With Voices behind me, it's a welcome return to the televised episodes for yet more development of Talia's increasing disillusionment toward Psi Corps, as well as a lighthearted look at the increasing selfishness of Londo Mollari.
Two Babylon 5 residents receive visitors in this episode. Talia Winters is visited by her ex-husband, Matthew Stoner (Keith Szarabjka), a decidedly shady individual who appears to be the only man to have ever legally left Psi Corps. Stoner has come with an offer for Talia; he'll get her out of the Corps - but only if she'll agree to leave the station with him.
Londo also has visitors, in the form of his three wives, the women he has previously referred to as Famine, Pestilence, and Death: the sharp-tongued Timov, the cold-blooded Daggair, and the seductive Mariel. With his star on the rise, Londo has been granted a special gift by the Centauri emperor on the thirtieth anniversary of his Day of Ascension... a divorce! Londo must keep one of his wives, but he will be allowed to divorce the other two. Now he must simply decide which one to keep, and which two to send into exile without status, title, or money.
"Captain Sheridan, may I say that you're settling in quite nicely!" These sentiments, expressed at various times by Talia, G'Kar, and Londo in this episode, sum up the viewer's feelings rather well. As I mentioned in an earlier review, I actually quite like the early John Sheridan. He has a quirkier, more whimsical personality than his predecessor. I still prefer Sinclair as a character; I miss his moodiness, his tightly-controlled but violent anger, and his layers of inner turmoil. Still, even if Sheridan isn't as interesting a character to analyze, he is very enjoyable company at this point in the series.
Sheridan's well-balanced, healthy openness certainly makes a contrast with some of the old guard. Garibaldi was always like a dog with a bone, even before the shooting at the end of first season. He's come back from that experience just a shade darker. He's still very recognizably the same Garibaldi that acted as Sinclair's anchor in Season One; but there's a little less easy humor in him now, and a little more viciousness. Certainly, I can't think of a Season One episode - even Survivors - in which Garibaldi seemed as eager to descend to violence as in his scenes with Matt Stoner in this episode.
Stoner is an entertaining Villain of the Week. He is a bit too one-dimensional to be worth a return visit, but his calm smugness makes a refreshing change from villains who rant or scream. Keith Szarabjka may not imbue the character with much depth, but he does bring the right balance of sleaze and charm into his scenes opposite Talia and Garibaldi.
The most important thing about Stoner character is the light he sheds on Talia's development. In Season One, Talia's loyalty to the Psi Corps was unswerving. Had Stoner offered Talia his "gift" at that point, she would have flatly refused. Starting with the episode Mind War, however, she has become steadily more disillusioned. Mind War was the first chink in the armor of her vision of a benevolent Corps. After witnessing the viciousness of Bester and the horrible nature of the experiments performed on Jason Ironheart, Talia could no longer pretend that there were no problems with the Corps. She likely rationalized Bester's behavior as an isolated case of a man getting carried away with his own power... but then A Spider in the Web showed her - first-hand, in a psychic vision - that there was a genuine dark underbelly to the Corps. If one includes Voices in this progression, her experiences being hunted as a rogue and witnessing a Corps at war with itself would have turned her even more against her previously beloved sponsors. After all these experiences, despite her distaste for her ex-husband, she needs little prompting beyond his offer to seriously consider the advantages of getting away "from an organization that scares the hell out of (her)."
I've made no secret in my reviews of my lack of appreciation for Andrea Thompson's acting. However, she gives one of her stronger performances here. There was no point in the episode where her line readings rang false for me, and most of the time I felt I was watching Talia the character rather than Thompson the actress. It's not brilliant work, by any means, but it's one of a very few episodes where I feel comfortable saying that her work was genuinely good across the entire show.
The episode's major subplot centers around Londo, which inevitably gives Peter Jurasik a chance to chew scenery and go delightfully over the top. However, Jurasik's highly entertaining theatrics manage to be thoroughly upstaged by the calm intelligence of Andreas Katsulas' G'Kar. Given relatively little screen time, Katsulas nevertheless still comes to walking away with the entire show.
Katsulas shines in all three of his big scenes. His observations to Sheridan that "it's not like anyone expects you to vanish overnight... that would be unprecedented" once again see the scripts for this series turning a potential disaster (Sinclair's abrupt departure) into a benefit, and Katsulas' sardonic line readings cannot help but raise a smile. He is even better when attending Londo's celebration, calmly and smilingly acknowledging the severe insult he is dealing Londo by wearing shoes to the ceremony (Londo's placid reaction to this makes an already good scene even better).
But his very best scene comes near the end of the episode. He calmly explains to a party who goes unidentified for most of the scene the reason behind his headaches. G'Kar's a puzzle-solver; the nagging of mysteries compels him to search for answers. As G'Kar outlines, step-by-step, how he figured out the solution to one of this episode's mysteries, we realize yet again that there is much more to G'Kar than what is normally seen on the surface. Katsulas' intelligence, and the care he takes with the cadence of his voice as he delivers this little speech, is purely a delight to witness.
In Season One, JMS was very careful to spread out character episodes throughout the season, in such a way that the focal character would change almost every episode. It was rare even to get an entirely Sinclair-centered episode two weeks in a row, let alone episodes centered around supporting characters.
As such, it does seem strange that we are suddenly in the midst of a run of Talia-centered stories. Talia was the central focus of A Spider in the Web; she was one of the two main characters in John Vornholt's Voices; she's the central figure here; and she's also important to the next televised episode, A Race Through Dark Places. It makes this portion of the season feel just a bit unbalanced. Instead of Babylon 5, this portion of Season Two has basically become "The Talia Winters Show." Also, by front-loading almost all of the season's Talia episodes here, it will leave the character stuck very much in the background for a long stretch, starting very soon. I can't help but think it would have been better to have spread these episodes around more.
There is also a vague feeling that this episode is a bit lightweight for the series at this point. The tone of Season Two has been one of encroaching darkness; this episode almost feels like a return to Season One. Still, that's more of a nagging gut reaction on my part than a specific complaint, and I would be lying if I said I didn't thoroughly enjoy the episode on its own merits.