There’s been a subplot growing throughout season 2, in which Delenn and Sheridan are spending time together on a more personal level. I’ve been enjoying the chance to get to know Delenn better as a character, but I’m still wary of the romantic undertones.
Now, when we first met Delenn, we didn’t know anything about her or her race (we didn’t know anything about any of the aliens!). But whereas Londo and G’kar, in their constant personal conflict, frequently revealed both themselves and their cultures to the audience, Delenn and the Minbari seemed doomed to remain ever-Mysterious. The show loved to tease us with the Mysteries– who was Delenn, really, and why was she on B5? What’s the meaning of the title “satai”? What did the Minbari do to Sinclair, and why did they want him in charge of Babylon 5? Why did they surrender, anyway?
These mysteries made for excellent plot, but terrible character development– it’s very difficult to relate to a character whose primary trait is Mysteriousness. But as the mysteries were revealed (all with appropriately-fascinating stories, by the way; we weren’t being led on for no reason!) it left more room to also reveal the personalities behind the mysteries. It would have been simply impossible to dedicate time to Delenn’s conflicted standing within the Minbari, or her frustration with the Great Council, or even her unmanageable hair, if the Minbari were still covered up with the blanket label “Mysterious.”
And the episode I just finished, “Confessions and Lamentations,” does a great job of illustrating the ways in which our relationship to Delenn has changed. First, it continues a subplot from a previous episode– Sheridan took her out for a human-style meal a few episodes back, and she has returned the favor by inviting him to a ritual Minbari meal. Whereas earlier on, the Minbari rituals were treated as Mysterious (but important)– as with the extremely formal Rebirth Ceremony in the first season, which the main characters studiously attended, but certainly didn’t understand. Half of them were too nervous to eat the ritual fruit, and afterwards, Sinclair’s girlfriend suggested that it could very well have been a marriage ceremony (leaving me, and probably all the other viewers, wondering how Delenn would tell him they were married.)
It’s a good contrast to the ritual meal in this episode: the fundamentals are similar (it’s a ridiculously complex ritual, which forced poor Lennier to spend two days without sleep to cook it) but the show (and the captain) approach it with a very different attitude. It’s something funny, now– the comic relief in what turns out to be a dark episode. We laugh with poor Sheridan as his food just keeps eluding him– the look on his face when Delenn said they had to meditate after every bite!– and it ends with Sheridan accidentally falling asleep. Even Lennier seems to be aware of the humor in the situation– when Delenn says that they must do it again some time, he looks at her as if she were mad, then gives a visibly strained smiled to Sheridan. “Oh yes,” he says. “Of course.”
We don’t have to worry nearly so much about ill effects of the ritual or shady motives of the Minbari– this is someone we’ve become comfortable with, so we can have a bit of a laugh at her culture’s expense, just as we’ve done with the other alien cultures at times. No one felt quite safe eating the fruit of the Rebirth Ceremony, but here Sheridan happily shares an entire meal of foods he can’t identify.
Later, we also see some pretty significant glimpses into Delenn’s emotional state. Mysterious Figures don’t get worried (or excited)– it would ruin the mystery. But here, we see Delenn full of righteous indignation as she insists upon being allowed to comfort the dying Makab, and with nostalgic joy recounting a comforting story from her childhood, and then utter despair when Sheridan re-enters the isolation room, and of the four thousand people who entered, only she and Lennier are still alive.
We’ve been seeing more and more of Delenn’s vulnerability lately– especially with the human and Minbari negative reactions to her change, and her feelings of isolation– but I think this is the first episode in which we see her cry. It’s also the first time she calls Sheridan, “John.”
And that’s where little red flags start popping up for me. I LOVE seeing characters get developed and humanized, and I’m THRILLED that we seem to be headed towards a much better understanding of Delenn, but I’m wary of the possibility of a romantic relationship between her and Sheridan.
It’s not that I object to the relationship itself– it ties in with her character’s desire to strengthen bonds between the humans and the Minbari, and they do seem to like and respect each other. It’s that too often, developing a female character involves sticking her in a relationship with one of the male characters, and making her story completely dependent on his. I think Delenn is too plot-important in ways separate from Sheridan to disappear entirely within the relationship, and the writers of B5 have consistently impressed me so far, but old habits die hard and I can’t help being just a little worried that we’re going to see more of Delenn The Girlfriend rather than Delenn The Awesome Ambassador.
I’m putting my faith in the writers for now, though. I just hope I don’t get burned.