The third season shifts into high gear with this exciting episode.
Any kind of routine that may have existed among Sheridan, Delenn, Ivanova, and Garibaldi is utterly fragmented when Marcus brings a visitor to speak to them. The visitor is Dr. Mary Kirkish (Nancy Stafford), a former IPX scientist now on the run because of what she saw seven years ago. Kirkish was there when the Shadow vessel on Mars was unearthed, and she saw it dug up by another, fully functional Shadow ship and taken away.
Kirkish has spent the years since separated from the others she worked with on Mars, moving from assignment to assignment, constantly under threat that speaking of what she saw to anyone would have "unfortunate consequences." For most of that time, she has been content to keep herself safe by keeping her silence... until she is informed of the discovery of another Shadow vessel in Earth space. This time, the intent is to bring the vessel to Earth, to study the Shadow technology and use it: "against our own people, if necessary."
This information prompts Sheridan into a near-suicide mission. He and Delenn take the White Star to Earth space to destroy the Shadow vessel, knowing that in so doing they will certainly be picked up by Earth's long-range security scans in the process. Meanwhile, with Sheridan absent from the station for a period of days, the Night Watch becomes ever more suspicious - leaving Zack in an uncomfortable position, given an ultimatum by the leader of the Night Watch on Babylon 5 that it is time to stop straddling the fence. For what is coming, Zack must either be with the Night Watch, or against them...
Now, this is more like it! The arc shifts into high gear for the first time this season, and we are given a wealth of wonderful character moments in the bargain.
This episode reconciles both of Marcus' "faces" that we have seen so far. We see the grim, earnest Marcus of Matters of Honor in his early scenes, intently focused on getting Mary Kirkish safely to Sheridan. But we also see Marcus the goofball of Voices of Authority and Exogenesis, sending Susan a surprise gift of bacon and eggs (and causing her hilarious discomfort in the process), discussing the threat posed by sun-eating dragons and by the badgers and ferrets lurking in his trousers, and unveiling for Susan a chart demonstrating "the command structure of Babylon 5 modeled after the Ottoman Empire." Basically, Marcus displays his sillier, goofier side both as a cover for his more emotional side and - most visibly - to charm Susan. But when a serious situation does show itself, and he is in a position where he can actually do anything about it, he will focus intently on getting the job done.
There are plenty of shining moments provided for other characters, as well. Take the one scene between Garibaldi and G'Kar, also fairly early in the episode. G'Kar is still serving out his jail sentence, imposed at the end of Dust to Dust. In so doing, he is given a chance to think. "Everything out there serves to distract us," G'Kar notes in response to Garibaldi's surprise at his happiness. "Silence can be most illuminating." G'Kar is taking this time to reflect on his deeds and on the history he has been both cursed and privileged to witness: the rise and fall of Narn, the rise of Babylon 5, the return of the Shadows. He is writing down his thoughts on that history. "I expect to have it finished by the time I am released," he tells Garibaldi, having no idea just how large the work he has begun to write will ultimately become. This is the most purely happy and at-peace we have ever seen G'Kar. He is no longer consumed by hate. He is not maneuvering for any kind of gain. He is alone with his thoughts: no distractions, no politics - just himself. In this state, G'Kar is looking into himself and finding something worthwhile there.
G'Kar's prison sentence, in this way, becomes a vital part of his development into the spiritual figure he eventually will become. He's in good company, here. Thinking over human history, many leaders, particularly of the oppressed (as the Narn now are, under the Centauri), have served multiple prison sentences while growing into their full leadership roles. Gandhi and Mandela spent large parts of their lives in prison. Thomas More was imprisoned and, ultimately, executed. Martin Luther King was imprisoned multiple times during his career. G'Kar, fictional though he may be, seems a worthy and fitting addition to that company.
Sheridan also gets one of his best character scenes yet in this episode. Virtually chased off the bridge of the White Star by Lennier to get some sleep before their arrival, Sheridan lies down (with some difficulty) on a Minbari bed and muses to Delenn about how the rain always helped him to sleep when he was younger. Boxleitner is at his best in this scene, as the character recalls with mixed whimsy and grief the time his father stood out on the lawn, sprinkling the roof over his bedroom with a garden hose, making it rain for him so that he could sleep the night before his exams. There's almost a wonder in his eyes as he thinks back on his father's deed of "everyday heroism," and he seems nearly on the verge of tears when he says, with such incredible hopelessness, how much he wishes it could rain again.
The capstone to the scene seals this as one of the show's moments of perfect beauty, as Delenn responds in a perfect manner that leaves Sheridan struck utterly speechless. If Marcus is using goofiness and charm to chip his way through Susan's defenses, then Delenn is using disarming sincerity to slip her way through Sheridan's. In this episode, both of these budding couples are utterly charming.
Finally, a word for Lennier. Rock-solid and reliable as ever, Lennier is nevertheless developing a healthy tendency toward snark. What's not to love about his reply to Sheridan's clichéd, "Give (the engines) everything they've got!" Lennier snaps back a response the long-suffering Scotty really should have given Kirk at least once over the decades: "If I was holding anything back, I'd tell you!"
Good stuff, both the humorous and dramatic moments, continuing to build and strengthen the characters even as the plot moves inexorably to the crisis point.
I'm sure there's some nit-pick or other that should go here, but after sitting in front of my monitor trying to think of something for a full minute and a half, there's nothing springing to mind. This was one heck of an episode.
Just because I try to reserve the "10's" for the episodes that actually make my guts churn and my eyes pop out of my head. This wasn't quite there, though I'm pretty sure there's a "10" coming up quite soon.