October 3, 2015

Babylon 5: "The Very Long Night of Londo Mollari"

It's 28 January 1998, and time for more Babylon 5.

Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik) suffers a sudden heart attack. While Dr Franklin (Richard Biggs) works around the clock to keep him alive, Londo finds himself in a surreal dream where he is forced to face his greatest fear - and to decide whether to live or die.

One thing to which J. Michael Straczynski has constantly returned throughout Babylon 5 is the dream sequence. He can't get enough of them, with characters regularly experiencing visions, hallucinations, dreams and other strange, deliberately symbolic and weird scenes. I think here he goes for the most ambitious dream of all, putting almost the entirety of the episode inside Londo's head.

I am utterly sick of it. This lengthy dream sequence has precisely two positive things going for it, which is - rather predictably - Peter Jurasik and Andreas Katsulas as Londo and G'Kar. Everything beyond their performances is a tedious barrage of unbridled pomposity - all sound and fury with no real point, message or originality. If one was to create a parody of a lengthy Hollywood dream sequence, they could conceivably create this episode. It's an eye-rolling exercise in testing its audience's patience.

There are only so many prolonged conversations with dream representations of other characters that a viewer can take. The climax of the Shadow War descended into this kind of silliness. It seems to have been a general trend for SF television at the time, since well before Straczynski started playing with the format Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had made it the manner in which the mysterious Wormhole Aliens communicated with the series characters. To be honest the technique has never worked for me as a viewer, and rarely fails to irritate.

The core of the episode is, of course, Londo finally apologising to G'Kar for everything his actions put both G'Kar and the Narn through. It's a lovely moment when the waking Londo whispers it to G'Kar from across the operating theatre, but it's also a shame that a proper conversation between the two men couldn't have occurred when both were present and awake. There is some genuinely insightful dialogue here - particularly the dream G'Kar's insistence that standing by and not speaking against injustice is almost as bad as the injustice itself - but in every case it's dialogue that would have been better served by the actual characters having it out in a room.

A brief subplot sees Lennier (Bill Mumy) resign as Delenn's aide to become a ranger on Minbar. He's leaving because he loves Delenn (Mira Furlan) and she loves Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner). It's a pretty appalling development for the character, to be honest, that weakens what had previously been a firmly established sense of duty and resolve. The love triangle screams for Sheridan and Lennier to sit down and talk it through, but for whatever reason Straczynski chooses to let a heart-broken Lennier leave without a proper heartfelt exchange with either Sheridan or Delenn. He does get a beautiful farewell with Vir (Stephen Furst), which is probably the episode's best scene.

This is clearly a "bottle" show, using standing sets and the main cast to tell a story as inexpensively as possible. There are good ways and bad ways to make these kinds of episodes; sadly "The Very Long Night of Londo Mollari" does it the bad way. Two episodes into Season 5, and I'm still waiting for one that's good.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a bit of a B5 fan grrl, but even I haven't rewatched season 5.

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