This is an episode about the relationships we choose and those that we choose to abandon. Not just for Londo, though he’s the most overt example; two other characters spend this episode deciding among relationships.
But let’s deal with Londo first, because his story is the trellis on which the other subplots grow.
We’ve always known that under his genial surface, Londo is a deeply lonely man. That’s why he falls for Adira in Born to the Purple. And he mentions in The War Prayer that he’s married to “Pestilence, Famine and Death” (an oddly human metaphor for a Centauri to use)1. Before this episode, he struck me as a somewhat less sexually continent version of Mr Bennett from Pride and Prejudice: unhappy in his marriage, unable to respect his partner(s), using sarcasm and general unkindness to cope.
But he turns out to be a much less pleasant person than Mr Bennett. When the Emperor grants him anything he wants for the thirtieth anniversary of his ascension, he asks for a divorce. Unable to rid himself of all three wives, he arranges the emotional equivalent of a cage match to choose which wife to keep. His wives like him much less than Mrs Bennett likes her husband, but they’re financially and socially dependent on him. They’re fighting for genuine stakes while he watches and chuckles: the fourth Horseman in the set. War.
Daggair (Pestilence) is the kind of woman that Mean Girls grow into if unchecked. She’s entirely selfish, and seems unconcerned about the means of any path to her ends. She’s game for a threesome with Mariel if complaisance will increase her chances in the contest. She’s willing to take credit for Mariel’s gift to Londo (before it turns out to be deadly), and she points out to Timov that Londo’s death would serve his wives better than his survival. She takes no blame for what she’s become, either.
I am what I was made. By my father, by Londo, by society.
Mariel (Death, aptly), is also a caricature, one that goes back to Mata Hari: innocent-seeming, beautiful, clever, and deadly2. She acts like beauty is her only asset, but she’s more than she seems. Her parting crack to G’Kar in his quarters, as she leaves the extremely compromising meeting with him (why is he in his dressing gown? Wait. Forget I asked.), reveals a lot more wit than she lets others see.
G’Kar: I warn you, Mariel, do not be overconfident. If I can figure it out, so can he. If I were married to Londo Mollari, I’d be concerned.
Mariel: G’Kar, if you were married to Londo, we’d all be concerned.
That quick intelligence makes me think that G’Kar is correct. She didn’t buy the artifact innocently; she either recognized it for what it was, or (more likely) knew that it would be on Babylon 5. (More on that later.)
Of the three wives, the writers clearly favor Timov (Famine, again apt: too little affection) from the start. She’s the only likable one, the only one with any independent principles and admirable motivations. She refuses to be anything other than ruthlessly honest with either her husband or her co-wives. Also, she gets even more good lines than Ivanova:
The secret of our marriage’s success, Londo, is our lack of communication. You have jeopardized that success, and I would know why.
Daggair: Oh, Timov, Timov, why do you always try to draw me into your little verbal fencing matches?
Timov: Because I don’t have a real sword handy.
Timov: Do you seriously expect me to become involved in your sexual Olympics?3
Londo: They’re merely expressing their feelings for me.
Timov: I can do that. (slaps Londo)
What Timov really has that neither of her co-wives do is a value for herself as a person, at least as great as her desire for her goals. There are things she disdains because indulging in them will damage her. In the end, she saves Londo’s life because it is beneath her dignity and her principles to do otherwise. And the way she does it shows that she also has some value for her relationship with Londo, however deeply buried:
Timov: It may interest you to know that Londo and I do have one thing in common: the same blood type
Franklin: Well, why didn’t you tell me this before?
Timov: I was deciding what to do about it.
Franklin: He’s dying.
Timov: We all die, doctor, sooner or later. As for Londo, after everything he’s done, I would take some small pleasure in letting him die. But whatever you may think of me doctor, I have some principles that even twenty years with Londo cannot erase. I do not like to win my battles this way. I find it vaguely…unsatsifying. So you may have your transfusion, Doctor, on one condition. He must never know I did this. I don’t think either of us could stand the awkwardness of false gratitude.
In the end, Londo chooses Timov because she is the only one of the three of them who is honest, however unpleasant. In the light of his ongoing entanglement with Morden, it’s hard not to see this as the flailing of a drowning man, grasping for anything solid as he goes down. I don’t recall what happens to Timov as the story progresses, but I don’t sense that she’s destined for a long or happy life. Not even her iron will is likely to stand long against the Shadows.
Talia, too, has to choose between relationships that have included emotional manipulation and abuse, forced her to compromise her principles many times, and still threaten to interfere with every attempt to make any kind of lasting connection with anyone outside of them.
Her choice is between PsiCorps (which, much like Daggair with Londo, will use her to its own ends without caring what it costs) or Matt Stoner (the Mariel of the comparison, adding sexual attraction to the toxic stew). In many ways, it’s a worse set of options than Londo is faced with: despite Garibaldi’s obvious affection for her, there is no Timov, no third way.
The bigger difference is that there isn’t really a second way, either. When PsiCorps intervenes to rescue Stoner from Babylon 5’s brig, it becomes clear that he’s never really left the organization. The escape he offers Talia is really just a way into the darker side of the Corps: Bureau 13, as was4.
The fact that Stoner is the vector for the statuette that Mariel uses to try to assassinate Londo invites a whole different level of speculation. Perhaps he brought it onto the station just to sell, without any further purpose in mind. But it seems like a staggering coincidence that two sets of sinister covert forces should be passing such a deadly item from hand to hand in entire mutual ignorance. It’s more likely that Mariel either commissioned Stoner to supply it or was sent it with orders to use it.
If she commissioned Stoner, then there’s still a chance that PsiCorps is not working with some faction of the Centauri political classes. But that doesn’t fit in with his secondary mission, to ensnare Talia by any means possible (reignited attraction, promise of escape, sheer mesmerism)5. If, on the other hand, they are involved in the attempted murder, that’s a much more interesting piece of information. It would mean that they are not under the control of, or even allied with, Morden’s employers.
In the end, Talia also makes the best decision she can, staying as close to truth and integrity as her circumstances allow.
Stoner: I can’t believe you’re throwing away your chance to leave PsiCorps.
Talia: I am what I am, Matt. I don’t want to carve out a piece of myself.
Stoner:I just wanted you to come with me. I didn’t want to pressure you. I wanted it to be different this time. I was certain that if I told you about the cure you’d want to come of your own free will.
Talia: I can’t walk away from who I am or what I am. If you take away my talents, I don’t know what would be left. You can understand that, can’t you?
It’s unclear whether she’s genuinely mesmerized by him at the end of that scene, or whether she’s acting. In either case, this is clearly her choice when her mind is clear and her will her own.
The third relationship choice in the episode serves to underline how profoundly dysfunctional and damaging all of the other ones are. It’s the point when Delenn chooses to ask a human, Ivanova, to help her with her transformation from Minbari to whatever hybrid she is becoming.
It’s one of the more memorable images in the episode: Delenn, hair ratted, wrestling with her brush and snarling. She’s so vulnerable to Ivanova at that moment that one can almost forget who she is: one of the most powerful members of a species that was, only a few years ago, in a fight to the death with humankind. She has declared war, and tortured men; she has commanded commanders and rejected the call of the Grey Council. Asking for help is a profound gesture on her part.
We don’t see what happens between the time Ivanova accepts the proffered hairbrush (and trust) and Lennier’s arrival. But somewhere in there, the two have become what neither Londo nor Talia have with any of the people they must choose among: friends. The warm glance Delenn shoots Ivanova as they discuss Londo’s ascension contains everything that’s missing in the other two plots.
But Delenn’s choice, however healthy and joyous, has a downside as well. She’s clearly been relying on Lennier to help her with the various difficulties of her transition. Now he’s an outsider, so baffled by the curlers that he almost forgets to bow as he leaves the room. I see a lot of what’s to come in his tentative gesture to the top of his bald head.
- Indeed, according to the Lurker’s Guide, that was very nearly this episode’s title.
- But in this case, it’s not a frame-up.
- Another Terran-culture reference. I find it jarring when the writers do this.
- That level of duplicity and manipulation exposes Daggair as a mere amateur. Or, perhaps, opens up a line of possibilities about her relationship with Mariel. But there’s no real evidence for that.
- Assuming he’s doing that particular piece of work on the clock. I suppose it’s also possible that he’s obsessed with her, and is trying to re-ensnare her using all means at his disposal, figuring that he’ll make it right with his employers later. Although it seems unlikely that he’d let his feelings get in the way of his potential advancement, if he did have feelings, they’d be just that kind of creepy ones.
The next writeup will discuss A Race Through Dark Places