Earhart’s: Spoiler Space for “A Distant Star”

We have two comparably sized pinnacles of Earthforce technology: the immobile space station Babylon 5 and the star-spanning EAS Cortez. We have a captain-turned-military governor going ever so slightly stir crazy when the latter’s captain visits him at the former. We have mysteries in hyperspace.

We have a spoiler section.

So, this is where you talk about the implications of Dr. Franklin’s food plans on the five-year arc.

17 thoughts on “Earhart’s: Spoiler Space for “A Distant Star””

  1. I debated whether to broach this subject yet, but I figured that when we get to the point that Warren Keffer’s storyline draws to a close, you guys will have way more important things to talk about, it being the season finale and all, Plus, I came up with a title for this post and I’m damned if I’m not going to use it…

    We Need To Talk About Keffer

    A definite contender for the most pointless main-cast member in the entire show. Ko’dath/Na’toth had their purposes, and largely failed through bad luck of casting actresses who couldn’t handle the make-up or foudn better things to do. Andrea Thompson’s and Tracey Scoggins’ characters had notable amounts of backstory and plot threads of arc significance. But what does Warren Keffer do? He comes from nowhere, is suddenly the main cast’s best friend, sees something weird in hyperspace and eventually (in yet another iteration of the Icarus meme) gets too close to what he seeks and is destroyed by it. And then is never mentioned again, not even really when EarthGov pretends to investigate the footage from his gun-cameras.

    So even if you ignore his status as an unholy combination of Cousin Roy and Poochy (both from the same Simpson’s episode – I really must look up to see which aired first) he doesn’t do much. And what he does do does not really advance the arc one iota. For a lot of the time he’s trying to investigate the strange ship he saw, we’re already getting an inkling of what it represents and what it can do. What would have been better was if his story and his obsession had been introduced in the first season, when what he sought would have remained far more of a mystery to us, the viewers, for longer.

    I’m now wondering whether mainly his role was to take on a part of the arc that had to be dumped when O’Hare left – perhaps it was Sinclair who was going to see this strange ship from his Starfury and develop an obsession about it, and JMS couldn’t bear to let this plot thread go yet couldn’t think of a good reason to have Sheridan out there in a Starfury and coming a potential cropper, not when a similar scenario would crop up later in the season in “All Alone In The Night.”

    1. Well as I recall JMS created the character at the insistence of the studio and made a point of killing him off as soon as he could.

    2. I see Keffer as a way to introduce the Shadows into the story and to start getting Shadow background to the audience without the main characters getting involved yet. If Sheridan had seen a shadow vessel he would have gone full out trying to figure out what it was and it’s too early in the arch to do that. So instead, bits and pieces of the Shadows start to get introduced through Keffer .

      1. That’s a fun theory. I can rightly imagine Keffer’s arc-relevant lines being voiced by O’Hare with his deep and eerie gravitas.

        I was going to make a profound point here about Keffer, one that would make you all sit up and take notice of him in a new light. Meh. Instead, I’m going to remember fondly that wisdom he passed onto us in his final days:

        “AIEEEEEEEEeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
        eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep”

  2. A Distant Star is far from the worst episode of B5. But it may be a contender for the blandest. As part of the ongoing early-S2 “let’s add stuff to Sheridan” agenda, this one lands on the purest unadulterated 24-carat cliché: a man of action like Sheridan doesn’t feel comfortable in a “desk job.” Sheridan should go and have a drink with a detective who doesn’t do things by the book, but gets results. For added bonus cliché: character meets up with old friend and they reminisce about unexplained incident that’s hilariously embarrassing, establishing that they are Good Friends who share a Past.

    At the time, I suspect (I hadn’t quite started watching yet) that Keffer’s sighting of a Shadow vessel covered how little of interest aside from that actually happens in A Distant Star. Knowing that relatively little will be done with that affects my response to the episode when watching it nowadays.

    As it is, for me the most interesting thing about the episode is JMS’s rather ham-handed defense of naming the Cortez after Cortez. (Better response: that people in this future heroize figures like Cortez is a sign that not everything is quite right with this future Earth.)

    I also find it hard to believe that chaining ships to extend the range of a search of hyperspace is in need of quite as thorough explanation to the pilots as Sheridan and Ivanova seem to think it is. It seems like something that would be a standard (if infrequently used) technique. But I suppose it had to be explained to the viewer (if not quite this carefully). And definite points for a plot in which there’s an obvious possible solution, the characters try the obvious possible solution, and the obvious possible solution turns out actually to be the solution.

    1. I have been known to fly little planes from time to time and I most certainly would want a very thorough briefing if we were to be doing something non standard, so the idea of over explaining in a briefing does not seem odd to me at all

  3. Just have to say that I felt about the actor playing Captain Maynard the way Erika felt about Sinclair. If this character was a regular, I’d have to have a regular “Maynard check”. He just wasn’t believable to me. The others around him made his scenes tolerable, but barely. I didn’t buy him as the “cowboy alpha male” at all. Unfortunately, it colored my whole experience of this episode, which has some fantastic character development. Possible it was the directing, but it just didn’t work for me.

    1. I really enjoyed him much more learning he was Dr. Jacoby. I’d never spotted the similarity before!

      The over-acting and over-explosions on the Cortez do spoil it a bit, though I found a lot to like about this episode. There’s firsts sneak up here: B5 staff learning of the space crabs, Delenn and Sheridan’s first click

      There’s a lot going on in this episode which tries to pretend there isn’t. It uses the Cortez stuff for big traction and wheels out a nice dessert trolley of little stories. Though at times it is a bit like working through a sheet of bubble wrap for kicks. Great if you’ve not done it before, old if you’re…older.

  4. One of the things that I despise about science fiction, which was initiated by Star Trek (I think) and continued throughout the franchise and into others as well, was the importance given the “doctor”. In naval vessels, the doctor is not important, and isn’t able to force himself into making non-medical decisions (yes, I hate McCoy). In my time in the US Navy, the doctor came to the bridge just once, just to see what it was like. I’m surprised he was able to find his way up there, even though all you had to do was climb up ladders in the tallest section of the ship until you reached the top. This episode did nothing but strengthen my belief that doctors should never be shown in SF (when something medical is required, one command officer can say to the other that,”The medical department discovered XYZ.”). Franklin’s presence in this episode was embarrassingly puerile. He wasn’t needed. He wasn’t funny. He was beyond annoying. I know he plays a more significant role later on, and from what I can remember, I could have lived without his presence in the entire series.

    1. That’s an interesting point. With regard to Star Trek, I wonder if the prominence of McCoy has something to do with the popularity of medical dramas like Dr Kildare in the 1960s. I think you’re right that it was ST that cemented this as “this is how things work” for future SF TV shows.

      1. Franklin is vital in having made a life of visiting and studying other species. He’s more overt talking about it, than say, Delenn. Other ambassadors generally only meet other ambassadors and Sinclair or Sheridan wield that Earth Alliance authority. They’re good guys, but let’s be at it: they shoot at stuff. Franklin (or any doctor) is much more interested in keeping the inner workings going, so he’s sustenance to all the story. The same is true of non-fiction.

        Having made the case, I think we might have got a little more cosmo-anthropology out of Garibaldi. He’s traveled, he’s ground level and has dealt with alien races everyday. Yet the only regular contact we get through him is his friendship with Londo and G’Kar and his growing dislike of the Drazi.

        1. I think it’s a fair point as far as Franklin’s story importance goes, but it doesn’t mean that the doctor having that kind of central role in decision-making is plausible in terms of military organization. (It actually is pretty plausible in Star Trek, which is at least ostensibly about a scientific exploratory organization.)

          But there’s a lot about Babylon 5, I think, that makes better sense in story terms than if one tries to approach this as a real organization. For one thing, it makes dubious sense that Sinclair/Sheridan are effectively sole diplomatic representative of Earth. That’s on its face a job for a professional diplomat, and in fact one would expect that the station would have a substantial civilian diplomatic establishment. Diplomats exist, as The Long, Twilight Struggle reveals and as one would expect in any case. Also, at no point does Sinclair or Sheridan ever seem to have to refer any kind of diplomatic decision to a foreign ministry of any kind: Sinclair does a lot of communicating with one particular senator and worrying about the Senate, and Sheridan (more plausibly, to be fair) reports to superior military officers. This all suggests that Earth has a very odd idea of how to organize its involvement in a UN in space.

          But, obviously, for story purposes we want our lead to be the crucial decision-maker in stories of several different types.

  5. Politics comes up a lot in B5, doesn’t it? Sometimes it’s contentious, sometimes voicing for those that were suppressed. It’s kind of inescapable and I’m glad about that.

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