This episode works so well in large part because of the acting, which is rather unusual for this series. Thanks to the performances, Londo's plot is absolutely crushing, and Kosh's death also takes on an unexpected emotional power.
The Lurker's Guide has a summary here.
Stephanie S.: From an acting standpoint, this episode is Peter Jurasik's finest moment. Obviously, I find it so hard to choose among Jurasik's many fabulous scenes, but I think he really outdoes himself here. Take, for example, the scene in which Londo learns of Adira's death. My God, the range of emotions we see in those few minutes! First of all, we have that initial happiness, which is so heart-explodingly real you could just die. Then we subsequently proceed through stages of worry, shock, and despair which are all equally superb until, by the end, you're left in this state of speechless sorrow. And do you know what's really great? This intensity is carried over into Londo's next scene with Morden. The level of seething rage you can perceive behind Jurasik's delivery of the word "revenge" is -- well, I'm out of words by this point. SABR Matt will surely make fun of my ardent praise of this performance, but I don't care because it is just that outstanding.
Of course, at this point, I must comment on what this episode tells us about Londo. For one thing, it once again highlights Londo's almost boundless capacity to love. At the same time, however, JMS reminds us that this redeeming quality can also become a stumbling block if it's not tied to Something Higher. Indeed, Londo perfectly embodies the dangers of idolization. Because Londo believes in nothing transcendent, worldly things become as gods to him. And here, when that great goddess Love is brutally torn away, Londo feels perfectly within his rights to strike back because when it comes to defending an earthly deity, anything is permissible. Interestingly enough, though, even Love takes a back seat to another one of Londo's idols: Country. Notice that while fully immersed in his desire for vengeance, Londo still asks for "the safety of my people." Country trumps all, and it always will. God, I love this character.
But this episode is not a feature solely on the strength of Londo's plot. I despise the Vorlons, but I still feel Kosh's death, and I think we can attribute my emotional reaction to Bruce Boxleitner, who also puts in one of his better performances. I think, though, that I'll leave it to my co-author to discuss that plot in further detail.
SABR Matt: I think you feel Kosh's death specifically because the acts that lead him to it are undertaken selflessly and in a very un-Vorlon-like way. The acting is outstanding, no doubt. But the plot has a role to play in making such things effective. The first Kosh...while cryptic and annoying, I always felt was at least attempting to do right by the universe. Other Vorlon interests always seemed self-serving and cruel. Kosh's death matters because he has enough of a soul to take head to Sheridan's pleas for assistance and gives himself up for the greater good.
And of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I think this is also one of two episodes along with the third season finale that does about as good a job as JMS will ever do making a human character's story arc interesting. They tried so hard to make Sheridan's character have a "fate" as well. His "predestined role" to end the Shadow War forever...it variously either falls flat or it just doesn't quite live up to the other fate-based arcs in the show's canon, but in this episode and in Z'Ha'Dum, it does feel pretty satisfying to have Sheridan at the right place at the right time to do something wonderfully heroic. And we, in the audience, do shriek "YEEEEAAAAAWWWHHH!!!!!!!" when he demands that Kosh got off his encounter-suited butt and DO something. Hey...that has value, at least to me. :)
Writing: 9.0 / 9.0
The living Greek tragedy that is Londo Mollari is once again brilliantly rendered, and the chain of events that finally push the Vorlons into the Shadow War is also quite well conceived.
Acting: 9.8 / 9.5
I think this is the highest acting score I will ever award to an episode of Babylon 5. As I gushed effusively above, Peter Jurasik is absolutely extraordinary, and Bruce Boxleitner also rises to the occasion. I still see some flaws here and there, but the performances only just fall short of perfection.
SABR Matt: I think this one is about as good as it gets on B5...and I still don't feel Londo's acting merits a 10...sorry Steph. :) The human cast and the aliens (especially Peter Jurasik), though, certainly gave this episode an extra zing.
Message: 10.0 / 10.0
The biggest message of this episode is seen in the contrast between what Londo does here and what G'Kar does in his major scene in the last episode. Because G'Kar has been "saved," he does not kill Delenn to avenge the destruction on his homeworld; because Londo is "damned," he sees revenge as his only recourse in the wake of Adira's death. JMS has said in the past that one of the ever-present themes of the series is this: Can you put your personal feelings aside in order to serve a higher purpose? Unfortunately, at this moment, Londo cannot, and that is part of what makes his story so heart-breaking.
MORDEN: I'm disappointed in you, Mollari. I don't know how you did it. Lord Refa isn't returning my calls anymore. Somehow you convinced your government to pull back their campaign against several other worlds on the fringe of Centauri space.
LONDO: I might've said a word to someone here and there. Something about not weakening our defenses by fighting trivial border wars.
MORDEN: I thought we had a deal. We carved up the galaxy, you and I.
LONDO: Yes, we did. And what you do in your half is your business. And what I do mine is mine.
MORDEN: We need your government to continue its campaign.
LONDO: Yes? And why is that, hm? I don't think you have any interest in restoring the glory of the Centauri Republic. (No duh!) No -- I think that you are using us as, shall we say, agents of chaos? A convenient distraction making it easier for your associates to do whatever it is they wish to do, yes?
(Beside Londo, the Shadows speak. Londo hears the sound and turns to look.)
MORDEN: My associates need a voice and an ear in the Centauri royal court. If you violate the terms of our agreement, my associates may turn their eye toward your homeworld.
LONDO: Then we shall pluck it out.
MORDEN: (more threatening) If you put yourself between us and our objectives, you may come to regret it.
LONDO: There is nothing you can do to me, Mr. Morden, that has not already been done. (NOOOOOO! Don't say THAT!)
VIR: And we'll need a dozen bottles of brivari at least ten years old, several carafes of hot jala, and three dozen - no, make it four dozen bouquets of starlaces.
CLERK: This is gonna be expensive.
VIR: You can put it on the ambassador's personal account.
CLERK: Anything else?
VIR: Uh, yes, some personal effects for Lady Adira. Some... clothes and things.
CLERK: What kind of things?
VIR: Um... er... right here. (Vir shows the clerk his list.)
VIR: She'll need something nice to wear when she arrives.
CLERK: You want this one here with or without garters?
(Vir blushes furiously. LOL!)
VIR: You know, I-I'm not --
CLERK: Okay, with. You can never go wrong with garters. (A beat as the clerk looks Vir over.) Well, you might.
VIR: Look, I'm gonna leave the list here and come back and check on it later, okay?
(He turns to leave, but spots Morden in the crowd. Shivering, he decides to head out in another direction. Alas, Morden manages to catch up with him in the corridor anyway.)
MORDEN: (cheery) Hello, Vir!
VIR: I'm sorry, I can't talk. I have things to do.
MORDEN: Apparently so. Anything I can do to help?
VIR: Um... Short of dying? No, can't think of a thing. (ROTFL! Vir is so awesome.)
SHERIDAN: Nobody wants to fight a war unless they know there's at least a chance of winning. You can give them that hope. As one of the older races, your technology has to be at least as good as the Shadows. Now, if you could convince your government to send out an expedition to engage at least one or two of their ships --
SHERIDAN: All right, I know you can't take the entire Shadow fleet by yourselves, but if you can beat them in just one fight, that could be the break we need to get everyone organized. Then we'd have a real chance. (A beat.) You could do it, couldn't you?
KOSH: Perhaps. But there is still few of us. It is not our time. It is yours. We are not prepared yet.
SHERIDAN: (getting pissed) Don't turn your back on me! Don't you even try to walk away from me! Just who the hell do you think you are? (Another beat.) Wait -- I know what you think you are -- what you want us to believe. But I don't buy it. For three years now, you've been pulling everyone's strings, getting us to do all the work while you haven't done a damn thing but stand there and look cryptic! Well it's about time you started pulling your own weight around here!
(Kosh turns. His mechanical "eye" narrows.)
MAN (in C&C): We're getting an energy surge.
IVANOVA (in C&C): Location?
MAN (in C&C): I don't know. It's an unlocalized phenomenon.
(Back to Sheridan.)
SHERIDAN: I hear you've got a saying: understanding is a three-edged sword? Well, we've got a saying too! Put your money where your mouth is!
SHERIDAN: Yeah? Well maybe that's the only way to get through to you. You said you wanted to teach me how to right legends? Well you're a legend too, and I am not going to go away until you agree!
KOSH: Incorrect. (And he spanks Sheridan with a bolt of energy.) Leave. Now.
(But Sheridan is undeterred.)
SHERIDAN: Up yours!
(And Kosh strikes Sheridan again, opening a gash on his cheek.)
SHERIDAN: So -- the real Kosh shows his colors at last, eh? You angry now? Angry enough to kill me? Because that's the only way I'm leaving. Unless your people get off their encounter-suited butts and do something, I've got nothing to lose. Hell, my own government wants to kill me. And if we lose this war, I'm just as dead. Our only chance is to get the other races on board for this fight, and right now, you're the key to doing that.
KOSH: It is not yet time.
SHERIDAN: And who decides that time? You? You put me in this position! You asked me to fight this damn war! Well it's about time you let me fight it my way! (Kosh starts to glide away.) How many people have already died fighting this war of yours, eh? How many more have to die before you get up off that mountain of yours and get involved? Ships, colonies, whole worlds are being destroyed out there, and you do nothing? How many more? How many more, Kosh? How many more dead before you're satisfied?
(Kosh pushes Sheridan against the wall with the force of his energy and starts to strangle him.)
SHERIDAN: Go ahead. Maybe one more death will balance out the books. Go on, get it over with. Save us both the trouble later.
(But Kosh backs off. Sheridan gasps for air, holding his throat.)
KOSH: I will do as you ask. But there is a price to be paid. I will not be there to help you when you go to Z'ha'dum.
SHERIDAN: You already said if I go to Z'ha'dum, I will die.
KOSH: Yes. Now.
SHERIDAN: All right, if that's the trade-off, fine. If you want to withhold your help when the time comes, that's fine. I'll go it alone.
KOSH: You do not understand. But you will. (Damn.)
LONDO: Strange. I can barely catch my breath. I have been looking forward to this for so long that I feel... Gods, Vir! I feel happy. I had almost forgotten what it was like. (Oh, jeez. Whenever Londo feels happy, you know something bad's going to happen. And sure enough...) But I don't understand. We couldn't have missed her. (He approaches a human who's just come off the transport.) Excuse me, sir -- there are more coming behind you, are there not? (The man shakes his head. Concerned, Londo heads into the docking bay. Vir follows.)
VIR: (asking a passerby) Excuse me. Anyone else on board?
(But then Dr. Hobbs appears, and she's accompanying a stretcher. She's zipping up the body bag as Londo approaches.)
LONDO: Who is that?
HOBBS: I'm sorry, this isn't the time --
LONDO: I said who is that?
HOBBS: Her name is Adira Tyree. (Londo drops his flowers and starts to weep.) The purser found her in her cabin just before they docked. I'm sorry, Ambassdor. Did you know her?
LONDO: How? How did she die?
HOBBS: We don't know. There was no sign of violence -- no obvious trauma. It may have been natural causes. We won't know for sure until there's an autopsy.
(But Londo remembers a previous conversation with Refa.)
LONDO: Poison was always the instrument of choice in the old Republic. Being something of a sentimentalist, I got here first... and because sooner or later, you would do it to me...
HOBBS: I'm sorry, Ambassador. I'll see to it you get a full report.
LONDO: Check her for poison.
LONDO: You hear me? Check her for poison!
VIR: Londo... (But Londo turns away from his friend and starts to sob. Holy crap, this scene is devastating.)
KOSH/MR. SHERIDAN: John? Johnny?
KOSH/MR. SHERIDAN: I don't have much time, son. (Quick cut to the fight in Kosh's quarters.) I want you to know... you were right. I... didn't want to admit that. Just pride, I guess. You get my age, you get kind of set in your ways. But it had to be done. Don't blame yourself for what happened later. (Another cut to Kosh's quarters, where Morden watches as the Shadows battle Kosh. The dream image of Sheridan's father doubles over.)
SHERIDAN: Dad? Are you... are you all right?
KOSH/MR. SHERIDAN: It's too late for me. I'm sorry for what I did before. I knew what was ahead. I guess... I guess I was afraid. When you've lived as long as I have, you... you kind of get used to it. I wish I could've done more for ya. There's so much I should've said, and now it's too late. (Sheridan can't make sense of what he's hearing.) You're right. It's time you begin fighting this war your way. (Another cut to Kosh's quarters. The dream image doubles over again.) I have to go now.
SHERIDAN: No. Don't leave.
KOSH/MR. SHERIDAN: It's all right, son. You see, as long as you're here, I'll always be here.
(A wave of energy passes through the station and fades. Sheridan bolts upright in bed.)
SHERIDAN: Kosh! Kosh... (Wow.)
SHERIDAN: He must've known this would happen as soon as the Vorlons got directly involved. That's what he meant when he said he wouldn't be there for me later. I thought he was angry -- trying to punish me. But he was afraid. You look at him and... you never would think he could be afraid. (Surprisingly poignant.)
LONDO: It was poison, as I suspected. And I believe you know something about this.
MORDEN: Last thing I heard from Lord Refa was that he was very upset with you. Understandable. You did try to poison him after all. He mentioned something about evening the score. I wasn't able to find out what he was planning because he stopped talking to me right after that -- at your urging. If I had stayed in contact with him, sooner or later, I would've found out what he was up to and I could've stopped him. No sentimental reasons. It's just... inefficient. I'm terribly sorry, Londo. I -- is that why you called me here?
(Londo nods. Then he picks up his family broach.)
LONDO: I gave this to her. Told her to wear it proudly as a free woman. I might as well have signed her death warrant. (A beat.) Everyone around me dies, Mr. Morden -- except the ones that most deserve it. That is about to change. You said that you would go away for as long as I wanted. I no longer want that. All I want now... is revenge. They took from me the one thing that I have... have ever truly loved. And you will help me, Mr. Morden, to strike them down. Give me this and the safety of my people... and let the rest of the galaxy burn. I don't care anymore. (HO-LY CRAP, this is yet another good scene.)