Babylon 5, “Confessions and Lamentations,” and what it means to be Mysterious.

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.

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18 Responses to Babylon 5, “Confessions and Lamentations,” and what it means to be Mysterious.

  1. nevermore says:

    The John-Delenn dynamics is very interesting and many things I noticed only after the 2nd or 3rd viewing.

    It’s a very difficult scenario for a relationship. not just because the Minbari were enemies only 10 years ago and for some of the warrior caste the war still isn’t over, and the “purity of our race” concerns on both sides, but especially the Minbari. Delenn is also much older (20 years) and also much more advanced on a spiritual level than John, and not long ago was a member and the designated leader of the Grey Council, while John is a “mere” EA captain. It’s not exactly a relationship of equals. Might be that Johnny is a bit uncomfortable with the prospect of having a girlfriend like this 😉

  2. Crowfoot says:

    I am really enjoying your B5 posts! Inspired (and not having seen it for so long) I buckled down and bought the first 2 seasons. Yay for being financially solvent \o/

    I’m not quite as far as you (just finished #6 A Spider In the Web) but I did notice a certain chemistry between the actors. Tho Sinclair and Delenn also had a kind of chemistry, but of a different sort. I think his scenes with her were his best. But I also share your concern with the de-mystifying of Delenn. So many writers have such a hard time having a female character being approachable/vulnerable/3 dimensional and still be strong. Still be a voice of authority. Kira Neris on Deep Space 9 was like that, and was one the things I liked most about that series. She was strong, she was complex, she could be vulnerable, she was *good* AND she had lots of sex and didn’t get punished for it! awesomesauce.

    Good points on the John-Delenn dynamics, nevermore. I’m really really enjoying watching things unfold again!

  3. Crowfoot says:

    okay, I just posted the above and just started watching A Race Through Dark Places, and I’m watching Delenn suggest dinner with John and thinking of chemistry. And it strikes me that Bruce Boxleitner had a lot of chemistry with practically all of the other actors. Everybody seems a bit more… relaxed. I don’t know if the writing changed, or just that the actors were really starting to become comfortable in the characters’ skins, and maybe Bruce came along at just the right moment for that, and that’s why I’m feeling like he was a great addition to the cast. Ahh, I always feel a bit for the guy who played Sinclair. He just wasn’t very good! But I know how hard acting actually is, so I feel bad criticizing too much. Anyways, interesting stuff, the chemistry/dynamics between actors and how that plays out against the storylines in question…

  4. eloriane says:

    I think the Sinclair-Delenn chemistry had more to do with the fact that they had the most fascinating plot stuff hovering around them, and whenever they were in the same room really interesting stuff was happening. Sheridan and Delenn are a lot more personal.

    I think there’s a lot that can be really fascinating if Sheridan and Delenn do have a relationship (don’t tell me either way!)– the racial issues, the age difference, the plot madness, the secrets each is keeping– and so far I’m optimistic that the writers can take away Delenn’s mystery without taking away her power (they’ve already done it a fair amount, and highly successfully in my opinion.) It’s a tough balance, Crowfoot, you’re completely right, but I’ve been really impressed with the writing so far, so I think they can do it. I hope they can do it!

    And can I say, I really envy you for owning these DVDs? I got the first season as a gift, but I’ve been Netflixing the rest, and it’s so hard to wait between envelopes! It gives me time to post these interim reports, though… though I worry that I’m writing things that will look ridiculous after I know the full story! At least they seem to be entertaining 🙂

    I’ll probably be writing about BF again soon because OMG TALIA!!! but I’ve been distracted and I’ve been trying to put together a big post for a while now. But B5 will come again soon! I promise! 🙂

  5. eloriane says:

    Haha, I started writing before you’d finished!

    I actually didn’t like Sheridan much at all when he first game (as I think I wrote at the time) but he’s definitely been growing on me. You’re right, he has some impressive chemistry with everyone. I feel like we learn a lot more about all the characters when he’s around.

    Some of that may be because Sinclair was only around when they were doing the more basic introductory stuff, as opposed to the interesting subtleties and changes we’re getting into now, but some of it I think is just Bruce being a better actor. It’s a tough job, but he seems to really excel at it.

    (Lucy Lawless also really, really impresses me with her talent. She can do an episode with three Xena-lookalikes and never let the audience get confused about which one they’re supposed to see, she’s that good an actor. But I digress.)

    Arrgh, Netflix! Come faster! I want to know more about Kosh!! We keep getting these tantalizing bits, but no “whole” yet. I guess it’s his turn to be mysterious. (As opposed to the first season, where he was mostly…absent.)

  6. Crowfoot says:

    yay lol

    yeah, decent paying jobs and cheap rent ROCK.

    And please, absolutely DON’T worry about writing things that will look ridiculous after getting further along in the story. If it’s well written, and the writer(s) stay true to the characters and the world they’ve created, then everything will make sense as it happens. And if doesn’t, if it feels wrong, then that probably a place where the writer wasn’t able to make it work. It’s got to make sense at every step, not just for the whole big picture, right? Ideally one should be able to see all the possible directions things could go- just like in life. That makes it interesting! It’s why I have so much respect for writers who pull it off; that shit ain’t easy. I don’t think I could do it.

    And you’re right- Sheridan and Delenn are a lot more personal. It’s a good word for it.

  7. Crowfoot says:

    hey! speaking of chemistry- did you ever think that Talia Winters and Ivanova had good chemistry? I keep wanting them to have a relationship! Lol tho that might just be me wanting Ivanova to be a lesbian! getting all swoony. Ahem, anyways. Completely agree with Lawless. I loved Xena waaaay more than Hercules! Xena and Gabrielle have chemistry- Hercules and whathisname were.. meh. *there’s* another show for me to watch again!

  8. nevermore says:

    For me Trek, including DS9, never managed to give us a convincing female command officer. Either they were a ship’s mother/governess, or an ex terrorist, or a man in their former life. Why can’t anyone simply be a female soldier?

    As for the writers, there’s only one writer from now on for the rest of series, except for one episode in season 5. So you’ll know immediately whom to blame 😉

  9. eloriane says:

    Thanks for the reassurance, Crowfoot 🙂 I suppose I’ll continue with my wild speculation, then, and see how wrong I am later!

    As for chemistry, Ivanova and Talia were totally doin’ it! At least, in my interpretation they were. (I tend to err on the side of lesbians. Otherwise there aren’t enough.) But I feel like the text backs me up here, just like it does with Xena: remember when Talia spent the night at Ivanova’s, and neither of them used a cot or couch? They slept in the same bed– it even showed Talia reaching out for Ivanova, not finding her, and waking up alone, and confused about it. And before that, they stood around in silky pajamas having intimate conversation. It’s not explicit– just like it isn’t in Xena– but I think it’s meant to allow room for that interpretation (just like Xena 🙂 )

    And nevermore– you’re right, female soliders and especially female commanders are far too rare. (I think I remember a rather awful female admiral showing up in BSG at one point several seasons ago. She was a lesbian for real! But then she ordered her ex-girlfriend gang-raped daily by soldiers. I didn’t like her very much.)

    Would you recommend Star Trek, on a side note? My family’s been watching it without me, but I could catch up (or jump right in), only it didn’t much catch my interest. Should I give it a second chance?

  10. nevermore says:

    You’re right about Talia and Susan; hadn’t Talia’s actress decided to leave the show, the relationship would’ve been developed further. One of the “real life happens” cases.

    Which incarnation of Star Trek did you watch? I think if you like long-term stories, DS9 might interest you the most. I thought the first two seasons were rather dull; it got interesting once the Dominion war arc was introduced.

  11. eloriane says:

    I saw, um, one episode where water mutated into alcohol…Sulu thought he could fence, Kirk talked about how he loved his ship (in a creepy kinda-sexy way), and Spock cried. I gather it was not representative.

    I also saw part of an episode where they visited a planet of humans who had sex at the drop of a hat (“or just the mention of a hat”). I liked the fact that the men wore the same tiny shorts as the women, but I didn’t see enough to know anything about the plot.

    In other words, I haven’t really seen anything. But I’ll looking into getting my hands on Deep Space Nine.

  12. Crowfoot says:

    remember when Talia spent the night at Ivanova’s, and neither of them used a cot or couch? They slept in the same bed– it even showed Talia reaching out for Ivanova, not finding her, and waking up alone, and confused about it.

    Woah. Why don’t I remember that?!? Good lord. I really do need to watch it again! Clearly toooo much stuff was going on in my life that made me forget.

    And that is a good point, nevermore- Kira is an ex-terrorist. I had thought at the time that the show-makers were trying to make a point about one person’s “terrorist” can be another person’s “freedom fighter.” Or, I just instinctually sided with the Bajorans in that fight. I should watch that again too.

    I brought Kira up because of a criticism I had heard about characters that were female leaders: if they were strong, and they were on the side of good, then they never had sex with anyone. If they were strong and they had active sex lives (not a lover in another galaxy, Hello Janeway) then they were for evil, or were psycho, or power-hungry, or something. If they had active sex lives and were good, then they weren’t in positions of power. I had thought that Kira was the only one I knew at the time that got to have all 3. Xena rather fits that too, tho Xena, while powerful, isn’t in a position of authority. But both Xena and Kira were ex-evil, if you will.

    as for Star Trek recommendations: I dunno. I’ve always loved them, despite their sexist flaws. I grew up watching the original series, then in my early twenties watched The Next Generation and was hooked. I loved DS9 the most though. Maybe because it was more complex, there were ongoing story lines, and the main characters didn’t always “behave oh so handsomely” as someone once described it.

    A male pro-feminist friend of mine called Star Trek “a patriarchal wet-dream: oh there’s equality, apparently, no bigotry, no war (within human cultures), no poor and starving, but it’s still a military organization with one lone (white) guy at the top that has complete control and everyone has to obey him! But he’s good yanno.” So that kind of sums it up for me too. Lots of good writing, lots of interesting characters and ideas being presented, but still can be sexist and racist- tho I do think they were trying. I love it, despite it being a mixed bag.

  13. eloriane says:

    That’s a fascinating break-down of women in power. Ivanova makes it, though: she slept with Talia! 😀 Haha.

    Though I’d say that among those who know her, Xena definitely has authority, for a more clear-cut example, what about Zoe, from Firefly? She’s only second in command, but no one ever questions her authority or power (even Mal will defer to her), and she’s definitely having sex with Wash, and okay, she’s a smuggler, which is “ambiguous,” but within she show she’s definitely a good guy.

    If I can expand the conversation to books, Lois McMaster Bujold writes great sci fi (and fantasy, nowadays) and she has quite a lot of sexually active women in power who are nevertheless “good” and have always been good. I love her stuff, actually; it’s always an exciting read, and she’s amazingly inclusive of different genders and even different sexualities.

    As for Star Trek– that’s sort of the impressions I got. It’s trying, but it’s not really there yet. The older something is, the more likely it’ll be like that, though, and I don’t tend to have trouble looking past that kind of stuff to see the parts that were well-done (like with the Adventures of Prince Achmed, though hopefully a lot less egregious in this case!)

    I’ll start watching it with my family, then, and have one more thing to blog about. Hurray!

  14. […] while talking about the possibility of a relationship between Talia and Ivanova in Babylon 5, I commented, I tend to err on the side of lesbians. Otherwise there aren’t […]

  15. nevermore says:

    >> “And that is a good point, nevermore- Kira is an ex-terrorist. I had thought at the time that the show-makers were trying to make a point about one person’s “terrorist” can be another person’s“freedom fighter.” ”

    Well, that might have been the intention. I still find it somewhat annoying that in Trek there seems to be a need to “justify” women being tough by introducing some additional reason. Like the Dax incarnations were male in their former lives, and Kira was an ex-terrorist, and Janeway was protecting her ship like some lioness. It always seemed that being a female soldier required some additional justification – mother, ex-terrorist, male in their former lives.

  16. Crowfoot says:

    The more I think about it, the more I think you’re right, nevermore. Though I’m not so sure about Janeway… I mean, it comes across like that, but how much of that is our own interpretations of female captainship? I’m not sure- kind of just thinking aloud here, but the captains of the starships were all kind of “protective,” no? I admit, tho, that while I watched Voyager, I didn’t watch it as closely or as religiously as DS9 and NG, so that will likely limit my interpretations.

    There definitely was something… maternal about Janeway. But even as I say that, I can’t help but wonder how much of that is my own subconscious interpretation of female authority? Was there a lack of severeness? What is it that makes male command not paternal? Or is it paternal? Or is it, in part, that paternalism is (even if subconsciously) given more weight, taken more seriously?

    mmm interesting to think about! 🙂 thanks, nevermore

  17. nevermore says:

    Well, it might have been having the crew crying at her shoulder half the time if something personal went wrong (something you *don’t* see, at least not on a nearly regular basis, with Kirk, Picard, or Sisko), her pet project guiding Seven of Nine in her quest back to humanity, her encounters with Naomi Wildman and so on. Unlike the other captains, she had an additional role as a mother substitute, or sort of a counselor like Troi.

    I do have some complaints with Susan Ivanova – while she is a strong personality, she can occasionally be a bit b**chy. The first convincing female command officer, even though many fans don’t like her very much, for me was Captain Lochley in B5’s season 5 and Crusade. There you have a female soldier who’s simply a female soldier and yet competent and an authority.

  18. […] three posts: Babylon 5, Doctor Franklin, and “food plans”, Babylon 5, “Confessions and Lamentations,” and what it means to be mysterious, and Oh, brother…Sex Drive, comedies, and sexist […]

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