When he said there that he wanted revenge, even at his blackest, Londo added his one condition: "The safety of my people."
As Londo tells Refa, Refa's relentless warring with other races has weakened the Centauri defenses. As he tells Verini, Refa's only loyalty was ever to himself. Refa's desire is not for the Centauri people, but only for his own power and glory. "Sooner or later, it would destroy him or us," Londo tells Verini. "Better it be him." Londo may be delivering these words as the pretty packaging of a lie. However, the words themselves are the truth.
The episode is a fantastic one for Londo, but it is also a good one for G'Kar, who is finally given the opportunity to take a measure of vengeance for the devastation of his Homeworld. Still, at the episode's climax, G'Kar does not participate in his people's violent uprising. He delivers his instructions, tells them that the face must be preserved "for identification purposes," then leaves them to carry out the killing. Season One G'Kar seemed to salivate over the thought of killing a Centauri, any Centauri. Here, a Centauri is delivered into his hands - an evil one, a man who was more responsible than anyone else for the deaths of millions of his people. G'Kar does not lay one violent hand on him. He shows no glee and no triumph over his corpse, either; he simply turns and walks away, looking disgusted.
Some of his disgust, I'm sure, comes from acting as a pawn in a game of Centauri politics. But I also suspect that the thought of murder, even of a Centauri, is no longer something G'Kar finds himself able to take pleasure in. He's capable of doing it, certainly, but he's no longer capable of enjoying it.
Any discussion of this episode has to make note of the climax. It's a masterful job of editing, intercutting the sermon by Reverend Will Dexter with Londo's own "sermon" to Refa. Dexter notes that the real enemies are not those who are different, but those who encourage us to hate and fear... and ultimately, to fight those we hate and fear. Londo sums up Refa's sins, which involve encouraging the escalation of the war against the Narn, of the hatred and fear of the Narn, of the mass executions of Narns. It culminates in a singing of "And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place," a song whose text concerns sinners' inability to hide from the Lord's judgment... just as Refa desperately attempts to run and hide from the implacable justice of the Narns, of G'Kar, of Londo. Refa has been judged; and the intercutting of a joyous sermon with an act of horrific violence is stunningly effective. High marks to all concerned.
The scenes involving Londo, G'Kar, Vir, and Refa are unimpeachable. The scenes with Brother Theo are, as ever, delightful (the most significant "bad" thing in this episode is that it is sadly Brother Theo's last).
However, some of the Sheridan scenes don't measure up to the rest of the episode for me. I enjoyed the scene in which Delenn dragged him to dinner with the religious representatives; and cheesy though it was, I confess I did laugh when, near the end, Delenn yanked him out of the room to attend the religious services and he reacted like a little boy being dragged away from a particularly exciting video game.
However, the scene in which Reverend Will Dexter gave Sheridan "a good talking-to" annoyed me. Dexter is an absolute stranger to Sheridan. Sheridan doesn't know him, has no basis to consider him a mentor figure at all. So why does he so meekly sit and listen to a lecture in which Dexter basically calls him "a bad officer" (something that, for all my intermittent issues with him, Sheridan most definitely is not)? This scene might have worked for me if it had been Brother Theo, with whom Sheridan does have a connection. With Dexter, I can't help but feel Sheridan should at least be resistant to his words, if not outright dismissive. One of Sheridan's consistent traits is that he's mule-headed; mule-headed people do not take well to constructive criticism by outsiders. With Theo (and a rewrite), the scene might have worked. With Dexter - for me, at least - the scene is a flop.
More successful, but still problematic, is the scene in which Sheridan and Delenn finally figure out the Shadows' pattern. The idea is good. Sheridan has been trying too hard to see the pattern, which snaps into focus for him as soon as he relaxes and turns his mind to something else for a while. I like the concept of it. Unfortunately, the execution falls flat. It just happens much too suddenly, and much too easily. Sheridan simply calls the pattern onto the screen and says, "Did you just see what I saw?" It should take more than two seconds for him to figure out the solution. Even the old standby of Garibaldi or Ivanova making an off-hand comment to give him an epiphany would have worked better dramatically than the solution just appearing out of nowhere.
Despite my vague annoyances with those two Sheridan scenes, the Londo/Refa material is compelling, and the climax is nothing short of riveting. Oh, and "Z Minus 10?" On first viewing, those countdown titles gave me a feeling of something ominous moving forward, "slouching toward Bethlehem," if you will. Even knowing what's to come, on second viewing that feeling remains.