20 thoughts on “Earhart’s: “Lines of Communication” Spoiler Space”

  1. I’m glad they dropped the weird phase-shifting effect (I don’t know what else to call it) because it makes no sense. What was meant to be going on with that? As for the different Drakh ‘look,’ I’m not sure… it was st least a change from the later Drakh appearances, in which they look like a Jem’Hadar knock-off…

    1. I believe JMS just wasn’t happy with the Drakh costume and makeup at all, and they tried to cover it a bit in the post production with distortion. Naturally, it was refined for the later appearances.

      Haven’t listened to the podcast yet, but I always thought this episode was one of the weakest of the season, and in retrospect it’s somewhat regrettable that the Drakh, who will play a large role later, are introduced in such a campy fashion. That plot in the episode is like a bad action movie, with dramatic closeups and one-liners. And the ship choreographies seem a bit lazy compared to what Foundation Imaging did.

      1. I wonder if the underwhelming introduction to the Drakh was deliberate. JMS does like his slow burning plots and the defining characteristic of the Drakh is that they somehow evade detection by Sheridan for 18 years. Having the Drakh pop up and neither do anything spectacular or attract much attention from the characters may well have been part of the plan.

      2. I quite like the weird shiftiness (and it still works), putting me in mind of the Borg, for one, also the suggestion they’re not quite synchronised with how we perceive time. So this spooky menace became Drakh for me, rather than ’emissary of’, and I’ll continue to retcon them as per head canon liberty. 🙂

  2. On Crusade:-

    The network interference was awful.

    Except for the uniforms. My God, were they right about that. One has to wonder if some busy executive looked at his first episode, saw the grey-and-red things, and went “These people really don’t know what they’re doing,” and things spiraled downhill from there 🙂

  3. Still no word whethert the B5AGers will be doing Crusade, so… It always bothered me that they had different uniforms , full stop. It was established that 15-20 years in the future EarthForce would still have the default EF uniforms; it was also established that Explorer-ship crews wear the default EF uniform (albeit with some personalised touches – Russ Tamblyn’s cowbot boots…).

    So why was Giden’s crew, before and after they took over the Excalibur, different? I’d probably have been mollified by something as simple as a ,lne of dialogue clarifying that because they’re a deep-space exploration mission, the need to wear dress uniforms was less so they have a class-B or fatigue dress. Something more like how the early DS9/Voyager uniform came to represent a non-dress -uniform.

    As it was I think JMS did a good job of being able to salvage the bellhop-uniform episodes, e en if it did stretch credibility that anyone would see those uniforms and feel inspired that Excalibur’s crew were on the job and looking to save Earth. If the show had cotinued it’d be a minor foornote – but now it’s one fo the major bugbears about its brief run, for me at least!

  4. #repeating_plot_element_watch: this is Delenn’s annual forcible confinement event for season 4. Getting held against her will once a year is one of her character hats.

    Sheridan is incredibly disrespectful to Delenn’s professional life and responsibilities. He deserved considerably more pushback from Delenn than he got. Even at the end of the episode, Sheridan didn’t seem to internalize that keeping Minbar from blowing itself up is rather important.

    Reading between the lines with the benefit of hindsight, it seems the idea of the ISA begins here. It would have been nice if there had been more exploration of the ISA concept here instead of sticking to the very vague notion of building things.

    Springing the ISA on us, later in the season, as a fully formed idea strikes me as a strange narrative choice as it involves the protagonist and main viewpoint character (Sheridan) hiding things from the viewer–which largely defeats the point of him being the viewpoint character.

    1. How is Sheridan being disrespectful? I saw two people who love each other being separated by events, and one asking the other whether there was a way to avoid it.

      Both times Sheridan asked without being demanding, and when Delenn said yes she had to go he accepted it straight away. Heck, take out the “could be dangerous” phrase and you’d have a scene that plays out repeatedly today with professional couples when one of them needs to make a long distance business trip.

  5. This is a reply to Hugh (and to some extent to Professor Headbutt) from the non-spoiler thread:

    First up, I’ll stay away from direct application to contemporary issues (despite temptation…), which is only likely to produce one of those tedious situations in which people say things that boil down to “No, you’re the *real* fascist!”

    Moving on, my point about Fascism is an attempt to draw out a possible implication of (what I thought was) Hugh’s reading = the absence of certain things from how the show depicts politics can be taken as the use of space opera conventions. My point is, that’s still in its way a depiction of politics, and then you have to ask what the depiction suggests is important about politics.

    On that note, I’ll say that the kind of “action” that Hugh is talking about: voting, protesting, etc. *is* talking – it’s political organizing, it’s communicating, it’s managing coalitions. This isn’t an area in which “doing” can be neatly opposed to “talking.” And it’s not the kind of action that B5 depicts politics as being about.

    But my reading diverges from (what I thought was) Hugh’s. I don’t think that this is so much about action, as about an interest in those moments of decision for people in positions of importance. So “politics of elites,” which is to say an incomplete politics, but one that can say some interesting things as long as one doesn’t make the mistake of viewing it as complete.

    I also wouldn’t go as far as Professor Headbutt in claiming that JMS is a closet authoritarian. As is probably pretty obvious by now, I think if one took JMS’s depiction of Sheridan in isolation, that would be pretty plausible.

    (Well, I wouldn’t say anything about JMS himself. Just the show. Malcolm Hulke was an actual communist, for God’s sake, but there are elements in his writing for Doctor Who that don’t seem terribly lefty to me.)

    But Sheridan is not depicted in isolation: Sheridan is played off against an awful lot of mirrors of himself that suggest alternative ways of looking at the same things that are being played straight in Sheridan. And obviously Clark is an actual authoritarian dictator. It matters that the incomplete politics of the show is depicted as being one in which being anti-authoritarian is the correct position. It also matters that in S5

    But I do think there’s an element of wish-fulfillment here that one has to be wary of. B5 celebrates the person in authority who doesn’t just go along, but stands up and risks his or her life and position.

    But when it comes to the question of “And how’s that going to work out?” there’s a large dose of “Faith Manages.” And it always does. No-one we care about ever gets sent to the Gulag and dies there as the price for making the moral but difficult decision to resist the regime. JMS can’t even bring himself to have Clark’s secret police arrest and execute Sheridan’s Dad and Mom – they have to have been protected and survive.

    (No, “Intersections in Real Time” does not count. Actually, I have real problems with that episode, at the same time as finding other things about it that really appeal to me. There is no episode about which I’m so conflicted. But I’ll save those thoughts for when our hosts get there.)

    There’s a quasi-religious sense that if you make the right choice, that’s all that matters, and you will be rewarded for that by success, somehow. Babylon 5’s lack of interest in how political leadership works is not the only element in that, but it’s part of it.

    1. First you are absolutely right that organizing and communicating and managing coalitions is important and valuable. I get carried away grumbling about “progressives” who think that symbolic gestures are sufficient… But enough of that.

      However, I’ve been thinking more about the storytelling problem. I’m now of the opinion that introducing more political elements and showing the behind the scenes negotiation would make B5, or any space opera, *worse*.

      Not because you can’t do politics on TV. House of Cards is a great example of doing it right. (Admittedly I’ve only seen the UK edition, but I hear good things about the US show.)

      But I suspect it only works when all the participants are easily recognisable and understandable, and in Babylon 5 there are just too many aliens. If JMS wrote a scene where Delenn and Sheridan are trying to figure out what will change the Drakh ambassador’s mind into agreeing with the Abbai, the audience are mostly going to be trying to remember which alien race is which. Humans are really good at remembering faces, not so much at latex masks. When the Gaim ambassador in played by an actor in a rigid helmet and speaks through a mechanical translator, how can we get the facial expressions and subtleties of voice? Even good contemporary TV shows are sometimes criticised for assuming that everyone in the world thinks along the same lines as westerners. How can we convey the restrictions and assumptions that a genuinely alien race is operating under?

      I believe this is why in B5 we’ve hardly ever seen alien politics. There was the Drazi purple-green episode, which was played for laughs. We’ve got a couple of episodes with Minbari politics, such as the breaking of the Grey Council. The Minbari have been the most often seen aliens in B5, they are also the aliens closest to humans both in show (merging souls) and in appearance and having the least facial makeup, and Delenn acts as a basically human interpreter and representative. Even so, these episodes are few and far between.

      Politics can be done in science fiction: for book examples there are Kim Stanley Robinsons epic Mars trilogy and more recently the Expanse. But in both these books it’s all humans doing the politics, no aliens.

      Somebody will bring up Deep Space 9. I would point out that all the aliens in Star Trek are, notoriously, just humans with makeup. And in DS9 the most often depicted aliens in politics are the Bajorans, who not coincidentally are the aliens with the least latex and the most cultural similarities.

      1. I think there’s a case for not doing it, to focus on other things – but I don’t think aliens are a good reason. TV aliens, including on Babylon 5, aren’t close to representing what real aliens might be like. We accept as a convention that their body language is essentially the same as humans, for instance, and I’m fine with that.

        1. @Hugh Also the Ferengi, where DS9 examines the finance-politics axis. Capitalist greed isn’t alien ofc, your point stands.

          @Voord99 Absolutely a case, too much behind-the-scenes debacle on S5 to hold the B5 team to account. Unless we pick up on examining the politics of telepaths through the alien lens. Granted it all gets very X-Meny.

          Bester makes often comment to “my superiors” but he is undoubtedly a political advisor, spinner, hidden power swaying if not running the Corps. Talia, w. early Lyta and Byron, can be read as flip-sides of the authoritarian management, civil servant secretaries working indirectly under the ambassador in a military department. Each of these at least in the beginning values the Corps cult of tradition, appeals to a frustrated middle-class, resort to common privilege, living for the struggle and esp noticeably with Bester and Lyta, “limit the instruments for complex and critical reasoning” in their speech, and we can see an identical flip-side of this in Byron’s New Age 5hite.

          In personal-politics: these teeps have owned their estrangement, long before Sheridan’s coup. We need to examine his decision to weaponise the teeps. I’m going to skip that as I’ve spent enough time here and work is mad. Here’s some other stuff I wrote.

          So this weaponising doesn’t quite dovetail with his compassionate providence of sanctuary but it does go a way to explaining why he puts up with Byron, a decision which is quite non-populist, though might win votes from the ISA. It’s certainly an action for action’s sake. Sheridan begins wanting to learn from the teeps but fails because Byron and Bester ask too much. He has mismanaged Lochley, provoking her into allowing Bester undue influence. The teeps are failed through elitism and hero-centrism of Sheridan/Bester/Byron, though there are many other reasons.

          One problem that comes with this telepath alienism lens is that in story, for all the Teeps talk of solidarity there are no scenes where they mix it up with other species teeps. Anti-Alien Clark yes, but nowhere neither do any of these other species talk about telepaths places in their society. Edgars plans should worry the Minbari, conceivably it’s something the Shadows, with their stake, would have been aware of.

          Anybody could think we didn’t like B5.

  6. Oops. Left part of that out in editing.

    Paragraph 8: “It also matters that in S5”

    should read

    “It also matters that in S5 what we see Sheridan inhabit has the trappings of a normal liberal-democratic position, just one in which all problems boil down to how you deal with leaders (ambassadors, Byron, etc.), never how you deal with politics in a broader and more multifaceted manner.”

  7. Following up to the discussion here and in the spoiler-free post about B5’s ideological message: I don’t see B5’s message as having undertones of Mussoliniian Fascism. Mussolini’s Fascism was inseparably bound to ideas about the overwhelming importance of the state in everyday life and to ideas about abolishing the line between between the state and large businesses. B5 never advocates for either of these pillars of Fascism; indeed it does not address the relationships between the state and other entities except, notably, in relation to Clark’s dictatorship. I think there’s a good case to be made that Clark’s dictatorship is a warmed-over version of Mussoliniian Fascism, but B5’s ideal form of leadership is something quite different.

    I feel B5’s ideal form of governance is along the lines of a Big Man-style of persuasive, rather than authoritative, leadership. All of the characters have their best moments when they persuade others to do things (e.g. Sheridan persuading the League rabble to fight the Shadows and Vorlons), not when they use authority, and when they use their authority, the results are typically morally ambiguous (Sheridan ordering the use of the Shadow-telepaths to disable Earth Force) or outright wrong (Delenn deciding to wipe out humanity). B5 rewards good persuaders above all else and does not treat those who pull rank very well.

    1. [Replying to Cassandra]

      Fascism was a complicated and incoherent mess of different tendencies, and I think isolating only one as essential and inseparable as problematic.

      That particular one seems to me to resemble a common American categorization of political ideologies which prioritizes the relationship of the state with the market as the defining feature of any political tendency. Which is useful for some purposes, but not others. After all, corporatism was not in its original context a very distinctive feature of Fascism: Mussolini didn’t originate it, and there were plenty of Italians who supported that sort of thing who were also anti-Fascists.

      For the valorization of action over talking, see Umberto Eco’s thoughts at http://www.nybooks.com/articles/1995/06/22/ur-fascism/ (where he makes the important point that Fascism is incoherent as philosophy, but not as rhetoric). If you like, one can redefine this as less about the “real” Fascism and more about Fascism as Eco defines it (but the man did after all live under it).

      But with regard to Babylon 5, I don’t think there’s any real doubt that Clark is *supposed* to be the fascist here. But the question is the degree to which JMS’s heroization of Sheridan shares territory with Fascism, specifically if one reads the politics of this as Hugh would like to, as a celebration of doers over talkers. Shares territory: the match doesn’t have to be complete.

      1. I was addressing only the issue of the centrality of economic control to Mussolini’s Fascism, as this branch of discussion began with premise that Sheridan’s leadership practices exhibit shades of Mussolini’s brand of (capital-F) Fascism.

        Economic control was definitely critical–and, I would say, vital–to Mussolini’s interests. To quote Mussolini:

        The Fascist State lays claim to rule in the economic field no less than in others; it makes its action felt throughout the length and breadth of the country by means of its corporative, social, and educational institutions, and all the political, economic, and spiritual forces of the nation, organized in their res­pective associations, circulate within the State.

        Source: http://www.worldfuturefund.org/wffmaster/Reading/Germany/mussolini.htm

        I agree that Sheridan exhibits ‘generic fascist’ (e.g. what Eco calls ur-fascist in the article you linked) characteristics (one of his roles is military dictator of Babylon 5, after all) but I believe Sheridan’s disinterest in economic issues is a strong strike against his leadership being considered particularly Mussolini-like.

  8. The holes, esp. in military man —> politician do occurr and regardless of Sheridan’s diplomatic skills on a star-ship to station, the war status causal roots of the military persists. Sheridan late S3/early S4 bombed and blasted his way through the universe, and he’s trying to put his B5 council skills to use in tandem with more boom and bam. The Northern Irish ceasefire was brokered by some exceptional politicians, esp. Mo Mowlam and David Ervine, but constantly up against their backs were a lot of terrible politicians, those who fuelled hatred in the war years, and ex-terrorists learning politics on-the-lam, both types taking credit for the peace. Personally, I have problems with those esp. who by use of force without popular support, are granted amenesty and political office. Which should kind of put me against Sheridan, except he was voted in.

    ““It also matters that in S5 what we see Sheridan inhabit has the trappings of a normal liberal-democratic position, just one in which all problems boil down to how you deal with leaders (ambassadors, Byron, etc.), never how you deal with politics in a broader and more multifaceted manner.”

    Yes but Byron was a massive twat.

    It would have been interesting to explore Sheridan’s complicity in Se5 – a sort of Yes, Minister in space, though it doesn’t quite hit the big action beats. Perhaps The Thick of It in space? I’d love to hear Bruce Boxleitner say,

    “In Valen’s name Byron, look at you! I’ve seen more meat on a Vorlon and your hair looks like spaghetti made by a Drakh emissarry. Drop an acid? You’re lucky Ivanova’s not here, she’d drop you in acid. Actually, Moses sandals, that’s not a bad idea. Someone get me baldie on the comm.”

    To the Right Honourable Members, on the matter of wartime complicity and politics, might this have been explored in Lochley’s character? It really should have. She’s learning what Sheridan had to learn at first, except, she’s a baddie. If B5 was as pro-Sheridan as we’ve seen, Lochley could reasonably be treated by some of its populace as a Clark sympathiser. Oh, Mack and Bo, when dost thou strike? Much station-centric drama to be had there.

    The relationship between state and big business: Sheridan failed to defend a shopkeeper from Clark, though helped another, but didn’t he shut down the gift shop and Lochley, a holo-brothel?

    Cautionary tale: A few threads ago, I argued over the right to talk politics specifics around B5. I repeated this sentiment elsewhere on soc.med. A Youtuber came back, ‘as long as we don’t make stupid generalisations’ and followed up with ‘Obama is like Clark’s regime resurrecting Patriot Act. #OhFFS No irony, no idea that Babylon 5 was not about Obama or Trump AND written many years before they’d run for office? (Show us your birth certificate, JMS!) I replied at great length informing him it was an analogy for the trials of Radio Caroline. The broadness of B5 means you can apply it to many things worth talking!

  9. “Which should kind of put me against Sheridan, except he was voted in.”

    Correction: Not an ‘except’, as so were the non-fictional ex-terrorists. My bad. The N.Irish war-tribe leaders and the B5 leaders both retained links through peer groups, community to military forces to some extent, though you could say Sheridan dropped his quicker, while retaining the cross-species ideological actions.

    Sorry there’s no jokes in this one.

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