Touch of the Body Snatchers
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Stephen Furst
When an old derelict ship is not as abandoned as it first seems, the crew have to fight to protect the Excalibur.
A more action-oriented episode that acts as a segue between the newer episodes back to the older ones. It’s one part takeover and one part makeover… sorry, couldn’t help myself.
Upfront you have to address the fact that this is yet another SF show doing the whole “alien possession on the ship” as a conveniently cheap, bottle-episode format. What marks this out as a little different is that the alien possession is transferred by touch – a little like the demon in the Denzel Washington supernatural thriller “Fallen.” Plus, it has a few little nods to similar works such as an “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” scream-alike moment and having a crew member named “Romero.”
While it’s very much a ‘bottle’ episode we get some very cool shots throughout – ones rotating around Gideon on the bridge, walking and even running down the long corridors of the ship with a Steadicam, going around corners, etc. that helps give depth to the Excalibur as well as give a somewhat “West Wing” look to some of the “walk and talk” shots. So credit where it’s due to Stephen Furst on direction that combines exciting action, with a suitable feeling of confinement to help sell the story. This is the first episode so far that really makes the Excalibur look good – we see many different sets – the bridge, med bay, the cafeteria, oh and corridors, lots of corridors – The Excalibur is apparently 90% corridor.
The design of the abandoned alien ship and the aliens themselves are a little different, and in a good way. The alien ship design is pretty cool and different; bulbous, strangely segmented and asymmetric, only the CGI of the alien ship’s interior is a bit disappointing. While the aliens have more than a touch of standard “Grey” about them, they are little more scary, oh and naked. According to the B5 wiki page the Doug Jones (man of a million rubber suits) is under the alien make-up and sadly underutilized – but I didn’t see any evidence in the credits, his IMDB page or the Lurker’s Guide, so not sure if this is true or not, but he often worked for Optic Nerve at that time. The only part of the design that’s a bit off is the possessing alien’s “writing” on the walls of the Excalibur – it looks more like they cut out a bunch of abstract black plastic shapes and simply stuck them on the walls of the set…
For the most part, the alien life form’s behaviour is where the story falls down a little. Apparently they spread their conscience immediately on contact – there’s no evidence that they have to wait between each transfer, so why wouldn’t the medtech (Janey) simply walk all the way up the ship, touching everyone as she goes and then go touch Gideon? We learn they had an issue with the last ship’s captain, so why not go straight to the top of the chain of command? All the others she’s touched would be spreading themselves throughout as she continued. Maybe you could say they were being cautious and end up having their hand forced by Eilerson, but it’s still a bit weak. Once Gideon is in the spacesuit, are they trying to tell us Gideon could hold off twenty-plus possessed crew if they all rushed him? It ‘s also implied all the possessed crew waited in the cafeteria with Gideon – why would they put all their eggs in one basket?
The solution of using the comatose crew-member as a trap for the consciousness is awesome and an inspired idea by JMS. That moment when it dawns on you what they’ve just done, seconds before the alien realizes it’s trapped, is one of the best scenes in the show. It then follows up with a nice little, bittersweet moment as the alien is pleading inaudibly with Gideon, begging for its (their?) life, even trying to tell him that they know what he’s looking for. It’s probably a ruse to buy seconds of life, but the prospect of the crew having had a chance at the cure so close by and never knowing it, is something to think on. Another nice touch is the effect of the consciousness(es?) being destroyed as the body is incinerated by the ship’s weapons – it produces an effect within the explosion of squirming tentacle-like weirdness and that makes me think a little of the fight of the two Koshs on Babylon 5.
Of course, you have to wonder what Gideon’s original plan was. He donned his spacesuit and went to go meet the aliens in a hell of a rush once they force his hand by killing crewmen. His clue “The air is human” is just terrible – it’s shown the aliens have access to their host’s memories, they could easily have worked out his plan was to blow the air – it was basically what their last host race’s crew did anyway! From what we see (maybe there was a cut scene where it was stated?) this seems to be the limit of Gideon’s plan – blow the air, hope the aliens return to one body to escape and then contain/kill/destroy the last person inhabited by the presence, and hope the others can be resuscitated. This means Gideon would have to accept the death of someone, possibly all the possessed crew, to save the ship. I can kind of believe it, but Gideon’s supposed to be smarter than that.
As Gideon leaves no clue with respect to the comatose crew-member, you have to assume Eilerson somehow makes the intuitive leap to improvise and improve on the plan by getting the comatose crew-member, dressing him in a space suit and then place him in the nearest airlock/shuttlebay as bait, in the hope that’s where the alien would flee (as they have the crew’s memories) once the air is evacuated. At no point is this communicated to Gideon that we see, but then if it was it wouldn’t be a surprise for the audience…
While Gideon gets to be the hero and dutiful captain, Eilserson quietly gets some of the best moments. He slowly becomes more likable, despite remaining a pretentious horse’s ass most of the time. His work on the alien languages is kind of fun as he obsesses over it and explains it out loud despite no-one caring – he’s simply showing-off. Then when he realizes just what he blabbed out loud to the whole cafeteria, and what it means for his safety is a great moment. Later we get the wonderful scene as he talks to Chambers – he can’t believe someone would give their life for his – he’s truly humbled by this selfless act. It goes to show he really knows how much others must hate him because of his attitude. Therefore he wonders how could this stranger selflessly risk and ultimately give his own life for his? His disbelief goes to show that he may think he wouldn’t do the same for others, yet now he has to live with the guilt of a life given for his. His attitude in the past is that he’s fine if others risk themselves for his safety, but when shown the consequence of these situations, he really doesn’t believe it.
Alongside the takeover story you also have the more frivolous story of two consultants from Earth trying to give the ship and the crew a makeover to add to the heroic role they are playing for the folks back home, using them as a beacon of hope. On the surface that’s what they’re there for, however what this situation is referring to, in no uncertain terms, is TNT’s attempts to meddle and mold Crusade into a completely different show. In a nice touch we get John Vickery (who was great as Neroon in Babylon 5) back in the guise of Mr Welles (his minor Night Watch liaison officer role in Babylon 5) who is now working PR for the government, and shows just how adept some people are able to squirm their way out of trouble. His sliminess is just the right vehicle for being the face of TNT, sorry Earthgov. He puts in a good performance as both the government representative as well as the mouthpiece for the alien consciences – although, why he takes over from Janey (who was first infected) is never explained – maybe because the aliens perceived he had a higher position of power? Bizarrely, this is the first time I noticed how much he REALLY looks like Kyle MacLaughlin…
Watching the episodes in this order makes me realize there really wasn’t much action in the early (Broadcast Order) episodes of Crusade – bar, War Zone. After that the next six or seven episodes only had limited action or scenes of mild peril in them, so in that respect it’s nice to get one which ups the ante a little more than usual.
Crusade continuity check and notes:
- Galenwatch – Absent
- As a segue between the newer episodes back to the “First Five”, it works quite well with no obvious inconsistencies.
- This episode “introduces” the original uniforms (the grey “bellhop” ones) as originally designed for the show before TNT requested many changes. In this episode these “newer” (bellhop) uniforms are greeted by the crew as unwanted and unneeded. This seems odd as you’d have to assume JMS would prefer the original design as they were what was made before TNT’s interference reached breaking point, however the script is written to express the crew’s dislike and discomfort with them. So was it written this way to make the change back to the “older” (black) uniforms easier? or did JMS actually prefer the black uniforms? It always seemed like he hated every single thing TNT wanted.
- Kevin talks about changing the lighting on the ship. I’ve never really noticed any lighting differences in the past between the “First Five” episodes and the later ones, so maybe I’ll try and keep an eye open for that…
- The EarthForce force ships arrive and take away the derelict ship, I don’t think we ever find out if there was anything useful on board. Any chance we might meet the original host’s race in the future?
Chronological Order Analysis:
- Production order = 13
- Broadcast order = 8
- Continuity order = 5
- Is this episode better in this order? – Yes
As this is the “bridge” episode for the uniform change, bringing this episode forward is required to segue to the “First Five” episodes. Also, as the episode is more suspenseful than many of the other earlier “Broadcast Order” episodes, I feel it benefits the pacing of the series overall, so I tentatively think having this episode here is a good idea.
(All images are property of Warner Brothers)