Episode Review of Babylon 5 Season 3: "Z'ha'dum"

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Episode Information

Title: "Z'ha'dum"
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski
Director: Adam Nimoy
Rating (out of 4 stars): ****
Reviewed on: November 5, 2009

Synopsis from The Lurker's Guide to Babylon 5


Sheridan goes to Z'ha'dum.

This episode begins with just where the last one left off: Anna Sheridan arriving in Sheridan's quarters while Delenn watches Sheridan sleep.

When Sheridan awakens, he simply can't believe his eyes. He has one of his horribly painful, grief-filled, near-tears looks like he had almost all the time last season in "In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum" when he was interrogating Morden about the Icarus. Anna puts Sheridan and Delenn on the defensive immediately, implying that they were having an affair behind her back. Yes, they were having an affair, but they thought she was dead! We can see Anna already manipulating events, and we immediately are suspicious of that, plus we don't like her purposeful misunderstanding of Sheridan and Delenn's relationship. Delenn ducks out immediately.

Once Delenn leaves, Anna acts as if she and Sheridan will just pick up their relationship again where they left off. She's delighted about the prospect, and wants Sheridan to go with her to Z'ha'dum, so he can find out what the war is really about. Sheridan is still pretty much in shock, and so Anna offers to take any tests necessary to prove who she is.

Sheridan takes Anna to MedLab for extensive testing, as much to prove her identity as to give him some time to recover, I think. Franklin confirms that she's Anna, but mentions some unusual scarring. Sheridan orders him to figure out what it's from - we see later that Anna's scars match up with the cybernetic implants used on telepaths in "Ship of Tears". Franklin congratulates Sheridan on having his wife return, but Sheridan knows it's not all that simple. Regardless of any Shadow influence on Anna, she's been gone for five years, declared dead, and Sheridan had moved on. For anyone, this would be a difficult situation.

Sheridan goes to confront Delenn. Delenn says that she did not know Anna was alive - all she knew (and was Kosh her source of this information?) was that those who would not serve the Shadows were killed. She assumed Anna would not serve - and Sheridan scoffs at the idea - so that only left death. But apparently something else is going on here. I think Sheridan might have been able to accept that from Delenn. But then he presses the issue, asking Delenn if she knew Anna was alive, would she have told him? While Delenn equivocates, her ultimate answer is no - because then he would've rushed to Z'ha'dum and been killed.

Sheridan is furious that Delenn would withhold information like that - and Delenn's tendency to keep information to herself finally comes back to haunt her, and Sheridan points it out now. Sheridan stalks out as Delenn declares her love for him, leaving her in tears.

Meanwhile, we learn that G'Kar has managed to bring a large number of thermonuclear weapons onto the station to use against the Shadows. In another scene, we learn that Londo has been promoted to Advisor to the Emperor on Planetary Security; he believes this is a leash to keep him under control. While he and Vir discuss this, one of Morden's underlings stops by and advises them to leave the station immediately. (Oddly enough, I don't think we ever find out if they did leave.)

Sheridan finally confronts Anna again in his quarters, and we see him looking over Franklin's report on the cybernetic implants. Anna continues trying to get him to go to Z'ha'dum with her, dangling the truth as a carrot before him. Sheridan finally agrees, if she'll tell him what really happened to the Icarus.

Anna says that Interplanetary Expeditions learned of Z'ha'dum's location from tracking the Shadow ship that went to Mars (in the events described in "Messages from Earth") to rescue the damaged Shadow ship. Thus IPX mounted the mission to Z'ha'dum. According to Anna, when the Icarus landed on Z'ha'dum, they found very friendly and cooperative natives. However, they had just come out of hibernation, so they were very vulnerable; consequently, the crew didn't leave so as not to endanger them. Then there was some kind of accident that killed most of the crew. Nevertheless, Anna sees the Shadows as being helpful and beneficial to humanity, promising that humans will leap far into future technologically.

Having fulfilled her end of the bargain, Anna waits while Sheridan makes final preparations to go to Z'ha'dum. One of the things Sheridan does is to confidentially order Garibaldi to put two of the thermonuclear bombs on the White Star; he does this only in "writing", presumably hoping to keep it secret from any Shadow watchers that Anna might have brought on board. When Sheridan finishes dressing in his quarters, he has a vision of Kosh, who tells him again, "If you go to Z'ha'dum, you will die." Sheridan and Anna's departure from the station is very uncomfortable, as Sheridan and Garibaldi act like they'll never meet again, but Anna can't wait to get going. I thought it was odd that Ivanova and/or Franklin weren't there, but I think Sheridan wanted to keep his departure quiet.

Sheridan had contrived to get the crew off the White Star, so he and Anna fly to Z'ha'dum alone. The planet is very desolate, with the Shadow civilization underground. Anna leads him to a room where Morden and another man, Justin, are waiting. The reactions between Sheridan and Morden are blackly amusing, as the two have no liking toward each other after the events last season in "In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum, but for the moment they are compelled to tolerate each other.

Justin explains that the Shadows and the Vorlons are both First Ones that stayed behind when the other First Ones left the galaxy; their mission was to guide the development of the younger races, such as the humans and Minbari. The Vorlons prefer orderly societies and structured growth, while the Shadows prefer more chaos and conflict, believing in survival of the fittest, even in terms of entire races. Originally the two sides were relatively balanced, but over the thousands of years, the Vorlons began to want complete control and starting fighting against the Shadows themselves.

The Shadows don't particularly care for the Vorlons trying to exterminate them, and in the current war, they've realized that Sheridan is a key figure (after all, he is the One That Will Be), so they lured him to Z'ha'dum to try to convince him to join with the Shadows. The bait: after the current war, the Shadows will make sure that humans come out "on top". (I think it's a rather pitiful enticement that Justin is eager to say that the humans can be the first to rebuild... er, why not have to rebuild by not fighting?)

Meanwhile on the station, Ivanova has found out from Franklin that Anna had cybernetic implants for Shadow ship operations and from G'Kar that some of the thermonuclear weapons are missing. Then a large number of Shadow ships jumps into normal space around the station. Ivanova launches fighters in a protective formation around the station, but what good could the Starfuries do against Shadow ships?

Delenn receives a message that Sheridan left. He says that he's going to Z'ha'dum because he remembered that in his time-jump to the future in "War Without End, Part 2" that he should not go to Z'ha'dum. He has speculated that her warning made him not go to Z'ha'dum, which lead to the horror on Centauri Prime that we saw in that future. Thus, he's going to Z'ha'dum to try to prevent that future. Poor Delenn - she tried everything she could to keep Sheridan from going to Z'ha'dum, and all her efforts backfired. Sheridan signs off by saying that he loves her, and Delenn breaks down in tears.

On Z'ha'dum, Sheridan has been relatively cooperative with Justin and the others, to the point that the viewer might be worried that he's being convinced. But when Justin threatens what they might do to him if he doesn't cooperate, he interrupts by asking if they'll do to him what they did to Anna. Everyone is shocked, but he says that even though she looks like Anna, she just doesn't have Anna's spirit. Justin admits that Anna had been placed into a Shadow ship, but when they found out she was Sheridan's wife (which Morden probably reported after the events of last season's "In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum"), they pulled her out and "fixed" her.

While Sheridan has them off-balance and distracted with this discussion, he pulls the gun he had hidden in his boot. Just in time, since a Shadow enters the room. Sheridan begins shooting and makes a hasty retreat from the room. A short time later, we see him cornered and bleeding in a corridor leading to a balcony overlooking the Shadow city. Anna and some Shadows are slowly creeping up on him. Sheridan has nowhere to go, as a deep chasm is between him and the Shadow city. He uses his link to activate a command on the White Star: the thermonuclear weapons on the ship are activated, and the ship is sent out of orbit and aimed directly at the Shadow city. While he waits for the ship to hit, Anna admits that she isn't the real Anna any more, but comes up with the chilling enticement: "I can love you as well as she did." Sheridan hears Kosh's voice telling him to jump, and he leaps off the balcony into the chasm just moments before the White Star hits the city. The thermonuclear blast wipes out the Shadow city.

Back at the station, the Shadow vessels disappear immediately. One of them snatches Garibaldi's Starfury before leaving. Ivanova thinks the Shadows left because Sheridan is dead. The episode ends on a evocative voiceover by G'Kar about the coming revelation.

This is a stunning episode. While I think my favorite episode is "Severed Dreams", this one comes close. A number of issues in the series are paid off in a satisfying way, and the cliffhanger at the end is stunning. The execution of the episode is also excellent.

First, the biggest revelation in the episode is about the real reason the Vorlons and the Shadows fight: they are trying to gain complete control over the development of the younger races. They have completely different views about the best way to encourage that development, and it's led to thousands of years of death, destruction, and terror.

A subtle irony in the situation is that if either side did win completely, it would probably be bad for the development of the younger races. The Shadows' philosophy of conflict - taking Darwinism to its ultimate logical conclusion - seems to be repugnant. But eliminating all conflict and having only the strict order of the Vorlons would probably be stifling. Societies need conflict at some level to overturn paradigms and spark innovation and development. The balance that originally existed between the Shadows and the Vorlons was probably the best. But now that the Vorlons and Shadows have begun to see "winning" as the goal, they've lost sight of what is best for the younger races.

Justin made some very telling points on behalf of the Shadows, pulling together a lot of things we've witnessed in the series: the fact that humans see Vorlons as angels; the telepaths that recently developed among humans; the alliance between the Vorlons and the Minbari. We know these things have occurred, but the spin that Justin puts on them is a bit suspect. Nonetheless, it shows us that the Vorlons are not the benevolent protectors that we might have naively believed they were. Sheridan has had his own doubts about the Vorlons since Kosh revealed himself at the end of last season in "The Fall of Night"; even if he doesn't swallow the Shadows' propaganda entirely, it's bound to make him less likely to trust the Vorlons and the new Kosh on B5.

Why are the Shadows interested in turning Sheridan to their side? The Shadows claim that their side and the Vorlons' was balanced originally, but that the Vorlons have ignored that in the recent past. Are the Shadows still trying to maintain that balance? It seems like converting Sheridan to their point of view would avert a lot of the conflict the Shadows desire, since Sheridan could bring many of his ally races to their side. Do the Shadows just want to insult the Vorlons by converting one of the key figures on the Vorlon side? It seems like the Shadows are achieving their goal of chaos and conflict quite well without Sheridan's help. Perhaps they think he's going to be more effective in the future at stopping them, so they are thinking ahead.

The execution of the episode, with the build up to Sheridan going to Z'ha'dum, is excellent, as the viewer gets just enough clues to think Sheridan may be up to something, but not enough to be convincing that Sheridan hasn't just fallen for the story presented by his long-lost, dearly-beloved wife. Sheridan is very closed-mouthed during his preparations to leave, but we can't be sure this is because he's planning something he doesn't want the Shadows to know about, or because he's just all tied up about Anna's return.

Sheridan's message to Delenn reveals that his goal was utterly altruistic: not only to stop the Shadows (which his nuking plan might do immediately), but to save the Centauri as well. We don't know yet whether he's accomplished either goal, although the war with the Shadows has paused, at least. And seemingly he paid for his goals with his life. The cliffhanger in the episode is nearly literal: Sheridan has jumped from a cliff. Why did Kosh tell him to jump? Presumably a bit of Kosh in Sheridan knew that it would be good to do, but how did he know? And Sheridan jumped so shortly before the nukes exploded that he couldn't possibly have fallen far enough away to have escaped the deadly electromagnetic radiation.

This episode finally wraps up the information contained symbolically in Sheridan's dream in season two in "All Alone in the Night". In the last episode, Sheridan, Delenn, and Ivanova had interpreted the "man in between" as a middle-man, and sure enough, Justin identifies himself as that. Although I usually think of a middle-man has a more neutral arbitrator, but Justin is no more neutral than Sheridan is. At any rate, I am happy to see the dream tied up, because I thought the symbolism was a bit overwrought, and there wasn't really anything helpful about deciphering it.

An incidental point: apparently the humans used as control centers in Shadow ships do not have to be telepathic, since Anna was used in one. Perhaps the Shadow ships are more powerful if they have telepathic humans inside them.

What will happen next? Now that Sheridan has dealt the Shadows a deadly blow, will the Vorlons take advantage of it? Will Delenn and the other forces of Light take advantage of it? Why did a Shadow ship kidnap Garibaldi? Does it have to do with Justin saying that there are some people that could replace Sheridan in his role if Sheridan were killed?

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