That this episode is popular is certainly not a mystery to us. It is a major turning point for the series and also an incredibly satisfying yawp against complacency in the face of evil.
A full summary can be found at the Lurker's Guide here.
Stephanie S. - This episode won the 1997 Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation for, I think, one big reason: from the moment Major Ryan reluctantly destroys the Clarkstown, JMS takes care to show the real cost of rebellion. Two major characters are injured in the fight for control of Babylon 5, another major character sunders the political stability of her own world, and many, many people lose their lives on Mars and elsewhere. The price of freedom, as they say, is high.
Two things in particular stand out for me. First of all, we have the scene between Sheridan and his father, which highlights the personal character of Sheridan's sacrifice. For Sheridan, seceding from the Earth Alliance means losing contact with his own family, a devastating consequence given that Sheridan's relationship with his parents seems to be an entirely healthy and loving one.
Secondly, we have the inclusion of the Narn soldiers in Babylon 5's "infantry." The battle outside only marginally holds my interest, truth be told, but the image of the Narn charging Clark's boarding party and dying one by one will always haunt me. Obviously, G'Kar's newly enlightened leadership has had a profound effect.
SABR Matt - It's very easy to fall back on comfortable, possibly short-sighted, but simple solutions to problems. It's even easier to accept authorities you've trusted to deal with your problems and, in spite of disagreements you might have with the orders, trust that your superiors know what they're doing. In this case, however, the problem is not something that can be ignored. The problem is a rising tide of evil. Just as we, in the real world, must face a rising tide of evil extremism, Delenn bravely recognizes that she must face the Shadows and their many dangerous allies no matter the cost. It takes real moral fortitude to stand up to your bosses and tell them you no longer recognize their authority because they've neglected their responsibilities.
I only wish we had that kind of bravery in our own midst here in America. Leftists here are right about one thing...we in the US have gotten too decadent. We look for easy solutions every day, rather than facing the reality that our problems have gotten big enough that more painful decisions may need to be made. It's nice to see such things recognized in the finest of our stories... including this one.
The dialogue is very direct and not especially imaginative, but the plot is extremely compelling.
Both Mira Furlan and Bruce Boxleitner have very good days here, and the guest characters are decent.
We like this episode because it is unapologetically martial. All of the characters - including Franklin! - recognize that while war is not the preferred solution, it is sometimes the only viable one -- especially when your adversary has no qualms about murdering civilians!
"Don't start a fight -- but always finish it." Hell yes!
LONDO: This is absurd. Two hours I have been standing in line. 'Our staff are overwhelmed,' they tell me. 'Too many people trying to get home or escape here.' 'Rumors of rebellion and war.' 'Even the diplomatic lanes are clogged.' Fah! If you ask me, I know the real problem: ever since the Earthers put Narns on your security force, everything here has gone to hell. They're not very efficient, you know. You have to keep an eye on them at all times.
NARN: Next. Identicard please.
(Londo hands his card over. The Narn feeds it into his reader.)
NARN: How strange. I'm not getting a confirmation on your identicard.
LONDO: Oh, please, you know who I am.
NARN: Oh, yes, I know who you are, Ambassador. But the computer, you see, does not -- and verification is required prior to entry. Perhaps I have entered the data incorrectly. We are, as you know, very inefficient. (Heh.)
SHERIDAN: We have just been thrust into the middle of extraordinary events. So we must approach this calmly and rationally. Those are not the enemy out there. We wear the same uniforms, and we've both sworn to uphold the Constitution. They're as loyal to Earth as you are, and we will render humanitarian aid to them. Because as much as our humanity got us into this, our humanity is the only thing that's going to get us out again.
DELENN: Three years. For three years, I warned you this day was coming. But you would not listen. 'Pride,' you said. 'Presumption.' And now the Shadows are on the move. The Centauri and the younger worlds are at war. The Narns have fallen. Even the humans are fighting one another. The pride was yours. The presumption was yours. For a thousand years, we have been awaiting the fulfillment of prophecy. And when it finally happens, you scorn it. You reject it. Because you no longer believe it yourselves. We stand between the candle and the star. Between the darkness and the light. You say the words, but your hearts are empty. Your ears closed to the truth. You stand for nothing but your own petty interests. 'The problems of others are not our concern.' I do not blame you for standing silent in your shame. You, who knew what was coming but refused to take up the burden of this war. If the Warrior Caste will not fight, then the rest of us will. The Council has lost its way if it will not lead. We have abandoned our covenant with Valen! (Delenn takes the leader's staff and breaks it in two.) The Council should be broken -- as was prophesied. We must stand with the others now before it's too late! Between the Worker Caste and the Religious Caste, we control two-thirds of our forces. To you I say listen to your consciences. Break the Council. Come with me. Our time of isolation is over. We move now, together -- or not at all.
SHERIDAN: Listen, Dad, um -- I wanted to call because - well - there's a lot going on right now. I don't know when I'll be able to call again. It may be a while. I can't really explain on an open channel, but --
MR. SHERIDAN: Son -- I follow the news. Well, I did until ISN went black. I see what's going on. Your mother doesn't like to think about it. You know how she is. (A beat.) John -- I can't imagine the decisions that are going through your mind right now. I'm sure they're not easy. The important ones never are. But when push comes to shove, you've always done the right thing. What was the first lesson I ever taught you?
SHERIDAN: Never start a fight -- but always finish it. (HOO-RAH!)
DELENN: This is Ambassador Delenn of the Minbari. Babylon 5 is under our protection. Withdraw or be destroyed.
EARTH FORCE SHIP: Negative. We have authority here. Do not force us to engage your ship.
DELENN: Why not? Only one human captain has survived battle with a Minbari fleet. He is behind me. You are in front of me. If you value your lives, be somewhere else! (YEAH, BITCHES! Take that!)