The Women of Babylon 5: Commander Susan Ivanova

Commander Susan Ivanova is intelligent, sharp-witted (and sharp-tongued), dedicated, and, like most characters on Babylon 5, defined by what she does. She is second-in-command of the Babylon 5 space station throughout the first four seasons of the show, responsible for the day-to-day running of what is essentially a small city number over 250,000 humans and aliens. And she does her job very, very well. At one point, when Ivanova’s commanding officer prepares to let her in on a major secret, she responds by revealing that she already knows as much about it as he does. When he asks her how she came by such knowledge, her only response is “When something happens on this station and I don’t know about it, worry.”

Ivanova’s devotion to duty and her cynical wit largely stem from the loss of those she loves. Her mother committed suicide when Ivanova was a small child, her brother Ganya was killed in the Earth-Minbari War, and her estranged father dies shortly after she is assigned to Babylon 5. Ivanova’s romantic relationships are also fraught with loss, leading her to ultimately belive that “all love is unrequited.”

Significantly for a television show, while Ivanova forms close friendships with her co-workers on Baylon 5 (especially Sheridan and Garibaldi, who have also known great personal loss), she does not engage in any romantic relationships contrary to military regulations. Such relationships are often the fallback of lazy writers seeking to create romantic conflict without bothering to develop that conflict based on the characters themselves. On Babylon 5, Ivanova’s conflicts are her own, based on her experiences and fears.

This is really what distinguishes Ivanova from most female characters on television. Consider how many leading female characters take action based on what the plot requires, or on some life experience that is revealed that very episode and then never mentioned again. Ivanova’s actions are based instead on life experiences that are continually built on, rather than introduced and then discarded.

Comments

  1. Pat Mathews says

    I loved Ivanova! The only time the plot line seemed to me to be out of character was the episode with the rabbi – it never occurred to me she was religious at all, let alone observant. But then – yeah. It added a lot of depth.

  2. Patrick says

    One thing I liked about that episode was that it addressed the fact that she isn’t very religious – the rabbi sought her about because it had been months since her father’s death and she had not yet sat shiva for him.

  3. Maartje says

    Though I commend you on your essay, because of its length you did leave some things out.
    Ivanova did have love interests. First Talia Winters, who she did get together with though it was very unobtrusive and even part of hte overall telepath plot. Later Marcus Cole presued her but she didn’t want a relationship because they were in the middle of a war (and she’d lost too much already)
    I point this out because everyone on B5 has sex sometimes. There’s a lot of sexual symbols there. They live in one. The Ranger pikes, the Vorlons placing themselves inside attractive young telepaths ect. Ivanova is really repressed in this area. She’s angry and cranky a lot of the time. She threatens violence a lot, she’s cynical and sarcastic. Keeps people at arms length a lot of the time. The people she trusts can be counted on one hand.

    I hated Marcus for saving her. She finally had her hero’s death. This was the way she wanted to go, in battle like a soldier. But in stead he gave her a life full of guilt while taking away yet another person who loved her.

    Boy she was awesome :D

  4. Patrick says

    I didn’t want to address Ivanova’s love life in detail because I wanted to avoid spoilers, as events regarding Talia and Marcus are pretty significant to the plot.

    I don’t think that Ivanova keeps people at arm’s length because she’s repressed, but because she has lost so many people that she is absolutely terrified of getting hurt again. Think of the Simon & Garfunkel ssong “I Am a Rock.” This is why she repeatedly rejects Marcus’ advances.

  5. Maartje says

    Maybe this is a language barrier thing (I’m dutch) but I meant she’s repressed BECAUSE she lost so many people.
    Like respressed and her experience are not mutually exclusive rather, her repression is a consequence of her experience. And the arm’s length thing is a factor or that repression.

  6. SunlessNick says

    A good line that sums up her emotional attitude is “My heart and I don’t speak any more.” (I won’t say who she says it to, as that is a spoiler).

    I hated Marcus for saving her. She finally had her hero’s death. This was the way she wanted to go, in battle like a soldier. But in stead he gave her a life full of guilt while taking away yet another person who loved her. - Maartje

    I also found the lead up to that – Ivanova mortally injured (though largely intact), Marcus with one or two “manly scratches,” everyone else who was there dead – far hokier than fit into Babylon 5’s mood. I don’t know exactly what I would have preferred, but something. Especially if it involved both of them living.

  7. Jennifer Kesler says

    Maartje, I think we frequently use the word “repressed” to mean someone who is lying to herself about her feelings; i.e., someone who really wants to have casual sex but won’t admit to herself that because she fully believes such feelings are wrong. That’s probably where the misunderstanding came from.

    It is also correct to use the word the way you did, meaning that past traumas have caused her to keep her feelings buried. So you didn’t say anything wrong – it’s just one of those connotation issues. In the US, we tend to read bad Freudian theories into everything. We really need to get over that. :D

  8. Patrick says

    One Ex does, in the first season. She considers getting back together with him until she discovers that he’a a violent, anti-alien bigot, and sends him off, telling him “I never knew you.”

  9. says

    Sitting here in season 1, I’m actually finding Ivanova better developed than her male counterparts, especially in terms of the personal connections that pop up. Compare her relationship with her father to Sinclair’s relationship with Katherine, and hers is much more compelling. Half the time it seems like Sinclair doesn’t even remember that he’s supposedly living with someone now– and the writers sure don’t seem to remember either.
    This is some shameless blogwhoring, but I’ve written up some of my thoughts on my brand-new blog. Spoiler warning for all of season 1– and please, please, please don’t spoil the others for me :)
    http://eloriane.wordpress.com/2008/07/27/16/

  10. Melpomene says

    I looooooooooooove Ivanova. She’s so competant and would kick Kara Thrace’s ASS while STILL following regulation. <3 I have fantasies where she and Dualla (BSG’s one remaining sane and competant female char) get together for some awesome happy hours.

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