“The Long Road”
Original Premiere: March 15, 2001
I was really nervous about this episode. Or, more specifically, I was nervous about how people would react to it. Kendall Johnson was a reasonably popular character, and to have him attempt suicide was definitely going to… evoke something—I just didn’t know what. My main fear was that people would come away from the episode and instantly hate the plot developments—and after the strength of the “Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec” story arc, that was the last thing I wanted. And so, I approached the episode thinking, If I’m going to do this, I’m going to have to do it right.
And so, I did some research. I figured that as long as everything seemed plausible, then people would accept it. I was already familiar with suicide (thanks to a Psychology report I had to write… don’t go getting any ideas), so I hauled out my old research paper and glanced though that. And then I looked through every respectable online database I could find, and basically learned everything that I could about suicide. It wasn’t the happiest experience of my life, but… it really helped set the tone for the episode. After a day or two, I had scrawled a handful of nearly legible notes into my “OFFICIAL TFF NOTEBOOK” (in pink ink, of all colors. What the hell was I thinking?), and was ready to begin blocking the episode.
Everything seemed to fall into place. Kendall’s story arc had essentially been building to “The Long Road.” In the beginning, I knew there would have be an episode that would require Kendall to confront his run of bad luck… I wasn’t exactly anticipating suicide, but, having exchanged several emails with J. Michael Straczynski (the creator of Babylon 5), I knew that there comes a point in each series where the writer can just sit back and let the characters do all the work. And I as sat down to write “The Long Road,” I just let Kendall do his thing, and then wrote down what I saw. And I saw Kendall struggling with suicide…
It was immediately proclaimed one of the best episodes of TFF ever written. Though I don’t have the exact stats any more, I’m pretty sure readers ranked the episode second in the “Annual Stupid Survey,” behind only the immortal “Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec.” My fears, obviously, were unfounded.
The B-story in this episode dealt with Alan and Erin’s relationship: Alan is dying and Erin is pregnant. In retrospect, it was probably a little over the top. As I read through the episode to write this commentary, I couldn’t help but think the words “soap opera.” If I had the chance to rewrite this episode, I’d probably omit the whole “Alan is about to fall over dead” story—or at least delay its introduction for a couple of episodes.
And then, of course, there was the joy of getting Erin pregnant. From the very beginning, I knew that I wanted Alan and Erin to be together—but after I effectively scuttled their relationship in “Moral Compass,” I had to find some way to bring them back together. And as I wrote “The Long Road,” a baby seemed like a fairly decent way to do it. But naturally, the second I finished writing the episode, I realized that the previous episodes hadn’t really established their relationship as anything more than a solid friendship. Sure, they slept together in “Velora,” but there was obviously no action… So I did something a bit unusual by TFF standards: I went back and tweaked a few lines in “Fithos Lusec Wecos Vinosec” to make this whole baby thing seem a bit more plausible.