Minbari Ambassador Delenn
Delenn is a fictional lead character in the universe of the science fiction television series Babylon 5, played by Mira Furlan. Delenn, an alien ambassador and leader from the planet Minbar, is one of the pivotal characters in Babylon 5.
A wise woman who still manages to find humour and whimsy in life, Delenn changes over time from a shy, respectful priestess to a decisive military and political leader. Her character is complex: she is passionate, articulate and strong-willed, but displays insecurity and ambivalence about her place in prophecy. She is morally upright, always attempting to act for the better good — yet forced to keep deadly secrets and tell lies of omission. Delenn normally does not like violence, and prefers to be a consensus builder. However, her decisions have repeatedly been the catalyst for violent change and war. Delenn is also quite willing to fight — as shown in the episode “Severed Dreams”, and during her encounter with the Drakh. She is both one of Babylon 5’s key religious figures and its key romantic heroine.
Delenn was originally conceived as being a male character (eventually destined to change into a female one) but played by a female actor, in order to give the character feminine mannerisms and therefore make him more “alien”. The Babylon 5 pilot TV movie The Gathering was filmed with this in mind, but the computer alteration to Mira Furlan’s voice to make it sound masculine wasn’t convincing, so the idea was dropped and Delenn changed to being a female. The Minbari makeup used from then on gave Delenn a much more feminine appearance. In the pilot, Delenn’s overall appearance is harsher, her voice is slightly lower, and her chin is noticeably sharper. This leads to a minor continuity error in the B5 film In the Beginning, in that Delenn’s appearance in overall series continuity begins feminine in this prequel, becomes masculine in the pilot, and returns to feminine in the series.
The Minbari are broken up into three castes – religious, warrior, and worker. Delenn is a leader of her race’s religious caste and a member of the Grey Council, the mysterious and powerful group that governs Minbar.
Ten years prior to the opening scene of the series, an Earth military commander misinterprets the open gun ports (a Minbari sign of respect) from the Minbari flagship and hastily attacks it, killing their leader Dukhat. This single mistake leads to the bloody Earth-Minbari War, in which the human race is almost exterminated. Delenn, then a young acolyte, is Dukhat’s protégé, and her vengeance and grief upon his death have far-reaching consequences (her vote was the deciding factor to start the Earth-Minbari War).
And yet, at the Battle of the Line, the human race’s last attempt to save itself, it is Delenn who prevents the final annihilation, which enables the discovery of a stunning revelation about humanity that prompts the decision that the war must suddenly end. She had been working for some time in fact to try to find a way out of the war for both sides, having come out of her “moment of madness” after Dukhat’s death, with the revelation that Dukhat and the Vorlons had been working towards making contact with the humans, who would be absolutely critical to winning the coming Shadow War.
As the months of war rage on, Delenn becomes increasingly depressed by the war, realizing too late just what she had started and what it would cost. When told by a fellow member of the Grey Council that “her Holy War” was almost over, she simply replied with the question, “But are we any longer holy?” Many years later, it is revealed that her years of diplomatic work towards bringing Humans and Minbari together in peace was partially an attempt to try to make up for that mistake.
Much of Babylon 5’s drama and sweep comes from the intersections and conflicts of different races and ideologies. The human and Minbari races become closely intertwined a mere 10 years after being mortal enemies. Delenn, along with Jeffrey Sinclair and John Sheridan, is the catalyst for this change.
Delenn first appears as the mysterious yet apparently benevolent Minbari ambassador to Babylon 5. Her aide Lennier calls her “Satai,” when he first comes aboard, indicating that she is one of the leaders of the Grey Council, but Delenn chooses to keep this information quiet by ordering him never to use that title in her presence while on the station. When a renegade Soul Hunter comes aboard the station, willing to murder important historical figures in order to steal their souls (which stands in stark contrast to a Soul Hunter’s “normal” policy of patiently waiting until their intended target dies of natural causes or is killed by someone else), he focuses his attention on Delenn, indicating that she will have great importance in the future. This event reveals her status as a member of the Grey Council to the commander of Babylon 5, Jeffrey Sinclair, when he runs a search on the word Satai.
Delenn is one of the most respected and well-liked diplomats aboard the station, and the command staff trust her to help soothe tensions and conflict between different races. She quickly forms a friendship with Sinclair, whom the Minbari had specifically requested as the station’s leader, much to the chagrin of a number of higher ranking EarthForce officers and politicians. Sinclair considers her a friend and confidante, but nevertheless suspects that Delenn is withholding information from him.
At the end of the first year, as power transfers from Sinclair to Sheridan, Delenn transforms herself, undergoing a strange and painful hibernation inside a cocoon created by an ancient device. When she resurfaces, she has become a half-human, half-Minbari hybrid – initially treated with suspicion by humans and Minbari alike. (Incidentally, at the time when Delenn was intended to be a male character, the character would have also changed gender as well as species and become female.) Delenn was instrumental in also getting Sinclair to be stationed as the first Earth ambassador to Minbar, since unbeknownst to Sinclair initially, they chose him because he was the first human the Grey Council had any direct contact with during the Battle of the Line.
The choices made in the second year of “Babylon 5” force terrible change, for the station, Earth, and Minbar. The riskiest choice is for Delenn and John Sheridan to fall in love.
When Delenn chooses Sheridan, it drives a further wedge between the Minbari religious and warrior castes, who soon break a thousand years of cooperation and begin a civil war against one another. Similarly, because he chooses Delenn as his mate, Sheridan is reviled and rejected by many Earthers at home, who believe him to be brainwashed by Delenn’s ‘alien influence’.
Like Sheridan, Delenn forges a friendship and alliance with Kosh, the Vorlon ambassador to Babylon 5, becoming the first leader of an “Army of Light”. She also becomes Entil’zha, the leader of the Rangers, a dedicated group working for the Army of Light. Most of the Rangers are human or Minbari, coming together as one force to fight the Shadows, an ancient and deadly race.
A rivalry heats up between Delenn and Neroon, one of the higher-ranking leaders of Minbar’s warrior caste, who finds Delenn’s fascination for humans intolerable. Neroon arrives before the ceremony that would make her Entil’zha, the head of the Rangers (after Sinclair left the position open), seeking to take the position for himself on the grounds that the Rangers need a member of the Warrior Caste to lead them in the coming war. Neroon formally announces his intention to kill Delenn, leading to Marcus, a human ranger, fighting the vastly more experienced warrior in formal Minbari Combat, in an effort to delay him from reaching the ceremony that will irreversibly invest Delenn as the Entil’zha of the Rangers. He succeeds, but barely survives the battle with Neroon, who is shaken when Marcus invokes his willingness to die for ‘The One’ in the name of Valen. Ultimately Neroon realizes that while the Rangers would die for Delenn, they probably would not for him and agrees to leave Delenn in peace. Neroon and Delenn are still rivals, but a mutual respect between the two has been established.
After Sheridan and Babylon 5 break away from Earth, it is Delenn who rescues the station with a fleet of Minbari ships, but at a high cost. Because the Grey Council has refused to participate in the Shadow war (because the Warrior caste dominated the council; they have four members in the council instead of three thus tipping the balance of power into their favor), Delenn is left with no choice but to destroy the symbolic circle of the Grey Council. The religious and worker castes (and the two-thirds of the Minbari fleet which they control) side with Babylon 5 and the Army of Light. Unfortunately, without the Grey Council keeping order, the divisions in Minbari society become so strong that civil war soon breaks out.
In the Minbari spiritual tradition, there are prophecies about “the One” ( “War Without End,” Part II ) – a triad of leaders – “The one who was, the one who is, the one who will be.” “The One who was” is Valen, the Minbari’s greatest leader. Valen is a human man who has undergone the same transformation as Delenn – apparently becoming part human, part Minbari. In the distant past, hundreds of years before Babylon 5 is built, he becomes a great leader of the Minbari people. Using the “borrowed” Babylon 4 station and working with the Vorlons, Valen will create a powerful coalition, defeating the Shadows. It is later learned that Delenn herself is descended from Valen. (“Atonement”)
A thousand years later, John Sheridan is the “One who will be”, who will transform the human race and the planet Earth much as Valen did.
Delenn is the “One who is,” representing both halves of the Minbari and human race merged, more literally merging in the marriage of Delenn and Sheridan. Together they become war leaders, with Delenn managing to bind together diverse planets and races into a great alliance. Sheridan was the “warrior”, while she was the “spirit”. This alliance ends the great war between the Shadow and Vorlon races, and ushers in the Third age for Mankind – a great time of growth and change.
But after the Shadow War ended, both Delenn and Sheridan found their homeworlds embroiled in civil wars. Although her work had saved countless lives and ended the great war, she returned home to a world wrought with chaos and death. Minbari are forbidden from killing one another – but through the destruction of cities, lives were lost.
Delenn and the religious caste surrendered to the warrior clans. She then forced a showdown between herself and the new leader of the warrior caste. This would be a purification in which Delenn could sacrifice herself for her caste and for the Minbari people. With her sacrifice, the leadership of Minbar would continue to be held by the religious caste – not the warriors. Her old rival Neroon saved her life, however. And in his death cries he joined the religious caste, which returned to Delenn the balance of power. Delenn then gave control of the Grey Council to the worker caste, who had for many years stayed in the middle, as the religious and warrior castes simmered with disagreement.
After John Sheridan refused to stand for re-election as President of the Interstellar Alliance, Delenn is chosen to succeed him. When she accepted the role, Sheridan takes command of the Rangers until his death; Delenn asks Ivanova to succeed him.
Delenn’s exact age is never revealed, although she does survive until at least 3 January 2362 (at the age of at least 140) when she appeared at an ISN seminar to defend John Sheridan from academics who were critical of him. (“The Deconstruction of Falling Stars”)