Babylon 5 #92: The Very Long Night of Londo Mollari

"Prophecy is a guess that comes true. When it doesn't, it's a metaphor."
IN THIS ONE... Lennier leaves Delenn's side. Londo has a near-death experience.

REVIEW: You know, I've always given director Michael Vejar his due, but I've been remiss in doing the same for David J. Eagle. Looking back at the episodes he directed, the list includes some of the most important, dynamic and emotional chapters of the saga, and this one is no exception. He sells the urgency of Londo's situation with a handheld camera and does some pretty interesting things with the surreal scenes taking place inside the Centauri ambassador's mind. The best shot, for me, is when, in the real world, Vir enters a lift and the camera starts to tilt, the lighting to change, and suddenly Londo stumbles in. Great in-camera transition. There are strange points of view, Vir appearing to float above Londo before the camera rights itself and them, and (as shown above) Londo and his conscience G'Kar looking like a two-headed idol. Eagle really knows what to do with a darkened space. And it's not all technical staging and trickery, because the actors get to reach out and touch you emotionally as well. This is as close to a tear-jerker as Babylon 5 has ever gotten.

The framing of Londo's heart attack is enigmatic - does the folk tale about a good soul rejecting a corrupt body/life really explain what's happening, and if so, was the Centauri booze spoiling in quarantine a metaphor for it? - but his near-death experience is necessary. Londo is chummy with everyone by this point, but the audience must feel like he's paid for his crimes. Everyone seems to have forgiven him, G'Kar included, but he must forgive himself. Redemption - gotten by ousting the Shadows and the mad emperor - isn't the same as forgiveness, and what's been eating at Londo isn't so much his actions as his inaction. It's a passive and more subtle evil, that of the man who says nothing and lets evil happen. And this he must confront in a surreal mindscape redolent with meaning, whether he's talking to an enshrouded Sheridan who turns into a Vorlon, beating at a giant heart under the floor - Cronenberg as much as Poe - or taking G'Kar's place in previously aired torture scenes. Londo comes out of it changed, having accepted that he can be forgiven, and that he MUST ask forgiveness of others and admit responsibility, and that he therefore deserves to live, if not for himself, then at least for others. When G'Kar shows up in Medlab, one might wonder if he's there to see his old enemy die, or if he's genuinely worried. Whatever the case, the Narn finds Londo's waking apology unbearable. No doubt it's something he thought he'd never hear. These two are always great together, of course, but I found Jurasik's performance particularly moving this time.

The subplot is no less touching. Lennier leaves Babylon 5 to become a Ranger, something Delenn must find out from a third party. It's fitting that Lennier seeks to replace Marcus, because both are/were trapped in an unrequited love scenario. Marcus could always hold out hope though, but Lennier has no such luck. He chooses to run from  the situation, though he proclaims it's all still in service to Delenn. It's all very heartbreaking, and I completely empathize with his plight. You can see just how much her closeness hurts him. The goodbyes are awkward, but sincere, and Delenn can't reach out to him because her affection is at once what he wants most and dreads most. I'm very glad Lennier does get a goodbye scene with Vir. We never saw much of the relationship between the aides, but their scenes together have always been fun, and they really do have much in common (not forgetting Vir spent some time on Minbar). Here, we do get an affectionate goodbye, and it's quite sweet.

This episode's set-up, exploring a character's guilt in a mindscape that closely resembles the station, is closest to DS9's Things Past from two years earlier.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Moving performances and wild direction make this a strong early Season 5 episode.


LondonKdS said...

I find the further development of Londo's and G'Kar's relationship the only really interesting thing in S5, but for me it makes the season worthwhile.

I am very surprised that they got away with showing full-frontal (well, wraparound...) male Centauri nudity on screen during the scene with Londo in Medlab immediately after his heart attack. Although seeing those flaccid tentacles flopping around helps to convey his vulnerability.

Anonymous said...

Apologies for being totally off-topic, but on last night's "Gotham" (or, as Wonderella calls it, "How I Met Your Joker"), it sure was nice to see Pertwee fencing with the Master again. Sean Pertwee and Master Bruce, but still.

Ryan Lohner said...

The one silver lining to the highly problematic circumstances season 5 was created under was that JMS had decided early the previous year that there was no way to squeeze the end of Londo and G'Kar's story on top of everything else, and he would have to drop it completely. This meant it was still available to play out when he did get a fifth season, making it the only part of the original mytharc plan to survive all the real life-induced compromises completely unscathed. It's probably not a coincidence that it's also nigh-universally considered the best part of the show.

The other part of the episode involves Lennier's long-dormant love for Delenn, for which the idea was showing that Delenn was taking the absolute wrong approach. Her hope with this love she's clearly known about for a while is that it'll just burn itself out given enough time. But it's often unspoken love that burns hottest of all, and if Delenn had even once just tried to talk to Lennier about it, even to make clear it was never going to happen, things probably would have been a lot easier for him. Instead, he's now off on a spectacularly misguided quest to become the kind of man she would want. And there's only one way Lancelot's story can end...

Cradok said...

You know, I'd forgotten all about this beautiful episode. The shot of Londo walking through the Zocalo with the camera in his face was actually done with a steadicam mounted to Jurasik himself. He was delighted to have his name on the clapper as cameraman. I also love Vir's line about prophecy, given how tied into the plot prophecy often is.

And Lennier, oh Lennier. So like Marcus, joining the Rangers for all the wrong reasons.

The title is interesting too. Since the second season JMS had been trying to fit in an episode called 'The Very Long Night of Susan Ivanova', which would originally have been a second season episode and involved the start of the Narn/Centauri war among other things, before being put back several times, with presumably a different main plot involving Ivanova in some sort of 'day in the life' shenanigans. With no more Ivanova, JMS was free to recycle the title for an unrelated episode.

LiamKav said...

This episode gave me hope season 5 would continue the high standards of the last few years. Rewatching it, I find it interesting how little of the season status quo actually has an effect. You could air TVLOLM during the second half of season 4 and things would be pretty much the same.

I'm not sure how many times Jurasik needs to prove that he's the best thing about this show, but he does it again here. I have no idea why the man doesn't/didn't have more of a career. He deserved it.


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