Mark Watches ‘Babylon 5’: S03E22 – Z’ha’dum

In the twenty-second and final episode of the third season of Babylon 5, Sheridan makes a fateful decision. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Babylon 5. 

My gods, this was all so much more fucked up than I thought it was going to be. 

So many threads have come together to make this finale happen and to give it the punch it has. It’s earned, and more than anything else, I wanted to discuss that notion. How do you earn the character moments that we see here? How is it that we get to the shocking conclusion to season three, but don’t feel cheated? For me, it’s a sign of good storytelling. I might be devastated by this ending—for it really looks like Sheridan died, at least if we’re going by Ivanova’s apparently psychic reaction to it—but I wouldn’t say that this came out of nowhere. The seeds for this have been planted for three years, and now?

Good lord, what the hell is season four supposed to look like?

As a whole, this episode is very heavy on Sheridan, and I understand why that’s the case, given that his sacrifice is front-and-center. Thus, most of the story revolves around the reappearance of his wife and his plot to undermine the Shadows. Dr. Franklin is barely in this episode, and there are few references to what he’s just been through, though they’re there. Garibaldi also seems to serve to move the plot along like Dr. Franklin, right up until the end of the episode, when we discover that he’s been kidnapped by the Shadows. Even Ivanova is mostly here to provide some reactions and emotional detail to the story. But in the end, it’s Delenn, Sheridan, and Anna who are center stage.

And I’m not saying that as a criticism. In order for this to work so beautifully, the show had to give us as many scenes with these three characters as possible. We have to watch Sheridan’s heart break as he’s shocked by the appearance of his wife; we have to watch him disbelieve that she’s even who she says she is; and once she’s “confirmed” to actually be Anna, we have to watch the SADDEST thing imaginable. Sheridan has to pretend to believe his wife is his wife, that he’s happy to see her, and that he is willing to entertain her proposition to return to Z’ha’dum to hear the Shadows’s “side.” Look, even though I didn’t know what Dr. Franklin had discovered, this script is clever enough to let the audience know something is wrong and that Sheridan is pretending. Thus, we get another layer of meaning to everything: he is placating Anna so that she will not suspect that he has an ulterior motive. 

He does everything with such purpose, y’all. And that includes recording his final message to Delenn, which I found super tender and loving. Even after learning that Delenn and Kosh had kept Anna’s potential survival a secret from him, he didn’t lash out to her in the video. He spoke to her with love and affection. He spoke like someone who believed that what he was doing might actually save the world. I can now appreciate how ironic it was for me to claim that I understood how this war could last seventeen years; what if it doesn’t? What if Sheridan really did discover a way to change the future after he already witnessed it? What if this was his destiny the whole time? OR WHAT IF THIS WAS IN DEFIANCE OF HIS DESTINY? What if one person’s actions could change the course of history?

(I do believe they can, so I’m biased in this regard.)

So, let’s just get to Z’ha’dum, because I’m DYING to talk about this. I would like to award Team Shadows with a D- on their group presentation, not just because they are genocidal warlords who are willing to do literally anything to ensure that they remain on top, but because they did one of the poorest jobs trying to sell the Shadows’ side of the story. It’s not like I expected Sheridan to show up, get this story, and then I’d suddenly be like, “Huh, well, now they do have an interesting point!” I always knew that the Shadows were evil, that their methods were just a symptom of a deeper moral rot, and that not one bit of their story would be sympathetic. That being said… wow! These three humans really thought that they could appeal to Sheridan by asking him to think of the humans first. What’s striking to me is how deeply similar this line of thinking is to Earthforce. To President Clark. To the more conservative factions of humans who enforce such draconian regulations at the expense of human lives. (Because let’s be real: people like this claim to care deeply about life, but the truth is that they only care about the right kind of life.) So it is no surprise to me that the Shadows would align themselves with this kind of people. And the Psi Corps! Now we know why they’re working together! This isn’t about freedom or individuality or anything like that. The Shadows and their supporters believe that progress—and oh, what a nebulous term that is in this context—comes from conflict. That the only way cultures and races improve themselves is by fighting with one another. Look at what Morden references here: the results of various human wars have given us “progress.” But it’s telling that he does not ever define that progress.

Because I have a huge question that’s left unanswered by these demons: Who progresses? The notion that the human race collectively “grew” from these wars is nonsense; it ignores the real human cost of war. It ignores who literally is not around to experience that progress. It ignores the very-real setbacks that millions of people live through after war. We split the atom. A great scientific achievement, sure! But there is no analysis provided after that, except in the context of how conflict = growth. That’s it. It’s such a narrow and dangerous view, one that has a circular justification for it. If you try to question any element of this, these people could just point to the advanced technology of the Shadows as proof that conflict = growth. Of course, from the other side? The thousand year hibernation of the Shadows is hardly what I’d call growth or progress. If conflict always breeds evolution, why didn’t the Shadows evolve? Oh, is it because it also matters who is on the winning side of that conflict?

What’s amazing about watching this unfold, though, is Sheridan’s face. He is literally just sitting there, listening to “Justin,” Anna, and Morden spew nothing but violent, supremacist bullshit, interjecting with a few questions, knowing the whole time that not a single word will convince him that what he’s doing is wrong. You can tell that Sheridan was certain in his choice: He was always going to destroy Z’ha’dum. He was always going to sacrifice himself in the hope that he could change the future. He was always going to reject the Shadows. It’s an incredible thing to watch, too, and it’s absolutely indicative of Sheridan’s characterization. And that’s what I referred to at the opening of this: Sheridan earned this moment. His sense of duty is so integral to this decision. In the end, Sheridan is loyal to what he believes, to the people he loves, to the principles that have gotten him this far. 

So he shoots one of the Shadows.

He defies his wife, or at least what is left of her.

He sends the White Star into Z’ha’dum to destroy it.

And he jumps to his death. 

Again, I feel like Ivanova’s reaction is the confirmation that Sheridan is actually dead. Why else would that moment happen? Her telepathic connection flared at that moment, and it makes me wonder… how??? How is this show going to continue on? What are the ramifications of this attack? The war’s not over. And did Sheridan truly die? Is this the second lead character this show has moved on from??? Where the fuck is Garibaldi? WHY DOES EVERYTHING HURT?

Y’all are going to pay for this. I WILL GET MY REVENGE.

The video for “Z’ha’dum” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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