Earhart’s: “Strange Relations” Spoiler Space

When Chip first watched this episode, back in the day, he had this delayed reaction of, “Oh, yeah. Telepath colony? Of course Bester would show up!”

Chip is not very smart.

Please feel free to discuss future episodes of Babylon 5 and all the hints to the future that are seeded in this episode. Which Chip probably missed at the time as well. Because he’s not smart.

One thought on “Earhart’s: “Strange Relations” Spoiler Space”

  1. Having rather belatedly listened to the podcast, a couple of thoughts:

    – I’m curious as to why our hosts think that Babylon 5 is still technically in secession. Is this something that the show says at some point that I missed?

    I’ve always assumed that, legally, B5 is back to being an Earthforce station in S5, just one that temporarily functions as the center of administration of the Interstellar Alliance and has some peculiar temporary frictions and administrative weirdnesses that go along with that. For instance, the deal in which Sheridan negotiates an amnesty and continued careers for every other rebel member of Earthforce aside from himself imply that B5’s personnel are now back to being considered members of Earthforce in good standing. Another point is that the deal specifically grants independence to Mars, implying that Earth’s sovereignty over rebel territories like B5 that aren’t explicitly granted independence is recognized by all parties.

    There are two reasons to think otherwise. The first is that Sheridan got to appoint the station commander. But Sheridan is no longer military governor of the station (=why they need a new commander), and this is apparently something that he does as President of the Interstellar Alliance. It’s a little strange (although no weirder than the thing that I love to point out, that there is never an actual Earth ambassador to the LoNAW or IA, just the station commander), but it has to be chalked up to “part of the treaty of alliance.”

    The other reason is that Zack and Franklin never change their uniforms (well, until Sleeping in Light). That’s stronger evidence, but it’s not as if the new uniforms were ever generalized to all rebel former Earthforce members on B5, and in both the real world and in the B5 universe (see Crusade, twice) military organizations can display quite a bit of variety in this area.

    Obviously, this is all stuff that JMS almost certainly did not bother to think through in detail. The reason why the new uniforms stay is because JMS and other people making the show thought that they looked good.

    In some ways, I wish JMS had spent more time fleshing this out. These sort of details are where the meat of a lot of the difficulties that come up in international co-operation lies. (See what has happened to the UK in the Brexit negotiations for an instance of how easy it is disastrously to avoid reckoning with difficult points of detail when you conduct your thinking solely in broad strokes.)

    But perhaps Adventures in the Nitty-Gritty of Institutional Design and Interstellar Law might not have made for absorbing television. 🙂 And there’s probably too much about the B5 universe that’s a Rube Goldberg contraption to begin with, designed not to make sense but to contrive interesting situations for stories — subject it to close scrutiny and it falls apart, and in the meantime you’ve deprived yourself of some great hours of television.

    – The more I think about it, the more I think that arguing that JMS “had” to make Lochley Sheridan’s ex-wife because he “had” to have someone that Sheridan would trust is putting the cart before the horse.

    It’s the other way around: the alleged need for “trust” is there to provide a justification for her being Sheridan’s ex-wife by giving Sheridan a motivation to choose her, and that’s all it’s there for.

    The thing is, JMS is writing the show! As our hosts point out, there are endless other ways that you could justify Sheridan trusting Lochley, starting with him having known her for years. But in any case, this need for trust is entirely the artifact of JMS giving Sheridan a free choice of who to appoint as station commander in the first place — it wasn’t something given by Lord God Almighty from on high that JMS has to presume when writing.

    So, “trust” is a red herring. So what’s “Lochley as ex-wife” doing? I think there are four things.

    1) The first is the opposite of creating trust. It’s there to create a mystery about her character so that the viewers, like Garibaldi, *don’t* trust her. This mystery serves to make her character more interesting during the very tricky opening of S5, which has definite pacing problems due to the compression of events into S4. This is worth doing in principle: a Lochley who just turned up and did exactly what she does in the opening episodes of S5 without there being some suggestion that there is more to it would probably come across as a little flat and boring.

    More exactly, the ex-wife stuff is the way to dispose of the mystery when it’s served its purpose. Note that this is done as the telepath arc is approaching its conclusion = at the point when Lochley becomes a less significant character in the main arc of the season, since she’s more peripheral to the raiders/Centauri/IA stuff that dominates the second half of S5.

    2) It’s there as part of Garibaldi’s story over the season. Again, this is about the *absence* of trust, and the ex-wife stuff is not its own point, but there to dispose of a mystery once that mystery has served its purpose. But the mystery is the point, not its explanation — it’s there to create conflict between Garibaldi and Lochley so that she can be the recovering addict who helps him at the end: the classic conflict to harmony dramatic arc.

    Again, there’s an element of managing the problem of S5, by giving Garibaldi something to do during opening episodes which don’t offer him all that much. One of the things that’s impressive about S5 is how JMS contrives to keep Garibaldi in the spotlight in preparation for him being absolutely critical to the second half of the season without making it seem obvious.

    (It is worth remembering that S5 was to some extent designed for new viewers picking it up on TNT, and is therefore not quite like the normal last season of a long-running show. Established viewers might have been fine with Garibaldi suddenly moving back to the forefront, but new viewers would not.)

    3) The eventual solution to the mystery is, I think, designed to show Sheridan as an ingenious and resourceful politician. Note that its political advisability is endorsed by Delenn. He appoints a commander who fought on the other side, but one that is nevertheless his “ideal” choice. Both A and B — “trust” is here so that there is a B, so that Sheridan can be shown to have come up with a way covertly to achieve two goals at the same time without people (specifically, those humans who would welcome a Clarkite station commander) realizing it.

    That it is a secret (implausible though that is) is part of the effect: it gives the sense of a masterstroke by a savvy operator, just as throughout the series we have seen plots in which Sheridan comes up with a clever way to win, often one that is concealed from the viewer.

    4) It’s possible that JMS’s plans for Crusade had advanced to the point of sketching out Gideon’s character, and his hero-worship of Sheridan plays a significant role in his relationship with Lochley. In that context, this detail of Lochley’s backstory works rather well.

    So if one wants to defend JMS, one can say that he was ruthlessly subordinating the needs of Sheridan, the character at the center of the show that was ending, in order to serve Gideon, the character at the center of the show that was beginning. Since I prefer Gideon to Sheridan, I’m OK with that. 🙂

    Overall, this is potentially a quite elegant solution to real problems (esp. 1 and 2). The problem, as I’ve commented before, is that it’s never made plausible that it’s a secret, and it does a tremendous amount of damage to the Sheridan-Delenn relationship, to the extent that I can’t accept it as “really” part of Sheridan’s character. The cost is just not worth the gains.

    I found it a little amusing that our hosts were so bothered by Lochley’s response to Delenn here. It was insensitive (but it’s consistent with Lochley’s depiction that she might have the personal flaw of always thinking in professional terms and so immediately leaping to “But how does this affect the *job*?”, and as such it’s a nice sensitive piece of character work). But come on — it surely pales in comparison with the scumbaggery of Sheridan *never telling Delenn about his ex-wife.*

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