A Tale of Telepaths, Loss and Boxes
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Mike Vejar
The crew find something old and forgotten that brings up past traumas.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- You own it, then you die – maybe it’s a “curse” or the box actually causes it telepathically, telekinetically, etc.
- 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.
- He gave away too much information on the Box’s secrets – the box killed him somehow.
- He killed himself by jumping in front of the car/skimmer – maybe he couldn’t live with what the Box tricked him into doing?
- 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)