I think this may be the best episode of Babylon 5 so far. No, I don't think it - I know it. It does what a lot of great science fiction does, which is to use the genre as a sugar coating for real world issues. It's unsurprising that the episode is written by D.C. Fontana, who was one of the creative hands behind the original Star Trek - and one of its finest script writers.
It's strange to watch a Babylon 5 episode with such comparatively subtle and nuanced dialogue. Londo's storyline, in which he must convince two teenage runaways to return to their home world and accept their arranged marriages, feels like it should be deeply tedious and irritating, but Fontana's dialogue makes it work marvellously. Londo gets a great monologue midway through the episode ('My shoes are too tight.') that further cements the fairly theatrical nature of the series as a whole: the characters are at their best when talking in monologues.
Other observations, as always, in dot point:
- As mentioned above, this episode introduces the Home Guard, who will become more significant as the series progresses.
- This episode actually manages to include eight out of eleven cast members and all three storylines actually thread together. That's some very effective television writing right there.
- We also get a scene with the mysterious Vorlon ambassador Kosh. I can't actually remember the last episode he was in.
- I have never warmed to the character of Susan Ivanova, but I must admit I really liked her in this.
- I couldn't help but notice that we're only seven episodes into the season and yet we've already met three former lovers of the regular cast. That seems a little repetitive.
- There's a massive jump during the episode's climax, where we transition from senseless racist beatings to pre-meditated murder and political assassination. The jump seems a little too large, and a little too fast. Given Babylon 5's ambitions to be a 'novel for television', it would have been better to string this episode's A-plot out a little further.
- Finally, a quick shout-out to Stephen Furst as Vir Cotto. Until now he's been used for fairly rudimentary comic relief, and it was nice to see him get something a little more dramatic to work with. Furst's a great actor, and thus far he's been criminally underutilised.