The Emperor of the Centauri Republic (Turhan Bey) discusses with his Prime Minister (Malachi Throne) an upcoming trip to Babylon Five. The Prime minister must stay behind on Centauri Prime. He is unhappy about that, and about the trip itself, as the Emperor is old and in delicate health. On Babylon Five, Ambassador G’Kar (Andreas Katsulas) protests against the visit, telling Captain Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) that the Emperor is a monster and a war criminal because of his family’s occupation of Narn. Sheridan points out that the Emperor himself was not involved. He advises G’Kar to use the trip to open dialog, but G’Kar will not listen and storms off.
In his quarters, Ambassador Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik) discusses the trip with Lord Refa (William Forward), who gives Londo a speech he wants him to make. The speech will make the Emperor look weak and short-sighted, while enhancing the political profile of Refa and Mollari. Londo points out that the speech will put him out of favor with the Royal Court. Refa agrees but says the Emperor will not live long. After Refa leaves, Londo tells his aide Vir (Stephan Furst) that he too is uncomfortable with this.
The Emperor’s flagship and its military escort arrive at Babylon Five. The Emperor is welcomed by Captain Sheridan and his command staff, plus a full honor guard. The Emperor thanks them for their work promoting peace. He asks Doctor Franklin (Richard Biggs) if he has seen much of Ambassador Kosh, as he is intrigued by the Vorlons. In his quarters, G’Kar plans to assassinate the Emperor.
The Emperor is in camera with Captain Sheridan in the observation dome. The Emperor regrets that he has done so little in his long life but wants to seize an opportunity to make a difference. Garibaldi is being watched by a human visitor. G’Kar composes a final message, declaring that he is acting alone without the knowledge of his government. The reception gathers for the Emperor. All the ambassadors are present except Kosh, and everyone is shocked by the presence of G’Kar. The mysterious stranger (Frederick Lehne) is still following Garibaldi. When Garibaldi confronts him, the man says he needs to speak to him, so Garibaldi puts him on ice in a cell.
The Emperor collapses and Doctor Franklin is called in. The Emperor’s telepaths contact their counterparts on the home world and the Prime Minister is alerted. In Medlab, the Emperor gives the doctor a message. Lord Refa meets with Londo and Vir, saying that their competitors are already assembling, and they need to do something important. Londo suggests taking a Narn colony, which he can arrange. After Refa leaves, Londo tells a shocked Vir to find Morden. G’Kar is furious that his planned assassination was prevented. Doctor Franklin arrives, delivering the Emperor’s apology to the Narn Regime for the Republic’s crimes against them. G’Kar is overwhelmed. That evening, Londo dreams of Shadow vessels in the sky of a blasted world, of himself as an old man on the throne, and G’Kar strangling him.
At Quadrant 14, Shadow ships open fire on the Narn base, obliterating everything, then vanish. In the Zocalo, Londo tells Refa the attack is done. He then runs into G’Kar, who is elated to see him. G’Kar has had a revelation and believes a new page is about to be turned. He toasts the Emperor’s health and Londo’s, having no idea of the attack. At Quadrant 14, a Centauri task force follows up the Shadow attack. Narn ships appear and a battle begins. Meanwhile, on Centauri Prime, the Prime Minister is stabbed to death. Garibaldi sees his visitor, who gives him a data crystal from the former head of Babylon Five Jeffrey Sinclair (Michael O’Hare).
Sinclair is now the leader of the Rangers, an army of humans and Minbari. The deliverer of the message is one such. Garibaldi asks if weapons are moving through the station, and the Ranger says no, but they have friends here. Sinclair warns Garibaldi about a great darkness coming, long predicted by the Minbari. He tells Garibaldi to stay close to Kosh and watch for shadows. Ivanova tells Sheridan of the Centauri attack. A similar report comes to G’Kar, who goes into a rage.
G’Kar makes his way to Londo’s quarters, but Sheridan waylays him with five guards and tells him to stand down. G’Kar returns to his quarters and weeps. The Emperor’s condition is worsening in Medlab. Kosh (voice of Ardwight Chamberlain) appears and tells the Emperor that this will end in fire. Garibaldi meets with Sheridan and Ivanova, keeping the message from Sinclair to himself, but warning that a new race is out there, and that they are linked to the Centauri. Lord Refa and Londo meet with the Emperor in Medlab and ask for his blessing. The Emperor whispers in Londo’s ear, “You are both damned,” but Londo lies about it and claims they were encouraged to stay the course. The Emperor’s telepaths look at each other.
At a meeting of the Babylon Five Advisory Council and the League of Non-aligned Worlds, Sheridan asks what the Centauri plan to do about the quarter million Narn civilians at Quadrant 14. The Earth government has given him permission to observe. Londo says he will convince his government to allow the Narn civilians to leave for their home world. G’Kar sadly reports that Narn has declared war against the Centauri. Refa meets with Londo and reports that their faction is moving against their rivals and the Emperor’s nephew will succeed him on the throne. Londo claims he has no desire to be Emperor. Garibaldi thanks the Ranger. In her quarters, Delenn plays her own message from Sinclair.
Turhan Bey impressed J. Michael Straczynski so much with his performance as the un-named Emperor that the character was later referred to as Emperor Turhan. The part was in fact written for him after he was not chosen for another. Turhan Bey returned later to play a Minbari teacher. The Centauri Prime Minister did not have a name either and was named for the actor who played him, Malachi Throne. The episode’s name was given to the entire second season, it was so important. Straczynski was particularly fond of it. It was the one he would use to represent the entire series. It won the 1996 Hugo Award. When a TV show makes a change for the better in its second season, the process is called Growing the Beard, a reference to Riker’s beard in the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation.