The Women of Babylon 5: Introduction

Babylon 5 was a highly unusual television show for many reasons. Most famously, it proposed to tell a highly-involved story over the course of five years, and more amazingly it was able to do so. While it has become common (some would say trendy) in recent years for shows to feature tight continuity and multi-season arcs, Babylon 5 did it when no one thought it could be done, and set a standard of excellence in doing so that other shows have tried, and failed, to reach.

The ultimate strength of any TV show is its characters, and B5 features consistent characterization and genuine, multi-year character development as people change in response to the changes in the galaxy around them. This is very much due to the efforts of series creator J. Michael Straczynski, who wrote 91 of the show’s 110 episodes, notably a continuous 59-episode run that included the entire third and fourth seasons.

Babylon 5’s women are of particular note, as Straczynski set out to tell a story about people, regardless of whether they were human or alien, male or female. Not only do the women of Babylon 5 prove themselves to be as strong, smart, courageous, dedicated, and occasionally ruthless as their male counterparts, but no comment is made about this within the show – it is simply taken for granted.

In this series, I will look at each of the major female characters, and some minor ones, with an emphasis on how the writing consistently treats them as characters who happen to be female, rather than as female characters. Since B5 is driven so strongly by its story arc, I will endeavor to avoid spoilers, but will include season-specific spoiler warnings when necessary.

Comments

  1. says

    Is there any way we can get a category for this? B5 doesn’t have one yet, and I definitely want easy access to the archives for this series once it’s done.

  2. Gategrrl says

    Hmmm.

    On the subject of how women were portrayed on B5, I’m not sure: it’s been a while since I’ve watched B5 all the way through (I think that was during it’s original aired run). At the time it was a fun series, with something different going for it, ie, it wasn’t Star Trek and had different aliens and politics happening within its milieau.

    But the impression I’m left with after the show was over was “Geez, the dialogue sucked big-time”; “the woman playing DeLenn couldn’t ‘sell’ her lines convincingly”; and “the secondary character actors carried the day”; and lastly, “oh god, this has every single SF cliche rolled into one show”.

    Whether the characters themselves, and in particular the women, were portrayed differently, or at least authentically regarding their gender and their roles within the societies portrayed, I’d have to rewatch. But it’s not something I’m really planning on doing at the moment. I don’t know if I can sit through that much cliche all over again.

  3. Patrick says

    Babylon 5 was certainly in the space opera genre, which is largely defined by its cliches. So I suppose your reaction to that depends on your feelings about the genre.

    I have to strongly disagree with you about Mira Furlan (Delenn). Her restrained performance for most scenes was very much a part of her character, making the scenes where she does lose control all the more significant. It was very much a choice of how to play the character.

  4. Maartje says

    I didn’t particularly like Delenn because she was primarily a politician and didn’t do a lot of ass-kicking. She was either snogging Sheridan, being angsty about the war or convincing the council to get their heads out of the sand already.

    And yeah, there were some cliches, but there was also some stunning originality. The space battles were awesome, they actually remembered that they were in space and… OK, not the place to discuss the awesomeness of space battles :P

    Still Ivanova was awesome. Violent, generally cranky but awesome. And love-interests were brought in for her dammit, in stead of the other way around. And she KNEW that the middle of a war was a bad time to start a relationship so she didn’t. ‘All love is unrequited’ was one of her awesome lines. And she made up the B5 mantra :D
    I’ll shut up now, I just kinda love Ivanova, don’t mind me.

  5. Patrick says

    Repeat: ‘Ivanova is always right. I will listen to Ivanova. I will not ignore Ivanova’s recommendations. Ivanova is God. And if this ever happens again, Ivanova will personally rip your lungs out.’

  6. Gategrrl says

    Ivonova was a wonderful character – as was G’kar, Garibaldi, the telepath Colonel played by Walter Koenig, etc etc.

    The lamest part of the show for me was the most cliche – which, it turns out, happens to be the DeLenn/Sheridan storyline. It’s difficult to make a Romance stand out and be original; and to me, aside from her role as a politician, she was the Love Interest. I think JMS did let that character fall into the Love Interest Pit a few times too many. Oh; that’s right: she even had an unrequited lover in her underling. Thank god that plot line didn’t get the romantic resolution so many folks clamor for for Sam Carter and Jack O’Neill.

    Talia Shire…aside from her final episode, which was a doozy, she didn’t make a huge impact with me.

  7. Patrick says

    I’ll be addressing the question of whether Delenn constituted a “love interest” in her column. For Talia Winters, I’ll probably have to spiler-warning the whole article.

  8. says

    Possible Spoilers. I mention this here because I doubt the character I am mentioning will get her own article due to her not being a major or recurring character.

    One thing that is interesting about Babylon 5‘s treatment of female characters is that it also portrays powerful female characters living in patriarchal societies.

    The Centauri obviously live in a society with well-defined gender roles. However, that does not mean that Centauri females are expected to be completely passive. In Sic Transit Vir, Lyndisty, Vir’s fiancee, seems like a total airhead, yet she manages to lay a trap for and to capture a Narn assassin and would have killed him if not for the fact that she wanted to give Vir “the gift” of doing it. She also indicated that she had personally participated in the executions of Narns back at home (this is why the assassin was sent after her).

  9. Patrick says

    While Lyndisty was certainly an interesting character, I will be limiting this series to main and recurring characters, because we get to see more sides of them.

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