The return of a character not seen in a very long time forms the basis of another genuinely fine episode, in a run of genuinely fine episodes. Warning! Even more spoilers than usual!
Life on Babylon 5 is settling back into a comfortable routine, even against the backdrop of the Narn/Centauri conflict. Sheridan seems to have found a way to continue helping Narn refugees without overloading the station. He and Delenn are becoming more comfortable with each other than ever before. He also has come to feel a strong rapport with his command staff. Even his personal conspiracy, involving himself, Garibaldi, Stephen, and Susan, is becoming more comfortable and cozy, with Sheridan finding himself inclined to expand the group by one member when Garibaldi suggests that station telepath Talia Winters would make a strong ally.
However, as Sheridan will note later in the episode, any time you start feeling comfortable, the universe will come along and kick you in the butt. Lyta Alexander, Babylon 5's first station telepath, has returned with a dire warning. The Psi Corps has planted a sleeper agent in the midst of the command staff, an agent who doesn't even know that he or she is working for the Corps. Lyta does have a way of exposing that sleeper agent, a code word that she can telepathically transmit. There's only one problem; when Lyta transmits the, it will reveal the agent, but it will also destroy the personality of the man or woman carrying that agent.
As Sheridan weighs the need for security against the potential death of an innocent victim (the carrier is completely unaware of his or her nature), another of Lyta's predictions comes true. The sleeper is programmed to protect itself from being revealed. With Lyta revealed as a threat to its cover, the sleeper makes her a target for assassination!
Back in my review of Midnight on the Firing Line, I expressed my disappointment at the replacement of Lyta Alexander with Talia Winters, on the grounds that I had difficulty warming to Andrea Thompson in the same way I warmed to Patricia Tallman. I said something along the lines of wishing they had been able to keep Tallman throughout, rather than going down a 2-season "blind alley" with Talia.
I was wrong.
Not about Tallman vs. Thompson. I still far prefer Patricia Tallman. I find her more appealing and her performance more authentic (though her really good material doesn't come until much later). Still, I was wrong that it would have been better to have had her throughout. Certainly, it would have been smoother. In a season and a half, much gets set up for Talia that never will be paid off. In the process of this, however, we did receive two things that I think Babylon 5 would have been much poorer without.
The first was the character of Bester. Bester was introduced in Mind War, an episode that existed solely to nudge Talia down the arc path that Lyta had already been pushed toward in the series pilot. Whether we would have gotten a Bester figure later in the arc or not, without Talia, there would have been no need to introduce Bester at that point. With the benefit of hindsight, it is impossible to envision Babylon 5 without its most multi-layered villain.
The second is this episode, in which Lyta makes a very memorable return to the arc, in a story that ties together bits of the series' past with other bits that are yet to come.
There are many areas in which Divided Loyalties succeeds. It re-establishes Lyta expertly, and does so in a very short time frame. It manages to tie Lyta into the arc we have seen to date, by tying her to the Mars resistance. At the same time, it builds off the character's one prior series appearance; all her personal motivations in this episode stem directly from her scan of Kosh way back in The Gathering.
The episode also does an expert job of building suspense. The idea of flushing out a mole in the station command staff is an intriguing one, and one that allows Straczynski to bring back a plot element he had previously discarded with the loss of The Gathering's Takashima - namely, an enemy agent that doesn't know he or she is an enemy. Misdirection is wonderfully applied by manipulating the audience to suspect Susan through much of the episode. Also, Susan's own aversion to telepathic scans, previously alluded to in Midnight on the Firing Line and a major plot point in Eyes, is expanded on here, with a fuller explanation of her antipathy toward Psi Corps given.
But the area I want to focus on in this review is the episode's successful pairing off of characters into couples. Much of the emphasis of this episode is given over to three pairings of characters, three couples, each of which drives the story forward.
The first, most obviously important couple in this episode is Talia and Susan. When we last saw them together, in A Race Through Dark Places, Talia had come to Susan's quarters to "re-evaluate (their) relationship." We haven't seen them on-screen together since, but it is quite clear in the early scenes of this episode that their relationship has built significantly. They are very comfortable together at the beginning of the episode, with Talia needling Susan about her early prickly nature. When Talia passive/aggressively notes her need for a place to stay and starts rambling about Brown Sector, it takes no time at all for Susan to suggest her quarters, with just the right hint of shyness.
There is also a noticeable change in the language of their relationship. Words like "we" and "us" are suddenly used by both Talia and Susan. "It's a shame it took us so long to get to this point," Talia says in their first scene together. Later, after Lyta has raised the specter of Susan's greatest fear (a scan), Talia walks in on Susan taking out her frustration on a cabinet. "That's one cabinet that will never threaten us again," she observes wryly. Even their nonverbal interactions, their basic body language, is that of a couple... at least, as much as Straczynski/the network was comfortable in showing. Susan has finally let down her guard enough to let one person in, and she is clearly enjoying being comfortable with that person.
Of course, any time you start to feel comfortable, "the universe comes along and kicks you in the butt," as Sheridan notes to Delenn. Sheridan and Delenn form the episode's second couple. After the events of In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum and Confessions & Lamentations, these two have become very close. They're in that nascent phase of a relationship, where you find excuses to linger near the other person when there's no reason not to just keep moving. We see this early on, when they find themselves together at the station's newspaper dispenser. After Sheridan gets his newspaper, were it any other ambassador - or were it Delenn, much earlier in the season - he would probably nod a farewell and move on. Now he lingers, chatting with Delenn as she gets her newspaper, just enjoying being in her presence.
Even more notable is the scene in the garden, where Delenn's unfamiliarity with certain English colloquialisms brings Sheridan the relief of some much-needed laughter at the end of a very bad day. The camera tilts down toward the end of their conversation, to reveal that they are already holding hands, and are probably not even conscious of the moment at which those hands first touched. Add to the above Sheridan's unspoken trust of Delenn when the Minbari ambassador arranges for Lyta's return after the attempt on Lyta's life. It all adds up to one of only a few episodes to successfully show, instead of tell, the relationship between Delenn and Sheridan.
Delenn and Sheridan are a couple in the process of discovering their relationship. Talia and Susan are a couple who have fairly recently discovered their relationship, and are enjoying the newfound intimacy. The third couple that drives this episode's plot is very different. This third couple is the estranged one, forged less out of mutual love than out of obsession; both parties need each other, but one feels something the other cannot truly return.
Lyta and Kosh.
We are told, first in Season One then again in this episode, that Lyta was never "quite right" after scanning Kosh in The Gathering. That scan has become the defining event of Lyta's life. Everything she has done since leaving the station is directly related to Kosh, and a mounting obsession with Kosh. She hides away her memory of the Vorlon, keeping it secret from every attempt to probe her. She falls in with the Mars Resistance, purely to find a way to Vorlon space. She speaks of being drawn to the Vorlons, and of her certainty that they will let her in.
There's much religious symbolism here, of course. But there's additional subtext, particularly when Lyta comes face-to-face with Kosh in the episode's final scene. She speaks to him less like a disciple than like a lover, reveling in the memory of him that she keeps hidden, only taking it out and unlocking it in the dark of night (which also parallels the sleeper agent, who can only come out at night when the dominant personality sleeps). "Only at night, alone, would I open that small door in my mind where I kept the memory of you, and listen to your voice," she tells him, "Listen to you sing me to sleep." She speaks earnestly of her desire to see Kosh again - "just one more time before I go" - and then basks in the sight of him as he reveals himself to her once more, this time voluntarily. It's a fantastic scene, the perfect capper to an excellent episode, and Patricia Tallman's performance in this scene alone is sufficient to showcase why I prefer her Lyta to Andrea Thompson's Talia by quite some distance.
Once again, there's very little to file under this section. Both of the complaints I can think of fall under the category of nit-picks.
The first is not so much a complaint with this episode as with the structure of Season Two in general. Season One and early Season Two - up through A Race Through Dark Places - did a fine job of gradually developing the relationship with Susan and Talia, bringing them from adversaries, to friends, to hints of something more. But that development completely stopped after A Race Through Dark Places (indeed, the couple of Talia appearances between that episode and this one mostly fall under the heading of "reminding the viewer this character even exists").
To an extent, I understand this. With the Narn/Centauri War flaring up, and Morden and the Shadows coming to Sheridan's attention, there were certainly more prominent storylines to focus on. But it does leave this episode with a distinct expositional burden. First the episode has to remind viewers of the relationship between Talia and Susan. Then it has to really reinforce them as a couple, in a way that had only been barely suggested prior to this point. Effectively, the two characters' entire relationship has to be built in this one episode. This should not have been necessary. All Straczynski & company needed ot do was to find room for just one or two Susan/Talia scenes in the mid-season episodes, something to lay down a little more groundwork for their greatly-increased intimacy here. Given the "filler" nature of a few of the mid-season stories (There All the Honor Lies particularly springs to mind), I'd have difficultly believing there wasn't room to slip just a couple of extra scenes in somewhere.
My second nit-pick is my recurring complaint regarding Andrea Thompson's work. I have made no secret in these reviews of my inability to really warm to her performance. She was fine playing light comic moments (her scene with Sinclair at the start of A Voice in the Wilderness, or her slapping of Garibaldi in another Season One episode), and she did play extremely well opposite Claudia Christian. Most of the time, however, she has felt artificial. I haven't seen Talia; I've seen an actress, acting. In this episode, she once again does well in the Talia/Susan scenes, and she is effectively feral at the moment the veil is dropped. However, in her final scene of the episode - her final scene ever - she simply comes across as arch. The absence of subtlety is all the more apparent given that Claudia Christian does some superb acting in the same scene.
Despite these nit-picks, Divided Loyalties is an excellent episode. A strong return for Lyta Alexander, a strong underlining of the insidious threat the Psi Corps pose, and just a really fine piece of television in general.