"For 100 years the Centauri occupied our world... devastated it... We swore we would never let that happen again. This attack on our largest civilian colony has inflected terrible damage and loss of life. They have crossed the line we cannot allow them to cross. As a result, two hours ago my government officially declared war against the Centauri Republic. Our hope for peace is over. We are now at war. We are now at war!"
REVIEW: This is an episode where everyone has an agenda, but only the Shadows come out as the winners. Consider... In the Centauri corner - and we finally get a shot of the planet (the universe is slowly expanding; they've given us matte paintings of Mars and blasted San Diego too, lately) - a sick and weakened Emperor starts making choices for himself (including refusing to wear the outrageous hair that's in fashion, which makes for an oddly human Centauri) including making an historic apology to the Narn people. It gets to G'Kar, but isn't made publicly before he collapses from his illness. Had he managed it, things might have been different. Instead, Centauri conspirators, including Londo, have contrived to retake a Narn colony, letting the Shadows destroy everything, then taking the credit and moving in. Londo is the piece's MacBeth, taken by the current of his own ambition, but almost immediately regretting where that current takes him. Despite his professed hate for G'Kar, he's visibly disturbed that his opponent talks peace when he's just taken a deadly action that will lead to war. Even Narn deaths weigh on him. The Macbeth parallel extends to prophetic visions, previously discussed, but seen here for the first time - an Emperor Mollari dying in a disfigured G'Kar's clutches. And however much he denies his wish to be Emperor, he still makes his own destiny by changing the Emperor's dying words.
Though Londo's story is engaging, it's G'Kar's that really raises the game, or rather, Andreas Katsulas' performance. He starts out with his frequent mix of anger and indignation, incapable of seeing the Centauri Emperor's visit as an opportunity for diplomacy. To him, the man is Hitler, a monster (and he might once have been, even if we see him here as a sweet old man), and his very presence is an insult to the Narn people. G'Kar means to assassinate him - that's the only real opportunity here - and dictates his last will and testament, knowing it will be the end of him as well. Circumstances prevent him from carrying this out, and later, he's surprised to hear the Emperor's apology from Dr. Franklin. This changes his entire outlook and he's no longer free to simply demonize the Centauri people. Reclaiming territory is one thing, but the Emperor is offering the Narn their dignity back by admitting the Republic was wrong to occupy their world. (If it sounds like a slim compensation, do a little research and you'll find the descendents of victims of genocidal actions often ask for apologies and admission of guilt from the perpetrators' descendents; the Acadians - to only mention my particular ethnicity - got theirs from Elizabeth II in 2010, 255 years after the Great Deportation.) So the betrayal, when news of a Narn outpost's destruction arrives, is particularly painful. Rage, grief, betrayal, self-hatred at having let himself believe the Emperor's dream, dread at the coming war, and a certain sense of despair and defeatism all cohabitate in the man's body, voice and eyes. For once, G'Kar's red eyes don't seem so demonic as bloodshot. Riveting stuff.
And what of Earth? Sheridan thinks the Emperor's visit will be a great coup (lovely how the word has several meanings) for Babylon 5, but as events get out of control, it amounts to B5's greatest failure. The peace process has fallen apart and war has broken out, and BABYLON 5 WAS THE CATALYST. The station brought Londo and Morden together, and by going there, Emperor Turhan has left his Court vulnerable to opposing (and war-like) interests. So it's a Pyrrhic victory at best that Sheridan bluffs his way to, forcing Londo to let Quadrant 14's survivors return to the Narn homeworld so the equivalent of U.N. observers don't find out he's in league with the Shadows. That could actually get them killed. We'll see. The episode also treats us to the first Ranger - a Minbari-human group of Rim scouts that will become important - and reveals that Sinclair is their leader. His limited role as a recording is appreciated. He hasn't simply been retconned out. he's just operating from behind the scenes.
ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: DS9 also has a shadowy species manipulating others into war, but the Founders won't actually succeed at that until the Klingons and Cardassians go at it in The Way of the Warrior, coincidentally the very philosophy Sheridan's dad taught him.
REWATCHABILITY: High - One of the series' turning points (and so, shares its title with the season entire), it features strong themes and excellent acting in addition to status quo-shattering events.