Tag Archives: Continuity Order

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 then 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” >

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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 – 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)

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Crusade – Continuity Order – S01E09 – Visitors From Down the Street

The Y Files, or Visitors From Another Show

Written by J. Michael Stracynski

Directed by Jerry Apoian*

Grade: C

Spoilers follow.

Episode Synopsis:

When Gideon rescues two aliens from their lifepod, the crew gets embroiled in a conspiracy and a quest for the truth

Episode Review:

Lets get to the elephant in the room straight away – this episode is more a parody of the X-Files than an episode of Crusade – so if you don’t know/love/hate that show, your mileage may vary considerably. I must say my timing on viewing this episode while the X Files “revival” mini-series is on, is a bit of a coincidence.

Firstly, I think it will help immensely to get some context if, by chance you weren’t around in the 1990s. This episode aired August 1999. The X-Files had been on TV for about six years by that point and had become an integral cultural artifact of the 1990s. Its popularity rode the wave of interest in the paranormal and alien abductions that had begun early in the decade and then swept over all the 90s. That’s not to say it was a weak cash-in, it remains one of the best, iconic shows of the 1990s and while it’s on-going (arc/mythology) stories were made up as they went (more like BSG than B5), it was one of the other 90s shows that brought more novel-like, serialised structure to the fore on US TV. As it had such a well-defined style it was immensely easy to parody and even the X-Files had shown signs of not taking itself too seriously in episodes like “Post-Modern Prometheus” and others that completely parodied itself (“Hollywood A.D”) were soon to come. I’m sure there was barely a sketch show in the 90s which didn’t include an X-Files parody. If, by some chance you’re reading this and weren’t around in the 90s, you wouldn’t believe how omnipresent it was in pop-culture. If you remember how Lost was treated in the 2000s or Game of Thrones now, it was triple that.

That’s why this episode felt like an old joke by 1999, because it really was. However, JMS was obviously a fan and at least that shines through in the depth and number of references littered throughout. I figured I’d try and list all the references, but I doubt I found them all.

X-Files References:

1) Mulder and Scully = Durkani and Ullysa. They share heights, body build, clothing and even their Predator-style dreadlock “hair” (Pred dreads?) are similar colours. He’s the true believer, she’s the skeptic – although why he has a British accent I’m not sure…
2) Mottos – Durkani mentions they have to look for the truth “out there” – Mulder’s iconic poster stated “The Truth is “Out There”, the phrase “Trust no-one” is also used.
3) Motifs – The start of the episode opens with the characteristic X-Files location and date. There’s much use of flashlights, clunky cell phones, dark settings. There’s lots of talk of government cover-ups and the proof always being erased. The lifepod is the clichéd “Flying Saucer” design, and Evan Chen’s music even has a few notes with some kind of whistle to emulate Mark Snow’s score.
4) Ullysa refers to how they burnt “the files”
5) The bad guy is a slimy older chap with a liking of cigarettes – an obvious nod to the Cigarette Smoking Man, but he mentions they used to work for him, which is also similar to the X-Files, where he appears to work partly with the FBI as well as the “Syndicate” in early seasons
6) A more subtle nod is the taped ‘Y’ shape left on the window – a parallel to the ‘X’ that Mulder would use to signify wanting to meet with “Deep Throat”. You have to assume this mean Durkani and Ullysa work on The Y Files.
7) The alien/outsider cover up. The alien’s cover-up takes the most clichéd of the usual UFO conspiracy lore and puts a new spin on it:
a) Their “cigar shaped objects” are simply our airships
b) Their “Martian Face” is Mt. Rushmore. This raises an issue – their race has no hyperspace capability. Why would the population think they could send probes that would get to another star system within their life time?
c) Marsh gas is also used as an explanation for UFOs
d) The sketch Durkani’s obtained about their “Roswell” includes people with “strange round eyes” and they find mysterious artifacts, like golf clubs

crusade 9 - ros

The alien’s actual motivation for the conspiracy is interesting and often missed when people discuss this episode – that’s not to say it’s very logical, but there’s more to it than some seem to notice. They’re not simply using the threat of outsiders and the conspiracy to manipulate their population and simply make them easy to control. Yes, it helps their goal, but they’re doing this to try not to attract undue attention to their race – The government knows about other space-faring races and hyperspace, but they lack the technology or a jumpgate to travel that way, so they understand they are at a huge technological disadvantage with nearly all other races in the galaxy. Until they are advanced enough to protect themselves, they’re trying to scare their population away from space exploration as a whole. The idea of avoiding contact with other races until they could defend themselves is a great idea and one that could have been examined in an interesting way in a serious episode, but here’s it’s just tossed in the pot here and lost in the mix of overall silliness.

crusade 9 - nasa

That the alien’s tech has developed to look human makes some sense, with their space launches looking very NASA-like. Although why would they have their spaceships look quite human and modular, and then have their lifeboats look like a saucer makes little sense – it’s not like they were using the saucer as an “image” for the conspiracy – they were bigger on cigar-shapes, however it’s all there just for that visual joke I guess.

The X-Files itself is never actually mentioned so it’s not clear whether the aliens got their idea wholesale from the TV show or just got the idea from transmissions from that era regarding conspiracy theories and US government activities. I’m guessing that completely ripping off the TV show itself would have been too meta.

The upshot of all this is that while we’re on the main storyline everything is so targeted at poking fun at the X-Files that the story and writing are mediocre and disposable. Maybe you can just dismiss this episode as a fun romp, but the X-Files parts really aren’t that funny. It’s another bottle show, the only scenes on another world a very Earth-like office and some muddy views of space shuttle analogues launching.

Easily the best parts are those away from the main story, the tiny subplots of the odour and Gideon’s search for a breeze. Gideon and Matheson’s relationship throughout is playful and funny part of the episode, but no-one else from the main cast gets any screen time. That the on-going smell joke actually goes somewhere amusing is the biggest surprise of the episode to me.

Crusade continuity check and notes:

  • Galenwatch – Absent
  • The date (May 13, 2267) clashes a little with Ruling From the Tomb – but these two episodes were not close to each other in the Broadcast Order either. The dates are something very few people would be likely to notice, unless you were some kind of internet nitpicking arsehole…
  • They are in the Eridani sector – B5 is located in the Epsilon Eridani system – maybe this isn’t too far away, but what constitutes a “system” in Babylon 5 lore isn’t well defined from what I remember.
  • The Excalibur has weapon scanners that identify all known technology. Apparently.
  • The Excalibur has the same yellow cargo lifters on-board as Babylon 5.
  • We get a quick discussion on the new telepath controls – Matheson can’t scan or use his abilities unless he’s in a position where it may save life.
  • The probes Gideon drops at the end are completely different to the small ones used in “The Memory of War” and the balloons are very similar to those used by NASA for dropping rovers/equipment. Although those deploy their balloons after entering the atmosphere by parachute!

*Who was Jerry Apoian?

Apart from playing hunt the X-Files references, the most interesting thing about the episode is that it’s directed by someone named “Jerry Apoian.” I’ve not heard of him before – Babylon Productions tended to keep to a small roster of directors they used most often and also allowed cast and crew to sometimes direct, so I was intrigued to see who he was. I googled him and his lone IMDB reference is for this episode, I wonder what the story here is.

Chronological Order Analysis:

  • Production order  = 4
  • Broadcast order  = 12
  • Continuity order  = 9
  • Is this episode better in this order? – YES

It has little to no effect on the on-going story, so it fits fine here – especially as it’s one of the “First Five” episodes. The only real problem is the date at the start and the lingering “early” feeling to the production. This was worse when it was 12th episode, as it used to feel more like a squandered opportunity to advance the story coming right at the end of the Broadcast Order. Here’s it’s just a silly, forgettable episode.

(All images are property of Warner Brothers)

 < Previous episode “The Memory Of War” | Next episode “Each Night I Dream of Home” >

Crusade – Continuity Order – S01E11 – Patterns of the Soul

A Conspiracy to Stop a Conspiracy

Written by Fiona Avery
Directed by Tony Dow

Grade: B-

Spoilers follow.

Episode Synopsis:

The Excalibur is ordered to assess a small human colony for signs of the plague, Dureena discovers something surprising and Gideon’s distrustful nature pays off.

Episode Review:

This is an episode I thought was very forgettable when watched the first time, and while it has quite a few things that are not in it’s favour, it actually ends up reasonably compelling. This reassessment comes because we’ve since learnt that the Excalibur crew were going to be betrayed by parts of Earthforce and become fugitives as the series progressed. In the light of this information, this episode looks more and more like foreshadowing, rather than going over themes seen often in Babylon 5 (shades of grey in the military, government and corporations conspiring together, black projects, etc). The effect this produces reminds me of moments when you’d go back and watch season 1 episodes of B5 after watching the later seasons.

The overall conspiracy is interesting, but there’s quite a few things that work against this episode in general.

The first being the General (Thompson) – he’s so shifty and evasive that the audience and Gideon are immediately suspicious – he’s utterly transparent. The next problem is the counterpoint antagonist amongst the colonists (Tim) played by Eric Ware, to say his weird, hysterical delivery is immediately grating doesn’t go far enough, but as he also gets some dreadful dialogue it at least gives some unintentional laughs – especially as he threatens he might crush Dr. Chambers with his “Cy-Ber-Net-Ic Arms!” Ooo! Beware the arms!

The last point is the one that almost kills the episode for me. Dureena’s race (which is never named to my knowledge – they come from Zander Prime, so – Zanderians?) are a barely-veiled Native American stereotype.

crusade 11 - native

It’s disappointing from a show associated with Babylon 5 – yes, you could draw parallels between the Centauri and European “Imperial” traditions, or the Minbari having some Japanese undertones, but here they just seemed to need a quick solution and picked the Native American template. The intro scene with the tribal elder talking to Robert Black is horribly clichéd melodrama. Additionally, I have to say when the old guy’s face is revealed to Dureena it’s not immediately apparent they are the same race, the make-up isn’t as distinctive on screen as they might think. That they were marooned in the previous Shadow War (so, over 1000 years ago) is a bit interesting, but they seem to have done nothing in the intervening years it seems.

The whole problem looks to be a completely Earthforce-related matter, so why is Dureena along for the ride anyway?! I know – because the plot dictates it. Then she just happens to stumble over the same old, dying guy as Robert Black. Is this a very small planet? Also, wouldn’t the crew scan the planet for lifeforms as a matter of standard procedure when approaching a new planet?

These negatives aside, there’s quite a lot of good too. Earthforce has always been portrayed in quite a realistic manner, with suitable shades of grey throughout. Here we see far more Machiavellian forces at work within it, infecting the colonists because they perceive them to be a threat. That Max’s opinion of Pro-Zeta Corporation is that they are above the law and certainly not above murder to keep secrets is a nice turn. This ambiguity and threat from within are what lift this episode above the more negative aspects and this is probably one of our first real views into the long term future of Crusade, had it had continued.

Maybe the fact Gideon completely disobeyed a direct order and falsified information in front of his entire crew is to demonstrate he’s an insane gambler, trusts his crew implicitly, or that someone would betray that trust in the future. Or maybe it was just lazy writing.

While it appears to be night all the time, this is probably one of the better uses of the “indoors for outdoors” method used for Crusade – where they actually shipped flora on stage to portray new planets, although they seemed to have maxed out the budget on grass. Maybe they should have called this place Planet Turf (sorry).

Brian Thompson, playing Robert Black, turns in a surprisingly quiet and understated effort. He ends up surprisingly sympathetic, despite the fact he tends to get far more “bad guy” roles. That he’s not the stubborn knuckle head he could have been, is a nice surprise. Instead Tim gets that role.

The scene with Gideon using someone else’s codes to get “ultraviolet” clearance is fun. The way it plays out it’s clearly implied that he won the access while gambling – not a huge surprise knowing Gideon is an inveterate gambler. Sadly, they have to go and explain it at the end, in case you’re a bit slow.

Max continues to talk the talk about being a hard-nosed corporate money-maker, but his chat with his bosses show his reports are long overdue and his change of heart over selling-out Dureena’s people seems to mark a gradual change of heart and growth for the future, or maybe to make a future betrayal more shocking…

The ending is bittersweet as Dureena finds out her people are infected also and likely to die in less than a year, not the five the humans have.

Crusade continuity check and notes:

  • Galenwatch – Absent – That’s three in a row, the longest stretch so far.
  • Tim mentions it took them six months of searching to find Theta 49, this might mean they have been looking for six months since the plague hit (making the attack six months ago), or that they had to research for six months to find Theta 49 (or a combination of both), in which case we have no idea how long the attack was from the point of view of this episode.
  • While General Thompson was able to get President Sheridan’s express permission for the mission, I doubt he knew about about the hidden agendas.
  • This is the first (and only) time we see the nanovirus shield used. We learn the nanovirus shield should last 48 hours after application – with no option to consume anything in the infected zones. If the nanovirus shield is in the lungs and mouth, wouldn’t it also end up in the digestive tract? After 48 hours does it turn to dust like the probes we saw in “A Memory of War?” – that wouldn’t be good in for your health…
  • Earlier versions of the script emphasized the low-tech “back to basics” approach Robert Black’s group wished to follow, this gets a bit lost in the produced episode.
  • I’m trying to remember if it’s the first time we see the full-size skimmer model, sadly it’s only for a second or two in the dark, but it’s a sexy bit of hardware.

crusade 11 - skimmer

  • Hey it’s the Shadows again! This is the third time they show up in flashback – I know they have a long history of being spooky assholes throughout the galaxy, but sometimes it does feel like B5 fan-service having them pop up so often.
  • For your information and mine, I googled “Sharks” as a card or dice game and couldn’t find any obvious matches, maybe it was made up for Crusade.
  • It’s a nice nod back to B5 universe history that Robert Black (part of a black project no less) was a GROPO during the Minbari War and took part in the Battle of the Line. In what capacity though, wasn’t it all in Earth orbit? Also, didn’t only 200 of 20000 people involved survive?
  • As only the Excalibur crew know the colonists are there, what would happen if they were all to die? The tiny colony (30 people) would be marooned there with a very small gene pool to continue from. Thinking about it, that’s also very true for Dureena’s race’s colony that apparently started with a hundred people, but has been there for about a thousand years –  are they horribly inbred?
  • Last thought – what is up with the “recycling system” on the colonists ship – do they just have a room with a hatch in the top that they simply throw their trash in to “recycle”. Is it like the trash compactor in Star Wars?  Why would there be a screen in there?

Chronological Order Analysis:

  • Production order  = 10
  • Broadcast order  = 5
  • Continuity order  = 11
  • Is this episode better in this order? – Yes

This episode is better here for many reasons, but the biggest being the fact that we now see the “nanovirus shield” being discovered in “A Memory of War” prior to this episode.

This is the first episode after the uniforms magically change back to “black” and to be honest it wasn’t jarring, I barely noticed it.

(All images are property of Warner Brothers)

< Previous episode “Each Night I Dream of Home” | Next episode “The Well of Forever” >

Crusade – Continuity Order – S01E12 – The Well of Forever

Who Should You Trust?

Written by Fiona Avery
Directed by Janet Greek

Grade: B

Spoilers follow.

Episode Synopsis:

Galen brings the crew information on an ancient structure hidden in hyperspace, with the promise of it containing knowledge that may help with finding a cure. Matheson is interrogated to ensure he’s complying with the new rules for telepaths.

Episode Review:

I disliked this episode during the first broadcast. It was the third episode and you could tell what the writer was trying to achieve, but it fell flat as you had no investment in the characters. It didn’t work because of what the audience brought with them, or rather what we didn’t. We barely knew the characters or their friendships and relationships with one another, so issues involving trust, hidden agendas and betrayals didn’t carry much weight.

The story idea seemed interesting, but the story rises and falls on Galen and how much we may like him or think him trustworthy. At this point we barely knew Galen – then we’re forced to accept that Gideon barely protests his hijacking of the ship? A ship that is searching for a cure for over 6 billion people? For me at least, the episode didn’t work in the original order and it was one of the reasons I was interested in a new episode order, so it actually made me look forward to seeing this episode this time.

I’m glad to report it really works so much better in this order. That’s not to say it’s perfect and it’s still pretty much a ‘bottle’ episode, but it feels right in this location. We, the viewers now have the background in the relationships and more importantly, their motivations, to give the events their correct weight. While not vital, I’ll admit reading the Technomage Trilogy definitely helps with the Galen/Isabelle moments as well, but even without reading them, viewing in this order has allowed us to see Isabelle’s death in “The Path of Sorrows,” which definitely helps excuse Galen’s betrayals and allows us to sympathize with him.

The beginning of the episode is great fun, as Galen arrives acting like a kid in a candy store. That he retains his enthusiasm in the face of Dureena’s superstitions, Max’s cynicism and Gideon’s guarded interest keeps it a lot of fun. Max is on top form trying to puncture Galen’s enthusiasm with some wonderfully acerbic lines.

While the A-plot of the episode is about the Well of Forever, it also weaves in a B-plot and while reasonably separate (aside from both being on the Excalibur), they both explore the theme of trust in different ways.

The B plot, has Matheson being subjected to telepathic interrogation by telepathic deep scan, to ensure he’s adhering to the new rules for telepaths. This is the first major exploration of this issue since the disbanding of the Psi Corps after the Telepath War. While it seems some of the rules are relaxed (no gloves, telepaths can work more freely in all walks of human life), compliance is now ensured by submitting to a six monthly deep scan to make sure they aren’t breaking the rules. Sadly, the new “watchmen” (as Gideon calls Mr. Jones, though his actual position is never stated) seem very similar to the old Psi Cops – shady, in love with their own power, utterly self righteous, and probably with their own agenda.

Mr Jones’s approach to how he deals with Matheson is somewhere between condescension and bullying. The process as this “Mr. Jones” conducts it looks highly invasive – the word “abuse” seems right when you see Matheson’s reactions during and after the scan. Throughout this, Dureena’s concern for Matheson and her help against Mr. Jones help highlight that this is a crew that really has bonded and look out for one another. It makes you wonder whether anything has improved at all for human telepaths. The only negative part of this story is that Gideon’s solution to Mr. Jones’s report is a bit “pat” and goes a little too smoothly.

Although it’s never stated, most of the interactions between Galen and Dureena hint at him probing her opinions, thoughts and motivations before deciding whether to go ahead with training her in the Technomage ways. These are yet more moments that pay off better having seen episodes such as “A Memory of War” first. Additionally, that moment when Galen tries to sit down in her quarters is hilarious.

The part with the Fen (the horny, hyperspace alien jellyfish in case you forgot) is still silly, but a nice, light interlude in a fairly serious episode. It’s an obvious poke in the eye towards TNT (their notes included injecting more alien sex into the show) but at least we get the “thrusters” line out of it. Whether the Fen are also poking fun at the fans (“Fen” is sometimes joking used as a plural for fans of SF/Fantasy), but the line “They’re barely sentient. They’re attracted to bright, shiny objects, but they lose interest quickly” answers that question I feel.

crusade 12 - space jellyfish humping

The scene where Galen tells Gideon that he’s taking control is good, and far better in this order. When this was the third episode in order you expect Gideon to retaliate more – whereas now you understand that while Gideon is furious with Galen, he really does trust Galen despite his actions, but understands there’s nothing he can do to stop him, and settles in for a longer game to see where it takes them.

When we finally arrive, the Well of Forever is a suitably mysterious and interesting object, although to me it looks like a cross between a ribcage and a space pretzel. Closer up, each “limb” resembles intestines, not the effect I think they were going for.

The Well is hidden behind what’s referred to as a hyperspace veil, in fact very similar to the one the Drakh had used in “A Call to Arms” – wouldn’t the crew be concerned by this? If this is the same technology it seems Galen’s sensors had no problem with it. We learn from the scans that the Well contains a huge quantity of Quantium 40 – the substance required for the construction of jump gates, understandably this gets Max’s attention more than anything else.

Galen then departs to visit the Well alone, and is followed by Galen, also alone. When we finally find out his motivation, it shows he’s not a bad guy, but isn’t above using others for his own needs. From “The Path of Sorrows” we know Galen is carrying a lot of anger directed towards a cold, uncaring universe, one that would take his true love away after such a short time together. Maybe this might help him develop personally. If you’ve read the Technomage novels, we saw that Isabelle was a good person and deserving of a resting place such as this this.

Okay, you knew it was coming, because despite all of these nice things I’ve been saying, I’m still only giving it a “B” grade. It suffers from a couple of the usual gripes:

  1. The score again. While mostly okay, the moments with Galen laying Isabelle’s remains to rest in the Well need to be sad and solemn. Here it’s at Lifetime-movie levels of saccharine clunkiness.
  2. Talking of clunky, here come the effects again… While most of them are acceptable, if nothing stellar, just look at this composite shot as it pulls back from Galen on the Well. The scale of everything is completely off. The “limb” is far too narrow, Galen is sitting at a peculiar angle, we’ve just seen how wide the area Galen’s on is and most of it’s missing behind him.

crusade 12 - zoom out

Effects and music complaints aside, the major part that doesn’t work for me and sadly brings the episode down a few notches, is Galen and Dureena’s discussion just after they leave the Well. I find it a frustratingly forced attempt to tie everything together into some kind of tidy conclusion – when one simply isn’t needed. This results in Galen having to construct some kind of mystical “moral of the story.”

Apparently, everyone had an answer they could have received at the Well. He makes it sound like this was a known feature of the Well (like a genie granting wishes or something). It might have been nice of him to have informed the crew or even the audience of this! This seems arbitrarily tacked-on and makes Galen sound like a prick, as apparently there were all these issues the crew could have used his help with, but he never let them know! In the end he sounds like a completely selfish know-it-all, who doesn’t even get the answer he wanted! I really don’t think this was the effect the writer wanted to give, but that’s the conclusion it gave me. The earlier drafts of the script don’t flesh this out any further, so it’s not as though it was cut for time.

Despite my reservations, this episode probes some deeper subjects such as loss, trust and the betrayals that can come from single-mindedness and should be applauded for that. Added to that the main characters are written very well and it excels in most of the quieter, head to head moments.

Crusade continuity check and notes:

  • Galenwatch – Present, but says he’s off for a while at the end. This is the last time we see our bald wizard in a Crusade episode.
  • With the episodes in this order we get two Fiona Avery scripts in a row. In my opinion, “Patterns” has interesting mythology, while the story and characterizations aren’t that great, whereas “Well” has great characterizations, little mythology and the story is okay.
  • So what were those questions and answers?
  1. Galen – Q: “Why?” (although not stated, most likely “Why did Isabelle have to die?” Or “Why her and not me?”) / A: Might take longer
  2. Gideon – Q: Never stated / A: According to Galen he got it, but wasn’t listening. Hard to know what he’s referring to.
  3. Matheson – Q: Never stated / A: Galen says as he didn’t go to the Well he never heard it.  Makes you wonder if his answer would have come from the supposed telepathic boost he would get in hyperspace. The most likely candidates to hear something from would have been Galen, Gideon or Mr. Jones.
  4. Max – Q: Is there anything in the universe he can’t have? / A: The Well. Although that’s because Galen takes it from him.
  5. Dureena – Q: “Is there anyone who isn’t motivated by money or power?” (a bit rich coming from a thief) / A: Galen implies it’s him. We’ll see, or rather we never will.
  6. Chambers – Q: Could they afford to pay for more cast this week? / A: No.
  7. Trace – Q: Can I be in another episode? / A: No.
  • How did Galen finally find the Well?
  • While it’s not a continuity issue per se, Dureena clearly states her people have been taught to avoid certain places – one of those being cliffs. In just the previous episode “Patterns of the Soul,” (also written by Fiona Avery it should be stated) – Dureena’s people are seen praying right by a cliff. It’s even referred to by Dureena’s people as The Sacred Cliff!
  • The Well has an atmosphere surrounding it – is there any reason why it’s compatible with humans? Although, to be fair, about 75% of the alien species seen on Babylon 5 were O2 breathers, so maybe this isn’t that far-fetched.
  • One of the earlier draft scripts mentions that the appearance of the Well is because the original structure accumulated deposits of “hyperspace coral.” This explains its somewhat organic appearance.
  • Regarding the Fen, Max mentions that IPX have long heard about things living in hyperspace. I’m sure this subject is mentioned in late season 2 on Babylon 5 (on a news report / possibly a newspaper), and was obviously referring to the Shadows, who could move easily throughout Hyperspace. IPX would know all about the Shadows by now, so his reference seems odd.
  • Galen’s interface with his ship and the Excalibur continues the ‘crystal ball’ motif he’s seen using many times, although this time it takes the design of the Excalibur’s system interfaces and the effects look excellent. Probably my favourite instance of Technomage tech.

crusade 12 - crystal

  • Gideon mentions that Galen once referred to the crew of the Excalibur as his family now – I think that would be in “The Memory of War”.
  • We find out a lot about how telepaths are organized and treated following the fall of Psi Corps at the end of the Telepath War:
  1. While the Psi Corps is gone, it’s replacement is still full of shady individuals dressed in dark clothes. The disreputable elements are now hiding behind bureaucracy instead of secrecy it seems. Their organization is the Senate Committee on Metasensory Abilities (SCMA? SCOMA? Skooma? not very catchy I must say). They’ve kept the Greek letter “Psi” as their logo, but dropped the shield surrounding it.
  2. All the investigators (watchmen?) are called Mr. Jones (Have you been to Wales? We are all Jones) as a form of anonymity, it seems they come to check on telepaths every six months. Naming a mysterious character called “Mr Jones” is something JMS has hinted at online many times.
  3. Mr. Jones’s interactions with Matheson are very interesting. He seems able to deep scan Matheson without a struggle, suggesting he’s likely a P12 rated telepath (much like the old Psi-Cops) and that Matheson is lower. He is confirmed as P6 in the unproduced script “Value Judgements”.
  4. Mr. Jones states that Matheson is not just one of the first telepaths allowed in Earthforce, he’s the first and so is being held to a higher standard. How did he become the first?
  5. Mr. Jones accuses him of multiple minor infringements. The main one I can think of is his scanning of Natchok Var in “The Needs of Earth”. His mental contact with the snow globe alien in “The Path of Sorrows” may be another.
  6. We know Matheson was deeply involved in the conclusion of the Telepath War and despite being in the Psi Corps, he finally learnt how corrupt they were and assisted in their defeat (see “The Path of Sorrows”). It’s unlikely all the Mr. Joneses were only from the rogue telepath side, this one might be out to get him because of that.
  7. We hear Matheson refer a number of times to non-telepathic humans as “normal” and not “mundanes” in this episode – I didn’t catch whether Mr. Jones refers to them as this at any point.
  8. From the actions of this representative, you have to think the SCMA may outstep their authority in the near future, one way or another.
  • Sheer speculation, but when Galen talks with Gideon about trust, then promises never to betray his trust and help him to fulfill his promise to the memory of the 300 (the crew of the Cerberus, not the Spartans) it feels like it’s mirroring Sheridan and Kosh’s pact about going to Z’Ha’Dum in Babylon 5.
  • Hey it’s the Excalibur’s gym again!
  • You may or may not find this as funny as me, but I’ll leave you with this… The scene where Gideon is removing the amulet to leave it at the Well, leads to a moment where Galen’s hand moves down and out of shot. The motion honestly looks like he’s going to stuff the amulet in his tight, shiny leather pants. It’s really disconcerting.

crusade 12 - pants

Chronological Order Analysis:

  • Production order  = 6
    Broadcast order  = 3
    Continuity order  = 12
  • Is this episode better in this order? – Yes

If you’ve just read the review I’m pretty sure you get the impression this episode is far better in this location! Only one more episode to go sadly.

(All images are property of Warner Brothers)

< Previous episode “Patterns of the Soul” | Next episode “The Rules of the Game” >

Crusade – Continuity Order – S01E13 – The Rules of the Game

Babylon Flashbacks

Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Jesus Trevino

Grade: C

Spoilers follow.

Episode Synopsis:

The Excalibur stops at Babylon 5 to allow Gideon to obtain access to a planet, Lorka 7, as he has a lead he wishes to follow up there. While on Babylon 5, Max has a personal issue to deal with.

Episode Review:

Following the pleasant surprise of the benefits “The Well of Forever” gained from improved placement in this order, I hoped the same effect might apply for “The Rules of the Game.” Sadly it’s hoping a for far too much from what remains a mediocre affair. I’d kind of forgotten chunks of it until I watched it again (a little like “Patterns of the Soul”), which pretty much says it all.

Overall, the feeling it gives me is that they found a bunch of old Babylon 5 B-plots from under the sofa cushions and tacked them together. This means we end up with an episode combining some of the more forgettable political and protocol elements that permeated much of seasons 1 and 2 of Babylon 5. Even the appearance of a previously unseen relative/wife/ex (delete as required) is pure, early season Babylon 5.

The two plots running throughout the episode get about the same amount of screen time, but calling either of them the “A plot” seems generous.

Plot B1 – Gideon is interested in visiting visit Lorka 7. According to him, the world was once home to a technologically advanced race. They left a planet covered in ruins and another race colonized the planet, about 500 years ago. This race call themselves Lorkans, and despite being within Brakiri space, are only a protectorate, so the Brakiri insist Gideon must get their permission to visit.

The two Lorkans representatives on the station don’t want him to go there and plot to kill him. The two Lorkans never state why, and the reason the Lorkan official gives is that they were taking Lorkan technology and selling it on the black market. Is there more to it and these two became scapegoates after they screwed up?

The whole Lorkan culture feels written to be a poke in eye of religious dogma, which in itself I have no problem with, but it’s done in a pretty heavy-handed manner. The Lorkans, as with most zealots, think themselves “pure” and so are immensely self-righteous. Tim (Zathras) Choate plays Pollix, hamming it up beneath prosthetics and a weirdly affected croaky voice, the “Most Holy” wavy-hand thing doesn’t help matters.

This whole plot is an excuse to have Gideon pair up with Lochley in a story of mild peril. To ensure they place themselves in harm’s way, a pissing contest is started by Gideon that ends up with him and Lochley in Down Below, where they try and score points off each other. It makes Gideon look patronizing and dumb, and that’s before we know Lochley is playing him for a fool. The romantic aspects veer from the believable to unbelievable (although, maybe not as bad as in “Ruling From the Tomb”). However, in the end it does progress their relationship more.

Speaking of which, and while I kind of don’t want to, I should mention the shower scene. Oh god, I don’t know where to start. At first it just feels a bit voyeuristic, then the 1980s sexy-times saxophone starts up and it feels super sleazy as we see them strip in silhouette. At least the saxophone makes it unintentionally hilarious and to give credit where it’s due, the “transport ship docking” scene after, is a pretty funny nod to the old “train in the tunnel” trope.

crusade 13 - sexy times

After they get jiggy with it, the little scene where they both dance around any kind of commitment is kind of amusing too, so it’s not like this episode is a complete loss.

The Lorkans are a weak threat and their weapons (a crystal in the palm) look pretty lame. Yes it brings to mind Delenn’s ‘pain ring’ from the pilot, but trust me, I didn’t want reminding. Additionally, the energy bolt effect looks extremely unwieldy, and that ozone build-up smell must be insanely strong.

crusade 13 - magic gems

Plot B2 – While all the Lorkan shenanigans is going on, we get a tale of Max’s wife needing help with a loan shark, which results in a case of cat-napping. Really.

Initially we get Max trying to placate the shark by paying back the loan amount, and after he refuses, he takes Max and Cynthia’s cat, Mr Kitty for ransom. While it’s nicely humanizing to think of Max naming his cat, Mr Kitty, the whole plot is just too silly.

Of course, the loan shark (Mueller) and his goons are all the usual, poorly-drawn stereotypes with little threat, which is a shame, but no surprise. However, Max’s solution is pretty surprising, if a little convoluted. His forcing Mueller to have Mr Kitty washed and groomed is a funny moment.

The episode works very hard to give back story for Eilerson, and make him a sympathetic character for once. Probably the best moment is shortly after Max fixes Cynthia’s problem and admits he loved her – As he leaves her room, he has to pause outside to gather himself before carrying on.

Both plots are hindered by are some god awful fight scenes. Whether the fault of the choreography, the direction, or both – they’re seriously unconvincing. In the one Gideon just kind of falls on the Lorkans, they all struggle, the Lorkans have the opportunity to vapourize them ten times over, but don’t. In the other, Chambers get the drop on that dope of a loan shark after he threatens to rape Cynthia, then turns his back on Chambers and ignores her, leaving himself open to be disarmed. You have to say Chambers reaction to the threat is markedly different here to that in “Patterns of the Soul” – where ‘run away’ seemed to be option number one.

Ignoring the lame action, this episode works best in the quiet moments shared by the characters. For example, Chambers and Cynthia’s chat about Max, or Lochley discussing the benefit of taking uninterrupted quiet time (very much echoing Gideon’s hunt for a ‘real breeze’ in “Visitors From Down the Street”). Sadly the weak threats and contrived situations bring the whole episode down to a highly forgettable level.

Crusade continuity check and notes:

  • Galenwatch – Nope, tune in with The Lost Tales to see any more Galen (maybe read the Technomage Trilogy or the unproduced scripts).
  • Gideon states he has a little over 4 years to find the cure. If so, it suggests they’ve spent almost a year so far on the quest, with little to show for it.
  • I was trying to remember if the Crusade version of Babylon 5 had the same empty feeling that The Lost Tales episode had suffered from. In fact, this episode does a decent job of conveying the scale and busyness, although Down Below seems almost too busy. Chambers describes the station as “noisy, crowded and always in trouble” – a nice line for Babylon 5 fans. I have to say, every time we’ve been back to the station after “Objects in Rest” (“The River of Souls”, “A Call to Arms”, this episode and The Lost Tales) it seems like a smaller and quieter place, lacking a certain magic.
  • We go back to the Dark Star club on Babylon 5 and it’s looking more 1980s and trashy than ever.
  • We’re reminded that Babylon 5’s commander gets a shower with real water, not a vibro-shower. Gideon doesn’t get real water on the Excalibur.
  • Was the world known as Lorka 7 when the previous race inhabited it, then the colonizers took “Lorkan” as a race name, or were they already Lorkans and named the planet for themselves? If the second, it suggests there may be a Lorkan Homeworld out there somewhere.
  • We never find out who the previous owners of Lorka 7 were, or where they went. You have to wonder if they were victims of a previous Shadow War.
  • We never find out where Gideon got his lead on Lorka 7 from, maybe a little box told him.
  • Just how much is a credit again? Gideon and Lochley’s bet is for 100 credits and the loan shark wants 100,000 – are they roughly equivalent to a dollar of today’s money? Seems about correct.
  • We get a lot of background on Max here:
  1. He was a prodigy who go beaten up as a kid a lot, and grew up stunted socially.
  2. IPX appreciate his intelligence and so he became a company man, Cynthia says that’s when she lost him.
  3. She left him as he grew more distant and only spoke of work – he sees it as a betrayal, but still loves her.
  4. Max says he’s only loved three things in his life: his work, Mr Kitty (“that damn cat”) and Cynthia. His poor parents…
  5. Max has a secret spot in his quarters, full of artifacts/weapons. I’ll admit it, it’s kind of cool. Wonder if any more of his “goodies” would ever turn up.
  6. Speaking of which – what’s that disc object in the back there? It looks kind of familiar…
  •  Yep. Maximilian Eilerson has a Predator “Cutting Disc” (from Predator 2) – now that’s what I call an Easter Egg! Oh, the crossover potential… Hats off to the prop guys sneaking that one in!
  • I’ll just to point this out. In one scene Cynthia has just chewed Max out over his handling of Mueller and he then left in a hurry, leaving her scared and panicky about what Mueller might do. A door chime sounds and she says “Enter!” without checking who the hell it is!!
  • The exploding collar is a good threat, but it’s been seen on screen so many times – The Running Man and Wedlock spring to my mind right now.
  • Despite having made friends with the Thieves Guild on the station in “A Call to Arms”, Dureena doesn’t make an appearance in this episode. Sadly, neither does Zack Allen.
  • Mr Kitty is/was JMS’s cat, this is made clear by the title card at the end of the episode.
  • This might be reading far too much into it, but I think I see a little spark develop between Chambers and Eilerson in this episode. The show has always gone out of its way to show Chambers always thinking the worst of him (such as her berating him in “Patterns of the Soul”). Her seeing another, almost human side to him, getting a little personal history and seeing that he does have the ability to care for someone else apart from himself, might be the first step in moving the two characters together. Maybe. This could be a Londo / G’Kar relationship that does end in bed.
  • Another thought on the subject of relationships – Lochley is a recurring character and in an unconventional relationship with Gideon – I wonder what the long term plan might have been for a character that isn’t based on the Excalibur? In particular, what would have happened once the Excalibur got into deep shit with Earthforce? Might she have joined them? That said, last time Earthforce got morally dubious she stayed loyal, so maybe she might have become the hunter? (Travis to Gideon’s Blake?) Sorry, speculation overload there.

Chronological Order Analysis:

  • Production order  = 12
  • Broadcast order  = 7
  • Continuity order  = 13
  • Is this episode better in this order? – Maybe

Having “The Rules of the Game” as the last episode in the Continuity Order makes the series end on something of a low note (the Chronological Order finishes with it also). Maybe “The Well of Forever” might be better to finish on. I’ll have to ponder this for the conclusion feature.

(All images are property of Warner Brothers, except Predator 2 image, 20th Century Fox)

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