Two-parter episodes are often a mixed bag, mainly because the promise of the first half doesn’t get fulfilled in the second half. Thankfully, “War Without End (Part II)” does not live up to that standard. It surpasses it, becoming one of the pivotal moments in the series history and answering one of the background mysteries that were always present but never outright given a great amount of coverage in the show.
The second half of “War Without End” picks up immediately where the first half ended, with John Sheridan flung into the future to witness the destruction of Centauri Prime, all under the watchful eye of an embittered, wrathful Emperor Londo Mollari. The year is 2278 in this scene, seventeen years since the end of the Shadow War. Sheridan is taken back to his cell, to await his execution. Straczynski is in his element, handing out breadcrumbs to the audience while keeping the bulk of the meal hidden away for later in the episode.
Time travel in science-fiction is a tricky storytelling tool. Far too often, there are examples where time travel just falls flat when used improperly. When done correctly, you can use it as a way to frame the current story and show that there are continuing stories that occur after the prime story arc is completed. Straczynski manages to use time travel in these two episodes to expand the world of Babylon 5, displaying an inkling of the stories that will unfold after or have been told before the events of the show.
The crew aboard the White Star board Babylon 4, using the interference from the detonated bomb the Shadows were bringing to attach their ship to the hull and burn their way through. The back-and-forth repartee of Ivanova and Marcus is always a joy to watch. They are written as opposites who share the same core values: loyalty and honesty. Claudia Christian and Jason Carter worked well together and their chemistry was always an enjoyable part of the experience watching the show. It helped that they were given great dialogue to work with but to be fair, I could watch these two as those characters read of a phonebook and still be entertained.
When we flash back to the future with Sheridan, he is in his cell when the door is open and someone is flung into the cell with him. It is Delenn, or the future version of her, aged but still graceful and determined. The two share a passionate kiss, which is really the first kiss for Sheridan. When the two break apart, Sheridan explains that he is from the past and Delenn fills him in on some details while remaining vague on others. But there is one key detail that she reveals: the two of them have a son named David. Straczynski has been teasing the relationship of Delenn and Sheridan since the second half of Season Two. By giving us this passionate scene, we get what we’ve been wanting but not in the way we anticipated receiving it (that wouldn’t occur until a later episode in the season).
When Delenn and Sheridan are brought before Emperor Mollari again, he is considerably drunk and in a much different frame of mind. He reveals a Keeper, a parasitic organism attached to his shoulder, that monitors his actions and thoughts. His previous tirade in front of Sheridan was an act, a charade done for the benefit of whomever is watching Londo through the Keeper. Londo releases Sheridan and Delenn, hoping that they will be able to free Centauri Prime from the forces that currently occupy it. As they leave, Londo turns to find G’Kar, equally old and missing an eye, approaching. The tone of their conversation is not one born from hatred but one of friendship, possibly even respect.
In the first episode of the series “Midnight on the Firing Line”, Londo told Sinclair about a dream he had of Londo and G’Kar choking the life out of each other twenty years from that episode. Here we see the full scene but it is not a life-and-death struggle. Instead, it is Londo asking G’Kar to help him die so that Sheridan and Delenn can escape. When the Keeper awakens, Londo begins strangling G’Kar back, locked in a struggle that Londo does not want to engage in. When the dust settles, both characters lay on the floor dead and Vir enters the scene, picking up the golden crest of the Emperor from Londo’s body. This is another example of Straczynski’s brilliance as a writer: establishing an idea for the audience to latch on to and then providing further details to change the shape of that idea. And as one has come to expect over the course of the show, Andreas Katsulas and Peter Jurasik sell the hell out of their performance in this brief scene.
Back in the present day of the story, a power surge causes Babylon 4 to surge through time forward to when it appeared in the episode “Babylon Squared”. There are two effects that come out of this sequence that are important for the story of the show. First, there is a brief moment where Delenn experiences a flash, a moment in time that is not yet to be. She is in someone’s quarters on Babylon 5, watching someone sleep. She picks up a snow globe and plays with it, fascinated by this simple device. We hear a door open and a woman’s voice before the snow globe is dropped and shatters on the floor. Then Delenn is back on Babylon 4 and Zathras warns that the unstable time field is causing flashes of the past and the future to appear to others.
The second effect is revealed when Sinclair returns from working on the time travel device: he is aged quite heavily, matching his appearance from the ending of “Babylon Squared” in the stinger of that episode. Good writers follow through on consequences. Great writers make those consequences earned and feel justified to their audience. Subtle moments like these two different story beats show Straczynski is a great writer.
Toward the end of the episode, we see the wrap-up and find out what was in the letters Delenn and Sinclair received at the beginning of the two-parter: they were instructions from Sinclair after he took Babylon 4 back into the past. Zathras speaks with the three leaders of the cast, Sinclair, Delenn, and Sheridan. Each of these characters are considered The One, the En’til’zha of the Rangers, just in different parts of the story. For any writer that wants to understand storycraft, Zathras’ monologue is a picture-perfect representation: there is a beginning of the story, the middle of the story, and the end of the story that leads to the next great story.
But Straczynski has left one major revelation for the end. As Marcus, Delenn, Sheridan, Lennier, and Ivanova leave in the White Star, they find the rift in Sector 14 is closed, preventing anyone from using it to travel into the past. Delenn makes a simple statement: if the Minbari had found Babylon 4 with a human on board it, the station would never have been accepted as a gift. One of the prevailing statements regarding the religious figure Valen from the Minbari’s history is that he was a Minbari not born of Minbari. Straczynski reveals what that phrase actually means: Sinclair uses the same Chrysalis device that Delenn used to become half-human in order to become fully Minbari. The ending of the episode shows us 1000 years in the past as a fleet of Minbari star cruisers approach Babylon 4. Zathras is there to greet them and direct them into a storage area. Standing between two Vorlons is Sinclair, a full Minbari, who states that he is named Valen and the Minbari have a great deal of work ahead of them.
Without a doubt, for me at least, these two episodes are among the pinnacle of storytelling for this show. The writing was crisp, throughout, with wonderful moments of levity to offset the seriousness of the war-torn Centauri Prime piece that anchors the two episodes. The reveal of Sinclair’s destiny that had been hinted at since the beginning of the show is earned and more than a little heartwarming but tinged with sadness. Sinclair is a principled warrior, more akin to a 23rd century samurai than anything else, and for him it is a war without end. But through his actions, the station is prevented from reaching the apocalyptic end that was shown in the beginning of “War Without End”. I cannot say enough good things about this pair of episodes. They remain among my favorites from the run of the show. I’ll be wrapping up Season Three with a couple of more essays to cover the major episodes before moving on to Season Four of the series.