Sheridan finally acknowledges that "something is going on" at the end of this latest entry, in which the members of the Babylon 5 crew get a reminder of the past and a glimpse of the nightmare in their future. As Ambassador G'Kar observes, "the future's not what it used to be."
Sheridan is very excited when the station's sensors pick up a deep space vessel near the station: an Earth ship from more than 100 years in the past, from before first contact with the Centauri gave the humans jumpgate technology. He is even more excited to discover life signs on board. The station has a genuine visitor from the past.
Dr. Franklin attends the opening of the ship's cryogenic tubes. The first tube houses a desiccated skeleton - the man inside is long dead. The second tube houses the man's pretty young wife, however, and she remains alive. Franklin rushes her to Medlab to revive her, and to slowly ease her into the knowledge that as she slept, more than 100 years went by.
It soon becomes apparent that the woman was not the only passenger on board. Amis (Dwight Schultz), a former GROPO infantry soldier turned station lurker, insists that the ship has brought a "soldier of darkness" to the station, a creature that he faced during the Earth/Minbari War when it wiped out his outpost. Garibaldi, who also served as a GROPO during the war, refuses to dismiss Amis as a nutcase. And when the bodies begin piling up on Babylon 5, Garibaldi uses Amis to go on a hunt for the predator that threatens them all.
I had remembered this from my first viewing as a very weak episode, and I somewhat dreaded sitting through it again. Fortunately, on second viewing, I found it to be much stronger than the first time around. It's still far from an ideal episode, but this time around I found much to enjoy about The Long Dark.
There is some very good character material here, both for Sheridan and Garibaldi. Sheridan's best material comes early in the episode, when the ship - the Copernicus - is first discovered. Boxleitner's expressive face highlights Sheridan's glee at discovering this piece of the past. The way he is able to rattle off the details of the ancient explorer ships for Ivanova shows a new facet of the character, one that we will see again: Sheridan is something of a history buff. Also, his grin when he discovers life signs aboard the ship expands on hints from previous episodes, that one of his greatest pleasures is the thrill of discovering something new and unexpected. This scene tied in perfectly with Sheridan's dreams, conveyed to us in the last episode, of helming an explorer-class ship of his own (am I alone among B5 fans, by the way, in actually finding the early, enthusiastic Sheridan more interesting and engaging than the later Sheridan?)
This episode also gives us some strong background for Garibaldi. Much of Season One, particularly scenes detailing his friendship with Sinclair, indicated that Garibaldi was involved in the Earth/Minbari War in some capacity. I believe this is the first episode where we actually learn what he did during the war. He was a groundpounder, a GROPO, a ground infantry soldier; and at one point during the war, he saw heavy action when the Minbari breached his unit's perimeter... an event he has relived in nightmares of his own. It seems Jeffrey Sinclair was not the only regular scarred by the war.
Garibaldi's bond with Amis is also well-portrayed. It's interesting how readily most of the characters are to dismiss Amis as just "a lurker." A security guard, Ivanova, and Dr. Franklin all refer to Amis as "the lurker" in a very dismissive way at various points in the episode. Garibaldi is the only character here who stops to look a little deeper, probably because he has fallen pretty far himself on occasion. It fits perfectly with the security chief's character, and recalls his evident bond with the doomed informant in Chrysalis as well.
The background we receive about Garibaldi does have its downside, in the context of my current run (which began with In the Beginning): namely, it makes me frustrated yet again at In the Beginning. In my early review of that prequel, I excused the rather awkward peace mission sequence as a structurally sound way to fill up an additional 15 minutes. But after hearing background details about the Minbari leader Bramner (Legacies), and after discovering that Garibaldi had a war story of his own, I find myself wondering why both characters were left out of that movie. I would much rather have simply left Sheridan after the "Starkiller" incident in order to see Garibaldi's ground war experience, particularly since the ground war was one part of the war largely ignored by the movie. Ah, well. In the Beginning played well as a film to watch - but I have to admit, when following it up with the actual series, that it's a movie that seems to hold up less and less well with each passing episode.
That complaint, of course, is more about In the Beginning than about this episode. However, the episode has its share of flaws in itself. The relationship between Dr. Franklin and Mariah (Anne-Marie Johnson), the passenger from the Copernicus, feels dramatically wrong as portrayed. Dr. Franklin's no paragon, and he's more interesting a character for that fact, but he has generally been portrayed as honorable. I just don't see the character I've been watching crossing a romantic line with a patient. From Mariah's standpoint, the relationship seems even stranger. From her viewpoint - as is noted by the episode itself - she just said goodnight to her husband the night before, and is awakening to discover that he's dead. Her attachment to Franklin, and his to her, gives across a vaguely creepy vibe as a result, and I don't think that was intended.
This episode also highlights an area where Bruce Boxleitner is far weaker than his predecessor: when portraying anger. Michael O'Hare played the angry, intense scenes brilliantly from the very beginning. Boxleitner just doesn't convey anger as convincingly, at least not at this point in the series. When Sheridan snaps at Franklin in Medlab, Boxleitner fails to convince. In fact, his line delivery in this scene is - for the first time since his introduction - downright awkward. He does better in the council meeting, when he tells the Markhab ambassador that he does "not like threats." But even there, his glare lacks intensity. O'Hare's glare had real violence in it; Boxleitner's glare conveys the expression, but it just doesn't have the same force. I'd half expect the Markhab ambassador to say "OK," and then go ahead and make trouble regardless.
(One nice touch in this scene, though. After his first real attempt at dealing with a diplomatic situation, Sheridan asks Ivanova how he did... and effectively gets a "thumbs-down." Once again, we see the writers remembering that Sheridan is a different character, and is weak in areas where Sinclair was strong).
Some tantalizing arc hints and some good character material for Sheridan and Garibaldi, but flawed somewhat by the awkward handling of the Franklin/Mariah subplot.