"What is your name? What is your quest? What is your favorite color?"
...OK, I'll hold off on the Monty Python jokes. I don't know that I'd be able to work references to "Spam-a-lot" or killer rabbits very smoothly into this review anyway. Suffice it to say, it's all but impossible to watch this episode without having a Python flashback or two. Not that I'm entirely sure I consider this a bad thing...
My last review hailed TKO as the last of Season One's pure standalones. I was wrong; this episode holds that title. Fortunately, it is a somewhat better episode, if only because of an excellent performance by guest star David Warner.
Ambassador Delenn is very excited by the arrival of a new visitor to the station: a human named Aldous Gajic (David Warner). Gajic is what the Minbari term a "True Seeker," a man who has devoted his life to the pursuit of an ideal. Gajic's life-long quest? Why, the search for the Holy Grail, of course.
In Down Below, another man finds himself driven by his beliefs. Jinxo is a skilled tech who could easily get a job any number of places. However, he remains on Babylon 5 because he is convinced that he is the cause of a curse. He worked on the construction of all the Babylon stations... and the instant Jinxo left each of them, the stations were destroyed or vanished.
Now Jinxo's insistence on remaining on Babylon 5 has gotten him into trouble with a gangster named Deuce (William Sanderson). He has just 30 cycles to either deliver station specifications to Deuce or to pay Deuce 100,000 credits. If he can't pay up, Deuce will feed Jinxo to his new "associate," a brain-eating monster with an insatiable appetite: an encounter-suited partner that Deuce refers to as "Kosh."
Some actors have a way of adding class to any material that they are in. Even when the script is junk or the base idea wretched, these actors have a way of rising above their material and making everything a little more watchable through their simple presence.
David Warner has appeared in more than his share of junk throughout his career, but he has never given a bad performance in any of it - at least not that I've seen (and I've seen Quest of the Delta Knights... it doesn't get too much worse than that). Whether as villain, hero, or supporting actor, he has a great deal of dignity and presence that lights up the screen when he's on camera. Yes, Grail is another episode that focuses most of its attention on the Guest Character of the Week. But it fares better than TKO did, due to the simple fact that David Warner is so instantly very good that we actually do care what happens to Aldous, despite the fact that we know we'll never see Aldous again.
The episode also finds a way to expand on the roles of some of the supporting regulars, as well as the backstory of the series. The scene where Aldous visits Delenn and Lennier is particularly interesting, as the subjects of the Earth/Minbari War and the differing religious and warrior castes emerge. When Aldous asks Delenn if the two castes have ever agreed on anything, Delenn recalls that it happened just once in her lifetime - with terrible results. One need not have seen In the Beginning to know exactly what Delenn is referring to; but having seen In the Beginning, Delenn's statement gains even greater resonance.
More groundwork is laid for Sinclair's eventual fate, when Delenn notes to him the importance of True Seekers in Minbari culture, and then strongly implies that she considers Sinclair to be such a man. Most of Delenn and Sinclair's conversations in this episode carry double meanings, reflecting back on Sinclair's destiny. Sinclair has yet to discover it, but he is already stuck on the treadmill, on a path that the Minbari and the Vorlons and his own sense of honor have tied him to - a fact that resonates far more strongly in this episode on a second trip through the series than it did the first time through.
This episode also gives Vir one interesting moment (which is more than most first season episodes gave him). When Aldous comes to Ambassador Mollari with his quest, Londo tries to sell the True Seeker whatever knowledge he can afford, just as he asked the parents in Believers how much justice they could afford. Londo is thwarted, however; Vir has already run all the needed searches, and is happy to simply provide Aldous with the information free of charge. When grilled by Londo as to what he thinks he is doing, Vir replies that he is being efficient. A tiny scene, a moment of comic relief on first viewing, but another bit that spotlights the basic differences between Vir and Londo on a second trip through the series.
This is Londo's worst episode as a character to date. From the instant Sinclair first approaches him with the "mind-wipe" problem, Londo barricades himself in his room and begins to jump at every sound and knock. Peter Jurasik is, for the first time ever, off form. I won't blame that on Jurasik, though. Script writer Christy Marx clearly has no handle on Londo's character, and writes a weak caricature of "Londo the Buffoon." At least in The Gathering, he had that memorable monologue about his empire's decay. Here, he's just a joke character. An unfunny one, at that.
An even bigger problem is the nature of the story itself. No matter how good David Warner is, it is inescapable that Grail is yet another episode that centers almost entirely around one-shot guest characters. The fates of Aldous, Jinxo, and Deuce really aren't going to affect our regulars very much... no matter how much Delenn rhapsodizes about "True Seekers" or how disgusted Garibaldi reacts to the subject of Down Below in general and Deuce in particular.
I hasten to add that I have no problem with standalone episodes. Both Believers and By Any Means Necessary rank very high among my favorites, not only of Season One but of the entire series. What I object to are episodes that have no real interest in the regulars. The characters we care about in a show, in my opinion at least, are the regular characters. We're invested in Sinclair, Garibaldi, Susan, Delenn, and the rest, in a way that we simply aren't for one-shot guest characters. Both the Walker Smith plot in TKO and the main plot in Grail forget this.
Who is in jeopardy in TKO? Walker Smith, the one-shot guest character who isn't even particularly likeable. Which character undergoes character growth in TKO? Walker Smith. Which character learns anything? Walker Smith. There were only 3 regulars who were even IN the episode (and two of them - Sinclair and Susan - are sealed up in a completely separate subplot... a subplot that is far more effective than the Walker Smith one in large part because it DOES center around the relationship of Sinclair and Ivanova in general, and Ivanova's character development in particular).
Similarly, in Grail, we have a series of events that isn't going to have much impact on our regulars. Who is in jeopardy? Jinxo; then, when he helps Jinxo, Aldous. Who grows over the course of the episode? Jinxo. Who learns anything? Jinxo. The story's impact on the regulars is purely tangential, and that only because of a (slightly labored) parallel drawn between Aldous and Sinclair.
Grail is a better episode than TKO because David Warner is a better actor than Greg McKinney (who played Walker Smith), and because the scenes between Aldous and Jinxo are really rather well-written. But the script's handling of the regulars - particularly Londo - shows a writer who is outright disinterested in the regulars. Christy Marx wants to tell the story of Aldous and Jinxo. The regulars are not even a means to the end of telling that story, however; they seem to regarded as an encumbrance that Marx's script is forced to bear.
Raised at least one full point by David Warner, who lends enough dignity and humanity to his scenes, at least, that the episode becomes somewhat effective simply because of his presence in it.