If you’re new to the book club, links to the previous episodes can be found here.
This week, it’s Season 2, Episode 16: In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum.
It’s difficult to discuss this show without occasionally wanting to discuss the next one (or the one after that, or the one after that), or referring to the pilot.
If you want to discuss something with a major plot point: please rot13 it. That’s a simple encryption that will allow the folks who want to avoid spoilers to avoid them and allow the people who want to argue them to argue them. Hey, if you use Firefox, there’s a simple plug-in that makes this as easy as highlighting text.
This week’s recap courtesy of Katherine! Everyone sitting comfortably? Then onward!
We start with an update on the Narn-Centauri war. Babylon 5 is receiving increasingly large numbers of Narn refugees.
Vir has a meeting with Mr. Morden, and gets his best moment in the series to date. What does he want? “I’d like to live just long enough to be there when they cut off your head and stick it on a pike, as a warning to the next ten generations that some favours come at too high a price. I would look up into your lifeless eyes and wave, like this. Can you and your associates arrange that for me, Mr Morden?” Morden appears unsettled by this. Creuncf ur xabjf gung gur Funqbjf jvyy, riraghnyyl, tvir Ive jung ur jnagf, n zbzrag gung znxrf guvf rira zber njrfbzr va ergebfcrpg. As Vir leaves, he gives Morden the little wave again.
We get a reminder of Sheridan’s wife Anna, who died on the Icarus, an explorer ship. Garibaldi looks through the ship’s old personnel log, and recognizes a face. It’s Morden.
Sheridan wants Morden found and detained, so that he can learn how Morden survived when Anna and the rest of the ship’s personnel died.
Talia gets a visit from Pierce Maccabee, Regional Director of the newly formed Ministry of Peace, or Minipax, on Earth. It has exactly the same name and abbreviation as the place that tortures people in 1984, because the writers of Babylon 5 either aren’t familiar with the concept of “subtlety” in political allusions, or think their audience isn’t. This will get worse as the season goes on. Pierce makes it sound all very cooperative and nice and invites Talia to a series of presentations he’ll be giving.
Dr. Franklin is overburdened with injured Narn in Medlab, and is taking stims to stay awake. Ivanova relieves him of duty and orders him to get some food and sleep.
Security takes in Mr. Morden just as he’s about to leave. Sheridan tries to be intimidating, doesn’t say anything, and indicates through photo and video that he wants to know about the Icarus. Morden says he doesn’t remember, and that after the Icarus’ destruction, a passing ship found him outside floating in an EVA suit. Sheridan says he’s a liar and holds him without charges, on the basis that he’s legally dead and therefor has no rights. It’s simultaneously nostalgic and saddening to be watching a show where holding someone without charges was something that could only happen in very exceptional circumstances, instead of showing up ever week on crime procedurals. That’s not to say that Sheridan’s actions aren’t an unacceptable abuse of power, because they are (even though we know that Morden is hiding something very serious indeed).
Franklin and Ivanova have a chat. He has nightmares, seeing the faces of every patient he’s failed to save, and the endless stream of injured refugees is taking its toll on him. They talk about faith. Ivanova is Jewish and believes in God “most of the time”.
Franklin believes God is too big to be defined by words. Ivanova asks after the point. Franklin says patients get an indescribable look in their eyes before they die, and you can “see God reflected in their eyes”. He asks how you can keep believing in gods when they’ve stopped believing in us.
Sheridan is interrogating and threatening Morden, and growing increasingly angry. “You’d better start remembering, because by the time I am done with you, you will wish you had died on the Icarus!”
A Pierce Maccabee’s talk, he’s recruiting for a new organization called the Night Watch. He says it’s a volunteer organization whose members receive 50 credits a week for services rendered, indicating that he doesn’t understand the meaning of the world “volunteer”. All members have to do is “raise awareness” by wearing the armband – oh, and also keep watch for activities that are “against peace,” such as sowing discontent and misinformation, or having harmful attitudes, and report them to Minipax.
Garibaldi thoroughly disapproves of Sheridan’s actions: you can’t arrest people just for having secrets and detain them without charges. Sheridan shuts him down: he has to know what happened to Anna. Garibaldi resigns in protest. Sheridan calls in Zack Allan, who we just saw at the Minipax session, to fill in for Garibaldi as Head of Security, and tells him to bring in Talia Winters.
Vir comes to talk to Sheridan about Mr. Mordan and asks (on behalf of Londo) for his immediate release, having concluded that since Morden didn’t leave the station, and never misses an appointment, the fact that he didn’t show up for a meeting means that Babylon 5 has detained him. As Mr. Morden is an official guest of the Centauri Republic, he has diplomatic immunity. Sheridan, in an amazing catch-22, says that Morden isn’t eligible for immunity because he hasn’t been charged with anything. He’s in protective custody. Protection from what? “I haven’t decided yet.” Sheridan’s disregard of the rules in this matter is becoming ever more flagrant, and Ivanova’s noticing as well, and calling him out. He doesn’t care. He has to know. Did Morden kill Anna? Could she still be alive?
Talia refuses to make an unauthorized scan of Morden. Sheridan gets around this by moving Morden to another cell and having Talia escorted back to her quarters on a path that will take them past each other. Talia sees his face grow dark, and shadowy figures around him. In Medlab, she describes it as “like falling into a bottomless well”, and cold. Sheridan walks in, and Talia slaps him and leaves. Sheridan acknowledges he deserved it, and Franklin agrees. Sheridan says it was worth it. Franklin has some excellent advice. “Our job descriptions are different, but inside you and I both carry this silly notion that we can fix everything. Well, we can’t. You have to face that – but you don’t have to face it alone.”
Right outside Medlab, Sheridan runs into Delenn and Kosh; Delenn tells him he needs to release Mr. Morden. At this point, every member of the cast save G’Kar has told him the same. “You too?” Delenn won’t give an answer for why, or for why Morden’s important, asking him simply to trust her. Sheridan’s not taking that for an answer, and Delenn agrees to tell him Morden’s secret, which she and Kosh have known for three years. “Come, captain. The greatest nightmare of our time is waiting for you.”
Delenn tells him of ancient and powerful beings who built empires billions of years ago, but departed or disappeared millions of years ago – all but a few. The Shadows were old even when these beings were young, and battled them over millions of years. (“In the grim darkness of the far past, there is only war?”) The last great war was ten thousand years ago. But, like Sauron, the Shadows were only defeated, not destroyed. A thousand years ago they began to rebuild their power, but were defeated by an alliance of worlds including the Minbari. After this battle, all of the remaining First Ones departed, except one – the Vorlons. Kosh cannot leave his encounter suit, because he would then be recognized. By everyone.
A year ago, Delenn asked Kosh if the Shadows had returned to Z’ha’dum, and he answered “yes” (we heard his reply in last season’s finale). Z’ha’dum, where G’Kar went, and where a Narn ship that he sent to investigate was destroyed. Z’ha’dum, where the Icarus went to explore the ruins of an ancient civilization. A small part of Kosh’s encounter suit opens, and he shows Sheridan a film, where the Icarus found and awakened the Shadows, and were destroyed by them.
If Sheridan continues to hold Morden, and Morden breaks, then the presence of the Shadows will have been revealed. The Shadows are being cautious now, moving slowly, because haste led to their defeat a thousand years ago, and they do not realize how much the younger races already know of their return. But if they are revealed, they will move immediately, while the Vorlons and Minbari and others are unprepared to face them. Delenn tells Sheridan that, like G’Kar, he must choose between revenge and the good of his people.
Sheridan goes back to the Security Chief’s office and talks to Zach about Enigma and the Coventry raid. Sheridan starts hearing noises from Morden’s cell and remember’s Delenn’s statement that Morden is never alone. He has Zack scan the cell on different wavelengths and sees terrible shadowy figures surrounding Morden. He order Morden released and says to tell it was all a mistake. (Now, if I was the Shadows, that kind of a turnaround would make me more suspicious that someone knew something.)
Sheridan tells Garibaldi that Garibaldi was right and he let Morden go, but can’t say what changed his mind. Garibaldi agrees to come back to duty as Security Chief. When Zack comes by, Garibaldi notices he’s wearing a Night Watch armband, which he pick up for the extra pay.
Sheridan tells Kosh that he let Morden go, but there’s a price. He doesn’t just want to learn to understand the Vorlons. He wants to learn how to fight the Shadows, and win, because eventually he’ll go to Z’ha’dum. “If you go to Z’ha’dum, you will die.” “Then I die. But I will not go down easily, and I will not go down alone.” Kosh agrees to teach him.
So, that was a big episode. Possibly the most important one in the season, arc-wise. The one other piece of information we know, although it wasn’t mentioned this episode, is that going by the Book of G’Quan that G’Kar has been looking at, with its pictures of the Shadows and their ships, the Minbari weren’t the only ones to fight against the Shadows during the last war, a thousand years ago. (Which, incidentally, really shuts down the Centauri’s imperialist claims about the Narn being “backward” and “primitive”.)
It also implicitly makes clear the real reason why the Minbari were unwilling to aid the Narn against the Centauri – it might alert the Shadows that the Minbari were aware of their presence. Now that we know who and what the Shadows are, it’s even more apparent that everyone who does know about them is deliberately hanging the Narn out to dry.