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The situation since the last episode is going from bad to worse. ISN reports that the government on Mars has refused to comply with President Clark's martial law order; later on in the episode that Clark orders bombings on Mars, even of civilian targets. General Hague's ship, the Alexander, has signaled that it's on its way to B5; Sheridan orders Garibaldi to set up a kill switch for all communications that can be implemented when the Alexander arrives.
A Minbari Ranger close to death manages to get to the station. He reports to Delenn that many races among the non-aligned worlds have allied with the Shadows and begun fighting amongst themselves for conquest. The Ranger reports that the Grey Council knows about the Shadows actions' but has stated that "The problems of others are not ours." Delenn is furious and leaves B5 to confront the Grey Council.
The Alexander arrives, and Sheridan announces that B5 will give them humanitarian assistance. Major Ryan is now commanding the Alexander, since General Hague was recently killed in combat. Ryan reports that the forces opposing Clark are scattered and not have much success initiating a coup against him; Clark had used his time in office so far to move Earth Force officers loyal to him into key positions.
ISN reports that the colonies on Orion and Proxima 3 have declared independence in protest over Clark's bombing of civilians on Mars. The relatively calm ISN reporter is interrupted by a colleague, who frantically says that there's lots of stuff ISN knows that Clark doesn't want them to know, and they haven't been able to report it. But now he says that soldiers are moving in on the ISN building. The transmission cuts off on a scene of the news room collapsing and gunfire heard in the background.
The Churchill, commanded by Captain Hiroshi, who is an ally of Hague's, arrives at B5. Hiroshi brings the news that four Earth Force destroyers, already on route to B5, have orders to arrest the command staff of B5 and put the station directly under Nightwatch's control.
So far, Sheridan has managed to keep his public actions within regulations, but now if he cooperates with the soon-to-arrive ships, he and his staff will be arrested. Surely the results of that arrest will not be pleasant - courts-martial at the very least. Sheridan and the other officers talk it over, but they have little choice except to fight. B5's security division is extremely short-staffed (with the confinement to quarters of all Nightwatch people in the previous episode), so he again calls on G'Kar's Narns to supplement the defense of the station.
In the meantime, Delenn has boarded the Grey Council ship in a cold rage, demanding to speak to the Council apparently against tradition and without permission. She berates the Council for knowing about the prophecies regarding the Shadows, and now failing to act on what the Shadows are doing. She implies, although we don't know why, that it is the Warrior Caste members of the Council who are holding them back from any action. She urges the Religious and Worker Caste members to break from the Council and follow her to fight the Shadows. When she storms out of the Council room, many of the Grey Council members follow her.
On the station, Sheridan broadcasts an announcement throughout the station, declaring that B5 is an independent state, separate from the Earth Alliance, until President Clark is removed from office. He states that Clark's actions of dissolving the Senate, declaring martial law, and bombing Mars are unconstitutional. Finally, he urges the residents of the station to prepare for the coming attack.
Ivanova leads the fighter defense of the station, while the Alexander and Churchill remain alongside with their own fighters. The opposing Earth Force destroyers arrive and demand the surrender of B5. Sheridan responds with a plea to the captains that they are following illegal orders, but is ignored. Sheridan orders his own forces to wait until they are fired upon, but once the attack begins, B5's forces defend themselves to the maximum possible extent.
The two sides seems to be pretty evenly matched. During the fight, breaching pods land on B5's hull, and Garibaldi directs his teams of humans and Narns to the defense. In space, the Churchill is badly damaged and does not have time to evacuate, so Hiroshi orders it to ram one of the opposing ships, destroying it as well. Ivanova's fighter is damaged, and she has to eject B5 and the Alexander defeat the remaining opposing ships. The fight scene is very impressive as we see large and small ships everywhere fighting and blowing up, as well as the security teams and boarding parties on the station fight and die.
Once the fight is over, everyone takes a deep breath and assesses damage, which is substantial all around. Then three more opposing Earth Force destroyers come through the jump gate and demand the surrender of B5 and the Alexander. Sheridan hardly has time to respond to this before Corwin announces that four more jump points are forming, almost right on top of them. I remember the first time I watched this episode, and this announcement was almost a kick in the stomach: how much more could Sheridan and B5 manage to survive?
But the four jump points turn out to be from Minbari cruisers, along with Delenn in the White Star. Delenn sends a message to the Earth Force ships, demanding in no uncertain terms that they withdraw immediately or be destroyed. When the Earth Force ships try to delay, she mentions that no human has ever survived a fight with a Minbari cruiser, except the human captain that she is defending. Without further hesitation, the Earth Force ships jump away.
With the fight really over, the damage is assessed. Ivanova's pod is retrieved, and she is OK, with some cuts and bruises. Garibaldi was shot in the leg, but he will make it. Many of the human and Narn security forces on the station were killed. Sheridan and Ryan split up the Churchill's fighters that escaped destruction. Any Earth Alliance citizens who want to leave, along with known Nightwatch members, will be shuttled off of the station and back to B5, although Sheridan and Garibaldi realize that some spies and saboteurs could remain.
Delenn re-enters the station, and Sheridan greets her with enthusiasm for her well-timed assistance. They go together to the Zocalo, where the population of B5 supports them with thunderous applause.
This may be my favorite episode of B5, although the surprise of Delenn saving the day isn't quite the same upon multiple viewings. The build-up to B5's secession from the Earth Alliance has been a long time coming. Sheridan's declaration of independence was a last resort, taken only when he and the others couldn't avoid Earth Force finally coming form them. Clark's orders to arrest Sheridan and the others demonstrates how much Clark is out to get all his opponents, because we know that Sheridan has never done anything overtly that is against the law.
The episode's pace is almost breathless, with the definite feeling of events going out of control and the fight with Earth Force ships being inevitable. The fighting is spectacular and heart-wrenching, especially the fighting on the station itself. The timing of Delenn's arrival with the Minbari cruisers was extremely fortuitous, but I can give the series a little dramatic license - especially for an episode like this!
The ramifications of this episode are enormous. The benefits of B5's independence is that now Sheridan and the others don't have to hide their efforts against the Shadows and Clark's government. The obvious cooperation between B5 and the Minbari (at least some of them) may inspire the other races to cooperate with them against the Shadows.
However, the negative effects of B5's independence are numerous. One has to assume that most of B5's food and supplies came from the Earth Alliance - where will these items come from now? If B5 has to buy them from other races, where will they get the money? All of Clark's forces will be out to get them - not only the obvious Earth Force ships, but also Nightwatch agents and sympathizers.
Sheridan's declaration of independence has probably also spelled the end of the careers of his staff, even if not so quickly as immediate arrest. Assuming that Clark is eventually removed from office and B5 rejoins the Earth Alliance: how can the military trust officers that have mutinied against the Earth Alliance before, even if they did seem to have a good reason?
Delenn's actions in this episode were just as significant. She essentially dissolved the Minbari government that has been in place since the time of Valen . While she did it for a good cause, what effect will it have on Minbari society? If she did bring the Religious and Worker Castes to follow her, what kind of resources and support do they bring? Surely the Warrior Caste would be better suited to fight the Shadows.
In terms of the overall plot of the series, the Shadows have almost succeeded in their goal. They seem to have been implementing a divide-and-conquer strategy: divide (by civil war or conflict) the younger races and then conquer them when the Shadows are ready. The Centauri government is under the thumb of the Shadows, and the Narns are subjugated. The Earth Alliance is now divided by what is essentially a civil war. The Minbari government is now broken and potentially fighting amongst itself. The many races in the non-aligned worlds are fighting between themselves as well. If it were not for the "Conspiracy of Light" headed by Delenn and Sheridan, there would be no one to oppose the Shadows - except the Vorlons. And the Vorlons don't seem to be doing a whole lot right now.
So now the Conspiracy of Light has leaders in Delenn and Sheridan, but what kind of forces can they muster against the Shadows? Delenn can only count on the Religious and Worker Castes. Sheridan doesn't have any support from Earth Force. G'Kar can count on the remaining Narn on B5, but there can't be that many left. Some of the non-aligned worlds are actually allied with the Shadows. The situation seems very much against the "good guys".
Let's look at the episode more on the individual scale. Sheridan is obviously very pained by the decision to break away from the Earth Alliance, but Clark's arrest orders for him seem to take the edge off it somewhat - he doesn't seem nearly as upset as he did earlier in "Messages from Earth". His call to his father put a personal touch to all the preparations for the upcoming fight.
Delenn was a real treat in this episode. Watching her force her way into the Grey Council by force of will and then virtually demand that they follow her was inspiring. Later, her no-holds-barred threat to the Earth Force ships was chilling, if perhaps a bit over-the-top.
Another very effective scene in the episode was when ISN was forcibly shut down on camera. It conveys the immediacy of the threat on Earth better than almost anything else in the episode, which may be kind of silly, but there it is. When I imagine that happening on Earth today, in the CNN newsroom, for instance, it's absolutely chilling. It seemed significant that the ISN reporters said there was a lot of information they had the Clark didn't let them report - what will we find out later on in the series?
A few negatives in the episode. I've always thought the actors portraying Major Ryan and Captain Hiroshi did a poor job - just very wooden. Almost all of the scenes with Ryan felt like he was reading his lines off cue cards. During the fight, I have to wonder why the opposing Earth Force ship let the Churchill get close enough so that the Churchill could ram it - I suppose it was a tactical mistake on the part of that captain.