Reflections on the episode 'Power'

By Jackie Speel

It has been argued by several people that the episode 'Power' is sexist. However, when considered in the context of the series as a whole 'Power' can be seen as presenting something far more complex.

Several of the episodes deal with complex moral, political, and philosophical issues in a way that invites the viewer to respond, and perhaps this is one of the reasons for the series' continued popularity. The linked issues of trust and loyalty occur repeatedly, but many others can be picked out in specific episodes. To pick out three at random: the nature of neutrality ('Breakdown' and 'Killer'), the rights of created or laboratory species ('The Web' and 'Animals') and the extent to which the ends can justify the means ('Shadow' and 'Star One'). In these and other episodes the issue (or several) is clearly part of the story, but does not have to be pursued.

'Power' can be seen as one of these issue-based episodes. What causes the debate is in part the existence of two distinct but overlapping issues. One is based on what Avon refers to as 'the war between the sexes' and the other is the issue of the conflict over technology.

As Avon says, the logical extrapolation of war between the sexes is the extinction of the species - but he does mention several other categories of conflict (perhaps a link could be made to the 'irreconcilable viewpoints' statement in 'Duel'). However it is not clear whether the Hommiks do suppress their women. The tribe may be male dominated, but as Judith Proctor says (in 'On the Episode Power'), the Hommiks have no intrinsic objection to a woman, Dayna, challenging the tribal leader, nor to the widow of that tribal leader assuming (at least temporarily) control of the tribe and making major decisions as the future of the tribe. (One could also note that 'Power' is one of the few episodes to show incidents of domestic affection.)

Looking at the series from another angle, Blake's Seven is fairly advanced for its time in the manner in which it shows women. Among the 'professional classes' women are shown to have equal status to men. Examples would include the senior civil servant/apparatchik Alta Morag and Servalan as Supreme Commander, coup leader and President. On a lower level to these two are Arlen and Anna Grant, who play very similar roles. Turning to the unofficial side Blake and Vila show no surprise at Jenna Stannis saying she is a Free Trader, and shortly into the flight on the London she says something to Raiker which she quite obviously *expects* him to react to. There are also several leading rebels (Kasabi and Avalon, and, to a lesser extent, Cally). Compare Blake's Seven in this respect with the near contemporary TV series 'Dallas' and 'Dynasty' - where the women are defined to a significant extent in terms of their relationships to the men. In the original Star Wars trilogy how many women were there, apart from Luke Skywalker's aunt, and Princess Leia?

With Pella's statement about female infanticide, the situation may be more complex than she presents. As Judith Proctor writes, female infanticide is normally displayed in a situation where there are external restrictions. From what little is shown of Xenon's surface (in 'Power' and 'Headhunter') there would be sufficient suitable land for the Hommik tribe to expand, move or split if it got too large. There appears to be no evidence of overpopulation of the local geographical region with the Hommiks and other tribes from the Hommiks' costumes it is tempting to assume they are roughly similar to the Celts and Saxons in their level of economic development - hunting and agriculture).

Pella's statement may be a case of special pleading to someone unfamiliar with the actual situation, which might have been more complex than she presents. Perhaps the Hommiks were not exposing a 'significant percentage' of female children at random locations for the Seska to find or not, but there was an established system to ensure the children's survival. The Seska have hydroponic farms, and access to advanced technology (partially through Dorian), while the operation to reverse their Seska-isation is relatively simple. Surely it would make more sense to create a system whereby 'surplus children' were passed to a group of people who could support them until times improved? The girls could thus be left at predetermined locations to be retrieved by the Seskas - if these included the weaker girls it might explain the remark about finding them in time. (There were a number of nunneries in the Middle Ages which had mechanisms for accepting abandoned babies and children without! the parents being identified.) This situation could have been fairly stable for a long time, but had fallen into abeyance by the time the Liberator survivors became involved in the situation (surely it would have been possible to reconstruct the Seskas' destroyed technology with Dorian's help?)

The other 'issue' dealt with by the episode 'Power' is the 'conflict over the use of technology' which appears in at least two other episodes ('Deliverance' and 'Powerplay'), and which raises an interesting question. In 'Deliverance' the Scavengers are male, and the one representative of the heirs of technology shown is female - Meegat. (Meegat may appear to be 'submissive' but she is acting in a highly ritualised context, and she sees herself as having gained by the situation.) In 'Powerplay' the two Lo-techs Vila encounters, and the Hi-tech collectors are female. Blake's Seven can thus be seen as subverting the more traditional associations of men with technological and other advance and women with nature and tradition. (The other 'primitive peoples' shown do not have this mix of technologies.)

It can be argued that while 'Power' is about a possible outcome of a conflict between the genders, neither it nor 'The Harvest of Kairos' with the archetypal 'Male Chauvinist Pig' Jarvik is sexist in the formal sense. Sexism is about implicit assumptions and unchallenged acts, and while both these episodes may cover issues related to sexism, the issue is clearly flagged.

If there is an episode which is implicitly sexist, it is 'Assassin.' Piri's 'fluffy dumb blond' act is part of her cover and is a conscious act. However there are several points about the issue that jar. A number of the remarks made by Neebrox about women in general or particular, are negative and unchallenged, while Servalan, in praising Piri/Cancer's (temporary) calls her a credit to their gender (this from an ex-Supreme Commander-and-President!).

So which is more sexist - episodes which deal overtly with the topic or one which while about something else covertly reinforces the prejudices involved?

Back up to Essay index

Back up to Blakes 7

Last changed on 05th of December 2001