Between us, there is some dispute as to how high a score this episode deserves, but we both agree that the scenes in the Centauri royal palace are absolutely outstanding, and we both appreciate the vaguely Biblical references that are sprinkled throughout Sheridan's plot.
The Lurker's Guide has a complete summary here.
Stephanie S.: First of all, I think it's important to point out that in penning Lorien's lines, JMS cribs from the Good Book again. Let's compare and contrast:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. (John 1:1-3, NRSV, emphasis mine)
LORIEN: I see you're still upset that I won't tell you my name. What does it matter? If I tell you my name is Lorien, what good is that? It tells you nothing, but leaves me at a disadvantage. Words have meaning, and names have power. The universe began with a Word, you know.
Remember Lot’s wife. Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it. (Luke 17:32-33, NRSV, emphasis mine)
LORIEN: You must let go. Surrender yourself to death. The death of flesh. The death of fear. Step into the abyss, and let go.
As Jesus taught, a seed must fall to the ground and die before it can become a stalk of wheat. In a similar fashion, Sheridan must surrender to death before he can become the leader the Alliance needs. Very interesting -- and, as I said, suspiciously Biblical.
I will leave the bulk of the commentary on the Sheridan/Delenn thread to SABR Matt, however, as he is a little more impressed with it than I am. (I think the romance elements are just a tiny bit schmaltzy, and Lorien's ruminations sometimes lack coherence.) In the meantime, I will fulfill the promise I made last week and discuss my love for Londo, G'Kar, and especially Londo and G'Kar when they are in the same room together. You want chemistry? Londo and G'Kar have chemistry; indeed, in their one long scene together, you can practically see the chemistry dripping down the dungeon walls. That scene is so good, in fact, that even SABR Matt is forced to admit that, yes, Peter Jurasik is a good actor. (:P)
But actually, let's rewind for a second, because some of the bits leading up to the aforementioned masterpiece of a scene are also quite good. There are, for example, those cute - and occasionally revealing - scenes between G'Kar and Marcus which are designed to make the viewer smile. There is also that scene in which G'Kar is finally "presented" to Londo, which -- well, for one thing, I oggle at Londo's powers of improvisation, which allow him to come up with that terrific load of bull to appease Cartagia and thus keep his head. Also, as I state in the highlights section below, Londo's reaction upon seeing G'Kar bound to that yoke is, hands down, the series' best reaction take. Yes, Majesty, that's just what I wanted: G'Kar in chains.
Now to The Scene - a scene that very nearly makes me forget that other things happen in this episode. First of all, I love how The Scene begins. Londo doesn't breeze in triumphant, happy that G'Kar has finally been imprisoned and is facing far worse. As a matter of fact, in his very first word, we can hear that Londo is close to coming undone. Indeed, he has to suck in a breath and start over, which is just terrific. Londo may appear to be the man in the stronger position at the moment, but both the writing and Jurasik's acting tell us something entirely different. I also love how out of balance The Scene is. Londo fills the air with many mournful words because he can't stand to sit in silence and face the wages of his sin; G'Kar says few words, but each one is important -- and each one has the power to slay Londo in an instant. Again, the dynamic established here - a dynamic that will be echoed in at least one later scene - reveals Londo's fundamental weakness. G'Kar has been converted and thus has the confidence of the martyr; Londo, on the other hand, is verbally scrambling towards the light, desperately seeking purchase on the slick walls of the hole he's in.
And as for the deal Londo and G'Kar strike? Well, we will talk about Londo's sense of honor when we hit episode five.
SABR Matt: I must admit, I was a bit disappointed that my sister didn't quote Delenn's big "we will rock you!" speech to the rangers. IMHO, that speech was kickass. But, in general, I love how the Sheridan/Delenn romance is used to great dramatic affect in this episode. We go from a totally broken Delenn refusing to eat and sitting in meditation (and Ivanova struggling to live with her own losses) to one of the best uses of a log entry in science fiction history (generally the log is a convenient sci-fi-ish way of giving us exposition and character perspective and feels tacked on for that purpose, rather than natural...but this one is PERFECT) to Delenn's passion rising from the ashes as she resumes a leadership role in organizing the Rangers and speaks with such power about the need to stand against the darkness no matter the odds. Evil must be opposed...a line bellowed in "Rocks and Shoals" on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that changes Kira's mentality entirely...a line that has inspired armies in some of the ugliest conflicts of our time, and a line that is always true, no matter how politicians try to spin the facts. Delenn's spiritual life - and yes...her love for Sheridan - propels her to great bravery and moral clarity.
Meanwhile, on Z'ha'dum, Sheridan's spiritual world expands as he experiences an interesting approximation of the Catholic view of the transition between life and afterlife. The Church teaches that when we die, we are not bound to the mortal coil and time has no meaning. In an instant, we can learn the truth about ourselves, about our Savior, about the Universe itself...and in that instant, the content of our soul can be judged and in cases where a soul truly filled with Jesus' love can be saved even if that soul never received Earthly sacraments. The infinitesimal moment between "tick and tock" as Lorien so directly puts it, can last as long as it takes for us to decide where our soul belongs. The show needed Sheridan to continue, so the decision was not heaven or hell...not love and hope or deprivation and fear...but life - however temporary - or a self-imposed purgatory...but the concept is the same. Sheridan made his own purgatory on Z'ha'dum and chose love and hope over safety (a safe, risk free eternity with Lorien)...I personally think this is just as important to the whole biblical theme of B5 as anything between Londo and G'Kar.
Writing: 8.0 / 9.5
SABR Matt: A rousing "hoo-RAH!!" for the Rangers, a touching moment for Delenn, some SEARING personal torment for Londo and G'Kar...what more could I want from a plot?
Stephanie S.: As I remark above, this script contains a little more melodrama than I would prefer. The scenes on Centauri Prime are awesome, yes, but the rest doesn't quite live up to what we saw last week.
Acting: 9.5 / 9.5
SABR Matt: Bruce Boxleitner isn't all that convincing in his final moments with Lorien...which would normally take the score down to a 9 or 8.5, but even a Peter Jurasik skeptic like me has to bump the score a bit for the work he did this week - especially after the arrival of G'Kar.
Stephanie S.: Yes - the scenes between Londo and G'Kar definitely help this episode's acting score.
Message: 9.0 / 10.0
It does no good to wallow in your pain. The happiest people are those who offer their struggles up to God and then act to bring about the good.
LORIEN: I see you're still upset that I won't tell you my name. What does it matter? If I tell you my name is Lorien, what good is that? It tells you nothing, but leaves me at a disadvantage. Words have meaning, and names have power. The universe began with a Word, you know. (Biblical reference!) But which came first: the Word, or the thought behind the Word? You can't create a language without thought, and you can't conceive a thought without language. So which created the other and thus created the universe? (The Catholic answer is that they were co-created, but let us continue.) No. I can see that you're still too wrapped up in your question to consider the larger issues.
SHERIDAN: What question?
LORIEN: Who are you?
SHERIDAN: How did you know about that?
LORIEN: It's a dangerous question, isn't it? There's never a good answer to it. I suppose that's the point. Now, what you are -- that's a question I can answer, at least in your case. You're -- dead.
SHERIDAN: Now that's enough!
LORIEN: How long have you been here?
SHERIDAN: I don't know. A day. Maybe two.
LORIEN: The sun has risen and set nine times. You haven't eaten. You ought to be starving. Are you hungry? Thirsty? Does blood still flow through your veins? Does it?
(Sheridan checks his pulse, determined to prove Lorien wrong -- but he is dismayed when he feels nothing.)
SHERIDAN: There's no pulse. But why --?
LORIEN: Because, my reluctant friend, you are quite, quite dead. (Good teaser.)
G'KAR: Strange that they're still after us. The altercation was a small one. No one was harmed. It doesn't make sense.
MARCUS: You're right. That's the bit that worries me.
G'KAR: If you're going to be worried every time the universe doesn't make sense, you're going to be worried every moment of every day for the rest of your natural life.
MARCUS: Your point being?
G'KAR: My point being -- why am I talking to you? And what are you doing here?
MARCUS: I heard you went looking for Mr. Garibaldi on the assumption that he was in trouble -- so I went looking for you on the assumption that you'd probably get into trouble.
G'KAR: (indignant) I was doing fine until you showed up with that -- thing in hand.
MARCUS: It's a Minbari fighting pike -- several hundred years old. You're just jealous because you don't have one. Bad case of pikal envy if you ask me. (LOL!)
MARCUS: So -- why are you doing this?
G'KAR: He's my friend. I've never had a friend before who wasn't a Narn. And you?
MARCUS: I've never had a friend before who was a Narn -- and damn few of any other kind. And most of them are dead.
G'KAR: (holding out his hand) May I?
(Marcus gives G'Kar his pike. G'Kar examines it for a moment.)
MARCUS: To activate it, you press --
(But G'Kar is way ahead of him. The pike springs to life, knocking several things over.)
G'KAR: I like it. (Heh. Cute.)
SHERIDAN, in his log: Personal log, May 14, 2260. We actually had a quiet day today. It's hard to believe with so much going on lately. And now that we've broken away from Earth, everything has hit the fan. It's not what I wanted. Frankly, it scares the hell out of me. But it had to be done. The job now is to turn this around and make it into something positive. My dad always told me that's the only way you deal with pain. You don't surrender, you don't fight it -- you turn it into something positive. He used to say if you're falling off a cliff, you may as well try to fly. You've got nothing to lose. In a way, I feel the same way about Delenn. During the war, I fought Minbari, killed Minbari. So many of my friends died at Minbari hands. Yet here I am, in love with one of them. For a long time, I thought about not saying anything, but -- the moment my heart cross that line, there was nothing much I could do but see it through. Yeah, I've fallen off one hell of a cliff. But when I look in her eyes, I think to myself, yeah -- maybe I really can fly. (Very nice.)
CARTAGIA: Mollari, you've kept us waiting. I should be very upset with you.
LONDO: My apologies. Before I entered Your Majesty's presence, I had to be properly attired or it would be disrespectful.
CARTAGIA: I see. Then I should not have you killed for it?
LONDO: Your Majesty may act as he believes is correct -- but I was only motivated by the respect due your position. I had Your Majesty's spirit in my heart -- and so by killing me, you would also be killing a part of yourself. And, as a loyal Centauri, I would strongly object to that. (Again, Londo is the lord and master.)
CARTAGIA: (clapping) Well said! Well said! I like you. I like you a great deal. Did you know that? I feel we have so much in common -- which is why I have secured you a gift.
LONDO: A gift?
CARTAGIA: A gift! I wanted you to see it as soon as it arrived.
LONDO: It is unnecessary for you to buy --
CARTAGIA: Nonsense! No one turns down one of my gifts! Besides, I know you'll like this one. It's something you've wanted for a long, long time. Would you like to see your gift now?
LONDO: Yes, Majesty.
CARTAGIA: Good! (He rings a little bell, summoning the guards. The door opens, and G'Kar is brought in. He has been chained to a yoke.) The last of the Kha'Ri still standing. I know he's been a great burden to you. But now he's here for our amusement. And when he ceases to be amusing -- (He makes a gesture and noise indicating beheading.) -- eh? (He laughs.) Oh, Mollari, have you nothing to say?
LONDO: Yes, Majesty. Thank you. Thank you for this -- gift. (LONDO'S REACTION TAKE HERE IS THE BEST REACTION TAKE IN THE HISTORY OF THE SERIES, OMG!)
LONDO: (wavering) Hello. (Londo takes a deep breath to compose himself. When next he speaks, his voice is stronger.) Hello, G'Kar. (The two men regard each other silently for a moment.) You were foolish to leave Babylon 5, you know. You had sanctuary there. As soon as you left, you were vulnerable. If you wish to die, you could've simply told me. I would've attended to it -- quickly, and with at least a measure of dignity. But here? (He sits.) Here -- they will make you a toy. You will be tortured. You will be tortured for a very long time. I have seen them prolong suffering -- for days. Weeks. Months. And when they have finished, they will strap you to a table not much longer than this bench -- and they will make an incision here, just beneath the neck and -- open you, all the way down. Assuming you are still conscious - still entertaining - they will start removing your internal organs in pieces no longer than this -- (He holds up his hand.) -- and somewhere along the line, as they make a mountain of your parts and pieces, you will die.
G'KAR: And does this please you?
LONDO: No. No, it doesn't. Once, long ago -- no, not even then. You have never been a friend to me, but what he would do to you I would not wish for anyone. (He stands and approaches G'Kar. Leaning down to G'Kar's level, he continues.) There is a monster on the throne, G'Kar. A well-protected monster. He must be removed -- and you may be the means I have been waiting for. I believe I can save your life. But it will not be easy, and you will suffer greatly before this is over. I cannot help that. I wish I could. I have no desire to see you suffer. But -- I must watch, and you must endure until the time is right. And then I will act, and you will help me. Yes?
(G'Kar does not respond. Londo sighs heavily, rises to his feet, and brushes off his knees. He moves to leave, but G'Kar stops him.)
G'KAR: You didn't ask the price for my cooperation.
LONDO: You are not exactly in a position to bargain, G'Kar.
G'KAR: Neither are you. You want help for the sake of your people. I will give it for the sake of my own. If I remove the monster from your throne, you will remove the monster from my world. Leave Narn. Set my world free. Promise me this, and I will do as you ask.
LONDO: You have my word. (And that word means something, by God.)