Tag Archives: b5

Stephen Furst – 1955 – 2017

0-beyond-the-rim4 Stephen Furst

It’s horrible having to update this image so soon. Stephen Furst was invaluable to the world of Babylon 5 – he was both fantastic as Vir and directed multiple episodes of Babylon 5 and Crusade. Most of us were introduced to his abilities from Animal House, but he’ll forever be Vir to many of us. My sincere condolences to his family and friends.

As a tribute I updated my “Beyond the Rim” image.

(Original image – Warner Brothers)

Crusade – Continuity Order – S01E00 – A Call to Arms

A Prelude to a Crusade

Written by J. Michael Straczynski

Directed by Mike Vejar

Grade: B-

Spoilers follow.

Episode Synopsis:

Sheridan’s dreams lead him to a group of strangers who will help him face a new threat from an old foe.

Episode Review:

Why episode zero, I probably don’t hear you ask? Well, I wasn’t too sure whether or not to include “A Call To Arms” in this Crusade watch-through, seeing as it’s more of a Babylon 5 movie than a Crusade pilot, but I felt I had to for the sake of context and completion.

Sadly, it’s not a triumph, but neither is it a failure either – it’s a competent enough TV movie that probably would have benefited from sharing the epic feel given to “In The Beginning” – after all, it could be the end of the world as we know it…

That’s not to say it’s no good, it’s actually a lot of fun, with a reasonably fast pace, a few good twists along the way, and some effective injections of light humour. Just don’t expect much depth beyond the race to discover the Drakh threat and the vague problem that Sheridan’s pals might condemn him to a mental institution, all finished up with the obligatory big battle at the end.

At the beginning, Bruce Boxleitner plays Sheridan as if he’s having a whale of a time – he’s getting back out there from behind the ISA Presidential desk, doing something practical and it’s great to see his reaction to that. At one point he’s like a teenager – sneaking out of the house (Babylon 5), pinching the family car (the Excalibur), and leaving a recorded note – it’s almost like an interstellar Ferris Buehler’s Day Off.

Jerry Doyle returns, with Garibaldi much the same, despite the new responsibilities of family life and running Edgar’s Industries – sadly he never returned for Crusade (plans were apparently squashed by TNT).

call - tony todd

The main guest star is Tony Todd and he would have made a bad-ass captain for the Excalibur in Crusade, which I’m pretty sure is why he was cast. I’d imagine many first time viewers who knew of the Crusade spin-off, but not who was cast as the Captain could easily imagine (the awesome) Tony Todd is the guy for the job, thus making his sacrifice more shocking. Although the scene with his daughter makes his death all the more predictable, his line about protecting her from the monsters always gets to me. I know, I’m a big sentimental sap.

The rest of the supporting cast do a good job – Tony Maggio’s Drake seems just to be neurotic comic relief at first before affecting the story later, while the actress playing the pilot of the Excalibur (Marjean Holden) would go on to play Dr. Sarah Chambers in Crusade. Jeff Conaway gets a short, fun appearance which would sadly prove to be the last one he filmed for a Babylon 5 related production.

As with the other TNT movies, it’s in (TV) widescreen and, of course, the show looks so much better for it. I know there’s an issue with the effects to stop the show being remastered and rereleased on Blu-Ray in the widescreen format, but I wish someone would have the foresight to realize that spending that money upfront would result in a huge renaissance in interest, purchases and profit for Warner Bros. I can dream can’t I?

As I mentioned earlier, despite the widescreen, a few things drained the potential for this to be the epic adventure it should be. First of all and probably the biggest issue for me is the music – Evan Chen’s score is a little esoteric – flitting somewhere between orchestral and synth, but doesn’t carry the emotional impact or subtlety of Franke’s grand works (an issue which continues into Crusade as well). The humour, although effective, does serve to decrease the tension. Then we have the Drakh, not the most charismatic or threatening of villains, and their threat is further diminished by being off-screen almost the entire time. The majority of the time the Drakh appear only in the form of their bland spaceships.

Another major factor, in my opinion, is because of the new techniques being tried out here. One of the main goals of “A Call to Arms” production was the implementation of new production techniques, that would then be used on Crusade. As Crusade was to be more of a ‘planet of the week’ show than Babylon 5 ever was, it would require a lot of exterior shoots. However, exterior shooting is very expensive (and sadly, Babylonian Productions always worked with budgets way below shows such as the Star Treks, Stargates, etc.) so it was decided to film exterior locations in the studio. I’m sure the production crew tried very hard to achieve this – they created at least three different worlds in this movie – which is more than most seasons of Babylon 5! However, in my opinion they didn’t fully convince, despite turf being shipped in or giving over whole studio spaces to become rocky plateaus, druidic stone circles, etc. Much like the Star Trek “exterior” sets, something about the exterior work sadly looked ‘stagey’ to me. I’ll stop bitching here for a second though to say the hydraulically controlled shuttle interior is a triumph though.

The final issue for me is that the visual effects simply don’t feel up to par – the quality was always more variable after they ditched Foundation Imaging to bring it in-house and this one is one of the more disappointing occasions. Despite featuring massive fleets and super-sized death machines, all too often the battles feel ‘off’ – more like a video game, with the mass and solidity of the ships not well conveyed. One of the issues is that the scale often feels wrong – the worst example of this is the Shadow Death Cloud / Planet Killer.

call - shadow(I apologize for how grainy the image is)

We’re told this thing is insanely massive – it has to be to engulf the Earth! Then when we finally see inside the cloud (particularly at the end, once it activates prematurely) it looks like it would barely wrap around Belgium. Of course, I know this work is all being done on a TV show budget, and this TV movie includes a HUGE number of effects and composites shots, but when some don’t work, it serves to pull you out of the story.

I don’t mean to be such a downer on “A Call To Arms”, it really is worth your time to watch for many reasons. I think the issue for me was that my expectations were set so high, and when it didn’t quite live up to them, I couldn’t help but start nitpicking.

Crusade continuity check and notes:

  • Galenwatch (because he’s hard to pin down) – Present, in spirit.
  • While you could just jump straight into “War Zone” – I think you get more out of the series having watched this first. It provides the full background to the Drakh plague, you meet some of the new characters and get to see the Excalibur in action.
  • We meet both Galen and Dureena here for the first time. Dureena comes off better, partly due to more screen time, but she’s also able to help out in surprising ways, with a nicely sarcastic turn of phrase and nicely acted. Galen is only in it for a small time, so it’s hard to get a good idea of his character, apart from his cynical tone, rather convoluted help and cod-Shakespearean dialogue.
  • You get a great introduction to the Excalibur, both internally and externally. Overall, I always liked the interior design and the layout – intentionally submarine-like and more high-tech looking than previous Earthforce designs – although we only get to see the conference room, a few corridors and the bridge. As for the exterior, I’ve always been a little lukewarm to the ship design – I like a lot of the early Mayrand concept sketches which accentuated the Vorlon and Minbari influences more than the human tech, but these were gradually smoothed away until we get the somewhat unwieldy-looking Excalibur – it has some interesting design touches, but as it’s rendered an almost uniform light grey. This means it looks a bit low texture and dull at a distance. Nice to see the adaptive armour plating in action, but the “one minute power-down” following the firing of the main gun is such a plot device, it can’t help but annoy a little.
  • The ISN news report at the beginning mentions “A ground-breaking ceremony to those who died in the recent telepath crisis…” something which is returned to a little later in Crusade.

Chronological Order Analysis:

  • Production order  = 0
  • Broadcast order  = 0
  • Continuity order  = 0
  • Is this episode better in this order? It’s in this location in any order

Naturally, as it’s set before the series, there’s nothing that is out of continuity. Whether or not you watch this before Crusade, it’s always going to be first in the order.

(All images are property of Warner Brothers)

< Introduction to Continuity Order | Next episode “War Zone” >

Crusade – Continuity Order – S01E01 – War Zone

Poor Zone

Written by J. Michael Straczynski

Directed by Janet Greek

Grade: D+

Spoilers follow.

Episode Synopsis:

The crew of the Excalibur come together to begin their quest for the cure to the Drakh plague.

Episode Review:

My memory was that this episode was weak – no surprise, many first episodes are. Unfortunately it’s worse than that, this episode pretty much stinks. I really want to love and embrace this show, but this is painful to watch. I know, I know, JMS wrote this script under duress and naturally didn’t make much effort, but boy does it show. Sadly I can’t review an episode for what I want it to be, or what it could have been, only by what we, the viewers, see on-screen.

It’s hard to know where to begin. There’s so many issues here, but it boils down to one thing – with this episode, TNT get exactly what they wanted. The first scene of the entire series is one of the most pointless fistfights ever put on film, just like they wanted. The rest of the episode that follows is stuffed with clunky exposition, artificially injected action, broadly written characters, cheesy dialogue and clichés abound. The simplest description I can make is that it’s written more like a children’s show.

You have to assume this is kind of the point JMS is trying to make. It ticks almost all the boxes of what TNT wanted Crusade to become and shows how hackneyed, predictable and clichéd a series it would have been if they’d followed all the notes. It makes that point, but it’s at the expense of the viewer – It’s like cutting off your own nose to spite your face. There’s still some good dialogue peeking through, like a diamond in the muck, as though JMS wanted to let everyone know he’s still in there somewhere.

It seems the rest of the cast and crew got the message that JMS was doing this episode through gritted teeth, and treated it in the same fashion. The acting at best is passable, the effects are lacking, and the direction flaccid despite being an action episode conducted by the usually effective Janet Greek

The story itself is exactly what you’d expect from the first episode of an ensemble cast show – getting the team together, then giving them a problem to overcome to bond them all together. While part of you can’t help but think that it’s interesting to see how everyone came together, in the end it’s just as predictable as you imagine. You end up feeling that if you’d not seen this episode, you wouldn’t have missed much you couldn’t have surmised later. Which is just the idea JMS had tried to implement when the original plan was to premier with “Racing The Night”.

It has to be mentioned that despite everything, the episode is really quite ambitious in scope, so at least there’s that. We start at the Earth orbit battlefield, swing by Marsdome, stop off at the unnamed world near where Gideon was rescued, then proceed to Ceti 4 for another space battle with the Drakh and another battle montage set to music and no other sound – once in a while these are fine, but it was becoming something of a Babylon 5 cliché.

The CG is sometimes pretty bad – whether it’s a case of penny-pinching to not spend money on an episode that they didn’t want to make, or they just didn’t have time for the complexity of this episode, it’s simply not very good. I remembered the CG Drakh looked bad at the time, but now they look shockingly unreal:

I realise they were trying something new for TV here, and they get kudos for trying, but the technology just wasn’t there yet. In fact, doing fully CG figures rarely works now in big budget blockbusters, here we’re in pure uncanny valley territory. The CG landscapes vary in effectiveness, passable at a distance and/or with a little haze, but once they get more close-up they look worse and worse.

For some reason they chose to keep the Drakh masks with glowing eyes for the soldiers. These still look as ridiculous as the did in the Babylon 5 episode “Lines of Communication” – the actual Optic Nerve-designed Drakh prosthetics are awesome, why wouldn’t they stick with those? Plus, the weapon design looks extremely unwieldy. So, in the end the Drakh look a bit cheap, cheesy and not threatening enough. The dialogue their leader spouts is pure cliché and sometimes the Drakh feel like they’d be more at home on the set of a Power Rangers show.

drakh power rangers

Most of the regular cast at least try to put in some kind of a performance. As you’d expect, Gideon takes the lion’s share of the screen time, and while he actually looks a little unsure in his role from time to time (maybe done on purpose as he has a new ship to command), he comes across as a decent, hard-nosed-but-fair kind of captain – yes, he’s very much the “renegade captain” trope, but Cole’s insouciant approach suits the role well.

In one of the best scenes, Gideon reassures Matheson he’s the right man for the job, despite some people’s concerns over him being a telepath. The acting that goes into that scene alone is what pushes this episode up a grade to a “D+”… just.

Despite only appearing a few times and not having made much impact (for me anyway) in “A Call To Arms”, Galen actually comes across better here. He brings some of the cooler Technomage aspects into play – casually kicking Drakh ass, vanishing a lot, dropping smoke-bombs, quizzing Gideon on his quest, hacking the Excalibur with ease, rescuing Gideon in flashback and generally sneaking around under their noses like a wizardy know-it-all.

The rest of the crew doesn’t get much time to shine, but acquit themselves well enough and show off their main character traits – David Allen Brooks demonstrates Max Eilerson’s smarts, greed and tendency to get good lines, Daniel Dae Kim as John Matheson is stoic and dependable, Marjean Holden as Chambers is strong, decisive and sympathetic -probably the most rounded character. Only Carrie Dobro gets little to do as Dureena. The weakest link has to be the shoehorned in, bad-boy pilot Trace Miller, he’s like a bland James Dean cut-out rebelling against nothing. I know he was forcibly introduced to pacify the TNT executives, but he served almost no purpose for the entire thirteen episode run. Maybe he would have gone the way of that other memorable pilot, Warren Keffer. I can dream…

It’s hard to imagine a first time viewer watching this and wanting to see more, especially if they’ve never seen Babylon 5. I have a hard time recommending anyone watch this – even though I know there’s better stuff down the road. Looking back, the Babylon 5 pilot “The Gathering” and first episode “Midnight on the Firing Line” may be a bit rough around the edges, but they’re sheer poetry in comparison to this train wreck.

Crusade continuity check and notes:

  • Galenwatch – Present
  • We get our first look at the title sequence, which works quite well, I always liked the swishy-sword/Excalibur gimmick. They’re definitely trying to impart a mythic feel to the crew’s quest, with some interesting darker undercurrents. The theme tune itself is one of the few times I don’t mind Evan Chen’s music, I just never felt his scores fit well.
  • On board the ship, we see the Excalibur flight deck, and see its assignment of human fighter-craft on board (both Thunderbolts and Starfurys), something we never saw in “A Call to Arms”. We get a mention that the Excalibur is a mile and a half long, then get to see the cool tube cars that run the length of the ship.
  • The ship is now fully crewed and it seems the main ‘team’ roles are filled:
  1. Matthew Gideon – Captain
  2. John Matheson – First Officer
  3. Dureena Nafeel – Resident thief
  4. Galen – Wizard
  5. Dr. Sarah Chambers – Chief Medical Officer
  6. Max Eilerson – Archaeologist, linguist, weekly pain in the ass
  7. Trace Miller – Ostensibly a pilot, but no real idea what he’s supposed to do.
  • While we heard Gideon had the opportunity to pick his crew, we don’t find out if anyone, bar Matheson came with him from his old command. From the way the crew seem at home with most of the systems, we might assume most of the crew were already assigned prior to his arrival – particularly with how accomplished their performance is against three Drakh cruisers.
  • This episode features the newer, black explorer uniforms – which was about the only suggestion TNT made that I actually agree with. Although why were the Explorer crew supposed to have different uniforms? They’re Earthforce, and we saw another Explorer Class ship (from the B5 episode “A Distant Star”) had standard uniforms – I know, probably brand recognition and all that.
  • This Drakh commander seems quite weaselly, very happy to hide while others protect him, not the calm puppet-masters we’ve seen in the past on Babylon 5.
  • We flash back back to the time when the Technomages migrated away from known space – just before the Shadow War (set just after the events of the Babylon 5 episode “The Geometry of Shadows”). At that time Gideon was stranded in just a space suit and apparently Galen rescued him – something we’ll return to in more detail in a later episode.
  • The Captain has an unusual, powerful alien object hidden in his room, which seems intelligent, knows many secrets, speaks to him and seems inherently untrustworthy. This is the same situation as the protagonist in Philip Jose Farmer’s novel “The Unreasoning Mask”.

Chronological Order Analysis:

  • Production order  = 8
  • Broadcast order  = 1
  • Continuity order  = 1
  • Is this episode better in this order? – Same as the Broadcast Order

Definitely supposed to be the first episode in order, despite being shot later. No obvious potential continuity issues. Although “Racing the Night” has Gideon dream/remember being tasked with the mission on Babylon 5 – but I’ll bring that up in that episode though.

(All images are property of Warner Brothers)

TV Movie / Pilot “A Call to Arms” | Next episode “The Long Road” >

Crusade – Continuity Order – S01E02 – The Long Road

Carry on my Woodward Son

Written by J. Michael Straczynski

Directed by Mike Vejar

Grade: C

Spoilers follow.

Episode Synopsis:

A conflict between Earthforce and a small colony gets out of hand once an old friend of Galen’s gets involved.

Episode Review:

While an improvement on “War Zone,” this episode is not exactly a televisual delight either, thankfully it doesn’t insult your intelligence quite like the last episode though.

The story revolves around a disagreement between some local yokels on a low-tech world (Regula 4) and some pantomime bully Earthforce officers, who are forcibly mining the planet for a mineral that seems to boost the human body’s ability to fight off viruses. However the locals have help from a Technomage (well, ex-Technomage) who is aiding their cause. You can’t help but think the crew of the Excalibur have more pressing issues than sorting out this kind of diplomatic issue, even if it does involve a dragon.

The episode is a bit slow, far too in love with Technomages and their often whimsical tendencies (but at least it shows some of their negative potential – both their ability for destruction and the potential for their “charges” to begin using the Technomage as a crutch), all wrapped up in a reasonably predictable high-tech vs low-tech issue. That the colonists are yokel stereotypes pulled from Stargate’s Big Book of Bumpkins, means you end up with all the clichéd characters you’d expect – honest simple folk, hot-headed morons, cute sympathetic daughters, and incompetent officers ignoring their concerns.

From the main cast, this is basically a two-hander for Galen and Gideon, and despite being something of an odd couple, they share some fun moments as their personalities clash, but always retain their innate respect and friendship for one another.

The best part of the episode has to be Edward Woodward’s appearance and worth watching for that alone. When it comes down to it, the whole episode is an excuse to get him and his son Peter together on-screen. There’s a lot of nice ruminations about the father and son relationship that are quite touching, even more so now that Edward Woodward passed away a few years ago and is sadly missed. Here his quiet moments are full of pathos, then while he pontificates in his Technomage persona he unleashes his full RADA abilities to command the moment.

The darker the CG effects, the more passable they are – shots of the landscape are fine until lit up. However, once they are clearer, they lose their effect. For example, the mine site looks completely unreal, and poor Alwyn’s Technomage incantations look pretty lame, about as threatening as interpretive dance.

Then there’s that golden dragon. A nice idea for the end of a teaser (as Alwyn asks “who does dragons any more?” Well, Game of Thrones does now, but this was fifteen years ago), but it looks so rubbery and cartoon-like it wouldn’t scare anyone – strange when the holodemons look quite nasty in the flesh.

crusade 2 - holodemons

The holodemons are a very cool design – especially when they solidify to smack the soldiers – but you have to think that all that PPG fire in the inn, with those civilians there was not a good idea, That none of the soldiers would have automatically threatened or attacked the Technomages seems unlikely, seeing as they’d just observed them “summoning” them.

The sets are pretty decent throughout – particularly the exterior of the mine and the inn interior – although the inn does look like it was built yesterday. The wooded outlook above the mine looks reasonably realistic for being shot on the stage, showing up the CG all the more unfortunately.

All in all, nothing too memorable and from a continuity stand point, completely skippable, but you’d miss some nice character moments. So why was this episode called “The Long Road”? A shout back to “A Call to Arms” when Galen used the line? To show the crew have a long road to travel? Is life “The Long Road”? Your guess is as good as mine.

Crusade continuity check and notes:

  • Galenwatch – Present
  • This seems to be set at least six weeks after the first episode “War Zone” – Have the crew done anything of note in that time?
  • Slight continuity issue – As the Earth Alliance is so big on the antiviral mineral (testing had been positive apparently), this begs the question how do they know an antiviral would be any help? I don’t believe we even learn what the Drakh “plague” is until the episode “Each Night I Dream of Home” – For all they know it could be a bacteria, a chemical or something else entirely! I don’t think we see any further references to this antiviral agent later on in the season.
  • We get quite a lot of information on the Technomages – we learn they weren’t all one big happy family, and Alwyn believed that they should all have stayed around for the Shadow War to help on the side of light. While Alwyn stayed for the Shadow War, we get no idea of whether he helped at all.
  • Elric (the mage Sheridan saw on Babylon 5) became Galen’s mentor after Galen’s father died, then died himself only a year after the mages went into hiding.
  • Something you might miss – Alwyn’s dramatic appearance early on blows out all the candles and the poor daughter of the innkeeper has to scurry around re-lighting candles. I bet she hates it every time he shows up…
  • There’s a gym and basketball court on the Excalibur, located inside what seems to be a massive, unused hanger. I have to wonder – these ships were originally made for the Interstellar Alliance to use and so the gym was part of it – this conjures up images for me of Drazi pumping iron and Pak’ma’ra on the treadmill…

Chronological Order Analysis:

  • Production order  = 7
  • Broadcast order  = 2
  • Continuity order  = 2
  • Is this episode better in this order? – Same as the Broadcast Order

Although it works okay in this location with only a small continuity issue, I’ve always felt it might work better later in the run. There’s not much going on that would clash with the continuity here apart from the mention of six weeks since the attack, so it might be moved further back in the viewing order if need be. I always felt this was a bit of a weak episode to be so early in the show’s run.

(All images are property of Warner Brothers)

< Previous episode “War Zone” | Next episode “The Path of Sorrows” >

Crusade – Continuity Order – S01E03 – The Path of Sorrows

A Tale of Telepaths, Loss and Boxes

Written by J. Michael Straczynski

Directed by Mike Vejar

Grade: B+

Spoilers follow.

Episode Synopsis:

The crew find something old and forgotten that brings up past traumas.

Episode Review:

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.
crusade 3 - psi

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.

crusade 3 - galen

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. The shot above was really nice too – Mike Vejar, consistently good as always.

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.

crusade 3 - box

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:
    1. You own it, then you die – maybe it’s a “curse” or the box actually causes it telepathically, telekinetically, etc.
    2. 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.
    3. He gave away too much information on the Box’s secrets – the box killed him somehow.
    4. He killed himself by jumping in front of the car/skimmer – maybe he couldn’t live with what the Box tricked him into doing?
    5. 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)

< Previous episode “The Long Road” | Next episode “Ruling From the Tomb” >

Crusade – Continuity Order – S01E04 – Ruling from the Tomb

Through a Jeanne, D’Arc-kly

Written by Peter David.

Directed by John Copeland.

Grade: C

Spoilers follow.

Episode Synopsis:

When the crew stop at Mars to attend a conference on stopping the Drakh plague, it seems not everyone wants to cure it.

Episode Review:

After the highs of the last episode, this is a more mundane affair – The Excalibur stops by Mars to take part in a conference on the Drakh plague and share what they’ve found so far (I bet it’s a short conference). Of course nothing is that simple – A group of humans want to stop the conference as they believe the plague is god’s will, a punishment for their sins that should not be cured.

It’s quite the ensemble affair, but the episode focuses mostly on Gideon, Trace, Eilerson and Dureena – with a dash of Chambers and Matheson. Added to that we get a guest star from Babylon 5! Woo!

Sadly, it’s Captain Elizabeth Lochley. I know, it’s kind of a B5 fan cliché to dislike her, and I really tried, but what can I say? Her character is as dull as ditchwater and her constant bossy nature always winds me up.

Probably the most interesting thing about this episode is that unlike the previous three episodes, we actually get an A and B plot that tie together towards the end – something that was always part and parcel of Babylon 5 and always made it feel richer. The main thrust of the episode is the search for who is attacking the conference attendees, while Trace, Dureena and Eilerson’s sojourn on Mars seems unrelated fluff, until it becomes very obviously related.

Sadly, the mystery surrounding the attackers is quickly removed as we see one of them confess to the voice in his head – yes he’s full of regret and sorrow, but is determined to fulfill the word of god. This seems an interesting idea until you realize the word of god is being passed to him through a voice he refers to as Jeanne – That both he and the voice share thick French accents quickly bring you to the conclusion that he’s speaking to Joan of Arc (Jeanne D’arc) – I have to assume this wasn’t supposed to be a surprise for the audience due to its blatant obviousness. His bomb is set with “666” as the number of seconds (Ooo! So evil!) – I can’t see someone who thinks he’s doing god’s will using the number of the beast.

Weaved into these events we get Lochley and Gideon’s first meeting and vague signs of romance, but my word is it awkward. Intentionally so at first as their similar natures grind on one another, but then they share a meal and the dialogue is just painful. I know it’s going against the cliché to have similars attract instead of opposites, but the dialogue has to be believable, here it’s just terrible – had it been a JMS script I don’t think I’d be surprised, but this is Peter David – he usually puts in far better dialogue. At one point Lochley accuses Gideon of having “piss-poor” technique with the ladies while she’s about as charming as herpes. Gideon’s hero-worship of Sheridan seems out of character for someone as cynical as him to gush, but it’s just a ham-fisted set-up for a joke that JMS was responsible for (so Peter David’s off the hook for that one). The gentle mocking from Chambers after their dinner is a nice touch though.

As well as the conference shenanigans, we also see some of the crew take shore leave in Marsdome. This part is played for a little comic relief and is more like business as usual for Peter David – reasonably fun and sometimes amusing. For example, it’s nice to see the brash, know-it-all, Eilerson pickpocketed while trying to show off to Dureena. As both Trace and Max grew up on Mars – each on different sides of the tracks, they end up showing Dureena around, and both vie for Dureena’s attention as they wander around the city, much to her consternation. Trace Miller is there to be attacked by the convention saboteurs, notice the pattern in the attacks then identify the suspect as someone he knows. How convenient.

Gideon’s solution to diffuse the bomb threat is to simply tell all those present that the plague is far worse than planned and to basically kiss their ass goodbye. It’s some quick thinking, but the chance of it truly convincing a bomber not to activate their device would be quite a gamble (although by now, we know that’s pure Gideon).

crusade 4 - marsdome

Throughout the episode we see Marsdome as a city properly. Previously in Babylon 5 and Crusade we’ve just seen the underbelly or corporate life – here we see a little more color and variety and Marsdome seems the more complete for it. Transport hubs, main thoroughfares, market stalls, the conference hall, seedy bars and back alleys – it’s a far more cohesive view. We get a few nice nods to the literary past of Mars in the street names such as Bradbury and Burroughs (also Max orders some “Dandelion Wine”). The effects and sets generally work well, although the dive bar looks like every 1980s movie cliché: smoky, neon-filled dinginess abounds.

All in all, it’s a very average episode, with little of consequence for the future, apart from setting up Gideon and Lochley’s relationship and giving us a little background for some of the other characters. It’s a Peter David script that disappoints and that’s a shame. Onward to better things hopefully, oh and I won’t apologise for the review title.

Crusade continuity check and notes:

  • Galenwatch – Absent. This is the first episode without Galen – I don’t blame him for not turning up for this episode.
  • Lochley mentions Dr. Franklin was on Earth during the attack and so was infected and heading up the medical research teams.
  • While this issue can be leveled both Babylon 5 as well as Crusade (and a million other tv shows and movies), the scenes set on Mars show no evidence of having gravity about a third of that on Earth.
  • We have the first meeting of Gideon and Lochley and the beginning of their relationship – something that had to be fixed in continuity in a later episode. The original version of “Each Night…” was the first time they met originally, so new dialogue was dubbed into that episode to try and fix it – Let’s see how it fits when we get there.
  • While we know Eilerson is something of a polyglot genius, it seems he had a very sheltered upbringing on Mars, Trace has more of a rough and tumble blue-collar background.
  • This is the first time we’ve seen any of the fanatical doomsday cults first mentioned in “War Zone” – the one featured here is “Sacred Omega”. Gideon has a tale of a friend (a captain on the “Furies”) being killed by them when his crew mutinied, suggesting they might be widespread, yet from this they seem like a tiny minority and not all that threatening. I can’t remember if we ever actually see another doomsday group again – I will monitor the situation.

crusade 4 - banner

  • The Conference banner shows June 15th 2267 – so it’s maybe six months on from the Drakh attack. Does this date clash with other ones? It all depends when A Call to Arms was set, I don’t think it’s ever specified.
  • Thankfully this is Trace Miller’s only other appearance in the show, so we get him out of the way even quicker, now that this episode is earlier in the run. Admittedly he’s a little better here as he gets more to do, but he remains bland.
  • Trace Miller’s somewhat surprising background of Foundationist priest is because the original plan for Crusade was to include a ship’s Chaplain “Mike”), when TNT foisted Trace onto the production, Trace’s character took on some of the chaplain’s history. Interestingly Alex Mendoza was only contracted for the two episodes he featured in, with the option to be in episodes 14 to 22. JMS planned a Trilogy that would have featured Trace prominently, but Alex Mendoza’s contract wasn’t optioned by TNT after “Ruling…” wrapped, for unstated reasons, causing JMS to have to change direction on the planned trilogy.

Chronological Order Analysis:

  • Production order  = 11
  • Broadcast order  = 6
  • Continuity order  = 4
  • Is this episode better in this order? – Maybe

This has to be set before the “First Five” as that block of episodes contains Lochley and Gideon’s second meeting, this being the first. Personally I’d prefer it later in the run as it’s yet another episode set away from the quest, but due to the date and the Lochley issue it’s stuck here. It works okay – but to be honest I don’t think it works any better or worse than where it was in the original broadcast order.

(All images are property of Warner Brothers)

<Previous episode “The Path of Sorrows”|Next episode “Appearances and Other Deceits”>

Crusade – Continuity Order – S01E05 – Appearances and Other Deceits

Touch of the Body Snatchers

Written by J. Michael Straczynski

Directed by Stephen Furst

Grade: C+

Spoilers follow.

Episode Synopsis:

When an old derelict ship is not as abandoned as it first seems, the crew have to fight to protect the Excalibur.

Episode Review:

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.”

crusade 5 - track

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…

crusade 5 - kyle

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)

< Previous episode “Ruling From the Tomb” | Next episode “Racing the Night” >

Crusade – Continuity Order – S01E06 – Racing the Night

The Series Premiere we Deserved

Written by J Michael Straczynski

Directed by Mike Vejar

Grade: B+

Spoilers follow.

Episode Synopsis:

Intriguing clues on a ruined planet might help with finding the cure, but the price paid may be too high.

Episode Review:

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.

crusade 6 - thunder

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.

crusade 6 - uni

  • 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)

<Previous episode “Appearances and Other Deceits” | Next episode “The Needs of Earth”>

Crusade – Continuity Order – S01E07 – The Needs of Earth

Crusade’s Finest Hour?

Written by J. Michael Straczynski

Directed by Mike Vejar

Grade: A

Spoilers follow.

Episode Synopsis:

An alien dissident escapes a cruel regime with a database of his race’s most important accomplishments. The Excalibur team try to rescue him in hopes it helps with the cure.

Episode Review:

Probably my favourite episode of Crusade’s short run, and the most incredible part is that this episode, produced first, is probably the best episode of the lot.

Even more, it’s an episode that starts with some light-hearted scenes about cross-species pornos. Really, it does. These early scenes with Gideon poking fun at Eilerson and then taunting him are a lot of fun. Eilerson’s panicked and weaselly pleading to get the data-crystal back are great. Although why Gideon brings the data-crystal with him on the mission is a bit unlikely. Top marks to whoever was responsible for shooting and costuming the alien porno – it has a low quality, grainy feel that fits it perfectly, or at least I think it would, if I’d ever seen any. Chambers and Gideon’s head-tilts to take in various part of the action/anatomy are a nice touch too. Sadly we don’t get to see any of “Snow White and the Seven Narns.” After this, I bet most people watching weren’t expecting an episode that is all about the power and value of art…

crusade 8 - porno

There are obvious parallels to the rise of the National Socialists in Germany, however the destruction of art that doesn’t fit a certain political narrative is a theme that has been repeated throughout history – sadly we now have ISIS doing their share in the Middle East. The Maratans recognise that art can be used to question authority and the status quo, Natchok Var knows this and wants to save it for future generations to know what they lost. That Chambers understands it can be used as a tool for hope and maybe even healing for the soul for those under quarantine on Earth goes to show what power she thinks it holds. Marjean Holden delivers a powerful speech to Gideon about it and while at first he dismisses it, he comes to see the wisdom.

That’s not to say these are the only deep issues explored here. We learn that Dureena was sold into slavery by her family to clear their debts, that the memories remain fresh and are a major sculptor of her character. Matheson gets placed in the difficult position of either betraying a person’s wishes to save their life or allowing their death for what that person considers the greater good.

The planet that Natchok Var is rescued from is a desolate moon of a gas giant and has a thick, toxic atmosphere. The production crew do their best work so far in realizing this world – it’s thick atmosphere, swirling winds and electrical storms make this a claustrophobic, foreboding location.

While you have to think Galen’s help would have been invaluable, Gideon and Dureena work well and have fun together. There’s a mutual respect, with plenty of potential for surprising behaviors and methods between the two. Daniel Dae Kim finally gets a great scene all to himself – and while it verges a bit too much on the soliloquy, it’s powerful to see him reflect on the death that he was a part of.

Tony Amendola is unrecognisable under his make-up, but his voice and acting abilities shine through, making Natchok Var a hugely sympathetic and likable character despite only having a few scenes. Most SF genre fans will know him as Bra’tac from Stargate SG1, where he was always a solid part of the guest cast. The Mozart montage is memorable and interesting to see him touched so deeply by an alien art form.

The meeting with the Ranger at the beginning shows once more the help the Rangers are providing, but that Gideon is willing to break all the rules and gamble his crew on a mission without any chance of rescue, if it may find a cure.

Although threatening in appearance, the Maratan ships do look very basic and texture-less, but not jarring enough to be an episode-ruiner or anything. The base interior on the moon looks like a generic slice of Downbelow. These the worst things I can think of in this episode…

I think the reason I like this episode so much is that it’s not trying so hard as many of the others. It’s not trying to get you up to speed on the plague, or Technomages or telepaths, it’s just trying to tell its story. It’s a story worth telling, which is told well, with good acting and an interesting central idea and message. That’s it’s almost completely self-contained and satisfying is even better.

Crusade continuity check and notes:

  • Galenwatch – Absent
  • Interesting that the alien porno is in an early episode, was this before the note from the suits about more sex in the show? If this was a reply they certainly got more sex, but in the form of mocking it – basically implying it was pornographic and worthy of scorn only.
  • We learn that in addition to being a thief, Dureena was sold as a slave at one point by her family. She tried escaping with a few others at one point, but only she survived. She says she doesn’t hold her slavery against her family, but you’d be hard pressed to truly believe her. So was Dureena trained as a thief by her owner, or afterwards? How did she get her freedom – Did she earn it? Did she escape? Buy her freedom? Kill her owner? I don’t think we ever find out, but I’ll keep an eye out.
  • Watching in this order we’re still not sure of what the new rules for telepaths are, but it seems Matheson crossed the line inadvertently.
  • It’s a little thing, I’m sure it’s just the hat, but I always think the thief Dureena meets looks like an Australian stereotype to me. Insert jokes about Sheilas, barbies, bogans and utes below:

crusade 7 - aussie

Chronological Order Analysis:

  • Production order  = 1
  • Broadcast order  = 11
  • Continuity order  = 7

Is this episode better in this order? – YES

It doesn’t have any obvious problems with continuity.

(All images are property of Warner Brothers, except the image of Bra’tac from Stargate SG:1 – property of MGM Television)

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