Storge, Philia, Agape:
The Love Between Londo and Vir
The friendship between Londo and Vir has gone through the crucible, and yet it remains the oldest (Vir has been at Londo's side since they fired the starter pistol), one of the strongest, and the most enduring of Babylon 5's friendships, thanks in large part to Vir's innate compassion. I have always been touched by the unconditional faith and love Vir holds for Londo- he remains convinced of Londo's fundamental goodness even when the others have given up.
To Be Trusted and Included
There is far less material we can use in the first season to capture a sense of the relationship between Londo and Vir in its earliest stages, but what *is* there suggests a relationship similar to that between a father and his son. Londo is at times irritated by Vir’s over-eagerness and at other times gratified by it. Londo scolds Vir one moment and squeezes his face or pats his shoulder the next. Vir for his part is sometimes frightened of Londo and his expansive temper, but is still unflinchingly obedient.
I believe it is “The War Prayer” that gives us the clearest snapshot of the relationship between Londo and Vir at this stage. Londo is every bit the stern though curiously affectionate father figure in this episode, explaining to Vir (and to Vir’s cousins) with as much patience as his naturally combustible temperament allows what Centauri tradition demands. From this and from his praise of Vir’s studies at the end of the episode, it is reasonable to conclude that Londo has, either on his own or at the behest of Vir’s guardians, taken upon himself the responsibility of seeing to Vir’s social and political education.
What I find particularly interesting in “The War Prayer” is the fact that while Londo asserts himself as Vir’s definite superior, delegating everything from scheduling to menial household tasks to the young Centauri (Who else among the diplomatic aides help their bosses get dressed? Part of me wonders whether Vir is responsible for drawing Londo’s bath as well. Assuming, of course, that diplomats are allowed to use water on B5. *g*) , he does in fact *allow Vir to make his objections* regarding the traditional Centauri view of marriage without seriously scolding him for insubordination. And Vir, though for the most part respectful and deferential, *appears to feel comfortable making those objections*. Even here, there was a degree of openness in the relationship that no doubt was highly unusual among the Centauri political class, especially between officials and their subordinates.
Here, I think, we see one source of Vir’s later loyalty. As we learn in later seasons, Vir was a subject of ridicule in his family who was exiled to B5 simply to get him out of the way. There is a *very* strong implication that Vir grew up intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually neglected by others.
“Everywhere I go, I don’t fit in, or I’m asked to leave.”
“What you wish. What they wish. I don’t even know what I wish. Back home, I’m swallowed by silence, and here I’m swallowed up by secrets. I’m caught between fire and flood, and if there’s a way out, I sure don’t see it.”
-Vir to Londo, “There All the Honor Lies”
“Swallowed by silence.” Before Vir came to Babylon 5 and before Vir met Londo, no one gave a damn what fat little Vir Cotto thought. He was a fool, a joke, something to be pushed aside. He was probably shuttled from one job to the next completely dependent upon the whims of his superiors.
Londo, however, is different, likely because *Londo himself* is an outcast. For all of Londo’s scolding and mistreatment of Vir- and for all of Londo’s attempts to maintain the traditional power balance- he allows Vir into his private orbit.
The scene in the garden in “The War Prayer” is remarkable because it is so intimate- for one moment, Vir sees beyond Londo’s blustery façade to the sadness beneath. Londo really can’t help himself. As often and as forcefully as he declares that he is fine being alone, at base he *craves* emotional intimacy and is constantly seeking the companionship of others.
Imagine how the previously ignored Vir must feel to be entrusted with something so deeply personal… because in a sense, Vir has his own emotional gap to fill. In the final book of the Legions of Fire trilogy, a much older Vir identifies it as a need to be needed.
Throughout the series, Vir is most gratified when he is told that he is indispensable. Even as early as “Born to the Purple,” when Vir was at his youngest and most child-like, we see how being entrusted by Londo with an important negotiation makes his face light up like a Christmas tree. Though Londo is certainly unaware of it at the time, that small display of trust is probably one of the first moments of positive attention Vir has ever received from an elder. Even Londo’s injunction not to “give away the home world” doesn’t distract Vir from that feeling of genuine pride.
In addition: When I watch Londo in the first season, I see many possibilities… any number of might-have-beens. The anger, the depression, and the bitterness are all there, but so too are a core of nobility and romanticism, a natural sensuality, and a heart formed for friendship. *Everyone*, aside from the important exception of G’Kar, is a “good, dear friend” in Londo’s universe. He is un-self-conscious in a crowd, unafraid to laugh out loud or look foolish. Garibaldi’s line in “The Fall of Night” describing the early Londo as “our pain in the butt” encapsulates the exasperated affection Londo inspires in others.
It is entirely fathomable that Vir also gets swept up by this same affection. With Londo’s tendency to rope in whomever happens to be there, the celebration in “Parliament of Dreams” is probably not the only social gathering to which Londo drags Vir. Londo is often genuinely likable and fun, and the sense of inclusion he provides for the shy and awkward Vir must be like rain in a desert.
Because Vir is a minor character in the series, especially in year one, it takes a lot of guesswork and retroactive insight to explain the origins of Vir’s attachment to Londo. The best explanation I believe is the one I’ve attempted above: Londo is the first elder to take an even remotely positive interest in Vir’s growth, he is the first to trust Vir with anything important, and he is the first to truly include Vir in the fun of general society. In essence, it is Vir’s emotional starvation and Londo’s irrepressible personal warmth that set the stage.
But the thing that makes the relationship between Londo and Vir truly noteworthy- the one great irony of the relationship- is the fact that the relationship grows *deeper and stronger* through events that may have shattered it.
In one sense, Londo and Vir begin as kindred spirits- both are outcasts, both are ridiculed. But in another very important sense, they are very different, for while Londo reacts to his status with deep resentment and shame, Vir simply never imagines that he could be anything else. And in assuming nothing, Vir is given a very crucial advantage. He is able to “walk through the corridors of power and not be touched” because the others believe he is a harmless fool and even more importantly because *he himself* believes he is nothing special. Inoculated from the negative influences in the royal court, Vir has been allowed to develop an unusually strong sense of right and wrong and, amazingly, given the probable neglect in his background, an equally unusual well of compassion. Though appearing naïve on the surface, Vir has emerged from a lifetime of abuse with a wisdom that exceeds his years.
All of this starts to become apparent at the start of the second season with “The Geometry of Shadows,” though one has to pay careful attention to see some of it, as Vir is still very much a quiet background character at this point.
As the episode opens, we are introduced to Lord Refa, a scheming and ambitious Centauri noble who has come to seek an alliance with Londo and with the mysterious force Londo now holds in his hands. Vir is allowed to remain in the room as the agreement is finally made, a darker manifestation of Londo’s trust. Watching this scene with the intent of focusing on Vir’s reaction is quite interesting, for while Vir has no lines during the encounter, he is clearly discomforted by Refa.
"Vir, do you believe in fate?"
"Well, actually, I believe there are currents in the Universe. Eddies and tides that pull us one way or the other. Some we have to fight, some we have to embrace. Unfortunately, the currents that we have to fight look exactly like the currents we have to embrace. The currents that we think are the ones that are gonna make us stronger, they are the ones that are going to destroy us. And the ones that we think are going to destroy us, they are the ones that are going to make us stronger. Now, the other current--"
"Vir! Yes or no?"
-Londo and Vir, “The Geometry of Shadows”
In this context, one can understand the above exchange as a subtle attempt by Vir to warn Londo of what Vir instinctively knows- that Refa’s faction is bad news. And these gentle nudges continue throughout the episode as Vir first counsels Londo to simply leave the Technomages alone and then counsels Londo to apologize for his presumption. In this way, Vir takes the stage as Londo’s conscience.
Just as it is a turning point for the relationship between Londo and G’Kar, “The Coming of Shadows” is a turning point for the relationship between Londo and Vir. In the intervening time, Vir’s suspicion of Refa has only intensified, this time to such a degree that Londo himself registers and acknowledges it. In a moment that we ultimately see is typical of their interaction, Londo asks Vir if Refa’s machinations make him uncomfortable. Vir’s response is an emphatic “Yes!” Londo nods and says that is one thing they have in common. As I suggested before, the openness that Londo displays here and elsewhere is surely against the current of his own society- it is remarkable that he is willing to express doubt before a subordinate in this manner. *This* is the very thing that Vir latches on to in the years ahead. *This* is the very thing that drives Vir’s panicked response when Londo makes his first conscious decision to use the Shadows against the Narn. Able to see what lies ahead and desperate to reach the part of Londo that doubts, Vir’s voice takes on a frightened and pleading edge we’ve never heard him use previous to this point:
“Londo, don’t do this!”
“I have no choice!”
“Yes, you do! Londo, please, please, please. I know you don’t listen to me, but I’m asking you just this one time, don’t do this! There’s no turning back once you start down that road!”
-Vir and Londo, “The Coming of Shadows”
As Londo plunges into the darkness, Vir’s principle dilemma takes shape. Even though every fiber of his being is screaming that things are going very wrong, Vir finds he is unable to simply cut his losses and leave Londo behind, even when the perfect opportunity presents itself. What Londo has already given him so far is too much to give up.
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. And though Vir is touched when Londo sincerely attempts to “fix it,” the conflicted feelings remain for years to come.
The events in “Knives” I’m sure only intensify Vir’s troubles. With the opening scene, we are reminded that Vir’s life with Londo is punctuated by many genuinely *good* moments. In a life filled with darkness and secrets and war, Vir can still sing arias with Londo and know what it feels like to have your arms around a friend and his around yours. Vir also sees Londo go to the mat for a friend, sees Londo in tears holding that same friend, now dead, in his arms, and sees the ghosts, the tragedy in Londo’s eyes in the aftermath. He sees the might-have-beens. He sees hope, and he seizes upon that hope in scene that is almost too painful to stand:
“Perhaps some good can come from this tragedy. It’s not too late to make some new choices.”
“No. The blood is already on my hands. Right or wrong… I must follow the path… to its end.”
-Vir and Londo, “Knives”