Crusade’s Finest Hour?
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Mike Vejar
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.
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…
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:
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)