Written by J. Michael Straczynski and Larry DiTillio
Directed by Janet Greek
If there’s one episode of the series that is a turning point, The Coming of Shadows would be it. There have been a number of hints of what was coming here, but on the first viewing, a lot of that is missed. It’s only with repeated viewings over the years that the clues are evident. The Coming of Shadows begins to tie a lot together and sets the tone for the remainder of the series.
On the Centauri homeworld, the Centauri Emperor (Turhan Bey) prepares to travel to Babylon 5. He leaves his Prime Minister (Malachi Throne) in charge. Centauri Ambassador Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik) is meeting with Lord Refa (William Forward) on Babylon 5 to prepare for his arrival. Instead of a conciliatory show of support, Refa wants Londo to read a speech that is critical of the Emperor and the Centauri government. Londo’s assistant Vir (Stephen Furst) is there and is very uncomfortable with what he hears, and after Refa leaves, Londo agrees with Vir.
Londo Mollari: This conversation… It makes you uncomfortable?
Vir: Yes! Yes it does!
Londo Mollari: Then for once we have something in common.
On Babylon 5, the Narn ambassador, G’Kar (Andreas Katsulas) protests the visit by the Emperor to Commander Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner). Sheridan tries to show G’Kar this is an opportunity, but G’Kar isn’t listening. When he consults with others on his homeworld, they endorse his plan. It would seem that G’Kar is planning to kill the Emperor.
The Emperor arrives and is greeted by the senior staff of the station. He is impressed by the job they are doing there. He meets privately with Commander Sheridan. He laments that he never has chosen anything in his life. He was born into this life and never chose otherwise. He tells the Commander he wants to choose to make a difference before his time is over.
At the reception for the Emperor, the Commander is shocked to see G’Kar arrive to hear what the Emperor has to say. As the Emperor is about to enter, he collapses.
G’Kar: I had the dagger in my hand, and he has the indecency to start dying on his own. Never in my life, have I seen a worst case of timing.
Meanwhile, Mr. Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle) grabs the mysterious man who has been following him. After a while, he gives Mr. Garibaldi a message, saying he was sent to find him. The message is from Commander Sinclair (Michael O’Hare). He warns Garibaldi that a great darkness is coming. He identifies the messenger as one of his Army of Rangers.
Londo meets with Refa, and decides another attack on a Narn listening post is due. He asks Vir to find Mr. Morden. Londo has a vision. In it, he sees himself as Emperor and a one-eyed G’kar strangling him on the throne as an old man. The Shadows arrive and take out the Narn listening post and colony. Vir tries to talk Londo out of these actions, but he is determined to go through with it.
Dr. Franklin (Richard Biggs) visits G’Kar and relays a message from the Emperor. He tells G’Kar that the Emperor came all this way to neutral territory to stand next to a Narn and apologize. G’kar is in shock. It was not what he was expecting. He seeks out Londo and toasts to his health, not knowing what Londo has already put into motion.
The Shadows arrive at the Colony to take it back from the Narn. They decimate the Narn and slay thousands. Narn ships arrive and they do battle over the planet, but it’s one-sided. The Centauri follow up to take back the colony.
The details of the Centauri hierarchy are well-fleshed out. We learn the Emperor has four telepaths, raised together since birth, and when he travels, two stay behind and two go with him. This is important to start setting up because the Centauri will be both catalysts and fall guys. Londo’s desire to be more than a buffoon sent off to Babylon 5 as punishment, as well as the blind hatred of the Narn motivates them, and will be their downfall. Here, Londo and Refa are making political maneuvers against the Emperor, but even Londo is uncomfortable with it. However, he’s only too eager to call on Mr. Morden again as a way of bolstering his position with Refa and his cohorts. I don’t think he would have gone along with murdering the Prime Minister, either, had he known about it. It’s one thing to target the Narn, whom he blames for just about everything bad that has befallen both himself and the Centauri. It’s quite another to engage in treason. When you don’t see the enemy as your equal, it’s easy to treat the murder of thousands like and exterminator getting rid of termites.
The Emperor himself is an interesting character. Sheridan points out to G’Kar that he personally has already done a lot for the Narn. It was his ancestors who conquered, enslaved, and killed so many Narn. This is where his laments about never having chosen anything in his life come into play. He was born into this role, with no ability to choose anything for himself. Custom dictated much of what he had to do his entire life. Here, at the end of that life, he’s determined to make a choice about something that won’t be popular. However, his illness conspires against him being able to do what he has set out to do.
G’Kar goes from elation to rage. After Franklin visits him, he’s ready to work towards a better and brighter future. We see a rare smile and he drinks with Londo. However, when he learns of the attack on the colony and the Centauri enslaving any survivors, he is in a rage. This is depicted well. G’Kar is in a blind rage, destroying property and hurting people until Sheridan tells him that this will not accomplish anything for the Narn who have been imprisoned by the Centauri. Does G’Kar want revenge or does he want help saving the lives of his people? Sheridan thinks it can be handled diplomatically, but Londo is riding the wave of glory from back home at having delivered a victory for the Centauri against the Narn. This bolsters his confidence in dealing with the other diplomats. However, Sheridan isn’t going to back down and states that Earthforce will go and monitor the treatment of the Narn and talk to the survivors. This forces Londo to allow the surviving Narn to leave the colony and return to the Narn homeworld. G’Kar tells them it doesn’t matter, the Narn have declared war on the Centauri.
For whatever reason, science fiction shows were shut out of most awards but honestly, Andreas Katsulas deserved one for his portrayal of G’Kar here. He’s underneath a hell of a lot of makeup and costuming but conveys all of the emotion needed as he vacillates from potential assassin to hopeful for the future to torn apart by the knowledge that the Centauri are waging war on the Narn once again. When he is sitting and drinking with Londo, I can’t help but wonder if that had taken place before Londo had already sent the Shadows to the Narn colony, it might have prevented this second war. So is it G’Kar’s fault? No. Londo is determined to become an important presence in the Centauri government but doesn’t really understand the consequences of the decisions he is making.
This episode also introduces the Rangers to the universe. Straczynski did manage to talk Michael O’Hare into filming some episodes to close out the character of Commander Sinclair, and this is the start of that. Sinclair has helped create the Rangers since he has an idea of what is about to happen. How does he know this already? That is how he will close out his story. However, this is the beginning of the Minbari aligning themselves with many other races in fighting off the Shadows.
There are only a few moments of space battles, but they are well-executed and a pleasure to watch since the series was remastered from the original DVD release. It used to be quite blurry to the point that it interfered with being able to understand some of what was happening. Instead, there are mostly crisp, distinctive lines. The only time I struggled at all was with the lighting in G’Kar’s quarters. I think some of this couldn’t be honed better without losing the tone of the room or the details of G’Kar’s makeup.
The Coming of Shadows is pivotal to understanding the rest of the series. It’s well worth watching because it’s executed so well. With so much going on in a short amount of time, it doesn’t feel rushed or that it’s cutting back and forth too much. It tells a critical part of this story and it does so quite well.
Lord Refa: [on the Emperor’s last words] What did he say, really?
Londo Mollari: He said that we are both damned.
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