In the season 2 episode of Babylon 5 titles “Soul Mates,” we have a sudden influx of spouses. Talia’s ex-husband, Matt Stoner, and Londo’s three wives all arrive on-station to cause headaches for their spouses.
The plot revolving around Talia was frustrating in the ways her plots always are– it seems like nobody, even she, can remember her past (like, say, who was her mentor in her first year at Psi Corps– she’s had three now!) or her goals for the future. Just last episode, she was “completely loyal to Psi Corps” (in Ivanova’s estimation) and even concealed information from Sheridan to protect the Corps. But in this episode, she longs to escape! Madness.
(EDIT: This madness is explained in the “next” episode, “A Race Through Dark Places,” where Talia meets a number of telepaths fleeing Psi Corps and comes to sympathize with and defend them. I put “next” in quotes because it was actually intended to air before “Soul Mates,” and although the incorrect order is preserved on the DVD it’s still pretty clearly wrong.)
But more frustrating was the sudden appearance of Londo’s wives. He’s whined about them before, and how much they nag him and spend all his money. But now he has been granted a special dispensation from the Emperor, allowing him to divorce all but one of his wives. Hurray! he says, and calls them all to B5 to decide which one to keep. The two he divorces will lose their social status and their money, a fact he is just overjoyed to relay.
Daggair is generally critical of Londo, but goes honey-sweet in his presence, trying to convince him she’d be a political asset. Mariel is always sweet, and plays up her sexiness and youth. Timov thinks the whole thing is ridiculous and derides Londo for putting them all through it.
Basically, we have a spectrum: a shrew (Timov), a shrew-cum-gold-digger (Daggair), and a gold-digger (Mariel). And Londo is deciding which of these three “burdens” he will have removed.
Now, these were all arranged marriages, but I was still upset that there was so much vitriol directed towards the wives. It was meant to be a humorous sub plot, but I just couldn’t laugh when Mariel and Daggair are each trying to seduce Londo, and actually consider his proposal of a competitive threesome. It only fails to happen because Timov, when invited to “show her feelings for him” like the others, slaps him and storms out. (Well, and because it’s a PG show.) I don’t think sex is inherently debasing, but there did seem to be something debasing in this scenario…the fact that it was the only way they could secure their futures, that it was compelled rather than desired. That’s not what sex should be about, and that’s not what marriage should be about.
The thing is, I knew Londo would pick Timov (the shrew) because to have him reward gold-digging behavior would be unacceptable, somehow. I don’t think the writers felt they could get away with endorsing that kind of message– that you shouldn’t tell men what you think of them, you should lie and offer sex or else the men will throw you to the streets. And they did a good job with that decision, but not the best job possible.
You see, the problem with Mariel and Daggair was that neither of them really respected him. When, at one point, Londo’s life is threatened, they talk about how much better it would be if he died, because the divorce hadn’t been ratified yet so they’d all live richly. We later discover that Mariel had actually poisoned him herself in an attempt to bring this about (and Daggair may have been in on it). I would say it makes sense to divorce a woman who would prefer you dead than alive.
Especially when Timov is the alternative. It’s not so much that she hates Londo as it is that she recognizes his flaws and is more than willing to point them out. Since he does the same to her, it’s in some way a healthier dynamic than the cloying lies of the other two wives. Especially since there is an undercurrent of respect– Timov shares Londo’s blood type, and though she reflects for a while first, she does go to give Londo the blood transfusion that saves his life. However, she keeps this secret.
In fact, Londo makes his decision without knowing that Mariel and Daggair sought his death, or that Timov saved his life. He chose Timov, even though, as she says, she will never be what he wants her to be, because “with you at least I know where I stand.” This is an admirable sentiment, preferring the honesty of her ambivalence to the sweet lies of the other two, but it is a sentiment that would have been strengthened if he’d known about their actions regarding his life.
As it stands, it seemed almost as if he’d chosen the one option sure to infuriate all three wives. I can only hope he learns to appreciate her honesty a little more in future, and we will be subject to less of his whining about the terrors of wives.
Because honestly, that trope is what bothers me most in all this– the idea that wives are somehow annoying. Newsflash, guys! You don’t have to get married if you don’t want to! Why is it funny to act like associating with your chosen life mate is some kind of burden? I guess I’m just a humorless feminist, but if I was allowed to get married, I wouldn’t be embarrassed to let people know that I liked my wife.