As 1999 winds down ushering in the twenty-first century and the twenty-second anniversary of B7's first airing in Britain, I'm given to pondering just what it is about the show in general -- and the character of Roj Blake in particular -- that has so gripped me since I first saw it aired on PBS in Chicago nearly eleven years ago. For me, the answer to this question has to do with the odd yet truly wondrous way in which the two realms of human social existence -- the "personal" and the "political" -- are so subtly and fortuitously woven together. Consider, for example, the case of Vila Restal in the third series episode "City at the Edge of the World." Here, Vila succeeds in the tricky task of opening a seemingly simple door which itself turns out to be a portal leading an ancient people from the exhausted resources of their old planet into the unlimited natural abundance of their new homeworld -- a simple act that had been foretold in the people's oral culture centuries before. Consider too, that Vila initially does not want to leave the relative safety of The Liberator to go down to possibly die on some unnamed alien planet. But Vila does go down because Tarrant bullies him and ultimately threatens to throw him off The Liberator if he refuses to do as he's told. (As you all will recall, Tarrant has made a deal to Vila's lock-picking services in exchange for some of the planet's rare gems which the crew needed to repair The Liberator's burned out Weaponry System.) So, Vila goes down to Keezarn not out of any desire to fulfill an epic role in the culture's history, but due to a lack of choice in his own limited existence driven by the necessity of safeguarding his own self-preservation in being allowed to remain on the ship with the others.
One could certainly deem his motivations here as belonging strictly to that realm of human experience called the "personal." And yet, the action he performs in carrying out this seemingly "personal" goal has far-reaching, historic significance extending beyond his own fate into the fate of a collectivity of others. In assuming the role of the "clever man" who must open the portal -- a role that has been borne out of ancient prophecy itself -- Vila also assumes a place on the shared stage of world-history, a place where individual actions have consequences that affect the quality of life, the potential of collective human survival, for thousands if not millions of other people. Here Vila has become a world historical actor, the consequences of whose actions, I argue, firmly belong to the realm of the "political." This is what so intrigues me how seemingly ordinary yet talented people, like Vila in this instance, have within them the capacity to perform individual actions, which have such far-reaching, positive, epic effects. Here the two separate realms of the "personal" and the "political" merge and become one single, seamless realm. And Vila himself isn't the least bit aware of the world-historical consequences of his actions, of the broader "political" nature of his efforts, until the very end the act has been performed, the door opened and ancient prophecy is finally revealed by Norl. Powerful stuff, this is, the capacity of one person of very limited consciousness or "vision" to do so much greater good by one small, seemingly self-serving act.
It is also interesting to consider Avon's character in light of this phenomenon, for his relationship with Anna specifically seems to be the quintessential example of how the "personal" is unwittingly wedded to the "political". From what scant canonical evidence there is, we get the sense that Avon's attempt to defraud the Federation Banking System was for purely "personal" reasons -- so that he and Anna could ". . . be so rich that no one could touch us . . ." ("Rumours of Death"), i.e., so that he and Anna could have the means of escaping the individual restrictions of Terran Dome-life in order to live a freer, richer life on another planet outside of the Federation's control. From what we can deduce from Shrinker in the "Rumours" ep, the theft was not intended by Avon as a "political" act within a larger collective struggle against the Federation, but as a "personal" strike for both his own and Anna's individual freedom. Avon, of course, had an intensely "personal" relationship with Anna Grant: She was his lover, but far more to him than just what that title suggests. Yet, the fact Anna, the subject of his very "personal" affection with whom he planned to abscond from Earth using the proceeds of his rather "non-political" crime of bank robbery just also happens to be Bartholomew, "Central Security's Top Agent" suddenly yokes the "personal" with the "political." It was presumably Bartholomew who turned him in to the Federation leading to his subsequent arrest, interrogation and life sentence on a remote penal planet. But a funny thing happened on the way to Cygnus Alpha. To save himself from his fate, Avon joined up with another "political" figure, namely Roj Blake and wound up onboard The Liberator lending his not inconsiderable skills to the anti-fascist resistance and the cause of political freedom. (All for his own admittedly selfish "personal" reasons, of course.)
Now let's push our consideration of Avon just a bit further: When Avon, finally "free" of Blake and all his annoying rebel tendencies, takes up his plot of personal vengeance for Anna's death at the hands of Federation Interrogation in Series Three, his plot just happens to coincide with Anna's own political coup against the newly-installed Federation President Servalan. Hence, when he again meets Anna face to face, she has been quite successful in doing that which Roj Blake had been trying to do all along -- i.e., overthrow the Federation. Uncanny, isn't it? Perhaps, it is the tragedy of all that it means to be Kerr Avon in that infinitely dark and vastly cynical B7 Universe that his most intensely meaningful personal loyalties were never ever free of political significance and consequence -- much to his utter despair. Still, another way of looking at Avon's tragedy here is to see it as humanity's potential epic history; for, this commingling of the "personal" with the "political," of local acts with global consequences, of individual desires with the interests of the collective, enables each and every one of us to step out of the wings of tragedy and onto the stage of human history, not as bit players or props, but as major players, fully-realized actors in our own right at whose feet is laid the epic responsibility of what it truly means to be a member of the human collective. Avon's tragedy may then be seen as the basis for humanity's potential triumph, for the writing of human history in a new age! Powerful stuff, indeed!
As impressive as the show's ability to show the real- life yoking of the "personal" and the "political" and the vast potential for human agency and responsibility it bestows upon each of us, what impresses me even more about Blake's 7 is how it is able to dramatize this insight via the characterizations of Vila, Avon and just about everyone else on board both The Liberator and Scorpio. But to take this even further, I most like the character of Roj Blake precisely because it dramatizes this commingling of the "personal" as wedded to the "political" in a way that shows these two entities wedded to a third quality, something in recalling my epigraph from Hal Mellanby in "Aftermath" I'll call "unlimited vision". By "unlimited vision" I mean a vision of the world, of society, of other people over and beyond what one can literally see manifest at the present moment; a mental insight that can envision not just what the world is at the present historical moment, but can further glimpse the possibilities of what it could be at some better future moment. In doing so, an unlimited view can see the unlimited potentiality of unfettered human agency.
For me, Blake alone, above and beyond every other character on the show has this quality, and it is his possession of this "unlimited vision" -- though arguably still somewhat limited as all vision must necessarily be -- that so clearly marks him as a "leader" of others and, more importantly, a "teacher" to us all. For, unlike Avon or Vila, Blake is ever aware, ever conscious of the significance of his individual actions on that larger stage of human history. And his ability to see the connectedness of the two levels of the "personal" and the "political" and to still unabashedly take his place, fulfill his role on this stage, with doubts, but also with an acceptance of the full responsibility that playing his part demands -- on both the smaller personal plane as well as that of collective human history -- is what it means to act in light of such an unlimited vision of the world, and it is precisely this which I find so compelling, time after time again.
Of all the many wonderfully witty lines of dialogue Chris Boucher and others have given us in B7, I most like Hal Mellanby's profound statement about his blindness. I like to think that Blake had that wonderful ability to see beyond the present world without being ignorant to the fact that his own vision may indeed still be limited. Still, the relatively limited nature of Blake's overarching (in)sight was no reason for him to shirk his collective duty and refuse to struggle to achieve whatever small part of the wondrous possibilities he could see within his mind's eye. This is what if truly means to be a revolutionary, I think, and it is not the same thing as what it means to be an "anarchist" or a "terrorist."
As we all stand on the threshold of a new millennium, I can't help but feel that we are many ways no different from Norl's people, the inhabitants of Keezarn in "City at the Edge of the World," those ancient people seeking to forsake a land of barren devastation in exchange for a wondrous new "homeworld." As we enter the first century of the new millennium with all the unwelcome baggage of the old one including racism, corporate greed, unchecked state power, religious wars, urban and domestic violence, the ever-present exploitation of the labor of the many for the privileges of the few and the profound alienation from our own humanness this entails, I wish the solution to our problems could be as simple for us as it was for Norl and his people. If only took the unlocking of one small door to catapult us all into a new age, a new more positive epoch of humanity. But it takes more than just the talents of a few "clever" men to unlock this age. Now, more than ever, when we have been told that selfishness and greed are natural instincts to us all and when everywhere we are taught never to trust one another, we need the unlimited vision of the Blakes of this world, to join with our Vilas, our Avons, ourselves to ensure that there is something of our own humanness left to come home to once the smoke has cleared, the dust has settled, and those who profit from the destruction of our lands and our lives have been held accountable. We need you, Blake, in this our New Calendar year, just as surely as your own New Calendar age needed you.
May the New Millennium give us all the courage and the will to struggle for peace.
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