Forgiveness... justice... revenge. Where does one end and the next begin? Is forgiveness even possible when someone has done something unforgiveable, no matter how repentant they might be? Probing questions few television series would even attempt to ask are admirably handled in this particularly gripping installment.
Brother Edward (Brad Dourif) is one of the members of Brother Theo's flock, who have come to Babylon 5 to discover all the names and faces of God amongst the alien races living there. As Theo observes," Edward is the best of us," a man who takes joy in giving comfort to those who need it, a devoutly religious man with a gentle sense of humor and a love of art.
But now Edward is being haunted by hallucinations. He returns to his quarters one day, after securing a client for Theo, to find a message written on his wall in blood: "Death Walks Among You." When he calls Security Chief Garibaldi to investigate, Garibaldi discovers... nothing. The wall is clean, and there is no trace of blood on it.
Edward tries to forget this experience, but after a religious discussion with Delenn and Lennier, an even more vivid encounter occurs. "Death Walks Among You!" is again written in blood, this time on a wall in Down Below. A woman screams, and when he runs toward the scream to rescue her, he is assaulted by a voice calling him "Charley." And then he is in what seems to be a memory - a grimy street or back alley, where he turns over the prone form a woman to discover that the woman is a corpse, dead with a horrified expression on her face, with a black rose stuffed into her mouth.
Recovering from the hallucination/memory, Edward dismisses all offers of help by Garibaldi. Brother Theo urges him to "leave it alone," but Edward insists on pursuing it. He puts together the clues from his second vision - "Death Walks Among You," the black rose, the name Charley - and discovers a common link... one that leads Edward, Theo, Garibaldi, and Captain Sheridan to directly confront the question of punishment, revenge, and justice. Where does one end and the other begin?
Back in my review of Grail, I observed how a rather pedestrian episode could be elevated by an excellent guest performance (in that case, David Warner's). Well, this episode also benefits from a superb guest performance, by Brad Dourif as Brother Edward. Only this time the excellent guest star is supported by a fine script, resulting in what may be the single best standalone episode of the entire series.
Dourif is best known for playing psychotic and disturbed characters (or at least he was, prior to his role as the crusty town doctor on Deadwood). Here, he largely gets to break away from that typecasting. Despite his past (of which he has no memory), Brother Edward is a stable, kind, and giving human being. His Christian faith is deeply held, but he is not a blind or thoughtless worshipper. When Delenn asks him to describe his emotional connection with his faith, he is able to give a very articulate and deeply-felt reply, musing about how Christ must have felt while waiting for his arrest in Gethsemane. "He could have left," Edward noted, "but he chose to stay... I've always wondered if I would have had the courage."
The scene between Edward and Delenn is the episode's finest. It is so rare in science fiction - or anywhere, for that matter - to witness a thoughtful, reasoned discussion about religious principles and what attaches people to one religion or another. In this scene, we hear about Edward's Christian faith and about the faith held by Delenn and Lennier, who discuss life as "the universe, trying to figure itself out," and the soul as an external projection of that universe. Of course, it is a nice continuity point that Delenn and Lennier continue to revere "true seekers." To see these very intelligent and devout people actually thinking about and discussing their beliefs is something truly special for a television series. As with Convictions, I am left with the desire to plunk down the hysterical fundamentalists of every world religion and make them watch all three Brother Theo episodes on endless loop until they "get" the fact that people can believe different things without being evil, Satanic, or moronic.
Brother Theo continues to delight. The pleasure he takes in trouncing Sheridan at chess is wonderful (and Sheridan failing to spot a "mate-in-one" confirms my oft-stated suspicion that Sheridan is more of an instinctive, intuitive thinker than a long-term strategist). Even better are his scenes with Brother Edward. Theo is no fool. When he sees that Edward is wrestling with apparent hallucinations, he is quickly able to deduce that Edward is a mind-wiped criminal. At this point, the typical TV character would fall prey to "idiot plotting," either by covering up what he suspects or by attempting to handle it alone. Theo, however, responds sensibly and pragmatically. He goes straight to Sheridan and tells all, hoping that Sheridan's resources will be sufficient to save Brother Edward from the inevitable grim discovery.
Theo's greatest scene comes at the end of this episode. As Sheridan muses on the events of the episode, wondering how justice, revenge, and forgiveness can ever be reconciled, Theo unveils a surprise for Sheridan, one that severely tests the Captain's own ability to forgive. The tone in Theo's voice as he reminds Sheridan of his own words of a moment ago is perfect - a mix of sincerity, vehemence, and just the right touch of anger as he tells Sheridan, "Forgiveness is difficult, but something we must strive for." We can sense Theo is himself struggling with it, even as he puts his own principles to the test.
Forgiveness, justice, and revenge, and the divide between them, are questions the episode mulls - perhaps not in unprecedented depth (after all, the episode only has about 43 minutes in which to both explore themes and tell a contained story), but with admirable thought and sincerity. There are no easy answers. Garibaldi proudly proclaims himself to be "an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" person. But, as Delenn points out, Garibaldi's way "would leave everyone blind and toothless." Edward, as he finds out the nature of his memories, believes that there must be justice in this world, as well as the next; and he puts these principles to the test, as he waits in his own version of Gethsemane. Theo believes that God will forgive all sins, even those we cannot remember, and believes that it is crucial to forgive even those actions that are unforgiveable. And Sheridan, representing the viewer, isn't entirely sure where he stands, moving between each of these beliefs throughout the episode. He can recognize the wisdom of Theo's way... but in the end, his instincts run closer to Garibaldi's stated beliefs.
Around Brother Edward's crisis, it is easy to overlook this episode's significance in returning Lyta to the station. Lyta returns much calmer and more self-possessed than the edgy, paranoid woman seen in Divided Loyalties. She found what she sought in Vorlon space, and is now working as assistant to Ambassador Kosh. Her self-confidence is clearly boosted well beyond either of her previous appearances. When she refuses to discuss what she saw in Vorlon space with Londo, his first reaction is to threaten to turn her over to the Psi Corps. The Lyta of The Gathering or Divided Loyalties would have panicked; the current Lyta doesn't even break her stride as she threatens Londo with devastating retribution if he dares to carry out that threat. Londo's own reply, muttered to himself - "Nightmares. The way my life is going, who would notice?" - says quite a lot about Londo's own recognition of the path he has chosen.
Lyta's relationship with Kosh furthers both parallels from Divided Loyalties. The religious parallel mirrors Edward and Theo. As Lyta expounds upon the wonders of the Vorlon Homeworld, she might well be describing a vision of heaven. Her faith in Kosh to protect her is the faith of a devout follower. Her miraculously healed medical conditions recall the healing powers of Christ. And, like any devout follower of a religion, her worship is rewarded by carrying the essence of her Lord (Kosh) inside of her.
But as was the case in Divided Loyalties, Lyta and Kosh can also be viewed as a couple. When Lyta emerges from the Vorlon ship, Kosh is there waiting for her. Kosh makes sure Ivanova is on hand, so that Lyta can be immediately given quarters by the command staff. And in the final scene, Lyta stands before Kosh in his quarters. Kosh stands unveiled, suit open, feeding his essence into Lyta and drawing it out again, as Lyta's expression reveals joy and fulfillment. It's at least as much a sexual image as a religious one, particularly when taken in the context of their interaction in Divided Loyalties.
Finally, I must take a moment to praise the technical realization of this episode. Director Adam Nimoy takes great care with both lighting and staging. The scene in which Brother Theo pleads with Edward to let him help him, and Edward refuses the temptation, is beautifully shot, staged, and lit. A piece of grating separates the two men physically as well as philosophically. Theo insists that Edward is not responsible for his past, while Edward decries the mind wipe, asking how he can be absolved of sins he can't even remember. When the camera is on Edward, the grating seems to form the shape of a cross, emphasizing his self-imposed Christ-like role. Later, when Edward kneels, waiting, and his pursuers reveal themselves, the camera stays on Edward, the lighting revealing only the faces of Edward and his chosen "confessor," the one man in the group who is determined to make him pay. There are other scattered visual moments like this throughout the episode, putting this installment on a par with And the Sky Full of Stars and Comes the Inquisitor in terms of directorial excellence.
Ivanova is just a little too friendly with Lyta. Remember, back in Divided Loyalties, Lyta effectively killed the woman Ivanova loved when she sent her message. Of course, rationally speaking, Lyta had to send that message; if she hadn't, all members of the command staff would have faced court martial. Emotions are not rational, however. By exposing Talia's submerged personality, Lyta killed the Talia who Ivanova loved. In my opinion, there should be some underlying tension as a result.
A minor point, though, in an outstanding episode. Even with that one nit to pick, I cannot help but give Passing Through Gethsamene the highest rating.