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I really need a B5 icon… anyone got a good Cartagia one? That’d be fun to use…

Anyway, I’ve been rewatching Babylon 5 and posting comments over at the b5_revisted community, which is a lot of fun. We’ve just started season two, and the first episode and the discussion of it has helped me organise some thoughts I’ve been having about the Minbari. Thought I’d post it here, because it’s a bit too long for a comment there, and it’s not focused on any one episode.

(Spoilers for… pretty much the whole series)

The Earth-Minbari war and its legacies are, arguably, the main theme of season one. Even the opening credits remind us that it’s “Ten years after the Earth-Minbari war”. Sinclair’s character arc is largely him slowly putting together the pieces he needs to work out what happened to him at the Line, and why the Minbari surrendered when they were on the verge of succeeding in their holy war against humanity. In this story, Delenn’s something of an ambiguous figure – she claims to be Sinclair’s friend, but she’s clearly hiding things, and evidence continues to mount that Sinclair should not trust her – the Soul Hunter bellowing “She’s using you!”, recovered memories that she was there at the Line, hints that she’s much higher ranked than she claims to be, and that the Minbari government have a much greater interest in him than seems normal.

Of course, Sinclair left the show after the first season, and the Minbari plot fell somewhat by the wayside. Lennier explained to Sheridan and the viewers why the Minbari surrendered in the first episode of the second season, and when Delenn emerged from her chrysalis next episode, she was never again the same figure of mystery and ambiguity she once was. As the series went on, she was portrayed as a figure of almost pure good, and the issue of the Earth-Minbari war became less relevant in the face of the Shadow War. Delenn’s excuses, that the Minbari went collectively mad with grief after the death of their leader at human hands, and that they spontaneously recovered just before destroying Earth, were largely accepted as truth. Sheridan would marry Delenn, the Interstellar Alliance would move its capital to Minbar, and all would be well with the galaxy…

Except. Let’s look at the Centauri and the Narn for a bit, shall we? The Centauri-Narn war occurred during the series itself, not as part of its back-story. We saw Londo make the decision to use the power of the Shadows to crush his enemies, to avenge the countless insults the Narn had inflicted on the Centauri Republic, to ensure his people would reclaim the power they deserved. We are, as a result, not particularly inclined to look on Londo or the Centauri with much sympathy. Certainly, we are not asked to expect that G’kar or the Narn will ever forget what was done to them. Now, make no mistake, Londo is a sympathetic character – but only because he recognises what he has done, and pays a terrible price for his actions. Even then, it’s not clear if what he suffers is enough to pay for what he did to Narn.

Delenn, on the other hand, does not. I am not saying the show needs to be perfectly karmically balanced; a story doesn’t need everyone to get the reward they deserve. The problem is I’m not sure the story is entirely aware that Delenn is Londo – or at least, a possible Londo. In the episode I just watched, “Points of Departure”, there’s a flashback to Delenn and the Grey Council observing the Battle of the Line. It struck me that the scene is Delenn’s version of Londo watching the Centauri fleet bombard Narn in “The Long Twilight Struggle”. The difference? Delenn is calm, unaffected, idly debating with a fellow councillor if the humans are brave or just desperate. Londo is silent, a haunted expression on his face as he watches the atrocity his actions set into motion.

The Minbari did not surrender because they realised what they were planning was wrong. They surrendered because they believed humans had Minbari souls – or at least, they recognised Sinclair as having some connection to Valen. They ended the war because they believed it was harming Minbari souls – if it had been the Narn or Centauri they had been fighting, they would have continued the slaughter to its inevitable conclusion. And we are given no indication that in the ten years since the war that Delenn had ever really considered just how close she and the Minbari came to anihlating a sapient species. In a sense, she is a Londo who was given a second chance right before damning himself… and therefore, a Londo who never had to confront what he was about to do.

That’s not to say that Delenn doesn’t regret the war – but she does not seem to regret it as an atrocity. Her regrets seem to be focused more on the war as a mistake for the Minbari, rather than as a war crime against the humans. In “And Now For A Word”, a reporter* asks her a – fairly reasonable – question about how she things the relatives of those who died in the war would feel about her becoming part human, and Delenn – Delenn of the Grey Council, who faces down Shadows, Drakh, her own government and Jack the Ripper – is at a total loss for words. Not only does she not want to answer, she seems to have honestly never even bothered to consider her actions from a human point of view.

“Atonement” briefly brings up these issues – Delenn’s earlier claims that “The Minbari” went mad with grief after Dukhat’s death start to look a hell of a lot more self-serving once it comes out that, well, it wasn’t exactly the Minbari people who went mad that day… Except then it seems to drop or dismiss the idea of Delenn seeking atonement for her role in the crimes against humanity that followed, which is something of an odd direction to take things. And word of JMS is that Sheridan never found out about Delenn’s role in the war, which throws their entire relationship into a whole new, and not entirely positive light. Imagine how different Londo and G’kar’s friendship in season four and five would look if G’kar was ignorant of Londo’s role in the fall of Narn**!

I think it’s a shame, because dealing with these issues would have made Delenn a far more interesting, multi-dimensional character, on the level of G’kar or Londo, or at least Bester, rather than the rather thin hero that was her characterisation as the show went on. And, quite frankly, I think stories about wartime are a little dull – the really interesting stories start once the war’s over, when everyone has to deal with the consequences of their actions in the past…

But then, like I’ve always said, I have rather more affection for B5 season one than most people.

Anyway, it has been a while since I watched the rest of the series. Let’s see if my opinions change again during this rewatch…

* The portrayal of reporters is another issue I have with the series, but that’s a story for another day. Suffice it to say, it’d be nice to see the media in a story where they’re not either vapid interferers or scheming propagandists… Then again, that goes for more shows than just Babylon 5.

** Yes, I’m comparing Sheridan and Delenn with Londo and G’Kar. Make of that what you will.

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David Newgreen

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