Episode Review of Babylon 5 Season 3: "Shadow Dancing"

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Episode Information

Title: "Shadow Dancing"
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Director: Kim Friedman
Rating (out of 4 stars): *** 1/2
Reviewed on: October 27, 2009

Synopsis from The Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5


Sheridan and his allies strike a major blow against the Shadows, while Franklin finds himself on his walkabout.

As Sheridan realized in the last episode ("And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place"), the Shadows are gearing up for an attack. Sheridan is planning to ambush the Shadows there, but he needs all possible ships from all of their allies in order to be successful. Delenn makes the case to the League of Non-Aligned Worlds, but they are reluctant to strip their homeworlds down to minimum defenses. Nonetheless, they agree. This is a nice demonstration of Delenn's power of persuasion, possibly why she is "the One who is" - she is able to get everyone to work together.

Sheridan sends Ivanova and Marcus early to the attack site to signal the moment the Shadows arrive. This scene is a bit over-dramatic, and Sheridan plays up the risks of them being caught by a Shadow ship and destroyed. The only nice bit to this is that he doesn't give them an option - it's an order, and they must go, but he's worried they won't come back. Well, this is war, after all.

During the preparations for the attack, Delenn tells Sheridan that when they return, they will observe a Minbari ritual for Minbari who have "become close as we have become close": Delenn will observe Sheridan while he sleeps, in order to see his true face. According to tradition, if she likes what she sees, she will observe him for two more nights. What happens after that, she won't say. This is a subtle ploy on Delenn's part, giving Sheridan something to look toward, beyond the immediate battle.

Meanwhile, Garibaldi has been grumping to Zack about how no one has seen any sign of Franklin, even in Downbelow, for days. Right on cue, we see Franklin still skulking around. Sometime later, he hears a fight between some criminals, and foolishly jumps in to help out the guy being beaten up. The attackers stab Franklin in the abdomen and run off; the man Franklin helped is worried about being caught selling drugs and also runs off. Franklin is bleeding out and calls for help, but he's way too far off the beaten track for anyone to hear him.

At the site of the attack, Ivanova and Marcus encounter a small Shadow ship also scouting out the sight. They manage to destroy it so it can't warn the others, but their White Star is heavily damaged. They don't have long to think about what to do, as the main Shadow fleet jumps into the area. They send out the signal calling in Sheridan's fleet.

Sheridan's fleet jumps into normal space, and it's a complete hodge-podge of all kinds of ships. Sheridan and Delenn direct the attack from one of the Minbari war cruisers. In yet another example of Delenn keeping things to herself, she doesn't tell Sheridan about the holographic display and system they will use to direct the battle until it's time to use it. The system is impressive, as they can see everything happening in all directions, and have only to speak to have their orders relayed to their forces.

The battle is fierce. The Shadow ships are very powerful individually, but Sheridan's forces quickly learn to work together to destroy them. The remaining Shadow forces eventually break off and retreat. The forces of light have a victory, but it cost them twice as many ships as it did the Shadows.

While the battle is going on, back on the station Franklin is still calling for help. He loses enough blood to hallucinate, and he envisions himself. Vision-Franklin is not very happy with Franklin, and excoriates him for always running away from his problems. Vision-Franklin goes on at length about Franklin's shortcomings, hardly letting Franklin get a word in edgewise. Finally, Franklin pulls himself together and tells his vision that he wants to live in order to do everything over again. Vision-Franklin goads him into walking and climbing out of the area he is stuck in, telling him not to pass out, because passing out "is just another kind of running away". (For some reason, I liked the spin on that.) Franklin manages to drag himself into a populated area of the station, where security finds him and has him rushed to MedLab.

Sheridan and the others return to the station. They are proud of the victory, but two things make it less sweet: first, the number of casualties; second, the fact that their successful attack against the Shadows will probably lure the Shadows to attack the station. Sheridan and Delenn glumly expect the attack any time, but they aren't sure how the Shadows will do it. Sheridan gets some flashes from his dream that was induced by Kosh last season in "All Alone in the Night". Some of the elements of the dream may indicate that "the man in between is searching" for him, which may mean Sheridan's counterpart on behalf of the Shadows. They can't puzzle out any more of it.

Franklin wakes up in MedLab with Garibaldi watching over him. Franklin admits that he finally found himself, and he didn't like what he saw. Nonetheless, he realized he wanted to return to his life and do things right. After Garibaldi leaves, we see Franklin realize the hectic emergency gripping MedLab from all the wounded after the battle, and we know it can't be too long before Franklin is helping out. Sure enough, when Sheridan visits MedLab, Franklin is in a wheelchair, directing operations. Sheridan offers Franklin the Chief Medical Officer job back, which Franklin enthusiastically accepts.

At the end of the episode, Sheridan heads to bed, while Delenn looks on, smiling fondly. At the same time, we get glimpses of someone from a shuttle that came from a Shadow ship boarding the station; we can't see who the person is. As Delenn toys with a snowglobe in Sheridan's quarters, the mystery person walks in: Sheridan's wife, Anna. The fateful last words of the episode: "Hello. You must be Delenn. I'm Anna Sheridan. John's wife." Delenn drops the snowglobe, something she had seen herself doing in the timeflash in "War Without End, Part 2".

Well, this episode is certainly going to shake things up. First, the good guys have their first victory without the help of the Vorlons. They have demonstrated that they can work together and that it is possible to fight and beat the Shadows, albeit with a high cost. Thus, this is a huge victory for morale as well.

I had wondered during the episode how Sheridan managed to coordinate this attack without the Shadows finding out. Yes, he refused to give the exact location to anyone, but the very fact that they were massing a fleet for attack should have sent up red flags to any Shadow agents. Did the Shadows really have no agents on the station to notice all the activity? This seems hard to believe.

This also leads me to the issue: why haven't the Shadows attacked the station yet? After all, all of the coordination between Sheridan's forces is happening there, and a well-timed attack could wipe out Sheridan, Delenn, Ivanova, Marcus, Garibaldi, etc., the League ambassadors and so on. It would be incredibly demoralizing, and it would take quite a bit of time before anyone could re-organize them. One might say that the Shadows are using the station themselves for intelligence gathering, but yet they missed learning about this attack. Possibly the presence of a Vorlon is keeping them from attacking, but they did kill Kosh. This is quite a mystery.

After this victory, Sheridan and the others fully expect some kind of response from the Shadows. However, the response from the Shadows shows that they have more weapons in their arsenal than just blunt force. Clearly they have chosen not to attack the station as a whole, but the head of the force fighting against them: Sheridan.

Way back last season in "In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum", Delenn had assured Sheridan that his wife Anna had been killed by the Shadows. Kosh's visualization of the Icarus encountering the Shadows certainly supported that. I think that this is what gave Sheridan some closure to Anna's death and allowed him to move on emotionally. Now we and he find out that Anna is alive.

I have been mentioning in my reviews of recent episodes about how Delenn tends to keep information to herself - this tendency may come back to bite her now. Did she really know Anna was dead? Or did she know Anna might be alive, but chose to keep it to herself? Did Kosh deceive Delenn in some way?

Of course, we don't know for sure that the woman is Anna. We have seen changeling nets ("The Gathering"), for example, as other ways of giving someone a false appearance. However, if the woman isn't really Anna, it seems like a dumb strategy for the Shadows to use, because it wouldn't have any lasting effect. So it makes sense that the woman is somehow Anna.

What kind of effect will this have on Sheridan? After all, he had mourned Anna for years, but had finally moved on. Now she returns and catches him at an extremely bad moment, with Delenn in his quarters under compromising circumstances. But how could he be cheating on someone when he thought she was dead? Will Sheridan welcome Anna back with open arms? After all, he was extremely devoted to her. And how will Sheridan treat Delenn now? They have been through a lot together, too.

By sending Anna to Sheridan, the Shadows may have effectively cut off the head of the resistance against them. In order to fight the Shadows, the forces of light need strong and decisive leadership, not someone who is distracted by old loves. This is a very canny move on the part of the Shadows. Even if Sheridan rejects Anna as a Shadow puppet, it will take time, which will buy the Shadows time to regroup.

On another issue, it's good to finally get Franklin's walkabout plot resolved. I understand that realistically it takes time for someone to work out a big problem like drug addiction, but I thought this plot was overall a bit of a detraction. Even though his drug addition was built up to over a couple seasons in the show, I still felt a bit like it was just giving Franklin's character something to do, since a doctor doesn't fight on a spaceship. At any rate, it was fitting that his revelation about doing things over in his life was extremely painful, almost like a rebirth. Hopefully he really had gotten over his addiction.

On smaller points, there was some nice character interaction. Ivanova may be resisting Marcus' advances, but they have become quite a team. Even after they returned to the station from the White Star they were still speaking and acting together. Marcus' hidden compliment (in Minbari) was good for a chuckle, because Ivanova could never accept such a compliment in reality. Garibaldi and Franklin renewing their friendship was also a welcome development.

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