The Ninjabot

Retro Review: Babylon 5, “The Coming of Shadows”

Posted on September 29, 2013 at 2:55 pm by Will Wells

Babylon 5

We finally return to Babylon 5 with “The Coming of Shadows.”  I skipped over this one before because I wanted a little more time to deal with it.

There’s a lot to talk about this episode; so much, in fact, that I will begin with a brief summary.

The Coming of Shadows 01

The Centauri Emperor visits Babylon 5.  G’Kar protests and then plans an assassination.  Before G’Kar can kill the Emperor, the Emperor collapses and is taken to medbay.  G’Kar learns that the Emperor came to Babylon 5 to meet with him, personally, and apologize for all the things the Centauri did to the Narn.  Meanwhile, Londo contacts Mr. Morden and arranges a Shadow strike on a Narn colony.  The Shadow vessels kill everyone there and then vanish.  Centauri ships, sent by Londo, arrive shortly thereafter to take credit for the attack and secure the area.  Thus, Londo starts the Narn/Centauri war before the Emperor can publically apologize to the Narn for the previous invasion.  The Emperor dies and the war begins.

The Coming of Shadows 02

Why did I skim over what is usually the bulk of my reviews?  Because, in this review, I want to focus on what makes “The Coming of Shadows” one of the best episodes, not only this season, but of the entire series.

First up, G’Kar.  When G’Kar decides to assassinate the Centauri Emperor, he says that he has never felt so at peace.  Only three possibilities remain, he tells his superiors – he succeeds and dies as well, he succeeds and is imprisoned, or he fails and dies.  When the Emperor’s ill health causes him to miss the event where G’Kar planned to kill him, G’Kar rants to his superiors about how the Emperor couldn’t even do the decent thing and stay on his feet long enough to get murdered.  When he gets a visit from Doc Franklin, he signs off, adding that perhaps he can finish the job if only the medical staff would prop him up for a minute.

And then, all that changes.  Doc Franklin is there to deliver the Emperor’s message – his apology – to G’Kar.  “The hatred between our people can never end until someone is willing to say ‘I’m sorry,’” Franklin tells him.  G’Kar is visibly shocked – moved even – by the words.

Later, when G’Kar bumps into Londo, he is happy to see him – a first for the show.  He offers to buy Londo a drink, not realizing that Londo has just ordered an attack on a Narn colony, killing thousands.  G’Kar tells Londo that, for the first time, he sees the possibility of an understanding – maybe even a friendship – between their people.  And G’Kar drinks to the Centauri Emperor’s health – and to Londo’s.  Later, when G’Kar learns of the attack, he is visibly crushed.  He opened himself up to the idea of friendship with the Centauri, an enemy he grew up fighting, and enemy who murdered his father… and they stabbed him in the back.  G’Kar isn’t just angry – he’s weeping.

"If they just prop him up - I'll call you back."

Andreas Katsulas, G’Kar’s actor, is simply fantastic.   I like almost all of the episodes that feature G’Kar, but this episode is one of his best.  Katsulas’s range is fantastic – he’s funny in one scene, deathly serious in another, joyful, despairing, furious, and finally resigned as he issues the statement declaring war on the Centauri.  Watching these scenes, I am saddened anew that Andreas Katsulas died so many years before his time.

This brings us to the other side of “The Coming of Shadows.”  When the Emperor first falls ill, Refa says that he and Londo need to do something impressive.  Londo looks thoughtful and says to himself “He said, just pick a target.”  He then contacts Mr. Morden and orders the strike on the Narn colony.

The Coming of Shadows 05

At this point, the audience had only seen the Shadows twice before, and only one shadow vessel at a time.  This time, almost half a dozen appear and strike the Narn colony.  It is terrifying and brutal, and yet strangely beautiful.

While the attack is going on, Londo has a nightmare – the nightmare, where he is the Centauri Emperor and G’Kar strangles him to death.  Londo wakes up and checks the time, A Christmas Carol style, except that for Londo, it is too late to change his mind – the attack has already begun.

Finally, there’s a C-plot where Garibaldi gets a message from Sinclair, now ambassador Sinclair, via our first Ranger character.  It says something about “The Coming of Shadows” that something as important as the introduction of the Rangers and the first appearance by Sinclair this season were the episode’s C-plot rather than the main focus of the episode.

The Emperor also tells Londo that they’re all damned.
Londo, of course, misquotes him.

Oh, wait, there’s also a D-plot where the Emperor wants to see a Vorlon.  So Kosh visits him and answers one question.  The Emperor wants to know “how will this all end?”  Kosh replies “In Fire.”  Oh, those Vorlons – always so cheerful!

Rating: A

Breakdown: I spent the last 500 words breaking this one down.  “The Coming of Shadows” is the best episode of season 2, and one of the best episodes of the entire series.  It exemplifies what I love about Babylon 5, season 2 – mystery, political intrigue, and wonderful character moments.  This is the standard by which all other episodes of Babylon 5 are measured.

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