14 August 2013

B5 Review: Shadow Dancing & Z'ha'dum

Babylon 5's third season heads towards it's stunning finale with these two episodes set to blow viewers away as Sheridan takes the fight to the Shadows and an unexpected arrival on the station changes everything.

Shadow Dancing
Battle in Sector 83
Z Minus 7 Days

Sheridan and Delenn plan their attack on the Shadows in Sector 83 while Stephen's walkabout finally comes to an end.

Delenn attempts to convince the League worlds to commit ships to fight the Shadows while Sheridan unveils his plan to the War Council about taking on the Shadows in Sector 83. He assigns Ivanova and Marcus the task of being a scout to inform the fleet once the Shadows arrive.

With Ivanova and Marcus on their way, Delenn tells Sheridan that they will spend the night, as is Minbari tradition once the battle is over. Stephen in Downbelow comes to the aid of a man being beaten by two thugs and is subsequently stabbed and left for dead.

In Sector 83, Ivanova and Marcus detect their opposite number, a Shadow ship scouting the area. They are soon detected and work to stop the ship from alerting the fleet. After destroying it and taking damage themselves, a huge Shadow fleet emerges, forcing them to send a signal to Sheridan's fleet.

Franklin finally meets himself as he expected to. His other self feels no pity for him in his situation and tells him to stop giving up and running away - forcing him to drag himself to find help.

Ivanova and Marcus aboard the Whitestar are almost out of options as a Shadow fleet bears down on them, with a ship noticing them and on an intercept course. Sheridan's fleet arrives in time and the two sides engage in battle. The Shadows take damage and retreat, but not before inflicting heavy losses to the Army of Light.

Franklin manages to find help in a crowded area of the station while Garibaldi wonders when the Shadows will approach Babylon 5 now that they've shown they can be hurt.

As Sheridan and Delenn spend their first night together, an unexpected visitor comes through the doorway - Anna Sheridan.

Z Minus 2 Days

Shadow Dancing is a great episode that begins to tie up certain threads that have been long running throughout this season and the entire show. We get to wrap-up Franklin's struggle and finally the fight is taken to the Shadows in epic style as we see many ships from the League worlds fighting for the first time - I remember being in awe of the Vree saucer and it's weaponry as a kid. For the romantics, John and Delenn's relationship continues to bring them closer - only to be interrupted by something quite unexpected at the end which can only mean that the season finale is going to be something rather special and important to the storyline.

My rating: 8/10.

Z'ha'dum
Anna SheridanAnna Sheridan has come to take John back to Z'ha'dum so that he can hear their side of things and meet 'the man in the middle'.

Shocked by Anna's sudden reappearance (and apparent reincarnation) John is immediately suspicious. Anna agrees to undergo any tests to prove she is who she claims to be. Delenn is put under scrutiny as she and Kosh told John that Anna would have died at Z'ha'dum - as they assumed she would not have served the Shadows.

Franklin's tests reveal Anna is real but notices some scarring on the back of her neck and runs some further tests. John probes Anna for more information before committing to go to Z'ha'dum with her and learns that the Icarus mission was sent to the Shadow homeworld after a tracking beacon was placed aboard a Shadow ship uncovered on Mars (see Messages from Earth).

Franklin concludes the scarring on the back of Anna's neck matches the scarring found on the telepaths Sheridan, Bester and crew rescued earlier in the year (Ship of Tears). However, John agrees to go to Z'ha'dum with the Whitestar - after ordering the Minbari crew off the ship and having Garibaldi carry out some instructions for him.

At Z'ha'dum, John is introduced to Justin and meets Morden once again in one of the Shadow cities. They talk to John about their point of view and how the Vorlon's have been interfering with the other races. The Shadows believe in strength through conflict and want John to understand their point of view and let go of the alliance he and Delenn have forged with the younger worlds.

As a fleet of Shadow ships surround Babylon 5, Delenn receives a message from John explaining his actions and that he loves her. Ivanova and G'Kar attempt to put some nuclear warheads outside to use against the Shadow fleet but realise these actions could be foolish and G'Kar has noticed that two warheads are missing.

On Z'ha'dum, John reveals he knows that Anna was subjected to a Shadow ship and isn't quite the Anna that he married and loved. He manages to escape their room, fighting his way out to a balcony overlooking the city and a large pit below a huge domed window.

John calls the Whitestar which begins a descent through the planet's atmosphere and two nuclear devices arm for detonation. As Anna emerges to entice John back one last time, he hears Kosh's voice telling him to 'Jump! Jump now!'. He falls from the balcony as the Whitestar comes crashing down and detonates the nuclear bombs.

The Shadows retreat from Babylon 5 and Ivanova instantly knows that something bad has happened to Sheridan.

The Shadow War has paused and Sheridan is gone. Garibaldi has also gone missing along with his Starfury as he was among the pilots launched to confront the Shadow fleet surrounding the station.

Z'ha'dum is an emotional rollercoaster, certainly for John and Delenn but it also finally brings about the events which we knew were coming - that John would eventually go to Z'ha'dum. 

Ultimately, I think this episode will stand out as the best of the series for me when all the ratings are done and dusted. I was floored by the ending of this episode when I first saw it all those years ago and on each re-watch I am continuously amazed and it will always be my favourite sci-fi cliffhanger. It's also the first episode that seemed to keep Eleonor, my wife fully engaged throughout and it's just brilliantly done - at a time when main characters being killed off was never heard of. Z'ha'dum changed everything.

My rating: 9.5/10

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