B7 Classic: AVON by Ann Worrall, part two
- 19 Jan 2022
- Blake's 7 Analysis
- 66 Reads
AVON by Ann Worrall
Catch up with Part One here:here
Avon and the Emotional Capacity Paradox
When considering Avon's emotional capacity, it's important we recognise that while he may show a limited regard for his crew mates, these are not people he has chosen to call friends or to spend time with. Chance threw them into his path. Would he have behaved differently if he loved them, or should we take at face value his statement in Terminal: "Sentiment breeds weakness. Let it get hold of you and you are dead"?
In other words, is Avon really a man with ‘brains but no heart’? (Star One)
As I've said, opinions about Avon differ wildly: some of you will agree that that is a fair assessment of the character, others will fiercely repudiate it. So once more into the breach of evidence, my friends. Let us see where it leads.
First, I think we can agree that Avon is not a man it is easy to get to know. You call him ‘Avon’, not ‘Kerr’, even if you're his brother, friend or lover. This formality must serve an emotional purpose; perhaps providing a check on an intimacy he would otherwise find overwhelming, or perhaps it is a facet of a naturally suspicious nature. Either side could use this argument to support their viewpoint.
Then we can probably agree that he is often indifferent to the plight of others. He is not concerned about the fate of Destiny; the planet can turn into a mushroom for all he cares (Mission to Destiny). He is incredulous that Blake wishes to protect the Decimas (The Web) and implacable in condemning Dr Plaxton to death in Stardrive. He is prepared to acknowledge openly that "Wealth is the only reality". All these are indicators that he could be a pretty callous individual.
Next, there's the matter of trust, which for Avon is "only dangerous if you have to rely on it" (Rumours of Death). He tells Blake in Space Fall that what went wrong with his attempted fraud was that he "relied on other people". This implies that either Avon has learned the hard way that people are not trustworthy, or that he recognises that in a totalitarian state there is always someone ready to betray you for profit. Surely a ‘no heart’ point? If Avon doesn't trust anyone, how can he have a heart?
Ah, but he follows up this statement with the admission in Rumours of Death that he does trust Anna: "Oh, I'm afraid that I do." Avon, the supreme realist, has fought his fears about trusting anyone and given into his heart. Three episodes later, even though he has endured the bitter experience of learning that Anna betrayed him, the man who doesn't trust is driven to take his ship through uncharted space to follow up on a message from Blake. He acknowledges this might be a trap, but still trusts that if the message is genuine, Blake truly will have made a discovery that would make them ‘rich and invincible’ (Terminal).
Of course, as Blake observes in Horizon, Avon is a gambler who plays the percentages. But there is no doubt he believes that the odds favour Blake’s trustworthiness, even though Blake has made no attempt to contact him since the Andromedan War. Advantage: ‘Heart’.
"Come on!" I hear the 'no-heart' lobby shouting, "Avon is a criminal! He consistently presents himself as a man with few morals, apart from the pragmatic 'honour among thieves' code, which leads him to keep his word if he is forced to give it."
This is true. Even with regard to Avon’s given word, it's the letter of his promise he will stick to, rather than its spirit, as he demonstrates with Shrinker in Rumours of Death. Avon is also not averse to using blackmail, if this helps him get what he wants (Games). And he has no qualms about using his companions as bait in a trap to further his plans (Vila and Dayna in Stardrive). Dayna, who seems to like him, remarks that, "Beneath that cold exterior beats a heart of pure stone" (Rescue).
All this evidence supports an interpretation of a character who is incapable of caring. Indeed, Avon said himself that he counted self-interest as ‘one of [his] greatest strengths’ (Dawn of the Gods).
Yet all the actions I have detailed can be rationalised as the kind of pragmatic adjustments any of us could be driven to, if our lives were on the line.
However, it is not possible to rationalise Avon's actions in Gambit where he heartlessly risks Vila's life for personal gain. You remember the incident: a drunk or drugged Vila is persuaded by Krantor to stake his winnings against his life on a game of speed chess. Vila, suddenly sobering up, tells Avon he doesn't want to play:
Vila: That drink - I've been tricked!
Krantor: Did you say something?
Vila: I don't want to play.
Krantor: My friend, it is too late. The stakes have been laid. If you withdraw now, I shall have no alternative but to declare your five million credits forfeit.
Avon: Play, Vila.
Vila: (looks doubtful)
Avon: Orac will give you the moves.
Vila: But the Klute isn't a computer.
It's a hazardous gamble. Avon risks very little, but Vila will lose his life if things go wrong - they easily could, and there would be nothing Avon could do to prevent it. There is no doubt that Avon bullies Vila into playing, merely because he is unwilling to lose the 5 million credits.
This foreshadows the events in Orbit - both show Avon at his most ruthless. But whereas the shuttle incident springs from a matter of survival, the casino incident is a matter of profit. It demonstrates that Avon has no feelings for Vila beyond that of an occasionally useful criminal accomplice, and he would willingly gamble Vila’s life for financial gain. Definite evidence for the 'no heart' camp.
Yet paradoxically, Avon is also someone who tries to make amends if he makes a misjudgement. He demands that Blake leave him to Travis' mercy in Hostage because he feels responsible for endangering Blake. He endures five days of torture in order to get the man he believed was responsible for Anna's death. He willingly faces death on Terminal, refusing to let his mistake gift the Liberator and its crew to Servalan. While he shows no guilt for actions motivated by self-interest, he does seem to hold himself responsible for his mistakes to an almost suicidal degree. Surely if he was incapable of emotion he would not have this need to atone for his errors of judgement?
And as we viewers watch what Avon does as opposed to what he says, an interesting picture emerges.
Avon is not prone to 'irrational' statements to prove that he cares, but his actions often seem to be caring. He might have been tempted to fix the logs on the London in exchange for his freedom, and he is definitely willing to abandon Blake on Cygnus Alpha, but these events take place before he has developed any relationship with the Liberator crew. When he gets to know them, he seems to show them some loyalty and, for a cautious man, the list of his rescues is a long one: saving Blake from a bomb planted by Cally in The Web; volunteering to go back down to Cephlon to look for Jenna in Deliverance, rescuing Blake and Cally from Travis in Orac, saving Blake (again) from an animated power cable in Redemption, almost single-handedly rescuing the crew in Horizon, masterminding Blake's retrieval from the Host in Trial, ordering Vila to take the Liberator and escape, even though he expects Servalan to kill him for doing so (Terminal), going back to look for Tarrant in Rescue.
Of course the "no heart" camp will point out with some justification that most of these rescues can as easily be attributed to self- interest, pragmatism or revenge as they can to altruism - only his pushing Blake away from the exploding bomb is a spontaneous reaction. However, there are two further incidents to consider where Avon seems genuinely to be acting from sentiment.
The first is when he voluntarily removes his teleport bracelet to continue disarming the solium radiation device in Countdown. The popular interpretation is that he does so because he could not rescue Anna, but he can, through performing a selfless act, prove to her brother that he cared for her. The second is when, against his instincts, he agrees to stay and hold the gap in the minefield until the Federation ships arrive (Star One). Although he says he ‘could never stand heroes’ (Killer), here he shows cool bravery and his defence of the line against the Andromedans is as successful as it is surprising.
Although I have previously made a case for the theory that he is playing the percentages, rather than heroics - that he reasoned that if he wanted the Liberator he would have to fight - I do not think that that was the case. His reply to Vila's cry that what they are doing is stupid: "When did that ever stop us?" demonstrates that he too believes that what he is doing is not in his best interest. Logically, we have to conclude that he is acting out of loyalty to Blake and his ideals, rather than selfish motives.
So brains, certainly, but what can we conclude about his heart?
The evidence suggests that Avon does care for people he can trust in some measure and has chosen to regard, but the rest of us can mutate into fungi as far as he's concerned. How much he cares is still open for discussion.
It’s time to tackle the contentious issue of how deeply Avon was in love.
The Heart-Breaking Tale of Avon and Anna
Before the series starts, Avon was in love with somebody called Anna Grant. Probably. The question as to whether this was even her real name has been dealt with comprehensively on this very web site in Susan Bowden's essay Anna Grant: A Demon to Take Down the Devil. For our purposes, it is sufficient to know that she turned out not to be the sweet young thing Avon thought he had loved and lost, but a top Federation security agent, code-named Bartolomew.
Any examination of Avon's relationship with Anna is going to land us in the middle of another controversy. Some fans argue passionately that it was the discovery of her betrayal that resulted in the extreme examples of callous self-interest and paranoia that Avon exhibits from Terminal onwards. Others, equally passionately, disagree.
So what evidence is there to support the view that Avon loved Anna beyond reason? In all honesty, not very much.
It is true that in Countdown Avon tells her brother, Del Grant: "I would have given my life to save hers”. This would seem proof that she meant everything to him, especially as he was risking his life to dismantle a bomb as he says it, and seems sincere. However, there are two things to bear in mind here:
First, Del Grant believes that Avon had abandoned Anna in an attempt to avoid arrest and save himself. There are at least two examples of Avon doing something similar: when he tries to put on the survival suit in Dawn of the Gods and when he seeks to eject Vila from the shuttle in Orbit. And as I've already noted, he looks upon self-interest as his greatest strength. It is not inconceivable that Grant is right.
Second, if Avon is a career fraudster, lying would be second nature to him. In a situation where he knows that Grant has threatened to kill him, he may well have judged it prudent to lie about how much he loved Anna. It could be that he did love her - but rationally, putting his own safety first.
Of course, those who believe that Anna was the love of Avon's life, and that losing her became the motivation for his subsequent actions, will shoot these arguments down in flames. They will claim he was a passionately loyal friend and lover. Didn't he keep quiet about Tynus' role in their failed scheme? Didn't he risk his life to dispose of the Albian bomb because Anna was Grant's sister? Didn't he put himself through five days of torture to avenge her death? What about his reaction when he finally learns she had betrayed him?
Well yes, but, while we are not told his reasons for sparing Tynus, it doesn't seem to have been motivated by altruism, as he is keen to call in the debt when they meet again - hardly an act of unconditional loyalty. In Rumours of Death we see Anna asking Avon, "Who are you?" which implies either that she has no information about his past life or that he never opens up to her emotionally. It seems more likely to be the latter, because in their next exchange he admits that he that he could never tell he what he was feeling - but either is a little strange if she really was the love of his life. Further, shortly after killing her, he states that his regrets are only ‘a small part’ of his life, and subsequently his performance does not seem noticeably affected by the incident. The evidence does not suggest a man in the throes of a mental breakdown as a consequence of his girlfriend's betrayal.
I'm being a bit of a devil's advocate here. I do believe that Avon loved Anna more than anyone else he had met, and I do think he blamed himself for what he believed was her death under torture, and that is the reason why he dismantled Albian's bomb. I think it likely that he was quite young when he fell for her, and that his arrest for the bank fraud came some time after her death. However, he does not strike me as a character who would ever think the world well lost for love. In my opinion, he puts himself through torture to avenge Anna because he feels he failed her by misjudging the danger posed by the visa seller. As I've already noted, this is a pattern of self-destructive behaviour he adopts whenever he is forced to acknowledge he has made a mistake.
As for his reaction to learning of her betrayal, I think what devastates him - and he is visibly devastated - is that his judgement has again been faulty. Another man might shake this off, but Avon always prides himself on his ability to judge situations rationally. Now he has been revealed as a fool who gave in to sentiment and who, if we accept that he had run-ins with the Federation prior to meeting Anna, should logically have deduced that she could be one of their agents. His confidence in himself is shattered. From this point on, he knows he will have to ruthlessly second-guess any impulse he has to trust.
Avon and the Dream of Innocence
I mentioned that Avon does not often exploit his ‘phwoar factor’, but it can not be denied that he has a soft spot for wide-eyed ladies. He shows a tenderness in his dealings with Meegat (Deliverance) that is very different from his usual cautious cynicism, and I don't think this was just because he feels flattered.
There is a revealing moment in The Web, when a possessed Cally flirts with Avon to discover how to disable the forward sensors on the Liberator. She looks at him admiringly, in much the same way that Meegat does, and tells him she is interested in his work. He is flummoxed by this, surprisingly unsure as to how to respond. Later, of course, he discovers she was tricking him and demands she is put off the ship.
He is uncharacteristically taken in by Piri (Assassin), seeming to believe that she is on the level. Soolin is not fooled by her performance and deduces that Piri must be Cancer, something Avon was surely capable of doing if he hadn't dismissed her as an irritating, but harmless, sweet little thing.
Vena Muller also charms Avon. Because she gazes at him imploringly, he sets aside his usual caution and agrees to take her with him to resuscitate Muller (Headhunter).
These incidents are significant, because I think they point to a character vulnerability in Avon which is not confined to ladies. I mentioned earlier that what he seems to value about Blake are the ‘simplistic certainties’ that Blake believes in. I think that faced with such belief, Avon becomes bewildered and loses his perspective. Time and again, we see him helpless in the presence of innocence: Max enthusiastically shaking his hand in gratitude and Avon staring at his hand in disbelief (Death-Watch); Cally rendering him nonplussed with her open flirting (The Web); his tentative caress to Meegat's cheek, not quite touching her, baffled by her adoration. His uncertainty when Blake says he has always trusted him.
I think it is this vulnerability that made it easy for Anna to fool him. While it doesn't always lead to disaster, when it does, and Avon is forced to recognise that he has been a fool, he becomes furious with himself, taking his anger out on whoever has been lying: shaking Cally roughly; hitting Sara in Mission to Destiny; shooting Anna. I think he recognises the pattern, but is unable to prevent himself repeating it.
A different pattern emerges between Avon and ladies who openly set themselves in opposition to him: Alien-Cally, Pella, Servalan. Here, Avon is comfortable and assured, appearing to relish the power struggle, recognising the danger signs and avoiding the traps they set. He kisses them, but this does not seem to be evidence of sexual passion, but designed to distract and to demonstrate his power over them. One obvious example is the moment when he contemptuously requests teleportation immediately after embracing Servalan in Death-Watch. This pattern is not just confined to ladies (well, apart from the kissing aspect) - set yourself in opposition to Avon and man or woman, you are likely to end up dead.
In his flashback memories of his time with Anna, Avon does not recall them together in a passionate clinch, as we might expect. They have obviously been intimate (the setting is a bedroom), but it is the ‘innocent’ Anna he remembers fondly; the Anna who gazes at him wide-eyed and apparently guileless. When he cradles her dying body, he is as tentative with her as he is with Meegat, not quite caressing her; fleetingly brushing his lips across her hair. This is completely different to the way he relates to Servalan, hungrily devouring her mouth and then throwing her to the floor (Aftermath). He understands Servalan's ‘greedy gangster’ personality, because it is similar to his own. It is innocence - even fake innocence - he finds baffling, yet craves.
Avon's Sick Friend
There is a case for claiming that it is Servalan, rather than Anna, who is the (admittedly twisted) love of Avon's life. He is obsessed with her, and it seems inevitable that he should find her attractive. ‘Anna’ may have represented to him everything that Servalan was not, but ironically ‘Sula’ shares many of Servalan’s character traits. Both women are capable of a soft sweetness when they are in seduction mode and although they are sophisticated, they are capable of appearing vulnerable. Both are ruthless in pursuit of their goals. Avon would probably add that to both of them ‘lying comes quite naturally... like breathing’ (Blake). The difference is that Servalan is too greedy for dominance to hide her true nature, so Avon is never fooled into trusting her, however fascinating her finds her.
The Avon/Servalan connection does not start until their meeting on Sarran (Aftermath). Up to that point, there is nothing to indicate that Servalan has any special interest in him, except as one of Blake's rebel gang. Aftermath is where she surprisingly offers Avon the position of her consort. Perhaps he has risen in her estimation since she learned of his heroic stance at Star One, or she has read some intelligence reports on him. However, Servalan doesn't actually seem to know that much about him. In Rumours of Death, she has this exchange with him and Tarrant:
Avon: Who is Bartolomew?
Avon: Tell me who.
Servalan: Tell me why.
Tarrant: He killed someone. A girl. Anna Grant.
Servalan: Anna? [She smiles] Release me. I'll tell you anything you want to know.
It would seem that Servalan doesn't know about Avon's history with Anna, although she knows Anna's security identity. One would have expected her to have read about their connection in the security reports, although Anna may have destroyed any record of her involvement with Avon when she decided to let him go.
If we accept that Servalan knows little about Avon, then maybe she offers him a liaison just because she finds him attractive. We have an example of her falling for and promoting an attractive man – Jarvik, in Harvest of Kairos. More probably it's the fact Avon commands the Liberator and has Orac that explains her interest. Her reasons are fairly academic, since Avon rejects her offer.
On Obsidian, Servalan's target is the Liberator, and on Kairos it is Tarrant who is initially and inexplicably the focus of her attention. She seems to have forgotten about Avon until she boards the Liberator and he tricks her into transporting the crew to a habitable planet. She regains the advantage by choosing Kairos, but Avon holds the final trump card, creating an artificial sopron and fooling Servalan into abandoning ship. That marks the end of their games for a while. In Children of Auron, they have no direct contact. It's not until the next episode, Rumours of Death, that Servalan establishes herself as Avon's nemesis, a role that she will fill for the remainder of the series. When Servalan learns about his relationship with Anna, she gains valuable insight into Avon's vulnerabilities and how to exploit them. It is this understanding that enables her to set an effective trap for him on Terminal.
From Rumours of Death onwards, there is a 'Tom and Jerry' aspect to their relationship - each seemingly unable to resist the challenges set by the other. While this is not an exact analogy, the attraction between them has the same predator/prey vibe as the cartoon, without it ever being completely clear as to who is occupying which role.
Avon refers to Servalan as his ‘sick friend’, recognising that she is inherently untrustworthy. Perversely, this may account for her attraction for him. If you are a man who has learned the hard way that those whom you trust betray you, it must be a relief to engage with someone who is unequivocally your enemy. Avon also claims that he needs to kill her himself (Traitor) but this seems doubtful to me, as he seems to enjoy their games too much to want to bring them to an end - at least until he's found Blake. In some ways, Servalan seems to have become Avon’s reason for living.
Avon relates to Servalan in a strangely fatalistic way. He is unsurprised by their meeting on Sarran (Aftermath) remarking: "It has a perverse kind of logic to it. Our meeting is the most unlikely happening I could imagine. Therefore we meet. Surprise seems inappropriate, somehow."
This has echoes of his fatalistic view of his relationship with Blake: "I always thought that his death and mine might be linked in some way." (Terminal)
I think both Blake and Servalan embody for Avon the choices that he is fated to juggle with: to follow his desire to believe in something, or to go with his self-interest and choose a route that might lead to safety. To the viewer, it often seems possible that he might at some point do a deal with Servalan, and a relief when he doesn't, though there is probably no danger of that because he knows if he did, he would be ‘dead in a week’.
There will never be safety for Avon unless he wins; something we know to be impossible unless he can find enough allies to help him. This leads me neatly (well, I hope it's neatly) to consider the infamous Season D and what happens to Avon during the course of it.
From Terminal to Blake
For some fans, the Avon we encounter following the events on Terminal is so changed from the rational, pragmatic, controlled man who has been cautiously negotiating his way around the Blake's 7 universe, that they are unable to accept the characterisation. For me, his character develops predictably from those events.
Terminal is where he finally finds ‘the old wall’ that Servalan hoped awaited him (Rumours of Death). The trauma initially burns away everything but the desire to find out if Blake is really dead, and to take on the fight to destroy the Federation.
So what made Terminal so traumatic for Avon?
The loss of the Liberator might be considered an obvious factor, but in my view this is offset by what Avon assumes to be the death of Servalan. Things may look bleak for our heroes, but their arch-enemy went down with their marvellous ship, and the major reasons for their current pursuit by the Federation have been removed at a stroke. They have a ship of sorts on which to escape, and they have Orac – damaged, but still a valuable asset. Indeed, Avon's smile as he watches the Liberator explode may even indicate that he believes he has won, though he probably mourns the loss of the treasure and wardrobe rooms.
But something happens between that smile and the Avon who strides grimly through the frozen tundra of the planet in Rescue, his mood as bleak and cold as the snow.
Avon has had to face the fact that Servalan was right: that what led him into her trap was his need to believe that Blake was still alive and still fighting the Federation. Now, according to Servalan, Blake is dead. It's a thought that he seems to find devastating, so much so that although he recognises that there is a possibility that Servalan has set a trap for them all, mining both ship and base, he fails to warn his companions of this possibility.
There is an almost suicidal air about Avon during Rescue. He shows little concern about the fate of his companions; even the death of Cally elicits no real emotional response. It is as if he feels that the Federation has won and there is no longer any point in fighting. Yet by Power, he is back on his game, no longer simply reacting to events, but planning and creating. So what has changed?
Well, I think he has realised that if Servalan lied about the ship, then it is likely she also lied about seeing Blake's body on Jevron, and this tips the scales in favour of Blake being alive. If he is alive, then the fight against the Federation, a fight that somewhere along the line has become Avon's fight as well as Blake's, can continue. Defeating the Federation and finding Blake alive have become synonymous in his mind.
Now Avon is driven onward by the same impulses that drove him to return to Earth to avenge Anna’s death, and that sent him recklessly to Terminal. Without Cally's moderating influence, and probably feeling guilty that his mistake cost her her life, the stresses on him grow. He struggles both to keep himself and his young crew alive, and attempts, with little success, to marshal allies who will help him in his fight. He witnesses the regeneration of the Federation and their use of Pylene 50 to reconquer their former colonies and worse, he discovers his arch-enemy Servalan is still alive.
Paradoxically, this discovery motivates Avon even further. He has always needed a personal reason to act, and destroying Servalan face to face (or playing the game of destroying her) becomes an addiction, even overriding his need to find Blake. But as his plans fail one by one, his habitual paranoia increases, because his enemies really are out to get him. He also becomes desensitised to killing. At the start of Season D he has killed 16 people, but by the end of the series the tally has risen to 36.
It is interesting to speculate why finding Blake, which had initially motivated Avon's actions, gets put on the back burner. It is only after his failed attempt to form an alliance with the warlords that it again becomes his main target. But this makes sense if we remember that Avon never had any interest in rebelling for ideological reasons - his motives were always self-interest: revenge, wealth, safety. If his Warlord Alliance had toppled the Federation, then the system that would have replaced it could have been worse for honest men. By definition, warlords are not enlightened, benevolent rulers. Armed with Pylene 50 and the means to manufacture an antidote to it, they would have had the potential to create an Empire more tyrannical and powerful than anything the Federation had achieved. As the architect of such a system, Avon would have everything he wanted - the power and wealth to live as he chose, and revenge on Servalan and the Federation. An alliance with Blake at the helm might eventually succeed, but the rewards would be less and he would have to fight Blake's ideological impulses every step of the way.
But the failure of the Alliance leaves him no choice. If he is to destroy Servalan and the Federation, he must seek out Blake again and use him as a figurehead to unite the rebel factions. It is probable that in some part of his complicated psyche, Avon is glad about this. After all, in the past he has usually done the morally correct thing when up against it - although the events of Orbit and Warlord demonstrate that those finer impulses have become significantly blunted. It is likely that he secretly welcomed the chance to unite once more with the man who acted as his conscience and forced him to question the morality of his actions.
Then comes the information from Orac: Blake is operating as a bounty hunter, and it may no longer be possible to trust him.
Without a doubt, the Avon who goes to meet Blake on Gauda Prime has mixed motives for doing so. Part of him hopes that together he and Blake will combine forces to challenge the Federation and kill Servalan. Part of him welcomes the chance to work again with someone who demands that he thinks of others, not just himself. Part of him fears that Blake is just like everyone else he has met - a hypocrite disguising his own self-interest as concern for others. He fears that Blake really is a bounty hunter working for the Federation, who would sell Avon and the others for profit. If this is the case, he must be eliminated.
The tragedy is that it is the paranoid distrust scenario that seems the most logical interpretation of the events as they play out.
First, running into the planetary blockade and losing Scorpio increases the odds in Avon's mind that Blake has been turned and is working for the Federation. If the Federation is blockading the planet, why have they not arrested Blake who is operating under his own name - unless he is working for them? Then Tarrant claims to know that Blake has betrayed them, and as far as Avon is concerned, Tarrant has just saved his life and has no reason to be lying. Finally, Blake meets them accompanied by an armed guard, seems unable to comprehend Avon's disquiet and refuses to stand still when Avon warns him to do so.
Fear becomes a certainty, and Avon shoots first, as he did with Anna. He probably realises his fatal mistake after the first shot, but is driven to shoot again and again in a hopeless attempt to obliterate the evidence of that mistake.
Then he does the only thing left for him to do. He straddles Blake's body, faces the encircling Federation troopers and smiles as he raises his gun.
It is the show's defining moment. Although the struggle is lost and his companions are all dead, there is still, as Avon has just realised, a choice he can make: how, and for what cause he is going to die. Giving his final smile directly to the camera, it's a choice that he invites us, the viewers, to make with him.
And he chooses to die with Blake and validate his rebellion.
AVON - PERSPECTIVES FROM BEHIND THE SCENES
There are further pieces of evidence, given by those involved in the series, that can add to our understanding of Avon.
Terry Nation's original notes for the character are illuminating:
Kerr Avon: A man in his mid thirties, he is intelligent-looking and rather serious.
No thigh-high boots or smiles there!
To Nation, Avon was just one of ...a group of villains being escorted onto a rocket ship (transported) which goes astray & lands on an alien planet where inhabitants are planning to invade & destroy Earth. Possibly live underground. Originally conceived as a sidekick, Avon is described as a self-serving, treacherous coward. It’s amazing how far the character - and indeed the series - developed from that rather unpromising beginning.
Although few details about Avon's background were provided either in the series or the character notes, at one stage during Season B there was a plan to reunite Avon with his brother. He would have been played by Paul Shelley (Provine in Countdown) who bore a resemblance to Paul Darrow. The plans came to nothing, as the production team probably concluded that two Avons played by two actors both called Paul would be more than anyone could cope with, not to mention confusing on set. Or perhaps it was because Paul Shelley looked nothing like the projected image of Avon’s brother in Spacefall and the audience might have wondered what was going on, much as they did when Travis was replaced with a different actor.
According to Paul Darrow, as the series progressed Terry Nation realised the potential of the character and consciously developed Avon as an anti-hero. He was aided in this both by Paul's contributions and by script editor Chris Boucher, who always made sure that Avon had both a cynical and an idealistic motivation for his actions, so the audience could choose which one to go with.
Chris Boucher was also responsible for some of Avon’s most memorable one-liners – "I am not expendable, I’m not stupid and I'm not going" (Horizon) being one that is often used on T-shirts. A Western fan himself, Boucher deliberately gave Avon a line adapted from one of his and Paul Darrow's favourite films, The Magnificent Seven: "I was aiming for his head" (Orac). Chris has stated in interviews: “Terry came up with the characters, he came up with thirteen good stories, but he didn’t come up with the dialogue. I remember saying, and I think it’s pretty close to the truth, that for a long time, Paul Darrow never spoke a line that I hadn’t written or altered to make the lines sharper.”
It was Boucher who was responsible for Avon's tendency to puncture the rhetoric of rebellion, subtly pointing out the dangers that the rhetoric obscures. Avon's "Gung ho" in response to Gan's enthusiastic endorsement of Blake's plan to attack Travis in Weapon, is a pleasing example. And his dry aside: "It will be interesting to see what that energy field does to a teleport beam," in the context of Tarrant's heroic: "Servalan with powerful friends doesn't bear thinking about… I'm going down," brilliantly exposes the latter's predilection for acting nobly without prior thought (Moloch).
Avon’s penchant for kissing women without their permission is probably more a feature of the sexist 1970s and '80s when the show was broadcast, rather than a character note. However, the fact that he is shown punching and shooting them with the same indifference that he shows to his male opponents probably was intended as such. He may grab Jenna or Piri roughly when they frustrate him, but he is equally unpleasant to the dying Major in Rumours. Although he belts Sara in Mission to Destiny and professes to enjoy doing so, he also appears to enjoy shooting the guards on Zondar: "Next, please!" (Shadow) and anyone else who threatens him. Avon's character was partly modelled on Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry, and throughout the four seasons retained many of the ‘dirty’ characteristics that Terry Nation had originally envisaged for him.
On the matter of why Avon killed Blake, Chris Boucher argues that Avon had gradually come to trust that Blake loved him during Seasons A and B, and so was devastated by Tarrant's assertion that Blake had betrayed him. Boucher regards Avon as someone who cares more than he would admit. He has also stated that it is possible that Avon survived Gauda Prime, and if he did, he would effectively become Blake.
In the only officially sanctioned post Gauda Prime story, Afterlife by Tony Atwood, Avon and Vila survive thanks to Avon's devious sister and her mind control device. All this novel adds to the Avon story is that Avon's sister may be brighter, and is certainly madder, than Avon himself but where she came from, or what Avon had actually been planning, remains a mystery.
He's Him, Isn't He? He Should Know
Paul Darrow has no truck with the ‘Blake loved Avon’ theory. He is on record as saying he always aimed to present Avon as ‘a right bastard’ whose sole motivation was to survive as comfortably as possible, and to hell with Blake or anyone else who got in his way. His Avon has no qualms about shooting people in the back or using them to cover his escape, and Paul Darrow takes pride in being part of a show in which the hero is so self-serving.
We fans are indebted to Paul for Avon's sultry voice, his memorable style of gun play, some unscripted Avon smiles, some steamy clinches with Servalan, Cally and Pella, and a host of other details that made his Avon such a magnetic presence on screen. I love his sublime recovery from a slip in Animals and watch entranced as he eats an apple in Moloch. He once told Gareth Thomas that his role in the series was ‘the pretty one’ and there are many occasions where Avon does come across as rather lovely.
As for Avon’s background, in his prequel novel Avon a Terrible Aspect, Paul Darrow creates an upbringing as desperate as the name he gives him: ‘Kerguelen’, meaning ‘desolation’. This upbringing is so full of sex, betrayal, stabbings and assassinations it brings to mind the epic and obscene power-plays of the Caesars and their relatives in Ancient Rome. Interestingly, there is no mention of a brother - or indeed, a sister. Paul’s depiction of Avon in his post Gauda Prime Lucifer trilogy plays fast and loose with the series canon, which he justifies by prefacing the novels with a statement that these are Avon's memories of events, rather than what happened. In these novels, Paul presents Avon as a capable James Bond style assassin and top computer hacker, whose only aim is to be the last man standing and who takes violent revenge on anyone who opposes him.
While it is refreshing to read the adventures of an unreconstructed, selfish, murderous bastard, I have to say that the Avon written by Paul Darrow, while partly recognisable, loses the subtle ambiguities that have puzzled and delighted Avon fans for nearly four decades.
Regarding the question as to whether Avon ever indulged in intimate relations with any of the females he encounters, Paul has said that Avon liked women, not girls. Apart from Anna, the only female to attract his interest was Servalan. However, he felt that Avon's relationship with Cally added a welcome tension to the show, because she was never afraid to challenge his actions and Avon respected her sufficiently to listen to her. In Rescue, the pause before Avon tells Tarrant that Cally was dead was unscripted; Paul inserted it to demonstrate that Avon had some feelings about this. He has also stated that although Avon handles women rather roughly on occasion, he treats them exactly as he does men: far from Avon being sexist, he will happily shoot either sex if his safety requires it.
So why did Avon kill Blake? As far as Paul is concerned, Avon is the ultimate survivor, a ruthless man who will do everything necessary to keep himself alive, and in Season D is just doing what he must in an increasingly dangerous situation. Avon has every reason to fear that Blake has been mind-manipulated, and shoots him because he refuses to stand still when requested to do so by someone holding a gun. Blake has only himself to blame. Avon, of course, survives the encounter.
For a while, Paul hoped to produce a sequel to the show along lines that he had discussed with Terry Nation, who reportedly did not approve of the nihilistic ending Boucher and co had devised for the rebels. In this sequel, we would discover an elderly Avon, exiled like Napoleon on Elba. He would be freed by a group of young rebels and persuaded to take up the fight against the Federation in Blake's name. Unfortunately, this plan failed to come to fruition. Paul adapted the idea of an exiled Avon for his Lucifer trilogy, although in his version, Avon fights the Federation only in order to survive.
Views from the Fans
Avon is the character who is most debated by fans. He is the character who figures most in Blakes 7 fan fiction, where there is a tendency for writers to dwell at length on his smile. In some of the worst examples, Avon bares or grits his teeth like a crocodile or shark. A popular fan assertion is that Avon suffers beautifully, and boy, do we put him through the wringer! Torturing Avon is the favourite pastime of some fan writers.
Fan fiction has suggested a variety of backgrounds for Avon: he is the product of a eugenics programme; he is an abused or illegitimate child (this is a popular theory, because it explains his dislike, even fear, of sentiment). He is a Beta who was taken away from his parents because of his high IQ and raised by computers in a boarding school. Some writers dwell on his criminal background, depicting him as a scion of a matriarchal criminal dynasty. Others, picking up on the guilt he displays when he makes an error of judgement, present him as a fairly unorthodox Catholic. His outré outfits lead others to postulate a racy past spent in salubrious gambling dens. The notion that Avon is an under-appreciated Beta persists in stories in which he works brilliantly under incompetent Alpha bosses, turning to crime out of boredom and resentment.
Avon’s stoicism in the face of pain features in many fan fics and has given rise to the belief that he has an immunity to certain drugs, which is how he is able to resist interrogation. The drugs angle sometimes appears as an allergy; in these stories, Avon struggles to survive when treated with standard medication for minor illness or injury. Spitting out a creamy dessert in Gambit has led to the trope that Avon will do anything for ice cream or chocolate. His back pains also make frequent appearances, leading to some embarrassment, particularly in intimate situations.
It is possible to 'ship Avon with almost any character in the Blakes 7 universe, both male and female, and believe me, fan writers have done so. Avon and Cally is a popular 'ship, followed by Avon and Soolin, Avon and Dayna, and the less common Avon and Jenna. There are a number of Avon and Servalan fics as well.
The most popular pairing for slash writers is Avon and Blake, with many finding a plausible connection between Blake's rebellion and homosexuality, citing the fact that the faked child abuse accusations involved boys. Avon is often depicted as a bisexual who falls for Blake, and the writers use their stories to examine the politics of sexual repression, as well as exploring the love/hate relationship the men seemed to share. The Avon that appears in all these stories is conflicted about commitment or emotionally unable to commit, self-centred, or extremely self-sacrificing. He is often depicted as morally ambiguous and in need of Blake's 'simple certainties' to anchor him, even while fiercely resisting them. However, there are a number of stories in which Avon occupies the noble high ground and Blake is a manipulative, rather bullying figure.
For some fans, the explanation for Avon's gradual descent into paranoia during the series hinges on their belief that Blake was the love of Avon's life. For them, Avon's initial failure to find Blake and the growing belief that Blake had betrayed him is what finally cracks him on Gauda Prime. Other fans partially agree with this theory, although they substitute Anna's betrayal and the loss of Cally as the factors that cause Avon to suffer a temporary psychosis. For some fans, Avon is a high-functioning genius on the Autism spectrum, who simply cannot process the emotional traumas that he experiences.
In some fics, Avon is shown gradually becoming destabilised and desensitised to killing through having to continually fight for his life. Ill-suited to a leadership role, but doing his best to keep his crew alive, by the time he gets to Gauda Prime he is emotionally exhausted and acts on instinct, rather than reason, when it seems that Blake may have betrayed him.
So many theories! I haven’t even mentioned yet the body of opinion that believes that Gauda Prime was a set-up between Avon and Blake designed to fool the Federation, and that Blake survives the shooting. Or that Avon, together with his surviving crew, were brainwashed after their capture to believe the version of events that appeared on screen, the reality being that Blake, realising he had been programmed as a Federation mole, had begged Avon to kill him.
There are many other versions of how Avon may continue to exist after Gauda Prime: he is a vampire; he made an unholy pact with the monster in Dorian's cellar; he was a Federation plant all along; he becomes a ghost.
I leave it to you to decide which theory you prefer, and whether any of them beats the ‘Avon shot out the lights, ducked and the troopers shot each other’ line of thought that was popular for a time.
Fan fiction highlights the fact that there is little consensus among us as to who Kerr Avon is, and whether - and if so, how - he survived. There is only an agreement that he is brilliant, difficult and irresistible and we want a lot more of him.
I’M IN HEAVEN AND IT’S FULL OF AVONS
I hope that those of you who have stayed with me this far have enjoyed meeting the many Avons that grace the series, the spin-offs and fan lore. The title of the series may be Blake's 7 but the story it tells is not, in my opinion, primarily a story about Blake. It's a cautionary fable about a criminal opportunist who meets an idealist and is forced to take some moral responsibility for his life, tragically learning too late that not trusting enough can sometimes be as dangerous as trusting too much.
By writing and playing Avon in an open textured way, Terry Nation, Chris Boucher – and, of
course, Paul Darrow - created a character whose fascination lies in the fact that we can each have our own Avon and interpret him uniquely.
For what it’s worth, my Avon, if he survived Gauda Prime (and I do hope he did) has killed Servalan, taken on Blake's mantle and the responsibility for his rebellion, and is suffering beautifully on his way to inevitable defeat. He knows he cannot win, but he's making the struggle glorious and snarky.
What’s yours up to?
AO3: Various Blake's 7 stories
Horizon: The Making of Blake's 7 - the First Two Seasons by Rob Emery
Hermit.org - Sevencyclopedia, interviews, episode transcripts
Fanlore.org - Blake's 7 tropes
Kaldor City interviews with Chris Boucher and Paul Darrow.
Paul Darrow: Avon a Terrible Aspect Citadel Press 1st Edition (July 1989); The Lucifer Trilogy Big Finish Productions (2013 - 2016)
Joe Nazzaro and Sheelagh Wells: Blake's 7 The Inside Story. Virgin Books, Television tie-in edition (April 1997)
Andrew Pixley: Blake's 7, 'The Dirty Dozen in Space' TV Zone No. 156. pp. 48–56 (October 2002)
Illustrations by Lurena
· Posted by Travisina on 23 May 2017 3997 Reads ·