A hastily-assembled, comparatively low-budget episode created to fill a gap left when another script fell through, Eyes is probably the closest Babylon 5 ever got to a clip show. On the other hand, it's an episode that does a very nice job feeding off elements from past episodes. An added bonus to the arc is, that by the nature of its story, it provides some nice foreshadowing to the unexpected cast changes that occurred between seasons.
Terrorist attacks by separatist groups have escalated to new heights on Mars, and Earth is now fearful of arms shipments to Mars groups. Sinclair has already tipped his command staff to be watchful for potential arms deals on the station. However, he is unprepared for what lies ahead.
Colonel Ari Ben Zayn, a ruthlessly efficient veteran who was once tagged as a potential commander for Babylon 5, has come to the station with his telepathic aide, Harriman Gray (Jeffrey Combs). Ben Zayn is determined to investigate the loyalty of every member of the station's staff, and is further determined to have Mr. Gray do a scan of each of the command staff. When Sinclair finds a loophole in the new regulations to thwart Ben Zayn, the colonel goes even further - removing Sinclair from command, and putting himself in charge. Now it is up to Garibaldi to discover what is driving Ben Zayn, and who is giving the colonel his support, in order to return the station to its normal operation.
As I've noted in my last two reviews, I have always found the best episodes of any television show (not just Babylon 5) to be ones that revolve around the regulars. It is the regular characters we watch week in and week out, so it is inevitable that I find myself more connected to them than to the Guest Star of the Week. As a result, I get more involved in stories placing Sinclair, Garibaldi, or Ivanova in jeopardy than I do with stories placing John Smith or Capt. Blue in jeopardy.
The plot of Eyes sees the regulars squarely targeted. Ben Zayn's direct target, it soon becomes clear, is Sinclair. Ivanova is equally impacted, however - arguably more impacted, given her emotional response to Psi-Corps and the idea of telephathic scanning. When Ivanova believes that she cannot avoid being scanned, she immediately offers Sinclair her resignation. She has troubled dreams, in which she remembers her mother's fate and the hands of Psi Corps and sees herself sharing that fate. And when Sinclair's ploy to beat Ben Zayn appears to have failed, she reacts with further emotion: abandoning her post and getting thoroughly drunk. Ivanova's reactions may not be intelligent, but people don't tend to react intelligently when faced with the thing they most fear. Her strong emotion is very dramatically effective, and Claudia Christian plays her scenes superbly.
It is also nice to finally see an episode where Sinclair fails. In episodes such as Midnight on the Firing Line, Deathwalker, and By Any Means Necessary, we have seen Sinclair fight within the rules. In each case, he has achieved his goal. In Midnight on the Firing Line, he avoids having to cast a vote against his conscience; in Deathwalker, he forges a compromise to satisfy both Earth's government and the alien races; and in By Any Means Necessary - probably his greatest triumph - he averts a strike, avoids a violent confrontation, and successfully reallocates funds to improve conditions and equipment on the station.
Here, Sinclair once again fights within the rules. He researches the exact wording of the regulations Ben Zayn is using to justify his telepathic scans, and finds the loophole that enables him to refuse those scans for both himself and Ivanova. He seems to have won. But Ben Zayn turns the tables by goading him into attempting to walk out in the middle of an interrogation, thus providing Ben Zayn justification to specifically charge Sinclair... thereby closing the commander's loophole. Only Garibaldi's loyalty, and foresight in launching an immediate (and surreptitious) investigation of Ben Zayn, saves Sinclair and Ivanova in this instance.
The episode also is interesting for the way it builds on previous episodes. Ben Zayn questions many of Sinclair's decisions, allowing references to episodes as far back as Midnight on the Firing Line. When it is revealed that Ben Zayn was much higher on Earth's list to command the station than was Sinclair, it reminds us of Garibaldi's revelation from Signs & Portents, that Sinclair is only in this position because of the Minbari's insistence. Sinclair's failure to have Ben Zayn called off by his military and political connections brings back his fears at the end of By Any Means Necessary: specifically, his realization that he has made some very powerful enemies within the administration. Finally, there is the identity of Ben Zayn's good friend and benefactor. Nice to see one of the series' more memorable creations become the special guest star of an episode he isn't even in.
Finally, this episode comes up even with By Any Means Necessary in sheer serendipity. No one writing the first season knew that Sinclair would be removed from the show; indeed, it likely appeared that Sinclair was one of the series' least expendable characters. But even without this being planned, episodes like this one and By Any Means Necessary go a long way toward making the change of command not only plausible, but even a logical extension of events. We are repeatedly shown in the first season that Sinclair and Babylon 5 are favorites of President Santiago, but that Sinclair in particular has made powerful enemies "within the administration" with some of his choices. When things change, and the balance of power within that administration switches, it makes perfect sense for Sinclair to be removed. Actually, it makes more sense for him to be removed once his enemies are in power than it would have made for him to have stayed! Not planned, I realize - but episodes like this one allow it to be there, which is very fortunate for the series' later developments.
Nice background details to watch for: after being blown off by Lou Welch, notice who Ben Zayn next talks to? Notice also, when looking at the credits, that this actor later appears in Ivanova's dream as Tragedy. Very well-done, there.
More points to the episode for its characterization of Harriman Gray. Another face of the tragedy of Psi regulation, here is a character whose dream to fight in Earth Force was taken away from him when his talent manifested, and who was given a new chance to serve Earth Force by the Corps. Gray is the opposite of Bester: a basically compassionate and decent man, who clearly despises the monster he has been assigned to serve. Well-played by cult film actor Jeffrey Combs, Gray is a strong guest character who I would not have minded seeing again.
Oh, and how could you possibly dislike an episode that ends with Garibaldi and Lennier zooming down the middle of the station in a motorcycle? A wonderful closing image.
Ben Zayn is a bit one-dimensional as a villain. His closing monologue, in particular, reduces him to a poor man's Captain Queeg. Fortunately, the damage is limited by the strong guest performance by Gregory Martin, who does much to make the character believable.
It is amusing to watch the original preview for this episode on the DVD, by the way. See Delenn, see G'Kar, see Londo. See the episode, and realize that none of these characters are actually in it. Still, that's advertising for you.
Given the circumstances surrounding the production (little time and little money), Eyes works surprisingly well. Not a highlight of the first season, perhaps, but a very enjoyable sleeper of an episode nonetheless.