The Women of Babylon 5: Delenn

Delenn, the Minbari ambassador to the Babylon 5 station, is one of the most complex characters on the show, and also seems to be one of most misunderstood. I’ve spoken to many people who regard her as a “Mary Sue,” where the audience is constantly told how wonderful she because everyone loves her. I disagree.

As part of the Minbari Religious Caste, she was raised to value all life and to seek peace at all times, but as part of her people’s ruling Grey Council, she was partly responsible for the xenocidal Earth-Minbari War, which threatened the extinction of an entire species. Once on the station she finds herself dealing with other races who hold wildly different views on diplomacy, peace, and religion from her own. Throughout all of this, it becomes apparent that she is destined to fulfill ancient prophecies.

Delenn’s story is  one of the most central to the story of Babylon 5, which is essentially the story of how one person can make a difference, whether on a personla or even galactic scale. Delenn is constantly forced to make choices, some of which go against the grain of her being. Some choices turn out to be wrong, and others turn out to be right while causing tremendous pain for her or others in the process.

One of the best aspects of how the show treats Delenn’s controversial actions is by actually making them controversial within the context of the show. When she violates her people’s traditions to do something that she thinks is right, she is not lauded as a revolutionary, but made a pariah, and is distrusted even by those that she is trying to help. Despite her devotion to the greater good, her actions often place her in the same moral grey areas as other characters such as Londo Mollari and G’Kar, and the characters within the show recognize this.

At one point, she finds herself forced to explain to someone why she did nothing to aid his people when they were in need: she had to consider the long-term ramifications of her actions.

“I had to choose,” she tells him, “between the deaths of millions, and the deaths of billions. I can only pray that someday you will be able to forgive me.”

“Someday, perhaps,” he responds. “But not today.”

Some people have accused Delenn of being a Mary Sue character, perfect and loved by all. I don’t think they have been watching the same show that I have.

Comments

  1. Purtek says

    I actually can’t even imagine thinking of Delenn as a “Mary Sue” character. She’s way too complex for that, and I’ve never seen anyone on the show altering his or her decisions simply to protect/rescue her [I still haven't watched beyond the first few episodes of Season 4]. People vary in how they conceptualize a “Mary Sue”, but in my eyes, she has to be unbearably perfect and sweet and innocent, but still sort of helpless and fragile, such that people are falling all over themselves in order to save her from the cruel world that has caused her to suffer through no fault of her own. That is decidedly not Delenn, who is praised and beautiful, sure, but also strong and willing to make difficult decisions, including the ones you mention. This is all aside from the fact that, first of all, not everybody on the show likes her, and second, I would have to wonder about what the Mary Sue-sayers think of some of the show’s male characters, including both Sheridan and Sinclair, who to this point seem equally lauded.

  2. Patrick says

    It has been my experience that some people look for Mary Sues everywhere. Recently I came across a post in a discussion where someone claimed that Beowulf was a Mary Sue.

    Sheridan doesn’t seem to qualifiy at all to me. Sheridan proves plenty unpopular with lots of people in the show.

    Sinclair presentation does approach Sue-ness sometimes, such as when his difficult decisions are lauded by everyone except for one guy, who of couse turns out to have a personal grudge against Sinclair that has nothing to do with his decisions.

  3. Maartje says

    I’m in two minds about Delenn. On the one hand she’s very awesome (‘If you value your life, be somewhere else’) on the other hand she’s too Love Interest-y.
    The Mary Sue thing I understand but don’t agree with. She makes hard choices but they are ALWAYS (as far as I can remember, it’s been a while)the right choices and everyone who disagrees with her is wrong.
    Though the DNA cocoon meld thing was very brave on her part it also made her the prettiest Minbari ever (by human standards). She had her own little army, the Rangers, who were all very morally superior. They would all gladly die for her too.
    She was the one who broke the Grey Council and she had the deciding vote in the start of the Human-Minbari war. She was the one who picked Sinclair out and she was the one who stopped the war. She was also the one to pick out the shiny new uniforms for the B5 crew.
    She combines soldier, politician, priest and pretty person and then fills it to the brim with goodness… This can get a little annoying.

    What I think is really awesome about Delenn is that when she makes up her mind about something, then it is going to get done. She will do everything she can to do so as peacefully as possible, but if those options are out, well she’ll break that council…

    Then there are the cringe moments who belie any Mary Sue accusation whatsoever and I am still trying to bleech out of my mind. When the very stately and dignified Delenn asks Ivanova for help with her newly grown hair, I can take that, but when she asks about that monthly bleeding thing I started throwing things at the TV. Like Delenn wouldn’t have done some BASIC research into the species she was partly transforming herself in! That was just emberassing.

  4. Patrick says

    To be fair, she asked Ivanova about menstrual cramps, which may have been left out of her research about human anatomy.

  5. says

    She makes hard choices but they are ALWAYS (as far as I can remember, it’s been a while)the right choices and everyone who disagrees with her is wrong.

    …she had the deciding vote in the start of the Human-Minbari war.

    Uh – so you are arguing that launching a genocidal war against the humans was the right choice?

  6. Maartje says

    Uh – so you are arguing that launching a genocidal war against the humans was the right choice?

    OK OK, let me refrase. Unless overcome with grief she always makes the right decision. Though it is arguable that the Human/Minbari war had to happen. The thing with the souls was discovered because of it and Londo says he will always remember how brave humans are for fighting.

  7. SunlessNick says

    And it’s because of the Earth-Minbari War that the first Babylon station is commissioned…

    One of the best aspects of how the show treats Delenn’s controversial actions is by actually making them controversial within the context of the show. When she violates her people’s traditions to do something that she thinks is right, she is not lauded as a revolutionary, but made a pariah, and is distrusted even by those that she is trying to help. - Patrick

    There’s an episode where a warrior-caste Minbari, Neroon, comes to the station looking to kill her – while finding the idea of killing another Minbari repulsive, he thinks she’s trying to take complete power for herself – and on the evidence, his suspicions are quite rational, which I liked.

  8. Maartje says

    There’s an episode where a warrior-caste Minbari, Neroon, comes to the station looking to kill her – while finding the idea of killing another Minbari repulsive, he thinks she’s trying to take complete power for herself – and on the evidence, his suspicions are quite rational, which I liked.

    But because he was a very brutish character, which invalidated a lot of his reasoning to me. Plus his answer was: She must die. In spite of the Minbari claim that Minbari don’t kill Minbari. Neroon would like to add: Unless they’re powermongering nutcases.
    That he was going to break one of the rules that are cornerstones of Minbari society makes him the bad guy.

  9. Patrick says

    But because he was a very brutish character, which invalidated a lot of his reasoning to me. Plus his answer was: She must die. In spite of the Minbari claim that Minbari don’t kill Minbari. Neroon would like to add: Unless they’re powermongering nutcases.
    That he was going to break one of the rules that are cornerstones of Minbari society makes him the bad guy.

    Who is prevented from killing Delenn when one of her followers convinces him that she is, in fact, right. This leads to a significant character arc for Neroon over the next two seasons.

    In Babylon 5, even minor recurring characters get multi-episode character arcs.

  10. Maartje says

    So my point stands. Delenn is always right, even people who would go so far as to break one of THE most important things as to what it means to be a Minbari can eventually see that she is right.

    I’m starting to talk in circles I think. I haven’t seen B5 in a while, I think I need a refresher course if we’re going to continue this.

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