Season Two's climactic run ends with another winner, one that - as with the previous season's finale - ensures that the show's universe is fundamentally changed.
The Centauri, not content to rest on their laurels after toppling the Narn, have started to launch invasions against the Drazi and the Pak'ma'ra under the guise of "creating a buffer zone" to "stabilize the region." To Sheridan's delight, his report to Earth about this matter actually yields results. Frederick Lantz (Roy Dotrice), from the Ministry of Peace, arrives to investigate. Sheridan begins to hope that Earth's long inaction is finally going to end.
Meanwhile, a Narn heavy cruiser that somehow survived the war arrives at Babylon 5 in secret, requesting sanctuary while they repair damage to their ship. The newly-optimistic Sheridan is only too happy to oblige.
Then the inevitable hammer falls. Lantz is not here to censure the Centauri, but to sign a non-aggression pact with them to secure "peace in our time." This comes just as Londo learns of the Narn cruiser, leading to a direct confrontation between Sheridan and the Centauri - a confrontation that will also lead Lieutenant Warren Keffer to the object of his own obsession, the mysterious black ship that he previously glimpsed in hyperspace...
The end of Season Two has seen the series ramp up its energy considerably. For the past half-dozen episodes, Babylon 5 has been turning out the kind of shows that hooked me in the first place, with that compelling tone the series has at its best - that feeling that everything is out of control, building to a relentless momentum that threatens to grind the characters to dust.
There are some interesting parallels between Season One's Chrysalis and Season Two's The Fall of Night. Both shows feature the station commander attempting to reason with the Ambassador of a government whose aggression is threatening to destroy the peace. In Season One, the Narn were the aggressors, their resentment of the Centauri prodding them to lay claim to more and more Centauri territory. Now it is the Centauri - portrayed as the sympathetic victims in Season One - who have become the aggressors, first crushing the Narn by breaking all the rules of warfare, and now turning against other races. It is not just Londo and G'Kar who are alike; the Narn and the Centauri are very much the same, as well, moreso than either race would ever own up to. What the Centauri are doing now, the Narn were doing one year previously. What the Centauri did to the Narn, the Narn would have done to Centauri Prime had they had the means.
Londo is far less receptive to Sheridan's appeals to reason, however, than G'Kar was to Sinclair's in Chrysalis. Part of that had to do with the fact that G'Kar was already evolving by the time of that episode. Even as he trumpeted his government's aggression, G'Kar heard the truth in Sinclair's words. Londo has evolved as well - but at this point, it is not a change for the better.
The Londo who rebuffs Sheridan in his office is barely recognizable as the Londo who reacted like a child caught cheating on an exam in The Geometry of Shadows. There, Londo was easily cowed by Sheridan and the Techno-Mage, Elric. Here, Londo is past being cowed by anybody. In Geometry of Shadows, a furious Sheridan threatened Londo with expulsion from the station (furthering the parallel between Season One G'Kar and Season Two Londo by establishing in Sheridan and Londo's first major interaction the very adversarial relationship between them that had often typified Sinclair's relationship wtih G'Kar). Here, we see Londo almost soften for a second - almost acknowledge Sheridan's words... and then draw himself up in a fury to threaten Sheridan. As Garibaldi notes in the very next scene, this is not the same Londo.
It isn't that hard to pinpoint the scene where Londo completely abandoned his previous persona. Londo was more or less the character we had been seeing throughout Season Two at the start of The Long, Twilight Struggle, as he fenced with and ultimately gave into Refa. Then he stood on Refa's warship and watched the destruction of the Narn. And as he stared into that fiery abyss, the stricken look on his face showed the final death of his innocence. As he watched the Narn Homeworld collapse under the bombardment, he felt himself to be as damned as the late Centauri Emperor had proclaimed him to be.
It was when he returned from that bombardment that we saw the newest version of Londo, the Londo who spoke so harshly to Garibaldi and shouted demands and orders at Sheridan. He is frightened: not only of his "associates" and Mr. Morden, but even of himself. And to cover that fear, he is assuming a harder and harsher persona than ever before, perhaps in a subconscious effort to push everyone away from what he has become. I'm not sure if that's the portrayal intended, but it seems to fit - and it definitely fits with his plans for Vir next season.
As the Centauri are growing out of control, so is Clark's new regime. If one accepts Clark's Law, then Clark's "Ivan the Terrible" gambit worked and recalled him to power even stronger than before; if one does not accept that novel, then it is enough to say that Clark has spent his first year in office solidifying his power base, quietly setting the new direction of his government in motion. Either way, former President Santiago's vision has been perverted. Under Santiago, the Homeguard were considered a terrorist organization. Under Clark, the Night Watch are fully endorsed and legitimized... despite being in many ways a rebranding of the same philosophy.
The Night Watch plot gains added weight in this episode. In the earlier episode, Zack joined Night Watch on the grounds that it was 50 extra credits a week for "just doing what (he's) already doing." Here, Zack finds out that more is expected of him. The pleasant platitudes of Pierce Mackabee are replaced here by the quiet but firm pressure of Mr. Welles (John Vickery, out of makeup for a change). Zack finds himself pressured to inform on people in the station. When he isn't comfortable with that, Welles simply asks for confirmation of other reported incidents. When Zack reluctantly gives into this pressure, Welles praises him for being "flexible" and showing "great potential." At the episode's end, when Zack sees the results of his report - a shop closed, and an innocent man charged with sedition for what amounts to complaining about his taxes - he is clearly troubled, but equally clearly feeling trapped now that the organization he thought to be just a harmless bit of bureaucracy has turned out to be far more sinister.
Veteran actor Roy Dotrice is the major guest star of the episode, continuing the World War II parallels by giving Babylon 5 its very own Neville Chamberlain in the kindly, grandfatherly guise of Frederick Lantz. It's a fine performance, and an interesting character. Lantz is a fundamentally good and decent man. He loves his grandchildren, he bonds easily with Susan as he talks about Earth and family and how there has been too much death. It is clear that, at least initially, Susan quite likes him.
He is also exactly the wrong man, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
Had the Earth Alliance still been dealing with Emperor Turhan, then Lantz would probably have been a fine representative. I could almost picture the sickenly cozy scene, as the two kindly men bonded with each other over advancing age, children, holidays, birds, and puppies. But Lantz is out of his depth against a shark like Refa. He simply isn't devious enough to deal with such a man. And despite his outrage when Sheridan's actions threaten his "peace at any price," on some level, Lantz probably knows that he's out of his depth. It's telling that he is unable to look G'Kar in the eye without feeling guilt and all but running away.
The World War II parallels extend beyond just Lantz, to the entire current set-up. Earth (the Allies) had been through a devastating war, long enough ago to feel recovered from it but recently enough to remember the scars, and desperately wishes to avoid another war. The results of this have been evident from the beginning. When the Narn appeared to be Germany, breaching treaties as it mobilized to take Centauri territory, Earth's Senate did its level best to order Sinclair to stay out of it. Now that the Centauri have emerged as the real "Axis Powers" of the B5 universe, Earth is remaining consistent in blocking Sheridan from interfering. Lantz (Chamberlain) and men like him remember the devastation of the previous war all too well, and simply are not willing to see it repeated... even if avoiding war means capitulation.
I suppose that makes Sheridan the equivalent of Winston Churchill. Well, why not? He already drew the parallel himself, during In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum.
The final area to note is the end of Warren Keffer's running subplot, his obsessive hunt for the Shadow vessel he saw in hyperspace. For the first time in a J. Michael Straczynski episode, Keffer actually gets some good material. To his credit, Robert Rusler does fairly well here. We see Keffer's eagerness when he learns of another pilot who saw the same thing, and we can feel the moment when he puts himself firmly on the path to his own death. He is even warned, as such men must be at some point. And as such men must do, he ignores the warning.
One almost senses that Keffer is a man who believes himself to be "the star of the show." He thinks of himself as the hero, the one who will solve the puzzle against all odds and somehow save the day. In reality, we know what Keffer does not: that he's Sam Peckinpah's "third man through the door," the one who dies namelessly in a hail of bullets.
At least Keffer's exit provides a spark for the following season, as his dying recording of a Shadow ship is picked up by ISN. Even in death, Keffer essentially screws up: while Delenn and Sheridan are working to make the Shadows believe the other races don't know of them, Keffer's recording reveals them to everyone. As with Lantz and his all-encompassing obsession with peace, Keffer's all-encompassing obsession with his hyperspace mystery ends up acting against the heroes, which will make their efforts just a little more rushed and desperate from here on out.
I never noticed while watching the episode until I saw it with the commentary, but J. Michael Straczynski is right. There really should be a fan in Sheridan's face to create a wind effect for the close-ups during his fall. As I stated, though, I never noticed it just watching; I was so caught up in the story, I daresay I wouldn't have noticed if a boom mike had dropped into frame.