S3E22: Z'ha'dum

This episode obviously picks up right where the last one ended. Delenn leaves Sherridan to talk with Anna, who acts surprised that he didn't know she's alive. She implies that Delenn did know for a long time, and expects that she's going to tell him she's some kind of fake copy or imitator. She also wants him to come with her to Zahadum were his questions will be answered.

G'Kar is showing Ivanova a big shipment of nuclear mines that are shielded from scanning and can be used to set ambushes for Shadow attacks in the future.

Sherridan has Anna checked by Franklin, who confirms that she is definitely human, matches all her medical records, and even gets the correct results from a DNA test. He tells Franklin to keep looking for anything that could indicate that she's an imitation.
He then goes to Delenn to ask her if she knows if it's really Anna, and Delenn says she isn't sure. He is quite upset and Delenn tells him that those who are captured by the Shadows are either killed or made servants. She assumed Anna was dead and she and Kosh agreed to not tell him there's a chance she could still be a servant, because Sherridan would try to search for her on Zahadum, which would be too dangerous. He's still very upset.
Delenn says if she had known that Anna is still alive, it would have depended on what she had become whether she would have told Sherridan about it or not. Because nobody comes back from Zahadum the same way they arrived.

Londo is grumpy because he's being called to Centauri Prime to serve in the emperor's court. Vir thinks that it's a great honor, but Londo feels that they are not interested in his own abilities but only his connections, and that they probably want to keep a closer eye on him in case he is plotting against the emperor, and have him somewhere they can easily assassinate him without problem.
A human comes to them with a message from Morden that Londo has to leave the station immediately or there will be big problems.

Franklin finds traces of implants in Anna's brain, which match the locations of the wiring in what I assume were the telepaths that PsiCorps send to the Shadows to control their ships.

Sherridan wants to know what Anna has been doing on Zahadum all those years and why she never contacted him. She says she can't tell him anything about this, but all the questions will be answered if he comes with her to Zahadum. If he doesn't want to, she will return there alone. He says he must know what happened to the expedition. If she tells him that, he will come with her.
She says when the Shadow ship was found on Mars, the excavation team spotted a signal being send by it. They expected that someone would come to recover it and put a hidden tracing device on board. When another Shadow ship arrived and tugged the ship away, they were able to follow it to Zahadum. Another expedition was send to go explore Zahadum and were caught by the Shadows. The Shadows were not able to deal with hostile attackers yet, so they made a deal with the expedition to give them their technology in exchange for them staying on the planet and keeping silent until the Shadows were back to full strength, And now the Shadows want to invite Sherridan to visit them and allow them to tell him the truth that the Vorlons and Minbari have been hiding from him. Sherridan tells her he will go with her and wants to meet the shadows. He also happens to have a datapad with two brain scans lying around in his quarters.

Sherridan tells Garibaldi to have the Minbari crew of the White Star come over to the station to have all of them entered into the station's personnel register. He also has a datapad with special orders that he needs Garibaldi to take care of for him. Garibaldi is greatly surprised by the file, but Sherridan asks him to trust him, and Garibaldi agrees to do it.

Sherridan gets ready to leave and packs two guns, and then sees a reflection of Kosh in the mirror saying again "When you go to Zahadum, you will die." Before he leaves, he tells the computer to record a message to be send at a later date.
Before Sherridan and Anna leave the station, they run into Garibaldi again who gives Sherridan some kind of code word.

Anna is feeling uncomfortable on the White Star, saying the Shadows don't want any Vorlon technology near them. Sherridan promises to park the ship in orbit and fly down to the planet with the EarthForce shuttle they took from the station.

Franklin catches Ivanova and wants to know why Sherridan left with Anna, even though he gave him the report of her medical examination.

They land on Zahadum and get inside a cave where they find an underground base with air suitable for humans. When they put their oxygen masks of in the airlock, Anna insists that he has to give her his gun. She takes him through some corridors and Sherridan notices that the doors have no controls on them. They come to a living room with human furniture where an old man and Morden are waiting for them. Sherridan asks the old man who he is, and he finds the question inappropriate and evades it. Instead he tells Sherridan that he's working for the invisible forces at the levers controlling society, and his name is Justin.

Delenn gets the message that Sherridan recorded before he left. He tells her he's on Zahadum with Anna but couldn't tell her before he went. He says when he was on Babylon 4, he jumped into the future to see Centauri Prime in ruins and Delenn was there telling him that he must not go to Zahadum. He thinks that perhaps that future happened because he listened to her advice and that there could be a chance to prevent if from happening if he goes now. There could be a chance to bring an end to the war now, though he's pretty certain it's a trap.

Justin tells Sherridan again of the ancient aliens that used to rule the galaxy millions of years ago but disappeared from sight, and the Vorlons and the Shadows staying around to see after the younger species that were evolving. The Vorlons want to control everything and have everyone follow their orders, but their allies think the best way is to let the young species fight things out among themselves and let them become stronger as a whole in the process. Justin says the death of some species is regrettable, but necessary for the greater good of all.

A big Shadow fleet appears at Babylon 5 but stays at a distance and doesn't attack.

Morden and Anna tells Sherridan that the Vorlons have abandoned their original mission to protect the younger species and instead are now trying to rule over them and make them their servants. They altered the various species to see them as heavenly beings and messed with their evolution to create telepaths to be soldiers in their planned attack against the Shadows. PsiCorps was created to prevent the human telepaths from being enslaved by the Vorlons.
Justin says the Vorlons have no real hold over the younger species anymore, and the only thing that keeps them from being truly free is Sherridan. So they have to make him an ultimatum. Either he has to come over to their side, or they have to kill him and destroy Babylon 5. But killing him isn't their preferred option, since there always will be someone else to take up his role. To truly end this war, Sherridan has to lead his followers to their side.
Sherridan doesn't buy it and says they always also have the option to mind control him in the same way they control Anna. It certainly is her, but it's no longer her own mind. He says they probably put her in one of the Shadow ships, and Justin and Morden are surprised he knows about that. Justin gets angry and tells Sherridan to do as he is told. The door opens and Shadows come in, and Sherridan pulls his second gun to shot them.

G'Kar comes to Ivanova about the nuclear mines. Ivanova wants to know if they could use them against the Shadow fleet, but at these distances they would blow up the station as well. But the reason he has come to the command center is that two of them are missing from the arsenal.

Shherridan manages to escape from the room with some injuries and flee into the tunnels, where he comes across a balcony looking over an enormous underground city around a dark pit and with a huge glass roof above. He sends a signal to the autopilot of the White Star that also arms the two mines in the hold.
Anna and two Shadows catch up to him and she asks him to come back and continue to talk. She's isn't who his wife was anymore, but she can be his new wife.

The end of his message to Delenn says that he loves her and expects to die.

Sherridan sees the White Star racing through the atmosphere through the glass roof and hears the voice of Kosh telling him to jump into the pit. He jumps and the ship crashes through the roof, blowing up the entire city.

At Babylon 5, the Shadow fleet suddenly turns around and disappears. But also taking Garibaldi's fighter with them. G'Kar thinks the only explanation is that the Shadows no longer regard them as a threat, and Ivanova realizes that Sherridan must be dead.

On Zahadum, a few Shadow ships are flying over a hue crater.

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Great episode. One of the big classics. Easily among the top ten without a contest.

Buuut...

This is one of the episodes that relies mostly on surprise to work. It's amazing the first time to watch it, but doesn't come close to the same level of either suspense or appreciation when watching it again later. Which in all fairness isn't really a huge objective for TV shows. Usually they are being made to be watched once. If people want to watch them again, that's an unexpected and unplanned bonus.
However, there are plenty of episodes in this series that do retain a much greater amount of their enjoyment when you watch them again and already know more or less what is going on and will happen. Both the overall writing and the actor performances can be entertaining in their own right, even if the suspense isn't super high. And I feel in the case of this episode, most of it feels a little lightweight once the mystery is gone. I was thinking about calling it rushed, but that implies the episode being frantic and overloaded, which it clearly isn't. But I think this would probably have worked better as two episodes instead of just one. While the pacing of the episode is okay, I think the story would have benefited from having more time to let new developments settle in and simmer for a while. More time to have doubt and ambiguity. There is a bigger story with this material than the one we got.
Interestingly, this does change at the end of the episode. The final five minutes are still as thrilling and gripping as they always were. But up to that point, the episode is really largely carried by the mystery. The writing and execution does not feel particularly outstanding.

But boy, those last five minutes are legendary.

What I really did like quite a lot is how Justin and Anna are trying to convince Sherridan that he has been deceived by the Vorlons and their servants and getting him to come over to their side, but at the same time get really annoyed and a bit angry when he doesn't seem to be convinced immediately. Sherridan even tries to play along a bit to get them to talk more and until the end doesn't really talk back to them. But you can see Justin getting close to shouting "Damn it, just do as you are told!"
The overall effect is that they come across as thinking they are much more clever and subtle than they really are.

At the end, it's still a great episode. And the ending is fantastic to wrap up the end of the season.