The last episode of the series not written by J. Michael Straczynski until Season 5's The Day of the Dead, and an episode that gains on repeated viewing, as it feeds off events from past episodes and very neatly sets up some future episodes.
Ursa Jaddo (guest star Carmen Argenziano), an old friend and dueling partner of Londo's, has arrived from the Centauri Homeworld. Londo is overjoyed by Ursa's visit. He is only too eager to break out his best liquor and reminisce about old times. But when Ursa tells him that he has been marked as a traitor by the new order on Centauri Prime, Londo finds himself in an awkward position. When he contacts Lord Refa to speak up for Ursa, he is advised that his connection with his old friend can only serve to bring Londo down with Ursa... a state of affairs that leaves Ursa only one way out for his honor and for his family: to challenge Londo to a duel to the death!
Meanwhile, Captain Sheridan decides to explore Grey sector, the part of the station referred to as "The Triangle," against the advice of Security Chief Garibaldi. Garibaldi's advice starts to look a lot better when Sheridan comes across a dead Markhab who - impossibly - reaches up to grab Sheridan. This encounter leaves Sheridan shaken and seeing visions: a vision of a creature that stalked him long ago; a vision of the Icarus, his late wife's ship, blowing up; and a vision of his parents, beckoning to him. Has he picked up an alien virus from the dead Markhab? Is he going insane? Or is there another, entirely different and stranger, explanation for his condition?
Knives, the last Babylon 5 script written by Lawrence G. Ditillio, is one of those episodes that seems entertaining but expendable on first viewing. On second viewing, it gains a lot of added resonance. It's much like several of the Season One episodes in this regard; knowing what is to come, watching Knives a second time left me really impressed with how much it foreshadows future episodes while still telling an absorbing story of its own.
One thing Ditillio is always very good at in his scripts is in the way he links his "A" and "B" plots. He rarely uses some contrived plot twist to connect them. Instead, he binds them together thematically, by having both plot strands reflect different aspects of the same idea. This episode provides a prime example, using the nature of Sheridan's visions as a theme for both stories: fear, loss, and home. Fear: Sheridan was stalked for a full day by a lethal alien creature. Loss: his beloved wife, Anna, died when her survey ship exploded. Home: his parents, representing a home that he hasn't visited in far too long, but that he still thinks of and idealizes in his memories.
Fear, loss, and thoughts of home also dominate Londo's storyline. The manner in which Ursa is introduced immediately exposes Londo to fear, as Ursa plays the role of an assassin before revealing his true identity. Londo will feel fear again - fear for his newfound position, when he attempts to negotiate with Refa for a pardon for his friend, and then fear for his life, during the duel with Ursa. Ursa, in turn, fears for his family as a result of the decree, a fear which drives all of his actions in this episode.
Londo and Ursa also feel loss in the course of the episode. Ursa feels loss for the honor of the Centauri Republic. An emperor with integrity is gone, to be replaced by a man Ursa describes as an "infantile puppet." Ursa's own status within the Republic is lost, and he is now a political pariah soon to be declared a traitor. It is in this episode, too, that Londo is made to feel the loss of his innocence. Seeing that the very people with whom he has allied himself are the ones who have declared Ursa a traitor, Londo is forced to actually look at the choices he has made, and to wonder if they really were the right ones.
Finally, Londo and Ursa both are driven in this episode by thoughts of home. Ursa has been forced to flee from a home he once loved, precisely because he refused to remain quiet as his government was taken over by evil men. Ursa's news, coupled with his call to Refa, leads Londo to realize that things back home are not as ideal as he had believed. For the first time, in this episode, Londo realizes that it is time he paid some attention not only to the progress of the Narn/Centauri conflict, but also to what is happening on Centauri Prime. To that effect, he orders Vir to contact his agents on the home world to get information. Thus, the break between Londo and Refa - a key plot point in Season 3 - begins here.
Just as much of Londo's future arc is set in motion or foreshadowed in this episode, several elements of Sheridan's story are foreshadowed as well. Just prior to In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum (well, this was intended to come before that one anyway, which is why I'm reviewing it first), both Sheridan and the viewers are reminded of the fate of his wife. That the vision makes Sheridan feel that keen sense of loss reminds us that his feelings for Anna still burn, even more than two years after losing her.
The episode also ties Sheridan to Sector 14, where Babylon 4 re-appeared in the first season episode, Babylon Squared. By making Sheridan aware of the Babylon 4 incident, and bringing him into close proximity with Sector 14, some foreshadowing is provided for Season 3's War Without End. The episode also does a bit of stage-setting for Confessions and Lamentations, as the Markhab are prominently featured, their religious rituals are mentioned, and Dr. Franklin references a "good Markhab doctor" that he knows.
Finally, as is usually the case, Ditillio simply has a way of bringing out the best in the show's characters. There are a lot of tiny moments in this episode that reaffirm the joy the show sometimes takes in these characters. Vir and Londo, bickering over Centauri opera and singing extracts of those operas to each other. The delighted grin on Sheridan's face as he first hears about "The Triangle" in Grey sector, and recalls how much he always enjoyed prowling around haunted houses as a kid. Garibaldi making fun of Sheridan, followed by Sheridan giving him a harsh look and Garibaldi - forcibly reminded once again that this station commander is not an old friend - adding a subdued "sir." Vir taking pride in Londo's determination to stand up for Ursa; and later, Vir tending to a depressed Londo and urging him to "make some new choices." Even Dr. Franklin gets a nice little moment near the end, where he gets just a little overenthusiastic when he learns the true nature of Sheridan's experiences. In simple character terms, this is one of the strongest episodes in a long time.
I can't really think of anything that struck me as particularly "bad" in this episode. Londo's fighting form in the duel scene left something to be desired, perhaps, and Ursa's refusal to listen to Londo's explanation about his ties to Refa initially strain credulity - but both of these are perfectly well explained within the context of the show, in Londo's scene with Vir at the end of the episode. This isn't one of the "great episodes," I know, but it is certainly a very good one.