"Apotheosis" means "rising to divine status; deification." Godhood (or rather, the perception of godhood) is the central theme of this episode, another in the most exciting run of episodes the series has seen to date.
The Vorlons continue to methodically destroy every planet in their path that has been touched by the Shadows. Several other worlds take in refugees who managed to escape... but some of those planets are also targeted by the Vorlons, leaving no safe place for anyone.
In the wake of the Vorlons' insane actions, Sheridan decides that it is time that the Vorlon Ambassador (Kosh 2/Ulkesh) is expelled from the station. He realizes that Ulkesh will not leave just because they ask him to. So he has to come up with another way to deal with the Vorlon. "We've got to take him out," he announces, "any way we can!"Back on Centauri Prime, Londo learns that of the Vorlons' current actions. Knowing that he has approximately seven days before they reach the Centauri Homeworld, he decides to accelerate his plans for Cartagia's "removal," shrewdly playing on the emperor’s own dreams of godhood.
As I mentioned in this review's introduction, the main theme of this episode has to do with godhood. At this point in the arc, several beings are finding themselves raised to the status of gods. Cartagia has secured the Shadows' promise that he will be a living god. Sheridan is being treated as something close to a god. Finally, the Vorlons, who had previously cast themselves in the role of angels to the younger races, have now given themselves the rights of gods: destroying entire civilizations in their zeal to eradicate the Shadows.
The Vorlons and Cartagia are quite mad. They are invested in their godhood; they believe in it. They are, as the title of the old M*A*S*H episode went, "bananas, crackers, and nuts," and they might be pathetic if they weren't so horrifyingly powerful. So why does Sheridan escape the curse of insanity that plagues the episode's other "gods?" Well, a lot has to do with his reaction to his ascension. Cartagia has made a deal with the Shadows to take godhood onto himself. The Vorlons are seizing the power of gods. Both are claiming the right to be gods for themselves.
Sheridan is not. His words on his return in The Summoning, telling the other races to take his very presence as proof that they could stand against the Shadows, were perhaps hastily-chosen and have very likely accelerated his own ascension. But he does not want to play God. Look at one of the episode's opening scenes. The panicking crowd stills and parts at Sheridan's mere presence. The young woman he helps looks at him with pure, religious awe. Whispers of, "Is that him?"
And Sheridan... is incredibly uncomfortable with this. The crowd is thrusting him into the role of a messiah, but it is not a role that he wants. He knows that, mystical return from the dead or no, he is just a man. He wants the people to believe in his cause, but he does not want them to believe in him, at least not as anything more than a leader.
Sheridan is uncomfortable because he is sane. In their willful destruction of planets, indiscriminate of civilian cost, the Vorlons - self-anointed angels of heaven - prove that they are not. The allies they have declared "irrelevant" are now battling their former benefactors for sheer self-preservation. In their determination to make their belief in Order the only surviving belief, the Vorlons are perpetuating more chaos than the Shadows managed to do in the entire first three seasons put together. Of course, they do not recognize this. By definition, the mad do not recognize rational truths.
Both the Vorlons and Cartagia are prepared to sacrifice the people they are meant to be protecting for their own glory, simply because they have come to regard themselves as superior to those people. Upon hearing that a mere human is carrying Kosh's essence, Ulkesh snarls that this is "intolerable!" Upon considering that all Centauri Prime will be a funeral pyre to light the way for his ascension to godhood, Cartagia reflects that "anyone who comes after (him) will be inferior" anyway. By leaving Centauri Prime to its destruction, he will be doing the Centauri a favor. Better for the entire planet to die than to be forced to go on without his divine magnificence.
Even Sheridan, the sane one among these three, doesn’t get to be elevated without issues. We see this mainly in the reaction from Garibaldi. We saw in the last episode that the security chief was edgier than usual. In this episode, that edginess begins tilts toward outright paranoia.
A paranoia that is fed by the realities of the situation. The reactions of the crowds to Sheridan's return... Sheridan's entirely unexplained "new best friend," who is always by his side... His own inability to remember what happened to him. It’s actually entirely reasonable for Garibaldi to ask questions. It's not his wariness that alerts us to a "wrongness" in him; it's the surly, belligerent manner in which he expresses that wariness. This is a Garibaldi without the easygoing humor of the previous three seasons. We are seeing the part of himself that he feared when he told Delenn that "sometimes I'm afraid what I might do."
It must be said that he still comes through when needed. He complains about his assignment to face down Ulkesh (and I don't blame him). But he doesn't do so in front of the guards he takes with him, and he remains loyal to his men. When Ulkesh lashes out at them, Garibaldi is the last man out the door, helping those who have fallen to get to safety. Whatever has been done to him, his courage remains intact.
OF EYES AND ENDINGS
The final scene of the episode sees Londo miss another chance at redemption as he fails to save G'Kar's eye. He is clearly given the chance. Cartagia doesn't like how G'Kar is looking at him, but he does not instantly demand the eye be taken. Instead, the Emperor asks what should be done. Londo, too preoccupied with his planet's plight to recognize the moment, gives no opinion - He just leaves. Only then does Cartagia come up with his inspiration.
As always with Cartagia, this gruesome act is a matter of whim. When the Centauri guards ask him which eye to take, he doesn't really care. He's given his order; the whim has passed as quickly as the words have passed his lips.
Making the scene even more disturbing is the final shot. Knowing what is to happen to G'Kar, we see the guards closing in on him. The camera pulls back slowly. Then, before any violence is shown, the door closes. We are allowed to let that closed door sink in, our imaginations filling in the scene that must be taking place on the other side of that door. As with the electro-whip scene in The Summoning, what we don't see is more horrific than anything we do see. Our imaginations are left to work on that closed door for an extended beat before, finally - and ever so slowly - the episode fades out.
There’s nothing bad about this episode, but I can’t resist the urge to take one last swipe at Personal Agendas (and give one more reason to discount that dreadful book). In that novel, Garibaldi was fully acting as Security Chief. Here, he's not yet been cleared to return to active duty, having to pass yet more tests by Dr. Franklin. Given that he wasn't even wounded in Personal Agendas, I find it difficult to explain away the discrepancy.