Season 4 of B7 didn't really improve in any sort of curve, it just suddenly jumped to being good after a long trudge where it was very poor to just about mediocre. Much of this came from the addition of some fresh writers. While this does feature a new writer the improvement doesn't come yet, though; the new blood is Rod Beacham, who had mixed acting (best known to genre fans as an ill-fated Corporal in Doctor Who classic "The Web of Fear") with writing (largely for the radio up to this point). This was only his second television script (the first was a play) but presumably the production team were commissioning all sorts to make up for the loss of Terry Nation and Chris Boucher's decision to top and tail the series and otherwise concentrate on the editing side.
The plot is once again unimaginative; quite simply Servalan randomly decides that this - when the crew are still basically no threat - is the point to suddenly hire a professional assassin to kill them all. I mean, there's no reason why not but at the same time there's no reason why other than to fill up an episode, and that seems to be the extent of "Assassin"'s ambition. There's a very basic chain of catalysts here and it's basically just a sequence of fairly predictable set-pieces, starting with the contrivance of Servalan using her unfiltered voice over the radio when she's still doing the whole Sleer thing.
As with "Stardrive" the crew make exactly the right guesses the whole way along the chain. Avon makes the exact right call of knowing how and when to get captured in the slave market, which is an embarrassing sequence - the silly music, the daft costumes and Servalan's campy bidding for Avon is all a bit much, especially surrounded by so much shit. Obviously though Avon's random gambit works and he escapes fine along with fellow slave Neebrox before they all storm Cancer's ship and capture him and seemingly liberate another slave, Pirri.
Apart from it's immediately obvious that something's off. While Avon sitting back and watching Tarrant try to beat Cancer up is fun it can't mask that it's all too obviously too easy and that Pirri is simply too wet, stupid and whiny to be a simple nobody. It's not much of a surprise - after some daft shots of the crew padding around the ship looking for the assassin attempting to create some suspense but basically just consisting of the crew slowly turning around in front of the camera - when she turns out to be the real Cancer, though she gets even worse acting-wise, and it's not really explained properly about hiring the decoy actor - she seems to betray him but he stays in character, which is a bit of a stretch. It does mean some random actor holds his own against Tarrant in a brawl, though, and that is amusing.
Richard Hurndall isn't bad in a role which basically involves him providing Avon with a big fat infodump revealing he's incredibly well-informed about the landings on the planet and then to be killed to set up the Cancer thing. Is he meant to be a red herring for the real Cancer? Not sure. Do love the big reveal of the teleport bracelet to Avon, though - subtle. Tarrant himself simpers all over Pirri, showing his first predilection for very stupid women. It's not the character's finest moment but it does finally allow Soolin to develop a little, clearly scornful of his puppy-dog act and Pirri's total lack of backbone. She gets a couple of sharp lines and Glynnis Barber nails some contemptuous looks at the pair of them; I'm guessing by this stage they were actually onto scripts written for the character. Her sympathetic interaction with Neebrox is nice too, showing she's not just one-liners. She'll never quite recover from that awful start (even Gan was better treated), however, and here she's plainly squeezing Dayna out by hogging the "girl with
Paul Darrow again seems the right kind of relaxed and makes Avon sound a lot more cunning than he actually is in this episode. The bit where he enjoys shooting the bullying slaver is great but neither Vila or Dayna are really used well, the latter getting one last dire "I almost had her!" after not getting anywhere near killing Servalan. The latter is again served well by not being in it that much; her cackling away with Verlis over the slaves is like two old grannies leching at the Chippendales, and they've plainly given up on even trying with the whole Sleer thing. Any last credibility drains away when she's easily fooled into believing the crew are dead despite having seen them get out of a million scrapes before, which just makes her look thick.
Add in a crap ironic conclusion as Cancer is easily killed with her own inefficient venomous crab-thing in a fashion that makes you wonder how she ever made a living out of this (just shoot the fuckers in the face, you lisping cow!) and it's a mess. Someone, anyone else being cast as Pirri/Cancer would have helped a bit as would a total overhaul of the style of filming. I know I'm droning on about the production a lot in these Season 4 reviews but the last few episodes of the year show the talent hasn't vanished; the show hasn't jumped the shark, it's just going through an incredibly long rough patch. The script has enough serious weaknesses to stop the episode from being all that good but once more it didn't absolutely have to be this bad either.