You know this is a big episode when it gets an opening monologue with “previously on Babylon 5….” The Fall of Centauri Prime is in many ways an ending. It’s pretty clear that we are cleaning up and ending the chapters. But The Fall of Centauri Prime does it very stylistically, as well as presenting a damned good story to boot!
For those of you, like me, who had hoped the last episode was ending with a mislead, we can all bow our heads in sorrow for the lost Centauri when the episode begins and we see Centauri has been decimated. After the Regent accepts his own death, Londo takes control and ends the war. But let’s look at the intricacies of this story more than recap the plot. When we first started the series, we are introduced to the Narn, a defeated people who are angry and broken and want revenge against their oppressors. They were “the villains”. Through this series, we’ve seen them get trampled again, only to rise and now, they help deliver the final blows to their one-time oppressors. The Centauri people are left broken, angry, and alone. What’s interesting about that is if we remember Midnight on the Firing Line, the very first episode (after the pilot), Kosh says “They are alone… they are a dying people.” Admittedly, when asked if he means the Narn or the Centauri, Kosh replies enigmatically as ever, “yes”, so perhaps there’s some room for interpretation, but I never forgot that line and hearing Londo announce it was an echo that resonated with me. Or perhaps not an echo, but a “shadow of a shadow”!
That brings up more clever allusions. Why was Lyta present at the end, when they are summing up? I think it’s a reminder because earlier in this episode, the Drakh said they needed a homeworld. (They had previously approached Delenn about the same thing back when they moved in slow motion!) Funny that the tools of the Shadows and the tools of the Vorlons should both want a place to call their own. (Lyta suggests one day, they will be able to occupy the Vorlon homeworld; she says one million years. Also of note: that’s when The Deconstruction of Falling Stars takes place, when humanity enters the Vorlon-like encounter suit when Earth is being destroyed!)
In the art of world building category, we see the events of season 4 still carry weight through the flashback with Morden saying that the Shadow’s allies would “…make sure Centauri Prime pays the price for what you’ve done!” What makes that so impressive is that we, the audience, saw the Drakh leaving Z’Ha’Dum, and most of us probably never suspected we’d ever find out what that was all about. Though it does leave a major question for me: what work are the Drakh engaged in?
There are too many great moments here to really dive into all of them so let’s try to highlight some of the best. When the palace is hit, Londo goes straight to G’Kar to check on him. He even comes back later for a bit more of that banter that we love. Then the goodbye speech between Londo and G’Kar is marvelous. “I had no power and all the choices I could ever want, and now I have all the power I could ever want and no choices at all!” I didn’t understand why Londo didn’t warn G’Kar of what was coming, but I think he felt it was safer for his people. That’s my best guess. G’Kar then manages to steal the scene again, telling Londo that while his people could never forgive Londo’s, “I could forgive you!” Notice Katsulas, even with red eyes and alien prosthetics, manages to look angelic when he says this. A weight has been lifted from his soul and he solidifies the friendship forged against all odds!!
The regent gives a great final performance conveying both madness and melancholy. His “I have been silly, I have been quiet when I should have spoken… but I am still Centauri!” is a wonderful tribute to a character who tried his best. I always liked that guy despite what he became. He also sends a chill through me every time I watch when he says “THEY…” and then looks at the creepy Drakh in the corner. (I guess I’d be mad too, if a giant daddy long legs crawled up me and took control… oh, who am I kidding, if it even crawled on me, forget the control bit…)
Delenn is rescued and I laughed heartily at the Star Wars scene. “I love you”, “I know!” Right after they are rescued, contrary to Lennier’s expectation, he nearly passes out. I think death might have been preferrable to him. But Delenn diffuses his anxiety beautifully. (I love how Delenn pulled a Kirk here too. She tells Lennier that if they found a million year old jump gate, she’d expect him to get it working in a timely fashion!) But I’m left wondering about the mission that prompted her to go back to Minbar to begin with. Is that forgotten? Maybe with the war over, Sheridan doesn’t see the need to push it but that better not have just been a plot device to send Delenn into harm’s way. Delenn is needed in the end to speculate about winning the war but losing something else. She knows a darkness surrounds Londo, like a shadow. As the bell tolls for Londo, we are shown scenes from the series and we revisit the journey of this man who was sometimes silly, sometimes quiet when he should have spoken… but always a Centauri. At least as much as the Regent was, with a giant spider on his neck. The final image of Londo sitting alone on a throne is quite sad and leaves us wondering about that shadow hanging over him. ML
The view from across the pond:
This episode feels very much like a season finale, but Babylon 5 has always been oddly structured like that. Before the episode even started the path the story would be taking was already pretty much set in stone, with the Alliance ships arriving to fire on Centauri Prime and win the war, but the significance of the episode was in the details.
The cause of the war finally becomes clear to Londo, but the interesting thing is how personal it is, illustrated by the flashback to Morden’s warnings of revenge. These are allies of the Shadows and they seem to want Londo to suffer for what he did:
“They say they do not want your life Mollari, at least not yet.”
We also find out that a keeper detaching itself results in the death of the host, and then Londo accepts his fate, in a fabulously scary moment with the spidery creature crawling across the floor and then latching onto him. In an interesting echo of the demands of Byron’s people, Drakh’s former servants of the Shadows want a “new home”, but their methods are far more sneaky.
“You are now what we need you to be. A beaten, resentful people who will have to rebel, who will have to rely on our good graces, who can be used and guided as we wish to guide you.”
For what felt like a huge finale episode, this also served as a magnificent character piece. G’Kar offered Londo his own personal forgiveness, in an incredibly powerful moment, and then departed at the end of the episode with no words, just a show of respect. Lennier confessed his love to Delenn, and then his look of shame afterwards was heartbreaking. The way Delenn lifted him out of his misery was a beautiful moment.
Most importantly, we had a continuation of a disappointing theme this season: Sheridan the idiot. Not content with starting a war that he could have avoided (see my previous articles for details about that) he now makes the same mistake as many a victory in war throughout history, and exacts revenge.
“If we pay the damages they want we won’t have enough money to rebuild.”
And you know what happens when a defeated people are punished like that? History shows us what happens. Hitler happens. Londo understands the threat that his angry people represent and does the only thing he can: isolationism. It’s a play for time, and can only end badly for the Centauri and the Alliance eventually, unless two things happen: Londo finds a way to defeat his masters, and Vir turns out to be a phenomenal diplomat… I wouldn’t rule it out.
I mentioned this feels like a finale, and yet there is so much that still needs to be done with only four episodes to go. A war with the Psi Corps has been teased for a long time. Lyta’s telepaths need their home world. Garibaldi’s alcoholism storyline needs a resolution. And Londo needs to get that spider off his shoulder. JMS has had plenty of episodes to deal with all the issues he set up, and yet it feels like time is running out. The issue of the Psi Corps alone feels like it could do with a season of its own. I’m not sure how he’s going to pull this off, but there better not be a bunch of hanging threads at the end. Come on JMS… finish what you started. RP