A Conspiracy to Stop a Conspiracy
Written by Fiona Avery
Directed by Tony Dow
The Excalibur is ordered to assess a small human colony for signs of the plague, Dureena discovers something surprising and Gideon’s distrustful nature pays off.
This is an episode I thought was very forgettable when watched the first time, and while it has quite a few things that are not in it’s favour, it actually ends up reasonably compelling. This reassessment comes because we’ve since learnt that the Excalibur crew were going to be betrayed by parts of Earthforce and become fugitives as the series progressed. In the light of this information, this episode looks more and more like foreshadowing, rather than going over themes seen often in Babylon 5 (shades of grey in the military, government and corporations conspiring together, black projects, etc). The effect this produces reminds me of moments when you’d go back and watch season 1 episodes of B5 after watching the later seasons.
The overall conspiracy is interesting, but there’s quite a few things that work against this episode in general.
The first being the General (Thompson) – he’s so shifty and evasive that the audience and Gideon are immediately suspicious – he’s utterly transparent. The next problem is the counterpoint antagonist amongst the colonists (Tim) played by Eric Ware, to say his weird, hysterical delivery is immediately grating doesn’t go far enough, but as he also gets some dreadful dialogue it at least gives some unintentional laughs – especially as he threatens he might crush Dr. Chambers with his “Cy-Ber-Net-Ic Arms!” Ooo! Beware the arms!
The last point is the one that almost kills the episode for me. Dureena’s race (which is never named to my knowledge – they come from Zander Prime, so – Zanderians?) are a barely-veiled Native American stereotype.
It’s disappointing from a show associated with Babylon 5 – yes, you could draw parallels between the Centauri and European “Imperial” traditions, or the Minbari having some Japanese undertones, but here they just seemed to need a quick solution and picked the Native American template. The intro scene with the tribal elder talking to Robert Black is horribly clichéd melodrama. Additionally, I have to say when the old guy’s face is revealed to Dureena it’s not immediately apparent they are the same race, the make-up isn’t as distinctive on screen as they might think. That they were marooned in the previous Shadow War (so, over 1000 years ago) is a bit interesting, but they seem to have done nothing in the intervening years it seems.
The whole problem looks to be a completely Earthforce-related matter, so why is Dureena along for the ride anyway?! I know – because the plot dictates it. Then she just happens to stumble over the same old, dying guy as Robert Black. Is this a very small planet? Also, wouldn’t the crew scan the planet for lifeforms as a matter of standard procedure when approaching a new planet?
These negatives aside, there’s quite a lot of good too. Earthforce has always been portrayed in quite a realistic manner, with suitable shades of grey throughout. Here we see far more Machiavellian forces at work within it, infecting the colonists because they perceive them to be a threat. That Max’s opinion of Pro-Zeta Corporation is that they are above the law and certainly not above murder to keep secrets is a nice turn. This ambiguity and threat from within are what lift this episode above the more negative aspects and this is probably one of our first real views into the long term future of Crusade, had it had continued.
Maybe the fact Gideon completely disobeyed a direct order and falsified information in front of his entire crew is to demonstrate he’s an insane gambler, trusts his crew implicitly, or that someone would betray that trust in the future. Or maybe it was just lazy writing.
While it appears to be night all the time, this is probably one of the better uses of the “indoors for outdoors” method used for Crusade – where they actually shipped flora on stage to portray new planets, although they seemed to have maxed out the budget on grass. Maybe they should have called this place Planet Turf (sorry).
Brian Thompson, playing Robert Black, turns in a surprisingly quiet and understated effort. He ends up surprisingly sympathetic, despite the fact he tends to get far more “bad guy” roles. That he’s not the stubborn knuckle head he could have been, is a nice surprise. Instead Tim gets that role.
The scene with Gideon using someone else’s codes to get “ultraviolet” clearance is fun. The way it plays out it’s clearly implied that he won the access while gambling – not a huge surprise knowing Gideon is an inveterate gambler. Sadly, they have to go and explain it at the end, in case you’re a bit slow.
Max continues to talk the talk about being a hard-nosed corporate money-maker, but his chat with his bosses show his reports are long overdue and his change of heart over selling-out Dureena’s people seems to mark a gradual change of heart and growth for the future, or maybe to make a future betrayal more shocking…
The ending is bittersweet as Dureena finds out her people are infected also and likely to die in less than a year, not the five the humans have.
Crusade continuity check and notes:
- Galenwatch – Absent – That’s three in a row, the longest stretch so far.
- Tim mentions it took them six months of searching to find Theta 49, this might mean they have been looking for six months since the plague hit (making the attack six months ago), or that they had to research for six months to find Theta 49 (or a combination of both), in which case we have no idea how long the attack was from the point of view of this episode.
- While General Thompson was able to get President Sheridan’s express permission for the mission, I doubt he knew about about the hidden agendas.
- This is the first (and only) time we see the nanovirus shield used. We learn the nanovirus shield should last 48 hours after application – with no option to consume anything in the infected zones. If the nanovirus shield is in the lungs and mouth, wouldn’t it also end up in the digestive tract? After 48 hours does it turn to dust like the probes we saw in “A Memory of War?” – that wouldn’t be good in for your health…
- Earlier versions of the script emphasized the low-tech “back to basics” approach Robert Black’s group wished to follow, this gets a bit lost in the produced episode.
- I’m trying to remember if it’s the first time we see the full-size skimmer model, sadly it’s only for a second or two in the dark, but it’s a sexy bit of hardware.
- Hey it’s the Shadows again! This is the third time they show up in flashback – I know they have a long history of being spooky assholes throughout the galaxy, but sometimes it does feel like B5 fan-service having them pop up so often.
- For your information and mine, I googled “Sharks” as a card or dice game and couldn’t find any obvious matches, maybe it was made up for Crusade.
- It’s a nice nod back to B5 universe history that Robert Black (part of a black project no less) was a GROPO during the Minbari War and took part in the Battle of the Line. In what capacity though, wasn’t it all in Earth orbit? Also, didn’t only 200 of 20000 people involved survive?
- As only the Excalibur crew know the colonists are there, what would happen if they were all to die? The tiny colony (30 people) would be marooned there with a very small gene pool to continue from. Thinking about it, that’s also very true for Dureena’s race’s colony that apparently started with a hundred people, but has been there for about a thousand years – are they horribly inbred?
- Last thought – what is up with the “recycling system” on the colonists ship – do they just have a room with a hatch in the top that they simply throw their trash in to “recycle”. Is it like the trash compactor in Star Wars? Why would there be a screen in there?
Chronological Order Analysis:
- Production order = 10
- Broadcast order = 5
- Continuity order = 11
- Is this episode better in this order? – Yes
This episode is better here for many reasons, but the biggest being the fact that we now see the “nanovirus shield” being discovered in “A Memory of War” prior to this episode.
This is the first episode after the uniforms magically change back to “black” and to be honest it wasn’t jarring, I barely noticed it.
(All images are property of Warner Brothers)