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We see a planet blockaded by a Centauri, and a Drazi who helps a human Ranger escape on a small ship. That ship eventually ends up at B5, with the pilot unconscious. He's taken to MedLab, but disappears while Franklin describes his condition to another doctor, saying he's not going anywhere.
In the meantime, an agent of Earthgov intelligence, David Endawi, arrives on the station to investigate the Shadow ship seen in the gun-camera video from Keffer's ship that was broadcast on ISN in last season's "The Fall of Night". He tells Sheridan, Ivanova, and Delenn that Earthgov doesn't have any knowledge about the ship, and it's worried. They are downplaying it in the media, but in reality they want to find out as much as possible about it. Delenn promises to help, but then says that she's never seen the ship before. Endawi is disappointed, but asks to speak quietly with other ambassadors on the station.
When Endawi and Ivanova leave, Delenn says she knows it's a Shadow ship, but until now, she had never actually seen one. She lectures Sheridan on how formidable they are supposed to be - that they never give up on a target until it has been destroyed.
Later, Lennier reports to Delenn that a certain person requests a meeting with her and sent a pin to verify his identity. Delenn immediately goes with Lennier to a section of downbelow, where they meet up with the Ranger, Marcus Cole. When Marcus leads them out of the seedy bar to a better place to talk, they are set upon by thugs. Marcus, Lennier, and even Delenn show off their hand-to-hand prowess - Marcus has a nifty "Minbari fighting pike".
I have to stop here to take exception to this sequence of events. By this point, we've established that Marcus is a Ranger. Delenn (and Sheridan) is the head of the Rangers on B5, and Garibaldi has been working with them. Why in the world does Marcus have to go through all this cloak-and-dagger stuff just to talk to Delenn? Other Rangers have operated pretty much like normal people on the station, and we have no reason to think that Marcus is somehow known or wanted by people on the station. Does Marcus not know who the Ranger leaders are on B5? And why would he have to use his Ranger pin to verify his identity? This whole sequence just seemed like an excused to show off Marcus', and to a lesser extent Delenn's, fighting skills.
Delenn, Lennier, and Marcus meet with Sheridan, Ivanova, and Garibaldi. Sheridan realizes it's long past time he told Ivanova about the Rangers and the Shadows. In a nice "gotcha", Ivanova reveals that she already knows most of the information about the Rangers - she tries to keep informed about everything going on on the station. Marcus says that the Ranger training base on Zagros VII (a Drazi world) has been blockaded by the Centauri. Since there is little of value on the world, the Rangers assume they are the target. The Rangers went to great effort to help Marcus escape so he could bring back help. The question is whether Sheridan will authorize a rescue.
This also seems like an odd situation to me. This seems like a US military base coming to the Joint Chiefs and saying they are under attack, could you please help? Of course they will be helped! I guess the issue is whether Sheridan should be doing this or Sinclair back on Minbar (who Sheridan doesn't know about yet). Sheridan and B5 also have very little in the way of resources they can legitimately use for a rescue, since taking the stations fighters would be out of the question - someone in Earth Force would certainly notice that. Sheridan and Ivanova head off station with them; Sheridan orders Garibaldi to shepherd Endawi around.
The glimpses we get of Endawi's investigation are very interesting. Londo has never seen a Shadow ship before (somewhat ironic in itself), but he recognizes it as one of the ships flying over him on Centauri Prime in his dream last season in "The Coming of Shadows". He describes that part of the dream to Endawi, but clearly Endawi doesn't take the description as serious information.
Later, Endawi speaks to G'Kar unofficially, and G'Kar is relieved to finally have someone to tell about the Shadows, as he tried to do last season in "Revelations". As G'Kar relates, the Book of G'Quan tells that the "ancient enemy" used their planet as a base 1000 years ago in a great war; the Book even has a sketch of one of the ships. Endawi doesn't take this story any more seriously than Londo's.
Londo has told Morden that he wants to sever the relationship with Morden's "associates". Morden seems remarkably unruffled by this, but arranges a second meeting with Londo to do some "bookkeeping". At the second meeting, Morden tells Londo that one part of the galaxy (on a map) is the Centauri's, and the rest is his associates; the Centauri don't bother them, and they won't bother the Centauri. The only exception is a planet on the edge of Centauri space, Zagros VII, which Morden says he's asked Lord Refa to to secure for his associates. Londo is shocked that Morden has made contact with Refa, but since he's said he wanted out, he's stuck.
On the rescue mission, Sheridan and Ivanova are led to a strange corner of space, where a single sleek, white spaceship is waiting. Delenn explains that it is the first of a new class of ships that has been built by the Minbari religious caste, and it's a combination of Minbari and Vorlon technology. It is faster than other ships of its size, and unlike other ships of its size, it can make its own jump point. It looks very different from the typical ships of the various races, so it won't be immediately identified. The name of the ship is the White Star, and Delenn gives it to Sheridan. (The ship's name is a nice touch, an obvious opposite of the Black Star, the Minbari ship Sheridan destroyed in the Earth-Minbari war.)
Sheridan is like a kid on Christmas morning, and they immediately head off to rescue the Rangers on Zagros VII. When they arrive, they find some orbiting weapons platforms that are automatically continuing the blockade, but there are no Centauri ships. Everyone mulls over how odd this is, but the take advantage of the situation and begin shooting down the orbital platforms.
The situation takes a sudden turn for the worse when a Shadow ship arrives. Delenn nearly panics, saying that one ship can't take on a Shadow ship, and they must flee. Sheridan orders evasive maneuvers while they continue to shoot down the orbital platforms; when enough are destroyed, the Rangers escape on transports. The Shadow ship has definitely noticed the White Star and shoots... and misses! Delenn is stunned, but Sheridan realizes that the Shadow ship is toying with them to try to figure out where their ship is from and what its capabilities are.
Sheridan orders them to go through the jump gate into hyperspace, and the Shadow ship pursues. Delenn is still near panic, and tries to convince Sheridan that they must go someplace to get help to destroy the Shadow ship, although it's not clear what she could possibly have in mind. Sheridan, on the other hand, is extremely cool and in control. He speculates on what would happen if the White Star formed a jump point while inside the jump point of a jumpgate. Ivanova says Earth Force experiments showed that such an act released a huge amount of energy explosively, invariably destroying the ships that did it.
Sheridan is not deterred, and orders them to exit hyperspace through the gate in the Markab system. He waits for the Shadow ship to catch up, and orders the jump point to be made. As the explosion begins, he orders the White Star to fly away at full speed. The Shadow ship is destroyed. The White Star gets caught by the edge of the explosion and suffers damage, but everyone is OK.
The next thing we know, they are all disembarking on B5. (I guess they left the White Star wherever she was stationed before.) Endawi chides Sheridan for his absence, but he and Delenn manufacture a story about him helping a disabled Minbari ship.
We see Endawi return to Earth and deliver his report to a superior, commenting that all anyone seems to know about the mysterious ship is based on dreams and legends. He is dismissed, and his superior welcomes in a Psi Cop and Morden. They are all pleased by the general lack of knowledge about the Shadow ships. The Psi Cop suggests that they use the public fear of the unknown ship to speed up "the program" on Earth. Morden is intrigued, and they begin discussing it as we cut away.
On B5, Sheridan has formed a War Council, consisting of himself, Ivanova, Garibaldi, Franklin, Delenn, and Marcus (as the current resident Ranger). He says that they will be meeting to coordinate efforts against the Shadows. Franklin, of course, doesn't know about the Rangers or the Shadows yet, and so we end on Delenn intoning the story of the First Ones, which she told Sheridan last season in "In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum".
This is an incredible episode that starts the season out with a huge bang. I thought about deducting a half a star from the rating for the awkwardness of some of the first scenes (as I mentioned above), but the rest of the episode is way too good and important to do that.
The most immediately impactful plot in the episode was Sheridan's defeat of a Shadow ship. Sheridan was the ultimate soldier here, remaining absolutely calm and in command in an incredibly stressful and urgent situation. He showed very quick thinking in coming up with the plan to destroy the Shadow ship. The plan was risky, yes, but definitely a calculated risk. He seems to have a talent for using conventional ships and weaponry in unconventional ways. In this episode, it reminded me of McCoy's description of Kirk's actions in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock: turning death into a fighting chance to live. (I don't mean that this episode was in any way ripping off Star Trek, I simply mean that the attitudes of Kirk and Sheridan are similar here.)
This fight also demonstrated what Kosh meant about teaching Sheridan to fight legends (season 2's "Hunter, Prey"). Sheridan doesn't really know much about the Shadows, and what Delenn has told him hasn't been ingrained in him enough to have a deep effect. Thus, Sheridan is able to see the Shadow ship as a superior adversary, but not one of mythic, unbeatable proportions. Delenn, on the other hand, who has been taught about the Shadows and the Great War for years, can only see the Shadows as nearly omnipotent legends. She can't imagine that a normal human and ship might somehow be able to defeat a Shadow ship. I remember that when I first watched this episode, I was also caught up in the legend, and so for me the suspense during the fight was enormous. I would imagine that Sheridan's actions here will impress her enormously - it did me!.
The Shadows will now know that something happened to one of their ships on Zagros VII, but luckily it will be a mystery to them for now. The White Star is going to be a tremendous asset to Sheridan, since she is so fast and maneuverable, as well as unrecognizable. How long have Delenn and the religious caste been working on building the ship? How long has she been planning to give it to Sheridan? She certainly is a master at long term planning and manipulation, giving others the tools and information they need, just when they need it. Will Sheridan continue to be satisfied with this arrangement, or will he eventually realize she's holding back information?
In the second plot, Endawi's investigation, the main kick of the plot was at the very end. As I mentioned before, Londo and G'Kar's interviews were interesting, but didn't tell us anything new. However, at the end of the episode, we get to see Endawi's report passed onto Morden and the Psi Corps. We had known for some time that Earthgov was being corrupted and influenced, and we knew the Psi Corps was involved. What we didn't know was that the Shadows also had a hand in it.
Even though the Shadows' involvement was a revelation here, it makes complete sense. The Shadows have been laying the groundwork for the next great war, and they have been working to weaken and undermine each of the races using techniques tailored to each race. They exploited the Centauri desire for power and glory; now that the Centauri are so powerful, they will continue to work with the Shadows to retain that power. In their quest for power, they conquered the Narn - two races out of the way, from the Shadow perspective. The Shadows have used the current human fears about aliens and war to encourage the isolationist tendencies of the current administration. We know that the previous Earth Alliance president was assassinated - how much of a part did the Shadows play in that? Now the Shadows have done a pretty good job of neutralizing the Centauri, the Narn, and the Earth Alliance. That should make their work much easier in the next war, unless Sheridan and Delenn and the War Council can do something about it! Also, what is "the program" the Psi Cop was referring to on Earth?
The third plot line in the episode involved Londo rejecting Morden. It's nice to see Londo following up on this, since he said he was going to do it last season in "The Long, Twilight Struggle". However, it was unbelievably naive of Londo to think that Morden's associates would loose their hold on the Centauri just because they were no longer working with Londo. Refa and his power-hungry attitude were an obvious target for Morden. Now that Londo has escaped from Morden, will he try to do anything about Refa's association with them?
An interesting note is that at the beginning of the episode, we learn that Kosh has been resting up since being seen by so many people last season in "The Fall of Night". This implies that everyone sees something different when they look at him because he is projecting a different image into their minds. The more people he has to do it for, the harder it is.
A final comment: the opening sequence and credits for season 3 are my favorite in the series. It makes the desperation and violence of the impending war so clear and is very evocative.