Babylon 5–Season 2, Episode 4: A Distant Star

Oh, dear. The black guy we never saw before this episode gets killed, and the other black guy we’ve never seen before is just another cagey smuggler happy to bend the rules for personal profit. It’s a good thing that I was in college learning about the glorification of White Male Privilege and its pernicious grasp on popular culture instead of actually having to watch it on TV or my brain might have exploded. Thank goodness our dorms didn’t have cable TV or Internet access. It was hard enough to be exposed to the damaging assumptions about masculinity and femininity that were present in books. And it doesn’t help that what sticks out most in my mind is this recipe for Bagna Cauda that Garibaldi makes and that I very badly want to try. Only four things are holding me back:

1. It’s still summertime.
2. It’s fattening.
3. I don’t, as a rule, like anchovies.
4. I need an occasion. Labor Day wasn’t it.

So onto the episode!

I’ll get the formulaic plot elements out of the way right away: Yeah, yeah, Sheridan’s friend comes from exotic locales afar and Sheridan starts to chafe under the tedium of routine. He questions his motivations aloud, lashes out at innocent people close to him, is told that adventure will find him (which it does), solves a terrible crisis with minimal loss of life and great gain, discovers a new enthusiasm for his desk job, and manages to tidy his desk. Did you really not see that coming? That’s my big complaint. I forget sometimes just how much better TV is now in general than it was ten years ago, and how much skill audiences have learned about reading television’s visual cues and relying on genre expectations. Ten years ago this was probably still a cliche, but it was certainly a novel setting for it. And it’s not like cliches are bad or uninteresting; the literature of the ages recycles plots in order to show off characters, and I think this has shown us some things about Sheridan that we didn’t know yet. Although I have now forgotten the Egyptian blessing twice (something about gods standing between you and bad things), it was touching, and it was interesting to hear him quote something so poetic. True, he didn’t necessarily read it for himself, but he has carried it with him. That’s twice now he has invoked religious sentiment (the other time I remember was when he was talking with Elric the Technomage). It’s interesting to see a religious sentiment in a science fiction story, especially with alien races contributing to the discussion, and in conversations between captains and staff. I wonder if there’s going to be some faith plot arc, in either a mystery-verified or crisis-of scenario.

Another telling detail shown to us about Sheridan is that he passionately endorses a far-out rescue mission basically to save his friend and his confidence in his dreams that puts the lives of his pilots in serious danger and actually kills one. I don’t know what kind of pre-pep talk happened, but I really got the impression that this was not a volunteer mission, and that Sheridan really should not have required anyone to risk his or her life on a hare-brained scheme. He was lucky that it only killed one person (and a person who should have been expecting it–see above). I can’t help but compare Sheridan to Admiral Adama, who never would have made the rescue attempt mandatory and who would have gotten 100 percent commitment anyway. If I work really hard I can come up with a justification for it involving scientific discovery and the possibility of defense against an unknown enemy, but mostly I think it’s an oversight. Either Sheridan is selfish and playing games with the lives of his crew or the writers and producers didn’t think about it or the scene was cut for time and it was edited out. And we did get some spectacular and thrilling shots of the Explorer Class Cortez, complete with theatrical and inspiring music. That ship was magnificent, and it was as exciting to see arrive as Sheridan had promised it would be.

So onto Ivanova. I have learned some things that I did not particularly care to learn, because I was mucking around a discussion board I knew I had no business mucking around. Oh well. So I am pretending that I never learned it, and am going to stubbornly point out all the silly wink-wink-nudge-nudge-elbow-leaning that goes on between Ivanova and Garibaldi in this episode. All of you wiser and more experienced viewers may be laughing right now at my naivete and looking forward to the day when I find out just how fully the joke’s been on me, but Ivanova and Garibaldi have been and are still flirting with each other and that’s that. I am not crazy for seeing it and I am not totally cherry-picking details to fit my theory. But I will expand my theory a little… Ivanova, Garibaldi, and Sheridan really are alone on this station. It is unreasonable to expect them not to find companionship in each other and it is inappropriate for them to be chumming it up with their subordinates and residents. Perhaps there aren’t casual three-ways happening off camera just to get it out of their systems, but this group of three is the entire audience with whom they can flirt and play sexy games without undermining their authority. Sinclair had a fiancee unrelated to the business of the station; Sheridan is a widower with still-vivid scars. But it would be harsh to expect Garibaldi and Ivanova not to enjoy some of life’s smaller pleasures with their equals.

Besides, although I’ve heard what I’ve heard, I’ve also read that it is implied and not definitive. I hope I can mount a vigorous rebuttal and save face without stretching reasonable explanations too far. Curse you, Interwebs! For revealing information to me in places I sought out!

I am at a crossroads: If I don’t quickly wrap this up right now I’ll end up dragging it out all day or week. So I guess all that is left are my…

Random Thoughts: There is a disproportionate number of “9s” in television and movies, mostly because saying “niner-niner” sounds so cool. Much cooler than saying four-niner-eight or seven-two-two. Speaking of numbers… why are there so many frikkin blue pasta spoons in Sheridan’s quarters? Were those all purchased off his wedding registry from a store not to careful about updating the list? It is refreshing, however outdated, to hear a TV doctor tell a TV patient that she needs to gain weight without resorting to a very special episode about eating disorders or cancer (even though I don’t think the actress looks particularly skinny or scrawny in the show). Delenn totally distracted the doctor from his line of questions about how the other Minbari were accepting her transformation; she absolutely knew what Bagna Cauda was and why the shipment was secret and wanted to avoid admitting her own fears and problems even though it meant causing problems for someone else. Speaking of which, it is always good to see that an entire race of beings is not portrayed as a monolithic thought. There is the Minbari Priest caste and the Minbari Warrior caste, but even within them there are different opinions and goals. This episode portrayed the incredible controversy that must be brewing over Delenn, the humans, the missing Minbari souls, and racial identity in an efficient and believable way. The reference to Carl Sagan and Star Stuff was just lovely. The completely coincidental non-reference to “Universe Today” was just a crack up. Simple things like that make me happy.

And now I am officially redorkulated.

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  • nevermore  On September 3, 2008 at 2:15 am

    You weren’t the only one suspecting something going on between Ivanova and Garibaldi :) There’s another “Babylon 5 Virgin” who’s been blogging for several months now, (she’s now started season 5, though, so beware of spoilers) – and she was also shipping Ivanova and Garibaldi for about two seasons, I believe.

    Personally, I liked that Sheridan wasn’t set up as the tough captain who can handle anything and never has doubts from the beginning. It’s not an isolated thing in this episode: He had doubts about being in the right place in s2/ep1, couldn’t get over the loss of his wife two years ago in s2/ep2, and now he feels out of place again.

    You are right about Delenn; she’s having a tough time with the consequences of her decision. How did you get the impression that she knew what Bagna Cauda is, though? I don’t think she knew. Her knowledge of human culture and society is, let’s say, strikingly limited sometimes, when it comes to the mundane, everyday things :)

  • Karen  On September 3, 2008 at 9:03 am

    I guess I didn’t think that she knew Bagna Cauda was an Italian fondue, but she certainly knew it was something Garibaldi was cooking up and that he was trying to keep secret, and she didn’t bring it up to the doctor until his line of questioning became personally uncomfortable. Her knowledge of human society and culture may be limited, but she knows sneaky when she sees it and she knows how to distract and dodge.

  • Dianna Butler  On September 3, 2008 at 9:30 am

    Where did you get the idea that Garibaldi was after Ivanova? Micheal had been pining, for years, over Lise, the woman he left back on Mars of to follow ‘this Sinclair character’ to Babylon 5.
    As for Bagna Cauda, when the show came out and this episode aired, I wondered about BC so I asked my MD about it. He almost fainted when I told him the ingredents. I had to promise NEVER to make it!

    Thankx for your review.

  • nevermore  On September 3, 2008 at 11:25 am

    @Dianna, I thought that mediterranean cuisine was supposed to be sooo healthy :)

    Michael has been pining over Lise and he has taken a definite interest in Talia Winters. I can understand where people are coming from, though. Susan keeps teasing and joking with Michael in a manner that seems flirtatious, but it’s more like a close buddies thing. If there was something going on between them – oh dear :) We’ll talk about that after “Divided Loyalities” :)

  • Karen  On September 3, 2008 at 11:52 am

    Oh, there’s nothing Mediterranean about bagna cauda–it’s a dish from the northern, Alpine regions of Italy. I either already knew this and am dropping this fact into the conversation or I looked it up on Wikipedia. (You decide!)

    As for whether Garibaldi is still pining for Lise or flirting up a storm on the space station, well… can’t you do both at the same time?

  • nevermore  On September 3, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    Just consulted my cookbooks – you’re right, Bagna Cauda’s from Piedmont, northern Italy. My mistake. There’s a Babylon 5 “dining guide”, a cookbook featuring all the dishes in the B5 series, but it’s out of print; pretty rare and expensive to get 2nd hand.

    On another note re: “Geometry of Shadows” and female technomages, I’m in the process of reading the B5 technomage trilogy, and it turns out the founder of the technomage order was a woman called Wierden.

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