For the last couple of months, I've been introducing my son to one of my all-time favourite shows, Babylon 5. I was a little worried at first, 25 year old shows haven't always aged well, but this one is one of the exceptions. When I first saw the ads, I thought B5 was a cool concept: a diplomatic center that could serve as a neutral place for different species to work out their differences. Otherwise, it seemed like any other sci-fi show. Space ships - check. Aliens - check. Earth in a surprisingly predominant political and military position among a multi-planetary government - check.
Then I started watching and discovered that not all was as it initially seemed. The character arcs were incredible. The ambassador for the war-like race became a spiritual leader and spokesperson for peace. The ambassador who was the drunken gambler went down a dark path into genocide and then made the only choice he had left for redemption, even though it condemned him to a living hell.
The one that still impresses me is Delenn, once of the Grey Council (the ruling body of her culture) and ambassador to Babylon 5. Played by the talent Mira Furlan, she was dignified, resourceful, and showed a kind of strength that one doesn't often see in female characters. She wasn't a martial warrior, or an encyclopedic exposition device. Her strength was in her quiet determination to do what is right, to convince others to take up her cause, and in her willingness to take a leap into the unknown. Because faith manages.
This is a woman who went into a confined area with hundreds of critically ill and potentially infectious people, so that she could offer them comfort as they died. Who dragged belligerent representatives to the diplomatic table in an effort to avoid bloodshed. Who transformed herself genetically to become a bridge between her own race, the Minbari, and the humans. She arranged for the creation of a fleet of star ships to fight an ancient enemy, one determined to sow chaos and anarchy. And she did it all with a sense of humour and unmatchable grace.
Often, soft spoken and kind women in fiction don't have long lives. Their kindness leaves them vulnerable to bad guys, or they are broken down by outside events. Their memory and example might inspires other to fight, but they don't do battle directly. While Delenn's first choice is diplomacy, she is not afraid of conflict. One of my favourite scenes is this one, where she faces a potential attack with poise, refusing to pretend to be intimidated.
Warship: Do not force us to engage your ships!
Delenn (conveying a perfect mixture of annoyance and amusement):
Why not? Only one captain has ever survived an encounter with a Minbari fleet.
He is behind me.
You are in front of me.
You are in front of me.
If you value your lives, be somewhere else.
This moment was a key point in Delenn's character arc. In the early part of the series, we learn that 10 years before Babylon 5, Delenn was the deciding vote in whether or not to go to war against the humans. Devastated with grief at the death of her mentor, she screamed to "Kill them all" and then spent the entire war quietly regretting that decision. When the Minbari fleet was on the verge of wiping out the human species, she discovered that humans and Minbari shared souls and that eliminating them would destroy the Minbari as well.
She had the courage to correct her mistake, ordering the Minbari to immediately surrender to the besieged planet Earth. She dedicated her life to making sure that mistake was never repeated but did not excuse her actions or allow her guilt to restrict her choices. A traditional male hero who had made such a horrific error would have been discovered hiding in some isolated retreat after a decade of hermitage. Delenn did not withdraw from the world. Instead she had the strength to work to make the world better. And she made those around her better as well.
Her aide put it beautifully, that in Delenn's world, we are all better than we truly are. She strove to bring out the best in others, rather than dismissing them as hopeless.
She also got to fall in love (which I heartily approve of as a romance author). Her partner, Captain John Sheridan, respected her and never put her down in order to build himself up. He went through all of her rituals, even when they made no sense to him, because he recognized that they were important to her. Love didn't mean she stepped down from her position, or became the damsel in distress. It didn't diminish her strength. It made her stronger because she had someone else that she could rely on.
Like I said, that's not a kind of strength that we see depicted often in fiction. The strength that trusts in itself but doesn't need to prove itself or bolster its owner's ego. Strength that can allow itself to be vulnerable. Strength that gets back up after every setback and continues to do what is right and necessary. That strength was something I've striven to imbue in my own heroines, particularly Lily (Metamorphosis) and Martha (Judgment).
A few years ago, I was lucky enough to meet Mira Furlan at Ottawa Comic Con. She was just as funny and gracious as her character. At the time, I had a half-finished Delenn cosplay costume in my closet, and I was disappointed that I couldn't finish it in time to wear. A few months ago, I pulled it out and got back to work on it. Because that's the lesson Delenn teaches us, that it's never too late to do what's right. Or to make the dreams in our hearts come true.
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