Babylon 5: A Distant Star

b5You know what sucks about this B5 episode?  Russ Tamblyn!  It’s not that I don’t like him; it’s that I can’t see him as anything other than Dr. Jacobi from Twin Peaks.  And I’m not talking about that Avant Garde travesty that Showtime sold us!  I’m talking about the original David Lynch series before he decided to do our heads in with a mind-trip-brain-destroyer.  So how can I watch him as the captain of his own ship, wearing cowboy boots??  How can I get past that?  Isn’t he supposed to help Laura Palmer?  And where are his two-tone glasses?!  What’s going on here!!!?

Well, to start, D.C. Fontana wrote this. Now that’s a double-edged statement.  First, she’s a respected writer in the realms of SF having written for classic Trek, among other things and can tell a damned good story, which this is, in all fairness.  But it also means this is not a JMS episode, so we aren’t going to be continuity heavy or big on the world building.  But don’t misconstrue!  This doesn’t mean it lacks continuity.  In fact, it manages to reference a news article a few months ago in Universe Today about a thing living in hyperspace.  Hey now!  I remember that newspaper.  I spotted that headline!  Clearly they are building toward something.  Then we get some great quotes, even if one was pilfered from the great Carl Sagan: We are Starstuff.  Pilfer away, I say; when the shoe fits, it’s still a beautiful sentiment, as is Delenn’s entire discourse leading up to it.  The universe puts us in places we can learn.  Well, barring “entropy increases”, I’ve never heard truer words spoken!  I could use that as the title of my autobiography, but it is a bit cumbersome for the title of a book.  (And I doubt I’ll write an autobiography anyway!)

Another important element of this episode is a brief course in hyperspace navigation.  It might seem like a feature of a one-off episode, but I assure you, it is not!  Understanding how Hyperspace works is important and actually far more frightening than one would expect.  One could be pulled into a current and lose sight of the way out and potentially, roam the void forever.  (Look, if you guys never played Star Control II, don’t blame me.  You have only yourselves to blame, but that would have given you a crash course in how this works, and it’s a great game to boot.)

But the story itself seems to be a character one, which is what I’d expect of a non-JMS story.  Delenn is dealing with her recent change and how that affects those of her own people who seem to be grossly against it.  Will this have a long term impact or fizzle out?  We have to wait and see.  Meanwhile, Sheridan is dealing with the feeling that he’s been “beached”, as he puts it.  This is like putting Capt. Kirk behind the Admiral’s chair – things go south for him because he’s not meant to be there.  He is, first and foremost, a starship captain.  So is Sheridan.  Sheridan begins to feel he’s lost his center.  It’s partly Delenn’s advice that helps him, and partly what happens to Dr. Jacobi’s ship … I  mean, Jack Maynard’s ship that really drives the point home.  The Cortez is lost in the vortex and Sheridan has to figure out how to get it out of Hyperspace saving everyone from his “beached” position.  Obviously, he succeeds and gets his second wind.  He realizes that “wherever we are is the right place, and the right time”.  (This idea will be important later this season!)  And we get a light, but enjoyable story with some friends who enjoy hanging out together, even if one of them should be wearing two-tone glasses, damn it!

So overall this is a character study without much world building.  After all that has gone on recently, a small story isn’t a bad thing.  But there is one question that nagged at me: why didn’t the Shadow vessel fire on the human ships?  It seems like something of an oversight to me.  Or is it…?  ML

The view from across the pond:

After a version of the opening credits with a much-improved voice over from Bruce Boxleitner, we get what appears to be business as usual for Season 2 of B5, with the season arc slowly rumbling on while not much else happens.  I commented last week about how individual episode plots seem to have been sacrificed in favour of a slow-burn arc.  So we get 20 minutes into this one and basically nothing at all has happened, other than Sheridan getting depressed by petty bickering and the idiot doctor asking everyone to go on a diet when they clearly don’t need to.  I have to question why the three most powerful people on the station are taking any notice of this numpty?

…and then everything changes and BAM! we’re into a proper, exciting story, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the first series, and rarely even then.  A big ship turns up, star trekking on its five-year mission where no man one has gone before, and then gets stuck in hyperspace.

What follows is not quite edge-of-the-seat stuff, but it’s as close as B5 has got to it so far.  For the first time, Warren Keffer had something important to do, although he has had so little impact up to this point that I must confess I didn’t realise who it was that had got lost until the end of the episode.  That was probably a good thing, because otherwise it was pretty obvious he was coming back.  As far as I am aware, Josh Whedon is the only person to be inventive enough to add somebody into the credit sequence and then kill them off straight away.

I can’t quite decide whether the solution to the Lost in (hyper)Space problem was ingenious or blindingly obvious, but either way I enjoyed it, especially when the creepy alien ship turned up.  Again, we are building them up to a scarier and scarier foe, seemingly indestructible, and now able to navigate around hyperspace.  Again, they have a lot to live up to when the gauntlet finally gets thrown down.  There are aliens living in the worm hole!  Sorry, wrong series.  I’m starting to understand why DS9 got so much flak for being derivative, or so I seem to recall.

Other than that, we had more annoyance from idiot doctor, catching Garibaldi smuggling in food, at which point I was willing him to tell the doctor where to stick his diet plan, and then Delenn did her stuff:

The universe puts us in places where we can learn… The universe knows what it’s doing… We are star stuff. We are the universe made manifest, trying to figure itself out… Sometimes the universe requires a change of perspective.

She’s using “universe” in place of the word “god”, which is very new-agey.  Let’s face it, if the universe is sentient, then that’s no different to talking about a god.  But Delenn can always be relied on for a quote that makes you stop and think, and the universe (i.e. God) “puts us in places where we can learn” is probably her best so far.  I think there’s a lot of truth in that.  It’s why the universe has placed me here, in the “Junkyard”, across the pond and learning from the B5 expert who writes the article above mine each week, to which I append my newbie ramblings.  I’ll keep learning, like we all do… RP

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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1 Response to Babylon 5: A Distant Star

  1. scifimike70 says:

    Thinking of the universe as God is certainly among the New Age concepts that I’ve learned. One in particular theorizing that the universe is in God’s mind while sleeping and dreaming, the Big Bang being the start of the dream and the Big Crunch being when God wakes up, with a new universe in God’s next dream and so on. This reminds me how appealing all the spiritual aspects of Babylon 5 were for their time. Because now that the New Age is understanding science fiction as a means of giving us all spiritual messages, Babylon 5 can imaginably become even more popular. Thank you both for making such timely selections for the Junkyard.

    Liked by 1 person

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