In the fourth episode of the second season of Babylon 5, an old friend of Sheridan’s unlocks some uncomfortable feelings, and a rescue mission hints at something terrible. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Babylon 5.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of dieting/diet culture and fatphobia
This is an odd episode in terms of pacing, but in this case, that’s a good thing. I remarked while watching this that the point where Captain Jack Maynard left the station was a scene I would have expected at the end of the episode, but it happened halfway through. Why? Why introduce this character and have the entire first half of the episode nothing but an introspective character study? It’s a bold move, but lord, does it ever pay off. It’s the kind of story that I didn’t expect, and certainly not this early into Sheridan’s run.
But that’s a major reason why “A Distant Star” felt so refreshing and fulfilling to me. We’d gotten a vague sense of what Sheridan’s experience was prior to this; he didn’t earn the name StarKiller doing nothing for EarthForce. Thus, this story examines how Sheridan has adjusted from a career that was both military-focused and exploration-focused. Those days are now spent… sitting behind a desk. Organizing schedules. Negotiating. Being diplomatic. Delegating duties. It’s not the life he thought he’d have, and yet, here he is, in one of the most visible and important positions imaginable. And yet: Is Sheridan happy there?
Captain Maynard’s appearance mostly unravels Sheridan. We watch as he snaps at other officers and appears deeply distracted, so much so that Ivanova (THE ETERNAL BEST) finally gives Sheridan a chance to open up to her about what is frustrating him. Note again that everything I’m describing is only the first half of this episode! There’s virtually no “action” during all this; it’s just characters speaking to one another, and yet it all still felt interesting and captivating. That’s pretty damn impressive and even more so when you consider that this is only Sheridan’s fourth episode EVER. I credit that to the writing, which has done a wonderful job introducing this character while not ignoring the others. But there’s also an undeniable sense that Ivanova and Sheridan are close, that if he did not trust her, he wouldn’t have opened up to her about his frustrations. We see a similar sense of trust and respect between Sheridan and Delenn, too, and they haven’t known one another nearly as long. Look, I miss Sinclair, and Sheridan is absolutely not a repeat of him. But Sheridan has become an interesting part of this team, and the first half of “A Distant Star” shows that to us.
Now, the second half is… really fucking creepy? We know the Shadows are out on the Rim, we know their ships have a bizarre cloaking ability that no one has ever really seen, but this episode suggests that they’re far, far closer I thought they were. But it’s not the only thing going on within the story. I’m still thinking about Delenn’s incredible monologue to Sheridan towards the end of the episode. Maybe this isn’t what he wanted to do with his life, but the idea that the universe put him where he needed to be is so fascinating to me. Sinclair was put in Babylon 5 by the Minbari, but what if greater, unseen forces put Sheridan there? At the very least, the rescue of the Cortez would not have been possible if Sheridan had not been on the station. He was very instrumental in that ship finding its way home from hyperspace, where no lost ship had ever been recovered. (Of course, that also means that Galus would not have died either, and I think it’s important to note that.) So, is this really where he should be?
I imagine that this is yet another vital episode to understanding whatever inevitable conflict is coming between the Shadows and… well, everyone else. Are the Shadows conducting recon missions in hyperspace? Why did they risk showing up again after knocking Galus out of the stream and to his death? Oh gods, what if they didn’t even notice those ships were there? Clearly, the Shadows are doing something out on the Rim, but hyperspace is not the Rim. So what the hell is happening here? Will Sheridan’s expertise come in handy later in the season or the show? Is he right where he’s supposed to be when the Shadows stop being so secretive? THEY’RE SO CREEPY, Y’ALL.
There’s one other plot here that gets a little bit of screentime, and you know, I ended up liking it a lot. I understood Dr. Franklin’s reasoning for focusing on food plans for Garibaldi—who is healing—and Ivanova, who is also dealing with the ramifications of her previous injury. Normally, I’d be bothered by the insistence on dieting, but I don’t think this subplot was about that at all. I think there’s a difference between what we have as dieting culture here in our society, and a doctor asking for someone to alter what they’re eating. (But not always. I’m sure a number of you have had shitty doctors who have taken one look at you and diagnosed you with needing to lose weight without actually listening to what’s ailing you or what you might need.. Count me in as one of those!) The resolution of this subplot, however, really made me feel great about where the story went. In the end, Dr. Franklin not only recognizes the importance of cultural traditions that might not be “healthy,” he actually joins in on them. And it’s not like Garibaldi is having bagna cáuda every day. There’s a joy in moderation and cultural celebration, and Dr. Franklin does not take that away from Garibaldi. It’s a nice moment from a story that could have otherwise gone to a very weird place, and I appreciated it.
The video for “A Distant Star” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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