B7 Classic: Jenna Stannis by Brad Black
- 19 Jan 2022
- Blake's 7 Analysis
- 718 Reads
Jenna Stannis by Brad Black
To understand Jenna, you must look at her place in sci fi history. Contemporary to Blake's 7 were such shows as Star Maidens and the original Battlestar Galactica, in which women did not play nearly as important or capable a role as in the remake; one major female character was even a 'Socialator.'
A year after Blake's 7 first aired, Ellen Ripley arrived on the big screen in Alien, and everything changed. Suddenly female characters could be tough, capable, and self sufficient. There had been previous examples, of course, but the trope went that capable women were often the daughters of men who had been scions in the same field. Sheena of the original Battlestar Galactica is a classic case; a rare example of a female Viper pilot, daughter of the indomitable Commander Kane.
Jenna is the link between the beautiful, but largely one dimensional 'Bridge Bunnies' of early sci fi, and the capable, self sufficient female characters of modern sci fi. She is part Dale Arden, part Cassiopeia, part Yeoman Rand, but she is also part Aeryn Sun, part Susan Ivanova, part Zoe Washburne, and these latter characters owe her a debt. Jenna was not only one of the first female pilots in television sci fi, but the pilot of one of the most powerful and iconic vessels in sci fi history, the Liberator.
Even Servalan, her arch enemy, describes Jenna as “a superior grade citizen,” with a “very high IQ.” To this end, Jenna is a capable pilot, smart and street-wise, but she is also the Resistance Fashion Model, or in the words of actress Sally Knyvette, the Liberator Clothes Horse. It seems a contradiction that is hard to reconcile, unless you remember the times from which it sprang.
Little is told of Jenna's life before Liberator. The only reference to her family comes from the second episode of the series. Having boarded Liberator for the first time, Jenna is subjected to a hallucination induced by the ship's defence system in which she sees a vision, or possibly a memory, of her mother being menaced by black clad Federation guards.
Did Jenna come from a family of resistors or law breakers? We will never know, because Jenna rarely spoke of her past. (Compare this vision to Susan Ivanova's tale in Babylon 5, when she speaks of her mother being threatened by the black clad agents of Psi Corps).
Jenna describes herself as a Free Trader, and even prior to her association with Blake, had made quite a reputation for herself. Witness this exchange from the first episode.
Jenna: “I was trading 'round the Near Worlds. I'm a free trader.”
Vila: “A smuggler. She's a big name. It's an honour to be locked up with her.”
Even before she met Blake, Jenna was no stranger to the resistance. In Project Avalon she speaks of having met Avalon. It's possible she provided the rifles we see Avalon's forces using against the Federation (for a profit, of course). In Duel, she tells Blake, “Oh, I wasn't clever enough, none of us were. The Federation has beaten us all at least once.”
Her past has its dark side as well. At one time she was on friendly terms with Amagon pirates, a despicable group of cut-throats who would quite literally sell their own grandmothers for a profit. It's possible she had a relationship with their leader, Tarvin, a relationship she seemingly came to regret.
Tarvin: “Have you forgotten Zolat Four?”
Jenna: “Is it worth remembering?”
Tarvin: “Just the two of us in the mountains.”
Jenna: “And three hundred customs guards.”
Tarvin: “You saved my life.”
Jenna: “We all make mistakes.”
Tarvin: “I thought you liked me.”
Jenna: “Oh, I did, then.”
Tarvin: “Have I changed so much?”
Jenna: “One of us has.”
Jenna's Role on Liberator
Jenna's importance to the show's dynamics is evidenced by the fact that she received second billing in first season credits. An early exchange in Spacefall sets up the three main characters.
Jenna: “Assuming they do land us somewhere, what then?”
Blake: “...Earth...That's where the heart of the Federation is. I intend to see that heart torn out.”
Avon: “I thought you were probably insane.”
Blake: “That's possible. They butchered my family, my friends...”
Jenna: “At least you're still alive.”
Blake: “No, not until power is back with the honest man.”
Avon: “Have you ever met an honest man?”
Jenna: (Glances at Blake) “Perhaps.”
Avon: “… Wealth is the only reality...Wake up, Blake, you're still dreaming.”
Jenna: “Perhaps some dreams are worth having.”
Avon: “You don't believe that.”
Jenna: “No, but I'd like to.”
In this brief exchange the personalities of the three main characters are laid out: Blake the Idealist, Avon the Cynic, and Jenna the Realist. Jenna is open to dreams, but she deals in reality. Avon is the foil to Blake, but Jenna will serve as the neutral voice sometimes supporting, sometimes acting as a foil, to either of the two male leads around whom the show would come to be built.
Jenna's comment, ''At least you're still alive,” demonstrates that in addition to being a realist, she is also a survivor. This is stated plainly in Bounty.
Cally: “What do you take pride in, Jenna?”
Yet she risks her life for others, most notably in Voice From The Past where she removes her teleport bracelet to stay with a stricken Blake, despite the clear and present danger of Travis. In Time Squad she seeks out the intruders rather than hiding, as a sci fi damsel of a generation earlier would have done. In Spacefall she stands up to Raiker when he propositions her. Yet she is not above using her feminine wiles for the good of the mission, wrapping the Goth Chieftain Gola around her little finger. In Deliverance she is the Damsel In Need of Rescuing, but rather than sit and wait, she knocks one of her guards unconscious. Her finest moment comes in Pressure Point as she takes Servalan hostage and rescues the entire male crew. Jenna is not just a survivor, she is also a fighter.
Her reaction on first seeing the wealth stored on Liberator is, “You could buy a lot of freedom with that.” Yet she is not a die-hard rebel. Note this exchange from Time Squad:
Blake: “…we’ve only been a minor irritation to the Federation. I think it’s about time we hurt them.”
Jenna: “I don't like the sound of that.”
In Pressure Point she baulks at Blake’s plan. “Blake, are you crazy? We can't afford to take risks like that.” She reluctantly agrees to the dangerous mission with a condition, “Blake, we've decided to come with you... None of us is prepared to commit suicide. We don't intend to die making some heroic gesture.” Again, Jenna is the realist to Blake's idealism.
Her chief character flaw is that she is ever suspicious and slow to trust, stating even of Blake, “I don't trust unless I'm trusted in return.” Given the crew reaction in Bounty, when Jenna feigns siding with the invaders, it seems that lack of trust was, to a certain extent, mutual. All of her crew mates are convinced she has sold them out. Only Blake expresses doubt.
Blake is the leader, Avon the technician, Vila the thief, Gan the strong man and voice of reason, Cally the mystic. What then, is Jenna's archetype? She's certainly not a love interest as there is no on screen romance. In fact, Jenna is never kissed, despite her obvious charms. One has to wonder at that, and we will, later. She is the typical sci fi pilot. She identifies ship types, capabilities, on-board functions, and she is the resident Liberator expert on navigation, successfully piloting her way through everything from asteroid fields to a black hole. She is intelligent and experienced, yet her knowledge is confined to the present, the practical. She is unable to identify the seven hundred year old vessel in Killer, or grasp the significance of its presence so deep in space. Her considerable knowledge seems largely gained through personal experience. She has no time for the theoretical or historical.
Jenna is on good, if not warm terms with all of her ship mates. The depth of those relationships is a matter of much debate, conjecture, and fan fiction, but it is fair to say she had an understanding with each member of the Liberator crew. She was on London for many months during the transport to Cygnus Alpha, and got to know her fellow prisoners well, however, her trust issues got her off to a slow start with the newest member of the crew, Cally.
Let's start with the relationship everybody talks about, Jenna and Blake. Was she unflinchingly loyal to Blake? Was she was involved in a romantic relationship with him? There is some circumstantial evidence for this, and this being Blake's 7, circumstantial evidence is the best we can hope for when it comes to romance. The real question therefore, is not if there was a relationship. The real question is, what form did this relationship take, how deep did it run, and how long did it last?
I think it's fair to say that Jenna was open to a special relationship with Blake. Recall this exchange:
Jenna: “Perhaps some dreams are worth having.”
Avon: “You don't believe that.”
Jenna: “No, but I'd like to.”
Is she talking about Blake's cause, or is she talking about the man himself? Was there a special relationship between Jenna and Blake? What did Avon think?
Avon: “Where's Blake?”
Jenna, a touch defensively: “I have no idea. Why ask me?”
Avon, confused: “Because I thought you might know”.
Jenna had many fine qualities, but from Blake's perspective, there was one trait she lacked. She may have been with the rebellion, but she was not a rebel. Someone else on Liberator was, though, and that person knows where Blake is. Later in the same scene...
Cally: “He's gone to have a rest.”
Avon: “I see. Orac has just come up with the attack strategy he asked for.”
Gan: “What attack strategy?”
Avon: “Exactly. Another of Blake's little schemes he hasn't thought fit to tell us about. You are not going to believe the target he has in mind.”
Cally: “The Federation Weapons Development Base.”
Jenna: “He obviously thought fit to tell someone about it.”
Is there a touch of jealousy here? If so, is it professional jealousy at not being involved in the planning, or personal jealously? Whatever you think, there is also loyalty.
Cally: “Sooner or later Blake is going to attack Federation Central Control on Earth itself.”
Avon: “And alone, probably.”
Jenna: “I doubt that.”
That attack on Central Control went wrong. Jenna rescued Blake, Vila, Avon, and Gan, and yet in the escape, Gan was killed. Blake took it hard. He left Liberator without a word, leaving only a recorded message behind, and even then, he hid that message. Vila and Avon discuss his disappearance.
Vila: “Gan was straightforward, wasn't expecting to be double crossed... He trusted Blake completely”.
Jenna: “Much good it did him.”
Avon: “Welcome back to reality, Jenna.”
Vila: “You think Blake is double crossing us, Jenna?”
Jenna: “I don't know.”
“I don't know,” is hardly the response of a blindly loyal paramour. Again, Jenna's lack of trust surfaces.
Avon: “What do you think we should do, then?”
Jenna: “Suggest something.”
Tellingly, Jenna does not baulk at the suggestion, though she does defend Blake. The debate continues until Jenna says, “You two make me sick. Are we going to get out of here or aren't we?”
There you have it. In Jenna's mind, 'we' is she and the other crew members, not she and Blake. Perhaps it wasn't always that way, but at this moment, when Blake has walked out, her own words hint that if there ever was a special relationship with Blake, it is now, at best, on rocky ground. The Dream Worth Having may involve Blake, but the Welcome Back to Reality does not.
The debate whether or not to abandon Blake continues. Finally Avon puts her on the spot, “Jenna?”
Jenna leaves the flight deck without a word, in effect abstaining from the vote to wait or to abandon Blake. Therefore she must be willing to leave at this point, but she cannot face making the decision. If she had walked back onto the flight deck hours later and found Liberator on the other side of the galaxy, there would have been some regret on her part, but would there have been any recriminations against her crew mates? Why is she willing to consider leaving? Did Gan's death shake her faith in Blake? Did she fear she might share his fate if she continues on with Blake?
The tragic death of a friend and crew mate presents complex issues, and we do not have enough evidence to be confident of a 'right' answer, but I think she felt betrayed, left out. If Blake was so troubled by Gan's death, if there ever was a special relationship between Blake and Jenna, then Jenna could expect Blake to come to her with his problems and share his feelings. Instead, he left without saying a word to her, leaving a hidden message that gave her, and the rest of the crew, a ready made excuse to go their separate ways. For Jenna, this is a breach of trust, and without trust, no relationship can flourish.
We can now look at one of the rare instances in which Jenna opens up and plainly shares her feelings, at least at first glance. In The Way Back, she, Blake, Vila and others sit in a holding cell waiting to board a prison ship to begin their life sentences on a remote penal colony. As Blake is waiting for word from his lawyer, Jenna confesses, “I wish someone was working for me. Till now it doesn't seem real. Now it's getting close, I'm getting scared.”
Is this proof of special bond with Blake? It's hard to imagine her admitting fear to anyone else. On the other hand, she had just met Blake hours, or possibly minutes earlier. Is she sharing her feelings, or playing on his, hoping to have an ally on the outside if he is actually released? I'm not sure. Maybe one, maybe the other, or for the realist Jenna, maybe both. Jenna does not tout her 'street smarts' as much as Avon or Vila, but like them, she knows how to play all the angles. Before we move on to examine her relationships with the rest of the crew, let us look at one more exchange.
This comes from Cygnus Alpha, the third episode of the series. Unlike the above exchange, Jenna has now had months confined on a prison ship to get to know Blake. Blake, Jenna and Avon have escaped and boarded the Liberator. Blake is conveniently away when Avon makes a discovery.
Avon (empties a sack of jewels onto the table): “Do you know how much is in there...? There must be almost as much wealth in that single room as in the entire Federation banking system... You could buy anything with this... Think of it, Jenna, there isn't anything you couldn't have.”
Having just been told she can have anything, Jenna offers a telling response: “What about Blake?”
Avon: “What about Blake?”
Jenna: “No... We're not leaving him here.”
Avon: “We have to. He's a crusader. He'll look on all this as just one more weapon to use against the Federation, and he can't win. You know he can't win. What do you want to be rich or dead?”
Jenna: “An hour. We'll wait an hour.”
Jenna: “Because that way I can convince myself that we gave him a fair chance. If he's not back by then....” (she walks away)
Again, this is after six months of close confinement when she's had plenty of time to get to know Blake. In the end, she stays and teleports Blake aboard over Avon's objections, but one must wonder what would have happened if Blake had not made contact in the specified time. I suspect she would have stayed anyway, but given that she is willing to set a time limit, it is hard to be sure. Even if you argue that she set a time limit just to end the immediate debate with Avon, it is hard to be sure. It's as though the debate to stay or to leave isn't between Avon and Jenna, but an internal debate within Jenna, in which Avon is merely a sounding board. It's as though she is attracted to the ideal that Blake represents, but cannot make her mind up about the reality that Blake is, and perhaps she never fully did.
Jenna's relationships with the other crew members are never as complicated as her relationship with Blake. Perhaps because trust is never as deep an issue. This is a good time to move on to Jenna's relationships with the rest of the crew, starting with Avon.
She and Avon understand each other well, as witnessed by a conversation from early on.
Avon: “Why don't you do a little exploring...”
Jenna: “You wouldn't be trying to get rid of me, would you?”
Avon: “I would have to get rid of Blake first. You're next on my list.”
Jenna: “That would be disarming if I didn't know you meant it. Avon?”
Jenna: “Could you kill someone? Face to face, I mean.”
Avon: “I don't know. Could you?”
Jenna: “There's one sure way to find out.”
This is in the third episode of the series, when she was often at odds with Avon. By the end of season two, Jenna and Avon have made their peace, and perhaps become allies. She warns Avon, “Watch yourselves, Blake's rushing things. I get the feeling he's not giving himself time to think.” It's quite the turnaround from the early episodes.
One more exchange is worth special note. In Redemption, Jenna and Avon are in a cell together awaiting execution. For a survivor, Jenna seems uncharacteristically resigned to her fate.
Jenna: “Even if we do get out, we're in space, Avon, we've got nowhere to go.”
Avon: “So you're just going to sit here and wait?”
More on this later. For now, let's move on to the others.
Gan opens up to Jenna, telling her about his limiter and how he came to have it, the murder of his wife, his revenge on the trooper that killed her and his exile to Cygnus Alpha. Jenna does not respond in kind. She mentions nothing of her own past.
Jenna and Vila understand each other very well, rogue to rogue as it were, smuggler to thief. This is never more evident than in The Keeper. There is a great deal of non-verbal communication between these two. More is said with a glance than with words. It is well written, well acted and a joy to watch.
As mentioned earlier, Jenna gets off to a rocky start with Cally. In Time Squad, Jenna and Gan fend off alien attackers while Avon, Vila and Blake destroy a communications centre on the planet below with the help of Cally, an alien resistance fighter from Auron. When Blake invites Cally to join the crew, Jenna responds coldly, “It seems to me it should have taught us something; something about the wisdom involved in bringing aliens aboard.”
In later episodes, as the show came to be dominated by the characters of Blake and Avon, Jenna and Cally would find themselves spending a lot of time alone together. They would successfully defend the ship against Crimos in Hostage, and yet there was always a little bit of friction, as when Jenna barks at Cally to stop drumming her fingers while both women sit nervously at the teleport in Countdown. They worked well together, staging a bar fight as a diversion in Gambit, but I can't help but wonder if a similar scene had ever taken place without the play acting.
As stated at the beginning of this section, Jenna's personality traits as a realist leave her on good terms all her crew mates, but at the same time she seems to keep a slight distance, as in her conversation with Gan, above. This seems to leave her somewhat aloof from the rest of the crew. What else explains how she could be left behind in Deliverance, and her absence not even noted for several minutes? To conclude this section, let us look at the famous kiss.
No, it wasn't Jenna being kissed, it was Blake kissing Inga. Jenna teleports down at the end of Hostage, just as Blake kisses Inga goodbye. The look on Avon's face is priceless, like a man on a beach staring at an ominously dark sky as the water recedes. As they leave the planet, Jenna turns a cold shoulder. Back on Liberator, her replies are brief and terse. Blake can't seem to figure out what he has done to upset Jenna. There is a definite air of tension as the closing credits roll.
Many will blame Blake for this tension, but let's face it, Inga was his cousin, and that kiss was far from passionate; platonic is even overstating it, tepid would be a better description. Blake has offered a simple kiss to a woman who, in his words, “meant a lot to me once,” and Jenna has reacted, actually over reacted, as if catching them in the act of something far more passionate. Jenna's trust issues have surfaced again.
Remember I said that we would wonder at the fact that Jenna is never kissed? Perhaps the fault lies not with the men around her, but with Jenna herself. Jenna is beautiful, intelligent, talented and loyal, but she is also somewhat distrustful, ever suspicious, and at times quick to anger. A relationship with her would doubtless have its rewards, but it would not be easy. Perhaps the men of Liberator could be excused if they didn’t feel up to the challenge. Then again, this is Jenna we're talking about...
Character Development and Conclusions
While Jenna was ahead of her time, Blake's 7 was a product of the 1970's when male characters ruled television. Jenna was introduced as a successful smuggler, tough, independent, and smart, and yet within a few episodes, Blake is telling her how to manoeuvre the ship. She quickly falls from the role of savvy pilot to teleport minder. She still has her shining moments, but they are fewer and farther between as the episodes roll by. Her character is not developed, in fact, to a certain extent, it devolves. Alas, such were the times. It seems to fit her role as a realist, as the 'moderate' on Liberator. Even today, it is those with extreme views on both the left and right that garner the headlines, while the realists, the moderates, often end up ignored by the media. It is a frustrating life being the realist stuck between an idealist and a cynic. You couldn't blame Jenna if she left the ship, which in fact, may be exactly what she did.
At the end of Season 2, Liberator is badly damaged while holding off an alien fleet. The crew evacuates. Avon, Vila, and Cally are soon reunited, but Jenna and Blake have vanished. Blake would be mentioned once or twice in the third season, and make an appearance of sorts in its final episode. Jenna is not mentioned until the final episode of Season 4, two full seasons after her last appearance. Alas, Blake only mentions her to report her death.
Blake: “It’s an old smuggler’s trick.”
Tarrant: “Did you learn it from an old smuggler?”
Blake “No, from a young one actually. Her name was Jenna.” (Surreptitiously turns his eyes to Tarrant)
Tarrant: “What happened to her?”
Blake: “She tried to run the blockade once too often…”
Tarrant: “Who made the capture?”
Blake: “Nobody made the capture. She hit the self-destruct, and when it blew, she took a half a dozen gunships with her.”
So there you have it, no less credible a source than Blake reports that Jenna is no more. Jenna's story has come to an end, hasn't it?
Fan Theories, Fan Fiction, and Other Musings
We’ve touched on the relationship between Jenna and Blake, that leaves the single most prevalent fan theory regarding Jenna: Is she really dead?
I know how actress Sally Knyvette feels about her character. I had the good fortune to meet her twice at conventions. At one panel, a fan asked what she thought of Jenna's death.
Sally: “I'm not dead?” (Looks to audience) “Am I? I didn't have a death scene.”
Fan: “You were reported dead.”
Sally: “By who?”
Sally (Waves a dismissive hand): “What does he know?”
Alas, as far as canon is concerned, one must assume that Jenna is dead, but this is sci fi, and any off-screen death is dubious at best, canon or not. In fact, more than a few iconic characters have 'died' and come back: Spock, Starbuck, Tasha Yar, John Sheridan, Fox Mulder, Sherlock Holmes, Agent Coulson, Rory Williams (again and again), Jon Snow.... The list goes on and on.
As mentioned earlier, Blake reports that Jenna hit the self destruct. This raises two questions in my mind: First: is this the act of a self-described survivor, and demonstrated fighter? One could argue that it is, given Jenna's willingness to put herself in danger for Blake in the past, and her apparent resignation to death in Redemption, but one must assume that there was no chance of survival as a captive, and we have no evidence that this was the case in Blake's scenario. Second, is a self-destruct standard issue in the Blake's 7 universe? Can you name another example of a ship borne self-destruct? I'll wait... and Gambit doesn't count, that was a computer destroying its own memory banks, not an entire ship. Of course Jenna was clever enough to rig her own self-destruct, but would she?
One popular theory states that Blake was merely testing Tarrant when he reported Jenna's death. This is possible given the sly glance he shoots Tarrant's way as he reports the news, as if looking for a specific reaction. Another theory suggests that Blake was lying. I don't think so. I think Blake was sincere, but the show is full of instances where Blake was sincere, and still wrong. After all, Blake was certain Travis was dead. Clearly Blake wasn't on the ship to witness Jenna hitting the self-destruct, so how does he come to the conclusion that she did so? Maybe she told him in her final message. That would be pretty convincing, and incredibly dramatic, but we'll never know.
All this assumes that Jenna was with Blake at Gauda Prime. Blake seems to be saying so, though he doesn't state so definitively. What other evidence is there? In Aftermath, Zen reports, “Routine message interception indicates that Jenna is now on a hospital ship. Her injuries are superficial.”
Later, in Powerplay, Zen states that Blake is bound for Epheron. Jenna, injured, but not seriously so, is bound for Morphaniel. Blake and Jenna are headed for two different planets, and that is the last we hear of her until the final episode. They could not have been in direct contact with each other, but could have tracked each other's whereabouts through Zen, at least until Liberator moved out of range.
In Terminal, Servalan launches an elaborate scheme to convince Avon that Blake is on the planet. It is a ruse, of course. In the end, Servalan reports (falsely) that Blake is dead. Neither the ruse nor the false report of Blake's death makes any mention of Jenna, as if Servalan had no reason to believe that Blake and Jenna were together. Perhaps they weren't together, which makes Blake's report of her demise highly suspect. Sincere, yes, but still suspect.
The rational reader will say that this is all highly speculative, nothing but wishful thinking. Well, yes, that's exactly what it is, but a century ago it was nothing but wishful thinking for fans of Sherlock Holmes to hope for the character's return after the Reichenbach Falls; wishful thinking, until the character actually returned.
As I stated, canon tells us that Jenna is dead. Even so...
Georges Guynemer was a World War One fighter pilot, and one of the best; the first French ace to achieve fifty victories. He was world famous and a national hero. On September 11, 1917, he took off from his aerodrome and never returned. No wreckage was ever found, no body ever recovered. If you ask the historians, they will tell you that Georges Guynemer died that day, but if you ask the poets and generations of French schoolchildren, they will tell you that he is still up there somewhere, still flying, and still fighting.
And that is how I like to think of Jenna.
Illustration by Lurena