Episode Review of Babylon 5 Season 2: "In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum"

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Episode Information

Title: "In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum"
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Director: David Eagle
Rating (out of 4 stars): ****
Reviewed on: June 4, 2009

Synopsis from The Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5


In this pivotal episode, Sheridan finally finds out what really happened to his wife, and in the process sets his path for the rest of the series.

Morden wants to meet with Londo, but since Londo is off-station, Vir meets with him instead. This is a great scene, because even though Vir might not know the full story behind Morden, he knows Morden is evil, and he doesn't hide his dislike of Morden. However, both Vir and Morden are constrained in their own ways to placate Londo, so they do what they must. Morden asks Vir his famous question, as a bit of a joke: "What do want?" Vir's reply is priceless, and I quote it here from the Lurker's Guide: "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 favors come with too high a price. I want to look up into your lifeless eyes and wave like this. [wiggling fingers] Can you and your associates arrange that for me, Mr. Morden?" Vir has certainly grown a back bone - perhaps since his position was so strongly confirmed in "There All the Honor Lies"?

Garibaldi happens to visit Sheridan's office as Sheridan is looking over old data files from his dead wife, Anna. Garibaldi flips through the crew roster from Anna's ship the Icarus and recognizes one of the passengers as someone that's been on B5 lately: Morden. Sheridan is outraged, since supposedly everyone on the Icarus died when Anna did. He orders Garibaldi to find Morden and bring him in for questioning.

Zack takes Morden into custody as he is leaving the station and puts him in a holding cell. Sometime later, we see Morden and Sheridan sitting there, with Sheridan not saying a thing, just glaring at Morden. Morden finally asks why he's being held. Sheridan simply gives him a picture of Anna, whom Morden claims not to know. Then Sheridan flicks on a news report about the Icarus. Morden tells his story: he was working outside the Icarus when the explosion happened and was knocked unconscious. When he was picked up by the rescue ship, he had amnesia and didn't recover his memories for a long time. Sheridan has employed a clever tactic so far by not speaking at all - by just showing Morden images, he's forcing Morden to not only manufacture answers, but also questions, which could reveal additional information.

Sheridan flatly declares that Morden is lying, and he won't let Morden leave. He reasons that since Earthgov lists Morden as dead (they allegedly never got the update that he survived), then he doesn't have any rights and no one will know if Sheridan does whatever he wants to him. Sheridan says Morden will not leave the holding cell until he tells the truth.

Sheridan continues to interrogate Morden for hours, go over and over Morden's stories and accumulating inconsistencies. Morden stays cooler than Sheridan does during this whole process, and doesn't really seem bothered by the fact that the details in the repetitions of his story don't match up. Garibaldi refuses to continue to hold Morden without charging him, since it's against regulations. Sheridan refuses to release Morden, so Garibaldi resigns.

Vir asks to meet with Sheridan, and relates the Centauri government's demand that Sheridan release Morden immediately, even saying that Morden is a guest of the republic and thus has diplomatic immunity. Sheridan wants to know why Morden is so important to the Centauri, but Vir is taken aback and cannot answer. Sheridan refuses to release Morden, saying that he's being held in protective custody, but can't specify why.

Ivanova tracks down Sheridan and says Garibaldi told her about Morden. She's concerned about his irrational actions. Sheridan refuses to change course, saying he's got to know what happened to Anna. If Morden is alive, why isn't she?

Sheridan had Garibaldi's assistant, Zack Allen (who we first met in "A Spider in the Web", I think), as head of security and ordered him to bring Talia to security. Sheridan tries to get Talia to scan Morden, giving her his "dead men have no rights" line, but Talia very firmly tells Sheridan that he's violating the spirit of the law, if not the letter, and refuses. When Talia leaves, Sheridan arranges to transfer Morden to another holding cell so that he'll have to pass by Talia in the corridor. When Talia and Morden pass each other, Morden's face falls into shadow, Talia feels some kind of mental pain and screams, and she sees strange, low beings next to Morden. Zack takes Talia to MedLab to get checked out, and she describes the experience to Franklin. When Sheridan arrives to see her, she whacks him across the face and storms out.

When Sheridan leaves MedLab, both Delenn and Kosh confront him about releasing Morden. At this point, one has to wonder if everyone knows Sheridan has Morden in custody! Delenn says B5 is in terrible danger for as long as Morden is held, but Sheridan refuses to cooperate until they tell him the true story.

They go to Delenn's quarters, and Delenn tells him about the First Ones: the oldest races in the galaxy, who became so advanced that they were incredibly powerful. They guided the development of the younger races. Over millions of years, the First Ones have been gradually dying out or leaving - the only remaining ones are the Vorlons. The Vorlons are waiting against the day when the Shadows return. The "First One" status of Kosh is why he cannot leave his encounter suit - he would be recognized by "everyone".

Delenn goes on to say that the Shadows are also a very ancient race that fought with the First Ones. The last great war between the First Ones and the Shadows was 10,000 years ago. The remnants of the Shadows rebuilt and returned 1000 years ago for another war, but they were pre-emptively struck by an alliance of the Minbari and the remaining First Ones (when there were more remaining than just the Vorlons). I love Delenn's telling of this history, as it has a very epic, mythological feel to it; indeed, events that happened so long ago would almost have to have that kind of feel to them.

The story becomes more current when Delenn says that last season in "Chrysalis" she asked Kosh if the Vorlons has returned to Z'ha'dum, and Kosh said "yes". At this point, Kosh uses his mental abilities and projects the image of the Icarus into Sheridan's mind. Sheridan sees the Icarus arriving at Z'ha'dum and awakening the Shadows, then being destroyed. Delenn says that the Shadows couldn't let the crew spread the news of their whereabouts, so whatever of the crew would not serve them was killed.

Now Sheridan is furious with them and Morden, thinking that Anna could be alive somewhere, despite Delenn's assertion. Delenn continues to demand that he release Morden, in order to keep the Shadows unaware of how much they know about the Shadows' movements and plans so far. She believes that if Sheridan keeps Morden, then eventually the Shadows will kill both of them and strike against the other races now, before they are ready to defend. She claims that Morden is never truly alone, so the Shadows will know what happens to him and what he says. Delenn and Kosh leave Sheridan to decide.

Sheridan returns to security to think. He recalls the moral dilemma Churchill faced when the Allies had broken German codes and found out about an upcoming bombing, but decided not to evacuate the city so the Germans wouldn't know the code was broken. This is a pretty apropos comparison, only the stakes here could potentially be billions of lives instead of thousands. He has Zack use different wavelengths to observe Morden in the holding cell. As Zack scans through the wavelengths, Sheridan catches a quick glimpse of two Shadows in the cell with Morden. He orders Zack to release Morden.

Sheridan finds Garibaldi and apologizes, asking him to return to security. Then Sheridan reports Morden's release to Kosh. He says the price for his cooperation is that Kosh will change his lessons from "understanding" to how to fight and beat the Shadows. He says that at some point, he's going to Z'ha'dum. This is when Kosh first utters the fateful warning: "If you go to Z'ha'dum, you will die." Sheridan accepts this price, so Kosh agrees to teach him.

In a subplot of the episode, a man from the new Ministry of Peace visits the station to make a series of presentations. He specifically asks Talia to come and hear one. In a public meeting, which Zack also attends, the representative says that the Ministry of Peace is starting the Night Watch, a volunteer organization dedicated to watching for anyone that is working against peace. The Night Watch will bring those people to the attention of the Ministry of Peace so they can be rehabilitated and thereby protect society. Talia doesn't volunteer for Night Watch, but doesn't necessarily seem upset with the proposal. Zack volunteers, because as he says he'll get an extra 50 credits per week for doing what he does anyway.

The amazing episode changes the course of the series and sets Sheridan's personal path in the future. The episode shows that not only is Sheridan important in the series, as the commander of B5, but that he's also going to play a pivotal role in upcoming events involving the defense against the Shadows. We also finally get more of an idea of Delenn's purpose on the station, beyond connecting with humans.

The flash point is Sheridan's discovery that someone on the Icarus is still alive, and as he says, why should Morden be alive when his wife is dead? We saw at the beginning of the season, in "Revelations" that Sheridan was still feeling a lot of grief and guilt over his wife's death. Even now, when he explains his motivations to Ivanova, he is near tears talking about his wife. It's amazing how much his heart is still on his sleeve when it comes to his late wife. I think this has to be at least a bit of an obsession on his part. That obsession leads him to break regulations in his holding and interrogation of Morden.

Morden may have an pleasant, unassuming facade, but he's certainly a key to the plans of many people, and Sheridan has no idea what he stirred up. I have to wonder if Londo was on the station if he would have handled the request to release Mordan in a better way, without revealing as much, as Vir did. I don't think Sheridan has made the connection yet, but he's got to realize soon that the only possible reason that Londo and the Centauri would protect Morden is in order to protect their association with the Shadows. From there, it's easy to reason out that the Shadows are behind the Narn-Centauri war.

Sheridan also finally finds out the real story behind the Icarus's destruction. Is it "better" to him that Anna died because of some evil creatures rather than in some kind of accident? I guess it at least gives him a target at which to channel his grief and rage.

I wonder whether Kosh and/or Delenn set up Sheridan to discover this information about Morden and thus draw Sheridan into their cause. This would be a risky plan, because Sheridan could have refused to release Morden and broken him, leading the Shadows to some kind of rash action. But would Kosh really have let that happen? We have some idea that not only do the Vorlons have very advanced technology, but they also have strong telepathic skills. If Sheridan didn't cooperate with Kosh and Delenn, could Kosh have somehow compelled or deluded Sheridan into releasing Morden before it was too late? Does Kosh have the ethics to prevent him from circumventing another person's free will in that way? Even if he does, one could argue that saving billions of lives (from a too-early war) would be worth sacrificing one person's free will.

The reward Kosh and Delenn would have from setting Sheridan up to find out about Morden is that Sheridan would understandably be set against the Shadow. Sheridan's skills and the resources he has as commander of B5 would be very valuable to their cause. And Kosh has already set himself up as Sheridan's "teacher", so Sheridan has become inclined to trust Kosh. If Kosh and Delenn did plan this whole situation, then they got exactly what they wanted: Sheridan absolutely committed against the Shadows in every way. He is even willing to go to his own death, if necessary.

The past history of the wars between the Shadows and the First Ones is chilling. Even the relatively minor war 1000 years ago was horrific. Delenn says that the Shadows are currently building their forces now. This is incredible, considering the fact that the Shadows are currently fighting a war on behalf of the Centauri - as a diversion - and they are winning it (according to reports from "And Now for a Word"). What will their forces be like when they are built up? I hope the Vorlons, as the remaining First Ones, have some kick-ass forces themselves, because it's hard to imagine any of the other races having anything to match the Shadows.

The Shadows fit their name well, given they fact that they can move around the station invisibly, always accompanying Morden. Can they do anything to other people when they are invisible? Do they have any powers (such as telepathy, telekinesis, super strength, etc.) on their own, or are their abilities based only on advanced technology? Since the Shadows can be invisible, presumably they are what caused the damage to Kosh's encounter suit when he encountered Morden in the first season in "Signs and Portents".

Sheridan has had a lot of weight fall onto his shoulders since he has arrived. He was positively happy-go-lucky when he took command of B5. Then he started to find out about the corruption of President Clark and Psi Corps. After that, the Narn-Centauri war began. Now, he has the knowledge of the impending war with the Shadows. Sure, he's trained to be a military commander, but can he handle all of this? We do see here that if Sheridan believes he has to do something, then he commits himself to it at all costs, even it it breaks the rules or is detrimental to him personally. That persistence could be useful in fighting the Shadows. In "There All the Honor Lies, Delenn said she had been studying Sheridan extensively. Was she studying him to determine if he would be a capable ally and leader in the war against the Shadows? If he failed to pass her scrutiny, what would she have done?

Delenn revealed that Kosh's confirmation of the return of the Shadows caused her to initiate her transformation in to a human-Minbari hybrid. Why does she consider this to be important to the upcoming war with the Shadows? And in that same episode ("Chrysalis"), before she started the transformation, she told Kosh she would keep her promise, which we have to assume was to undergo the transformation. Why does Kosh consider the transformation so important? We know that the Minbari (at least some of them) believe that humans are being born with Minbari souls. Is Delenn trying to draw humans and Minbari together in order to reconnect all Minbari souls in preparation for the fight with the Shadows?

In this episode, aside from the Night Watch subplot, we only see the other characters in their relation to Sheridan. Ivanova calls on her friendship with him to try to set him straight, but fails; she can even understand his motivations. Garibaldi calls on duty to persuade Sheridan he's doing something wrong, but fails and follows through on his threat to resign. I found it somewhat odd that Garibaldi returned to duty so quickly with Sheridan's apology, but I think he realized that the situation was pretty unique.

One other bit of character development was about Dr. Franklin. We have seen (in "And Now for a Word", for example) that Franklin is getting more and more exhausted from dealing with the huge number of casualties from the Narn-Centauri war. Ivanova calls him on that here, ordering him to rest. We see that Franklin is extremely dedicated to his duty, and as he says to Sheridan later, he's just as obsessive-compulsive as Sheridan is - he thinks he needs to heal everyone personally. If he can't learn to delegate and take care of himself, he's going to have trouble in the future. The creation of the Night Watch is very unsettling. The basis for it sounds reasonable enough, but what makes a person qualify for re-education and rehabilitation? How do the goals of the Night Watch coexist with the right to free speech? How does the Night Watch distinguish between the rightful voicing of opinions that disagree with the government and "trouble"? The Night Watch sounds like an excuse to get troublemakers out of the way so that the government can do whatever it wants.

Zack is viewing the Night Watch purely from the profit motive. Talia, however, should be seeing the government and Night Watch at a deeper level, knowing how Psi Corps is not entirely pure - so what does she think of it? Certainly having a telepath on the Night Watch would be of benefit to them. Actually, I am surprised that the Psi Corps seems to be allowing individual telepaths to decide whether or not to join the Night Watch. If some telepaths join, then it may give the appearance that the Psi Corps supports the Night Watch. Whether or not they do, I would expect the Psi Corps to want to make that decision on behalf of all telepaths.

This episode is one of the most pivotal for this season and the entire season, and it's extremely compelling on its own merits. The other excellent episode this season with a huge impact was "The Coming of Shadows". It's interesting to compare these two episodes in how they affect the series.

"The Coming of Shadows" is the more obviously important episode in the course of the series, because the avalanche of events leads to the start of the Narn-Centauri war. As I commented in my review for that episode, the sense of doom in the episode was palpable, that events were spiraling out of everyone's control. The events in this episode change the entire course of galactic politics as two of the major powers begin an all-out war.

On the other hand, in this episode, the effects of the events of the episode are almost nil - which is how Kosh and Delenn wanted it to be. Morden is released, and the Shadows don't know Kosh, Delenn, and Sheridan are onto them. The Narn-Centauri war continues blithely on. But there is one effect: Sheridan's new-found resolve to fight the Shadows at all costs. In the long run, this effect might be more profound than anything in "The Coming of Shadows". Yes, the Narn-Centauri war might cost thousands or maybe even millions of lives. However, I don't think the Centauri are fighting for the extinction of the Narn - they want conquest, and conquest is pretty unsatisfying if you don't have conquered people to dominate. However, from what Kosh and Delenn tell Sheridan, a war with the Shadows will be all-or-nothing and horrific, with the potential for billions of casualties. After all, as I mentioned above, the Shadows are currently fighting a war just as a diversionary tactic, so clearly they have a lot more resources to put into a war they really believe in. If Sheridan turns out to be a crucial force against the Shadows, the resolve against them that he develops here could be the most important event to happen in the series.

Both episodes are excellent in their own way. "The Coming of Shadows" had a very epic tone, with the knowledge that the events of the episode had great import. The dialogue in particular was excellent and eloquent. This episode, on the other hand, was more raw, immediate, desperate, and personal. It was focused on the actions of one person and how the events around the Shaodws affected him. These episodes are some of the best science fiction that have been on TV.

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