By Sally Manton

BLAKE AND AVON - or the two people on that ship that mattered...

BLAKE: Have you got any better ideas?
AVON: As a matter of fact, no I haven't.
BLAKE: Does that mean you agree?
AVON: Do I have a choice?
AVON: Then I agree. (Duel)

Poor darlings. They like each other, even love each other, sometimes hate each other and all-too-efficiently drive each other up every wall of the ship on a regular basis. Life would have been more peaceful if only one had made it to the Liberator, but it would have made for a much duller show...

I like 'The Way Back', but I have to admit that I sat up (and still do!) at that opening salvo in 'Spacefall':

BLAKE: [To Avon] Could it be altered?
AVON: What?
BLAKE: The running log. Could the readings be faked?
AVON: Only by a top-line technician. Nobody on this ship could do it.
BLAKE: Except you.
AVON: Naturally. (And that smile!)

They've known each other what, thirty seconds? and the verbal battle lines are going up - they instinctively know how to read what the other says and doesn't say. Jenna worries about the idea being 'put into his head', but Blake immediately knows that Avon has already thought of it. And Avon meets his challenge head-on (anyone less arrogant would be at some pains to convince a room full of criminals that there was no way he'd think of/do such a thing. But not our Avon.)

They're both tough, arrogant, self-willed and ruthless - a mixture that invariably, and on a heart-warmingly regular basis, leads to fireworks. Avon's ruthlessness is tied to his selfish streak, which leads him to put himself, his own interests, and the few people he cares about ahead of everything and everyone in the galaxy. Blake's is tied to his fierce idealism, which drives him to him to take on the whole galaxy with a crew of five and a fancy spaceship, and pushes him to the edge of obsession at least once that we get to see (only once - lying in 'Pressure Point' - Sally's Sixth Rule of Blake's 7 is that Blake Was Right About Star One).

Consequently, their aims and priorities in life are at cross-purposes, and it's mostly because of [a] Blake's realisation that Avon is too valuable for him not to keep, as well as Avon's unwilling loyalty towards Blake, and [b] the fact that in both cases, one of the people they care most deeply about is - er - the other, that enables them to keep working around their differences.

They can and do see the darkness in each other. I do believe - and 'Horizon' bears me out - that in a straight choice between sacrificing one or more of his crew and giving the Liberator to the Federation, Blake would not give up the ship (his own life, yes, without hesitation. Not the ship). Blake's cold-blooded streak is less obvious than Avon's, but quite possibly colder, and after the business with Kayn ("I will destroy your hands") I think Avon knows it. And although Blake does in essence trust Avon with his life and his mission, he's under no illusions about the fact that the man is a selfish bastard where most of humanity (and nearly all of humanity outside the Liberator's hull) are concerned. He doesn't look too surprised to me when Avon argues against the plague warning in 'Killer', and the way he chokes off any protests Avon may have been about to make in 'Shadow' is rather telling ("don't tell me you have a moral objection..." Ouch.)

Avon may not actually disagree with Blake's purpose in life as such (he may not give a damn about the hoi polloi's rights, but if pressed, I don't think he'd actually *oppose* them having any) but he honestly believes that they can't win. Not that it's wrong to try, but that it can't be done. He definitely dislikes wasting his time and risking his life on it. The fact that he can leave if he wants to, he knows he can leave if he wants to, and he never does (except for the aborted try in 'Breakdown') doesn't help, since with 'Breakdown' he becomes painfully aware that he's not going to.

Blake has the gift of manipulation, and does use it quite coolly if he has to. These people are the human tools he's got to use, after all, and a certain amount of calculation is necessary to get the best out of them (and he does demand - and get - a hell of a lot out of them). Avon, on the other hand, having ceded control to Blake, still does so neither all-that-willingly nor all-that-well, and tends to kick against the restraints, at least until 'Trial' (where he clearly, verbally accepts his place as following Blake). He isn't willing to admit his place as one of Blake's human tools, something that cuts into his individualism.

Oh, yes, and Avon knows the gift for manipulation is there, and mistrusts it on principle (less, I think, as the series goes on and he knows the man better. For all the fanfic on the subject, there's precious few examples on screen of Avon shouting 'manipulation!' But the start of 'Weapon' and his shock-driven snarls in 'Voice from the Past' prove he's still touchy on the subject.) He tends only to resent it when he thinks Blake might use it on him, and he is equally manipulative when he takes over, of course.

So there's lots of room for conflict between them, and oh boy, do we the viewers get all the conflict we could want! The fights are wonderful; the very first - in 'Time Squad' - is a corker, quiet and venomous except for that one sharp "Enough!" which shuts Avon up for all of two minutes. And the main joy of 'Redemption' (methinks they both got up in a frazzled mood that day) is watching the on/off tension, them coming together then flying apart, fighting and rescuing and snarling and...oh, everything. In 'Shadow', almost every line between them crackles. And of course, there's the 'wading in blood' explosion in 'Star One'.

Truly wonderful stuff. Perhaps too wonderful, since the fights tend to overshadow everything else, and there's a lot of everything else there. There is less actual battling than it would seem, and far more of the shifting, sliding, mental-rather-than-emotional sparring that they both clearly enjoy so much:

AVON: You handle them very skillfully.
AVON: But one more death will do it.
BLAKE: Then you'd better be very careful. It would be ironic if it were yours. ('Trial')

BLAKE: How did it feel?
AVON: Don't you know?
BLAKE: Yes. I don't like the responsibility, either. ('Deliverance')

AVON: I have been doing some calculations, if this is Star One...
BLAKE: If it is?
AVON: First catch your computer, but all right it probably is, and that being the case the choice of location is fascinating.
BLAKE: I'm glad you're enjoying it. ('Star One'...and not that long after the Big Bust-Up, either...)

They are both, as I said, extremely intelligent men - the nearest to intellectual equals in the crew (Avon has the deeper but more narrowly focused genius, Blake the wider-ranging intellect.) They challenge each other mentally - they connect on that mental level as well as on the (sometimes fraught) emotional one. Sometimes they think alike quite beautifully - the way they catch on to each other's verbal games and allusiveness, the times they join together to explain something to one of the other crew members ('Shadow', to Gan, 'Redemption', to Jenna), the thread flowing from one to the other as if they know what the other is going to say. There's a lot of unstated respect for each other's ability to read into what they say or don't say.

Then again, sometimes they're so far apart it's hard to believe that they're speaking the same language ("you really do hate me, don't you?" the beginning of 'Horizon', even if they are both in pain, and any time Blake interrupts Avon when he's working.)

There are indicators lightly sprinkled through the series that they do like each other, even as they vex and infuriate each other; Blake teasing Avon in 'The Web' ("Then all you have to do is get everybody else out of this mess"); the quiet flight deck talk in 'Pressure Point', a mixture of gentle challenge, amusement and affection; the gorgeous grin Blake gives Avon as Kayn is teleported down in 'Breakdown'; Avon's pax gesture in 'Trial' and that smile (private and purely indulgent) from Avon in 'Duel'... and this is apart from the examples of the deep, fierce emotional bond that appears to such glorious effect in 'Redemption', 'Pressure Point', 'Hostage', 'Countdown', 'Voice from the Past', 'Star One', 'Terminal'... It's a complicated friendship, with many thorns and precious few roses, but there is real affection (rather bemused, methinks, on both sides and decidedly reluctant on Avon's) at the bedrock of the whole delicious, tempestuous kit and kaboodle

After all, Avon *knows* that Blake has this overriding political agenda, he knows that their lives are going to be endangered by it, he knows they could get killed for it ('What do you want to be rich or dead?'). And he - the self-proclaimed survivalist - accepts (albeit not without complaint) both the agenda and the risk.

Actually, Avon in my opinion rarely complains for the sake of it - he complains when he doesn't think Blake has thought things out properly if at all ('Shadow', 'Weapon', 'Horizon'). And no, he doesn't give an alternative plan because he knows, even if he doesn't admit it openly, that Blake's ideas are usually better than his (the above quote from 'Duel' again - I adore it, it's so them-in-a-nutshell. And the hug's nice, too).

I see that Avon is giving Blake a message: "I accept (for want of a better option) your right to run my life - but I'm going to make damn sure you earn that right." Which is why, once he's satisfied that Blake has thought as much as he's going to (which isn't always as much as Avon would *like* him to) he usually falls into line, with a few verbal thrusts that come more under the heading of the malicious wit - the sniping - that comes as naturally to him as breathing. He always cedes to Blake's authority - he lets the man run his life.

Avon knows his self-appointed leader can be dispassionately, jaw-droppingly ruthless, but he never seems surprised when Blake's heart overrules his head, or when the political agenda gets sidetracked to help the lame dogs they run into ('Mission to Destiny', 'Hostage', 'Killer', even 'Countdown', where Blake is ready to go off and help him disarm the bomb, and Avon has to remind him about finding Provine. I love that). He clearly believes (even if he doesn't say so) that Blake really cares about his people - in 'The Web', Avon doesn't speak up when he's tortured by the foil-clad duo, but is unsurprised when Blake gives in at once to save him (possibly rather kerflummoxed by what it implies). In 'Seek-Locate-Destroy', he only stops Blake going back for Cally by pointing out that she would be dead, and it would kill all of them too - by appealing to Blake's loyalty to the rest of them. In 'Mission to Destiny', he and Cally have no qualms about Blake leaving them and going off with their bracelets, their guns and that incredibly valuable neutrotope. In 'Shadow', he knows Blake's snarling is not because he doesn't care about Cally, but because he does.

And he truly believes in Blake's honesty and integrity. When Jenna appears to betray them, his reaction is resigned anger and disgust at himself and the rest for getting tricked. When Soolin appears to, it's one cold, wary look. When Blake appears to...yes, well, that's something else, which brings us to...

Gauda Prime.

I'm not sure I would blame either of them (okay, I'm biased, I love 'em both). They both make mistakes, though the punishment Blake gets is way out of proportion for his. We don't know how much he and Deva knew about Tarrant or how accurate it was (after all, Deva's information systems screwed up on Arlen) but I don't believe that Blake knew just how long Tarrant had been with Avon (there are indications throughout the third and fourth seasons that the galactic information superhighways were now very potholed). Given that - and his own knowledge that Avon's people skills were always dubious at best - why on earth would he trust someone with this pedigree (FSA high-flyer turned deserter/smuggler/mercenary)? Where Blake's biggest mistake occurred is his lack of concern when Tarrant escaped - not looking ahead to the possibility that Tarrant would get to Avon first and what affect his version of the mess would have.

Blake trusts Avon - we know that. But I don't believe that he realised how much Avon trusted him. Some, yes, but not the depth, or how it had become so central to Avon's extremely complicated feelings (Blake is arrogant, but he isn't vain). I get the feeling Blake walks into the tracking gallery expecting the normal, suspicious, I-want-an-explanation-and-it-had-better-be-bloody-good reaction, and prepared to have to talk a good fight. But when he sees a man he still cares deeply about almost in a state of shock - obviously distraught - it freezes any explanations right out of his head.

And Avon? Oh yes, the responsibility is his. He fires those three bullets into an unarmed man, no getting away from that. He's become more inclined to shoot first and think later since Blake knew him (I like Soolin, but I do think her casual carnage has been a bad influence on the others, including Avon), and I think, for all his seeming lack of concern on Scorpio, the news that the man Orac said was Blake was acting as a bounty hunter would have shaken him.

But even so...the thing is, you can almost see Avon stop thinking as soon as Tarrant says the magic words "he sold us out. Even you." The importance of his belief in Blake is proven in his devastating shock when that belief is briefly torn apart in the tracking gallery - the way he almost begs Blake for the truth (which he would not do if he was not desperate to accept it) and the staggering violence of his reaction when no answer seems to come (yes, he should have moved to take out Arlen or protect his crew. But from that moment onwards, do any of them even exist for him? Not from where I'm watching).

I do not for one minute think Avon is actually insane, but I do think that a case could be mounted for diminished responsibility brought on by [a] the stress of the leadership role he didn't want and is unsuited for (he wanted the ship. Not the crew. Maybe not reasonable, but since when was reason one of his strong points?) [b] the after-affects of the triple blow of Rumours/Terminal/Rescue, where he lost or thought he lost three of the four most important people in his life as well as his ship, and [c] exhaustion (since things quite literally exploded in Warlord he's had precious little time to stop and think - he's running on feelings, not a good idea with our Avon).

He realises, of course, that he's made a hideous mistake almost as soon as Blake reaches him and brushes the gun aside...

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Last changed on 07th of June 2000