babylon 5


Executive Producer and Creator: J. Michael Straczynski

The lesbian "subtext" on Babylon 5 is the ultimate story of what might have been.

If Andrea Thompson had chosen to remain on the show despite the fact that she was not getting as much screen time as she wanted, the Susan Ivanova/Talia Winters storyline could have been as groundbreaking as many of the other elements of the show. As it was it became ultimately as unsatisfying as Star Trek: DS9's dabble with Dax's bisexuality - a brief flicker of excitement followed by heartbreak.

It began the way many great romances begin - with outright hatred and hostility. Ivanova hated everything Talia Winters stood for; the PsiCorp, her upbringing, and being a quietly obediant telepath. Susan demanded of others what she demanded of herself - unwavering honesty, fierce determination and the ability to see beneath the outer layers of bullshit that cover everything and everyone. As far as she was concerned, Talia Winters was as corrupted as her organisation, whether she knew it or not. A victim.

As it turned out, Ivanova was right, but not in the way anyone thought. Just as Talia showed signs of breaking out of the constraints of the PsiCorps and the two women had taken the first steps down the path to real intimacy, the implanted personality was triggered by Lyta Alexander and the personality of Talia was erased, probably forever. Talia was a victim, albeit an unknowing one.

The loss of the possible lesbian relationship was not the only disappointment. All the character development invested in Talia Winters over the first two seasons of the show was wasted in one fell swoop. We would never find out why Kosh had used the ViCaR to record Talia's personality. We would never know what greater significance the telekinetic powers gifted upon her by Jason would have in the grand scheme of things. Would Talia and not Lyta have been the eventual hero, the telepath who helped rescue Sheridan, defeat the Shadows and take down PsiCorps? Would Marcus have ever been introduced, and would that have been an interesting bisexual love triangle? (OK, wishful thinking, but still...)

So many unanswered questions. Eventually Ivanova's feelings finally boiled down to one tortured confession of love to Delenn during the ceremony of rebirth, "I think I loved Talia". The last time Talia Winters was ever mentioned was a brief allusion to her by Bester as he described her dissection and study by PsiCorp scientists. All senseless and horrifying, especially for hard core fans of the Talia Winters character.

Claudia Christian once joked that she was proud to have played the first bisexual, Russian Jew on television. She confirmed in interviews time and time again that Ivanova and Talia did indeed sleep together in "Divided Loyalties", and that a kiss was planned but ultimately not filmed. Instead what we got were broad hints allowing for a less "troubling" interpretation for those SciFi fans not comfortable with Ivanova's alternative sexuality. A cop-out in other words, a shame of Xena-esque proportions, though even the repressed Warrior Princess got to kiss her Bard in the end.

Not quite an evil/dead lesbian stereotype, but not far from it. What could have become a high point in the history of television ultimately stands out as being quite ridiculous, a conspicuous low point in what I consider otherwise to be the most excellent SciFi TV show ever produced.

But hey, despite all that, Ivanova is still cool. I still have great hopes that JMS will continue his B5 universe (as is rumoured he will) and that we haven't seen the last of Captain Susan Ivanova.

Important episodes:
Midnight on the Firing Line (1.1)
Legacies (1.17)
A Race Through Dark Places (2.8)
Divided Loyalties (2.20)

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Last updated: 23 May 2009