The first portion of Season 3, titled “Point of No Return”, helped to set up this four-episode arc that proved to be the major turning point for the season and the series as a whole. All of the decisions made by the lead characters and the tertiary characters back on Earth finally come home to roost. And the galaxy is not the same after the arc is completed.
Spoilers ahead, so don’t read if you haven’t watched the series.
The first episode in the arc is titled “Messages from Earth”. Mary Kirkish, a doctor of archaeology working for Interplanetary Expeditions, a mega-corporation that has appeared off-and-on throughout the show’s history. IPX is a front-company for EarthForce, the military arm of the Earth Alliance, and their mandate is to discover alien technology that could be used to bolster Earth’s dominance in the galaxy. Nefarious doesn’t even begin to cover what IPX is involved in (going back to Season 1’s episode “Infection”). What Dr. Kirkish reveals is that EarthForce and IPX found a dormant Shadow vessel years before the start of the series on Mars, buried deep beneath the soil. Shortly thereafter, another Shadow vessel arrived to remove the ship and bring it back for use in the war. A new vessel has been found on the moon Ganymede, only this time the Earth Alliance has no intentions of letting the Shadows come back to claim it.
This leads Sheridan, Delenn, and Lennier to take the White Star into Earth Alliance space to destroy the ship before it can be activated. And this is where the nightmare fuel really begins: the central processing unit of a Shadow vessel is a living being. Using organic technology thousands of years more advanced than any of the main spacefaring races, the Shadows graft a living being into the ship, serving as the brain of the vessel. If not performed properly, the ship could become even deadlier than normal (which is saying something).
Before all hell breaks loose, though, we have a quiet moment on the White Star between Sheridan and Delenn. These two characters have been orbiting each other for a year, relying more and more on each other for emotional and moral support. In this episode, that relationship deepens further in a wonderfully written scene. Unable to sleep before heading into an uncertain and potentially deadly situation, Delenn comforts Sheridan, using the acoustic systems of the White Star to simulate the sound of rain (after Sheridan tells her a story about how his father used a garden hose to simulate rain to help his son sleep the night before taking the test to join EarthForce). It’s a simple, intimate moment between two characters who have learned to care for and trust one another.
The actual fight with the Shadow vessel is similar to the fight in “Matters of Honor”. Even in its current state, the Shadow ship is far more powerful than the White Star, which leads Sheridan to come up with a way to defeat it by out-thinking the vessel rather than out-fighting it. But for all their attempts to prevent destruction to Earth, they are accused by EarthGov as being the perpetrators of the attack on Ganymede. And through their actions, President Clark is able to tighten the reins on Earth by declaring martial law throughout the Earth Alliance.
“Point of No Return” shares the title for the entire season and this is the point where everything goes to hell for Earth. It also reveals the future of Londo and Vir’s destinies, told through the prophetic gifts of Lady Morella, the wife of the former emperor Turhan (who died in the second season episode “The Coming of Shadows). The bonus treat for science-fiction fans is that Majel Barett, the widow of Gene Rodenberry, portrays Lady Morella and she does not disappoint.
The Earth Alliance is in an uproar over the martial law decree, which is followed by President Clark dissolving the Senate and arresting any of the senators who oppose his new regime. The military forces are divided between those loyal to Clark’s regime and those loyal to the Earth Alliance, which General Hague (Sheridan’s contact in the military that was investigating President Santiago’s assassination) goes on the run. Without Hague’s support, Babylon 5 is effectively on their own.
To make matters even more complicated (a specialty of any good writer), Babylon 5’s station Security is to be turned over to the Night Watch organization exclusively, as ordered by the Political Office (a puppet organization Clark has used to filter out undesirable elements from the government and military). As the station joins in on the madness that is prevalent everywhere else, Sheridan reluctantly institutes the martial law decree. While this is going on, Hague’s forces are engaging Clark’s forces back in Earth-controlled space. The Civil War that has been dangling over the story since the end of the first season has become a full-blown shooting war.
Sheridan and the command staff, particularly Garibaldi, are none-too-pleased to surrender control to Night Watch. Garibaldi, ever the hot-head, storms into a meeting of the Night Watch security members and raises ten different kinds of hell, which results in him being relieved of his post as head of security. This puts him at odds with Zack Allen, played brilliantly by the late Jeff Conaway, who is trying to wade through where his loyalties truly lie. The episode culminates in a showdown with the Night Watch where they are tricked into believing Sheridan is bringing in new recruits from the fallen Narn Regime to supplant them, which turns out to be true, thanks to the persuasive talents of G’Kar.
While all of this is going on, Lady Morella reveals that Londo Mollari’s vision of himself as an old man wearing the refinements of Emperor will come to pass but he has a chance to save his soul from the damnation he’s earned for his actions up to this point. The wonderful stinger to this revelation is that timid, frightened Vir will also become Emperor. One of them will become Emperor after the other is dead, which leads to some delightfully awkward moments between the two.
The following episode, “Severed Dreams”, is the climax of this arc, a jam-packed episode that sees everything Straczynski has laid over the previous episodes come to fruition. General Hague’s ship is en-route to Babylon 5, at the command of Major Ed Ryan (played with charm and laconic ease by Bruce McGill, who may be recognizable as D-Day from Animal House). As Major Ryan appears, Clark’s actions become even more grotesque. When the Mars Provisional Government refuses to enact the martial law decree, Clark orders the bombing of civilian targets to break their resolve. This action leads other Earth Alliance colonies to secede from the alliance in protest. The news of this massive shift is brought by ISN, the Interstellar News Network, but they are quickly shut down by President Clark’s forces.
As all of this is going down, another EarthForce vessel appears, commanded by Captain Sandra Hiroshi. She brings unfortunate news: EarthForce vessels loyal to President Clark are on their way to Babylon 5 with orders to seize control of the station and detain the command staff. Straczynski’s writing for this episode is top-notch, mainly because he keeps layering tension on top of tension for almost the entirety of the episode. And the performances of the lead actors should be commended as well. It would be far too easy to ham up their performance like so many other war movies and shows have done. Instead, we see all of them have a human moment around a conference table as they discuss whether to surrender to Clark’s forces or to fight back against the encroaching darkness. When they all agree to fight, it’s not difficult to feel a swell of pride at that moment.
The battle sequence that follows is one of the longest bouts of CGI for the series up to that point. There are some continuity errors in the battle (ship names get mixed up, with one ship being called to after we watched it get destroyed) but other than that, it’s a damn fine action sequence. There is a palpable tension throughout the course of the episode, which Straczynski keeps ratcheting up seemingly every second. The climax of the episode is one of the best moments for Ambassador Delenn (and for the now late Mira Furlan, who passed away while I was working on this essay). In only a few lines of dialogue and a stern countenance, Delenn reminds everyone that while she is one of the most moral characters in the show, she has a backbone made of tempered steel.
The last episode in this quartet of episodes is “Ceremonies of Light and Dark”, which picks up shortly after the ending of “Severed Dreams”. One of the hallmarks of Straczynski’s writing is that he isn’t afraid to show the consequences of the characters’ actions. The start of this episode shows the command staff laying to rest their crewmembers who died during the epic battle of the previous episode. Far too often, military dramas and war stories forget the human cost of armed conflict. While the previous episode was a fist-pumping moment of triumph, Straczynski reminds us in this episode that victory always has a human cost to it.
The main crux of this episode is a ceremony that Delenn wishes to run called a Rebirth Ceremony. The participants give up something from their life that is most dear to them and reveals a secret that no one else knows. The rest of the crew doesn’t quite understand the reasoning behind it and are less than enthused. Their attitude changes when Delenn and some of the Minbari who helped save the station from Clark’s forces are kidnapped by Night Watch personnel who were never captured. The villains are straight-forward bad guys, with one exception: they are extremists that are meant to be pitied for their extremism.
In a series of episodes like there where so much of the status quo is changed, there are emotional moments that stand out. In “Ceremonies of Light and Dark” we find out something deeply personal about Lennier: he is in love with Delenn. For a character who was introduced as being completely subservient to his mentor to this moment, it shows the growth Lennier has undergone at the hands of the writers. While he does not act on these feelings until much later in the story (as in a couple of years later), it’s this moment that will come to define who Lennier will become.
In the midst of these trials, an important scene occurs between Londo Mollari and Lord Refa. For the better part of a year and a half, these two characters have been joined at the hip, bringing the Centauri Republic back to the forefront of the galaxy as an expanding empire. Throughout the season, Straczynski has been moving Londo away from his connection to Morden and the Shadows, distancing Mollari from the choices he’s made that got him to a position of power and influence. The acting of this scene is superb, for both Peter Jurasik and William Forward. The scene reminds us as the audience that while Londo may have some redeeming qualities, he is still very much the villain of this series, and his actions here are duplicitous, cunning, and ruthless, but with charm and wit to spare. It is one of the scenes that makes me admire both Straczynski’s craft as a writer and Jurasik’s abilities as an actor.
The ending of the episode again shows Straczynski’s flair for emotional weight and consequence. With Delenn injured during her rescue and laid out in Sickbay, the command staff enter, one at a time, and relinquish their most prized possessions, their EarthForce uniforms. For Franklin, Ivanova, Garibaldi, and Sheridan, the uniform that they spend so much of their time in is a second skin, part of their core identities as people. Laying these tokens of authority, rank, and camaraderie aside is treated as it should be treated: a moment of quiet reverence for what was and might be again, but not for the immediate future. The secrets revealed are also poignant of each individual. Sheridan accepts that he has fallen for Delenn without actually saying those three little words; Garibaldi reveals his fear of what would happen if he ever lets go of the controls he has put in his life; Ivanova, in a haunted, halting timber reveals that she loved Talia; and Franklin, who states with reservation and dawning horror that he might have a problem.
The final shot of the episode shows the four members of the command staff wearing Delenn’s gift (she had the foresight to anticipate their offering and made arrangements to give something back to the people she cares about): new command uniforms bearing the insignia of the Rangers. Standing on the command deck in CNC, the four of them are renewed and ready to take on the challenges that lie ahead. And those challenges will be heartbreaking for all of them. But that will be another essay.