As I look back over some of the books I have read, films and TV I have seen, I find that the characters who stick most in my mind are those who undergo the most profound change – and not necessarily for the better. I realise then that as much as I like to switch off when it comes to absorbing creative work of others, I can really appreciate a work more if I watch and appreciate the character as he/she reacts to what is going on around them.
This is no better demonstrated than in my favourite TV series of all time, Babylon 5. Few of the characters remain the person they were at the time of their introduction (that’s if they survive Joseph Michael Straczynski’s sometimes ruthless and necessary regular culling). There are two characters in particular.
I have discussed him before when I wrote a post about some of my favourite witty one-liners from the character. At the start, Mollari is the hard-living, heavy-drinking, gambling buffoon who doesn’t take his job as Centauri Ambassador seriously. His people have a dark past, they once conquered the Narn and the two races have been at loggerheads ever since. He thinks his government values him and the role but he only got the job because nobody else wants it.
During the course of season 2, annoyed once more at talks breaking down and seemingly his government capitulating to every Narn demand, he is approached by the insidious Mister Morden (a human) who is working for an ancient race known as the Shadows. This sets Londo on a dark path in which he will become a tyrant, the agent of another holocaust against the Narn. Yet by betraying his Shadow allies (and saving his people) he becomes a tragic hero, a haunted man and finally an enslaved Emperor. His Falstaffian rise and fall is as at once tragic as it is expected. Despite everything he has done, you root for him. You want Mollari to overcome the demons he has brought on himself. This sharp-witted buffoon has the darkest ending and his fall from grace is arguably the most emotional rollercoaster of the five year run.
Londo Mollari’s counterpart in practically every way is the Narn Ambassador played so brilliantly by the late Andreas Katsulas. When we first meet him, he is brash, angry, untrustworthy, sometimes unreasonable and generally unwilling to listen to people. Yet you get the sense that if he could at least shed his anger, he might be a pretty decent person to be around. He is driven by his anger at the injustices the Centauri (and in his mind, the other races) impose upon the Narn.
He too changes. During the course of season 2, the same set of incidents that leads Mollari down the dark path, begins a sea change in his character. He intends to assassinate the Centauri Emperor yet he learns that the man was visiting the station to apologise to the Narn publicly and before the galaxy for the atrocities of the past. Though the two peoples go to war shortly afterwards thanks to Mollari’s plotting and the emergence of the Shadows, something snaps. When he learns of Mollari’s complicity a year later, he brutally beats the Centauri to within an inch of his life. During his incarceration he finds peace and starts on a new road as a philosopher. After his people are freed, the Narn demand he become their leader and strike back at the Centauri to which he proclaims in despair “you have learned nothing!” He becomes a religious figure completely against his wishes and teachings. The more he asks them not to deify him, the more his people do it. His journey from loud-mouth to the philosopher always with a wise word is the most emotional and astounding of the series and Katsulas plays every heart-wrenching and joyful moment with passion.
I feel that without growth, without development, without a character learning from his or her experiences then there is really little point to them – they may as well be a piece of cardboard. What are your favourite characters and how do they develop?