Actually, not completely. I do in fact have some things to say that do not involve fangirlish Narn/Centauri-related squeeing…
One thing soulonds9 would like to have explained (he was watching the DVD’s with me) is why, if Lorien restored Sheridan’s life energy twice, he couldn’t do it more times than that and thus prolong Sheridan’s life for longer than twenty additional years. I confess, I couldn’t come up with a good reason (I didn’t really pay much attention to that aspect of the story)- perhaps some of you out there could explain?
Also, I’m obliged to mention that soulonds9 colorfully concluded upon viewing that, quote, “The First Ones are all dicks.” Well, yes- I believe that’s the general idea. *g*
And, at last, I’ve finally worked out what it is that bothers me about Sheridan’s return in The Summoning and all the conflicts leading up to that moment of triumph. In brief: The plot essentially assassinates Delenn and Ivanova as powerful, competent characters- and it paints the members of the League of Non-Aligned Worlds as provincial morons instead of responsible leaders with legitimate concerns for their own people.
I have a very hard time believing that Delenn, a member of the Grey Council and an accomplished diplomat, and Ivanova, also strong and accomplished in her own right, are incapable of maintaining order and unity in the Army of Light without Sheridan’s presence. Or that the AoL depended solely on a cult of personality built around Sheridan. Or that the members of the LoNAW are so fickle that they would change their mind in an instant after one rousing speech.
In some sense, I think some of this dissatisfaction taps into a discomfort I’ve had about one of B5’s major themes: That one should give up one’s natural allegiances- one’s pride in and desire to protect one’s own homeland in particular- for the global (or, in this case, galactic) good. I myself see nothing wrong with patriotism- with loving your homeland and seeking to serve that homeland as much as your abilities allow. I think that is part of human nature and an impulse that is not likely to change in the near or distant future. Yes, this, like all things, can be taken to excess- patriotism should be tempered by respect for the needs of all life. But in all this talk of balance between the forces of chaos, evolution and desire versus the forces of order, purity and self-sacrifice (a theme I do like), B5 seems to have trouble finding the balance between patriotism and intergalactic unity, with the balance tipping quite strongly in favor of unity. There are very few characters in B5 canon who represent what I believe to be the ideal middle ground.
Consider: The recognized heroes of the story all eventually give up their ties to home in favor of being intergalactic citizens. Sheridan leaves Earth to live on Minbar as president of the Interstellar Alliance. Delenn, in a sense, leaves Minbar in the act of marrying a Human. G’Kar, in the arc that makes me squirm the most on these lines, is prodded to accept the deaths of millions of his own people because “some of us must be sacrificed if all are to be saved.” In the meantime, the recognized villains are all hard-line homeworld-first patriots, such as Bester, Clark, and all of their assorted cronies. And though they are not strictly portrayed villains, the members of the LoNAW who insist on taking responsibility for their own people first are portrayed as short-sighted and, as I said above, extraordinarily fickle.
I suppose, in part, that’s why I’m so fascinated with Vir: Throughout canon (and I’m including the novels in this analysis), Vir lives in that messy grey area between patriotism and cosmopolitanism, between loyalty to home and loyalty to the greater good. Yes- in many ways, Vir is a subversive by Centauri standards. *g* But he never, ever abandons his people nor cheers on their enemies- he guards them and cares for them even as he seeks to change them.
Put another way, Vir’s relationship with Londo is a microcosm of Vir’s relationship with his world. He loves the Centauri in the same way he loves his friend. It’s a frustrated, complicated, sometimes painful love, but it’s a love that’s real and true. And when it comes time to act in his people’s benefit, Vir does so, even if it means going against his deeply rooted gentleness and pacifism.
Even if it means living afterwards with the burden of his own guilt.
I see quite clearly why Vir jumped up in JMS’s mind during the writing of The Long Night and quietly insisted that he be the one to assassinate Cartagia. And I thank the Great Maker that he spoke up, because it resulted, in my opinion, in one of B5’s most surprising and touching stories.
Which leads me, natch, to some Vir/Stephen Furst related fangirling. Furst’s appearances in The Hour of the Wolf, The Summoning, Into the Fire and especially The Long Night truly represent some of his finest work. He was, of course, helped in part by the writing, which provided the opportunity for him to run the full spectrum of emotion and ended the argument once and for all on the question of Vir’s seriousness as a character (Though of course, I believed he was a serious character by early season two. *g*). But it is the actor’s job to physicalize the script- and on this, Furst deserves high praise. His reaction takes were a true joy. He most definitely held is own despite competing for attention with the as ever brilliant duet of Peter Jurasik and Andreas Katsulas and the marvelous Krimmer, who positively nailed the Centauri answer to Caligula.
I read an interview once in which Krimmer said that after he read the entire storyline planned for his character, he realized he had to play the character really, really evil- so evil that even Vir would be willing to be an accessory to his death (though, as we see, Vir was certainly not ready to be the executioner). On this, Krimmer certainly succeeded.
I love Emperor Cartagia as a character- he is the perfect blend of frivolity and evil, chatting about the latest fashion that’s “all the rage in the royal court” one moment and lopping off someone’s head the next. His lines showcase this quite magnificently:
“I assigned to him one of our best pain technicians. Pain technicians- they used to be called torturers, but ever since they got organized it’s pain technicians.”
”You remember Minister Dugari. He was always coughing- most distressing, but we finally cured it.”
And Cartagia is in love with Londo (until the very end, at least), which surely makes Londo’s blood run cold.
Not that he shows it. In fact, when Cartagia casually suggests the possibility of Londo being killed for keeping him waiting in Whatever Happened to Mr. Garibaldi?, Londo doesn’t even blink. By all appearances, Londo is the coolest cucumber this side of the galactic core.
And on that, I would now like to take this opportunity to state, for the record, that to this very day I sit in absolute amazement when I watch Londo deal with Cartagia. We begin to see that Londo could’ve been one of the galaxy’s greatest diplomats, telling others what they want to hear but never compromising his own position. For example, I’ve always been struck by the way Londo says yes without actually saying yes in the first meeting in The Hour of the Wolf:
“I suppose there are some who might object, but they remain silent because the emperor is always right. Is he not, Mollari?”
“That is our tradition.”
That is our tradition.
Londo has skills- and these are not limited to coolness under fire and finely tuned manipulation of others. He also could’ve been one of the galaxy’s greatest leaders. He knows how to garner loyalty through means other than coercion (though, granted, he is certainly not adverse to using coercion and bribery when the more benign method of persuasion fails- he is Centauri afterall *g*) and he gets things done (for good or ill). Residents of Selini were willing to sacrifice their lives for him. Think about how much loyalty that requires.
Londo shows himself to be the master of the game before Cartagia. However, his practiced façade is not flawless. And fascinatingly, one thing- or rather, person- that disrupts the pretense consistently is G’Kar.
G’Kar’s “presentation” in Whatever Happened to Mr. Garibaldi is another iconic moment in a long line of iconic moments between Londo and G’Kar. Jurasik’s reaction take is so magnificent here that even soulonds9, who is not a Narn/Centauri fanatic, was prompted to exclaim, “Good acting!” Londo can only stand there in horror, his hand on his chest, as a beaten and chained G’Kar asks (and I think he was asking Londo here rather than Cartagia), “Do you, by any chance, know where Mr. Garibaldi might be?”
What follows this is an equally stellar scene in G’Kar’s cell that mysteriously drives me almost to tears (as many of their scenes do). I love everything about this scene. I even love how it begins, with Londo attempting to deliver his salutation and having to take a deep breath to regain his composure, gather his wits about him, and start over: “Hello, G’Kar.” (Interestingly, the also magnificent scene between Londo and G’Kar in No Surrender, No Retreat also starts with the line, “Hello, G’Kar.” A deliberate parallel?) And then we see him harden himself before saying, “You were foolish to leave Babylon 5, you know.” It’s a veeery subtle change in Londo’s expression, but it’s there and it’s reason # 1,465,366 to worship Peter Jurasik. And oh, Great Maker, then Londo goes on to describe what will happen to G’Kar under Cartagia’s command and the speech is delivered with such profound grief- yes, grief is the only word I can think of to describe it- that my eyes get misty right there. Londo can’t bear the thought of G’Kar suffering and dying with such indignity, no matter their long-standing animosity.
“…and eventually, as they make a mountain of your parts and pieces, you will die.”
“And does this please you?”
“No. No, it doesn’t. Once, long ago… no, not even then. You have never been a friend to me, G’Kar. But what he would do to you, I would not wish on anyone.”
Then, of course, we move on to plot-related purpose of the scene- Londo seeks G’Kar’s cooperation in dispatching Emperor Cartagia. As ever astute, G’Kar picks up on Londo’s vulnerability and demands a favor in return.
“Leave Narn. Set my world free. Promise me this and I will do as you ask.”
Londo makes that promise (and ultimately keeps it, thus beginning his slow climb back into the light).
And oh, there’s more! Scene after scene after scene involving Londo and G’Kar in this set are played with such intimacy and intensity that they continue to knock my socks off on repeat viewings.
While we’re on the subject of knocking one’s socks off: Following Garibaldi is The Summoning, the second of two episodes (the first being Dust to Dust) that succeeded in disturbing me to the very core of my being. While the scenes in Garibaldi featured the Londo-G’Kar dynamic at its best, The Summoning brings in Londo-Vir and, though it’s brought in by Vir’s reactions only and does not attract a great deal of attention (unless you’re me *g*), the great, unexplored dynamic between Vir and G’Kar.
It’s interesting in this episode to watch the contrasting reactions of the two Centauri. While Londo takes care to remain as composed as possible (though that breaks down- more on that in a minute), Vir is endearingly guileless. He bursts with moral indignation at the humiliation of G’Kar, flutters with anxiety at being involved in an assassination scheme, is openly horrified by Cartagia’s re-telling of his attempts to get G’Kar to scream, and gapes like a fish when Cartagia absently hands the bloody washing bowl to him.
It is appropriate that seeing G’Kar’s blood on Cartagia’s hands is what makes the emperor’s evil truly real to Vir, who thinks less in terms of politics and alliances and more in terms of people and their suffering. (This mode of thought also helps explain his attachment to Londo despite disagreeing with his politics- he sees the person first.) And poor Vir sees a great deal more suffering than he ever wanted to see in The Summoning as a witness to G’Kar’s lashing.
The lashing: 39 strokes, uncut, no interruption. We see them all. It’s all Vir can do to stop himself from throwing up and, at one point, even Londo is forced to avert his eyes. As the count comes ever closer to the fatal 40, Londo silently pleads with G’Kar to scream…
*whimper* *shudder* *omfg* *reduced to utter speechlessness*
It’s amazing Vir ever slept again.
Fortunately, there is an end to all of this, and it is glorious.
The Long Night: My favorite episode in this set of six for the obvious reasons, but also because the B5-side plot caught my attention as well. I was genuinely moved by the scene in which Sheridan essentially sends one of the Rangers to his death. On the whole, this episode had an excellent unity to it, with Vir and Sheridan being tied together by the bond of loss and hard choices.
I’ve taken to calling the climactic scene in The Long Night “G’Kar’s Passion” because of its blatant Biblical imagery- “the stuff of legend” indeed, though not the sort of legend Cartagia had in mind. It is, as selenak once said, an “awesome” moment when G’Kar, battered and less one eye, at last breaks his chains and fights back.
But the truly brilliant surprise of the episode occurs when, as was previously mentioned, Vir strikes the blow that kills Cartagia. And the look on his face in the foreground as we fade to black- one of absolute and utter shock- is probably Stephen Furst’s best reaction take ever.
This is when it all crashes down for Vir- this is when it suddenly hits home that he has traveled a path he had no intention of traveling. It’s not simply that he has just murdered someone for the first time. What he says through his tears and intoxication speaks to something much broader and less specific. The last time we saw Vir trying to drown his sorrow with alcohol (second season), he lamented that “I don’t even know what I wish.” Here, with crushing clarity, he suddenly does know- he wants a simple, humble, unassuming life. But now, with all that has happened, that avenue is permanently closed. Just as Londo has taken yet one more step on his path to a throne he’s no longer sure he really wants (as evidenced by his great reluctance to take on the post of Prime Minister) and G’Kar has taken one more step on his path to prophet-hood even while rejecting the offer of political power (that scene being an interesting parallel of Londo’s), Vir has now begun his own rise to power and prominence.
I’ve already commented at length on the scene between Londo and a drunk and tearful Vir, but I will say here again that it is simply beautiful, as is their major scene in Into the Fire and their moment in the tag thereafter. There is such a tenderness to Londo when he is with Vir in these episodes- the sincerity and kindness of his words to Vir in The Long Night brings tears to my eyes, as does Vir reaching out and embracing Londo at the end of Into the Fire. Theirplatonicloveissotouching. (Platonic, mind you. If anyone slashes them, I will personally hunt the offenders down with my kutari in hand.)
There’s more I could say about these episodes- Great Maker, a whole lot more- but I’ve been sitting at this computer for hours. *g* (Seriously- I’m a slow writer.) I think you all can see now why I consider these six episodes to be my favorite set (alongside the Fall of Centauri Prime arc).