Season 3 begins in reasonably strong fashion, even if this episode isn't quite up to the standard of the past half-dozen or so (then again, not much is...)
Keffer is dead (fried Keffer... tastes just like chicken), but his suicidal obsession with the Shadows has created complications for Sheridan and Delenn. Keffer's dying recording of the Shadow vessel in hyperspace has been broadcast repeatedly on ISN, leading the Earth Alliance to assign Mr. Endawi to investigate the situation. Endawi interviews each of the Ambassadors on the station to try to glean information about the mysterious vessel - information that Sheridan and Delenn remain desperate to keep hidden, for the time being.
Endawi is not the only new arrival to the station. Marcus Cole (Jason Carter), a Ranger assigned to a training base on a Drazi colony, has come to solicit Sheridan's help. The mission? To break a Centauri blockade of the colony just long enough for the Rangers to escape the planet. And Marcus has brought news of a special gift that will help Sheridan to get the job done...
One of the elements of this show I continue to enjoy is the way the show feeds on its own internal continuity to drive the story forward. By now, it is common knowledge among Babylon 5 fans that the Keffer character was effectively forced on JMS , and that he dropped Keffer at the first opportunity. Even so, this episode feeds very much off of Keffer's subplot from Season Two. Keffer's "discovery" not only complicates matters for Sheridan and Delenn, but feeds the ever-growing shadow of the Clark regime back home. For a minor "good guy," Lt. Keffer managed to do quite a bit of damage.
(It's also an amusing irony that Keffer's subplot becomes most relevant to the main arc after the character has already gone. "Here's your big episode, Keffer... and you're dead for it!" I wonder if that was intentional on JMS' part, or just a happy accident?)
The episode also feeds on past events in the climax, as the events of the episode Confessions & Lamentations provide Sheridan with the solution to his problem. Once again, this sequence showcases Sheridan at his best: thinking quickly, making snap decisions, and trusting his life to his instincts. Sheridan's intuitive decision-making continues to mark a sharp contrast with Sinclair's deliberate, chessmaster-like maneuvers. But though his instincts have served him well to date, I'm already anticipating that very headstrong nature getting him into trouble later on.
Sheridan's interactions with Kosh continue to be enormously entertaining. Kosh seems to have developed quite the dry sense of humor. In the opening scene, he is positively enjoying himself at Sheridan's expense (Sheridan: "I hate when you do that." Kosh: "Good"). If Kosh doesn't watch it, he and Sheridan may replace Sinclair and Garibaldi as the comedy "odd couple" of the series.
Finally, the episode has a great pace, fairly cracking along with energy. Enough energy to almost carry the viewer over some of the weaker threads in the plot. Almost...
Unfortunately, some of those weaker threads are difficult to ignore completely. If Marcus feels pressed for time after escaping from Zagros 7, and knows where the White Star is located and how to use it, why doesn't he head straight for the rendezvous point? Why waste time going to Babylon 5 first? He could just as easily break the blockade himself, then deliver the ship to Sheridan. It's not like he even suspected that an enemy other than the Centauri would be waiting for him.
Even assuming that Marcus had to go to Babylon 5 (perhaps he did not have sufficient rank in the Ranger organization to assume command of a White Star, or perhaps the distance was further than Babylon 5), his actions upon reaching the station seem to defy common sense. He needs to set up a meeting with Delenn and Lennier, so he... decides to meet in a seedy bar in Down Below, for no readily apparent reason other than to make sure some lurkers attack them? I appreciate the desire to establish Marcus as a formidable physical fighter, but the sequence simply doesn't stand up to scrutiny.
Marcus himself fails to make much of an impression in his first appearance. The lines appear to have been written for a generic "action character," and the grim Marcus who insists he "never speaks unless (he has) something to say" doesn't remotely jibe with the charismatic (if haunted) goofball that will emerge. It is quite evident that the character was only really able to evolve after JMS got a feel for Jason Carter's strengths as an actor. Here, Marcus is rather bland, practically anonymous. Fortunately, there's much better to come.
In the "B" plot, after Sheridan, Delenn, and (seemingly quite pointlessly) Ivanova all leave the station, it falls to Garibaldi to keep Endawi from discovering anything incriminating about their movements. This makes perfect sense. Many past episodes have shown Garibaldi's ability to be convincing, devious, and resourceful; one need only look to his interactions with Ben Zeyn in Eyes for proof of this.
Unfortunately, Garibaldi seems to have been possessed by an imbecile. Rather than create a plausible lie, or deflect Endawi's attention away from Sheridan's activities, Garibaldi attempts some crude and obvious double-talk that a reasonably discerning 5-year-old would dismiss. Fortunately, Endawi has been possessed by the same imbecile for the purposes of this scene. Clearly, the double-talk scene is meant to be funny. Unfortunately, the lines aren't nearly as clever as they think they are, and both actors go over-the-top to try to compensate for the thin material. The scene falls leadenly flat, and briefly kills the pace - the episode's strength, otherwise - in the process.
Despite the flaws, the Endawi plot does redeem itself in three great scenes: the scene in which Endawi interviews Londo; the scene between Endawi and G'Kar; and the ending scene, which reveals just how insidious the plotting of Morden and his "associates" truly is. But the flaws are great enough, and the episode itself thin enough in any case, that this falls well short of being a great episode. Fun, certainly - but far from great.
As I reviewed the title sequences for Seasons 1 and 2, it is only fair that I look at the titles for Season 3. Season 3's signature sequence is a huge step up from Season 2's depressingly ordinary titles.
First, there's the narration. In Season One, Michael O'Hare's narration was suitably authoritative and certainly set forth the needed exposition about the setting. In Season Two, Bruce Boxleitner's narration... well, didn't cut it in my view, with Boxleitner's higher-pitched baritone simply unsuitable for sustained narration. In Season Three, Claudia Christian does the narration.
It's the best yet, by a considerable distance.
Christian's voice has the depth and timbre that narration of this type needs. The narration is wonderfully written, beginning with the now very familiar "Babylon 5 was our last best hope for peace," and then adding that beautiful twist: "...it failed." Immediately, the viewer's attention is hooked, both by the statement itself ("It failed.") and by the accompanying visual, as a Starfury is destroyed... by another Starfury? What's happening here?
The visuals, though mostly from late Season Two, are extremely well selected. Sheridan clutching a despairing Delenn from Confessions & Lamentations, the eyes of the Shadow emerging from darkness from In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum, the stricken look on Londo's face as he watches the demolition of the Narn homeworld from The Long, Twilight Struggle. Mix in Christopher Franke's magnificent score (a reworking of his score from The Long, Twilight Struggle, which blends into the most memorable of his cues from Mind War) and the proceedings are drenched in darkness. What The Two Towers was to The Lord of the Rings... what The Empire Strikes Back was to the Star Wars trilogy... what The Iliad was to the larger legend of the Trojan War: that, this title sequence boldly announces, is what Season Three will be to Babylon 5.
And if the episode itself isn't quite worthy of this magnificent title sequence, then at least I know that there is better yet to come.
I probably should give it a "6" - but for all its flaws, it is a lot of fun to watch.