The ideas of rebirth and of tearing away old facades form the center of this episode, an effective and reflective epilogue to the massive, plot-driven 3-episode arc that preceded it.
With the major shift that has occurred on the station, Delenn feels that it is the perfect time for a Minbari rebirth ceremony. The ceremony involves giving away something you value and telling somebody something you have never told a living soul, all as a way of celebrating renewal and change.
Delenn is eager to involve all the major Ambassadors and leaders on-station, but finds them reluctant to attend. G'Kar is too busy orchestrating the Narns' new role in Station Security, trying to make sure that the Narn make themselves indispensable, so that they will retain their position when the crisis passes. Londo has no interest; "I am attending to my past and present, and to what is left of my future," he tells Delenn tersely, "I have no need of... your approval." And even Marcus, whose participation she had taken for granted, seems reluctant. As he tells Delenn, he has already lost everything that he once held dear; he has nothing left to surrender.
Delenn's preparations are further complicated by an outside influence. The remnants of the Night Watch, led by the vicious Boggs (Don Stroud), have devised a plan to force Sheridan to cede his authority over the station and return the station to Earth rule. The first stage of the plan? Kidnap Ambassador Delenn...
Ceremonies of Light and Dark is best considered less as entity unto itself and more as a reflective coda to the mammoth three episode arc that preceded it. The events of Messages from Earth, Point of No Return, and Severed Dreams altered the landscape of this series, taking fundamental aspects - things the first-time viewer would naturally take for granted within the show - and kicking them, like Humpty Dumpty, right off that wall. All the king's horses and all the king's men will never put this show back together the way it was... but with all the action and intensity of those three episodes, there wasn't really much time for the significance of that to sink in. That is this episode's role. Reflection and renewal, for the series and for its characters.
The station is undergoing a fundamental renewal. Earth Central has access to all the old codes and passwords. The station's computer system has to be flushed clean and then rebooted, or else Earth can shut them down with a single transmission. The most overtly comic subplot of the episode is launched when Garibaldi reboots the system and an artificial personality that was initially programmed into the computer, then discarded when it didn't work correctly, manifests itself in the rude, antagonistic tones of series consultant Harlan Ellison. Garibaldi then spends a substantial amount of the rest of the episode supervising the technicians that are trying to isolate the personality and shut it down again, this time permanently. I can't say this subplot was my favorite part of the episode (it was a touch too broad for my tastes), but the final visual of Garibaldi "executing" the offending computer component was extremely amusing.
Sheridan is in the midst of a transitional phase in his own renewal. At the end of Severed Dreams, he foreswore his Earth Alliance uniform. After breaking away from Earth, and turning his station's guns against Earth ships, he cannot bring himself to put on that blue cloth. Sheridan has discarded his old identity - the uniform that once made him "feel ten feet tall" until he became disillusioned and realized it was "just cloth" - and is now adrift, without a uniform and thus without an immediately recognizable identity. This dilemma is solved for him at the episode's end, when he is presented with a new uniform - a gift from Delenn, which he only receives after confessing the depth of his feelings for her, pledging himself to her in the process.
G'Kar and Londo both reject Delenn's ceremony. G'Kar cannot see the point. "I have already been born once, and quite sufficiently," he tells her. And he has already experienced his rebirth, through a combination of his insight into his enemy's mind, Kosh's influence, and the weeks of imprisonment which gave him time to reflect upon that. G'Kar is right that the ceremony is unnecessary for him. He has already received its message, and is acting upon it.
Londo refuses to acknowledge that there even is a point. He has already looked into his future, and consulted with the Lady Morella in an effort to discover what he can do to evade that terrible destiny. Since he was unable to understand her answers, he has come up with answers of his own. As he tells Delenn, he is trying to deal with both his past and his future. He knows he put himself on the wrong path when he made his deal with Morden. Now he is trying to undo that damage, to right both his own course and - even more importantly to him - the course of the Centauri.
To that end, he invites Lord Refa to the station. Over a drink, he urges Refa to scale back the Centauri aggression. "Only an idiot fights a war on two fronts," he tells Refa. "Only the Prince to the King of idiots fights a war on twelve fronts!" At the same time, he wants Refa to end his association with Morden and the Shadows. When Refa asks why he would do this, Londo calmly replies that Refa will do this because he is a patriot, because he values the welfare of Centauri Prime above his own ambitions, and because Londo has poisoned his drink. Londo then describes, in detail, what kind of poison he used and how Londo will seal Refa's fate if Refa does not cooperate. From Refa's crestfallen expression, it is clear that Londo has won this round. Refa will have to do as Londo demands... at least, for now.
The episode's most effective scene comes near its end, as the ceremony does occur... though not quite in the way Delenn had intended. Each member of Babylon 5's command staff goes to Delenn to give up something of value (their old Earthforce uniforms, their old identities), and to disclose a secret. Sheridan discloses the depth of his feelings for Delenn. Of course, their earlier interactions both last season and this season have already tipped us that these feelings are reciprocal, and from his pledge of love an enduring relationship will grow. Susan discloses her love for Talia. If she can let go of that, she may have a chance of future happiness with another; she already has a worthy suitor. At this time, though, she has yet to let go of the pain of past relationships. Though she and Marcus dance around each other, one or the other of them needs to take that step forward; thus far there are no signs that either of them are ready to make that leap. Garibaldi confesses his constant fear - not of enemies, but of himself, and what he might do. Whether he is referring to his propensity for violence or to his fear of failure and letting people down is unspoken. Perhaps in his mind, the two are mixed. Finally, Franklin, in his only scene of the episode, gets the most effective confession of all, taking the addict's most important first step - acknowledging that he has a problem. But Franklin does not seem ready to take action, he doesn't even elaborate on the statement. He hesitates for a moment after saying it, then turns and walks away, with no follow-up. To recognize a problem is important; but without action, the recognition alone cannot be enough.
With rebirth and renewal comes a crumbling of facades. Londo's jocular facade fades into something callous and even cruel, both when he informs Refa of what he has done and when he rejects Delenn's invitation. Lennier's composed facade shatters, revealing the bundle of repressed anger and violence beneath the surface when he fears for Delenn's safety. Even Lennier's apparent tolerance for other species vanishes, as he turns on Marcus with an angry, "We may sometimes look like you, but we are not you. Never forget that!" It isn't the only glimpse we've ever had of a darker side to Lennier, but it is the most disturbing. Beneath the calm, beneath the thoughtfulness, beneath the quiet dignity, there is a very dangerous man who - for all his meditation - is not in complete control of his own feelings. One wonders how Delenn would have reacted, had she seen this tiny but significant exchange. I suspect Lennier would never have disclosed this moment of weakness to her... and of course, Marcus would consider discussing Lennier's outburst the equivalent of breaking a confidence.
The final facade that crumbles is the pleasant, friendly face of the Night Watch. When introduced, the Nightwatch were presented as a benevolent organization, dedicated to maintaining peace by protecting people from themselves. Each reappearance has made them less benevolent and more sinister. The Fall of Night saw the organization applying coercion within its ranks, gently laying out bits of praise in return for each piece of information Zack confirmed. The result? The closing of a shop, whose owner had the temerity to complain about a law he disagreed with. Voices of Authority pulled the facade back further, as Miss Musante talked plainly about purges and arrests. Messages from Earth and Point of No Return presented a station Night Watch leader who was clearly reveling in his own power. Even there, though, the man kept a smiling face where possible, presenting himself as a friend.
Here, the facade is gone. There is no smiling face, no talk of peace. The face of Night Watch is truly unveiled... as the dirty, unkempt, cold-blooded face of Boggs. Icy cold and full of hate, Boggs is the kind of man who will prove an absolutely unnecessary point by dragging a hostage out in front of a monitor and shooting him, just to show that he's serious. Boggs doesn't flinch, doesn't react, doesn't care. Life is meaningless to him. His hostage is just meat, both before and after he pulls the trigger.
His lieutenant is even worse. Unnamed (billed in the credits only as "Sniper"), this man is a sadist. He inflicts violence for pleasure. In a scene just prior to the first commercial break, he recounts for Boggs a time during the Earth/Minbari War, when he took a period of days to kill a Minbari P. O. W. He describes cutting off the fingers, then the hands, then the feet, then the arms and legs. When Boggs assures him that he'll soon be able to show them first-hand exactly what he did, the man begins contentedly singing the "Dry Bones" song, clearly looking forward to the promise of inflicting pain with an anticipation somewhere between the religious and the sexual. It may be the single most disturbing fade-out of the series.
Though Boggs and his lieutenant work well in presenting the "True Face of the Night Watch," the one that always existed behind the smiles, they are on their own exceedingly one-dimensional. There is never any sense that Boggs is doing what he believes is right (which was the true tragedy of most of the people who would have been in the Night Watch). Boggs is a bad guy, pure and simple. He isn't even a very smart bad guy, showing a stunningly convenient lack of suspicion when Garibaldi and Sheridan spring their trap.
This would be a serious problem for me, if I considered the hostage situation to be the episode's main plot. Fortunately, it serves mainly as the complication to the main story, which is Delenn's ceremony of rebirth. The clichéd villains are not so much characters as symbols: decayed, corrupt figures of the government Babylon 5 has left behind. As such, their one-dimensional nature can be forgiven... just as long as the series doesn't start making a habit of such villains.
I was going to go with an "8," but found myself grading it up in the very process of writing this review. A quieter episode, but one which - appropriately - grows as you reflect upon it.