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The war between the Narn and Centauri is escalating. In the most recent engagement, the Centauri destroyed Narn ships carrying thousands. The Narns claim the casualties were civilians, while the Centauri claim the ships were actually carrying weapons. G'Kar begins using video footage of the attack to try to rally support from the other races on B5. When he visits Delenn, she is truly disturbed by the possible civilian casualties, but unequivocably states her people will not become involved in another war at this time. She emphasizes that this is at least partly due to the long-abiding hatred between the Narn and Centauri, which promises that any war between them will never truly be over.
Fights begin breaking out between the Narn and Centauri currently on the station. While breaking up a fight, security guard Zack is forced to shoot and kill a Narn. Sheridan calls G'Kar in and orders him to get his people under control. G'Kar knows that Sheridan is sympathetic toward the Narns in the war, but he's completely flabbergasted when Sheridan threatens to throw the Narns off the station if they keep creating disorder.
Sheridan's threat makes G'Kar realize that he has to better assert his authority over the Narns on the station. He gathers the Narns together and explains that they must stay on the other races' good sides in order to gain allies. The other Narns grumble a lot, but acquiesce. However, as soon as G'Kar leaves, they pull out a Centauri they had captured and kill him. This scene does get the point across about the Narn's ignoring G'Kar's orders, but it's a bit unbelievable that they'd hardly wait for G'Kar to leave the room before committing the murder.
In addition, the Narns plan an attack on all the Centauri on the station. I realize that they are angry about the war, but surely they have to know they are unlikely to be very successful, what with all the security on the station. Even if they are, how is such cold-blooded murder in neutral territory going to make them look? Obviously they don't care.
Na'Toth finds out about the planned attack and informs G'Kar. G'Kar realizes he needs to re-establish his credibility and authority with the resident Narns, which he can only do by brute force. He bursts in on a meeting of the Nars and fights the leader opposing him. He wins the fight and the other Narns bow to his authority, canceling the attack. However, he has been injured by a poisoned blade, causing him great pain. Fortunately, he is able to dose himself with an antidote.
Sheridan is informed by Earthgov that Earth will not intervene in the war on the side of the Narns. Sheridan is dissatisfied with Earth's neutrality and goes to talk to Delenn about what type of unofficial help they can give the Narn. They are able to offer surplus food and medical supplies to Narn civilians and refugees, and are able to transport some of the refugees out of the war zones.
Sheridan informs G'Kar that he and Delenn want to speak to him, and G'Kar is ecstatic that other races are finally going to side with the Narn. Although he is in great pain from his wound, he struggles into the Council room alone. When Sheridan and Delenn give him their offer, we can see his face fall. Instead of weapons and ships and open allies, he gets covert help for civilians. He knows that any help is better than nothing, but his disappointment is obvious. Sheridan and Delenn also know that their help is falling far short of what the Narns need, and their body language conveys their feeling of inadequacy. It's a painful scene. And it becomes even worse when G'Kar manages to walk out into the corridor before nearly collapsing from his injury; it's not clear whether he is laughing or crying at the situation - possibly some of each.
The second plot throughout the episode involved Sheridan's assignment to Ivanova: start diplomatic relations with the Lumati, an advanced race that Earth has recently met. Sheridan has ordered Ivanova to do whatever is necessary to get the Lumati to become allies. The Lumati are set up to be dislikable from the start: individual Lumati do not speak to individuals of another race until it is determined that the other race is not "inferior". Thus, the Lumati speaks to Ivanova through an interpreter.
Ivanova begins an extensive tour of the station, and the Lumati's comments through his interpreter only make him seem more arrogant. Ivanova gets frustrated, but manages to remain calm and diplomatic. When the Lumati implies that Ivanova is only showing them the good side of humans, she says they can pick anyplace on the station, and she'll take them.
Of course, the Lumati picks downbelow. As they walk through the station, Ivanova awkwardly tries to explain how the homeless and delinquent humans got there. The Lumati believes that humans have set up this caste system intentionally, and that it's a "superior" trait that the Lumati themselves will adopt. The Lumati begins speaking to Ivanova personally, and agrees to finalize a treaty with Earth. The catch: the Lumati seal formal agreements with sex.
Ivanova puts off the Lumati for the moment, but is not sure what to do. She already told Sheridan she was successful, so she doesn't want to tell him the problem. Franklin inspires her with a solution: the Lumati is probably so arrogant that he doesn't know what human sex is like, so Ivanova can fake it. She invites the Lumati to join her for human sex, and then does a silly dance and chant, pretending that was it. As expected, the Lumati doesn't know any better. The great ending to this scene is when the Lumati's interpreter very gallantly kisses Ivanova's hand afterward - he clearly knows something about human sex! And he goes away laughing at his "boss".
The third subplot in the episode involves Londo realizing that his increasing stature and power brings its own problem. He is upset with how other Centauri just want to use him for favors for their own gain. He seems to think that Garibaldi is his only real friend, and sits all day at the bar waiting for Garibaldi's possible return for a drink. In the end, he smooths over the Centauri's murder by the Narns, since the Centauri was a trouble-maker anyway, just to make Garibaldi's life easier so he'll join Londo for a drink. Londo has finally gotten the power and recognition he's wanted, but is perhaps more unhappy than he's ever been. And this is before the really bad things being to happen from the events that Londo (and his friend Lord Refa) put into motion.
This episode has its moments, but it's clearly a transition episode, setting characters in slightly different directions and setting up events to come. What acts of sacrifice are there? G'Kar sacrifices his good health to subdue the Narns, then his pride when he must accept humanitarian aid without public recognition. Sheridan and Delenn sacrifice a bit of their personal principles when their governments do not allow them to take a public stand against the Centauri attacks. Ivanova sacrifices her pride in a different way when fooling the Lumati. Londo sacrifices some petty revenge on the Narns by letting the Centauri murder be swept under the rug.
The plot with G'Kar shows how he is growing into a leader, since he is able to get his own anger and desire for revenge under control to think through his situation rationally. He realizes that there is a place for violence and a place for diplomacy. Watching him realize that his pain and trouble has accomplished very little (right now, at least) is extraordinarily painful.
The Earth Alliance and the Minbari currently don't take any position regarding the war. How long will their neutrality last? If the Shadows help the Centauri to quickly sweep the Narn away, will either of these governments realize the danger? In Delenn's case, how much of her response to G'Kar's request for help was really the desire of the Gray Council, and how much was her own decision? We know that she believes there are troubled times coming - if the Narn-Centauri war isn't it, she might want to hold the Minbari in reserve for the true problems ahead.
The plot with Ivanova and the Lumati is mostly played for laughs, and it does have its moments. This plot definitely shows how aliens might have completely different attitudes and beliefs than we do. When the Lumati learn more about Earth and human beliefs, will they continue with the treaty? What humans would consider to be ideal beliefs about fairness and equal opportunity would seem to be "inferior" traits to the Lumati. The Lumati's ideas of letting nature take its course with survival of the fittest is very similar to what we will learn about the Shadows' motives in season 3 and 4. It's somewhat ironic that the Shadows will apply the Lumati's ideals to the Lumati themselves, not necessarily in favor of the Lumati.
Ivanova's "sex" scene was absurd and made for a good laugh the first couple times I saw this episode, but it hasn't stood the test of time very well for me. After many repetitions, I find it a bit over the top. Sure, the Lumati may be arrogant and ignorant, but humans can't be different enough from them to have a mating ritual where no fluids or other bodily materials are exchanged. And why would a Lumanti want to have sex with a human anyway? The two species are completely different, and the corresponding "parts" are probably not even compatible, or attractive to the other.