The Narn/Centauri War comes to an explosive finish in another superb episode, highlighted by the performances of the always-excellent Peter Jurasik and Andreas Katsulas.
Londo has been recalled to Centauri Prime by Lord Refa, who, following the events of Knives, is no longer on Londo's "favorite people" list. Refa's latest proposal is to bring a swift end to the war. Londo has serious reservations about the plan, which requires the Shadows to attack the Narn fleet while the Centauri use the outlawed Mass Drivers to cripple the Narn Homeworld. Pressured by Refa, Londo ultimately agrees to assist Refa - provided this is the last time.
Meanwhile, Sheridan and Delenn receive a message from Draal. Now familiar with the workings of the Great Machine and rejuvenated by the Machine's energy, Draal would like to meet with Sheridan and place the Machine at the captain's disposal, to offer him the first alliance against the coming darkness.
But even Draal is not prepared for how quickly that darkness is descending, as the Narn Homeworld begins to feel the first wave of a 4-day Centauri bombardment...
Well, Season Two took its sweet time getting going. For a long time in the middle of the season, I felt my interest in the series seriously wavering. The run of episodes that started with In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum, however, has seen the series hit its highest peak yet, with one superb installment after another. It may have been a long slog through a desert of episodes that were "just okay," but we have - for the moment, at least - reached one hell of an oasis.
The Long, Twilight Struggle is yet another episode where everything comes together perfectly. It not only moves the arc forward by another great leap, it does so with moments that are absolutely breathtaking. The assault on the Narn Homeworld is one of the series' darkest moments yet. The image of Londo's face, reflected back at him through the window of the Centauri cruiser as he watches the bombs fall. The sight of G'Kar, desperately praying, intercut with the devastation the Shadows wreak upon the Narn fleet. The venemous glare on Londo's face in the Council Chamber, as he becomes more despicable than he has ever been. The dignity that suffuses G'Kar's bearing as he speaks in that same meeting. The words themselves... like most of G'Kar's speeches in the series, poetry, all the more powerful for being kept fairly brief.
As the above might indicate, this is an episode that focuses heavily on G'Kar and Londo - which is always a good thing. The episode begins, as many Londo/G'Kar episodes do, by drawing parallels between the two Ambassadors. Both G'Kar and Londo are meeting with their superiors, both hearing their governments' plans to win victory. Both men respond with caution to their superiors' confident plans. G'Kar fears for the Homeworld if it is left undefended for a planned assault on the Centauri supply lines; Londo fears that the intercepted Narn transmission may be a trap. As time passes, both men make arguments to try to stop their missions. G'Kar learns that the Centauri are acting uncharacteristically bold, and begs for time to prove that the Homeworld is being targeted. Londo learns that Refa's plan involves the use of the Shadows to fight the more difficult battle against the Narn fleet, and urges that the Centauri need to forge their destiny for themselves, without owing their rise to powerful alien allies. Both men are right; both men are ignored. The cost to G'Kar will be more immediate, though the cost to Londo will ultimately be more devastating.
This episode isn't content, however, to simply point out how much alike G'Kar and Londo really are. We already know how alike they are, and have since Season One. This episode also shows the distinction between the two men. Londo is ultimately far weaker than G'Kar. He gives in to Refa with less of a fight than G'Kar makes against G'Sten's plan. We can see the horror on Londo's face as he watches the bombardment of Narn - doubtless recalling the late Centauri emperor's words that Londo was now "damned" - yet Londo remains the insidious, wrongheaded type of patriot who clings to the notion of "my country is always right." And so Londo stands erect in the Council Chamber, listing his government's demands, rebuffing all attempts at negotiation, and finally ordering Sheridan - in Sheridan's own council room - to remove G'Kar from the Council. Now. Londo cannot make himself bend; these are his country's demands, and his country is always right. So he allows himself to be made utterly evil, if only for this one occasion.
G'Kar shows an inner strength that one suspects Londo would be hard-pressed to tap. Seeing his world destroyed and his people enslaved for the second time in his lifetime, G'Kar is nevertheless able to stand tall under Londo's glare. He reminds all present, in his rich Shakespearian voice, that his people won their freedom from the Centauri before and will win it again, that no dictator can hold territory through force alone, not forever. Then he walks out, never losing his dignity or composure. He retains the strength to accept Sheridan's offer of friendship, even though offering Sheridan his hand reminds him of when he did the same to Londo, in The Coming of Shadows, only to be betrayed.
The "B" plot, involving Draal and the Great Machine, does not carry the same resonance. Still, the scenes on Epsilon 3 are enjoyable, and it is nice to have some follow-up on A Voice in the Wilderness. Also, this subplot ties yet more disparate pieces together. After Draal bids farewell to Sheridan and Delenn, he calls for one of the workers on the planet. The worker's name? Zathras. So now we know that there will be a link between Draal and the Great Machine and the "old Sinclair" we saw in Babylon Squared. Exactly what that link will be, will have to wait about one more season.
Finally, Sheridan's speech to the Rangers, when they are placed at his disposal by Delenn and Garibaldi, is effective. Sheridan's words - that they will "draw a line against the darkness, and hold that line" - bring back memories of the Battle of the Line, the battle that ended the Earth/Minbari War. It's always nice to see thematic unity within a piece. By this point in the series, all the pieces are visibly starting to come together.
Of course, I can't help but reflect that the parallel drawn in that speech with the Battle of the Line would be more effective coming from Sinclair, who was actually on the Line. But that's a minor nit-pick, barely worthy of mention. Boxleitner's Sheridan has come into his own quite nicely in this last batch of episodes. I'll never find Sheridan to be the equal of Sinclair, in terms of characterization; but at this point in the series, he is working quite well as a character in his own right.
The other replacement in this episode does not fare as well, I'm afraid. Though it was a necessity of Louis Turenne's health that he could not come back to reprise his role of Draal, I fear that I just don't think that John Schuck brings the same depth. His hale, deep-voiced, nearly jocular Draal just doesn't seem to be the same character. It's as if, in losing thirty years from his age, Draal also lost much of his depth and wisdom. Schuck - an actor whom I do like, and have enjoyed in many other roles - just doesn't have the thoughtfulness, or the sense of spiritual stillness, that Turenne possessed. Even in the Minbari makeup, and even plugged into that huge Machine, I fear that I never really believed that I was watching Draal. Draal's idiot brother, maybe - but not Draal.
Still, the weight of the Londo/G'Kar scenes, combined with the sheer momentum of the episode's events, make it hard to deduct even a single point from this episode's score. Despite my reservations about Schuck's Draal, I cannot keep myself from giving this episode full points.