Babylon 5: Sinclair Was Better Than Sheridan
During the late 80s and early 90s, Star Trek: The Next Generation was the show you watched when you wanted a generic space adventure. Babylon 5 was the show you watched when you wanted a good story with a theme that -- like all good science fiction -- examined and exposed society's shortcomings in some way .
I'm not knocking Star Trek, mind you. But no one can deny that Star Trek was really bad when it came to tackling social issues. They attempted to every now and then but mostly failed, while Babylon 5 always hit the nail on the head.
This matters because science fiction has always, always been about examining society and what our future might look like depending on whether or not we were brave enough and smart enough to resolve the mistakes of the past.
Babylon 5 always took social issues head-on rather well, and the characters' battle against the Shadows (ancient dark aliens who wished to extinguish all life) was little more than a metaphor for the continuous battle of humanity against our own inner darkness.
Sinclair was the perfect leader against the darkness and had been set up to be before his actor, Micheal O'Hare, was forced by circumstance to leave the show.
Here are just a few reasons why Sinclair was infinitely better than Sheridan.
Sinclair Was A Champion Of The Little People
The season one episode "By Any Means Necessary" is one of many examples of just how much Sinclair cared about people, all people, including the little people who most disregarded and marginalized.
In the episode, the dock workers of the station go on strike after one dies in an accident. The death was the result of crappy work conditions on top of very low pay.
These people were being treated like cheap slave labor and not people. This was obviously an episode about classism, and how we as a society undervalue the work of some people while elevating others based on gender and race. Gender and race have little meaning in the progressive future of Babylon 5, but the episode uses allegory to get the audience thinking about it.
When things get desperate and out of hand, Sinclair offers the workers better wages that are taken directly from military wages, forcing soldiers and workers to share pay. It is a solution that makes life better for the grateful dock workers, while turning many politicians against Sinclair.
In the end, Sinclair makes a personal sacrifice and even gives up his own wages to make certain other people are treated fairly and can lead happy, productive lives.
It is deliberately put forth that most humans are just not this selfless.
It was Sinclair's good heart that made him worthy of commanding the station in the eyes of the Minbari and characters like Delenn, and it was his good heart that made him worthy of leading the war against the Shadows.
By contrast, when Sheridan becomes commander of the station in season 2, a group of telepaths seek illegal harbor on Babylon 5.
Sheridan is a Lawful Good character and is at first willing to turn them over to the government specifically for the sake of obeying the law -- even if it meant the telepaths would be continuously mistreated and oppressed.
Telepaths in the universe of Babylon 5 are presented as a marginalized group. Because of their gifts, they are taken from their families as young children and forced to work for the government, breeding when told, and being used as weapons in wars. They are not treated like people but things.
Some telepaths, such as Bester, embrace their lot in life. Others, such as Lyta Alexander, flee.
With all this in mind, Sheridan's willingness to turn over the telepaths rather than find some way to help them is sort of disgusting. He is supposed to be a man of the people but is in reality a man of the law. He will mindlessly obey the law to a T, even when it means the little people -- the same people he's supposed to protect -- get hurt. He eventually helps the telepaths, but reluctantly, while bitching and moaning all the way.
Later, during the Shadow War, Sheridan realizes the telepaths can be used against the Shadows and uses them like canon fodder. You could easily say "Such is war," but his use of them went far beyond the Shadow War.
Lyta Alexander, for example, is a telepath who is treated like garbage by everyone, including Sheridan. After nearly killing herself during the war and even after saving Sheridan's miserable life by locating him, she is still treated like an object that has served its purpose. With the Shadow War over, she moves into an empty apartment with nothing but a mattress and barely has food to eat. Later, she is blackmailed into working again for Psi Corps, who obligate her to donate her body for study.
Sheridan never extends a hand to help her. Sinclair, meanwhile, would never have let this happen to her and would have given her food out of his own mouth to avoid it.
Sinclair Was More Likeable
Should a hero be likeable? I like to think so, but this appears to be a question the writers of Babylon 5 explored. Mass Effect (the video game that shamelessly ripped this show off) explored this same theme through Paragon Shepard (the ideal hero) and Renegade Shepard (the ruthless anti-hero).
It's my belief that Sinclair can be interpreted as the ideal "Paragon Shepard" hero who always tries to protect the little guy at any cost, while Sheridan is the ruthless, step-on-anyone-to-get-the-job-done, "Renegade Shepard" hero, who had a reputation for doing questionable things during the human war against Minbar.
What's hilarious is that I actually like Renegade Shepard's basic ethos in the games, but I can't stand Sheridan, the character who inspired it.
Sheridan to me was a generic hero in a space opera: handsome, blonde hair, banging aliens, lawfully good but kind of a bastard. He yelled at people and was an awful human being (especially to Lyta Alexander), but thankfully, most characters called him on it.
It's sort of like the writers wanted to preserve O'Hare's original character by not replacing him but rather giving him a cold opposite in Sheridan. While Sinclair was a classic hero and the best humanity had to offer, Sheridan was grossly human, unapologetically imperfect, and sometimes outright hateable.
Sinclair Had Better Chemistry With Everyone
I think the writers knew that people who loved Sinclair would be pissed about his actor leaving the show (I certainly was) so they gave us a voice through characters like Garibaldi, Lyta, and Lennier, who had good reasons to hate Sheridan and didn't want him on the station.
This isn't what I'm talking about, though. I'm not talking about characters hating Sheridan and loving Sinclair. I'm talking about actual chemistry between the actors.
Sinclair was originally written to fall in love with Delenn, and the two of them were a great couple to me. They seemed like two people I could easily see starting a family. When they were alone together, they were intimate and warm and it was believable.
Later, when Sinclair left the show and Sheridan was written in, he was pushed as Delenn's love interest instead, and it was all really . . . forced.
I hated it.
I hated how they kept trying to make us accept these two actors as a couple when they didn't have any chemistry whatsoever. They didn't seem like a real couple. It felt fake the entire time, from their kiss scenes to their cheesy "aren't we cute making each other laugh?" scenes. The writers really wanted us to see them as a couple, but it just never worked for me.
Thankfully, Delenn was a great character in her own right. In fact, she was a better character than Sheridan and had a better story. So she made up for it.
Unlike the rest of the fandom, I will always see season one as the best season of Babylon 5. The first season was daring and unapologetic in its writing. It explored social issues and tried its best not to be tropey, and its focus on character development was amazing. This was due in no small part to Micheal O'Hare, whose charismatic presence really pulled each episode together.
Rest in peace, Micheal O'Hare. You were an incredible actor.
And, no. You weren't "wooden."
© 2018 Ash Gray