Featured post

Stephen Furst – 1955 – 2017

0-beyond-the-rim4 Stephen Furst

It’s horrible having to update this image so soon. Stephen Furst was invaluable to the world of Babylon 5 – he was both fantastic as Vir and directed multiple episodes of Babylon 5 and Crusade. Most of us were introduced to his abilities from Animal House, but he’ll forever be Vir to many of us. My sincere condolences to his family and friends.

As a tribute I updated my “Beyond the Rim” image.

(Original image – Warner Brothers)

Featured post

The Many Viewing Orders of Crusade (and a Watch-through)

Introduction

For many reasons, there are multiple episode orders that now exist for watching the short-lived television series Crusade, which was a spin off from the acclaimed SF TV series Babylon 5. I’m going to do my best to cover them all and analyze the pros and cons of each, but first a little…

Background

Back in 1999, ST:DS9 was wrapping up, ST:Voyager and Stargate SG1 were plodding along doing their thing and this funny little show with Muppets called Farscape just started, but for me, Crusade was the next, best hope for space-based TV science fiction after Babylon 5 ended.  I remember waiting with great anticipation for what was to come. Then came the worrying rumours of production hell, until finally we received what was produced. I’ll try to summarize how I felt at the time:

Throughout the first broadcast (for me it was on Sky One), it was hard not to be disappointed by the choppy quality, jarring tonal variation and shifting character personalities. Then there was that soundtrack, the bloody soundtrack – I promise I’ll try not to dwell on the misconceived, distracting, plinkity-plonky-plonk-plonk… sorry, where was I?

“A Call To Arms” laid out the main themes well enough – the Excalibur would be out there searching for a cure to the Drakh plague, an illness that will kill the entire population of Earth in five years or less – so priority number one is and should always be, the cure. The first episode continues this priority (and recaps the situation for those who missed the TV movie) with a large dose of action, exposition and heaps of cheese.

Then how do they follow this up for the next two episodes? The first is all too in love with Technomage whimsy; wizards, holo-dragons, “spells” and demons. Followed by an episode where Galen (a character we barely know at this point) hijacks what appears to be the lone spaceship scouring the known galaxy for a cure, all for his own mysterious agenda. This all serves to deflate the urgency of the show’s “mission” – as well as make Galen look like a dick.

Thankfully the show gets back on the cure trail again for the next episode out, with episodes then generally alternating between looking for the cure and solving problems they come across. There was still some variability in quality and tone, but with good episodes mixed in there.

Finally, we reached the last five episodes. These five episodes were the show before TNT interfered with it, the “pure” show, so to speak and were produced first (I’ll refer back to these as the “First Five” episodes from time to time for ease of reference, sorry if that brings back bad memories of the “Final Five” from the dying days of the BSG reboot). Now we finally saw how the show was meant to be.

It wasn’t perfect, but it did a lot more of what we were lead to expect: The team would scour ominous ruined cities for ancient technology and forbidden knowledge, mull over moral quandaries, get hints at conspiracies and have to make tough decisions along the way. All this with a healthy concentration on the “mission” of the show – the cure. Not all of the five episodes were classics and there was room for improvement of course, but it felt like it could have been a worthy successor to Babylon 5, while different enough to rightfully hold its own. The final episode returned the now, sadly-missed Richard Biggs in what was to be his last Babylon 5 performance, for one of the better episodes of Crusade’s 13 episode run, so at least it went out in style.

After finishing on a high, I felt cheated, as I’m sure many fans did, but we knew this was not the fault of the writers, production crew, actors, etc. They gave it their all in amazingly trying circumstances (really, go look up the story – it’s mind-boggling), but by TNT the heralded “saviors” of Babylon 5. TNT had produced the final season of Babylon 5, the four TV movies and then decided the best thing to do was “fix” their new show until it was completely broken, and left little chance of another channel rescuing it.

I re-watched the show a second time a few years later, again in the broadcast order and it cemented the views I discussed above, but I always felt the order of episodes could be improved to give a better experience of the show – especially for first-time viewers coming in fresh from Babylon 5. This post is my attempt to analyse if there is a better order for viewing the show than in “Broadcast” order.

cover.jpg.asset_rgb2

I knew a few orders existed online, so I looked them up and checked for any others. So here are the ones I found, plus a couple I actually made up after a bit of thought – currently I’m up to 7 and there’s an argument to be made for all of them (almost):


Option 1 – The “Original Broadcast” or “DVD” Order

00. A Call to Arms
01. War Zone
02. The Long Road
03. The Well of Forever
04. The Path of Sorrows
05. Patterns of the Soul
06. Ruling from the Tomb
07. The Rules of the Game
08. Appearances and Other Deceits
09. Racing the Night
10. The Memory of War
11. The Needs of Earth
12. Visitors from Down the Street
13. Each Night I Dream of Home

As well as the original broadcast order, it’s also the order the DVDs are in and the order it’s listed when downloaded (I believe). I’m sure it’s the order almost everyone watches it first time around. However, due to the weaknesses of watching in this order, which I addressed above, I believe you shouldn’t watch it in this order.


Option 2 – The “JMS Sci-Fi Channel” Order

00. A Call to Arms
01. Racing the Night
02. The Needs of Earth
03. The Memory of War
04. The Long Road
05. Visitors from Down the Street
06. The Well of Forever
07. Each Night I Dream of Home
08. Patterns of the Soul
09. The Path of Sorrows
10. Ruling from the Tomb
11. The Rules of the Game
12. War Zone
13. Appearances and Other Deceits

Back in 2001, when Babylon 5, Crusade and the TNT movies were playing on the Sci-Fi Channel, JMS apparently came up with an order that according to JMS was “best from a story point of view, even though it means some visual inconsistencies in terms of unexplained costume changes.”

Yes, it’s a great idea to start with “Racing the Night” and a couple of the “First Five” episodes, but then it just goes kind of batshit crazy. Personally I’d feel immense pity for any first-timers watching the show in this order. The uniforms chop and change, the chronology is all over the place, and as the continuity is so screwed up. It ends with “War Zone” and “Appearances” just jammed on like an after thought or a parallel universe story. It would be better to just dump them completely if watching in this order.

Personally, I think this order is the route to madness, but some people online swear by it. That said, people online swear by a lot of crazy stuff. The nice folks over at Babylon Podcast (link to the first episode in this order) watched through the show in this order, so please feel free watch and follow along with them, because I sure as hell won’t watch it in this order.


Option 3 – The “JMS Chronological” or “True JMS” Order

00. A Call to Arms
01. War Zone
02. The Long Road
03. Appearances and Other Deceits
04. The Memory of War
05. The Needs of Earth
06. Racing the Night
07. Visitors from Down the Street
08. Each Night I Dream of Home
09. The Path of Sorrows
10. Ruling from the Tomb
11. Patterns of the Soul
12. The Well of Forever
13. The Rules of the Game

This is taken from Wikipedia and is considered the “true” order by JMS. While an improvement over the Sci-Fi Channel and Broadcast orders, I still feel this version is too flawed.

JMS endorsed this version and it appeared in the Official Babylon 5 Chronology (published in The Official Babylon 5 Magazine in 1999-2000). Author Terry Jones explains the running order was changed to fill JMS’s desire to have the grey “bellhop” uniform stories incorporated within the black “explorer” uniform ones, dates included in the show and the dialogue changes in “Each Night I Dream Of Home”. It also fixes the “nanovirus shield” issue. It is also supposed to work with the unproduced scripts which were published in various places online and in the Crusade script books.

Initially this appears to be a great improvement over the previous two orders. It brings the original five episodes earlier in the run which helps the pace of the show, as well as moving the Well of Forever much further back. Despite them stating it fixes continuity errors, it still leaves some:

  • Gideon and Lochely meet in Each Night I Dream Of Home (ep 8)- and appear to know each other, but then meet for the first time in Ruling From the Tomb (ep 10).
  • “Racing the Night” still starts with a dream/memory that contradicts War Zone.
  • The grey jumpsuits magically disappear without comment in the Path of Sorrows (now ep 9) – although this isn’t the worst crime ever.

Some of this is quite jarring if you want to enjoy a smooth, consistent storyline. It should be stated that the original broadcast order also had an issue with the “nanovirus shield” being used before being discovered, as well as dubbed dialogue being added to “Each Night” to keep the continuity on track, so it’s not like the original broadcast order was perfect even with fixes.


Option 4 – The “All-inclusive” Chronological Order

Very much related to Option 3, this order can be found in the Babylon 5/Crusade script books. It incorporates all of the produced episodes and the unproduced scripts into an order that attempts to give the clearest picture of how the show would have developed if they had gone to a full season, instead of the half we got.

It does include all of Option 3 – The Chronological Order, and so includes the continuity errors, however, as most viewers (first time or otherwise) won’t have access the scripts to be able to pursue this option, Ill not be doing this order in this piece.


Option 5 – The “Continuity” Order

00. A Call to Arms
01. War Zone
02. The Long Road
03. The Path of Sorrows
04. Ruling from the Tomb
05. Appearances and Other Deceits
06. Racing the Night
07. The Needs of Earth
08. The Memory of War
09. Visitors from Down the Street
10. Each Night I Dream of Home
11. Patterns of the Soul
12. The Well of Forever
13. The Rules of the Game

While looking on Wikipedia at the various series orders, I noticed another option! The so-called “Continuity Order.” This takes the JMS Chronological Order – with all the benefits to pacing and characterization, but re-adjusts it to allow for the Gideon/Lochley meeting to occur in order, as well as a couple of other tweaks.

I’ve tried looking up online to find who actually worked this order out, so I can give credit where it’s due, but to no avail sadly. It’s not featured in the Crusade book either – so thanks to you, whoever worked it out! Feel free to drop me a comment if you know who came up with it.


Option 6 – The “Pure” or “First Five” Order

00. A Call to Arms
01. Racing the Night
02. The Memory of War
03. The Needs of Earth
04. Visitors from Down the Street
05. Each Night I Dream of Home

There is an option I’ve not seen mentioned online, and one that seems like an obvious option. That’s the one I’ve called the “Pure” or “First Five” order. This simply takes “A Call to Arms” and adds the first five episodes produced before TNT really screwed around with the show and that’s it. You get the show in it’s purest form, un-muddied by interference. So you get to see two excellent episodes, one good and two more mediocre ones.

This removes ALL continuity issues, but it leaves you with the frustration of knowing there’s eight more episodes that now don’t fit with the rest.


Option 7 – The “Expanded Pure” or “Screw TNT” Order

00. A Call to Arms
01. Racing the Night
02. The Needs of Earth
03. The Memory of War
04. Visitors from Down the Street
05. Each Night I Dream of Home
06. The Long Road
07. The Path of Sorrows
08. Patterns of the Soul
09. The Rules of the Game
10. The Well of Forever

The “purest” view of how Crusade should have turned out is just the first five episodes produced and was discussed in Option 6.

This order I’ve developed starts with the “First Five” order and then continues on as far as possible without causing continuity issues. This does mean the uniforms change for no reason after episode 5, but that’s not a major issue really. We now have to lose the episodes “Ruling From the Tomb” the first meeting of Lochley and Gideon – no great loss,  “Appearances..” as the suit change would be the wrong way around and as “Warzone” completely clashes with “Racing the Night” we have to ditch “Warzone”, really no great loss.


Going Forward – A Watch through of the Continuity Order

I have to admit I prefer the idea of watching all the episodes in the best possible order, so I’m going to try Option 5 – The “Continuity” Order. I believe the only serious remaining issues are the “Racing the Night” introduction clash and the jumpsuit change, but I’ll just imagine a scene where Gideon goes to the Excalibur laundry room to fix the sonic-washing machines on uniform laundry day (I believe JMS said that had the show continued, there would likely have been a comment to this effect).

So I’ll stick to the Continuity Order in my watch-through – reviewing the episodes as I go, as well as commenting on the continuity and whether this new order is actually beneficial.

(All images are property of Warner Brothers)

Crusade – Continuity Order – S01E00 – A Call to Arms

A Prelude to a Crusade

Written by J. Michael Straczynski

Directed by Mike Vejar

Grade: B-

Spoilers follow.

Episode Synopsis:

Sheridan’s dreams lead him to a group of strangers who will help him face a new threat from an old foe.

Episode Review:

Why episode zero, I probably don’t hear you ask? Well, I wasn’t too sure whether or not to include “A Call To Arms” in this Crusade watch-through, seeing as it’s more of a Babylon 5 movie than a Crusade pilot, but I felt I had to for the sake of context and completion.

Sadly, it’s not a triumph, but then neither is it a failure either – it’s a competent enough TV movie that probably would have benefited from sharing the epic feel given to “In The Beginning” – after all, it could be the end of the world as we know it…

That’s not to say it’s no good, it’s actually a lot of fun, with a reasonably fast pace, a few good twists along the way, and some effective injections of light humour. Just don’t expect much depth beyond the race to discover the Drakh threat and the vague problem that Sheridan’s pals might condemn him to a mental institution, all finished up with the obligatory big battle at the end.

At the beginning, Bruce Boxleitner plays Sheridan as if he’s having a whale of a time – he’s getting back out there from behind the ISA Presidential desk, doing something practical and it’s great to see his reaction to that. At one point he’s like a teenager – sneaking out of the house (Babylon 5), pinching the family car (the Excalibur), and leaving a recorded note – it’s almost like an interstellar Ferris Buehler’s Day Off.

Jerry Doyle returns, with Garibaldi much the same, despite the new responsibilities of family life and running Edgar’s Industries – sadly he never returned for Crusade (plans were apparently squashed by TNT).

call - tony todd

The main guest star is Tony Todd and he would have made a bad-ass captain for the Excalibur in Crusade, which I’m pretty sure is why he was cast. I’d imagine many first time viewers who knew of the Crusade spin-off, but not who was cast as the Captain could easily imagine (the awesome) Tony Todd is the guy for the job, thus making his sacrifice more shocking. Although the scene with his daughter makes his death all the more predictable, his line about protecting her from the monsters always gets to me. I know, I’m a big sentimental sap.

The rest of the supporting cast do a good job – Tony Maggio’s Drake seems just to be neurotic comic relief at first before affecting the story later, while the actress playing the pilot of the Excalibur (Marjean Holden) would go on to play Dr. Sarah Chambers in Crusade. Jeff Conaway gets a short, fun appearance which would sadly prove to be the last one he filmed for a Babylon 5 related production.

As with the other TNT movies, it’s in (TV) widescreen and, of course, the show looks so much better for it. I know there’s an issue with the effects to stop the show being remastered and rereleased on Blu-Ray in the widescreen format, but I wish someone would have the foresight to realize that spending that money upfront would result in a huge renaissance in interest, purchases and profit for Warner Bros. I can dream can’t I?

As I mentioned earlier, despite the widescreen, a few things drained the potential for this to be the epic adventure it should be. First of all and probably the biggest issue for me is the music – Evan Chen’s score is a little esoteric – flitting somewhere between orchestral and synth, but doesn’t carry the emotional impact or subtlety of Franke’s grand works (an issue which continues into Crusade as well). The humour, although effective, does serve to decrease the tension. Then we have the Drakh, not the most charismatic or threatening of villains, and their threat is further diminished by being off-screen almost the entire time. The majority of the time the Drakh appear only in the form of their bland spaceships.

Another major factor, in my opinion, is because of the new techniques being tried out here. One of the main goals of “A Call to Arms” production was the implementation of new production techniques, that would then be used on Crusade. As Crusade was to be more of a ‘planet of the week’ show than Babylon 5 ever was, it would require a lot of exterior shoots. However, exterior shooting is very expensive (and sadly, Babylonian Productions always worked with budgets way below shows such as the Star Treks, Stargates, etc.) so it was decided to film exterior locations in the studio. I’m sure the production crew tried very hard to achieve this – they created at least three different worlds in this movie – which is more than most seasons of Babylon 5! However, in my opinion they didn’t fully convince, despite turf being shipped in or giving over whole studio spaces to become rocky plateaus, druidic stone circles, etc. Much like the Star Trek “exterior” sets, something about the exterior work sadly looked ‘stagey’ to me. I’ll stop bitching here for a second though to say the hydraulically controlled shuttle interior is a triumph though.

The final issue for me is that the visual effects simply don’t feel up to par – the quality was always more variable after they ditched Foundation Imaging to bring it in-house and this one is one of the more disappointing occasions. Despite featuring massive fleets and super-sized death machines, all too often the battles feel ‘off’ – more like a video game, with the mass and solidity of the ships not well conveyed. One of the issues is that the scale often feels wrong – the worst example of this is the Shadow Death Cloud / Planet Killer.

call - shadow(I apologize for how grainy the image is)

We’re told this thing is insanely massive – it has to be to engulf the Earth! Then when we finally see inside the cloud (particularly at the end, once it activates prematurely) it looks like it would barely wrap around Belgium. Of course, I know this work is all being done on a TV show budget, and this TV movie includes a HUGE number of effects and composites shots, but when some don’t work, it serves to pull you out of the story.

I don’t mean to be such a downer on “A Call To Arms”, it really is worth your time to watch for many reasons. I think the issue for me was that my expectations were set so high, and when it didn’t quite live up to them, I couldn’t help but start nitpicking.

Crusade continuity check and notes:

  • Galenwatch (because he’s hard to pin down) – Present, in spirit.
  • While you could just jump straight into “War Zone” – I think you get more out of the series having watched this first. It provides the full background to the Drakh plague, you meet some of the new characters and get to see the Excalibur in action.
  • We meet both Galen and Dureena here for the first time. Dureena comes off better, partly due to more screen time, but she’s also able to help out in surprising ways, with a nicely sarcastic turn of phrase and nicely acted. Galen is only in it for a small time, so it’s hard to get a good idea of his character, apart from his cynical tone, rather convoluted help and cod-Shakespearean dialogue.
  • You get a great introduction to the Excalibur, both internally and externally. Overall, I always liked the interior design and the layout – intentionally submarine-like and more high-tech looking than previous Earthforce designs – although we only get to see the conference room, a few corridors and the bridge. As for the exterior, I’ve always been a little lukewarm to the ship design – I like a lot of the early Mayrand concept sketches which accentuated the Vorlon and Minbari influences more than the human tech, but these were gradually smoothed away until we get the somewhat unwieldy-looking Excalibur – it has some interesting design touches, but as it’s rendered an almost uniform light grey. This means it looks a bit low texture and dull at a distance. Nice to see the adaptive armour plating in action, but the “one minute power-down” following the firing of the main gun is such a plot device, it can’t help but annoy a little.
  • The ISN news report at the beginning mentions “A ground-breaking ceremony to those who died in the recent telepath crisis…” something which is returned to a little later in Crusade.

Chronological Order Analysis:

  • Production order  = 0
  • Broadcast order  = 0
  • Continuity order  = 0
  • Is this episode better in this order? It’s in this location in any order

Naturally, as it’s set before the series, there’s nothing that is out of continuity. Whether or not you watch this before Crusade, it’s always going to be first in the order.

(All images are property of Warner Brothers)

< Introduction to Continuity Order | Next episode “War Zone” >

Crusade – Continuity Order – S01E01 – War Zone

Poor Zone

Written by J. Michael Straczynski

Directed by Janet Greek

Grade: D+

Spoilers follow.

Episode Synopsis:

The crew of the Excalibur come together to begin their quest for the cure to the Drakh plague.

Episode Review:

My memory was that this episode was weak – no surprise, many first episodes are. Unfortunately it’s worse than that, this episode pretty much stinks. I really want to love and embrace this show, but this is painful to watch. I know, I know, JMS wrote this script under duress and naturally didn’t make much effort, but boy does it show. Sadly I can’t review an episode for what I want it to be, or what it could have been, only by what we, the viewers, see on-screen.

It’s hard to know where to begin. There’s so many issues here, but it boils down to one thing – with this episode, TNT get exactly what they wanted. The first scene of the entire series is one of the most pointless fistfights ever put on film, just like they wanted. The rest of the episode that follows is stuffed with clunky exposition, artificially injected action, broadly written characters, cheesy dialogue and clichés abound. The simplest description I can make is that it’s written more like a children’s show.

You have to assume this is kind of the point JMS is trying to make. It ticks almost all the boxes of what TNT wanted Crusade to become and shows how hackneyed, predictable and clichéd a series it would have been if they’d followed all the notes. It makes that point, but it’s at the expense of the viewer – It’s like cutting off your own nose to spite your face. There’s still some good dialogue peeking through, like a diamond in the muck, as though JMS wanted to let everyone know he’s still in there somewhere.

It seems the rest of the cast and crew got the message that JMS was doing this episode through gritted teeth, and treated it in the same fashion. The acting at best is passable, the effects are lacking, and the direction flaccid despite being an action episode conducted by the usually effective Janet Greek

The story itself is exactly what you’d expect from the first episode of an ensemble cast show – getting the team together, then giving them a problem to overcome to bond them all together. While part of you can’t help but think that it’s interesting to see how everyone came together, in the end it’s just as predictable as you imagine. You end up feeling that if you’d not seen this episode, you wouldn’t have missed much you couldn’t have surmised later. Which is just the idea JMS had tried to implement when the original plan was to premier with “Racing The Night”.

It has to be mentioned that despite everything, the episode is really quite ambitious in scope, so at least there’s that. We start at the Earth orbit battlefield, swing by Marsdome, stop off at the unnamed world near where Gideon was rescued, then proceed to Ceti 4 for another space battle with the Drakh and another battle montage set to music and no other sound – once in a while these are fine, but it was becoming something of a Babylon 5 cliché.

The CG is sometimes pretty bad – whether it’s a case of penny-pinching to not spend money on an episode that they didn’t want to make, or they just didn’t have time for the complexity of this episode, it’s simply not very good. I remembered the CG Drakh looked bad at the time, but now they look shockingly unreal:

I realise they were trying something new for TV here, and they get kudos for trying, but the technology just wasn’t there yet. In fact, doing fully CG figures rarely works now in big budget blockbusters, here we’re in pure uncanny valley territory. The CG landscapes vary in effectiveness, passable at a distance and/or with a little haze, but once they get more close-up they look worse and worse.

For some reason they chose to keep the Drakh masks with glowing eyes for the soldiers. These still look as ridiculous as the did in the Babylon 5 episode “Lines of Communication” – the actual Optic Nerve-designed Drakh prosthetics are awesome, why wouldn’t they stick with those? Plus, the weapon design looks extremely unwieldy. So, in the end the Drakh look a bit cheap, cheesy and not threatening enough. The dialogue their leader spouts is pure cliché and sometimes the Drakh feel like they’d be more at home on the set of a Power Rangers show.

drakh power rangers

Most of the regular cast at least try to put in some kind of a performance. As you’d expect, Gideon takes the lion’s share of the screen time, and while he actually looks a little unsure in his role from time to time (maybe done on purpose as he has a new ship to command), he comes across as a decent, hard-nosed-but-fair kind of captain – yes, he’s very much the “renegade captain” trope, but Cole’s insouciant approach suits the role well.

In one of the best scenes, Gideon reassures Matheson he’s the right man for the job, despite some people’s concerns over him being a telepath. The acting that goes into that scene alone is what pushes this episode up a grade to a “D+”… just.

Despite only appearing a few times and not having made much impact (for me anyway) in “A Call To Arms”, Galen actually comes across better here. He brings some of the cooler Technomage aspects into play – casually kicking Drakh ass, vanishing a lot, dropping smoke-bombs, quizzing Gideon on his quest, hacking the Excalibur with ease, rescuing Gideon in flashback and generally sneaking around under their noses like a wizardy know-it-all.

The rest of the crew doesn’t get much time to shine, but acquit themselves well enough and show off their main character traits – David Allen Brooks demonstrates Max Eilerson’s smarts, greed and tendency to get good lines, Daniel Dae Kim as John Matheson is stoic and dependable, Marjean Holden as Chambers is strong, decisive and sympathetic -probably the most rounded character. Only Carrie Dobro gets little to do as Dureena. The weakest link has to be the shoehorned in, bad-boy pilot Trace Miller, he’s like a bland James Dean cut-out rebelling against nothing. I know he was forcibly introduced to pacify the TNT executives, but he served almost no purpose for the entire thirteen episode run. Maybe he would have gone the way of that other memorable pilot, Warren Keffer. I can dream…

It’s hard to imagine a first time viewer watching this and wanting to see more, especially if they’ve never seen Babylon 5. I have a hard time recommending anyone watch this – even though I know there’s better stuff down the road. Looking back, the Babylon 5 pilot “The Gathering” and first episode “Midnight on the Firing Line” may be a bit rough around the edges, but they’re sheer poetry in comparison to this train wreck.

Crusade continuity check and notes:

  • Galenwatch – Present
  • We get our first look at the title sequence, which works quite well, I always liked the swishy-sword/Excalibur gimmick. They’re definitely trying to impart a mythic feel to the crew’s quest, with some interesting darker undercurrents. The theme tune itself is one of the few times I don’t mind Evan Chen’s music, I just never felt his scores fit well.
  • On board the ship, we see the Excalibur flight deck, and see its assignment of human fighter-craft on board (both Thunderbolts and Starfurys), something we never saw in “A Call to Arms”. We get a mention that the Excalibur is a mile and a half long, then get to see the cool tube cars that run the length of the ship.
  • The ship is now fully crewed and it seems the main ‘team’ roles are filled:
  1. Matthew Gideon – Captain
  2. John Matheson – First Officer
  3. Dureena Nafeel – Resident thief
  4. Galen – Wizard
  5. Dr. Sarah Chambers – Chief Medical Officer
  6. Max Eilerson – Archaeologist, linguist, weekly pain in the ass
  7. Trace Miller – Ostensibly a pilot, but no real idea what he’s supposed to do.
  • While we heard Gideon had the opportunity to pick his crew, we don’t find out if anyone, bar Matheson came with him from his old command. From the way the crew seem at home with most of the systems, we might assume most of the crew were already assigned prior to his arrival – particularly with how accomplished their performance is against three Drakh cruisers.
  • This episode features the newer, black explorer uniforms – which was about the only suggestion TNT made that I actually agree with. Although why were the Explorer crew supposed to have different uniforms? They’re Earthforce, and we saw another Explorer Class ship (from the B5 episode “A Distant Star”) had standard uniforms – I know, probably brand recognition and all that.
  • This Drakh commander seems quite weaselly, very happy to hide while others protect him, not the calm puppet-masters we’ve seen in the past on Babylon 5.
  • We flash back back to the time when the Technomages migrated away from known space – just before the Shadow War (set just after the events of the Babylon 5 episode “The Geometry of Shadows”). At that time Gideon was stranded in just a space suit and apparently Galen rescued him – something we’ll return to in more detail in a later episode.
  • The Captain has an unusual, powerful alien object hidden in his room, which seems intelligent, knows many secrets, speaks to him and seems inherently untrustworthy. This is the same situation as the protagonist in Philip Jose Farmer’s novel “The Unreasoning Mask”.

Chronological Order Analysis:

  • Production order  = 8
  • Broadcast order  = 1
  • Continuity order  = 1
  • Is this episode better in this order? – Same as the Broadcast Order

Definitely supposed to be the first episode in order, despite being shot later. No obvious potential continuity issues. Although “Racing the Night” has Gideon dream/remember being tasked with the mission on Babylon 5 – but I’ll bring that up in that episode though.

(All images are property of Warner Brothers)

TV Movie / Pilot “A Call to Arms” | Next episode “The Long Road” >

Crusade – Continuity Order – S01E02 – The Long Road

Carry on my Woodward Son

Written by J. Michael Straczynski

Directed by Mike Vejar

Grade: C

Spoilers follow.

Episode Synopsis:

A conflict between Earthforce and a small colony gets out of hand once an old friend of Galen’s gets involved.

Episode Review:

While an improvement on “War Zone,” this episode is not exactly a televisual delight either, thankfully it doesn’t insult your intelligence quite like the last episode though.

The story revolves around a disagreement between some local yokels on a low-tech world (Regula 4) and some pantomime bully Earthforce officers, who are forcibly mining the planet for a mineral that seems to boost the human body’s ability to fight off viruses. However the locals have help from a Technomage (well, ex-Technomage) who is aiding their cause. You can’t help but think the crew of the Excalibur have more pressing issues than sorting out this kind of diplomatic issue, even if it does involve a dragon.

The episode is a bit slow, far too in love with Technomages and their often whimsical tendencies (but at least it shows some of their negative potential – both their ability for destruction and the potential for their “charges” to begin using the Technomage as a crutch), all wrapped up in a reasonably predictable high-tech vs low-tech issue. That the colonists are yokel stereotypes pulled from Stargate’s Big Book of Bumpkins, means you end up with all the clichéd characters you’d expect – honest simple folk, hot-headed morons, cute sympathetic daughters, and incompetent officers ignoring their concerns.

From the main cast, this is basically a two-hander for Galen and Gideon, and despite being something of an odd couple, they share some fun moments as their personalities clash, but always retain their innate respect and friendship for one another.

The best part of the episode has to be Edward Woodward’s appearance and worth watching for that alone. When it comes down to it, the whole episode is an excuse to get him and his son Peter together on-screen. There’s a lot of nice ruminations about the father and son relationship that are quite touching, even more so now that Edward Woodward passed away a few years ago and is sadly missed. Here his quiet moments are full of pathos, then while he pontificates in his Technomage persona he unleashes his full RADA abilities to command the moment.

The darker the CG effects, the more passable they are – shots of the landscape are fine until lit up. However, once they are clearer, they lose their effect. For example, the mine site looks completely unreal, and poor Alwyn’s Technomage incantations look pretty lame, about as threatening as interpretive dance.

Then there’s that golden dragon. A nice idea for the end of a teaser (as Alwyn asks “who does dragons any more?” Well, Game of Thrones does now, but this was fifteen years ago), but it looks so rubbery and cartoon-like it wouldn’t scare anyone – strange when the holodemons look quite nasty in the flesh.

crusade 2 - holodemons

The holodemons are a very cool design – especially when they solidify to smack the soldiers – but you have to think that all that PPG fire in the inn, with those civilians there was not a good idea, That none of the soldiers would have automatically threatened or attacked the Technomages seems unlikely, seeing as they’d just observed them “summoning” them.

The sets are pretty decent throughout – particularly the exterior of the mine and the inn interior – although the inn does look like it was built yesterday. The wooded outlook above the mine looks reasonably realistic for being shot on the stage, showing up the CG all the more unfortunately.

All in all, nothing too memorable and from a continuity stand point, completely skippable, but you’d miss some nice character moments. So why was this episode called “The Long Road”? A shout back to “A Call to Arms” when Galen used the line? To show the crew have a long road to travel? Is life “The Long Road”? Your guess is as good as mine.

Crusade continuity check and notes:

  • Galenwatch – Present
  • This seems to be set at least six weeks after the first episode “War Zone” – Have the crew done anything of note in that time?
  • Slight continuity issue – As the Earth Alliance is so big on the antiviral mineral (testing had been positive apparently), this begs the question how do they know an antiviral would be any help? I don’t believe we even learn what the Drakh “plague” is until the episode “Each Night I Dream of Home” – For all they know it could be a bacteria, a chemical or something else entirely! I don’t think we see any further references to this antiviral agent later on in the season.
  • We get quite a lot of information on the Technomages – we learn they weren’t all one big happy family, and Alwyn believed that they should all have stayed around for the Shadow War to help on the side of light. While Alwyn stayed for the Shadow War, we get no idea of whether he helped at all.
  • Elric (the mage Sheridan saw on Babylon 5) became Galen’s mentor after Galen’s father died, then died himself only a year after the mages went into hiding.
  • Something you might miss – Alwyn’s dramatic appearance early on blows out all the candles and the poor daughter of the innkeeper has to scurry around re-lighting candles. I bet she hates it every time he shows up…
  • There’s a gym and basketball court on the Excalibur, located inside what seems to be a massive, unused hanger. I have to wonder – these ships were originally made for the Interstellar Alliance to use and so the gym was part of it – this conjures up images for me of Drazi pumping iron and Pak’ma’ra on the treadmill…

Chronological Order Analysis:

  • Production order  = 7
  • Broadcast order  = 2
  • Continuity order  = 2
  • Is this episode better in this order? – Same as the Broadcast Order

Although it works okay in this location with only a small continuity issue, I’ve always felt it might work better later in the run. There’s not much going on that would clash with the continuity here apart from the mention of six weeks since the attack, so it might be moved further back in the viewing order if need be. I always felt this was a bit of a weak episode to be so early in the show’s run.

(All images are property of Warner Brothers)

< Previous episode “War Zone” | Next episode “The Path of Sorrows” >

Crusade – Continuity Order – S01E03 – The Path of Sorrows

A Tale of Telepaths, Loss and Boxes

Written by J. Michael Straczynski

Directed by Mike Vejar

Grade: B+

Spoilers follow.

Episode Synopsis:

The crew find something old and forgotten that brings up past traumas.

Episode Review:

This is more like it – the first decent episode so far. Mysterious buildings on an abandoned world, potential healing technologies, interesting character revelations. Thankfully we also get some decent concepts and dilemmas to get our teeth into – regret, redemption, forgiveness, secrets and sorrow.

This episode explicitly ties the show into the continuity of Babylon 5 and therefore it’s something TNT hated. Although, even with the best will in the world, it still has the feel of fan-service – Shadow ships kicking arse, scenes from the Telepath War, hints at Technomage unrest – but that’s what was needed to bring the Babylon 5 fans in and try to keep them.

The entire plot of the show is pretty much a framework from which to hang flashbacks, character developments and revelations, and so it isn’t always the most subtle, but at least what we see allows us to begin empathizing with and understanding the characters more. This episode takes our heroes and shows them as flawed, damaged, haunted, and all the more human.

This episode is more of an ensemble show than the last episode, although it begins with most of the main cast, but then concentrates on Gideon, Matheson and Galen:

Gideon’s revelations are a mixed bag – we certainly sympathize with him during his encounter with the Shadows where they destroy his ship (the Cerberus) and all his crew-mates. We then see him rescued by Galen when all seems lost – it explains his commendable compulsion to always answer a distress signal and never leave a person behind. We feel his frustration when his story is disbelieved by Earthforce. As a counter point, we then see Gideon “win” the Apocalypse Box (the origins and abilities are still reasonably unknown canonically, I believe) at a later date – that Gideon would keep and use it seems reckless – especially when it appears to have caused a man’s death right in front of him.

We knew Matheson was in the Psi-Corps, and while not in a position of power, he’d gained the trust of those in power (such as Gary Graham from Alien Nation). He appears to be a good little drone, going so far to accept a comment that the real enemy are the “mundanes”. For him to have gained trust, had he performed acts against mundanes? Were they criminal acts? At this point he sees the rebel telepaths as terrorists until he’s shown that the Psi-Corps casually murders all members of the rebel leadership. His realisation and change of heart to betray the Psi-Corps is a little too quick and easy, but he’s put on the spot and maybe he realizes he has a lot to repent for. I believe the female telepath he meets was originally meant to be Lyta Alexander, but according to JMS, Pat Tallman was busy on a movie.
crusade 3 - psi

Galen is a manipulative asshole early on, playing on Dureena’s fears to allow them to open the door (with a solution that seems straight out of Tolkien), but to balance that out we later see him in a more playful, contemplative mood with Matheson in the tube car. His line about this being where he gets off “metaphorically, metaphysically, and literally” is great. We also get the reminder that he, out of all the Technomages, was the one who rescued Gideon. In his vision, we see a more human Galen finally. We witness how hard the loss of his lover Isabelle (played by British actress Sophie Ward) hits him, despite her protestations to accept it as part of the plan of the universe – something he rejects and becomes an integral part of his character.

crusade 3 - galen

I’m not sure if I like that he gets the message at the end of this episode instead of in a later episode, or that it’s so damn vague. However, his look as he contemplates the message from out there and weighs the implications if, by chance it might be from Isabelle is one of his best moments in the show – that he rejects it out of hand is a bold character move, and shows the depths of his damage.

It’s the first time we see the Apocalypse Box and it pretty much steals the show despite doing nothing but sit there enigmatically, glow and emit some kind of voice-chime (this makes it sound like a Vorlon) – the design of the case is suitably antique, then the apocalypse box itself is simple, but looks a bit ethereal as well.

crusade 3 - box

For the most part, the CG effects are pretty good throughout, only the explosion at the Psi-Corps base looks a bit weak. The snow globe alien itself is a great piece of work by Optic Nerve, but the bubble does look very plastic indeed, in fact the seam where the two halves join is particularly visible. Oh well, if you’ve bought into the idea of a telepathically-forgiving snow globe alien, slightly low quality props are unlikely to bother you much. The tower exterior should get special mention, it’s quite impressive in scale and a decent effort is made to convey its age.

Despite some clunky dialogue and a few moments lacking in subtlety, the episode is really quite good and finally makes you think spending some time on this show might be worthwhile. It would have been nice to see the skeletons in everyone’s closets before Galen forced the issue, but the episode is only 43 minutes long after all.

Crusade continuity check and notes:

  • Galenwatch – Present
  • According to JMS, this was written during the time of the “First Five” episodes, prior to TNT’s pronouncement about changes required, and TNT hated this episode.
  • The Earthforce interviewer back in 2259 drops President Clarke’s name – Babylon 5 viewers will know he was in league with the Shadows and their allies – from the interviewer’s manner it seems like he was trying to help cover up the Cerberus incident.
  • We see that Matheson was fundamental in allowing the rebel telepaths strike a major blow in the telepath war/crisis – for me this raises the question of when it happened. We heard that the telepath crisis was described as ‘recent’ back in A Call To Arms. So since that happened Matheson joined Earthforce, rose to the rank of Lt. Commander and was posted on an Explorer class ship – it seems like a lot has happened in a short time – maybe Matheson was something of a trial case for allowing teeps into Earthforce, so he was given a higher rank from the get go? Would some of the crew have resented that?
  • That Matheson appeared be be a good little drone makes you wonder what he might have done, both against “mundanes” and rebel telepaths, before his change of heart. This might have come back to haunt him later in the show.
  • The Galen and Isabella scene ties in exactly with the “Technomage Trilogy” of Babylon 5 novels.

The Apocalypse Box comes with a number of interesting issues:

  • When exactly did Gideon get the Box? It seems he was a Lieutenant by this point. There was a skimmer in the flashback, I’m not sure if that technology was available for humans until around 2262.
  • Has he used it at all since commanding the Excalibur? Early on in the episode, Eilerson is dubious of the information provided by Gideon’s source – the Box may have been the source.
  • Another thought – Gideon was only an Ensign in 2259 (a Lieutenant by 2262 maybe) – he became a captain pretty quickly afterwards it seems. According to Sheridan in the Babylon 5 episode “A Distant Star,” there weren’t many Explorer class ships, so that implies it was a prestigious position to captain one – Did Gideon use help from the box to earn his position?
  • The previous owner and/or prisoner of the box informs Gideon it knows things no-one else knows, but sometimes it lies. The way he wagers it and laughs maniacally upon losing it implies the box would not just allow itself to be given away or discarded. The previous owner’s death then occurs seconds after he leaves – he explains that there was no other way out – this could imply many things:
    1. You own it, then you die – maybe it’s a “curse” or the box actually causes it telepathically, telekinetically, etc.
    2. If you want to get rid of it you have to find a way to pass the box on to a new owner who wants it willingly. As the guy basically allowed himself to be outplayed, maybe the box considered this “cheating” – so the box killed him somehow.
    3. He gave away too much information on the Box’s secrets – the box killed him somehow.
    4. He killed himself by jumping in front of the car/skimmer – maybe he couldn’t live with what the Box tricked him into doing?
    5. Maybe its a combination of the above – naturally he dies just as he has something important to say to Gideon…

Chronological Order Analysis:

  • Production order  = 9
  • Broadcast order  = 4
  • Continuity order  = 3
  • Is this episode better in this order? – Yes

It’s only a small change in the order, but in my opinion this episode works well here and better than where it was in the broadcast order. It allows us to get a handle on the characters earlier, as we get background and motivations for some of their actions later in the series.

That we learn of Isabelle now and see Galen’s reaction to the message, it makes the relocation of “The Well of Forever” all the better in a narrative sense – to save any spoilers of future episodes we’ll discuss this issue when we get to that episode.

The episode is not dated very explicitly. Part of me wonders if this would work better switched around with the Long Road to get a better episode earlier in the run – but maybe the huge dump of character background might be too much, too soon.

(All images are property of Warner Brothers)

< Previous episode “The Long Road” | Next episode “Ruling From the Tomb” >

Crusade – Continuity Order – S01E04 – Ruling from the Tomb

Through a Jeanne, D’Arc-kly

Written by Peter David.

Directed by John Copeland.

Grade: C

Spoilers follow.

Episode Synopsis:

When the crew stop at Mars to attend a conference on stopping the Drakh plague, it seems not everyone wants to cure it.

Episode Review:

After the highs of the last episode, this is a more mundane affair – The Excalibur stops by Mars to take part in a conference on the Drakh plague and share what they’ve found so far (I bet it’s a short conference). Of course nothing is that simple – A group of humans want to stop the conference as they believe the plague is god’s will, a punishment for their sins that should not be cured.

It’s quite the ensemble affair, but the episode focuses mostly on Gideon, Trace, Eilerson and Dureena – with a dash of Chambers and Matheson. Added to that we get a guest star from Babylon 5! Woo!

Sadly, it’s Captain Elizabeth Lochley. I know, it’s kind of a B5 fan cliché to dislike her, and I really tried, but what can I say? Her character is as dull as ditchwater and her constant bossy nature always winds me up.

Probably the most interesting thing about this episode is that unlike the previous three episodes, we actually get an A and B plot that tie together towards the end – something that was always part and parcel of Babylon 5 and always made it feel richer. The main thrust of the episode is the search for who is attacking the conference attendees, while Trace, Dureena and Eilerson’s sojourn on Mars seems unrelated fluff, until it becomes very obviously related.

Sadly, the mystery surrounding the attackers is quickly removed as we see one of them confess to the voice in his head – yes he’s full of regret and sorrow, but is determined to fulfill the word of god. This seems an interesting idea until you realize the word of god is being passed to him through a voice he refers to as Jeanne – That both he and the voice share thick French accents quickly bring you to the conclusion that he’s speaking to Joan of Arc (Jeanne D’arc) – I have to assume this wasn’t supposed to be a surprise for the audience due to its blatant obviousness. His bomb is set with “666” as the number of seconds (Ooo! So evil!) – I can’t see someone who thinks he’s doing god’s will using the number of the beast.

Weaved into these events we get Lochley and Gideon’s first meeting and vague signs of romance, but my word is it awkward. Intentionally so at first as their similar natures grind on one another, but then they share a meal and the dialogue is just painful. I know it’s going against the cliché to have similars attract instead of opposites, but the dialogue has to be believable, here it’s just terrible – had it been a JMS script I don’t think I’d be surprised, but this is Peter David – he usually puts in far better dialogue. At one point Lochley accuses Gideon of having “piss-poor” technique with the ladies while she’s about as charming as herpes. Gideon’s hero-worship of Sheridan seems out of character for someone as cynical as him to gush, but it’s just a ham-fisted set-up for a joke that JMS was responsible for (so Peter David’s off the hook for that one). The gentle mocking from Chambers after their dinner is a nice touch though.

As well as the conference shenanigans, we also see some of the crew take shore leave in Marsdome. This part is played for a little comic relief and is more like business as usual for Peter David – reasonably fun and sometimes amusing. For example, it’s nice to see the brash, know-it-all, Eilerson pickpocketed while trying to show off to Dureena. As both Trace and Max grew up on Mars – each on different sides of the tracks, they end up showing Dureena around, and both vie for Dureena’s attention as they wander around the city, much to her consternation. Trace Miller is there to be attacked by the convention saboteurs, notice the pattern in the attacks then identify the suspect as someone he knows. How convenient.

Gideon’s solution to diffuse the bomb threat is to simply tell all those present that the plague is far worse than planned and to basically kiss their ass goodbye. It’s some quick thinking, but the chance of it truly convincing a bomber not to activate their device would be quite a gamble (although by now, we know that’s pure Gideon).

crusade 4 - marsdome

Throughout the episode we see Marsdome as a city properly. Previously in Babylon 5 and Crusade we’ve just seen the underbelly or corporate life – here we see a little more color and variety and Marsdome seems the more complete for it. Transport hubs, main thoroughfares, market stalls, the conference hall, seedy bars and back alleys – it’s a far more cohesive view. We get a few nice nods to the literary past of Mars in the street names such as Bradbury and Burroughs (also Max orders some “Dandelion Wine”). The effects and sets generally work well, although the dive bar looks like every 1980s movie cliché: smoky, neon-filled dinginess abounds.

All in all, it’s a very average episode, with little of consequence for the future, apart from setting up Gideon and Lochley’s relationship and giving us a little background for some of the other characters. It’s a Peter David script that disappoints and that’s a shame. Onward to better things hopefully, oh and I won’t apologise for the review title.

Crusade continuity check and notes:

  • Galenwatch – Absent. This is the first episode without Galen – I don’t blame him for not turning up for this episode.
  • Lochley mentions Dr. Franklin was on Earth during the attack and so was infected and heading up the medical research teams.
  • While this issue can be leveled both Babylon 5 as well as Crusade (and a million other tv shows and movies), the scenes set on Mars show no evidence of having gravity about a third of that on Earth.
  • We have the first meeting of Gideon and Lochley and the beginning of their relationship – something that had to be fixed in continuity in a later episode. The original version of “Each Night…” was the first time they met originally, so new dialogue was dubbed into that episode to try and fix it – Let’s see how it fits when we get there.
  • While we know Eilerson is something of a polyglot genius, it seems he had a very sheltered upbringing on Mars, Trace has more of a rough and tumble blue-collar background.
  • This is the first time we’ve seen any of the fanatical doomsday cults first mentioned in “War Zone” – the one featured here is “Sacred Omega”. Gideon has a tale of a friend (a captain on the “Furies”) being killed by them when his crew mutinied, suggesting they might be widespread, yet from this they seem like a tiny minority and not all that threatening. I can’t remember if we ever actually see another doomsday group again – I will monitor the situation.

crusade 4 - banner

  • The Conference banner shows June 15th 2267 – so it’s maybe six months on from the Drakh attack. Does this date clash with other ones? It all depends when A Call to Arms was set, I don’t think it’s ever specified.
  • Thankfully this is Trace Miller’s only other appearance in the show, so we get him out of the way even quicker, now that this episode is earlier in the run. Admittedly he’s a little better here as he gets more to do, but he remains bland.
  • Trace Miller’s somewhat surprising background of Foundationist priest is because the original plan for Crusade was to include a ship’s Chaplain “Mike”), when TNT foisted Trace onto the production, Trace’s character took on some of the chaplain’s history. Interestingly Alex Mendoza was only contracted for the two episodes he featured in, with the option to be in episodes 14 to 22. JMS planned a Trilogy that would have featured Trace prominently, but Alex Mendoza’s contract wasn’t optioned by TNT after “Ruling…” wrapped, for unstated reasons, causing JMS to have to change direction on the planned trilogy.

Chronological Order Analysis:

  • Production order  = 11
  • Broadcast order  = 6
  • Continuity order  = 4
  • Is this episode better in this order? – Maybe

This has to be set before the “First Five” as that block of episodes contains Lochley and Gideon’s second meeting, this being the first. Personally I’d prefer it later in the run as it’s yet another episode set away from the quest, but due to the date and the Lochley issue it’s stuck here. It works okay – but to be honest I don’t think it works any better or worse than where it was in the original broadcast order.

(All images are property of Warner Brothers)

<Previous episode “The Path of Sorrows”|Next episode “Appearances and Other Deceits”>