The Series Premiere we Deserved
Written by J Michael Straczynski
Directed by Mike Vejar
Intriguing clues on a ruined planet might help with finding the cure, but the price paid may be too high.
We finally get to see the show as originally envisioned. It’s fast-paced, dark and exciting, with moral quandaries, but also a little humour. That said, it’s not perfect, the main reason being its original purpose of being the series premiere.
It’s pretty difficult to introduce the entire cast of an ensemble show in 43 minutes without the word “exposition” cropping up in the review and it’s strongly in force here – plus the episode also has to reintroduce Galen and Dureena, on the off-chance we didn’t see “A Call to Arms”. The best premiere episodes are subtly done, and you become acquainted with the characters through their actions – “show, don’t tell”. Sadly here we get “tell” then follow it up with the “show” to hammer the “tell” part home, this tends to make things seem a bit repetitive. For example, Gideon asks: “Where’s Dureena, our resident thief and tunnel rat?” Next, we see Dureena, in a pipe, breaking into a building…
Thankfully the pace isn’t slowed too much by these moments, and there’s a pretty intriguing story going on here. The story revolves around a mysteriously abandoned city, and trying to determine if there is anything left that will help cure the plague. Watching the show in the Continuity Order it’s nice to see the crew pro-actively searching for a cure again, instead of always reacting to situations put in their way.
The story develops nicely and becomes a lot more related to the quest for the cure and asks a few speculative questions about how humans would act if they had tried for three years to cure the plague and met with no success. I’m not sure the alien’s approach makes much sense, but it’s an interesting idea.
It’s interesting to compare Gideon’s reaction to the alien’s method of solving their plague, following the statement he makes at the beginning of the episode. He makes a deal with the Drazi to hunt for four years, then return home for the last year to police the Solar system and stop those infected from fleeing. He states “he’d make a deal with the devil to get a cure for the plague.” The episode shows maybe he won’t make some deals with the devil after all.
The alien city sets looks pretty good in some of the CG, but begins to fall down the more it’s used and this episode has a huge amount of effects shots, especially for a lower-budget TV show. Babylon 5 had a knack of working out what they could and couldn’t portray with their CG budget and still have it appear realistic (most of the time) – but one of my on-going gripes with Crusade is that it feels like they never stuck with this approach, despite having some of the same effects crew – maybe they had an even smaller budget? The skimmer chase is quite exciting, but looks sadly pretty unreal in places. The starship battles are better, but still seem a little weaker in quality than Babylon 5.
Probably the biggest “uncanny valley” situation is Galen’s homunculus, it’s bloody awful. The sad part is I really think they wanted it to look realistic, but this was the best they could do on the budget/time. It’s a rubbery monstrosity and really takes you out of the moment, thankfully we get Peter Woodward’s mugging and melodramatic performance that’s just silly enough to distract from the effects “Oh, my liver. I wondered where that’d gone.”
On another random note of complaint, the use of the stock footage from Babylon 5 (Severed Dreams) is a bit jarring as it makes the Thunderbolt pilots look faceless and menacing.
While most of the cast gets at least a scene or two, Gideon, Galen and Eilerson tend to get the most screen time. Galen gets the best of the lines and isn’t as insufferably cryptic as usual, but when he is, he’s nicely shot down by Dureena – this episode has some of their best scenes together.
We know the TNT executives wanted as few references to Babylon 5 in Crusade, so I can really see the TNT executives not being crazy about many aspects of this episode – We visit Babylon 5, get flashbacks to the Shadows…
Had this been the first episode I really think it would have had a greater impact – yes, it’s a bit rough around the edges, but it throws you into the action without completely spelling everything out, has some decent action, and include a little humour, a decent mystery and ideas to mull over.
Crusade continuity check and notes:
- Galenwatch – Present. In this order it seems Galen has been missing for a few episodes – what’s he been up to? Unsurprisingly there’s no answer, he just shows up.
- First major continuity issue! The start of the episode shows Gideon relive in a dream, the events of how he came to command the Excalibur. The dream shows him (in standard Earthforce uniform rather than the explorer ship blacks) on board Babylon 5 in discussions with the major races about access to their territories to hunt for a cure, then being shuttled across (from Babylon 5) to the Excalibur. This is in marked contrast to everything we see in “War Zone,” which showed him receiving his mission and assignment on Mars.
- As a segue between the newer episodes to the “First Five”, it works quite well with no other obvious inconsistencies. Although it’s kind of strange to see the crew now decked out in the grey ‘bellhop’ uniforms – I have to say I didn’t see any signs of changes to the set lighting after Kevin’s suggestions in “Appearances…”
- These aliens worked for three years on a cure then froze themselves with two left. Therefore they had a five year limit, just like the human race. Humans were not the original targets of the plague though (the Minbari were) and that’s why it will take five years. Is this version from 1000 years ago the same plague? A more basic version? Or was this plague also meant for another race?
- I think Sheridan mentions in “A Call To Arms” that the Drakh never took the time to engineer the plague well enough before launching it and that was why the Earth had five years. Would the Shadows have done the same a thousand years ago when it seems these aliens were barely space-faring and of no threat?
- Sadly, and probably due to the order the episodes are in now, we get a return to the broader, “default” Eilerson – full of bluster and greed, not caring a damn about a dead crewman, when in just the last episode he was doing some soul-searching over the same topic.
- We get a first experience of the human skimmer technology (it’s possible the previous Apocalypse Box owner was hit by one, but we never conclusively see what vehicle it is). The human skimmer technology was never seen on Babylon 5 and we have to assume it’s new tech either from closer Interstellar Alliance ties with the Minbari or maybe IPX discovered technology (from the Vorlons?) following the Great War. I don’t think the skimmers have even been mentioned before on Crusade (in this order), so we didn’t know they had them until now. The technology almost seems a bit anachronistic (and a little Star Wars-y, it even reminded me of Galactica 80).
- Dureena mentions wanting to learn Technomage techniques (Galen makes it clear this isn’t the first time), but won’t train her yet as she’s only out for revenge.
- From the ships in the alien chop-shop it appears that the Brakiri, Narn, Centauri and Vree (I probably missed some others) have all visited this planet at some point – how come no-one else has ever discovered the secret or noticed their ships have gone missing?
- We also get to see the fancy Thunderbolt launchers for the first time! Not sure they make much sense, but very cool none the less.
- Having already had an introduction to the Apocalypse Box, it removes the mystery originally intended when this episode was first produced, as now we know a little about it. However, it’s now more scary to know Gideon is using it for information as we know it lies. Their reception at this planet seems to suggest the Box might have tried to lead Gideon into a trap – but who knows? Maybe its information was completely out of date – where it gets it’s information is never explained during the thirteen episodes.
Chronological Order Analysis:
- Production order = 3
- Broadcast order = 9
- Continuity order = 6
- Is this episode better in this order? – Yes
While it would have worked well as a series premiere had the show not been messed with, it actually works well here and a lot better than as the ninth episode. It gets the series back on track with proactive searching for a plague solution.
If you think about, had this been the first episode, the very first thing we ever see them discover is a planet infected by the Shadows with exactly the same plague – too similar, too soon maybe… In this order at least, it feels like their quest is finally getting somewhere, even if it’s a dead end this time.
There are a couple of negative aspects being in this order – The “introductions” to each character get a little wearing, seeing as we’ve spent the last five episodes with the crew in this order, but it’s not a deal breaker. The continuity error of Gideon on Babylon 5 remains a bit jarring, but no Crusade order is perfect.
(All images are property of Warner Brothers)