Friday, December 23, 2011

Classics: B5 5:18 - The Fall of Centauri Prime

Overall: 9.8

I can't think of a more fitting end for Londo, whose arc is a true masterpiece.

Plot Synopsis:

The Lurker's Guide has a summary here.

The Skinny:

As I've stated many times before, Londo is my favorite character (aside from Vir). And really, when you get right down to it, the reason for that undying love is this episode -- the episode that ties his entire arc together. If Londo had never come to this point - if he had never faced up to the consequences of his actions and sacrificed himself for the sake of his people - I certainly would not rank him among televised science fiction's best tragic heroes.

Say what you will about JMS - and I've certainly said plenty - but his depiction of what redemption actually involves is probably the most accurate depiction in the business. There is an unfortunate tendency in our culture - especially among liberals - to confuse mercy with leniency. I can't tell you the number of times I've heard Christian leftists in particular confidently declare that Jesus would advocate for a permissive legal system, for example. JMS, on the other hand, happily avoids this common misreading of the Sacred Scripture. He understands that the process of atoning for one's sins is certainly not as simple as receiving a slap on the wrist -- that even if you are truly sorry, you will still have to take responsibility for the fallout. There's no "Get Out of Jail Free" card in the real world -- and there really shouldn't be.

As the Catholic Church teaches, a good confession involves the following five steps:

  • Examining your conscience to comprehend your sin.
  • Feeling genuine remorse for what you have done.
  • Confessing that you were wrong, out loud, before God (as represented by the priest).
  • Accepting God's forgiveness.
  • Completing your assigned penance.

I've emphasized that last step because it is the one most frequently forgotten by so-called "progressives." Perhaps that murderer does truly regret what he has done. Perhaps his born-again Christianity is the real deal. But that doesn't mean we should let him go. Indeed, if said murderer really were genuinely penitent, he would understand that he must serve the rest of his sentence. In other words, he would understand that prison is his assigned penance.

Now let's take a look at how JMS uses the basic framework of the sacrament of Reconciliation in crafting the latter half of Londo's arc:

  • Examining your conscience: In No Surrender, No Retreat, we see that Londo has done some thinking since the end of the Shadow War and has come to understand that what he did was wrong.
  • Feeling genuine remorse: For Londo, this begins to develop in the fourth season and reaches its culmination in The Very Long Night of Londo Mollari.
  • Confessing that you were wrong before God: This is precisely what The Very Long Night of Londo Mollari was all about. According to JMS, what you feel in your heart doesn't matter one wit unless you are willing to testify to it in the sight of others. Without such testimony, says JMS, your soul will die.
  • Accepting God's forgiveness: Okay -- G'Kar is not God. But I think the beautiful scene in this episode - about which I will say more in a minute - in which G'Kar forgives Londo fulfills this step.
  • Completing your assigned penance: Londo does this when he accepts the Keeper -- and the imprisonment and pain this entails.

JMS may have fallen far away from the Church, but it seems his imagination is still laboring under its legacy. And that's a fortunate thing, as Londo's story would not be nearly as profound if it weren't animated by a vaguely Catholic consciousness.

Of course, this episode isn't just the climax of Londo's arc. As the undisputed victim of Londo's bad choices, G'Kar has had to struggle all along with the impulse to seek vengeance. That G'Kar can now joke around with Londo, touch him in a kind way, and - most importantly - forgive him is a sign of just how far G'Kar has come since the day he openly wished he could obliterate the Centauri and carve their bones into flutes for Narn children. We'll see G'Kar a few more times before the end, but really, his story also ends here. Forgiving Londo is the pinnacle of G'Kar's arc. And by the way, that scene, in my opinion, is the very best scene in the entire series. Both Peter Jurasik and Andreas Katsulas put in performances that are absolutely incredible, and the writing achieves a depth of emotion that is found nowhere else. Yes -- I can think of several scenes that come close, but this one really tops them all.

And one last thing before I close: I am also impressed by what JMS and Damian London do with the Regent in this episode. In the space of a few minutes, they take this twittery little slip of nothing and give him this mysterious - and tear-jerking - dignity. Wow. That just goes to show how the great writing for Londo and G'Kar tends to rub off on nearby players -- and it also demonstrates just how good this episode is.

Writing: 9.5

The script can get a bit exposition-y at times, but I think that flaw is more than compensated for by the Best Scene Ever -- and by JMS' mastery of Londo's characterization.

Acting: 10.0

Maybe there were imperfections in the performances, but I certainly didn't notice them, as I was too busy being gobsmacked by Peter and Andreas and their amazing ability to communicate a novel's worth of emotions through their facial expressions.

Message:10.0 ++++++++++++++++++

See the discussion above.


REGENT: I have to go now, Londo.
LONDO: No. Don't go.
REGENT: I have been many things in my life, Mollari. I have been silly. I have been quiet when I should have spoken. I have been foolish. And I have wasted far too much time. But I am still Centauri, and I am not afraid. (Seriously? You're going to make me feel sad for this goofy little man? You are evil, JMS. Pure. Evil.)

LONDO: I can't stay. I just wanted to see how you were.
G'KAR: Better. I would be dead if not for you. You risked your life to save mine.
LONDO: You would've done the same.
G'KAR: Yes, but I am a better person.
LONDO: You ingrate! I promised I would get you out of that cell, yes? And do I not keep my promises, hmm? (He starts to laugh.) Where you go, I go?
G'KAR: (also laughing) Yes.
LONDO: That must now change, however. I cannot have you following me around as my bodyguard any longer. I do not think it would be appropriate... or safe.
G'KAR: (starting to get up) Why not?
LONDO: The Regent is dead, G'Kar. In a few moments, I will take his place. There are... preparing for me now. And although I cannot formally become emperor until tomorrow when the Centaurum meets, unofficially I am now 'in charge.' (There is a long pause.) After tonight, I don't know if I will ever see you again. (He starts to get emotional.) And... I wanted to... say goodbye. I don't know why that should be important to me now at a time like this, but... it is. (A beat.) In the months and the years to come, you may hear many strange things about me... my behavior. Well... they say the position... changes you. And I just... I-I wanted to...
G'KAR: I understand.
LONDO: Perhaps. And perhaps you do not understand as much as you think. Pray that you never do, G'Kar. Pray that you never truly understand.
(Londo pats G'Kar's leg, stands, and walks over to the window.)
LONDO: Well, I must hurry. Our ships will soon be in firing range. (He sighs.) Isn't it strange, G'Kar? When we first met, I had no power and all the choices I could ever want. Now I have all the power I could ever want, and no choices at all. No choice at all.
(Londo starts to leave, but G'Kar's voice stops him.)
G'KAR: Mollari. (G'Kar stands with some difficulty.) Understand that I can never forgive your people for what they did to my world. My people can never forgive your people. But I can forgive you. (OMG! BEST SCENE EVER! BEST. SCENE. EVER!)

And now let's go to the video:

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