At the Melrose Ave. piercing-supply-slash-head-shop where they sell Om and Yin Yang and dragon’s head pendants in pewter for eight bucks, I picked me up an amulet of dubious imagined origin — some sort of fake spiritual symbol, I assume — which purported to represent The Summoning of Power!
So anyway, I now have the ability to summon power, on a cheap silver chain around my neck. Mostly I bought it because I like saying it aloud in a booming voice while my sister got fitted for a new earring for her tragus pierce (and it all comes ’round again,Punk), but, you know. Fear me! I can summon power now. I’ll admit, I’m afraid to use it.
But here I go, summoning power that this Macintosh will not foil me while I get out all this business about Londo Mollari.
I’ve been thinking about Londo for weeks now. The DVDs came so I’m rewatching B5 seasons 3 and 4, and the A stories are so familiar to me I find myself scanning past them, emotionally, looking for things hiding in the fabric I hadn’t seen before. And while I’ve always loved Londo — as far as individual alien-centric eps go, you know, the requisite seasonal Ep About Narns or Ep About Minbari, the Centauri ones were always my favorite — this time I took notes because there’s something about him I’ve never been able to put into words. Not sure if I can now either, beyond the fact that he’s tragic, heartbreaking, more complex, I think, than any other character in any of my fandoms. But I wanna try.
Normally when I obsess about a character I want to write him into a fic, but I find Londo un-fic-able and I wanted to figure out why. It’s not for lack of chemistry (Londo/G’Kar just *cries out* and Londo/Vir’s not a bad fallback position) or for an inability to find his voice; I swear, sometimes I talk to myself in that Franco-Russian accent of his.
But Londo, it turns out, is a victim of circumstance. Is most interesting when the world is thrust upon him, when each decision he makes is to cover for or try and repair all the decisions prior. When the results of his actions spiral out of control and he’s trapped — as he is for most of his life — by the world he’s built around myself.
Since JMS and Peter Jurasik did a damned good job of creating a world on Londo’s shoulders, there’s no room for me to do it and I wouldn’t want to. And excising him from that world — giving him an adventure, a romantic interlude or even some inextricable angry sex with G’Kar — takes away what it is I like the most about Londo to begin with. I don’t want to see him making new decisions, good or bad, separate from the fate he’s got in the series. And because he’s buried there so deep I can hardly imagine space in his brain to get him there anyway.
Londo’s the epitome of old-school, conservative, reactionary, a member of a regime that’s seen its best days. The Centauri Republic and its Emperor are old models of a dying paradigm and Londo’s stuck there like somebody’s dad, shaking his head and wondering what happened to the good old days.
G’Kar tells Londo his heart is empty, but I don’t agree. I think Londo has the heart of a boy who grew up in the shadows of the royal court in its heyday, with — probably in keeping with the timeless and prophetic nature of Centauri as a race — ancestral memories of honor, valor, order and respect. Everything Londo does he does for the Centauri, he does as a Centauri, as a member of this dying breed that even the other members of the royal court no longer aspire to be part of.
He’s given his title of Ambassador to Babylon 5 as a joke, almost. It’s a write-off assignment that no one else wanted, but for Londo it’s the first step toward the royal court, it’s a title, responsibility, the mantle of the Empire that he grew up honoring above all else. He’s hungry for power, reckless for it but not out of greed, exactly — more out of an understanding that That’s What Centauri Do.
His first fatal mistake — the one that would inform all the other fatal mistakes to come — is his grudging alliance with Mr. Morden. The one good thing in Londo’s life — the Lady Adira — has been taken from him by Lord Refa, and, enraged, Londo needs to show the Centarum that he’s better than Refa, needs to hurt Refa in the only way that makes sense, stripping him of respect and power.
Londo cuts his Faustian bargain with Morden and his relationship with the Shadows — the one that will, over the next twenty years, destroy him — begins.
Morden and the Shadows align with Londo for their own purposes, and intellectually he knows it, knows Vir’s right when Vir tells him not to take the deal. I think even then he sees his own fate (again with the Centauri and their prophetic dreams), but as far as Londo’s concerned he has no other choice. No other choice — with this decision, or any of the decisions to follow.
For Londo, the Shadows attack the Narn. Londo wants it to be over then but he knows it can’t be. Londo could have killed one Narn, gotten a medal for it and gone on with his life but that’s not the way of the Great Centauri — they live big, they do big, they conquer. It’s the way he was raised — the way things Are. So the Shadows destroy one Narn base and then another, and Londo watches it spin out of control, hoping against hope (and he doesn’t really hope, I think, he never really thought he’d get his life back after that) that it would end after just one more. But Morden’s ruthless and the Shadows have their own plans (“Why don’t you destroy the entire Narn homeworld, while you’re at it?”) and it’s too late.
Every decision Londo makes — every single personal, emotional, or professional decision for the duration of the series and the rest of his life — comes from trying to untangle what he’d done when he aligned with the Shadows and started the war against Narn.
And he doesn’t — he doesn’t feel evil. He doesn’t think he’s evil, just a victim of impulse and circumstance. He never wanted the Narns killed. Never wanted G’Kar to hate him and doesn’t quite understand why G’Kar does — why G’Kar can’t see that Londo had only the best intentions and only ever wanted to do right by his people, for the good of that dying Centauri republic.
But as G’Kar said, he shook Londo’s hand, and 24 hours later they were at war.
Still, I don’t think Londo ever considers G’Kar his enemy. He has the opportunity to kill G’Kar (“And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place”) and he has Lord Refa killed instead.
When the Centauri telepath comes to the station Londo asks her to tell him his fate — rather, to confirm that the fate he knows is spooling out for him is unavoidable. “You will be Emperor,” she tells him, and with that he knows he’s doomed.
He closes his eyes and everything about his life ahead of him is awful — he gets the vision of the Shadows landing on Centauri Prime (see: icon) long before he’s even heard of the creatures, gets the vision of himself as an aging Emperor infected by his Drahk keeper, gets the vision of dying at G’Kar’s hands. And even knowing his horrible, awful fate he does nothing to avoid it, because he does what he does for the Centauri, and he knows he’s doomed to suffer but god damn it he won’t let his people down.
You think about it — Sheridan does much the same thing and he’s cheered as a hero. Londo goes down unpitied and unmourned, having lived every single moment in service of an Empire that doesn’t really exist anymore.
Even when the crazed Cartagia was Emperor, making a mockery of the court and all it stands for, Londo still makes sure his dress jacket is clean and pressed before entering Cartagia’s throne room. Even when the crazed Cartagia sells out Centauri Prime to the Shadows and nearly gets the entire world destroyed, Londo stands on ceremony and respects the office. That respect, that tradition of service to the throne and the people, is all Londo has. Which is why if you try to tell him the Centauri regime is outmoded and dying he can’t hear you, he won’t hear you because without it he is absolutely nothing.
Kosh shows himself in the garden saving Sheridan, and to all the other races, the Vorlon appears as an angelic being of light, something straight out of their bibles and myths. Londo, with no mythology other than that of the Republic, doesn’t see anything.
Peter Jurasik is just a phenomenally brilliant actor, I think. Because here’s a character primarily defined by conquest, by getting in bed with the dark side and emerging heartless, but somehow Londo is more than just pathetic or piteous — he’s a hero, a nobleman, an old-school martyr. Beyond the hair and the makeup it’s all in that face — he’s gonna take a deep breath and go down for his people because that’s what’s been asked of him. And it hurts like hell but he might as well be waiting there at Gethsemane (Brother Thomas would agree). And while he might in a moment of weakness ask that this cup pass from him, he knows it can’t, and he doesn’t run, and to the moment where he dies at G’Kar’s hands he takes it like a man. Like a Centauri.
I fucking love this guy. I’ve got pages of notes here, all the little moments that make Londo what he is: he’s trapped in the elevator with G’Kar and he just doesn’t understand why G’Kar won’t help him try to escape, why G’Kar can’t see that in this, like in so much else, they’re in this together, they’re both whipping boys, they’re both doomed.
When he’s given his keeper and crowned Emperor, both to protect his people from the explosive devices the Drakh have planted all over Centauri Prime, he sends Sheridan and the others home rather than inviting them to his coronation. Not because he doesn’t wish beyond hope that he could shrug it all off and side with them, but because he doesn’t want them to be part of this, doesn’t want them entangled in what he has to do. He keeps both Vir and G’Kar at arm’s length for the same reason, and so he’s considered arrogant, hostile. And really, he’s just an instrument.
I wish I could write Londo, and maybe now that I’ve gotten all this out of my system I can. But I swear, in all my fannish pursuits (including a tendency to be drawn to the villains, Dukat, Scorpius, CSM, to try and see their stories, their points of view), I really don’t think there’s a character out there as complicated — while being somehow also incredibly simple in his priorities and his purpose — as Londo.
What a great fucking show.
How many Centauri does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
Just one. But in the great old days of the Republic, hundreds of servants would change thousands of bulbs at our slightest whim.
— Londo, “Convictions”