To round out the series of essays on the third season of Babylon 5, there are three remaining episodes that set the trajectory for the final two seasons. By the end of the third season, sixty-six episodes had been filmed and all of the main cast of characters have gone through significant developments and changes over that time frame. The last three episodes, “And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place”, “Shadow Dancing”, and “Z’ha’dum” represent the culmination of three years of storytelling.
Spoilers ahead, obviously, so don’t read this if you haven’t watched the episodes yet.
Before I get to the final three episodes, there is one I mentioned in the previous essay that I want to cover: “Grey 17 is Missing”. The B-Plot of the episode is a waste, particularly since the show as able to get the versatile Robert Englund to guest-star on the episode. The A-Plot, however, is really where the best part of the episode occurs. Neroon, the Warrior Caste Minbari that has been a recurring character since the first season, returns just as Delenn is about to be named En’Til’Zha, the leader of the Rangers. The character of Neroon has always been one of my favorite recurring characters throughout the series, mainly because of the incredible performance by John Vickery. He is never fully a villain nor is he fully a hero. There is a soulfulness to Neroon that is wrapped up under a mountain of dogma taught to him by the Warrior Caste. Neroon sets his mind to killing Delenn, something no Minbari has done for over a thousand years since Valen (or as we know him, Jeffrey Sinclair) laid down the laws that restructured Minbari society during the last Shadow War.
Standing in Neroon’s way is Marcus, who once again shows his willingness to place himself in harm’s way for a cause. The fight sequence between Marcus and Neroon is brutal and it needed to be that way for Marcus’ attempted sacrifice to mean something to Neroon. Seeing a Human invoke the name of Valen in defense of one of his own people, Neroon realizes the presumption and arrogance of his desire to kill Delenn and abandons the quest. If Neroon were written as a simple, two-dimensional villain, Marcus’ words at the end of their fight would not have had any effect. By giving Neroon an outside force that calls in to question his deeply held beliefs, he is forced to question why he is about to commit this murder. This character-centric moment is the main reason I would suggest watching the episode. Just ignore the horrible monster suit used in the episode for Garibaldi’s plotline.
“And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place” is a Londo-centric episode, with a B-plot involving minister and religious leaders from Earth traveling to Babylon 5. Londo has been back in the clutches of Morden and the Shadows since the death of his lover Adira Tyree. He believes Lord Refa, his former ally, is responsible for the death of his love, so Londo sets out a masterful game to gain the upper hand. Refa is a superb villain and watching him finally get his comeuppance is greatly satisfying. The fact that Londo involves G’Kar in his plot is the most interesting development. Londo and G’Kar’s on-going hatred is well-documented by this point in the series. Through G’Kar’s mission to Narn, we get to see the devastation of his homeworld after the Centauri bombed it with asteroids at the tail end of the second season. Londo gains his revenge against Refa but the price he pays is his slide further into darkness.
The other main plot involving the religious leaders also sheds some light on the troubles back on Earth now that it is fully entrenched in the Clark Regime. The scene between Reverend Dexter and Captain Sheridan is an important one in the development of Sheridan’s burgeoning relationship with Delenn. Dexter’s reminder that it is easier to carry the burdens of command and responsibility when you have someone there next to you strikes home with Sheridan. When Sheridan knuckles under and invites Delenn to the War Room with him, the pair of them are able to gain a key insight into the Shadow’s attack strategy, giving them an opportunity to strike a blow at their enemies. The finale of the episode finds Delenn and Sheridan aboard the White Star, heading to a secret location. She reveals a large fleet of White Star ships, each captained by Rangers and the Minbari Religious Caste. This is what Delenn has been preparing to help fight the Shadow War. As the pair look out over the fighting chance they have now, Sheridan and Delenn share their first kiss.
It’s a triumphant and heartwarming moment that will not last.
The follow-up episode, “Shadow Dancing” picks up shortly after the end of the last episode. Delenn convinces the League of Non-Aligned Worlds to put together a massive fleet to attack the Shadows at the coordinates Delenn and Sheridan discovered in the previous episode. They acquiesce, reluctantly, which sets the stage for the largest battle sequence on the show up to this point (even larger in scale than the previous high-point “Severed Dreams”). Juxtaposed against this backdrop of galactic importance is the endpoint of Stephen’s walkabout story arc, which has an interesting twist. And in the midst of everything else, we have a wonderfully quiet scene where Marcus finally admits (in Minbari) that he finds Susan to be the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. He plays it off as a Minbari greeting but the seed is sown for the hopeless romantic and the cynical Commander.Kindle Unlimited Membership Plans
Stephen’s storyline began in “Interludes and Examinations” when he realized his addiction to stims almost caused him to lose a patient. Instead of confronting his problem, he walked away from everything in an attempt to find himself. When he attempts to stop a mugging and gets brutally stabbed for his trouble, Stephen begins to hallucinate (from the blood loss) that he is having a conversation with himself. This version of Stephen doesn’t particularly like the one laying on the floor bleeding to death. Out of all of the actors on the series, I think Richard Biggs gets the short end of the stick sometimes when fans discuss his abilities and his character work. In the scenes where Franklin confronts his hallucinatory doppelganger, he receives a speech that shows Biggs’ range better than any other point in the series.
Shifting gears to the battle sequence, there’s some definite drawbacks, specifically the reuse of some of the scenes toward the end of the battle (which I imagine were largely due to budgetary constraints). Overall, the entire battle is beautifully done, with tensions riding high throughout it. We see, for the first time, the League of Non-Aligned Worlds come together against a common foe and prevail, but at great cost. One of the facets of this show that I give Straczynski a great deal of credit for is showing the aftermath of these terrible conflicts. Most shows would gloss over the casualties and destruction but not Straczynski. We see that this victory cost the alliance a great deal but it showed that they could fight back against a significantly more powerful opponent.
The stinger at the end is what really sells this episode. Calling back to the flash-forward Delenn saw during “War Without End, Part 2”, we finally get to see the full context of that moment. Sheridan and Delenn engage in a Minbari ritual where Delenn watches him while he sleeps, in order to see his true face. The door to Sheridan’s quarters opens and in walks Anna Sheridan, John’s wife that has long been thought dead on Z’ha’dum (played by Bruce Boxleitner’s then-wife Melissa Gilbert).
The third season’s finale “Z’ha’dum” is the story beat the series has been moving toward since the second season episode “In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum”. In that episode, Captain Sheridan learned that his wife’s ship had travelled to the Shadow homeworld of Z’ha’dum. It was assumed that only Morden had willingly accepted the Shadows offer and that Anna was killed when she refused. Sheridan promised Ambassador Kosh that he was going to go to Z’ha’dum at some point, even if it meant his death. Earlier in season three, during the episode “Interludes and Examinations”, Kosh gives his life to help the fledgling alliance score a victory over the Shadows. Before parting during their confrontation, Kosh tells Sheridan that he will not be with him when Sheridan goes to Z’ha’dum and as a result of that, Sheridan will die if he goes there. In the second part of “War Without End”, the future version of Delenn admonishes Sheridan to not go to Z’ha’dum repeatedly.
This is a narrative framework that Straczynski uses to great effect to set up the final episode of the season. By being told repeatedly that if Sheridan goes to the homeworld of the Shadows he will perish, the audience is led to believe that Sheridan will either go and find some way out of it or that he won’t go. The Shadows set up the perfect trap to lure Sheridan to them: his wife Anna, the one person Sheridan would do just about anything for. Anna, by all appearances, is flirty, personable, and charming. But there is something off about her right from the start, and Sheridan notices it. Every test run by Doctor Franklin confirms that this is in fact Anna Sheridan, save from some scarring on the back of her neck (which is an important point brought up later in the episode).
The confrontation between Delenn and Sheridan is heartbreaking to watch. These two people have spent the past several episodes coming to grips with their emotional connection to each other. Delenn admits that she did not know for certain Anna was dead, only assumed that John’s wife would never have gone along with the Shadows’ plans. When Sheridan calls her out on this, she admits that she would not have told him the whole truth if they knew Anna was alive. Sheridan is justifiably incensed over this news, particularly because it would deny him the ability to make a choice about his own future. Sheridan leaves but not before hearing Delenn state that she loves him.
Early in the episode, a Chekov’s Gun is introduced by G’Kar in the form of a large contingent of massively powerful nuclear devices. When Sheridan receives Franklin’s final analysis of Anna, a dark scowl comes over his features and he asks for arrangements to be made by Garibaldi for him to leave with Anna. Sheridan and his wife head out in one of the White Star ships for Z’ha’dum. During the trip, Anna reveals the Shadows have an aversion to Vorlon technology, believing if any Vorlon tech were to touch their planet, it would have dire consequences. Sheridan agrees to take a shuttle down to the planet and even agrees to give up his PPG when Anna requests it before going into a meeting with other humans living on the Shadow homeworld.
My one complaint for this episode is the meeting between Sheridan, Anna, Morden, and a new character named Justin because it runs for too long. Justin is the middle-man for the Shadows, helping coordinate the human allies from the background rather than being a public face like Captain Sheridan. For the first time in the series, we get a chance to hear the Shadows philosophy, as explained by Justin and Morden. The Shadows are the other great stewards of the younger races, much like the Vorlons. Instead of promoting evolution through obedience and structure, the Shadows believe evolution is best served by inciting conflict and war. When you stop to think about it, the Shadows have a strong argument to make: warfare is the one constant of our species and is responsible for a great deal of our technological and cultural development on Earth. The key issue with the Shadows is that they are just as lost in their vision of how to guide the younger races as the Vorlons are.
It’s during this meeting that Sheridan reveals he knows what was done to Anna: the scars on the back of her neck match up with the implants found on the telepaths in “Ship of Tears”, indicating that she was plugged in to one of the Shadow vessels as its living CPU. The process of merging with the ship destroyed Anna’s personality, making her more pliable to serve the Shadows’ agenda. In this way, the Shadows are no different than the Vorlons, who are just as guilty at manufacturing consent for their viewpoint.
The episode culminates in a standoff both at Babylon 5 and on Z’ha’dum. Shadow vessels appear around the station, waiting for a signal to attack. Garibaldi hops in to a Starfury to help in the defense of the station, while Sheridan uses a hidden PPG to fight free of the room he’s trapped in. Fighting his way through the labyrinthian complex, Sheridan finds himself on a ledge overlooking a vast underground city and a gigantic crater leading into the darkness of the planet’s core. Looking up, Sheridan sees a glass dome and decides to use his final trump card: the White Star stationed in orbit with two of G’Kar’s thermonuclear devices onboard. Just as Sheridan is confronted by Anna and waiting for the moment he dies in a fiery cataclysm, he hears the voice of Kosh telling him to jump. With some hesitation, Sheridan leaps into the chasm beneath the balcony as the White Star crashes through the dome overhead and the nukes explode, killing Anna and destroying the Shadow city.
The Shadow vessels around Babylon 5 retreat but not before snatching away Garibaldi in his Starfury. Ivanova, who it has been revealed is a latent telepath, senses Sheridan’s demise. We as the audience are left at the lowest point in the series, with Sheridan all but confirmed to be dead, Garibaldi lost, and the alliance against the Shadows in complete disarray. The closing narration of G’Kar is one of the best monologues given to Andreas Katsulas over the course of the show and he delivers it with great heartbreak and reverence.
Just like that, the third season of Babylon 5 ends with a bang rather than a whimper. It’s not too immodest to say this is one of my favorite season finales for the show over the course of its run. Straczynski is at the height of his power as a storyteller here, crafting a tragic tale that focuses on the very human reasons we all make terrible decisions sometimes. But it is not the end of the story, merely the midpoint. I’ll be covering Season 4 of the show in the next series of essays about the show.