With this episode the narrative arc comes back on track, and it does so with a tense and suspenseful story.
Colonel Ben Zayn comes to Babylon 5 accompanied by a Psi Corp telepath to test the loyalty of the station's command personnel, although his real goal is to discredit and replace Sinclair: the Colonel was one of the candidates for station commander and did not take well the Minbari obstinate request to give Sinclair the post. Only through Garibaldi's accurate investigation of Ben Zayn's background – and allegiances, most notably the one with Bester – uncovers the plot and saves the day.
Eyes works well on many levels. First it shows how Sinclair's recent activities have come back to bite him in the... behind: some of his command choices, like the Deathwalker affair or the solution to the dockworkers' strike, have made him powerful enemies and undercut whatever support he might have had in the Earth government. Even the Senator that often sided with him declares, in a taut communication, that he can't do anything more and – worse – hints that Sinclair might be sacrificed to avoid further undermining President Santiago's political support.
This is one of my favorite aspects in B5, that the "heroes" are not invincible, that no matter how nobly they act they are not safe from backstabbing and political maneuvering. That their actions have consequences, not necessarily good ones.
Ivanova fares no better, though. As soon as the possibility of a mind scan is mentioned, she reacts in a violently emotional way that goes way beyond what her dislike of the Psi Corps implied until now. Granted, she blames the Corps for her mother's suicide and therefore extends that outlook to any activity of the organization, yet the way she lashes out here shows there are deeper and stronger motivations.
At some point she confesses to Sinclair that she feels repelled at the possible invasion of the memories from the times in which her mother touched her mind, communicating in a unique way her love for her child. Ivanova says she does not relish the idea of having those memories tarnished by the same people who destroyed her mother.
And yet we feel that is not everything, because her choice of resigning her commission to avoid being scanned hints at something deeper: it's too strong a reaction, considering the huge personal investment she made in her career.
We see Susan Ivanova afraid, and in tears, and this does not add up to what we have been shown until now; more, at some point she vents those emotions by getting drunk and starting a brawl. Stating now what is at the root of such behavior might be a spoiler, but I guess there are already powerful hints in the nightmare where her suffering mother comes to wear Susan's face in the end.
Claudia Christian' portrayal of those conflicting emotions is nothing short of amazing.
If Colonel Ben Zayn comes across as a two-dimensional villain – complete with disfiguring scar – his counterpart Harriman Grey, the Psi Corp telepath, is an interesting and multi-faceted figure. Nice-mannered and thoughtful, he's clearly baffled with the Colonel's vehemence and in disagreement with his methods: quite a difference from the outside operatives, like Bester or his sidekick Kelsey, we met until now. And there is more.
We already learned that the Corps leaves telepaths the choice of either joining or taking suppressant drugs that ultimately mess with one's mind; we learned that telepaths are subjected to experiments geared toward enhancing their talents, and not always for altruistic reasons, as revealed by Jason Ironheart. With Harriman Grey we understand how the manifestation of one's talent can mean the tragic end of childhood dreams: his goal of becoming a fighter pilot, much like Ivanova, was cut short by the emergence of his telepathic skills. Earth Force ranks being closed to one like him, his only possibility of being part of what he so passionately loved was to act as military liaison.
It's easy to empathize with Harriman Grey as he bares his soul to Ivanova, who on the other hand treats him with a proverbial cold shoulder and ultimately threatens him with violence, in one of her most famous outbursts:
If you enter my mind for any reason I will twist your head off and use it for a chamber pot.
This somewhat lighter moment, however, does not diminish the sensation that telepaths can be victims as well: it's the first building block of larger revelations that will come with time.
My only regret is that the character of Harriman Grey did not return again to B5: it would have been a welcome visit.
One small detail as a parting thought: when Ben Zayn starts his informal inquiries on the command staff, he first interviews Lou Welch, who we know is fiercely loyal to Garibaldi. When Welch makes it clear that Ben Zayn will get nothing out of him, the Colonel addresses Garibaldi's second in command. Interesting, isn't it?