All along, during my slow crawl through the seasons, I have kept one mantra front and center in my mind: trust JMS. He has this mad elaborate plan for everyone and everything I will see.
Unfortunately, it’s true. Also, Romeo and Juliet is not my kind of romance.
If you know me, you know that, above all else, Susan Ivanova is my favorite character. — Well, it goes a tad further; I relate to her very well. She doesn’t typically faff around; she gets things done, no matter what must be done. She’s not as caught between worlds as other characters (you want Delenn for the ultimate example; Lyta faces similar choices). She’s what happens after the split, if you will. I imagine once she was very confused, very between, with her mother dead and her father… distant, then dead himself. She found herself a niche in her new place, carved it out, and refused to budge from it.
“God sent me.”
Maybe she was a little bit Messianic in that respect. Maybe she wasn’t too far off: not an avenging angel, but a child of God stripped bare in the material plane, whittled down to functionality by years of uncertainty, loss, and grief. Certainly JMS seemed happy to send her love life all to hell. No, canon is never explicit on the subject of Ivanova and Talia Winters, but what is implicit (and, indeed, some Word of God) is what I thought was the cruelest sort of heartbreak. Trust, and love, and your lover turns into her own evil twin? Oy.
But what happened with Susan Ivanova and Marcus Cole hit me hard.
Because there is something worse than finding out a lover is a snake in the grass. Anger, when it comes out of that situation, can at least be directed at the treacherous bastard hirself. No, the worst kind of loss is Juliet’s, because Juliet isn’t dead. She’s only sleeping. She’s going to need Romeo, Romeo who kills himself for her sake. Romeo who, in this case, didn’t read the fucking manual Franklin left in his logs regarding that infernal healing device.
JMS plans everything. He was going to have that device used on Ivanova all along. One may infer, then, that he never intended to kill her. Bring her to the edge of it, yes, but not kill her for good.
Marcus, through a combination of devotion and stupidity, died to save Ivanova — and wounded her soul-deep in the process. Dying in her arms was selfish. If he couldn’t live without her, he could have waited for her to die properly and joined her in the afterlife. Maybe in time he’d even have found life worth living. Certainly Ivanova was ready to go. She even told Franklin as much. For those whose entire lives are a series of losses, death comes as a respite; Nature may take its course.
Waking up must have been a shock. Waking up to find that, once again, you’re alone in the world, that’s torture. Nobody on Babylon 5 had room in their lives for one lone commander. Londo had a homeworld ready to acclaim him as emperor (and oh, how sorry we all were to hear that) and a place working with the Alliance, along with his unlikely best friend G’Kar. Delenn and Sheridan rode off into the sunset, along with G’Kar’s magic eye, the glorious perv. Even Garibaldi and Lise wound up together.
But Susan Ivanova, who did what she was asked, what needed to be done, and by gum got it done right, had a long, cold career for her troubles. The last time we see her onscreen, she is alone. Oh, JMS wrote a fix-it story later, but by then it was too late for the casual viewer, whose one exposure to this magnificent lady would’ve been onscreen; Claudia Christian’s contract had run out (a thorny situation on its own).
How many of us think to buy magazines about our favorite television shows? Indeed, how many would have known about that before the advent of the user-friendly World Wide Web? So how many walked away from that wondering what the fuck kind of ending Ivanova got? And of those, how many ever found the story that resolved it?
And what kind of message does that send? To me, it was a kick in the gut. The women to whom I relate on television tend to get killed or wind up alone. I had hoped this was the exception. Even knowing that Things Went Horribly Wrong and part of JMS’s master plan got derailed by contractual squabbling, I can’t shake the anger at yet another representation of an atypical woman getting screwed by fate while the normal ones get rewarded for their audacity or misdeeds.
We can’t all be Meredith Grey, or Abby Sciuto, or Number Six, or Delenn, you know. Some of us are Cristina Yang and Ziva David and Kara Thrace and yes, Susan Ivanova. Some of us are different in ways that are not yet acceptable: we are not gentle enough. We have broken from tradition. We have put duty high on our priority lists. We get things done by standing up and doing them. But we have the same needs as that other kind of woman, the kind that breaks the rules while retaining certain desirable traits. We need to be loved. We need to know we’re not alone. We need to not end up believing that everyone we love, everyone who has loved us, will leave; we need to understand that we are not cursed.
I’ve sobbed those words before, just like Ivanova. Since I’m not living in a war zone, learning to trust that I wouldn’t be left was safe. Barring phenomenal bad luck, Beloved and I were going to have a long time to figure each other out — and will. Cristina and her Owen both made it through the Grey’s Anatomy season finale, and so there is time for them, too. Even Ziva’s a citizen of the United States, still working with and friends with Tony. I… will not speak of Kara Thrace; at least she is too dead to care now. I hope. Unfortunately, just as Ivanova was about to look up and think, “Hey, maybe I’m going to be all right,” boom! Marcus delivers her into what is literally a fate worse than death for her.
She is Susan Ivanova. God sent her to win a war. But God didn’t take her into heaven after, and the cold hell of functionality is all that remains.
Having been there in a microcosmic way, I will assure you now that I won’t do that. If I have to kill one darling, the survivors will not be left so bereft. I’ve felt like the odd number in a paired-off world. It’s not plot fodder. It’s not pathos. It’s cruelty. I can’t enjoy what happened to Ivanova; I’ve certainly never enjoyed it in other stories. It may well color the way I see that last season. It’s shaken some of my trust, the same way the events of the season before last on NCIS shook my trust, the way “Waking the Dead” was never the same after that ridiculous episode with Mel, Boyd, and the windscreen, the way I’ve quit recommending anyone watch the last season of the new Battlestar Galactica. Ivanova’s ending still doesn’t make enough sense to me to redeem it as part of the bigger plan, and so I’m going into Season 5 with a jaundiced eye.
Trust JMS, but understand that mad elaborate plans answer to the vagaries of real-world interference. Nothing is as sacred as the creator thinks or hopes.