In hindsight it's astonishing that we took [Londo] to be a comic buffoon during the first season - the characteristics which lead to his downfall were well in place by the third episode of the first season!
I think it was a hair bias. *g*
In all seriousness, I never saw Londo as a comic buffoon, even with the table mounting drunken revelry, the casual use of his genitalia, etc. Because alongside all of those scenes were darker, sadder moments. What was funny about Londo's anger and desperation in Midnight? What was funny about the wistful Londo we saw not only in Purple, but also in The War Prayer and A Voice in the Wilderness? What was funny about Londo's reply to Mr. Morden?
Hmm, I feel a longer rant coming on. Because when it comes to B5, I just don't see “teh funneh” where other fans seem to…
Arguing for Vir’s Infrequently Acknowledged Second Season Depth
From what I remember of the old fan commentary, most fans didn't really acknowledge Vir's seriousness until third season- or sometimes even as late as fourth season. But I believe Vir emerged as a serious character in The Geometry of Shadows.
I’ve already covered Geometry to some extent in the Londo & Vir relationship essay. Although glimmers of Vir’s independent mind can be seen as early as The War Prayer, in Geometry it takes center stage with his nonverbal discomfort with Refa and with his subtle yet relentless attempts to steer Londo in the right direction. When Londo asks Vir about fate, what results is not simply humorous Vir-ish babble. Between the lines is an argument against following what appears to Londo to be the obvious path- and the arguing persists as the episode moves forward. “It won’t work, Londo, they’re not for sale,” Vir insists later when he returns from his encounter with Elric and Londo demands that he try again. “I just don’t think it’s a good idea to get between them and where they’re going.” Here we see a Vir who is a remarkably intelligent judge of behavioral signals- he accurately reads Elric’s menacing façade as a serious demand to keep out. This is not cowardice, but humility.
How do we know it’s not cowardice? Well, Vir’s behavior before Elric’s monster is a powerful clue. We can hear the panic creep into his voice and can safely assume that Vir is quivering on the inside. But he doesn’t wet his pants and he doesn’t run away. In fact, when you compare his reaction to Londo’s open cringing at the mages’ sound and light show, Vir comes across looking stronger and braver than his master. I believe this, combined with the quiet wisdom of Vir’s other scenes, firmly overshadows his alcohol-induced comic pratfall, which was indeed played purely for laughs.
In fact, while Vir’s role in Soul Mates was purely comic, when you look at the rest of the second season, most of the scenes that featured Vir in a central role tended towards seriousness.
In The Coming of Shadows, also covered in the earlier essay, Vir’s misgivings about Refa and about Morden are brought into even sharper focus. The central scene for Vir in this episode is deadly serious, his suspicion evolving into fear and righteous anger. When, to Vir’s horror, Londo makes his first conscious decision to utilize the services of Mr. Morden, there is no “Maybe you shouldn’t”- there is only “Don’t!” And when that falls on deaf ears and Vir’s desperation fades to resignation, the anger remains:
“No, I will go. I will find him and I will bring him back. But one day, I will remind you of this conversation and maybe then- then- you’ll understand!”
-Vir to Londo, The Coming of Shadows
At the end of the episode, with the choice made and the deed done, Vir icily refuses Refa’s cup and can only look at his friend with profound disappointment. This is no buffoon.
There All the Honor Lies, the next episode that features Vir in a prominent role, also bears a repeat mention:
When Vir receives word in There All the Honor Lies that Centauri Prime is seeking a replacement for his position, he is driven to seek solace in liquor for the first time. In one scene, Londo is given a glimpse of the turmoil that Vir has been sitting on since The Coming of Shadows. Vir doesn't know what he feels. He is angry with Londo, angry that he is being pulled down with him, and a part of him would like nothing better than to escape. But he can't add another failure to a life filled with failures, and he can't go back to the loneliness and disdain that defined his early life. For all that Londo is and for all that Londo has done, he at least occasionally treats Vir like a person. Drunk and on some lines close to tears, Vir pours much of this out before an unprepared Londo and stumbles away, apologies on his lips.
Putting aside the admittedly comic element of Vir getting plastered on only two drinks, the implication that Vir’s previous family life was an empty, if not downright hostile, one and the jumbled mix of anger, confusion and despair that comes through Stephen Furst’s underrated performance make this storyline a deeply poignant one.
“Every generation of Centauri mourns for the golden days when their power was like unto the gods. It’s counterproductive. Why make a history if you don’t learn from it?”
-Vir to Londo, Knives
The trend continues as Vir takes on the role of wise confidant and comforter in Knives and stands up to Morden in In the Shadow of Z’Ha’Dum.
Vir’s confrontation with Morden in In the Shadow of Z’Ha’Dum is wildly famous in fandom and legitimately so. Vir’s cheery wave is irresistibly funny. But we shouldn’t forget the seriousness of the feeling behind it, nor how truly gutsy a move it is. The Shadows don’t consider Vir a threat, but Vir doesn’t know that- all he knows is that Morden is ruining his friend’s life and, by extension, his own and he’s not going to shrink back and take on the mantle of politeness. Sweet little innocent Vir wishes for Morden’s death in this scene, and it’s a rather brutal death at that. If circumstances were somewhat different, he could’ve been killed for his impudence. Imagine the sheer power of the emotions that must’ve driven Vir to take such a risk! Vir is a shy, gentle soul, but still waters run very deep. He may be male, but Vir’s actions in this scene call to mind a mother protecting her cubs, something with which I, as a woman with her own strong familial ties, identify.
The next time we see Vir in the second season (Comes the Inquisitor), Narn has fallen and G’Kar is shouting to all passerby that the Centauri are coming for them next. The crowds in the Zocalo are distinctly reluctant to accept his warnings. In fact, the only one who is listening and taking G’Kar’s words to heart is Vir, whom we see standing overhead on the catwalk. The payoff for this comes several scenes later when Vir boards a transport tube and discovers that G’Kar is the other passenger. In a thematic echo of The Very Long Night of Londo Mollari, Vir pushes through his shame and apologizes to G’Kar. And in a moment that stands among the best of the series, G’Kar turns around, slices his hand, and forces Vir to face the permanence of what the Centauri have done, leaving the sweet-natured Vir in tears.
Vir’s arc in second season closes with a light moment of camaraderie between Vir and Lennier (The Fall of Night), but on the whole, Vir’s second season cannot be considered a comedy and Vir himself cannot be considered a comic buffoon. There is too much content here for anyone to argue otherwise. The Vir drawn by the events of B5’s sophomore year is a bit innocent, confused, not terribly smooth in social situations, and not always especially confident, but he is also thoughtful, kind, fiercely protective of his friends, and surprisingly brave. In short, he’s a normal, decent young Centauri just trying to muddle through in an extraordinary world.
Published on Enemies and Allies.