Babylon 5 In Depth – The Sad Tale of Londo Mollari
Now to start going deeper.
It is clear which actors truly loved what they were doing in this series, and while the series also has some golden examples of terrible acting it also features some of the best performances in science fiction history. I’d like to start with Peter Jurasik in the role of Centauri Ambassador Londo Mollari. There will be spoilers in abundance from this point onwards…
Mollari begins our story as someone forgotten by his government, given a position deemed to be of negligible importance, representing the Centauri Republic in the Earth Alliance diplomatic and trade station just about to open it’s doors. Given the fate of the previous Babylon stations it was practically a death sentence for any sent to take the job, so Mollari is found to be living his life to the decadent extremes that his people are accustomed to, cramming his life with as much joy as he can before he’s either killed or dragged home.
All of that changes when Londo meets a man by the name of Morden, who asks each of the major ambassadors one simple question, “What do you want?”. As we go through each of these character studies you’ll see that everyone who answers that question gets what they ask for in one way or another. As it transpires the Shadows are quite reliable when delivering on their promises:
“You really want to know what I want? You really want to know the truth, yes? I want my people to reclaim their rightful place in the galaxy. I want to see the Centauri stretch forth their hand again, and command the stars. I want a rebirth of glory, a renaissance of power. I want to stop running through my life like a man late for an appointment…afraid to look back, or to look forward. I want us to be what we used to be! I want…I want it all back the way that it was!”
Now, it would be incredibly easy to point to Mollari and call him a perfect Faust analogue. He makes a deal with very literal devil and gets exactly what he asks for, even as he eventually comes to realise that he doesn’t actually want it. However, there’s a quote in the first season (the episode unapologetically named Signs and Portents) that brought another major literary figure to mind:
“Take the famine as a blessing, Ambassador [G’Kar], a weeding out of the excess population!”
And I started drawing parallels between the hedonistic, wasteful and languorous Mollari and the buttoned-down, excessively reserved and frugal Ebineezer Scrooge. Two characters who bring pain and hardship upon those around them, haunted by past, present, and future, tormented by visions and eventually to find a kind of redemption through forgiveness, and innocence.
Easy enough, we’re all haunted by our past are we not? In Londo’s case his past positively hounds him, as he loses slivers of himself constantly. The one woman he truly loves takes a lifetime of work from him. His oldest friend visits and orchestrates a situation in which Londo will either help him or kill him, meaning Mollari ends up with his oldest friend dying by his own hand. Molarri is constantly visited by the mistakes he has made in the past, and all the time he has diplomatic ataché Vir Cotto acting as conscience and moral compass, the younger centauri who Londo himself describes as reminding him of a younger version of himself.
Mollari spends a great deal of time fighting to defend Vir’s innocence, an effort to vicariously save himself. He sends Vir away to the minbari homeworld for a lot of the worst of the war with Narn, keeps him out of the loop in many of his plots and ploys, and at his very darkest using Vir’s innocence to his advantage, an act that destroys them both.
Perhaps the best example of the present torments may very well be the twelve episode of season two, “All Alone in the Night” in which we see Londo desperately trying to reclaim the joys of his life before the trappings of power consumed him. As respect brings supplication and pleas from his people, he hurls himself into the depths of debauchery, desperately seeking the love of others, a friend. We have already seen him bond with security chief Garibaldi when he was at the heights of his cheer, and so cleaves again to him at his lowest. The entire episode is a study in sadness.
Only a year later we see the culmination of Mollari’s transformation, the angry tyrant, the rising star, the lost soul. His friends orbit him at a distance, hoping against hope for his redemption, while those who seek to use and manipulate him stay closer to him than his shadow…
The Centauri race has been gifted with a preternatural ability to see the future, more common amongst their female telepaths, but somewhat present amongst the general populous as well. Londo is told at a very young age that he will be killed by “shadows” by an aunt gifted with the sight, but he has foreseen his death for a long time at the hands of a Narn with one eye, their hands wrapped around each other’s throat, a Narn he did not recognise until he saw Ambassador G’Kar.
Mollari is forced to live in the shadow of a man he knows will ultimately kill him, a man who despises him so deeply that he resorts to experimental drugs that give him psychic powers and embeds a sliver of his personality into Mollari’s subconscious (maybe, seems plausible). As time goes by he sees the events unravel that will ultimately lead him to his fate, his own path to emperor and the loss of G’Kar’s eye.
So, to deepen the Scrooge analogy:
In addition to occupying the space of the ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, G’Kar also fulfils the role of Bob Cratchit, a man hard-done-by Scrooge, ultimately given the greatest of gifts. Londo oversees the enslavement the entire Narn people, but eventually delivers their freedom.
I think that Vir Cotto may be the closest equivalent of the loving nephew, a caring figure who never stops believing that there is good in the old man yet. Delenn and Sheridan constantly hound Londo to come to his senses and do the right thing, perhaps the supplicants for charity who come begging Scrooge for a donation.
The Faustian bargain is undeniable, but as more and more tragedy befalls Londo Mollari he strikes me as increasingly Dickensian in his scope. I cannot begin to cover the depths of the despair the Londo reaches, witnessing the greatest crime of his people using apocalyptic weapons upon their enemies, the loss of his only love, the loss of himself slice by slice.
This article has already exceeded the length I was aiming for, and there is still so much to discuss. Fortunately you cannot tell the Sad Tale of Londo Mollari in full, without describing his counterpart, G’Kar.