by lamardeuse and misanthrope7842
'The Sentinel'. It's a gateway drug. While it's not the first fandom I became involved in, it is the one that grabbed me, chained me to my computer, and has ever since refused to let me go. The premise of a cop with hyperactive senses hit my science fiction interest, and is probably what drew me into the fandom when I'd never seen an episode of the show. But what caught me and keeps me in the fandom is that Jim and Blair are just so easy. Unlike many fandoms where it takes a slash-colored view to even begin to see a couple as possible, Jim and Blair come across as well on their way to a relationship, if not already involved in one, in canon. My mother, five minutes into her first ever viewing of the show, asked me if they were lovers. All the ease of canon, without the pesky canon getting in the way!
In the slash circles I inhabit, 'The Sentinel' seems to have been everyone else's wading pool. It's the fandom where you get your toes wet, because the actual show is like Intro to Slash 101. Jim and Blair are one of the most married m/m couples I've ever seen, and compared to some of the other subtexts I work with, providing evidence for their relationship is a walk in the park. Unfortunately, since I never got to see the show in its original run, TS actually has turned out to be my fourth slash fandom, one I've only been in for about eight months. However, it's one of the most fun to write, and it helps that they're just so damned cute together.
The show itself is for the most part standard action fare, and many people have issues with the dialogue and the plots, which are admittedly sometimes riddled with tractor-trailer sized holes. However, after all the dire warnings about the crappiness of the canon, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the bits of business that made the show more interesting than the average actioner. First of all, the performances of the leads stand out, but 'The Sentinel' is also that rare action show with a clear left-wing agenda. There are stories about environmental issues, human rights, political activists, Russian dissidents, and kick-ass Native peoples. African Americans and other minorities also feature prominently both in guest and recurring roles, and rarely as criminals. The show certainly has redeeming qualities that go beyond the slash. But that's what we're here for, so let's proceed to:
Jim Ellison (Richard Burgi) is a police detective in the fictional Washington city of Cascade. Once a Special Forces officer in Peru, he spent extended periods in the jungle training the Chopec Indians to fight insurgency in the region. During that time, his isolation led to a resurgence of his genetic gift/curse--heightened senses. He is in fact a Sentinel, a special breed of human who in ancient times served as guardians of the tribe. These guardians are made more vulnerable at times by these heightened senses, however, and so they work best with a guide, another person who understands their condition and can work with them to control and channel their senses.
Enter Blair Sandburg (Garett Maggart), an anthropology student working on his doctorate in the Sentinel phenomenon. When he gets a line on a real live Sentinel, he convinces Jim to agree to a limited partnership of sorts: in exchange for Blair's help in controlling his senses, Jim will allow Blair to write his dissertation about him. As time progresses, this limited partnership will grow and change.
Blair, too, goes through some fascinating changes, but there are certain constants: he is the product of a hippie mother and an unknown father; when the going gets tough he's feisty, courageous and level-headed; he drinks algae shakes, meditates frequently, wears entirely too much plaid, and is a firm believer in free love--with just about every woman he can get his hands on. Blair undergoes a maturing process through his work with Jim, eventually taking on nearly all the responsibilities of being Jim's partner. He's an intellectual thrown into the world of heroes and bad guys, and over time that world becomes his home.
Jim is on the surface his complete opposite, but he's more complex than he might appear at first glance as well. The child of a wealthy, distant father who considered him a "freak" and a mother who left Dad with the custody of the kids, it's clear that Jim has serious abandonment issues. He's always on the lookout for betrayal, especially where Blair is concerned, and whenever there's a test to their relationship, his tendency is to bail prematurely. On the other hand, his own issues lead him to an understanding of the personal problems of others, as is seen in his relationship with Simon and other guest characters on the show. He's much more than simply a macho cop stereotype, and his curious vulnerability makes the show--and the Jim/Blair relationship--much more interesting.
Why They Work Together
There's a ton of canon evidence for a Jim/Blair pairing. First of all, they're the ultimate odd couple--hippie intellectual and hard-assed cop--who end up living together (yes, Blair moves in for a week and...never leaves), working together, and relying on one another. Opposites attract? Oh, hell yeah. The characters--fueled by the chemistry between the two actors--have a funny, sparky, physical relationship; even their fights are sexy as hell. There's angst there, particularly in the last dozen or so episodes of the show, that will turn the crank of anyone who likes to see fireworks between the shipped characters. Add in all of Jim's personal demons, and you can cook yourself up a Molotov cocktail without too much trouble.
Yet despite their conflicts, they're also so completely a couple. They touch each other all the damn time, and we're not just talking mano-a-mano pats. For example, there's the famous "parking garage" scene, in which Jim rescues Blair from a life-threatening situation, then proceeds to hold him--well, let's just say it's not a "buddy" type hug, it's an oh God I was so afraid I'd lose you kind of hug. Over the course of the show, Jim and Blair have (of course) various romantic liaisons, but they seem to spend about as much time on dates together (not double dates, but dates involving just Jim and Blair). They go camping, kayaking, fishing, etc. together. Best of all, they're hopelessly domestic. The few glimpses we get of them doing their at-home schtick--in the kitchen, watching a game, playing poker--are absolutely precious. You just want to squeeze them, because their chemistry, mannerisms and banter scream we're so married from the rooftops.
Jim and Blair give 'The Sentinel' an interesting sense of humor, as well, a bit different from the black humor of many cop dramas, though that's there as well. While the typical cop jokes come from the typical cop characters, Jim and Blair have a relationship that defies just about all labels, and their jokes have an insider feel to them. Often the humor has a political undercurrent to it, leaning away from what one might expect from a military-cop point of view. For instance, during a gun fight in one episode, Blair points out to Jim that this incident "still doesn't change my views on gun control". At other times, little glimpses of day to day roommate life come through: witness Blair's list of Jim's ultra-anal house rules, or the actual canon conversation where Jim tells Blair to 'use the spray' in the bathroom. Yes, really. There's an ad-libbed feel to some of the lines that gives them an authentic feel. The easy banter and gentle teasing between the characters, even in stressful or painful moments make Jim and Blair all the more fun to play with.
Despite the abundant evidence of the canon relationship, those who have trouble writing a slash couple as lovers during the run of a show are also provided with a ride-off-into-the-sunset moment where the two characters take a left turn--together. While the fans did have legitimate issues with that final episode, the "press conference" scene where Blair chooses to throw away everything he's worked toward to protect his friend is one of the most emotional of the series, and like the Franklin adventure in 'due South' fandom it's a fabulous jumping-off point for numerous fanfiction first-time stories.
And then there's the spiritual connection, the "Sentinel thing" that brings them together on yet another level. Blair, as it's explained in the episodes that deal with this aspect of the show, is the "guide" or Shaman to Jim's Sentinel, and as such helps him control and use his senses to their greatest effect. In a crucial episode, Blair is killed--heart stopped, resuscitation attempts failed, paramedics shaking their heads. With the aid of the spiritual connection they share, Jim brings Blair back from the dead, and the imagery used is some of the slashiest ever seen on TV (see elven_wolf's icon below). Many authors have used the history of ancient South American cultures (as well as present-day ones like the Chopec) to write fanfiction that explores this aspect of the show.
Last but not least, there are also a great deal of hurt/comfort opportunities for the fic writer. Not only are there the general cop-show genre hurts that can be explored, but the potential for emotional hurt/comfort is amazingly present, both stemming from canon events and from the potential presented by the characters' own psyches. Jim especially is a vulnerable person, physically from his senses and emotionally from his own inner demons, most notably his fear of abandonment. Jim's sense of honor and responsibility make him the ideal comforter, but also lends itself to his own angst at allowing Blair to leave his "safe" world of academia to join him in more dangerous work. Blair has the potential for physical hurt, as in canon he's often the one to take the brunt of the harm, but also from his own emotional issues, similar to and even complementary to Jim's. Blair has a definite need to be needed, and is shown throughout the course of the show to be the only one Jim has allowed to get close enough to even begin to comfort him. In other words, there's plenty of fodder here for fans of every description.
Why I Ship Them
I first started reading large quantities of Sentinel fanfic before I got my hands on the actual show, and I was immediately intrigued by the premise of the geeky intellectual paired with the tough cop. How would that work? Why did it work? After watching the show, I was completely and irrevocably hooked, because--well, because of a dozen reasons, but most of all because these characters were so much more than geeky intellectual and tough cop, and suddenly it was crystal clear why they worked. Blair was tough and courageous, like Jim, and Jim was goofy at times and strangely vulnerable, like Blair, and they were not always doing what you might expect them to do. As characters, that makes them a lot of fun to read and write about.
From a romantic standpoint, they work because they each give things to the other, ingredients the other is lacking. Blair gives Jim a handle on his senses, a safety net, a sympathetic ear, and a partner who (despite his fears to the contrary) will not desert him, even when the temptation seems irresistible. Jim gives Blair stability, a chance to "ride the roller coaster" of police work, and an opportunity to become someone upon whom others depend. Jim and Blair clearly understand and care deeply about another, and there's lots of opportunity there for a writer to explore their relationship.
Admittedly, I saw a picture of RB as Jim and said wow. And followed that with a picture of GM as Blair and said WOW. Most important to me of all, though, is the characterization. Plots are automatically second fiddle to the people on any given show I watch, which helps a great deal in Sentinel fandom. What TS lacks in well-planned plot, research, and logic, it more than makes up for in terms of inner demons, depth of character, and armchair psychoanalysis of the main (and even supporting) characters. Jim's got a list of issues a mile long, which opens with the retelling of his tragic loss of his entire Army Ranger unit, leaving him the sole survivor, in the first moments of the first episode. But Blair, too, has issues, and though his aren't explored as much (the show's called 'The Sentinel' after all, not 'The Guide'), eventually they come out, and prove to be just as far reaching as Jim's own. That, for me, is the draw of 'The Sentinel', what will keep me coming back for more fic, no matter how illogical the canon plots or frustrating the dropped plot-lines.
Summary: Why Follow This Pairing?
First of all, they're easy. They're so clearly a couple that it doesn't take a lot of effort to put them together, so if this is your first time considering reading or writing slash, you can definitely see it here. Secondly, the chemistry between the actors leads to a great dynamic, one that's physical and affectionate and funny and sexy. Third, they are eye candy of the first order, and together they're like Reese's peanut butter cups--something for everyone. Finally, there's also plenty of material for fans of angst, buddy shows, fantasy/spirituality, h/c, or all of the above. Cheap, pretty, bendable and poseable, we give you--Jim and Blair!
The ultimate library of TS slash fiction. You do have to kiss a few frogs to get a prince, but itss worth it.
Fabella's TS Vids
SITE NO LONGER AVAILABLE
If you haven't seen the series, Fabella's vids are a great place to start.
ETA: It looks like Fabella's webhost has disappeared off the face of the planet. If you have a home to offer her, comment here:
Becky's episode transcripts
are the next place to go, although to be frank the dialogue on paper doesn't do justice to what Maggart and Burgi are able to do with it.
The Sentinel Adult mailing list is the place to find Sentinel stuff (senstuff) for sale every month, including videos and DVDs, as well as discussions of the show and fic announcements.
Check out the userinfo pages of each for details on the mandates and scopes of these various communities.
The Sentinel Icon Art
Authors of note
lamardeuse's note: my favourite TS story, bar none, is still "Out of Whack". Apart from being hotter than the centre of the sun, it's a story in which I can hear them speaking. Love it to pieces.
lamardeuse's note: writes quirky stories with extremely original concepts and turns of phrase.
Francesca (Speranza in dS fandom)
lamardeuse's note: one of my favourite due South writers, she was one of the ones who sucked me into TS.
lamardeuse's note: One of the few writers who explores Blair's spirituality as a person of Jewish descent, and one who paints absolutely gorgeous portraits of the boys, whether they're contemplating the Torah or having hot, sweaty sex.
lamardeuse's note: Another author whose talent with other fandoms led me into TS. "Tender" is one of my favourites of hers, though I pretty much love them all.
If anyone has any questions or comments about this review or any aspect of TS fandom, feel free to comment below. You can also e-mail lamardeuse at firstname.lastname@example.org and misanthrope7842 at email@example.com. Thanks for reading!