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Babylon 5: The Fall of Centauri Prime (S5:E19) ~ On the End of Londo Mollari and the Symmetry of Mister Morden

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Well, after watching list latest Rumination, I'm sorry to say I was a bit disappointed--you only mentioned Morden once, Arche, and it was the wrong Morden to talk about!

Anyway, rather than simply commenting w/ my thoughts, I thought I'd make a thread here to try and get some discussion going. I'll start w/ some quick rebuttals, but the really interesting thing to talk about here will have to wait for the end--god knows I've been waiting since season 1 to talk about.

On the Drakh Keepers:
They're really not demonstrating any power that the Shadows haven't already demonstrated. Telepathic domination? Yup. Ability to cloak themselves from perception at-will? Yup. The Keepers aren't really out-of-character for the setting, either. Are they really any more horrific than "death of personality?" Or the ability to use a telepath to construct a secret, "sleeper" personality that can take over your mind without you even being aware of it (which happened to Talia *and* Garibaldi). This is a setting with some pretty horrific and dark stuff in it. And remember, Talia's case was permanent--the sleeper personality *overwrote* the original personality. And it was equally permanent for Brad Dourif's character (Brother Edward) in Passing Through Gethsemane.

And the Drakh keepers do have a weakness--they're not autonomous beings. Yes, the keepers grow back, but it's implied that they are symbiotic with individual Drakh. Meaning that if you kill the Keeper's symbiote, the Keeper likely dies as well. I suppose we can't properly talk about it yet, but given what happens to David later, there is strong reason to suppose that the Alliance eventually figures out how to save people from their Keepers.

On the Abandoning of Londo Mollari:
As for Sheridan and Delenn not realizing that Londo has a keeper... of course they realize it, if not now, then soon. Sheridan already knows, for  a fact, that Londo will become emperor and will die with a keeper around his neck. The only question in his mind is *when* those things will happen. Right now he is probably very suspicious, and those suspicious are likely to increase the longer Londo acts "out of character." But what's he going to do? The Drakh have effectively taken over Centauri Prime--which is one of the biggest powers in the galaxy, even now. He doesn't have much freedom to act. Imagine the president of the United States was infected with an alien brain-slug that forced him to commit a variety of increasingly crazy and dangerous actions. Imagine he's ready to, I don't know, start an atomic war because his alien-addled mind thinks it'll make people respect him more. Now imagine that the prime minister of the United Kingdom knows this. Do you think the U.K. would try to send a strike team into the White House to try and save (or otherwise incapacitate) the President? Or manage to attract any support from fellow EU members for such an endeavor? I doubt it--especially when you consider that they have no evidence.

Sheridan and Delenn have no choice but to abandon Londo to his fate. They know it, and he knows it. That's part of why Londo is acting so cold to them--he's specifically trying to drive them away as fast as possible, because the longer they are on Centauri Prime, the more danger they're in. He knows that if they could, the Drakh would put Keepers on Sheridan and Delenn, too. For them, there could be no sweeter revenge.

This is the great tragedy of Londo Mollari. Everyone knows the truth here, but is powerless to act on it. And Londo bears this suffering willingly, because--as with everything else he has done--he knows that it will be better for the Centauri people if he accepts the Drakh.

On the Symmetry of Mister Morden:
This is hands-down one of my favorite aspects of Babylon 5. Way, way back in season 1 we had a lovely episode called, "Signs and Portents." It established a *lot* of things that would be hugely important later, one of which we can only really talk about now.

The story of Signs and Portents is pretty simple: Mister Morden, who we later learn to be an emissary for the Shadows, goes around and visits each of the amabassadors statioted on Babylon 5, and asks them all a simple question: "What do you want?"

We later learn that this question is of enormous philosophical and thematic importance to the Shadows and Vorlons themselves, and is in fact the "key" to understanding what their war is all about. But for now, the question doesn't matter: the answers are.

Let's look at how each of the ambassador's answered Morden's question:

Londo Mollari: Do you want to know what I want? Do you really want to know the truth? 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 ranaissance of power! I want to stop running through my life like a man late for an appointment, afraid to look back or look forward. I want us to be what we used to be! I want... I want it all back the way it was."

And Delenn simply tells Morden to go away.

G'Kar: The Centauri stripped my world. I want justice. To suck the marrow from their bones. And grind their skulls to powder. To tear down their cities, blacken their sky, sow their ground with salt! To completely and utterly erase them!"

Later, in season 2's "In the Shadow of Z'ha'dum," Morden asks the same question of Vir.

Vir Cotto: I'd like to live just long enough to be there when they cut of your head and stick it on a pike as a warning to the next ten generations that some favors come with too high a price. I want to look up into your lifeless eyes and wave, like this. Can you and your associates arrange that for me, Mr. Morden?

And to cap everything off, let's take a look at Morden's final, post-mortem appearance in season 5's Day of the Dead. And he asks the same question of Lennier in this lovely exchange:

Lennier: I came for wisdom.
Morden: You don't come to the dead for wisdom, Lennier. My head was cut from my body. Even now it rots on a pole outside the imperial palace. Birds have taken the hair for their nests. Maggots ate my flesh. And you want wisdom?
Lennier: Yes, I do.
Morden: Wisdom, let's see... huh. Delenn does not love you as you love her. And she never will.
Lennier: I know that.
Morden: No, you don't. Not in your heart. That's the problem, you see.
Morden: No one should ever want to talk to the dead.
Lennier: Go away.
Morden: Ooh, sorry, doesn't work like that. You raised a ghost, now you have to listen to what he tells you.
Lennier: Really.

Lennier then walks away from Morden, intent on ignoring him, ending the scene. But Morden's not done yet! In a later scene, he gives Lennier a bit more of the wisdom he wanted:

Morden: So, do you like being a ranger, Lennier? Would you like it any better if I were to tell you that you will betray the Anla'Shok?
Lennier: You are lying.
Morden: I wish I were.

So the symmetry here is pretty obvious: everyone Morden asked, "What do you want?" to... got exactly what they wanted. Londo saw the Centauri Republic reclaim its place as a galactic power, he saw his career reinvigorated--making him one of the most important people on the station, in the Centauri republic, and in the galaxy. Delenn got some peace and quiet. Vir got to wave happily at Morden's severed head (which as we learned in Day of the Dead was, in fact, left up there in perpetuity as an example) and more recently we saw G'kar get exactly what he wanted: the Centauri brought low, laid to ruin. Even Lennier got what he wanted--wisdom in the form of truth and prophecy, neither of which he much enjoyed.

Babylon 5 is generally perceived as a heroic epic, but really, it's more of a tragic epic. Sheridan may survive Z'ha'dum, but he still dies. His death is only postponed. Every single character got exactly what they wanted, but when the time came, it was no longer something they wanted. Even Vir, who arguably gets the best "outcome" for his "wish," suffers greatly for it. To reach the point where he can wave happily at Morden's head, he first has to sacrifice his innocence by murdering the emperor Cartagia.

In the grand finale of the Shadow War, season 4's "Into the Night," we hear the Shadows speak for the very first (and last) time. And they speak with the voice of a child. Innocent. Naive. The shadows, and the Vorlons both, were as immature children, with all the younger children caught up in their games. The great tragedy of the Shadow War is that the Shadows and Vorlons both were ultimately benevolent--they were doing what they thought was best for everyone. As far as epic tragedies go, none do it better than Babylon 5.

As Morden himself said:

Morden: I did a lot of things, yes. Looking back on it, though, I think I just tried to make people happy.

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