Canon and Fanon and Points Between

Fan fiction is based on the universe depicted by some TV show (in this case, ^The Sentinel^). Canon is that which defines the universe, and is usually taken to be the episodes of that show as aired, not unaired pilots, or original scripts, or information from interviews, or novelizations or novel spin-offs, and definitely not fan fiction.
Those conventions and extrapolations from canon which become so popular and widespread in a fannish community, that they turn up in much fan fiction, and often people cannot remember where the idea originally came from.

NightOWL's Nest <> Sentinel resources page has an article on Canon versus Fanon which covers many things, but I thought I'd voice my own thoughts on this as well.

Common fanfic assertions

  • Blair wrote his Masters Thesis on Sentinels.

Actually, there is no mention in the series of Blair's Masters Thesis at all. The paper that Lee Brackett read that Blair had written about Sentinels was described as "an early undergraduate piece" (Rogue). At the time of Jim leaving Peru, Blair wouldn't have finished his Masters thesis anyway, whatever it was on.

However, it is a reasonable extrapolation that (a) Blair did do a Masters Thesis and (b) that it was on Sentinels. Since he is working on his PhD, then he most likely has a Masters degree, and since his PhD topic is Sentinels, it seems likely that his Masters topic would be Sentinels also.

  • Blair has a paralysing fear of heights.

Blair does have a fear of heights (Black or White, Survival) but it isn't paralysing; he climbs a tree (Switchman) with only a little grumbling, and jumps onto a window-cleaner's scaffolding (Siege) (in pressing circumstances), so it can't be a paralysing fear. Just a reluctance to climb onto roofs when he doesn't need to.

Another example (thanks Christine Reed!) is, of course, the fact that Blair spent three months living with the Kombai Tree people of Irian Jaya. (Love and Guns) This wasn't an obfuscation to impress Maya, because she brought the subject up, as she was going through Blair's papers as his research assistant. Therefore this must have been a real expedition.

"Yeah... but their houses -- They're hundreds of feet up in the sky at the top of these jungle trees so they can see the mountains and the birds and keep the sorcerers away. It was like living in the sky."

Blair Sandburg, to Maya Carasco
(on the Kombai Tree people of Irian Jaya) (Sentinel: Love and Guns)

  • Jim told Blair to "check his humanity at the door"

To be precise, it was Blair who said that. In Cypher. Jim didn't disagree, but it was actually Blair who used those words.

     Jim: Murder victims tend to get the best of us. You got to learn to
          separate yourself. 
     Blair: Oh, yeah. Right. Just check my humanity at the door? 
     Jim: Whatever it takes to stay present. What if the killer had still
          been at the scene, hmm? If your emotions are in the way, you're
          useless, potentially dangerous. Now, if you're going to hang with
          cops, you got to learn to do the right thing 'cause your life and
          the lives of many others are going to depend on it. 
                 (The Sentinel: Cypher)
  • Jim was a loner and a hard-ass before he met Blair. Blair humanised him.

Actually, Jim was a loner and a hard-ass before he met Jack Pendergrast. It was Jack who taught him what partnership meant. Jim had friends before he met Blair. He was friends with Simon, he was a big brother to Danny Choi...

That isn't to say that Blair might not have loosened him up more, but he wasn't by any means a lost cause when Blair met him.

  • Jim was a Medic in the army.

Jim was a Captain in Special Forces, and I thought no mention was made of him being a medic, but I was wrong (as Christine Reed pointed out -- thanks!)

In Spare Parts:

     Simon: I don't like this, Jim. That old man could've died.
     Jim: Simon, I made sure he was out of danger before I took off. The
          ambulance got there a couple of seconds later.
     Simon: Yeah, and how the hell did you know if he was out of danger
            or not? You're no doctor.
     Jim: I've been a medic. Besides, if there was any doubt, I wouldn't
          have left him.
  • Blair gets panic attacks.

This is confusing. If you look at episodes like "Siege", you will see that Blair keeps his head in a crisis (even if he is terrified underneath), and that his usual defence is to talk fast, lie really plausibly and creatively, and basically confuse the enemy. Panic attacks really don't jibe with that.

On the other hand you have this, in Black or White:

"Why not? Come on. I've been in and out of therapy since I got out of my pampers. Anxiety and panic attacks are a normal state of being for me."

(Blair to Jim, in relation to Joel's fear of bombs)

Perhaps it is simply the case that Blair's panic attacks are well in the past, and he doesn't have them now.

  • Jim can distinguish Blair's heartbeat from any other's.

The first and most obvious use of Jim listening to heartbeats in canon is in Rogue, where he hears the heartbeats of the victims in the music centre, and thus realizes that they aren't dead, just sleeping. Then he hears Brackett's heartbeat amongst all the others, because his is beating more rapidly, because he is awake (and probably because he is tense).

There is nothing in canon to say he can distinguish any particular individual from any other in a group of people, by the sound of their individual heartbeat alone. Now, if Blair had a heart-murmur, then maybe the fanon assertion would be more plausible. But normally people's hearts just beat, faster or slower, and there's no particular rhythm which is unique to an individual. (Or thus says a doctor friend of mine who has been listening to hearts as a GP for years). Yes, it has also been said that if you look at the electical pattern of a heart, then each one is unique from individual to individual, but the cardio-electric pattern is not the sound of the heart.

Now, if we were talking about scent, that would be a different matter. Or the sound of Blair's footsteps.

  • Jim can tell if people are lying by listening to their heartbeat.

The first use of Jim's senses to detect lies is in True Crime, where he not only listens to Mick's heartbeat, but he also checked pupil dilation and perspiration as well. Lying causes stress, that's the basis of lie detectors; people will sweat, pupils dilate, and their heart-rate will jump, due to the stress of telling a lie. In later episodes, such as Vanishing Act, Jim only seems to be paying attention to the suspect's heart-rate, not the other two signs.

This of course means that if someone is already scared stiff, then listening to their already-rapidly-beating heart won't actually tell Jim whether they are lying or not.

  • Blair has always had long hair.

Considering Blair's attachment to his hair, voiced in "Switchman", that "I am not cutting my hair!" when Jim suggests that he goes to the Academy, it's understandable that fen think that it's always been that way. But if you recall Naomi's reaction in "Spare Parts" to Blair's hair, it seems that it wasn't in that long style the last time she saw her son. Ergo, Blair has not always had long hair.

  • Blair had used the "dial" analogy to help train Jim with his senses from the word go.

Actually, the "dial" analogy to help Jim control his senses wasn't actually used until the episode "Out of the Past", in the second season. Jim had been shot, just a surface wound, but he was in an unusual amount of pain. Blair led him through a meditation technique to control the pain. This was the first time the dial was ever mentioned.

  • Blair "grounds" Jim when Jim is using his senses (by laying a hand on his arm or back etc)

This is pure fanon, but much-loved fanon. On the show, there doesn't appear to be any more touching going on than usual. Nor is "grounding" mentioned at all.

  • Jim needs Blair to be nearby or he can't control his senses that well

Another piece of pure fanon. In the show, there are plenty of times when Jim uses his senses in their extraordinary range without pain or trouble, and Blair is nowhere near. Not to mention Jim being on undercover assignments such as "Vendetta", "Prisoner X" and "Inside Man" where Blair couldn't be near Jim even if he wanted to. A related piece of fanon is that Jim "grounds" himself by listening to Blair's (unique) heartbeat. (see above)

  • Jim stops breathing when he is in a deep zone-out

There is no mention in the series of such a phenomenon. In the series, the main danger from zone-outs seems to be simply that Jim is unaware of what is going on around him when he is in a zone-out, and that means he cannot defend himself from life-threatening hazards such as garbage trucks (or felons with guns).

Some support for this idea may arise from the incident in "Rogue" where Jim zones on the bridge. (Pointed out by Cheri Trip)

Blair: Jim? Jim! Oh, man! Not now, not now! It happens when he focuses so intently on one of his senses he loses all of his others. I thought you read my paper! Come on, Jim. Jim, come on. Breathe, buddy. Come on. (Jim starts to come out of it.) That's it. Relax, man. Relax. Hey, watch your arms.

However, since Blair often calls upon Jim to "breathe" when he's trying to get Jim to relax, and since he exhorts Jim in this very speech to "Relax" then one can also interpret this as just part of Blair trying to bring Jim out of the zone. If one wishes to argue that Blair is tense and upset, and therefore Jim isn't breathing, the counterargument is simply that they're stuck in the middle of a bridge where one wrong step could mean death by electocution -- far and away enough reason to be worried!

  • Blair calls Jim "Big Guy"

While fanfic writers may have invented the "Big Guy" nickname for Jim to correspond with Jim's calling Blair "Chief", there is no basis for this in canon. (Suggested by Cheri Tripp)

There was one occassion when Jim called Joel Taggert "big guy" (in "Attraction") and in "Sleeping Beauty" Blair says "Relax, big guy. I'm unarmed. Relax." -- but it isn't Jim he says it to, but to the armed agents who pounce outside the warehouse. Blair never calls Jim "big guy" in the series.

  • Blair does Jim's paperwork

This is another beloved item in fanon, but it doesn't seem to appear in canon. (Suggested by Cheri Tripp)

We do know that Blair has used Jim's computer (e.g. getting information in "Murder 101") which implies that he either has Jim's password or has one of his own. Since he doesn't rate a desk of his own (he's only an observer after all), Jim's computer would be the one he would be most likely to use to access the network. (The computers do seem to be on a network, otherwise why would Megan have been using Jim's computer in "Sentinel Too Part 1"?)

Blair answered Jim's phone in "Deep Water", he helped Simon and Jim go over the records and files in "Black And White", and was helping Jim and Meggan go over the files in "Foreign Exchange". But no actual report writing.

One piece of evidence that might point to the report writing is that in "Attraction" Blair admits that he forged Jim's signature (to sign out the evidence to take home to Jim). If Blair was good enough at forging Jim's signature, what would have given him the practice at it? Perhaps report-writing is the answer. Or maybe it's just one of Blair's manifold hidden skills, like welding?