Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Classics: B5 5:2 - The Very Long Night of Londo Mollari

"I'm sorry, G'Kar. I'm sorry."

Overall: 9.3

Londo's head is a fascinating place.

Plot Synopsis:

I don't think I need to send you to the Lurker's Guide for this one, as the story is pretty simple. Basically, Londo has a near-death experience in which he's forced to face up to the evil things he's done over the past few years -- and as you might expect, G'Kar and Vir play prominent roles in Londo's vision.

(There's also a B-plot in which Lennier leaves Delenn's service in order to avoid confronting his love-sickness. I'll let SABR Matt cover that one.)

The Skinny:

Stephanie S.: I've made no secret of the fact that Londo is one of my favorite characters. I think JMS poured a sizable share of all that is brilliant in his writing into Londo's arc -- and this episode is a key illustration. Yes, the metaphors are a bit thick; as we know, subtlety is not one of JMS's strong suits. But The Very Long Night of Londo Mollari reveals how completely JMS has mastered Londo's psychology. In Londo's dream, nothing is irrelevant; all the puzzle pieces fit together perfectly.

Consider, for example, the truth Londo reveals about his first wife in his conversation with Dream!Sheridan. Why would JMS choose to include that particular story? Because it points to Londo's primary weakness. Whether the stakes are cosmic (as with the destruction of Narn) or personal, Londo has been, until now, fundamentally incapable of making his own choices. He hasn't listened to what his heart has told him; instead, he's taken the path of least resistance. He's chosen to satisfy his "duty" or his "fate," behaving as if he has no free will.

Still, Londo does have a conscience, and Dream!G'Kar is its manifestation here. Dream!G'Kar renders explicit what we've always suspected: that somewhere, deep down, not even Londo accepts his own excuses for his actions. Moreover, Dream!G'Kar also reveals how Londo feels about G'Kar in the flesh. In Londo's head space, G'Kar is an adversary -- but also a friend. He's threatening -- but also compassionate. Dream!G'Kar tortures Londo emotionally and physically -- then caps it all off with an expression of loving encouragement and pity. The implications for the developing real world relationship between Londo and G'Kar are very interesting indeed.

But Londo's dream is not simply about Londo's wrestling with his guilt over what he did to the Narn -- and it's not simply about Londo's coming to terms with his burgeoning affection for G'Kar and what that obliges him to do. No -- Londo's dream tells us how he feels about Delenn, Sheridan, and Vir as well. In Londo's mind, Delenn is ethereal, spiritual, and somewhat inscrutable, while Sheridan is an interesting equal. And Vir? Well, that's another important scene. You see, before Dream!Vir's appearance, we see Londo indulge in a fair amount of self-loathing and self-pity. For example, when Londo asks Dream!Delenn - who is really Londo himself, remember - if anyone back home cares whether he lives or dies, Dream!Delenn replies point blank in the negative. And when Dream!Vir finally shows up, Londo is basically on the verge of giving up on himself, as he has not yet accepted the reality that his choices - and his very life - matter. Dream!Vir, however, reminds Londo that there is at least one person who has a stake in Londo's physical and spiritual well-being -- and that is what ultimately allows Londo to confront his own capacity for evil. Do you see the genius here? This moment reflects the role the real Vir plays in Londo's life with uncanny accuracy. In the real world, it is Vir who has always offered guidance and friendship to Londo in his darkest moments; it is Vir who has always been Londo's principal source of strength.

In sum, what I like best about this episode is its expert handling of its focus character. As I noted at the start, JMS clearly knows Londo inside and out.

SABR Matt: My co-author commented on the roles G'Kar and Vir played in Londo's own mind (keeping in mind that this is a dream and therefore, the characters are speaking as Londo imagines they would...playing some role his mind thinks they should play).  But I thought it was worth commenting on a few of the other elements of the episode - the elements in the waking world, for starters.  I won't spend too much time on Lennier (poor guy), but his love-sickness (as Stephanie S. puts it) isn't isolated in the plot.  I think Vir experiences it too.  Not the same kind of love, obviously, but I believe they chose to put Lennier's departure where they did because it was thematically tied and showed an important contrast between Lennier and Vir...a contrast that will make one of them a born leader and the other more of a follower (though a heroic one in his own way).

Lennier chooses to leave Delenn (somewhat over her objections, though she does try to understand) because can't face his conflicted feelings (he loves her and on some level, can't stand to see her happy with Sheridan).  Vir, despite all of the turmoil brought to his life by Londo, despite his loss of innocence so poignantly rendered in 4:5, stands by Londo in all of his darkest hours including this one.  See, Lennier and Vir aren't that different in many ways - they're both hopelessly optimistic, both innocent and pure, both learning to play roles in a world that isn't made for people like them, and they both suffer for their involvements great and small in B5's conflicts.  But this episode does highlight their biggest difference.  Vir faces conflict (external and internal) bravely and at any cost because he believes the ends will eventually be positive if he just keeps trying to be good.  Lennier prefers to avoid confrontations (again...internal or external) because he believes that if he becomes involved in conflict, he won't overcome it.  The first is a leader...and Vir will make an excellent emperor...the second is a follower...and will make an excellent spiritual guide.  I find that fascinating.

Writing: 9.0

The symbolism is very on-the-nose, but the characterization is absolutely superb.

Acting: 9.0

Whenever Londo, G'Kar, and Vir are the stars of an episode, the acting score always improves substantially.

Message: 10.0

This episode emphasizes personal responsibility and the importance of atoning for one's sins -- and I haven't a single objection to those themes.


GARIBALDI: I just came back from Med Lab. They asked me to find you.
VIR: How is he?
GARIBALDI: He's not good, Vir. He's in critical condition.
VIR: I don't believe this. What is it with this place? I mean, last week, someone tries to assassinate Sheridan. This week, someone tries to poison Londo. (Then Vir gets really upset and starts yelling at the random strangers sitting nearby.) God, what is wrong with you people? Don't you have something else better to do?
VIR: Why don't you get a hobby? Read a book or something!
VIR: WHAT? (Awww. Poor Vir. He's cracking under the strain.)

SHERIDAN: Any change?
SHERIDAN: It is strange to see him like this. He's always so -- alive. So full of energy -- even when he's being annoying. You know, I don't think I've ever seen him for two minutes when he wasn't talking or yelling at someone.
DELENN: It's a strange thing. In the five years since I arrived, I have felt pity for him, anger -- he's made me laugh. I have even -- liked him from time to time, as much as I haven't wanted to. But I have never felt sorry for him -- until now. I would miss him if he left us, John. (In this scene, I think Delenn expresses what all Centauriphiles feel in re: Londo. Nicely done.)

DREAM!DELENN: You're dying, Londo.
LONDO: I know.
DREAM!DELENN: Do you want to live?
LONDO: What difference does it make, hm? Perhaps -- perhaps it's better this way. I have dreamed my own death for twenty years now, you know. Perhaps it's better if I die now, if only to -- to spite fate.
DREAM!DELENN: (slower and with more emphasis) Do you want to live?
LONDO: What difference does it make? Is there anyone back home who truly cares if I live or die?
DREAM!DELENN: Almost certainly not. Do you want to live? (This time, Londo does not reply.) I'm not allowed to ask again.
LONDO: (after a pause) Yes. Yes, I want to live.
DREAM!DELENN: That is not enough. (She takes the top card off the deck.) Can you see this card?
LONDO: No. There's too much blood.
LONDO: You said wanting to live was not enough. What more is there?

VIR: You couldn't sleep either?
LENNIER: No. I heard about your situation.
VIR: I heard about yours. As Mr. Garibaldi would say, it's been one hell of a day.
LENNIER: Yes. A hell of a day.
VIR: A hell of a year.
LENNIER: A hell of a five years.
VIR: Hell of a life.
LENNIER: (after a beat) You win. (And then they both smile. Awwwwww. They're so cute.)

LONDO: So tell me, Sheridan: do you ever get used to it?
DREAM!SHERIDAN: Used to what?
LONDO: Being dead.
DREAM!SHERIDAN: Well, I wasn't dead very long -- well, just long enough to know I didn't like it.
LONDO: You know, I have been dead many times before. Dead to my first wife, the only one I truly loved. A dancer. My family said that I had married beneath my station and that if I did not divorce her that I would be dead to them. To the family title, position, money. I remember the look in her eyes when I told her. I died again that night. (He picks up a bottle, but finds no liquor.) All of the bottles here are empty? The metaphor's getting a bit thick, don't you think? (Heh. Only Londo would make fun of his own writer.)

LONDO: It is strange, isn't it, that both you and I know that we are dying? Lorien gave you back your life, but you still have less than twenty years left.
DREAM!SHERIDAN: Well, we're all dying, Londo. Twenty years, fifty years, hundred years -- it doesn't matter. What matters is what we do while we're waiting around -- how we live out the seconds in between.
LONDO: Ah. Well, I have not done very well in that regard, have I?
DREAM!SHERIDAN: No, you haven't.
LONDO: (annoyed) People aren't being very charitable around here. (It's your own head, Londo. Blame your own self-loathing.)
DREAM!SHERIDAN: There's a time for charity and a time for truth. You're almost out of both.
LONDO: Sheridan, I -- I don't want to die.
DREAM!SHERIDAN: Then turn around.
LONDO: (the realization dawning) No.
DREAM!SHERIDAN: Turn around.
(The camera pans over and we see G'Kar standing behind and above Londo.)
LONDO: I can't. Don't you understand? I can't.
DREAM!SHERIDAN: Then you'll die.

LONDO: I don't want to die. Please, Great Maker. I don't want to die. Not like this. Not like this.
DREAM!VIR: You're afraid.
DREAM!VIR: Then don't die.
(In the Med Lab, the real Vir presses his hand against the glass.)
VIR: Don't die. (Awwwwwwwwwwww.)
(Meanwhile, back in Londo's dream world...)
LONDO: I don't think I have any choice in the matter, Vir.
DREAM!VIR: You do have a choice, Londo. But you have to make it now. There's not much time.
LONDO: What's wrong with me?
DREAM!VIR: What's wrong with you -- is you. Your heart can no longer bear the weight of your conscience.
LONDO: (scoffing) There's nothing wrong with my conscience.
DREAM!VIR: No? Then turn around.
LONDO: Why should I, hm? I saw my death in a dream. I was an old man. How do I know I won't survive this? Perhaps this will pass, and-and I will get better. The dream is prophecy.
DREAM!VIR: Prophecy is a guess that comes true. When it doesn't, it's a metaphor. You could put a gun to your head tomorrow, and then the dream is just a dream, and the prophecy is just a metaphor -- and so are you. You're out of time, Londo. Turn around.
LONDO: I can't. I don't know what he wants from me!
DREAM!VIR: Yes, you do! The thing that has eaten away at your heart until it could not endure the pain a moment longer. You must let go of this, or you will die here, alone, now!
LONDO: Perhaps -- perhaps that is for the best, then.
DREAM!VIR: No. Not for the best.
LONDO: Why not?
DREAM!VIR: Because -- I will miss you.
LONDO: And I suppose that I would miss you. (OMG! VIR'S LOVE motivates Londo to finally face his sin! That is beyond awesome.)

DREAM!G'KAR: You are wrong, Mollari. Whether it was me or my world, whether it was a total stranger or your worst enemy, you were a witness! It doesn't matter if they stopped! It doesn't matter if they listened! You had an obligation to speak out!
LONDO: I couldn't!
DREAM!G'KAR: And that is why you don't deserve to be Emperor. That is why you don't deserve to live.

LONDO: I don't want to die.
DREAM!G'KAR: Then don't.
LONDO: Who are you?
(Dream!G'Kar starts to chuckle.)
DREAM!G'KAR: Perhaps I am a delusion caused by a lack of oxygen to the brain. Perhaps I am the piece of myself that telepathically joined with you once long ago and decided to stay. And perhaps I am your conscience, which can only get your attention by taking on a face other than your own and striking you down in the one place where you are still vulnerable.
LONDO: Why? Why are you doing this to me?
DREAM!G'KAR: You want to believe you've changed. You want to feel good about yourself. You're not sorry for what you did! You're just sorry that you got caught -- that you almost destroyed your homeworld because of it!
LONDO: That's not true.
DREAM!G'KAR: Then prove it. Just a word, Mollari. That's all it takes.
LONDO: (suddenly understanding) I've never apologized for anything in my life.
DREAM!G'KAR: Yes. So I see. (He leans forward to speak gently into Londo's ear.) It's your life, Mollari. Make of it what you will.

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