Bester returns for another fencing match against Sheridan and Garibaldi in this entertaining entry.
As Sheridan struggles to control the Nightwatch's increasingly heavy-handed enforcement against "sedition" (meaning any criticism of President Clark or his administration), he finds life complicated by the arrival of an old enemy: Psi Cop Alfred Bester.
Not trusting Bester to abide by the rules against unauthorized scans, Sheridan and Delenn come up with a plan to nullify Bester's talent using Minbari telepaths - just long enough to get Bester to agree to take "sleepers" while on-station. Once Bester agrees, he fills them in on why he is here. Bester has come in pursuit of a dealer in the illicit drug known as Dust. Dust is a highly addictive drug that stimulates the latent telepath gene in most humans, allowing the user to "take a joyride" in someone else's mind. Normals assaulted by a dust user usually recover in a few days. For telepaths, it is a greater concern; telepaths made the victims of dust users rarely recover at all.
Bester teams with Security Chief Garibaldi to track down the Dust dealer. The dealer is himself arranging a major sale to G'Kar, who wants to use the Dust as a weapon to allow the Narn to learn the secrets of the occupying Centauri. But before G'Kar will buy, he first wants to test the merchandise. G'Kar takes the drug himself, and then goes in search of his nemesis, Londo Mollari.
Any time ruthless Psi Cop Al Bester comes to the station, it is bad news for the regulars... and very good news for the viewer. Bester's appearance in Season One's Mind War helped to really kick the first season into gear, with one of the series' first unqualified successes. His return in A Race Through Dark Places wasn't quite as successful, but Bester himself remained a marvelous creation, a polite and well-mannered man who could look you in the eye and give you the friendliest of smiles even while driving a dagger into your chest and twisting.
In his first two series appearances, Bester was painted mainly in broad strokes as a ruthless villain. Koenig added texture to that, but on the page he was a decidedly black and white figure. Dust to Dust begins to change that, adding layers onto the character to match the layers in the performance.
Bester really shines in this episode, in a way he didn't fully get to before. In Mind War and A Race Through Dark Places, we mainly saw a man who used his position as a Psi Cop and his formidable talent to intimidate. Here, Bester is temporarily stripped of his telepathic powers. And without those powers... he remains as formidable as ever, able to use nothing more than his uniform and a few well-chosen words to intimidate a suspect into a confession.
We also begin to see that Bester is more than just a villain. When Garibaldi calls him on using his uniform to intimidate others, Bester not only owns up to it, he seems proud of it. And he quickly turns the charge on Garibaldi, observing that Garibaldi uses his uniform and his status on the station in exactly the same way, to exactly the same end. In another scene, when Garibaldi makes one crack too many at the expense of Bester and the Corps, Bester decides he's had enough and snaps back at Garibaldi that his work has been vital in the defense of Earth. Bester's defense is the same defense used by intelligence agencies everywhere; Garibaldi has never heard of the various threats against humanity that Bester has faced, because Bester and his people dealt with them. Bester's defense is that he, and people like him, are necessary. And to a point, he's right.
It is worth noting that when Bester describes himself as "just," there is absolutely nothing facetious in his voice or face. Bester truly believes that his work is just and necessary. And though this is still a bit too early in the series to discuss in depth, there are later events that may well prove his belief to be correct... At least, up to a point.
(Both of the above points are crossed by the revelation at the end of the episode, of course. Though in Bester's defense, it is noted that he was personally opposed to the policy in question.)
In addition to developing Bester's character, this is a key episode in the ongoing development of G'Kar. Late Season Two and early Season Three has seen a wiser G'Kar, but a G'Kar still driven by his rage against the Centauri. We have seen that rage manifest itself many times: his "Dead, dead, dead" scene in the elevator with Vir in Comes the Inquisitor; his willingness to sacrifice his own life if it allows him to watch Londo die in Convictions; and his obsessive need to stalk Londo to make him the "test subject" of the Dust's effectiveness in this episode.
This time, however, G'Kar gets more than he bargains for. By seeing into Londo's mind, he sees that his hated enemy was assigned to Babylon 5... because Londo was the only relatively high-level Centauri deemed expendable enough to send there. We watch, with G'Kar, as the last vestiges of hopeful idealism fall from Londo's face when he is bluntly told that his assignment is "a joke... a bad one." Then G'Kar sees Londo's talks with Morden, following the destruction of the Narn outpost in Chrysalis, and realizes that Londo has been at the center of the fall of the Narn. This leads an enraged G'Kar to press for more of Londo's memories - and in so doing, G'Kar sees Londo's nightmares.
It is interesting that Kosh chooses this moment (and not before) to intervene in the conflict between Londo and G'Kar. Kosh appears to G'Kar, in the form of both his father and the Narn prophet G'Quan, to urge G'Kar to stop the cycle of hatred and to embrace a role that will be more useful - and more difficult - than any he has known before. G'Kar's response is to stop what he is doing and to weep, before pleading guilty to all charges in a court on the station, and calmly accepting a 60-day imprisonment (an imprisonment that recalls many, many leaders of oppressed groups in the past: Gandhi, Mandela, King, and so many others). Here, Kosh gives G'Kar the final push to put him on his true path.
Finally, Vir makes his first return from Minbar in this episode. I would let this pass without notice, but for one moment that I feel must be commented on. When Delenn and Lennier attempt to moderate a dispute between the Drazi and the Centauri, the moderation ends when Londo makes an ultimatum and stalks out of the room. This leads Delenn and Lennier to observe that Londo's soul is now so suffused by darkness that they believe there is no salvation possible for him.
Vir speaks up at this. "You don't know him," he tells the two Minbari. "Some day, he'll surprise you." As ever, Vir's loyalty to his mentor, and his faith in his essential goodness, is truly touching. This series would truly be much poorer without the Londo/Vir relationship.
Not really much bad, here. Garibaldi and Bester have a little too easy a time finding the source of the Dust smuggling - question one suspect, then a brief stakeout, and they have their man. Still, I suspect that is the price of having an episode with two major running plots and only 44 minutes in which to tell them. It's not like it would really make it a better episode if Garibaldi and Bester had to turn the station upside-down.