This one's a big episode, which brings many plot threads to a head while spinning a few new threads along the way.
Past, present, and future converge for several characters on the show. Londo receives word that Adira Tyree, the dancer that he fell in love with in the first season's Born to the Purple, is returning to the station. Ecstatic, and astonished at the fact that he is able to feel genuinely happy, Londo assigns Vir to prepare quarters for her in as romantic a fashion as possible.
But Mr. Morden is also on the station. Morden and his associates are upset that Londo has succeeded in blocking their connection with Lord Refa. When Morden's attempts to intimidate Londo fail, his associates urge the death of the Centauri Ambassador. But Morden knows Londo is more useful alive. As Morden notes, "there are other ways."
Meanwhile, Stephen's growing stim addiction comes to a climax. On stims and no sleep, Stephen makes a critical mistake during a busy moment in Medlab and nearly causes the death of a patient. When Garibaldi tries to confront him with his now out-of-control problem, Stephen erupts at him. "I'm trying to give you a chance here, Stephen," Garibaldi tells him. But with Stephen unwilling to listen, Garibaldi has no choice but to go around him - even it ends up costing his friend's career.
Finally, Sheridan is becoming increasingly frustrated. Now that the Shadows are out in the open, he is searching for a pattern to their attacks, and can find none. He knows that he needs a victory to bind the other races together into a cohesive unit. But how can he win a victory against an enemy that hopelessly outclasses anything he has, particularly when he can't even figure out the reason behind their attacks?
In my review of Ship of Tears, I noted that in that episode, an uneasy alliance was struck between Sheridan and Bester, prompted by Bester's twin obsessions: his desire to protect his people from all enemies, and his thirst for revenge against those who had destroyed the woman he loved.
I hadn't realized on first viewing. But this time around, watching this episode so close in sequence behind Ship of Tears, I was struck by the parallels between Bester in that episode and Londo in this one. Like Bester, Londo is obsessed with the protection and advancement of his people. As Bester dreams of a world ruled by telepaths, Londo has dreamed as far back as The Gathering of a universe ruled by the Centauri. Bester will do anything to protect his people, to the point where he has traded his own soul away in the name of the Psi Corps. Similarly, Londo will do anything for the Centauri, to the point where he has traded away… well, at least a good portion of the real estate of his soul.
Londo is not oblivious. He has spent much of the third season trying to dig his way out of the hole in which he has buried himself. He has cut ties with Morden and the Shadows, and has blackmailed Lord Refa into doing the same. When Morden tries to intimidate him, Londo shuts him down beautifully. Their scene in the corridor played wonderfully on first viewing. This time around, knowing the Shadows' nature, it plays even better. Without knowing it, Londo pretty much guesses everything about the Shadows' strategy. No wonder they are whispering so urgently in the background throughout the encounter. Londo really is dangerous to them, moreso than either Londo or Morden (or the Shadows) yet realize. Perhaps Mr. Morden didn't pick so well, after all...
"There is nothing you can do to me that hasn't been done already," Londo tells Morden at the end of this scene. But he's wrong. Just as Bester has a sliver of soul that's still his, so does Londo. For both men, that spark of humanity comes in the love of a woman. In the last episode, Bester spoke in wonderment as he recalled his relationship with Caroline. She was "the one bright light" of his universe, the one person he genuinely loved when he no longer thought himself capable of the emotion. Londo also has a single "bright light." Adira Tyree, the dancer who was the object of Londo's affection in the early first season episode, Born to the Purple. Just as Bester expresses his amazement at his ability to love, so does Londo express his amazement that, after all that's happened, he is still able to feel happy.
For men such as Londo and Bester, however, happiness does not come without a price. They have made too many bad choices, have traded away too much in the name of power. Had Londo never struck his deal with Morden, then Adira would still have returned to him, and they would probably have been quite happy: a minor, semi-disgraced Ambassador and his newest and purest wife. However, Londo wanted more, for both his people and himself. His dreams of love with Adira are sweet, fragile, and innocent. Something that fragile cannot co-exist with the dark, hard, implacable dreams of power represented by Morden. Thanks to Morden's manipulations, Londo's feelings for Adira will now drive the rest of his arc, and lay down his fate for the remainder of the series.
Londo isn't the only one spun in a new direction by this episode. This is the episode where Dr. Franklin's growing stim addiction comes to a head. In Ceremonies of Light & Dark, Franklin confessed to Delenn what he was afraid to confess even to himself - his fear that he might have a problem. In this episode, he is brought face-to-face with it, to the point where he can no longer deny it. It's another brilliant showing from Richard Biggs, who runs through the stages of denial and anger with a fierce intensity that The Gathering's Johnny Sekka (whom I actually did like) could not possibly have matched. When Stephen reaches the final stage - acceptance - his weariness is palpable. By the end of the episode, he knows that he is a man who has strayed from the path and become lost. What he does not know is how he can possibly find his way back.
Just as Stephen has been driving himself past the point of endurance in Medlab, Sheridan has been driving himself in the council room. Looking at report after report as the Shadows plow their way through the defenses of the Non-Aligned Worlds, Sheridan seeks some meaning or pattern in the enemy's activities. He can't find it, and he can think of no way to deliver the victory he needs to rally the other races behind him.
His only hope is Kosh. So when Kosh refuses to lend his aid, Sheridan cannot hold his temper. Just as Stephen allows the drugs to push him into a near-hysterical outburst in Medlab, Sheridan allows his own frustration to push him into a confrontation with the most powerful being on the station.
However, while Stephen's instincts are clouded with stims and lack of sleep, Sheridan's instincts remain his best ally. Sheridan probably does not intend to snap at Kosh. Sheridan never has had the best control of his emotions, and has always been prone to minor outbursts when frustrated. His first outburst at Kosh is probably just the latest example of this.
However, Kosh does something that awakens Sheridan's hunter's instincts. The inscrutable alien who never really reacts to anything a mere human does… reacts. He becomes angry. Realizing he is hitting a nerve, Sheridan moves in. J. Michael Straczynski has stated this scene plays very differently with Sheridan than it would have had Sinclair stayed. I'm reasonably certain that's true, simply because Sinclair would not have treated this situation the same way. Sinclair had the personality of a chess master. He studied situations at length and plotted out a strategy to deal with those situations (be it finding a key loophole to sidestep a strike in By Any Means Necessary or devising a deadly trap for raiders in Signs & Portents). Sheridan is more instinctive. He doesn't plot out long-term strategies. He trusts his instincts and then subscribes to Nelson's philosophy: get in close and hammer away.
Seeing Kosh react, Sheridan gets in close and starts hammering. The angrier Kosh becomes, the more Sheridan knows he is on the right track. He will either push Kosh to agree, or he will push Kosh to kill him. At that moment, he doesn't much care which. Just as Londo doesn't care by the end of this episode - "Let the universe burn." Just as Franklin doesn't have the energy to fight anymore - "I look into the mirror and don't know who it is staring back at me." And just as Londo and Franklin (and Bester, in the last episode) had to face sacrifices to their ambitions, had to lose everything, there is a price for Sheridan's choice here... a price he utterly fails to understand when Kosh lays it out for him.
"You do not understand," Kosh tells him. "But you will." By the time he does understand, his course - like Londo's, and like Bester's - is set.
I found it a little heavy-handed that Morden would kill the guard he paid off at the beginning of the episode. Morden usually achieves the most devastating results by telling people the truth, or at least the part of the truth that will do the most damage. I see Morden as the type who will pay someone off and honor the payoff, not as the type who will pay someone off and then stab them in the back. It's not like he can't get more precious stones when he needs them, after all. This is a minor nit-pick, however, in an excellent episode.