Tag Archives: IPX

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)

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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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