I'm back to finish off my comments on Season 3.
For starters, I figured I'd update my 'essentials' list:
Matters of Honor
Voices of Authority
Dust to Dust
Messages from Earth
Point of No Return
Ceremonies of Light and Dark
A Late Delivery from Avalon
Ship of Tears
Interludes and Examinations
War without End, Part One
War without End, Part Two
Grey 17 is Missing
And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place
Now, my reviews of/thoughts on Shadow Dancing and Z'Ha'Dum.
Shadow Dancing struck me as one of those episodes that could've used a bit more setup than it ultimately got, but that still functions well enough as-is that it's hard to really complain and say that the lack of a bit more setup was truly a detriment. Both the 'a' story and 'b' story work well together, bringing Dr. Franklin's 'walkabout' storyline to its conclusion and bringing things to a head with regards to the larger Shadow War arc of the season as well, but not completely resolving them, which sets up things nicely for the season finale.
One thing that I didn't see coming but probably should've - given that the commentary tracks that accompany certain episodes aren't shy about spoilers and also given that, as JMS talks about in his commentary for Z'Ha'Dum, he's not shy about putting his cards on the table and still managing to surprise you anyway - was the repetition and extension of Delenn's 'flash-foward' scene from War without End (I forget which part, exactly) and the return of Anna Sheridan. I usually have a problem with shows recasting a prominent role, but in this case I think there's enough of a resemblance between the original Anna Sheridan actress, Beth Toussaint, and Melissa Gilbert that the recasting doesn't feel jarring and actually ends up working, particularly given that there is a period of five years between when we see Beth Toussaint's Anna Sheridan and when we see Melissa Gilbert's Anna Sheridan.
I also really enjoyed the banter in this episode between Marcus and Susan, as it gives JMS and the actors an opportunity to once again play the dynamic between the characters and put Marcus' attraction to Ivanova out there in the open in a way that they hadn't really done in any of the other episodes of the season besides Matters of Honor and Exogenesis, and that certainly hadn't been done since Exogenesis.
One of the things that makes JMS such an incredible writer-creator is his ability to consciously and deliberately draw on story and character threads that have been building throughout the course of a season and pay them off to the 'nth degree, even drawing in stuff that an audience might've forgotten about. He was able to do this in all 3 of the season finales for B5, but particularly succeeded in Chrysalis - which ended in a cliffhanger - and again in Z'Ha'Dum, which also ends on a cliffhanger.
I didn't quite understand the significance of what Franklin was doing in comparing the skeletal schematic of Anna Sheridan and Bester's lover Carolyn (whose last name I didn't recognize) until later on in the episode when Sheridan is on Z'Ha'Dum and the Shadow agents Anna, Morden, and Justin are laying everything out on the table for him, but it works nonetheless in emphasizing and explaining why Sheridan makes the decision he does in actually going to Z'Ha'Dum despite having been told not to go both implicitely (by Kosh) and explicitely (by Delenn).
Giving G'Kar the chance to serve as the narrator of the final scenes of the episode also helps to convey a sense of foreboding and plays into the cliffhanger nature of the episode, and was, I think, a most inspired choice not only because of how good Andreas Katsulas is in the role of G'Kar, but also because it helps to further emphasize and encapsulate the character's journey over the course of the season and emphasize his place in the 'Army of Light'.
Now, my overall thoughts on the season.
Overall thoughts on Season Three
I mentioned earlier that I'd always heard and seen Babylon 5 described as a single 'novel for television' but that I felt, based on the conclusion of Season 2 and the beginning and overall structure of Season 3, that it was better described as a pair of 'novels for television', and I stand by that observation, which was only strengthened as I progressed through the season and is even further strengthened by the events of Z'Ha'Dum. Time will tell, though, whether or not there's a 'final resolution' to the arcs set up in this season and that will be continued into Season 4 and I end up having to revise my observations for Season 5, but, for now, S3's ending definitely does feel like the 'middle point' of a second story that builds upon the story told in Seasons 1 and 2 but is ultimately its own separate thing.
I'll be back later with reviews of/comments on the first four episodes of Season 4, but, in the meantime, I'd again like to ask other people to comment on my comments and offer their own thoughts on Season 3 and on the previous two seasons as well.