19 thoughts on “Earhart’s: “No Compromises” Spoiler Space”

  1. Captain Lochley is one of B5’s great successes.

    If any character in the history of SF television seems to have been set up by the gods for failure, it’s this one. Lochley is replacing a beloved, fan-favorite, character, Ivanova. Scoggins is coming in after Christian left the show under difficult circumstances. Lochley is joining the show during a stretch of episodes that were and are generally considered lackluster at best. She will be prominent in association with what is probably the show’s most hated subplot, the Byron arc. And the character is at the center of the single dumbest retcon in all of Babylon 5.

    And all this is going down at the tail end of the first flush of Internet SF fandom, and, well, we know now all too well what sort of pathologies can come out of the woodwork in that context, especially when female characters are concerned.

    And yet, Lochley is teflon. She’s a successful character who is generally well-regarded. And, as far as I’m concerned, this is a cheering and happy thing, and reflects well on Babylon 5 fans. It also reflects well on JMS (despite the marriage retcon – everything else about the character is well-handled, especially the remarkably subtle treatment of the addiction backstory). And, of course, it owes a great deal to Tracey Scoggins, who makes a character who, if you look at her role in the plot, is really only an important secondary character, seem much more than that.

    This also happens in Crusade – she’s only in two episodes, shown catastrophically out of order – but Lochley and Scoggins seem like she deserves to be in the credits nevertheless.

    1. I agree completely. I think a lot of people dislike Lochley just because she’s not Ivanova. But she was a very well realized character, and they did a good job developing her in such a short time. It was tough to like her at first because of her “I-can-run-things-better” attitude, but she lost that pretty quickly.

      1. I disliked her on first watch of this season, but have warmed to her through repeat viewings. For me she was and is to an extent a no-prisoners trope with only one or two exceptions. (Garibaldi and Zoe of course) Maybe I’ll come around to agreeing with you both.

  2. I have a two unrelated thoughts:

    First, I wonder if people would hate Byron less if they’d just avoided that awful, awful hippie song that’s coming up soon. That was the moment the whole group went from awkward to unlikable.

    Second, I realized that season five was a very bad time for anyone whose name started with the letter “L”. The three characters who ended the season in a worse place than they started were Londo, Lennier, and Lyta. Lochley was very fortunate she didn’t make that list!

  3. Having listened to the podcast:-

    I don’t think that the problem with the Sheridan-Lochley retcon is that you can’t see it as having been planned at the beginning of S5. I’ve never thought otherwise, or found it out of line in any way from how their relations have been depicted from the moment of Lochley’s introduction.

    The problem is, for me, as follows.

    1) What’s it doing? It’s there because JMS wants to create a mystery surrounding Lochley’s character, and the marriage serves to dispose of that mystery when it’s served its purpose. As such, it’s a bit of a damp squib – it’s not actually a very interesting answer to the mystery. And the mystery itself isn’t really doing anything very important in terms of the season as a whole. There’s a distinct air of wheel-spinning about the whole thing – it’s one of many things in early S5 that comes across as there to fill time.

    2) There are plausibility problems. Garibaldi supposedly investigated Sheridan thoroughly in S2: a first marriage to another officer who went on also to achieve high rank is the sort of thing that one might expect him to have turned up. The marriage to Lochley not some dark secret, and Sheridan is a frank, open sort of guy – he’s been on Babylon 5 for three years and his first marriage never came up in conversation?

    Those are weird, but the real problem is the implications for the Sheridan-Delenn relationship. We have to accept that at no point in their courtship did Sheridan ever talk about this part of his previous romantic history, and that he appointed his former wife to this position without ever mentioning the fact to his current wife. That makes Sheridan a bit of an [expletive deleted], and that’s not the Sheridan that we’ve ever seen.

    So it’s something that’s not terribly plausible and damages the most important character in the show – in the service of, what, exactly? Easily JMS’s biggest mistake in the whole show, for me.

    – Our hosts are big on the idea that Sheridan is now a flawed “politician” in contrast to the heroic military man that he was before. Here’s the problem that I have with this: Sheridan has been a “politician” in the sense that he is now since his introduction as a character. It’s not exactly the same, but there isn’t the vast gulf between his role up till now and his role as President that our hosts seem to me to be implying.

    There are two sides to this.

    1) Going back to S1, the set-up on Babylon 5 was that the station military commander was also Earth’s representative in meetings of the League of Non-Aligned Worlds. This is not actually something that makes a whole lot of sense. Earth has diplomats (as one would expect), and ambassador to the League of Non-Aligned Worlds is actually a post that one would expect a trained and experienced professional civilian diplomat to hold. But it’s been that way, because it’s convenient for the central character of the whole plot to wear both hats. So Sheridan has been presented as extensively involved in diplomacy (as Sinclair was), and as a capable diplomat.

    This intensifies from the middle of S5, when he is also in effect the head of government of Babylon 5 as an independent state. And then he rallies the other races and organizes them as a coalition to defeat the Shadows. When the Interstellar Alliance comes into existence, that’s presented as a development of and formalization of the alliance that Sheridan forms and leads to fight the Shadow War – him becoming its first President is not some radical new role, but a continuation of what he was doing before in a new formalized shape.

    2) When one calls him now as President a “politician,” what does that mean? “Politics” is a notoriously vague term, encompassing just about any human group interaction. The specific form that “politics” takes on Babylon 5 is representatives of various great powers meeting in rooms. It’s not, for instance, electoral politics (and Sheridan is not, in fact, elected), nor is it the management of public opinion. It’s the form of politics that we call diplomacy.

    What’s changed is (a) Sheridan is not representing Earth, as he did as station commander (no-one seems to be, even though Earth has joined the Interstellar Alliance), and (b) there is no unifying threat as there was in the form of the Shadows, that originally brought this alliance together. So it would be fine to say that the diplomatic task has gotten more difficult – Sheridan can’t just pursue the parochial interests of one power and ignore the needs of the whole, and he doesn’t have a convenient crisis to persuade the individual members to co-operate.

    But one can’t, I think, say that this is some new role of “politician” that he is bad at, unlike the old role of “military leader” that he was good at.

    1. The Lochley-Sheridan marriage is a sham marriage. It serves only the plot purposes of quickly shoehorning Scroggins into Christian’s boots in the sense of immediate trust between characters. JMS is being smugly jokey with it, which works and doesn’t work. He’s also trying to have his cake and eat it. (Who doesn’t want to do that?) If the choice was made to write Lochley as pro-Sheridan during the Earth War, for example, it would have given her warp-speed trust.

      1. I think that’s true – but my question would be, why do we need trust between Lochley and Sheridan? Wouldn’t it be more dramatically interesting to have two competent, sympathetic* people who don’t trust each other but have to work together? What is there in the plot of S5 that requires Lochley and Sheridan to trust one another?

        *Yes, Lochley is sympathetic, damn it.

        1. My guess is that JMS had already done mistrust between Sheridan and an important colleague twice, with Garibaldi. First time when Sheridan replaced Sinclair, although it wasn’t strong, and second time in season 4. And since this is the spoiler thread, JMS is going to use Sheridan-Garibaldi *again*.

          Plus if Sheridan doesn’t trust Lochley, why would anyone else on Babylon 5? It might have been dramatically interesting to have Lochley under suspicion, but since B5 is independent of Earth now there would have to be some really contrived reason for A) how she got appointed as commander and B) why she lasted more than one episode in the job.

          I think the trust between Lochley and Sheridan works well for the story. (Even though the marriage reason is terrible.) Lochley represents good people being on the wrong side for good reasons, and for both sides being able to reconcile afterwards.

          1. By “not trust” I don’t mean “have a major plot thread in which they actively distrust one another and which takes up a lot of screen time” I mean that there is no plot reason that requires positive, active trust. An initially prickly (at most) relationship in which they don’t really know each other: what Sheridan knows about Lochley is that she has a good reputation, but fought on the wrong side in the war (but, then, so did General Lefcourt, and Lochley committed no atrocities, etc.) – this is compatible with everything that happens. There is no point early in the season (it has to be early in the season, because later on they can have established trust) at which the plot turns on Sheridan having to trust Lochley. They can be a bit prickly about feeling out where the boundaries of authority between the two.

            On the specifics:
            – the Sheridan-Garibaldi thing: there’s a significant difference between a subordinate not trusting a new commander (I’m assuming you mean S2, as this is very different from S4) and two people with different spheres of authority having to learn to work together. I think it’s a different story. And it’s not as if there being a lengthy previous addiction story stopped JMS doing another one in S5…

            – Why should anyone trust Lochley? Well, why should they, until she’s earned that trust? People should be wary of the new person in a position of power, and not just when following a civil war. Again, it’s not a plot necessity. Strong, active dislike in which they were mutinying against her command – that would be a problem, but that’s a very extreme situation. But having her subordinates obey her initially because she’s the station commander no matter what they think of her: that’s fine and doesn’t affect the plot of S5.

            (Also, I feel that saying that Sheridan trusts her, and therefore so should anyone else, is part of what I dislike so much about A View from the Gallery, the episode so smug it makes Doctor Who new series 2 seem like like a relentless exercise in brutal self-criticism. Even if Sheridan trusts her, other people are entitled to their own opinions. Corwin sees a different Lochley from Sheridan.)

            – Contrived explanation. I don’t really think so. Where JMS has maximum flexibility is exactly here, the rules governing how the new station commander gets appointed. It’s straightforward: “It was a condition of Earth joining the Interstellar Alliance that Babylon 5 becomes an Earthforce station again. Earth gets to appoint the commander. That’s what being an Earthforce station means, I’m afraid.” This is less contrived than Sheridan making the choice, I think – the way it actually worked on the show was as if the UN Secretary-General got to appoint the Mayor of New York City.

  4. As a Brit (with something approaching an ‘RP’ accent) I feel obliged to point out (regarding Byron) that no-one in England, ever, has pronounced it “Tele-parth”. Everyone would use the short ‘a’ sound. It made me cringe then and it still does now.

    All the more confusing given that Robin Atkin Downes is English…

    1. I wonder if he was told to English it up for American ears and hyper-corrected? Certain long a’s (e.g. in RP “father”) can be contrasted with the likes of “Yonder lies the castle of my fadda the king” in some dialects of US English.

  5. Season 5 has interesting parallels with Buffy Season 6: new network; surprise season; the themes of central characters growing up and failing bad; and IMO, the writers not quite delivering on the challenge.

    I disagree strongly (for the purposes of pop media chitter) on the lampshading of Lennier’s ‘turn’ even with hindsight. Delenn’s explanation when it happens suggests a sudden anomalous mental breakdown. The problem for me is his few rare expressions of jealousy are directed at Delenn. John is never the target of his ill-will. Lennier treats John as a second to Delenn, someone worthy of his servitude and assistance. This begins with John’s first appearance and continues regularly through the Shadow War. It is beyond professional courtesy, it is friendship. Even when he leaves for the Rangers he is careful to express things are how are, a sacrifice of oneself out of heart’s coflict. From a different reasoning, the notions that he intends to hurt John to get to Delenn or hurt Delenn by hurting John are not written into the character with the strength that I require as a sufficiently contributing cause.

    OTOH Garibaldi has plenty more reason to fall off the wagon. After a psychological rape, if you’ll allow the term, he came around to find he’d betrayed his closest friend and lost Ivanova. The man no-one would take a chance on is handed a job with vast responsibilities. Then his violator is back in his workplace on an open door policy. Garibaldi is told he has no power against him, oh, and Bester can exploit him in the same way if he gets up out of bed the wrong side. If I was Garibaldi I’d be back on the crack.

    1. I would assume that Byon didn’t like the telepathic resistance using violence. (They’re definitely using violence in the Psi Corp trilogy books, can’t remember if it’s been discussed in TV episodes.)

      I suppose it could be their objection to technology, which as our hosts pointed out is extremely silly. “We can’t send out these petitions by *email* – must be hand written parchment” 🙂

      1. Yes, I think Hugh’s right: it’s violence.

        Good catch, Andy. I think that’s quite an important line from the perspective of Byron’s ultimate failure.

        The main (not only) mistake Byron makes is that, being a cult leader, he assumes casually and completely that “mine” is “ours.” In Byron’s mind, his followers will always do exactly what he says, not because he devotes thought and effort into persuading and leading them, but because they think exactly the way he does – because it’s obvious that everybody should. Then it turns out that, when his little group is put under pressure, he’s the only person in it who’s thoroughly committed to non-violence – a feature of him that’s rooted in his individual biography (the incident which caused him to leave the Corps). And disaster ensues in the immediate term, and in the long term, Byron’s actions lead to the violence of the Telepath War, a “success” that’s in direct contradiction to his own principles.

        The annoying thing about the Byron arc, for me, is that it should be really good, because the ideas are nice and strong.

        For me, this is where you look for critique of messianism. God knows that I’ve bored everybody here with my view that looking for direct critique of Sheridan’s messianism is misguided – JMS likes to protect Sheridan, and Sheridan really is the Messiah, the Great Indispensable Hero who really does save everything and change the course of history. The way Babylon 5 works isn’t by taking on Sheridan directly (except in places like In the Shadow of Z’Ha’Dum and The Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place where it’s kept contained within a single episode). Instead, JMS balances the idealized portrayal of Sheridan with mirrors of Sheridan where his heroized features aren’t heroized, so one can appreciate how the main story is contrived to keep Sheridan a positive figure.

        And Byron is, or should be, one of the most effective Sheridan mirrors, because his failure is about one of the things that (God knows) I like to point out about the way Babylon 5 portrays politics and leadership via Sheridan: the story does not consider that anyone except a handful of leading figures might have agency.

        (Which is fine as a storytelling convenience and as a focus on the moral decisions of those leading figures, except when JMS tries to suggest in The Deconstruction of Falling Stars that it is a completely accurate way to look at how the world works.)

        Byron’s mistake is precisely that, creepily, he assumes (and has apparently, but only apparently, achieved) a situation in which that really is the case: the followers’ personalities are subsumed into that of the leader, so that his decisions are their decisions.

        This really should be good. And yet it’s less than the sum of its parts. Not sure why not. Robin Atkin Downes is a capable actor, and does a decent enough job ( and I remember really liking his earlier performances as a Minbari).

        I think one thing is that the other telepaths aren’t really distinguished as characters. They’re just a bunch of interchangeable characters with no individual voices but an apparently inexhaustible supply of hair product. This works in the earlier phases, when it creates the unsettling impression of a cult whose only voice is Byron’s. But it causes things to fall flat when they turn against him – we have no idea who these people are.

        But I recall that the arc was already not very successful by that point at the time, and it’s certainly not as if people remember it nowadays as something good that was let down by its ending.

        I wonder if part of the problem is that, by the rules by which B5 has worked up to this point, it seems as if you’re supposed to like Byron? For me, the turning point at which I became a partial defender of the Byron arc is when I encountered the theory online that JMS was drawing on his own experiences in previous life when he was a member of a cult.

        I’m not sure if that’s actually true (as I haven’t encountered it elsewhere). But once I approached the arc as if the point was that Byron should seem creepy and off-putting, and the viewer should be disturbed by the way in which Lyta is drawn into his cult, it became a *lot* more successful for me. Byron emerges as an ambiguous figure: he’s profoundly unhealthy to be around, and a disastrously bad leader, but he’s also a genuine idealist committed to pacifism who can’t be straightforwardly rejected.

        So I think the reading works – note that the influence of recent history is obvious, but this is a surprisingly sympathetic version of David Koresh – whether or not it actually draws on JMS’s personal history, and I would encourage people to try watching the arc as if you’re not meant to share Lyta’s response to Byron, but to be disturbed by it.

        1. Spoiler for B5AG 92: I *adored* “Paragon,” the next big Byron and the Telepaths story. I’m not quite sure at this point in the rewatch if the telepaths are a cult or a mere movement. But so far, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much I’m enjoying the telepaths arc—and waiting for the shoe to drop: “Oh, yeah, THAT’S why I thought it didn’t work.”

          We’re also holding our breath for the Control Group’s reactions….

          1. I suspected Bryon referred to violence though was thinking of the times we’ve seen the telepath underground before. Apart from shooty-shooty they’ve been quite capable, quite humanitarian, which is why Byron (who I try so hard not to think of as smarmy arrogance incarnate) threw me with this remark.

            A quick google tells me Phoenix Rising aired a fortnight before the 5th anniversary of Koresh’s death, so it’s a solid area for comparison.

            A few of Voord’s comments on Byron’s thoughts, (““mine” is “ours.””, “‘they think exactly the way he does'”),and the like, provoke the view JMS (or any writer of a group of teeps) could structurally write lazy in terms of cameo character motive. If I recall, Byron’s followers are either victims or aggressors in terms of story, which is a shame.

            Aye, I suppose the big man essays will become boring. I enjoyed the one on 4×22, in the comments of the 5×01 podcast. I watched the first six episodes of Sense8 there and haven’t seen so much big man material. Is it something JMS got done with after his superhero comics?

    1. Well, yes, that’s what I mean by “surprisingly sympathetic.” 🙂

      But the end of Byron and his followers is far too similar for me not to feel that it’s an allusion of some sort.

      There’s an amnesia to how public consciousness now as represented by the media tends to envisage the ‘90s, but at the time, while it had been five years, it hadn’t really been five years. The word “Waco” had remained alive and salient in US political discourse in a similar way to the word “Benghazi” during the Obama Administration.

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