Diplomatic Attache to Centauri Ambassador Vir Cotto
Vir Cotto is a character from the fictional Babylon 5 universe, played on screen by Stephen Furst. He is a Centauri male who was from a family of minor nobility, who would eventually become the Centauri Ambassador to Babylon 5, and then became the Emperor of the Centauri Republic in 2278. Vir Cotto plays a role similar to that of the Everyman character of morality plays, an ordinary person influenced by personifications of good and evil, struggling with moral choices.
In contrast to many of his fellow Centauri, who often appear to be arrogant and egotistical, Vir is a truly modest, even humble, figure who initially wants only to make his family proud of him and to hold a respectable, personally satisfying job. As his boss and mentor, Londo Mollari, says, Vir “has a good heart”. He is genuinely kind and will go to great lengths to help those in need, or who have been oppressed or persecuted. This even extends to the Narn, the Centauri’s bitter enemies and rivals for galactic influence. When the Narn are utterly defeated and re-enslaved by the Centauri after the Narn-Centauri War, Vir uses his post as the Centauri Ambassador to Minbar to help Narn refugees. When Londo discovers this he is furious, but his affection for his faithful aide is such that he protects Vir.
Indeed, although Londo frequently ridicules Vir and verbally criticizes him throughout the course of the series, he privately comes to admire Vir’s pureness of heart and basic decency; he finally admits this to Vir in the series’ fourth season. In return, Vir loyally supports Londo even when he strongly disagrees with his actions and decisions. In many ways Vir emerges as Londo’s conscience throughout the series, and Vir is often far more wise and perceptive than Londo and the other Centauri. Unfortunately, he is usually ignored by them until it is too late. In the end Vir represents the good and innocent person who has been placed into a difficult position of moral ambiguity, and his struggle to deal with this situation is a running theme for the series’ five seasons. Fittingly, Vir has one of the happiest endings of any of the series major characters, as he becomes a popular and successful Centauri Emperor who helps to rebuild his homeworld from the vicious Drakh occupation.
Vir originally appears in the episode “Midnight on the Firing Line” as an assistant to Ambassador Londo Mollari. Vir is introduced as a quiet, introspective and somewhat shy character, possibly even a “black sheep”. However, since the Ambassador’s position was considered a joke by the Centauri government during the first season, the assistant’s position was not considered a particularly important or prestigious position. At the time, Vir was an embarrassment to his family, and his family arranged for him to be assigned to this position as a means of getting him as far away from them as possible.
Vir comes from a family of relatively minor nobles on Centauri Prime; although his family does not have the prestige or influence of the House Mollari or House Refa, the fact that they are members of the nobility does mean that Vir comes from a privileged position in Centauri society. However, this does not appear to have given him the ego or arrogance often associated with the Centauri ruling elites.
Over the next few years, the character of Vir proved himself to be an able assistant to Ambassador Mollari. During this time he developed a friendship with Lennier – the fact that they both served as assistants to ambassadors gave them a common bond. As the prestige of the ambassadors rose through the series, replacing Vir with another assistant was suggested. However, the character was maintained, which is explained in-universe by Mollari threatening to resign if Vir was not allowed to stay. Vir appeared less frequently during the third season, since Stephen Furst had taken a role in a sitcom and couldn’t appear in many episodes. This was explained in-universe as a reassignment as liaison to Minbar. Officially, Mollari arranged to have this happen in order to help Vir further develop in his career. Privately, he admitted to Delenn that he didn’t want Vir around with the events – namely the Shadow War – that were soon to come. This underscores the friendship that had, at that point, developed between the fundamentally unlike characters of Londo and Vir, as well as provides some insight into Londo’s own guilt over his role in the Shadow War.
One episode has Vir returning to Babylon 5 to deliver a report on Minbari culture to Londo. He presented the report to Londo to see what Londo thought of it. Londo proceeded to edit the report, rewording it to make the Minbari society seem stagnant and decadent. This scene showcased the Centauris’ own decadence. During this visit he was attacked and seriously injured by G’Kar when G’Kar took the illegal telepathic drug ‘Dust’ that enabled him to assault Mollari telepathically.
Vir’s second appearance in this season coincided with President Clark of the Earth Alliance declaring Martial Law, and the third wife and ‘personal seer’ of the late Centauri Emperor Turhan, Lady Morella, arriving to visit the station. In this appearance, his eventual ascension to emperor of the Centauri Republic was foretold by Lady Morella.
Vir served to portray a “good Centauri” throughout the occupation of Narn, possibly to counterpoint the usual role of Centauri as aggressors. He began using his position on Minbar to get Narns away from their home and get them proper care. This once again underscored his “moral high ground” over Mollari, and contrasted with Mollari’s eventual anguish over his role in the occupation of Narn, and the atrocities committed against the Narn people.
Another defining appearance of Vir concerned itself with a marriage for the character. Vir had been betrothed with Lyndisty, the daughter of a prominent Centauri family. Initially the two seemed quite compatible; however, it was revealed that Lyndisty had been involved in atrocities committed by the Centauri on Narn. At the same time, Vir’s involvement in the “underground railroad” was discovered. This discovery led to Vir being punished by being removed from the liaison officer’s post and reassigned to Mollari. At the same time, the marriage between him and Lyndisty was put on hold.
Vir Cotto remained an important character during the Shadow War arc, which comprises parts of season 3 and 4.
Vir was once again used as a “moral counterpart” to Mollari towards the end of the Shadow War arc. Mollari had Vir come to Centauri Prime to assist in the assassination of Emperor Cartagia. At about the same time, G’Kar was captured by the Centauri. G’Kar agreed to help Mollari in exchange for Mollari freeing the Narn from Centauri domination. The assassination plot (which involved luring the insane Emperor to the Narn homeworld) went astray, with Vir finally being the person to kill the Emperor. The character felt considerable anguish over this fact, but (after being counselled by Mollari) accepted it as having been necessary.
Vir quickly returned with Mollari to Centauri Prime as Mollari was proclaimed Prime Minister (partially in order to force the Shadows to leave). Despite Londo Mollari’s destruction of the Shadow fleet stationed on Centauri Prime, the Vorlons threatened to destroy the planet. When he realized that there was still someone – namely him – who had been touched by the Shadows, and that the Vorlons were going to destroy Centauri Prime just to kill him, Mollari begged Vir to kill him to save their people. The mirrored the situation of Vir’s assassination of Emperor Cartagia, with the added complication of the victim being his friend Londo. At the last moment, Sheridan and his forces destroyed enough of the Vorlon fleet that they called in their remaining forces, and the Vorlons left without destroying Centauri Prime. Thus, Vir was spared this decision, and it remained unclear if he had been capable of killing his long-term friend.
During this time, Morden was killed by Londo and his head put on display. Ironically, this fulfilled a wish Vir had told Morden a long time ago when Morden asked him “What do you want?”
Following the Shadow War, Vir returned to Babylon 5. For the next two years he continued to act as Mollari’s assistant, and as a representative of the Centauri to Babylon 5 when Mollari was back on Centauri Prime. When Mollari ascended to the throne as Emperor, he named Vir as the Ambassador to Babylon 5 (now an important position).
Virtually all of the information relating to Vir’s activities after the main series comes from “The Fall of Centauri Prime” trilogy of tie-in novels. While these books are considered canon by the producers and creators of Babylon 5, they do mildly contradict what little information the show gives us about Emperor Cotto in the episode “Sleeping in Light”. While the books strongly imply Vir was a great and good leader, the episode mainly concentrates on Vir’s womanizing and drinking. It is entirely possible that both explanations are true (many good real-world leaders have been known to ‘indulge’, and Vir could also simply have been taking a vacation; furthermore, the Centauri are a polygamous culture in which levels of drinking and sexuality that would be considered by other races to be excessive are viewed as normal). In any case, Vir also relies on the assistance of Zack Allen, who was by that point in the Babylon 5 continuity a member of the Rangers.
As Emperor Mollari took the throne, he submitted to control by the Drakh, who planned to subvert the entire Centauri republic. Over the next 16 years, Vir Cotto was able to assemble a resistance movement called “The Legions of Fire.” With the assistance of two Technomages, Vir sabotaged the efforts of Prime Minister Durla, who was being influenced by the Drakh through his dreams.
Vir was forced to take decisive action when a fleet built by Prime Minister Durla threatened to attack the worlds of the Interstellar Alliance. He returned to Centauri Prime in order to oust the Prime Minister from power.
He succeeded, partially due to the assistance of Londo, who was able to give Vir a covert message that said the Tower of Power, the Drakh’s covert headquarters, had to be destroyed. Vir’s people destroyed the tower, which revealed the Drakh presence not only to the Centauri, but to the Alliance as well. Vir gave a holographic address to the Centauri people in which he told them that the Drakh had manipulated the Royal Court.
With the death of Emperor Mollari at the hands of G’Kar, Vir killed Mollari’s Keeper. After being approached by several Drakhs, he managed to escape from the throne room by jumping out the throne room window on to a waiting shuttle. From there Vir went to the Minbari homeworld.
The remaining heads of the Centauri houses met him there. He was able to persuade the nobles into recognizing his claim as Emperor, and ordered the military forces to begin a campaign against the Drakh.
After the Drakh left Centauri Prime, Emperor Cotto set about the reconstruction of Centauri Prime, which had been heavily damaged by Drakh bombs. He was given Interstellar Alliance assistance in this.
When Sheridan found that he was dying, he invited Vir and a number of other colleagues to Minbar to have one last meal with him. When he proposed a toast “to absent friends, in memory still bright”, Vir lifted his glass to Londo Mollari.
After Sheridan’s death, and the demolition of Babylon 5, Emperor Cotto returned to Centauri Prime. Former Babylon 5 security chief Zack Allan accompanied him, and served as his assistant. Vir is implied to be a wise and capable leader for the Centauri people.
According to Galen, Vir Cotto ruled for ten years, until he is succeeded by Dius Vintari, the son of Cartagia. The exact circumstances of Vir’s exit from the throne are unknown, but considering Sheridan and Galen changed the timeline, its possible that Vir will rule for longer.
With Mollari’s increased association with Morden following the events of “Chrysalis” and “Points of Departure”, Vir became a silent (and unwilling) participant in Mollari’s “achievement” of his destiny – that of a vicious and despised tyrant. Vir pleaded with Londo to sever his ties with Morden, yet Londo’s desire to restore the glory of the Centauri Republic made him ignore Vir’s opinion. It was hinted that Vir thought that he might get through to Londo someday and thus he persisted in staying with him and persisted in letting Londo hear about how wrong he is in his decisions every time. The character thereby became a counterpoint to Londo’s increasing emotional detachment towards his own actions, and illustrated Mollari’s “fall” by remaining true to his principles.
As actor Stephen Furst describes it, he’s Londo Mollari’s Jiminy Cricket, his conscience which, unfortunately, he rarely listens to.
Vir also displayed outright animosity (mostly to comedic effect) towards Mr. Morden. Unlike Londo, who is seduced by the power Morden and his “associates” wield, Vir resists the deception and manipulation of Morden. In the episode “In the Shadow of Z’ha’dum,” Morden confronts him directly, asking him the Shadows’ question “What do you want?” to which he responds:
” I’d like to live just long enough to be there when they cut off your head and stick it on a pike as a warning to the next ten generations that some favours come with too high a price. I would look up into your lifeless eyes and wave, like this. Can you and your associates arrange that for me, Mr. Morden? “
This request was mostly granted in Season 4 by Londo. And he did wave, in exactly the manner he had demonstrated earlier.
Since Vir was portrayed as mostly good-natured and unaggressive up to this point, this response underscored the loathing and revulsion he felt towards Morden and the Shadows. In fact, during the entire five year story arc, Vir only displays this level of utter distaste towards two specific individuals—the other being the mad Centauri emperor Cartagia, and even then only after being directly exposed to the latter’s psychotic and unashamedly sadistic behavior; until this point he had been against actually assassinating the emperor, vehemently arguing that “there must be another way.”