A purely transitional episode, and an episode that has at its heart the very idea of transition. Nevertheless, another triumph with a few breathtaking scenes, some thought-provoking dialogue, and great performances. The show has fully matured by this point in its run, and the effect as all the running plots start moving inexorably to their climax is stunning.
John Sheridan is dead. His body is lifeless. He has no pulse. He does not hunger, or tire, or even do as the bear does in the woods. He is an ex-Sheridan.
So why is he walking around, far beneath the surface of Z'ha'dum, having long philosophical discussions on the nature of identity, time, entropy, and surrender with an alien named Lorien? Who is Lorien, and what can he offer to Sheridan? What is his connection to the Vorlons and the Shadows? And can he bring Sheridan back from Z'ha'dum, back to life, back to the people who need him so very badly?
When you look into an abyss, Nietzsche wrote, the abyss also looks into you. If so, then perhaps Lorien represents the abyss into which John plunged himself, looking back into John's soul, showing him who he is and what he could be.
Sheridan isn't the only one who has disappeared into an abyss, however. Mr. Garibaldi is still missing, whisked away in a Shadow ship to an unknown destination where he is interrogated by a disembodied voice and gassed and tormented when he won't give the right answers. Garibaldi is in a hell all his own. There is no chance of escape, and there seems no chance of rescue. In fact, in the wake of Sheridan's death and the breakup of the League of Non-Aligned Worlds, it doesn't seem that anyone on Babylon 5 is even sparing a thought for the fate of Michael Garibaldi.
So it is that G'Kar has taken it on himself to track down Garibaldi. He's doing a pretty good job of it, too, when we first see him in this episode. He has found a man who salvaged a piece of Garibaldi's Starfury, and is determined to learn where that man found the information that led him to that piece of salvage.
But Sheridan and Garibaldi aren't the only ones facing an abyss. G'Kar has left the safety of Babylon 5. There are few greater prizes for amoral bounty hunters than the last surviving member of the Kha'Ri.
And for a Narn, there are few abysses as deep, dark, or terrible as the dungeons of the palace on Centauri Prime. The odds of a Narn surviving being made into a "gift" and a "toy" by an insane Centauri Emperor? Why, they would be about as likely as those of a human returning from the dead...
Any episode centering on Andreas Katsulas' G'Kar is at an immediate advantage. G'Kar's journey has already been a fascinating and complex one. Here, that journey is taken even further than ever before. As Sheridan did at the end of Season Three, G'Kar has left the safety of Babylon 5 on a quest that will lead him to his own abyss.
Before G'Kar confronts his own worst nightmare, there is great fun to be had. One of the wonderful surprises of this episode is that G'Kar is actually making some pretty decent progress in investigating Garibaldi's disappearance. Maybe Garibaldi should have enlisted G'Kar as a partner when he turned private detective later, because G'Kar actually makes a pretty good detective (sorry, getting ahead of the story, I know...)
The G'Kar/Marcus pairing in the first half of the episode is hugely enjoyable, and I loved the warmth between the two characters. Marcus' answer to G'Kar - why he came to help - is touchingly delivered, as he confesses to G'Kar that he's never had a friend who was a Narn before "and precious few of any other kind." The sadness at the center of Marcus' character, as he goes on to observe that most of those he ever had called "friend" are now dead, gives another postcard glimpse at the tortured soul beneath the Ranger's bravado.
Of course, there's also a great, laugh out loud and cheer moment as Marcus interrogates the man who salvaged a piece of Garibaldi's Starfury. Marcus' weather forecast is much more entertaining than the local newscast's... and probably at least as useful.
The real meat of G'Kar's story comes after Marcus leaves him. G'Kar enters the abyss as any victim must enter hell - bruised, in agony, and in chains. As he is brought before Emperor Cartagia, G'Kar still maintains that incredible dignity that no other character on this show (or probably any other) can match. Cartagia's mocking question to him - "Do you have anything to say?" - is answered beautifully, as G'Kar stays true to his quest and asks the Emperor if he knows what happened to Mr. Garibaldi. Even the giddily insane and insanely powerful Emperor Cartagia is left at least momentarily at a loss.
The best scene of the G'Kar subplot, however, has to be the scene between G'Kar and Londo. In the previous episode, Londo realized that the emperor he put on the throne is a mad monster. As Londo told Vir, Cartagia must be removed for the sake of Centauri Prime... but as Londo also told Vir, there is no one on Centauri Prime whom Londo can trust.
Londo joked in The Hour of the Wolf about how sad it was that the closest thing he had to a friend was Vir. It is no joke now, however, when he realizes that the second-closest thing he has to a friend - and the only being other than Vir on all Centauri Prime whom he can truly trust - is his hated enemy since Day One of the series: G'Kar.
The beautiful thing about the Londo/G'Kar scene is the balance of power. G'Kar is in chains, beaten, powerless, destined to die horribly "as a toy." Londo is the Emperor's personal advisor, one of the most influential men in the Centauri Republic. Yet G'Kar has all the power in this scene. It is G'Kar's help that Londo is in need of. G'Kar must say "yes," or Londo's hopes for his people are doomed. Even though Londo is free and G'Kar is not, Londo is in the weaker position. G'Kar has nothing to lose, and Londo has his entire civilization waiting on the Narn's answer.
As much as I love the scenes with G'Kar, particularly the ones on Centauri Prime with Cartagia or Londo, my favorite scenes this time involve Sheridan. The conversations Sheridan has with Lorien resonate with meaning, musings of a type rarely found on television - rarely found anywhere, outside the confines of classic Literature. Take Lorien's "tick" and "tock" speech as an example. "Tick," Lorien reflects, "a possibility for joy is gone. Tock - a careless word ends one path, opens another." It is impossible to hear that speech without my own mind being drawn to my own missed opportunities and paths not taken... which is the power of a genuinely well-written piece of dialogue.
Then there are Lorien's questions for Sheridan in the "dream sequences" that aren't, combining both the Vorlon and Shadow questions. "Who are you?" and "What do you want?" Both are necessary, and that is the failure of both Shadows and Vorlons. The Shadows can't understand that "What do you want?" is dangerous if you don't know who you are; the Vorlons refuse to acknowledge that knowing who you are is meaningless if you do not also know what you want. Lorien, the "father," the First One, represents the sanity between the two insane extremes - realizing that both questions on their own mean nothing, unless those questions are asked together.
Wayne Alexander is an effective choice as Lorien, combining wisdom and compassion with that great theatrical voice. It is appropriate that the same actor should play Lorien who played Sebastian in Comes the Inquisitor. In Comes the Inquisitor, Sebastian examined Delenn by asking only the Vorlon question, over and over again. Delenn never was quite able to answer; as Lorien observes in this episode, there is no good answer to that question, on its own. In this episode, Lorien is examining Sheridan, asking both questions. He does not torture Sheridan, but guides him to accept the reality of his own death, to stop trying to escape fate and surrender to it. To stop being "the man in the middle," "caught between tick and tock," and to be who he can be "when (he is) no longer afraid."
"It is easy to find something worth dying for," Lorien tells Sheridan gently. "Do you have anything worth living for?" In this way, Lorien's ancient wisdom directly echoes Mr. Garibaldi's inherent common sense from the end of Infection, when Garibaldi confronted Sinclair with the exact dilemma. Sinclair could not answer Garibaldi (ultimately the answer he found was entirely based on self-sacrifice, the loss of the future in exchange for an endless loop of past and present). Sheridan does find an answer for Lorien, however, and for himself.
With this, the episode ends on a spectacular final image, as Sheridan at last lies - apparently dead - at Lorien's feet, with the alien looking down on him, giving no guarantees (other than awareness of Bruce Boxleitner's contract) that the captain will ever return from Z'ha'dum.
Once again, it is hard to find much that is weak in this episode. The journal entry that Stephen finds and shows to Delenn is, perhaps, just a touch too precious not to strain credulity. The bar in which G'Kar and Marcus find themselves early in the episode appears to be populated entirely by "seedy bar" stereotypes.
Nit-picks, that pale beside the thoughtful dialogue between Lorien and Sheridan, or the image of G'Kar, caught in his own worst nightmare but refusing to surrender his dignity. The single look on Londo's face - horror, revulsion, and pity - as he first looks on G'Kar... that one second of screen time is more than enough to make up for such minor issues.
Another great episode, in a run of great episodes.