Except for episode five, this is probably the strongest installment of the fourth season's opening arc.
The Lurker's Guide has a summary here.
Stephanie S.: As you've no doubt noticed, the fact that Sheridan dies and is resurrected is undeniably Christological. But Sheridan is not the only character who becomes a quasi-Christ in the fourth season's opening arc. No -- it can be argued that in penning G'Kar's journey, JMS is even more blatant in his use of Christian imagery. There is, in fact, a one-to-one correspondence between several of G'Kar's scenes in this arc and the Catholic rendering of the Passion narrative - and I say Catholic because JMS does use extra-Biblical elements that have been handed down to us in the Sacred Tradition. For example, the Gospels don't actually report how many times Jesus was scourged in the Praetorium, but many Catholics believe the answer is "forty less one" because of a Jewish law which existed at the time. And how many times is G'Kar whipped in this episode? Forty less one.
Speaking of G'Kar's lashing, I think that is by far the most shocking scene in the entire series. The director films it in a relatively bloodless manner -this is still supposed to be a somewhat family-friendly show, after all - but the acting does much to jog the imagination. The silent conversation between Londo and G'Kar is of course terrific, and the flickers of disgust on Peter Jurasik's face should put to rest any claims that the man can't dial down the opera and be subtle when the situation calls for it. Meanwhile, Stephen Furst once again proves that he is the only cast member who doesn't fade into the background while in a scene with Katsulas and Jurasik. The next time you watch this episode, keep an eye on Furst in this scene. He does a damn fine job conveying Vir's absolute horror at being forced to witness Cartagia's cruelty. Furst is so good, in fact, that I half expect Vir to vomit right there on the dungeon floor.
But let's quickly come back to the discussion of G'Kar as a Christ figure. Not only is G'Kar metaphorically "scourged," but he also gets his own Crown of Thorns. Let's rewind to this episode's first scene on Centauri Prime and take a very close look at G'Kar's jester outfit:
With all the tells we can find in this episode, it should come as no surprise to anyone that G'Kar will eventually experience his own Via Dolorosa. But we'll discuss that when we get to episode five.
And by the way, before I turn this over to SABR Matt, I'd also like to talk about Vir for a moment because I think Vir is just adorable in this episode. For one thing, he is the Worst. Conspirator. EVAR. It's a wonder Vir and Londo never get caught given the number of times Londo has to shush Vir while they're out in public. As one of my online acquaintances once put it, "Stop saying 'do you think they know?' in front of the guards, sweetie." What JMS is doing here, obviously, is highlighting the fact that Vir is still pretty innocent, which he needs to do in order for episode five to have any emotional impact at all. JMS is also using Vir to tie the Centauri plot into the larger theme of the episode, which is all about the necessity of confronting evil rather than coexisting with it. Below, SABR Matt will tackle how this message is handled on the station, but I think it's important to point out that Vir also learns the same lesson. Initially, Vir has doubts about Londo's assassination plot and G'Kar's involvement; the whole idea offends his basic decency so much that he asks Londo, essentially, to try a more diplomatic option. ("Can't we reason with him?") But then Vir sees Cartagia's bloody hands. He witnesses Cartagia's insane evil for himself -- and thankfully, he has enough of a brain to realize that sometimes violence is the only option. Of course, as I remark in the highlights section below, being an accessory to regicide is rather different from being the principal executioner -- but that's another topic for episode five.
SABR Matt: Obviously, my sister has covered the Centauri Prime arc - all of which is sensational in this hour and deserves a lot of attention. We both agree, however, that there's another angle that needs coverage in this story as well. And that's the League protest and its political implications. JMS may have been oddly prophetic... or he might just have been continuing to channel his WWII homages (such as the "we will have peace in our time" 2X4 to the face he delivered during the 2nd season), but he seems to have a razor sharp sword ready to cut through our illusions that true evil can ever be dealt with diplomatically.
The League worlds do something that, from each of their perspectives seems completely reasonable, but from the big picture is clearly strategically horrible. They side against Delenn and protest her mobilization of the White Star fleet against Z'ha'dum. From any one world's perspective it must seem like suicide to send your meager forces against such a blanket of destruction, just as it did for the fractured nations of western Europe as Hitler began his advance. But in the big picture, the kind of self-obsessed navel gazing and isolationism that ran through the west (including here in the United States) during Hitler's rise and again now as a tide of radical Islamofascism threatens our every institution is what is called a siege mentality. You even hear that mentality voiced amongst the crowd of protesters, who say things like "if we attack now, the Shadows will surely respond...you'll be starting the war all over again!" The siege mentality is self-defeating, however. If you give evil room and time to grow, the problem will only get worse...and a besieged castle has no supply line.
If the non-aligned worlds had all chosen to retreat to their own territories, not one of them would have had the resources to defend itself against an onslaught. This very thing led to the devastation of Poland, Austria, France, Belgium, Czechoslovakia and the nations of North Africa during WWII. The more you give an enemy legitimacy and embolden his actions, the more he will strike at you. Sometimes, to get a bully to back off, you have to break his nose (as Adama famously quipped on Battlestar Galactica). Delenn recognizes this, and ultimately, Sheridan convinces the league to stand and fight, and all of this, despite the price in lives and ships, is better than standing by and letting the Shadows run roughshod over the innocent, praying they'll leave you alone.
Writing: 9.5 / 9.5
Stephanie S.: The scenes on Centauri Prime are absolutely terrific. JMS once again hands Cartagia lines that are twisted, evil, and hilarious (like, for example, Cartagia's random bitch about the new Pain Technician's Guild). Moreover, JMS continues to ramp up the intensity between Londo and G'Kar, and he gives Vir a mini-arc that fits nicely with what transpires back at the station. And speaking of the station, while I think Sheridan's persuading the crowd in the Zocalo is a little too easy, the episode's ending certainly deserves much praise. Wow.
Acting: 9.5 / 10.0
Stephanie S.: The acting, meanwhile, is unusually strong across the board. I wouldn't give the performances a perfect score, but the players on Centauri Prime especially really knock it out of the park.
SABR Matt: I just have to echo my co-author's thoughts on Stephen Furst, Peter Jurasik and Andreas Katsulas. They were *undeniably* sensational this week. The 40-lashes scene was truly...TRULY...terrifying because we could all feel what Vir and Londo felt. The layers to that performance are second to none I've ever witnessed in any television or film medium at any time.
Message: 10.0 / 10.0
Evil must be opposed -- with violence if necessary. It'd be nice if our resident pacifists could actually absorb such a lesson.
VIR: (indignant) I-I-I don't believe it. Did you see him?
LONDO: I was right there, Vir. I saw him.
VIR: How can you see G'Kar like that and feel nothing?
LONDO: I feel, Vir. I wish that I didn't. It would make this much easier. But we must play along until the time is right.
VIR: I don't know if G'Kar can survive that long!
LONDO: He will survive. He must, for my sake as well as his own. If we succeed, we will take back our world from Cartagia and G'Kar will win back his as well. That was our deal.
VIR: But I heard that they're torturing him. Apparently, Cartagia was dissatisfied with his performance this morning.
LONDO: As I told you: a monster.
VIR: I know, I know. It's just that I've never been involved in a conspir -- (Londo shushes him. Vir lowers his voice.) I've never been involved in a conspiracy to kill anyone before, not to mention the emperor. I thought we were past this centuries ago. I mean, there's got to be another way, Londo. I mean, can't we reason with him or something?
(At that moment, Cartagia enters the garden with his retinue of attendants. Wide-eyed, Vir shuts his mouth.)
CARTAGIA: Damn him, damn him, damn him! Damn his silence! (We see that Cartagia's hands are covered in blood.) He refuses to bow! He refuses to drink!
LONDO: Majesty --
CARTAGIA: Do you know that we assigned to him one of our best pain technicians? (Aside.) Pain technicians. They used to be called torturers, but ever since they got organized, it's 'pain technicians.' (Then he notices Vir.) Why are you here? (Vir stammers for a moment, but Cartagia isn't listening.) One of our very best torturers! I felt certain he would break him. Two hours he worked. Not a sound. I said, 'Give me a cry, Rintinzi. Give me a shout, a whimper, a scream.' Silence. So I got into it myself. You can't leave these things to others. They never get it right. And well? You can see for yourself. If I didn't know better, I'd say he was a mute. Silence. (An attendant proffers a basin of water, and Cartagia uses it to wash his hands.) I'm beginning understand what you're going through with this G'Kar. How you've put up with him this long I have no idea.
LONDO: He was -- a small burden.
CARTAGIA: So, towards the end, I decided: Cut off his hands. Maybe that will get a reaction.
(Vir is openly horrified.)
VIR: Great Maker, did you --?
CARTAGIA: No, no. Unfortunately, he passed out before we got that far. Loss of blood, I suppose. Very inconvenient. We'll start again when he's conscious, and this time, if he remains silent -- silence, silence! Where is the joy in that really? He's so insubordinate. I can't have him challenging my authority that way. (He finishes drying his hands with a towel and nonchalantly throws the towel over his shoulder.) I know I made a present of him to you, Mollari, but if I don't get my scream, he'll have to be killed. You do understand, don't you?
LONDO: Oh, yes, Majesty, of course.
(Cartagia then takes the basin full of bloody water and starts to pour it on the ground.)
CARTAGIA: It'll help the flowers. Life and death in a perfect balance. Good day, Mollari.
(As he leaves, Cartagia shoves the now empty basin into Vir's hands. Vir gapes.)
VIR: (once Cartagia and his group are out of earshot) Londo -- remember what I said before about there must be another way? I was wrong. (He checks to make sure the coast his clear.) Kill him. (Nice change of opinion, Vir. Of course, giving Londo your blessing is different from -- well, we'll see when we get to episode five.)
DELENN: Lyta -- what happened? Your furniture!
LYTA: The new ambassador instructed me to get rid of everything but the mattress -- and that was only a concession to the human need for sleep. He said it was a distraction from the work.
DELENN: But -- he cannot force you to live like this, can he?
LYTA: Yes. He can. Was there something you wanted, Ambassador?
DELENN: In less than a week, the Rangers and a few of the League worlds will launch an attack on Z'ha'dum. I've sent word to the Vorlon ambassador asking if his government would commit ships to our cause. He has never replied.
LYTA: The ambassador has been very busy.
DELENN: I thought he would welcome a chance to strike at the Shadows.
LYTA: I think the Vorlons have plans of their own. (Eeep.)
LYTA: While I was carrying you, you felt -- cold. Hard. What are you hiding from me?
ULKESH: Your work for now is done. Go. Sleep.
LYTA: I have a right to know. I have done everything you've asked. I let your people modify me - enhance my telepathic abilities so I'd be more suited to carry a Vorlon around in my head - because I believed. Kosh - the real Kosh - wasn't like this. I think on some level he cared about us. About me. But with you, it's as if I'm being used and then thrown away when I am not needed anymore. Damn it, I have earned some respect! And I have earned some answers.
ULKESH: Respect? From whom? (Ouch.)
LONDO: One little scream. Is that so much to ask for? I know what it is with you. It's your pride. You would rather stay silent than give him the satisfaction of seeing you cry out in pain, hmm? I would probably do the same thing myself. But not now! There is too much at stake! I need a live ally -- not a dead martyr!
G'KAR: What you ask, I cannot give.
LONDO: Is your pride worth more to you than saving your world? We had a deal. You help me with Cartagia, I help free Narn.
G'KAR: We do not oblige conquerors. If I give him what he wants - if I beg for mercy - cry out - I will no longer be a Narn.
LONDO: And if you are dead, are you still a Narn then? No! You are food for Cartagia's pets, and your people are still prisoners. They too are no longer Narns, only slaves -- and then dead slaves. Is that what you want, G'Kar? Is it? (G'Kar does not reply.) One scream. That's all. One little scream and he will let you live -- and then we will both get what we want!
G'KAR: You don't know what you're asking. You don't understand.
LONDO: Yes, I do! (He knocks on the cell door to leave.) Yes, I do.
DELENN: Thank you for bringing this to my attention, Lethke.
LETHKE: I only wish that I had better news. The other League worlds are worried about your decision to attack Z'ha'dum. They believe that in doing so, you will only provoke a deadly response.
DELENN: The response is coming either way. The Shadows will strike again soon. We have nothing more to lose.
LETHKE: Unfortunately, people never believe they have nothing else to lose until they've already lost it. They're afraid.
DELENN: We're all afraid.
LETHKE: But their fear may cause them to act against you. They asked me if I would attend an open rally to protest your actions. They hope to stir up popular support to cause the few worlds who have sided with you to withdraw their ships.
DELENN: Do you know when?
LETHKE: Later today. That's all I know. When I declined to participate, they kept the rest of the information from me. How do you plan to stop them?
DELENN: I don't. I do not agree with what they are doing. Their fear is making them act against their own interests. But they must remain free to speak their minds -- or we have nothing left worth fighting for.
LETHKE: But you will be there?
DELENN: My voice is as free as theirs. (Hoo-rah!)
(Now, at this point, I'd love to put up a clip of G'Kar's lashing, as it really can't be appreciated without the ability to see the performances. Unfortunately, there is no such clip on You Tube, and I don't have the ability to snag that scene myself. Damn it, technically-savvy B5 fans! You suck!)
DRAZI AMBASSADOR: Captain -- we're sorry. We thought you were dead.
SHERIDAN: I was. I'm better now. (He exchanges a look with Lorien.) The ambassador is correct. I went to Z'ha'dum. I've seen the face of the enemy. They're not gods, and they're not indestructible. I've fought them, and I've killed many of them! And I've survived. There is a way out of this. A way to stop this insanity once and for all. Now, Delenn's fleet is a start. Now we have to build on it. Together we will form the largest fleet in history, not just for a battle, but to change the shape of the galaxy. Not just for ourselves, but for our children -- and for our children's children. Tell your governments that the only man to survive Z'ha'dum sends this message: We can end this not just for now - not just for the next thousand years - but forever! I stand before you as proof that it can be done! We can fight and we can win, but only if we do it together. Can I count on you? Can I count on you? Will you stand together? (Sheridan convinces the crowd a little too easily here in Steph's opinion, but even she agrees that the speech is pretty rousing.)
IVANOVA: When Marcus and I were out looking for the First Ones, we came across a Vorlon fleet hiding in hyperspace.
MARCUS: Not dozens, not hundreds, but thousands of ships. A couple of them were three, four miles across. We tried to track them, but we lost them somewhere around sector 70.
DELENN: There's a Shadow base not far from there.
IVANOVA: Exactly. So as soon as I got back, I had C&C monitor that area for any transmissions - anything unusual. The Shadow base was located on a planet called Arcada VII. It's not there anymore.
LENNIER: The base?
LYTA: No. The planet. They destroyed -- they destroyed an entire planet.
FRANKLIN: (standing) Lyta, there are over four million people on Arcada VII. You -- you can't be serious.
LYTA: This latest incident - everything that's happened lately - it's convinced the Vorlons that their only alternative is to destroy the Shadows and anyone touched by them. Like an infection, you have to cut it out.
FRANKLIN: And any healthy tissue that gets cut out along the way, well, that's okay because it's for a good cause.
SHERIDAN: And since the Shadows are going to strike back any time now, we're caught in the middle again.
DELENN: In Valen's name...
GARIBALDI: We could barely stop the Shadows. How do we stop the Vorlons and the Shadows?
LYTA: I don't know. All I know is unless you do stop them, it won't matter who wins and who loses because none of us - not a single world in seventy light years in any direction - will live to see it. (Nice cliff hanger. And also: oh, crap.)