IN THE BLAKE MIDWINTER: UnAmerican Activities at the BBC

by Dana Shilling

I: Divided by a Common Language

One of the compelling qualities of B7 is its utter estrangement from the norms of American TV. (I'm an American, so I have more exposure to the U.S. than the British product.) There have been American series that have killed sympathetic characters, but the U.S. norm is to have sympathetic characters.

The occasional death here and there is acceptable, for leads as well as the expendable "Girlfriend of the Week" (especially for actors whose agents have raised the pot limit once too often), but it would be considered rude to wipe out the entire cast. If it's necessary to highlight the entire cast list and hit the Delete key, at least they can all die together in redemptive fashion.

An American version of B7 would gain in some ways. American actors don't go to the pub, they go to the gym. Americans wait until they have enough money to produce a TV show before producing a TV show...but the wonderfully disconcerting quality of B7 could never be duplicated on this side of the pond. (I suppose that an argument could be made that Babylon 5 is, in some ways, the "virtuous twin" or B7 Minus 2. The Sheridan-Delenn relationship seems poised to satisfy the demand-if any-for Blake-Cally shippers.)

Paradigmatically, U.S. shows are about a house and a family. Any initial conflict is resolved by incorporating the outsiders into the family. In the U.S. (or AU-S) B7, Rumours of Death would come much earlier, and would be the turning point for uniting the crew into a cohesive and affectionate unit. Chance would be a fine thing.

There are similarities between B7 and another, even more obscure, British series of the 1970s: Rock Follies. Rock Follies is about three women who form an absolutely useless rock band. They don't like each other very much, by the end of the series they like each other even less, and they go through one professional disaster and betrayal after another and at the end are still to rock what the B7 crew is to anti-Federation combat. Such a show could never even be greenlighted in the United States.

At the end of Children of Auron, the crew is "sharing a laugh" (nobody ever laughs when Avon actually says something funny) -a very U.S. moment. All it needs is a laugh track. But in the U.S. version, everyone would be together. In the British product, Vila, Tarrant, and Dayna are sitting on one part of the couch, eating popcorn or some functional equivalent. Avon is on the other couch.

Raymond Chandler said that when you can't think of what to do in a story, have someone come through a door carrying a gun. In U.S. shows, when all else fails, the answer is "professional help," which generally means psychotherapy rather than, say, dentistry or termite extermination. In B7, professional help bounced right off Vila-and look what it did for Blake!

II: Worldviews

This is why Blake is named Blake, isn't it?

The Clod & The Pebble

"Love seeketh not Itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care,
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a Heaven in Hell's despair."

So sang a little Clod of Clay
Trodden with the cattle's feet,
But a Pebble of the brook
Warbled out these metres meet:

"Love seeketh only Self to please,
To bind another to Its delight,
Joys in another's loss of ease,
And builds a Hell in Heaven's despite."

For many of us, "clod" and "Blake" (Roj, not William) are a natural association, of course. But my contention here is that it is natural for TV shows to adopt a Blakean worldview: not only is fighting Federation tyranny worthwhile, but a scrappy little band of outsiders can achieve decisive victory.

In the U.S. version, Kerrill would join the crew (although she would probably be killed off after a couple of episodes). Anna would succeed in her coup d'etat, and would turn the reins of power over to Blake. Avon would be able to suppress the one moment in which he trusted his heart and acted spontaneously (i.e., by shooting the only person in the Universe he actually cared about), and he and Anna would ride off into the sunset.

Another possibility, in line with my B7-as-"Casablanca" obsession, would be for the politically unaffiliated anti-hero to opt for activism and beautiful friendship over adulterous romance. (The recent Lysator archives include a thread about crew preferences in alcoholic beverages. I can't help thinking of Blake sipping a champagne cocktail-like Viktor Laszlo, that other prize prat who strives valiantly and a lot less effectively than he thinks in a noble cause.)

Although the television medium favors the Blakean worldview, B7 takes a hyper-Avonian view. That is to say, B7 is the only place in which Avon ("Life's a bitch and then you die and suffer an eternity of damnation") could be guilty of excessive optimism. Nearly any U.S. show-and indeed most other British shows-would adopt the mission of teaching Avon that trust and cohesion are essential. B7 not only affirms his perception that trusting Anna and Blake was a mistake and a weakness-it teaches him that the consequences were worse than even he could imagine.

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Last changed on 21st of April 2000