Babylon 5 scores its first perfect "10" with this compelling, arc-heavy installment. The first of J. Michael Straczynski's self-anointed "wham!" episodes, and it does indeed pack a punch.
Commander Sinclair is kidnapped by two mysterious agents working for an unknown party. As Garibaldi organizes an all-out search for the missing Commander, the agents pump Sinclair full of drugs and probe his mind. Their goal: to find an answer even Sinclair does not consciously know. What happened to him during the period marked by the "hole in his mind," the missing 24 hours after the Battle of the Line? They are determined to discover the truth, even if it kills Sinclair.
Now that the characters are pretty well established, the arc begins to show some real forward motion in this installment. And the Sky Full of Stars is one of the episodes that simply cannot be missed, because the events that happen here will affect much that comes later. As a result, this is also the first episode that doesn't really work as a standalone.
"Everybody lies," Sinclair observes during an interrogation of a security officer whose gambling debts have made him a risk. "The innocent lie because they don't want to be blamed for something they didn't do, and the guilty lie because they have no choice." These words echo up and down this episode, reverberating through all the major character strands.
Knight One and Knight Two, as the two agents are dubbed, believe Sinclair is lying when he states that he simply blacked out during the Battle of the Line. To an extent, Sinclair actually is lying. For ten years, he had no reason to doubt that his blackout was exactly what it seemed. Since the events of The Gathering, however, he has had a fair idea that something more happened during that battle than is reflected in the official story. This episode finally gives him the kick he's been needing to pursue that question.
Thematically, if this episode is about anything, it is about lies. Sinclair's brain has been affected by the Minbari so that his memories are actually lying to his own mind. Benson, the security guard, lies to his superiors about his gambling debts. Delenn is lying (by omission) to everyone on the station about her true status, and about the nature of her orders. Sinclair lies to Delenn at the end of the episode, when she asks if he has any memories of his ordeal. Delenn lies to her superiors when she agrees that she will kill Sinclair if he should remember (we aren't outright told this is a lie, but Mira Furlan's delivery seems to indicate that it is).
Visually, the episode is magnificent. Janet Greek combines the filmic and the theatrical in her compositions. The empty station that is the setting for Sinclair's "mind war" with Knight Two has a distinct noirish quality; I defy anyone not to feel a slight chill during his first encounter with Knight Two, as the lights on the station go out one by one until only a single light remains, with Sinclair standing in its center. The Minbari Gray Council will never again look quite as ominous as it does during Sinclair's flashbacks in this episode. Compositions, choreography, framing, and cutting... everything here is neatly balanced to raise the tension as high as possible.
Michael O'Hare delivers his best performance to date as Sinclair - no surprise, really, since this episode is entirely centered around him, and gives him far more real acting to do than any other installment to date. We get to see Sinclair frightened, angry, violent, strong, weak, and vulnerable. It's a showcase for the character, and if O'Hare struck a false note at any point, I must have missed it (OK, perhaps his final, repeated line of the episode was a little melodramatic... but I'd put that down to scripting more than to the acting).
We also get confirmation that some of the bitterness we glimpsed in Sinclair during his "undercover" scenes in The War Prayer was genuine. When Knight Two accuses him of betraying humanity, Sinclair seethes at the memory of watching his friends die one by one, spitting that "for years afterward, when I saw a Minbari, I had to fight down the urge to strangle them with my bare hands!" Sinclair carries a lot of repressed anger and violence with him. Another reason I felt slightly disappointed first time through at his replacement; it would have been really interesting to explore Sinclair's darker side more thoroughly than a mere one season allowed (though I do have to acknowledge Strazcynski's point - everything about the Sinclair character genuinely is tied in with the Minbari arc, to the point where it truly would have seemed a stretch to tie him into the later arcs as well).
The episode also further develops the anti-alien sentiment that is clearly somewhere within Earth's government. As with the last episode, Knights One and Two have too much technology, too much organization, and too many contacts to not have some kind of government backing in their operation. And Knight Two's accusations against Sinclair sound suspiciously close to the rhetoric spewed by the Homeguard in The War Prayer. Who could all these people be working for?
There are other well-turned background details, ones that only really jump out at the viewer after having seen the rest of the series. Note the newspaper Garibaldi is reading at the beginning, and note who the Psi Corps controversially supported during the election. Also observe a certain character (one who does something shocking in Chrysalis) very closely during this episode; a lot of behavior that meant nothing on first viewing exudes significance the second time around.
Guest performances by Christopher Neame and Judson Scott are very strong, though I do regret Patrick McGoohan's inability to play Neame's role. Neame is terrific, but given McGoohan's iconic Prisoner role, the scenes would have carried just a bit of extra punch had he been available.
For a lot of series, this would be their best episode. It's amazing to think that, in my opinion at least, this is only the second-best episode of this season (particularly when one considers how many people still insist that Season One was in some way "weak").