100 sci fi women #57: Lyta Alexander

Another contribution from Tea Drinker:

Lyta Alexander Babylon 5

Lyta Alexander enters the TV series Babylon 5 in the original pilot episode as a medium strength (P5) commercial telepath.  She starts as she means to go on with a dramatic storyline in which she gets caught up in the attempted assassination of the Vorlon Ambassador Kosh.   We don’t see Lyta again until late in Season Two when she returns to reveal the identity of a sleeper agent on the station.  She then disappears again until Season 3 when she reappears in the company of the mysterious and powerful Vorlons.

Lyta has one of the most compelling stories in Babylon 5.  She begins as a relatively ordinary telepath.   Like most other telepaths on Babylon 5 she was raised by the sinister Psi-Corps which all telepaths are forced to join.  She’s a nice person, honest, good-hearted and always willing to help people out.   After her close encounter with Kosh, she begins to question the Psi-Corps and goes on the run.  She manages to make it into Vorlon space (something no one else achieves in the show) and ends up working for the Vorlons.  As Season 3 progresses it becomes apparent that Lyta is no longer a P5 telepath, but the extent of the alterations to her abilities are unclear. She eventually turns against her masters and helps to oust them from the station.  She goes on to take a major role in defeating the forces of the corrupt President Clark during Earth’s civil war in Season 4.  In Season 5 she gets involved with the telepath underground and falls in love with a resistance leader only to lose him tragically.  By the end of Season 5, Lyta is royally pissed off with pretty much everyone, which is a problem, since it turns out that she’s probably the most powerful telepath in existence.

I felt a little conflicted about including Lyta in this list because while I do love her character and think Patricia Tallman puts in one of the best performances in Babylon 5, Lyta’s story is based on a narrative convention that I particularly hate, that of the powerful woman who can’t handle her own power and ends up mad/evil/dead (usually all three).  It is a convention which reiterates the idea that women simply can’t handle power.   But thinking about it, I’ve decided that Lyta deserves a place, partly because her complex story subtly undermines this convention.  Her descent into destructive behaviour is not caused by her power so much as by the terrible treatment she receives at the hands of just about everyone.  Lyta is persistently used, abused and dumped on by other characters and her final refusal to take any more crap is actually big relief.   Also, she survives at the end and although I haven’t read any of the post-TV series fiction I’ve heard that she goes on to achieve her aim of bringing down the Psi-Corps and freeing her people.

I’ve done a lot for this place. Just once, I think a little gratitude would be in order, don’t you?

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100 Sci Fi Women #16: Susan Ivanova

Today I present you with our first contribution. From Tea Drinker, who is also creating her own list of sci fi women,  here it is…

Commander Susan Ivanova Babylon 5

ivanova

 

I’m starting with Ivanova because she stands for a lot of things I like to see in female characters: she’s complex, has integrity, principles, and is excellent at what she does, which in this case is being a professional soldier and pilot.  She’s not on gratuitous display as a sexual object, either for a male audience or the male characters in the show.  In fact, although she has a black sense of humour, she’s a pretty intense, serious character most of the time, but I think it’s refreshing to see a woman being represented as deadly serious.  She has her demons: everyone in her family is dead, she’s secretly a latent telepath in a world in which telepaths are forced to join the sinister Psi-Core, and she finds intimate relationships very difficult to maintain.

My main problem with the representation of Ivanova is related to sexuality. Ivanova’s character was (apparently) written and was definitely played by the actress as presumptively bisexual, but this is never stated, or dealt with directly in the show.  Then, on the one occasion that she does open up enough to begin a close relationship with a female telepath called Talia Winters, the narrative immediately takes the classic lesbaphobic turn in which the first hint of female same-sex sexuality leads to at least one character going EVIL and/or dying .

Oh well.

However, Ivanova is still a great character and the show never recovers from Claudia Christian’s decision to leave at the end of Season 4.

“I am the right hand of vengeance and the boot that is going to kick your sorry ass all the way back to Earth.  I am death incarnate and the last living thing that you are ever going to see.”