Crusade: The Continuity Order Conclusion

Well that’s that. While I started this exercise to watch in the Continuity Order and analyze that, I also looked at the episodes and reviewed them also, so this conclusion will be in two parts – the first being an analysis of the Continuity Order and the second, more of my conclusions about the show in general.

Continuity Order Analysis

Overall, I felt that the Continuity Order is a decent improvement in the order of the episodes over the “Broadcast Order”. Especially for those first time viewers of Crusade coming from viewing Babylon 5,  I would heartily recommend the Continuity Order over any other. It fixes the most continuity errors of the “Broadcast” and “Chronological” orders, gives better pacing overall and the rearrangement of certain episodes affords them greater impact.

While the fixing of continuity errors is important, I felt that the movement of certain episodes for pacing and impact have a greater effect on the viewers enjoyment.

While it might be obvious if you’ve read the reviews, you’ll probably know that in my opinion, the biggest problem this order fixes is the early placement of “The Well Of Forever.” When viewed in this order it actually resonates with the audience. When it was third in order, it simply felt like an unwarranted diversion from the Drakh plague and served to make Galen appear to be a huge asshole.

Moving the “First Five” episodes earlier also does a few good things. First of all it brings the series back on track sooner, with more urgency to their quest. This is a show about a pro-active quest for a cure (at least for the first season as planned) , not simply reacting to events put in their way – a problem the “Broadcast Order” suffers from in far too many of the early episodes. Secondly, as the “First Five” episodes were produced first, most had an understandably “early” feel to them, such as too much expositional, and characters being portrayed more broadly. These aspects are still noticeable in this order, but are less obtrusive. I wish these episodes could be even earlier, but certain ones have to be before them.

The movement of “Patterns of the Soul” means that like “Well…” it’s another episode that resonates more with the audience due to its placement later in the run. Dureena’s discovery of a lost tribe of her race is a stepping stone in Dureena’s character, she finally loses the responsibility she’s carried of being the last of her race and having to preserve their memory. That is now replaced by her motivation to focus on others and find a cure for them.

While this order fixes continuity errors such as the Nano-Virus Shield being used before it’s discovery, and keeps the order in which Gideon and Lochley meet, there are still a few continuity errors that remain and are unfixable without editing or adding new dialogue:

  1. Largest of all – in “Racing the Night” we see Gideon’s first meeting about taking on the job – all of which takes place on Babylon 5, not Mars. Also, somehow Gideon manages not to meet Captain Lochley while he’s there.
  2. The “disappearance” of the grey (bellhop) uniforms in between “Each Night I Dream of Home” and “Patterns of the Soul” – This is so minor that it’s quite forgivable.
  3. The dates of the Drakh Plague Conference on Mars and the events in “Visitors From Down The Street” appear to occur out of order. There’s a couple of these kinds of errors, but they would only be noticeable to the most eagle-eyed and so pretty forgivable.

For me, the only slight disappointment that comes from the Continuity Order, is that it finishes with “The Rules of the Game.” If you were so inclined you could say that this displays something about the circularity of life, and that this show finishes where it began… The problem for me is that this order finishes on an utterly mediocre episode that leaves the viewer with no sense of closure. “Each Night I Dream of Home” might have been poorly situated from a consistency point of view (in the Broadcast Order) but its central message about striving for a solution when all seems against you, was a nice note to end on.

So all in all, the Continuity Order for me, is the best of the possible orders. That’s not to say it magically makes Crusade amazing. Despite the reasons that caused it, Crusade is not a great show – it has some great moments, but also its fair share of bad along the way. Overall you’re left with a feeling of missed opportunity, which is the saddest of all conclusions for a spin-off from the mighty “Babylon 5”.

If you want my more detailed thoughts on Crusade, please feel free to keep reading, otherwise thanks for your time.

The Continuity Order is your Friend. Watch the Continuity Order.

Crusade Series Analysis

crusade start

Crusade has become something of a “Curate’s Egg” for me, but I’m sure for many other Babylon 5 fans. I’m sure a part of that was my initial high expectations, which then became tempered by the tales of development hell and actual cancellation by TNT prior to the first episode even being released, yet despite all that, how bad could the final show be, with those involved? After all, the creator and most of the crew of the show I’ve probably (actually) gotten the most obsessive about in my life were making a spin-off…

The following is my own personal feelings on the various aspects of the show we got, I’m not trying to say my opinions or outlook are any more valid than anyone else’s, but here we go…

Storylines

Arc plots

“War Zone” re-sets the stage after “A Call to Arms”, but only “The Path of Sorrows” or “Each Night I Dream of Home” are probably 100% arc vital after that. Yes, a few other arc instances occur, but with those three episodes we learn about the most about: the Drakh plague, the Cerberus incident, Technomage schisms, the Apocalypse Box and the Telepath War fall-out – all the most interesting directions the series would have explored. “Patterns of the Soul” re-introduces conspiracies within Earthforce, but the episode’s events looked unlikely to effect the show much – just hint at further development.

Compare this to the first half season of Babylon 5. As well as a huge amount of universe building from scratch, we also get introductions to important storylines and foreshadowing: The mystery of the Minbari surrender, the Narn-Centauri conflict escalation, the Vorlons being mysterious, Telepaths as a blessing and a curse, then Mr Morden shows up with his “associates”…

Had this been all we got in Babylon 5, it would have been very similar to Crusade – in such that it’s “setting out its stall” so to speak. However, what it did that Crusade didn’t get a chance to do is progress the arc plots. Babylon 5 had introduced a major on-going plot regarding the “hole” in Sinclair’s memories – by the eigth episode we actually get it explored in a big way and are left with a pile of implications and questions. In comparison, in Crusade we’ve had interesting, shiny baubles dangled in front of us, but no real progression. Of course, we now know we were only an episode away from some major revelations before it was cancelled…

Standalones

Crusade as developed, had plenty of room for standalone episodes, but like Babylon 5, standalone episodes were not Crusade’s strong point – For every “The Needs of Earth” or “The Well of Forever” we get a “Ruling From the Tomb” or “Rules of the Game”. While I’d say none of the episodes are quite as weak as “Infection” or “Survivors” – it’s still disappointing from a team on a roll after Babylon 5.

Something that bugged me a little, is that after “A Call to Arms”, the so-called antagonists – the Drakh – barely feature, we only see them in two episodes. Really, just two: “War Zone” and “Each Night I Dream of Home”. I know the plague was going to be wrapped up in a season or two, to be replaced by an Earthforce threat, but it’s a little strange.

Cast

The cast, much like Babylon 5, was fit for the task. Maybe not packed with big names (bar Gary Cole) or even names I’d even heard of at the time, but they fit their roles nicely.

Gary Cole’s laconic Captain could say just as much with a glance as a sentence, was sardonic, yet happy to drop the silly stuff in once in a while.

Daniel Dae Kim was excellent as Matheson, despite not always getting the most to work with, his relationship with Gideon was warm and amusing, and the chances he got to stretch his acting muscles (“The Needs of Earth” and “The Well of Forever” jump to mind) showed a quiet depth and sensitivity. I was happy to see his career took off afterwards (and just noticed him in an episode of Seinfeld)

Peter Woodward plays Galen as the usual Tolkein-like wizard mix, he’s playful, intelligent, self righteous, evasive and has a dark streak of steel beneath it all – I’m not sure if the intent was to never know which version of him you’d get every time, but he could seem a little inconsistent.


Marjean Holden didn’t often get to do much beyond just “being the doctor,” but she always seemed kind and caring, with a nice line in dry humour from time to time.

Carrie Dobro was excellent as Dureena, her character always seemed fresh and immediately improved any episode she appeared in. Her playfulness, her ability to convey hot-headed rashness at one moment and serenity the next was great.

David Allen Brooks as Eilerson was also great, a character who at first seems the epitome of the slimy 80s company man (think “Burke” in Aliens maybe), got the best lines and the funniest put downs. He’s knows he’s always the smartest guy in the room, if someone else is correct, they just got lucky. That he was slowly growing into an actual human being in front of our eyes was interesting. As he sees his skills being used to do more then just make a big paycheck, and instead be appreciated, was great to watch.

Tracy Scoggins to a greater or less extent continued her character as portrayed in Babylon 5, while she was solid enough, she didn’t get much to do with progressing the plot and her character grated on me endlessly.

Most of these actors aside, from Gary Cole, Tracy Scoggins and Daniel Dae Kim, haven’t had much screen time since, and that’s quite a shame.

Score

Hating on Evan Chen’s score has gone beyond beating a dead horse by now. My opinion is that I understand why they tried it, but it wasn’t great. That said, I feel it was getting better as the episodes progressed. Overall, I think we’d all have preferred Christopher Franke to continue and I’ll leave it at that.

Sets

First of all, it must be said the Excalibur is a fabulous piece of work. The sets, the design, everything looks great and easily the equal of other, higher-budget SF shows of the time. Although for some reason the cavernous gym and recreation center still seem ridiculous to me. The other stand-out has to be the shuttle interior, being built on hydraulics really sells the idea of atmospheric flight, completely unlike the usual placid scenes you get in every other TV show.

The temporary “interior” sets were usually pretty decent, especially the multiple ruins sets. Sadly they would fall back on the “dark, industrial corridor” sets that looked lifted straight from “Down Below”, because they were.

Crusade attempted to shoot everything on stage, with the intent to save a huge amount over location shoots. The problem with that is making them look real – this also involves time and money. While they would use the trusty, old “dusty tunnels and polystyrene rocks” method of every SF show, ever, they also tried to show alien worlds with different ecosystems. While a great goal, the problem was that they worked to varying degrees, especially once composited with CG backgrounds. Even with the best will in the world, only about half of these “indoor for outdoor” shoots actually produced something that looked natural, and not an obvious set. Nature is random and messy – trying to portay this artificially is very difficult.

Yes, they were trying to do a story on a bigger scale, with new worlds most weeks, but they’d already had some practice with the concept ahead of time. Babylon 5’s “The Ragged Edge”, “The River of Souls” and “A Call to Arms” – all were all developed and written so that they could incorporate and test some of the techniques they wanted to use in Crusade – In my opinion they often looked as good or better than they looked on Crusade.

CG Effects

Crusade was trying to show a wider view of the universe than Babylon 5, with its aim to include more planets and city-scapes than Babylon 5 ever did. I’m pretty sure one of the reasons (beyond the expense) that Babylon 5 concentrated on space effects is that the technology available for the budget allowed it to look good enough, the technology required for realistic cities, forest etc. just wasn’t there. Sadly, it’s very apparent in Crusade that it still wasn’t. Almost all the worlds have a “rubbery” appearance that’s the downfall of low texture and “muddy” CG.

You can use the episode “War Zone” as a microcosm for the failings of the CG.

Desolate landscapes, which should be easiest, look like texture-less renderings. Composite shots, such as the ones with Max on the planet near the start are either composited with the angles wrong or people fading in and out through the CG.

This lack of texture / quality control causes a lot of the space effects to look lacking as well. It doesn’t help that the Excalibur and Drakh vessels when shot at medium and long distances look slick and texture-less – close up there is some textures, but it’s lost at distance.

The CG figures, which thankfully they only repeated once, were frankly bad at a distance and then very poor close up. I’m sure someone had to spend a bunch of time on it, but someone on quality control should have looked at it, said it doesn’t work, and shot it live, because it really could have been.

To repeat a point made in one of the episode reviews – I understand they were trying to do something not attempted on TV before and it’s very laudable they tried. Some might say it’s better to try and fail than play it safe. I’d say it’s better to push what you can do on a budget, but realize what works and doesn’t – something Babylon 5 tended to do.

Conclusion

So that’s the Crusade we got and it’s not great. It is great occaisionly, but also it’s terrible occaisionly. For the most part it’s reasonably fun, interesting and adequate – how’s that for completely damning with faint praise?

I’m sure my continued interest in it is due to it being the spin-off of a show I loved and is set in the same universe. The actual tales of what happened behind the scenes at TNT that have trickled out are just amazingly ridiculous and demonstrate why we got such compromises throughout. In the end it leaves you frustrated as it’s just another of those “might have beens” of the continuing Babylon 5 universe.

As stated above, the “Continuity Order” is very much an improvement over the original “Broadcast Order”. That said the “Continuity Order” doesn’t magically make bad episodes good, or fix the major gripes I have with the series. While the vast majority of these gripes were caused by the interference of TNT, I can only review the show we got and not the one I wished for back in 1998.

Thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings about a fifteen year old tv show, even more so one that only lasted thirteen episodes….

If you’d like to continue on this journey, I’m going to follow up with an article on the unproduced episodes of Crusade. These have either been made available online or as part of the Babylon 5 / Crusade script books.

I’ll be starting with “The Ends of the Earth” and when I’ve completed the pieces I’ll post the link to continue here.

(All images are property of Warner Brothers)

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