As is often the case with two-parters, the plot-heavy second installment doesn't quite match the thrill of discovery in the first part. Nevertheless, this two-part story remains one of the first season's high points, as well as being a turning point in the arc of the Babylon 5 series.
Sinclair and Ivanova return from the planet with Varn, the alien they discovered at the heart of the Great Machine. Sinclair's hope is that Varn, once he recovers, can shed light on the awesome technology they found. But the situation is about to spiral hopelessly out of the commander's control.
The Earth Alliance cruiser Hyperion bursts unannounced through the jumpgate, its captain immediately claiming jurisdiction over the planet and its secrets. When the Hyperion attempts to send a landing party to Epsilon 3, the planetary defense systems go into meltdown. Now the planet is a ticking bomb, counting down a 48 hour clock to self-destruct. What's more, Varn makes it known that any further approach will result in the planet's immediate destruction.
Sinclair ponders an evacuation of the station while at the same time enforcing a military blockade of the planet, preparing to use force if necessary to stop the Hyperion from attempting a landing. Meanwhile, Draal receives a message from Varn, which propels him, Delenn, and Londo to the planet's surface in a desperate attempt to save all by employing the third principle of sentient life: the capacity for self-sacrifice.
Draal's entrance in Part One was marked by him grilling Delenn about the "third principle of sentient life," and then lecturing her about it. That principle - the capacity for self-sacrifice - proves to be the heart of this episode. Varn's phantom image appeared to three people: Sinclair, Londo, and Draal. In this installment, Draal speculates that the reason for this is that these three people are most attuned to self-sacrifice.
When you look at the three characters in question, you can see much to support Draal's theory. Sinclair was ready to sacrifice his own life at the Battle of the Line, and has demonstrated almost an eagerness for the chance to "find something worth dying for" at several points during the season. Delenn notes that Sinclair is searching for meaning, and she feels certain that had Sinclair gone to the planet at the end of this installment, it would have been he - not Draal - who remained there.
Londo seems, on the surface, to be a bit thinner a prospect for self-sacrifice. His dissolute, drunken lifestyle and his frequently grasping nature ("How much justice can you afford?") seem at odds with Draal's diagnosis. But Londo's character has hidden depths. Recall his dignity and grace in dealing with Adira in Born to the Purple or the Lady Ladira in Signs & Portents, at points where it was possible that his career was about to be over. Recall his response to Morden when asked what it was that he wanted. Londo is a patriot first and foremost, a man who absolutely loves the idea of the Centauri Republic. His dreams and ambitions for himself are very much secondary to his dreams for his people. Even his eventual fate illustrates this. Londo would lay down his life in a heartbeat for the welfare of the Centauri as a whole.
Which is also what makes Londo a poor choice to remain in the Great Machine. Londo's dreams, ideals, and values are almost entirely caught up in the Centauri interest. Had Londo been the one to step into the Machine, he would certainly have abused its power to give the Centauri advantage over all others.
Here, Draal differs from Londo. As illustrated in Part One, Draal has become very disillusioned with the direction of Minbari society. He values the idea of service, and sees the Minbari increasingly rejecting service in favor of pettiness. In the Great Machine, Draal finds a way to use his life as a vessel for service: he finds, as Garibaldi put it to Sinclair back in Infection, "something worth living for."
The second installment doesn't have quite the riches that the first half possessed. There are far fewer moments of little beauty here; there's too much plot to wrap up for glorious asides such as Londo's speech about the mathematics of hatred or Susan's "Babylon 5 mantra." Still, as an episode unto itself, it is more than worthy, if only for crystallizing the various character themes and strands.
Other moments of note: Sinclair's request to Garibaldi, to make sure that Ivanova gets off the station alive, echoes the growth in the Sinclair/Ivanova relationship, which has evolved from mentor/pupil (Deathwalker) to almost surrogate father/daughter (TKO). Much later in the series, of course, we will learn that this is exactly the kind of favor Susan does not appreciate. Meanwhile, Garibaldi puts his heart out on his sleeve when he finally talks to Lise, only to have that heart stomped yet again; this man seriously needs his own country/western song.
It's also interesting to compare the white beam pattern of the weapons of Epsilon 3 with the pattern of attack used by the Shadows at the end of Signs & Portents. It's like a white version of the same weapon. Heaven uses the same armaments as hell; heaven just cranks up the lighting on it.
A final note should be made of the relationship between Delenn and Draal, which is very convincingly rendered in both episodes. Mira Furlan and Louis Turenne play beautifully together, and it is a shame that when Draal returned, it would be in the form of a different actor.
The first half of A Voice in the Wilderness flew very high by virtue of a script that took the added time of a two-part format to allow pauses. There were wonderful character moments in the first installment, along with shots that would linger on incredible images of discovery - particularly that first shot of the Great Machine.
The second half feels much more rushed and plot-heavy. As even my "Plot Summary" indicates, this second installment just keeps throwing more and more into the mix. On the one hand, it's dramatically sound to keep raising the stakes for the characters. Unfortunately, at a certain point, it starts to feel like a little too much.
The scenes with the Hyperion captain throwing his weight around like a testosterone-charged bulldog get very old, very fast. All that was missing with regard to Captain Ellis Pierce were images of him marking his territory in canine fashion (though I am grateful for the omission). Pierce himself is painted as a one-dimensional jarhead. He's a jingoistic, militaristic imbecile, and every decision he makes is exactly the wrong one. After a few repetitions of this routine, I started to get the feeling that Pierce was being made to look unrealistically stupid just to prove how smart Sinclair is by comparison. I've been watching the show from the beginning; I already know Sinclair is smart; I don't need to see him contrasted with a one-note idiot to make him look even smarter, thank you very much.
Not quite as good as the first half - Captain Ellis Pierce alone is worth the deduction of at least one point - but it's still a very good episode.