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A Distant Star

Back to television for further establishment of John Sheridan as a character, and a tiny little shove on a small piece of the arc as well.


Sheridan is pleased to receive a visitor to the station: Captain Jack Maynard (Russ Tamblyn), his old friend and mentor, now commanding an exploration-class starship. As pleased as he is to receive Maynard's visit, though, Sheridan finds that his old friend's presence brings up some uncomfortable doubts: Is he really suited to his new post, commanding a city in space? Does he even want to be tied to a desk, acting as a politician, when all his training and all his former dreams revolved around exploring the stars?

As Sheridan wrestles with his doubts, Maynard departs the station into hyperspace... where a bizarre accident causes his ship to lose its lock on the jumpgate. Though no ship lost in hyperspace has ever been recovered, Sheridan is determined to attempt a rescue, He rapidly conceives a plan that is as simple as it is ingenious: a line of ships, stretching "from shore to sea" (from jumpgate into hyperspace), each locking onto the next ship in, with the furthest ship in the chain assigned to search for any sign of Maynard's ship.

Meanwhile, Dr. Franklin's follow-up exam of Garibaldi leads him to prescribe a diet... er, "food plan"... for all the members of the command staff, leading to much resentment among Sheridan and Ivanova, and leading Garibaldi to desperate measures in an attempt to cook a special dish for his birthday.


As with Points of Departure and Revelations, much of Sheridan's screen time in this episode is devoted to building and establishing his character. The good news is, the character-building for Sheridan in this episode seems far more organic, and far less ham-fisted, than the character-building from Revelations in particular.

It is already an established fact that, a little over a month prior to this episode (when we first saw him, in fact), Sheridan was commanding a star cruiser. As both he and Maynard observe, all of his training and experience lend themselves toward commanding a space vessel. He is a military line officer; he is not a diplomat or a politician. It is therefore quite natural to find that Sheridan is chafing at the non-stop details and administrative work that go along with his new post.

Sheridan's grumpiness in the first half of this episode also allows writer D. C. Fontana some space to clearly differentiate his character from Sinclair's. Early in the show, Garibaldi casually reports details of his current security investigations to Sheridan, exactly the way he would have done with Sinclair as a matter of course. However, Sheridan cuts Garibaldi off fast and points out that such petty investigations are the security chief's job. "Only bother me with the important stuff," is the basic message he delivers to Garibaldi. Whereas Sinclair made it a point of pride to know everything about his station, Sheridan establishes himself as more of a "big-picture" commander, far less detail-oriented. This fits quite nicely with The Geometry of Shadows, in which we saw Sheridan delegating to Ivanova a task that Sinclair would quite certainly have felt the need to deal with personally.

This episode also gives Boxleitner his first significant scene opposite Mira Furlan's Delenn. Their conversation, as Delenn tells Sheridan about her theory that everyone is in the right place, at the right time, is a very strong scene. Delenn's speech is a lovely, wonderfully-written piece that's beautifully in character for her. Also, Furlan and Boxleitner have a demonstrable on-screen give-and-take. I wouldn't say Furlan has more chemistry with Boxleitner than with Michael O'Hare (she and O'Hare were superb on-screen together as well), but it's a decidedly different screen relationship, which helps to establish the Sheridan/Delenn relationship in its own right.

Finally, Robert Rusler's Warren Keffer gets his first decent showing as a character, as his Season Two arc begins. Since the release of the Season 2 DVD set, it is now fairly well-known that J. Michael Straczysnki was effectively forced to create the Keffer character in response to network notes. This probably explains why Keffer rarely got any particularly good material in the series (it perhaps speaks volumes that the character's first relatively strong episode is written by someone other than Straczynski). Here, the series at least finds a direction for the character that will make him somewhat significant to the 5-year story, as Keffer becomes the first human to encounter a Shadow vessel in hyperspace and live to tell the tale.


I hate to say this, but I was not overwhelmingly impressed by Russ Tamblyn's performance. He was fine in the scenes where he was just chatting with Sheridan. But in his most significant scene - the monologue in which he recalls "seeing something" out on the Rim - his performance feels extremely hammy, complete with overexaggerated facial expressions. Maynard fails to make much of an impression as a character; and by willfully questioning Sheridan's current placement on Babylon 5, he does not come across as nearly as good a friend as we are told he is. I guess you could say that Maynard rubbed me the wrong way in general - a disappointment, as I had quite enjoyed Tamblyn's recurring role on Twin Peaks from a few years prior to this role.

Another note I hate to give, one that I am giving for the first (and I hope last) time, is against Christopher Franke's music. Franke's music has generally been pitch-perfect for the series. Here, for the first time, some of his music becomes a distraction from the episode itself. Not in most of the episode, mind you (the scenes in hyperspace, for instance, are quite well-scored). In the early scenes, however, when introducing the explorer-class ship, Franke's theme for the vessel feels overly-operatic and becomes downright jarring. The music draws attention to itself, rather than simply enhancing the visuals. This is just my opinion, obviously; and given Franke's excellent track record otherwise, I feel fairly safe simply putting this episode down to "a bad day at the office" for him.

An entertaining episode, nonetheless, one that I suspect I'll be rating above its reputation. The hyperspace rescue is suspenseful and well-rendered, the Keffer character is well-used for a change, and Sheridan's characterization in the episodes feels more naturalistic (and distinctive) than in any prior episode to date.

My Final Rating: 7/10

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