The Emperor of the Centauri Republic comes to Babylon 5, but his failing health results in his peaceful mission being transformed into an opportunity to ignite all out war between the Centauri Republic and the Narn Regime.
- Bruce Boxleitner as Captain John Sheridan
- Claudia Christian as Commander Susan Ivanova
- Jerry Doyle as Security Chief Michael Garibaldi
- Mira Furlan as Ambassador Delenn
- Richard Biggs as Dr. Stephen Franklin
- Andrea Thompson as Talia Winters
- Stephen Furst as Vir Cotto
- Bill Mumy as Lennier
- Mary Kay Adams as Na'Toth
- Robert Rusler as Lieutenant Warren Keffer
- Andreas Katsulas as Ambassador G'Kar
- Peter Jurasik as Ambassador Londo Mollari
- Fredric Lehne as Ranger
- Malachi Throne as Centauri Prime Minister
- Jeff Conaway as Zack Allan
- William Forward as Refa
- Turhan Bey as Centauri Emperor
- Neil Bradley as Kha'Mak
- Ardwight Chamberlain as Ambassador Kosh
- Jonathan Chapman as Narn Pilot #2
- Bryan Michael McGuire as Customs Guard #1
- Kim Strauss as Narn Pilot #1
- Regular Cast members appearing in this episode are John Sheridan, Susan Ivanova, Michael Garibaldi, Stephen Franklin, Delenn, G'Kar, Londo Mollari, and Vir Cotto.
On Centauri Prime, the aged Emperor of the Centauri Republic discusses an impending visit with his Prime Minister. The Emperor insists the Prime Minister stay behind in case a crisis arises. The Prime Minister is not pleased about this, nor is he happy about him leaving, as the Emperor's health is delicate at best. The Emperor is adamant, however, but nonetheless thanks the Minister for being a loyal friend and servant.
On Babylon 5, Ambassador G'Kar is outraged and formally protests the upcoming visit by the Centauri Emperor with Captain Sheridan. He insists that the Emperor is a monster and a war criminal because of his family's role in the First Centauri Occupation of Narn (despite the fact, as Sheridan points out, the Emperor himself was not directly involved in any way), despite G'Kar ignores this 'technicality'. Sheridan is rather positive to the visit and oppurtunity for reconciliation and rejects how G'Kar feels, welcoming the Emperor's arrival and notes at his concessions of giving up "stolen territory". He encourages G'Kar to instead seize this opportunity to open up a dialogue, or otherwise remain in seclusion until its is over. G'Kar dismisses this suggestion and storms off in anger, warning Sheridan about what might come of this.
A human arrives on Babylon 5 and takes notice of Michael Garibaldi.
In his quarters, Londo Mollari discusses the impending arrival of the Emperor with Lord Refa. Refa hands Londo a prepared speech he wants Londo to deliver publicly following the Emperor's own speech. The speech criticizes the current government and "predicts" a few minor crises in the months to come, crises that Refa and his people plan to put into effect. This will have the effect of making the Emperor look weak and shortsighted all the while increasing their own political influence. Londo does not object, but points out that delivering such a speech will put him out of favor with the Royal Court. Refa acknowledges this, but points out that the Emperor is not expected to live much longer, given his failing health. After he leaves, Londo admits to Vir (who was present at the meeting) that he is as every bit as uncomfortable with the conversation as Vir is.
The Emperor's flagship and its escort arrive at the station. The Emperor comes aboard and is welcomed by Captain Sheridan, his senior staff, and a full honor guard. The Emperor thanks all of them for all the hard work they have done promoting peace. He takes Dr. Franklin aside and asks if he has seen much of Ambassador Kosh, explaining that he has never seen a Vorlon but has always been intrigued by the strange stories about them.
In his quarters, G'Kar discusses a plan with a member of the Kha'Ri, Kha'Mak, via StellarCom: G'Kar plans to assassinate the Emperor at the reception before he can deliver his speech, being aware of the possible outcomes.
The Emperor has a private conversation with Captain Sheridan in the Observation Dome. They talk about their respective paths of life, with the Emperor explaining that he in his long life never made any choices of his own, but just did what had been expected of him. He says that his life is nothing but regrets, but that he means to seize upon one last opportunity to make a real difference.
Garibaldi goes over the security precautions with his staff in the Zócalo. As he walks by, the human who recently arrived continues to watch him.
In his quarters, G'Kar composes a final message, claiming that he is acting alone without the knowledge or consent of his government. He requests his body be sent back to his family and that his copy of the Book of G'Quan be given to Na'Toth in the hope of her eventual enlightenment.
The reception gathers for the Emperor. In addition to Sheridan and his staff, all of the other Ambassadors and some other VIPs gather awaiting him to arrive and deliver his speech. They are somewhat disappointed Kosh did not come out, and suprised when G'Kar walks in. Sheridan approaches G'Kar and commends him for reconsidering. G'Kar coldly states that he will listen to the what the Emperor has to say, butr makes no further promises.
The mysterious stranger continues to follow Garibaldi throughout the station. Garibaldi is, however aware of him and confronts him. The man claims he needs to talk to Garibaldi, but will not reveal anything further when others are present. Garibaldi orders him locked up in a cell until after the reception.
Before the Emperor can reach the reception hall, he suddenly collapses. Dr. Franklin is alerted immediately. Because the Emperor always travels with a pair of telepaths who are permanently linked to another pair on the Homeworld, Prime Minister Malachi is immediately aware of the situation.
In Medlab, Dr. Franklin discusses the Emperor's health with him. He insists the Emperor tell his people that he cannot be moved. The Emperor insists on giving Franklin a message, however; a message he wants delivered only by him that is of the utmost importance.
Lord Refa meets with Londo and Vir in private. He explains that their competitors are already assembling, preparing to fill the void that will open as soon as the Emperor dies. He tells Londo that before that happens, their faction must act in some unparalleled manner. Londo suggests taking a Narn colony on the border of Centauri space, Quadrant 14. Refa says they could not pull it off without a major assault and great losses, but Londo assures him that he will personally take care of it - -all Refa needs to do is send what ships he can gather to the planet. Refa is skeptical, but agrees to make it happen. After he leaves, Londo tells Vir to find Morden and bring him to Londo. Vir begs him to reconsider, but Londo is adamant. He understands what his actions will mean: open war with the Narn.
G'Kar is furious over missing his opportunity to assassinate the Emperor. Dr. Franklin then arrives, delivering the message the Emperor wanted him to deliver: an apology. The Emperor came to Babylon 5 because he wanted to personally apologize to the Narn Regime for the crimes committed by the Centauri republic, and specifically by his family. G'Kar is completely overwhelmed by this news having awaited a threat – it is the last thing in the universe he had expected to hear.
That evening, Londo falls asleep on his quarters. He has a vision of many things: one is of a "great hand, reaching out of a star;" another of himself, standing outdoors and looking up as Shadow vessels streak overhead across the sky; next he sees himself being crowned Emperor. In the final part of the vision, he sees himself as an old man on the throne. Both he and an aged, one-eyed G'Kar begin strangling each other to death.
Londo awakens from the dreams with a start. He checks the time and with a shudder remarks that the attack he had suggested has begun.
At Quadrant 14, several Shadow ships appear and open fire on the base in orbit. Within just minutes, they completely overrun the colony's defenses, obliterating all ships in orbit, eliminating the outpost, and firing on the planet itself. They then disappear as quickly as they appeared.
In the Zócalo, Londo confirms to Refa that the attack has been carried out. Refa acknowledges that he will order his ships to jump in immediately, and also suggests there is one other matter that needs to be taken care of (one which is better if Londo knows nothing about). After Refa leaves, Londo runs into G'Kar. He is surprised when G'Kar is elated to see him, insisting on sharing a drink with him. G'Kar claims to have had a revelation about the Centauri and believes a new page is about to be turned between their peoples. He toasts to the Emperor's health, and even to Londo's own. Londo is stunned, fully aware of what will happen.
At Quadrant 14, a Centauri task force jumps into local space. Mere minutes later, a squadron of Narn fighters come through the local jump gate. They see the devastation wrought – and then they see the Centauri ships. The two sides engage each other. Meanwhile, on Centauri Prime, the Prime Minister is assassinated in the throne room.
Zack Allan goes to the Chief's office, telling him that the prisoner (the man who had been following him) is asking to speak with him. Garibaldi has him brought inside. Once alone, the man hands over a Data crystal, explaining that he was tasked with personally delivering it to Garibaldi. The Chief inserts it into his console and it begins playing a message: from Jeffrey Sinclair.
Sinclair's message explains that his job on Minbar is more than simply playing ambassador: he has taken on the role of leader of the Rangers, a small but growing army of Humans and Minbari. The courier of the message is one such Ranger. Garibaldi interrupts the broadcast at this point to ask the Ranger if they are moving weapons through the station. The Ranger replies they are not, but that they do have friends there. The message resumes: Sinclair warns Garibaldi about a "great darkness coming," one anticipated by some Minbari for a very long time. He asks Michael to give them every ounce of courtesy and cooperation. He also encourages him to stay close to Kosh and to "watch out for Shadows."
Via StellarCom, G'Kar is informed of the attack on Quadrant 14 by Kha'Mak. The Narn explains that the first in-coming reports of an attack on the colony were confusing, but the fighters sent in afterward confirmed the attack was led by the Centauri. He is at a loss as to how the Centauri could have overrun their defenses so quickly without any sign of Centauri casualities and is worried about the 250,000 Narns living on the planet's colony. After he signs of, G'Kar succumbs to a fit of rage, furious, not only at the attack but Londo's personal betrayal (omission rather) as well.
After Garibaldi finishes Sinclair's message, he gets a link from Zack alerting him to a yellow alert in the ambassadorial wing. The message is cut off. In Green Sector, G'Kar – still enraged – bats aside a pair of security guards, making his way for Londo's quarters. He is met by Sheridan and five armed security guards. Sheridan insists he stand down, as proceeding will accomplish nothing, rather he wil be forced to use deadly force, if necessary. Realizing Sheridan is right, G'Kar returns to his quarters where he breaks down, instead weeping at what has happened.
In Medlab, the Emperor's condition steadily continues to decline. He admits to Franklin that he would have liked very much to have seen a Vorlon. His wish almost immediately comes true, as Kosh appears at his side. He asks Kosh, "How will this end?" The Vorlon replies simply, "In fire."
Garibaldi meets with Sheridan and Ivanova. He does not disclose anything about Sinclair or the Rangers, but he does divulge that sources have told him that the rumors that have been swirling around all year about a new race "on the prowl" are true. He explains that there may be a link between them and the Centauri, which might explain how they were able to pull off the attack. Realizing it is not much, Sheridan nevertheless decides to use this knowledge to his advantage, believing that the Centauri would want to keep the presence of such an alliance a secret.
Lord Refa and Londo visit the Emperor in Medlab. Refa tells the Emperor about the astoudingly, successful attack on the Narn colony and asks for the Emperor's blessing. The Emperor brushes him off and calls Londo to him, whispering something in his ear. Immediately afterward, he passes away. Londo says that the Emperor told him, "Continue, take my people back to the stars." However, once they are alone, Londo confesses to Refa that what he really said was that they are both damned by their actions. Refa laughs at this, joking that it is a small enough price to pay for immortality.
Sheridan visits G'Kar in his quarters, though the Narn barely acknowledges his presence. Sheridan explains that he has called a Council meeting and asks for G'Kar to attend. G'Kar agrees and thanks Sheridan for stopping him earlier.
At the meeting of the Babylon 5 Advisory Council and the League of Non-Aligned Worlds, Sheridan asks what the Centauri intend to do about the 250,000 Narn civilians at Quadrant 14. He explains that Earth has given him permission to send observers to the colony to assess the situation, interview survivors, and report on how the colony was conquered so quickly. Mollary initially deny the request, until hearing of these news which compels him to try convince his government to allow the Narn civilians to leave unhindered for Narn.
G'Kar is then asked to speak. Softly, he tells them all that the Narn Regime, after having swore never to let an occupation happen again, has declared war against the Centauri Republic.
Refa meets with Londo and Vir one last time. He explains that the death of the Prime Minister in conjunction with the other recent events have provided the means for their faction to move ahead of their rivals ("neutralizing" several competing families) and ensure that the Emperor's nephew – someone in their own camp – will succeed him on the throne. After Refa leaves, Vir confesses that he is surprised Londo did not ask to be named to the Royal Court as that would have put him in a position to ascend the throne himself one day. Recalling his dream, Londo explains that he has no desire to be Emperor.
Garibaldi thanks the Ranger for his help, asks to be kept informed and if anyone else aboard knows about their presence. The Ranger admits that there is one other person.
In her quarters, Delenn plays a message from Sinclair.
"So much has been lost. So much forgotten. So much pain. So much blood, and for what? The past tempts us, the present confuses us, the future frightens us and our lives slip away moment by moment, lost in that vast terrible in-between. But there is still time to seize that one last fragile moment, to choose something better. To make a difference, as you say."
- – Centauri Emperor Turhan
"How will this end?"
- – Emperor Turhan and Kosh
"For the first time in my life, the path is clear."
- – G'Kar
"I understand just fine. By this time tomorrow, we will be at war with the Narn. May the Great Maker forgive me."
- – Londo Mollari
"They're doing it to us again. Step aside, Sheridan, I won't let this happen! Not again!"
- – G'Kar
""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!""
- – G'Kar
- This episodes marks a major turning point in the series.
- The ongoing hostility between the Centauri Republic and the Narn Regime ignites into open war - the hostility was seen most directly in ("Midnight on the Firing Line") and ("Chrysalis") in Season One.
- Londo Mollari continues to expand his own power and influence and his connection with the Shadows deepens.
- Emperor Turhan dies and (off screen) Emperor Cartagia ascends the throne.
- A human and two Minbari are seen meeting with Prime Minister Malachi when he is informed of the Emperor's collapse. According to JMS, they were discussing their potential "benign use" of a world on the border of Centauri space. This is likely a coy reference to the establishment of the Ranger training camp on Zagros VII.
- Londo sees himself dying at G'Kar's hands as an aged Centauri Emperor. While this is the first time this dream has been depicted, it is not the first time Londo has had it, as he mentions to Commander Sinclair that he has been haunted by it for some time in ("Midnight on the Firing Line). The event itself will eventually be depicted in its proper context in ("War Without End, Part II")
- The component featuring a "great hand reaching out of a star" echoes the prophecy given to him by Elric in ("The Geometry of Shadows").
- A new component of the dream was a vision of himself standing in the desert of a planet, looking up and seeing Shadow ships. This is the first time Londo "sees" one of these ships.
Behind the Scenes
- "The Coming of Shadows" won the 1996 Hugo Award for "Best Dramatic Presentation."
- Several plot elements from this episode were at one point intended to be introduced in completely separate stories; the death of the Emperor was initially slated to feature as a "B-plot" in the undeveloped episode entitled ("Rites of Passage") while Garibaldi's introduction to the Rangers was at one point to have been a "C-plot" for ("A Race Through Dark Places"). The main plot itself, about the outbreak of war between the Narn and the Centauri and the involvement of the Shadows had intended to be the focus of the undeveloped episode entitled ("The Very Long Night of Susan Ivanova").
- Babylon 5 Scripts: Volume 3 (Season Two Memos, Phase One)
- The Coming of Shadows on Wikipedia
- Episode guide page for The Coming of Shadows at the Lurker's Guide
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