Tag Archives: JMS

Stephen Furst – 1955 – 2017

0-beyond-the-rim4 Stephen Furst

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

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

(Original image – Warner Brothers)

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Crusade – Continuity Order – S01E04 – Ruling from the Tomb

Through a Jeanne, D’Arc-kly

Written by Peter David.

Directed by John Copeland.

Grade: C

Spoilers follow.

Episode Synopsis:

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

Episode Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

crusade 4 - marsdome

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

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

Crusade continuity check and notes:

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

crusade 4 - banner

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

Chronological Order Analysis:

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

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

(All images are property of Warner Brothers)

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

Crusade – Continuity Order – S01E06 – Racing the Night

The Series Premiere we Deserved

Written by J Michael Straczynski

Directed by Mike Vejar

Grade: B+

Spoilers follow.

Episode Synopsis:

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

Episode Review:

We finally get to see the show as originally envisioned. It’s fast-paced, dark and exciting, with moral quandaries, but also a little humour. That said, it’s not perfect, the main reason being its original purpose of being the series premiere.

It’s pretty difficult to introduce the entire cast of an ensemble show in 43 minutes without the word “exposition” cropping up in the review and it’s strongly in force here – plus the episode also has to reintroduce Galen and Dureena, on the off-chance we didn’t see “A Call to Arms”. The best premiere episodes are subtly done, and you become acquainted with the characters through their actions – “show, don’t tell”. Sadly here we get “tell” then follow it up with the “show” to hammer the “tell” part home, this tends to make things seem a bit repetitive. For example, Gideon asks: “Where’s Dureena, our resident thief and tunnel rat?” Next, we see Dureena, in a pipe, breaking into a building…

Thankfully the pace isn’t slowed too much by these moments, and there’s a pretty intriguing story going on here. The story revolves around a mysteriously abandoned city, and trying to determine if there is anything left that will help cure the plague. Watching the show in the Continuity Order it’s nice to see the crew pro-actively searching for a cure again, instead of always reacting to situations put in their way.

The story develops nicely and becomes a lot more related to the quest for the cure and asks a few speculative questions about how humans would act if they had tried for three years to cure the plague and met with no success. I’m not sure the alien’s approach makes much sense, but it’s an interesting idea.

It’s interesting to compare Gideon’s reaction to the alien’s method of solving their plague, following the statement he makes at the beginning of the episode. He makes a deal with the Drazi to hunt for four years, then return home for the last year to police the Solar system and stop those infected from fleeing. He states “he’d make a deal with the devil to get a cure for the plague.” The episode shows maybe he won’t make some deals with the devil after all.

The alien city sets looks pretty good in some of the CG, but  begins to fall down the more it’s used and this episode has a huge amount of effects shots, especially for a lower-budget TV show. Babylon 5 had a knack of working out what they could and couldn’t portray with their CG budget and still have it appear realistic (most of the time) – but one of my on-going gripes with Crusade is that it feels like they never stuck with this approach, despite having some of the same effects crew – maybe they had an even smaller budget? The skimmer chase is quite exciting, but looks sadly pretty unreal in places. The starship battles are better, but still seem a little weaker in quality than Babylon 5.

Probably the biggest “uncanny valley” situation is Galen’s homunculus, it’s bloody awful. The sad part is I really think they wanted it to look realistic, but this was the best they could do on the budget/time. It’s a rubbery monstrosity and really takes you out of the moment, thankfully we get Peter Woodward’s mugging and melodramatic performance that’s just silly enough to distract from the effects “Oh, my liver. I wondered where that’d gone.”

On another random note of complaint, the use of the stock footage from Babylon 5 (Severed Dreams) is a bit jarring as it makes the Thunderbolt pilots look faceless and menacing.

crusade 6 - thunder

While most of the cast gets at least a scene or two, Gideon, Galen and Eilerson tend to get the most screen time. Galen gets the best of the lines and isn’t as insufferably cryptic as usual, but when he is, he’s nicely shot down by Dureena – this episode has some of their best scenes together.

We know the TNT executives wanted as few references to Babylon 5 in Crusade, so I can really see the TNT executives not being crazy about many aspects of this episode – We visit Babylon 5, get flashbacks to the Shadows…

Had this been the first episode I really think it would have had a greater impact – yes, it’s a bit rough around the edges, but it throws you into the action without completely spelling everything out, has some decent action, and include a little humour, a decent mystery and ideas to mull over.

Crusade continuity check and notes:

  • Galenwatch – Present. In this order it seems Galen has been missing for a few episodes – what’s he been up to? Unsurprisingly there’s no answer, he just shows up.
  • First major continuity issue! The start of the episode shows Gideon relive in a dream, the events of how he came to command the Excalibur. The dream shows him (in standard Earthforce uniform rather than the explorer ship blacks) on board Babylon 5 in discussions with the major races about access to their territories to hunt for a cure, then being shuttled across (from Babylon 5) to the Excalibur. This is in marked contrast to everything we see in “War Zone,” which showed him receiving his mission and assignment on Mars.

crusade 6 - uni

  • As a segue between the newer episodes to the “First Five”, it works quite well with no other obvious inconsistencies. Although it’s kind of strange to see the crew now decked out in the grey ‘bellhop’ uniforms – I have to say I didn’t see any signs of changes to the set lighting after Kevin’s suggestions in “Appearances…”
  • These aliens worked for three years on a cure then froze themselves with two left. Therefore they had a five year limit, just like the human race. Humans were not the original targets of the plague though (the Minbari were) and that’s why it will take five years. Is this version from 1000 years ago the same plague? A more basic version? Or was this plague also meant for another race?
  • I think Sheridan mentions in “A Call To Arms” that the Drakh never took the time to engineer the plague well enough before launching it and that was why the Earth had five years. Would the Shadows have done the same a thousand years ago when it seems these aliens were barely space-faring and of no threat?
  • Sadly, and probably due to the order the episodes are in now, we get a return to the broader, “default” Eilerson – full of bluster and greed, not caring a damn about a dead crewman, when in just the last episode he was doing some soul-searching over the same topic.
  • We get a first experience of the human skimmer technology (it’s possible the previous Apocalypse Box owner was hit by one, but we never conclusively see what vehicle it is). The human skimmer technology was never seen on Babylon 5 and we have to assume it’s new tech either from closer Interstellar Alliance ties with the Minbari or maybe IPX discovered technology (from the Vorlons?) following the Great War. I don’t think the skimmers have even been mentioned before on Crusade (in this order), so we didn’t know they had them until now. The technology almost seems a bit anachronistic (and a little Star Wars-y, it even reminded me of Galactica 80).
  • Dureena mentions wanting to learn Technomage techniques (Galen makes it clear this isn’t the first time), but won’t train her yet as she’s only out for revenge.
  • From the ships in the alien chop-shop it appears that the Brakiri, Narn, Centauri and Vree (I probably missed some others) have all visited this planet at some point – how come no-one else has ever discovered the secret or noticed their ships have gone missing?
  • We also get to see the fancy Thunderbolt launchers for the first time! Not sure they make much sense, but very cool none the less.
  • Having already had an introduction to the Apocalypse Box, it removes the mystery originally intended when this episode was first produced, as now we know a little about it. However, it’s now more scary to know Gideon is using it for information as we know it lies. Their reception at this planet seems to suggest the Box might have tried to lead Gideon into a trap – but who knows? Maybe its information was completely out of date – where it gets it’s information is never explained during the thirteen episodes.

Chronological Order Analysis:

  • Production order  = 3
  • Broadcast order  = 9
  • Continuity order  = 6
  • Is this episode better in this order? – Yes

While it would have worked well as a series premiere had the show not been messed with, it actually works well here and a lot better than as the ninth episode. It gets the series back on track with proactive searching for a plague solution.

If you think about, had this been the first episode, the very first thing we ever see them discover is a planet infected by the Shadows with exactly the same plague – too similar, too soon maybe… In this order at least, it feels like their quest is finally getting somewhere, even if it’s a dead end this time.

There are a couple of negative aspects being in this order – The “introductions” to each character get a little wearing, seeing as we’ve spent the last five episodes with the crew in this order, but it’s not a deal breaker. The continuity error of Gideon on Babylon 5 remains a bit jarring, but no Crusade order is perfect.

(All images are property of Warner Brothers)

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

Crusade – Continuity Order – S01E07 – The Needs of Earth

Crusade’s Finest Hour?

Written by J. Michael Straczynski

Directed by Mike Vejar

Grade: A

Spoilers follow.

Episode Synopsis:

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

Episode Review:

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

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

crusade 8 - porno

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crusade continuity check and notes:

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

crusade 7 - aussie

Chronological Order Analysis:

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

Is this episode better in this order? – YES

It doesn’t have any obvious problems with continuity.

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

< Previous episode “Racing the Night” | Next episode “The Memory of War” >

Crusade – Continuity Order – S01E08 – The Memory of War

Attack of the Twenty Foot Woman

Written by J. Michael Straczynski

Directed by Tony Dow

Grade: C-

Spoilers follow.

Episode Synopsis:

When Gideon ignores Galen’s advice about not exploring a ruined planet, they find a hidden danger lurking.

Episode Review:

I seem to remember thinking this episode was okay in previous viewings, but now I have to say it’s become one of my least favourite and is particularly lacking after the high point of “The Needs of Earth.”

As it’s one of the first episodes produced, it feels (much like “Racing the Night”) that they want this episode to help define the show’s raison d’etre. Try hard they do – throwing everything at it, except the Excalibur’s kitchen sink – we get the team exploring an abandoned world, a spooky threat, Galen arriving with dire warnings, Eilerson being a jerk, Dureena discovering hidden passages (in the sky), Technomage intrigue, characters being taken over by a outside forces. Yet, despite this, it doesn’t even become the sum of it’s parts, never mind being greater than them. I may be in the minority here, but despite all the supposed big events and suspense, it all feels a little boring. In the end it just feels too rough around the edges and unfinished.

The stupidity of some of the situations are infuriating. You have to wonder how the mission briefing went: “There have been reports of an unseen killer on the planet below. Oh and we’re searching to the cure for a plague, does anyone see any similarities? Ring any bells anyone? No? Oh well, maybe we shouldn’t worry about wearing hazmat suits…” The crew of the Prometheus (the Ridley Scott one) took better precautions. Seeing as they’ve been warned of deadly invisible danger by Galen, you might think taking a huge scientific research team down might not be the best idea until they discover if the place is safe? Nope, the team they take is the largest one we ever see on the show.

Max acts as though the situation they’re approaching – dead world, potential technology, etc. is a uniquely amazing new opportunity. Strange, it’s just like the opportunity they just had in the episode “Racing the Night.” He must have memory issues.

Certainly a large part of the episode’s failings have to be the effects, because if you can’t suspend disbelief, then the whole story suffers. I realise it’s a particularly effects heavy episode and this was the show’s early days, but the quality control department must have been snoozing after a heavy lunch. There’s a bunch of poor effects throughout, but there are a few the standouts for me. There’s a shot of the probes launched by the Excalibur, splitting up over the world – the scale, physics and overall quality are just terrible. They had a reasonable shot of the probes being deployed from below the Excalibur, then they cut to the awful one. We’ve just seen the probes launched, ditch the crappy shot.

crusade 8 - probes

Then Dureena finds the secret “light bridge” (forcefield? hard-light hologram?) on the side of a building. Why it’s there, god only knows, it leads from the side of one building simply to the side of another (couldn’t someone have simply accessed the area from the other building instead?), although nonsensical, I can kind of forgive it as it gives us a cool moment of discovery and mystery.

What’s not forgivable is what happens next – the device powering the bridge starts powering down and instead of staying safely where she is (where she could be picked up by a skimmer) she decides to run back along a flickering bridge, made of light, hundreds of feet up in the air. To finally grind a handful of rock salt into the wound, the effects then completely shit a brick – the scale of Dureena to the path and building become so bad you almost have to assume it was left in as a joke – just look at the image.

crusade 8 - giant dureena

A little later Dureena and Max discuss the data crystals, where he berates her for not getting more of them. Well, why doesn’t someone get a bloody skimmer and go get the rest of them?! Why introduce the skimmers and then never use them? Yes, there’s some vague talk of a thin ozone layer allowing solar interference of electronics during the daytime, but it’s never mentioned whether it stops the skimmers, or just wait until night time.

I know I’ve mentioned not wanting to bang on about Chen’s music, but this is one of the worst examples. His atmospheric stuff is often fine, but it’s the character moments that end up so broad and melodramatic. For example: Galen’s entrance on the ship is unintentionally hilarious. He’s just dropped some silly, self-depreciating comments about “coming onboard, so hide the breakables” then he comes striding up the corridor in slow-mo with a highly portentous soundtrack so he can basically give us again the same information. Oh, another thing, there’s so much gratuitous slow-mo in this episode, ease up please Tony.

The biggest shame of the episode is that the smaller, character moments are often quite decent – quiet, thoughtful and interesting, sadly the main story that they’re woven into is so dull, forgettable and clichéd.

Did I just say clichéd? We have an unseen killer on the loose on a deserted planet (see Forbidden Planet, et al), regular characters taken over by an unknown force (every SF show ever – two episodes of Crusade’s thirteen include this trope), obvious IPX “redshirts” discussing expendability, then the pièce de résistance – having the Technomage avatar’s face in the explosion, pushing us beyond cliché to sheer parody.

crusade 8 - face

So what IS good?

As mentioned before, most of the quiet character moments away from the main story are actually pretty good, adding depth and nuance to the characters, it’s just a shame the story didn’t get the same treatment. As an example of these, Dureena’s retrieval of Galen’s staff is a nice moment. It’s done with zero dialogue and it solidifies his bond with Dureena – the hand contact in particular is a great little moment and one that helps toward his trust of her and possible future training. That they completely doused poor Carrie Dobro in mud, then let it dry just for this scene is pretty mean, but it sells the moment.

The reason the virus exists on the planet is vaguely interesting, and Galen’s discussion with the avatar brings up a few interesting questions about what Technomages will do and what Galen’s price might be. I like the idea that the avatar is only aware when activated to kill, so basically if he wants to stay conscious, he has to kill. It’s a good idea, but not well explored and glossed over too quickly.

The scene with Galen accessing the probes on the bridge looks a little static, but the crash-zoom into his eyeball and out are very well done. However, the graphics of Galen’s POV/interface when he’s scanning the caves is a bit clunky-looking.

The physical sets on the planet look good for the budget – the forest, the buildings and architecture Dureena clamber over, even the caves look okay, but then the CG caves look terrible and match up poorly with the green screened actors.

The scale of the story and what they’re trying to do is laudable of course. Many will say that it’s better to try something grand and difficult but fail, than succeed at something small and easy. Do you know what’s better? Attempting something large and difficult, knowing your limitations and working around them to succeed – something which Babylon 5 did on numerous occasions.

Crusade continuity check and notes:

  • Galenwatch – Present
  • Minor continuity issue (one that most people wouldn’t care about or notice) – the ISN news anchor describes the Drakh attack as having happened four months ago. Not the fault of the episode as first written and shot, but once it was pushed back, it clashes with other dates – most obviously “Ruling from the Tomb” which is set in June.
  • While it’s not exactly a continuity issue – the news programme feels like pure early-episode info-dump. All it does now is remind the viewer of lots of things we’ve now heard a great deal about, such as the Earth quarantine. The newsreader’s mention of what the Excalibur is doing and how it’s enlisting the help of the Rangers feels like very old news to those watching, yet it’s feels like she’s explaining something to us for the first time. From what we’ve seen in this order, we’ve already been told the Excalibur and the Rangers are being portrayed as heroes for Earth, while here they’re just a footnote in a news summary…
  • From the nanotech-virus in this episode we get the development of the nano-virus shield , which is a pretty cool idea, although only used once in the series.
  • With the medical imaging Chambers has on board, they are able to observe a nano-machine in real time, even enhancing it enough to see the Technomage symbol.
  • I had to laugh when Galen cuts off Dr Chamber’s explanation of what nanotech is. By the 23rd Century it’s ancient technology – it’s like someone today explaining to you what a steam engine is, plus he’s a Technomage

We get quite a lot of Galen backstory throughout:

  • We see some kind of implants (or the remains of) on Galen’s back. From what we’ve seen on Babylon 5 and Crusade, this is a new revelation, but those having read the Technomage trilogy will have a better idea of the significance.
  • Galen gets a bit of a shock about the reasons for his order’s warnings about this world – it seems they’re not above lying to hide their mistakes and embarrassments.
  • Galen’s staff came from the one who taught him – Alric from B5 episode “The Geometry of Shadows”

We also find out that the Apocalypse Box had a hand in finding this planet, and it was truthful in that they did find something of use, it just forgot to mention the danger. The Box also tells Gideon not to trust Galen – there’s many potential reasons, some of which may be true:

  • He may not be trustworthy despite evidence to the contrary
  • The Box knows Galen would oppose its presence and is sowing discontent between them
  • It knows some of the Technomage history the audience is not yet party to
  • Maybe it has limited ability to see the future and is foreshadowing the events of “The Well of Forever’?
  • Something else entirely?

It’s nice to hear a little about Dr Stephen Franklin on the news report, probably just to remind us he exists and there to whet our appetites for “Each Night I Dream of Home”

Chronological Order Analysis:

  • Production order  = 2
  • Broadcast order  = 10
  • Continuity order  = 8
  • Is this episode better in this order? – Yes

This episode works better here because the nanovirus they discover will be used to make the nanovirus shield seen in “Patterns of the Soul” and “Each Night” – “Broadcast Order” had “Patterns of the Soul” air first!

While it doesn’t have any glaring problems with continuity, to me this episode has somewhat of an “early feel” to it, like they were still trying to iron-out certain aspects of the show. This feeling would be the same in almost any possible order, except for one where only the “First Five” are watched. Overall, that’s pretty forgivable.

(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 – S01E10 – Each Night I Dream of Home

Hello, Old Friends

Written by J. Michael Straczynki
Directed by Stephen Furst

Grade: B+

Spoilers follow.

Episode Synopsis:

The Excalibur returns to Earth to run a few medical trials in secret, picks up a VIP, then gets ambushed by the Drakh.

Episode Review:

While not exactly ground-breaking or the most innovative of stories, it does its job well, rattles along at great speed, with plenty of action along the way, and just enough time to fit in a few tough questions and character moments. Another great directing job by Stephen Furst, another of the “old friends” involved in this episode.

The surprise package is a bit of an odd idea. If you noticed the credits, then you know he’s the guest star. If somehow you didn’t, it must be a nice surprise if you’re a Babylon 5 fan. However, if, by chance you didn’t watch Babylon 5, all the build up might seem pretty anticlimactic! I do like his somewhat mini Tardis-like box though.

Richard Biggs settles back into the character of Dr. Franklin like an old shoe, and gets some nice moments to shine, his angst over infecting a man simply to act as a baseline is very refreshing, despite the big picture. His presence makes the whole venture feel like it has more to do with the Babylon 5 universe than almost anything else to date in Crusade. The moment where Lochley arrives in the medbay, just after Franklin enters the pod, and so doesn’t know he’s in there, is a little melancholy, but seeing as they only worked together for a year isn’t as sad as say, Ivanova or Garibaldi missing him.

We see Gideon’s cynicism come to the fore – he dislikes the senator’s politics and busts Masterson’s balls for expecting their own ships not to fire on them. Their banter, as usual, is one of the better aspects of the episode. We get to hear yet again about Gideon being rescued and never ignoring a distress call. Had this been the fifth episode it might have worked fine, but as tenth, this is seriously old news and getting repeated way too often.

Probably the best action scene in the episode is the drive-by pickup of Lochley. I love the image of the tracking circle (or whatever it is) focusing on Matheson’s eye, not very sure what it was supposed to do apart from look kind of cool – it would be a pretty distracting the way it shines in his face!

crusade 10 - eye

I do have a couple of other observations on this scene though:
1. It might have been a good idea if someone were to warn Lochley that they were going to do this high speed, high risk rendezvous – What if she saw them coming and decided to get the hell out of the way?
2. Matheson mentions picking “her” up – is this a slip? How would they know who’s on board? Can their scanners detect a person’s sex? Or does Matheson refers to all ships as her?

Dr. Chambers gets a rare chance to take center stage and all her scenes with Franklin are excellent, throughout which the mutual respect is evident. The little ‘malfunction’ she orchestrates to take the load off Franklin is quite a nice element. I did like the manual hydraulic pumps for opening the doors after the lock down.

This is a very heavy effects episode, but they vary greatly. The Starfury capture is pretty good, but the battle looks muddy, the scale always feels off and there’s little flair to it all. The scale of Earth to the Moon is also way off when the Excalibur arrives at Earth. I think part of the problem is the textures of Drakh ships and the Excalibur – both have very smooth surfaces with little texture (or greebles), so at a distance they often end up getting the “rubbery” effect.

We get an added voiceover just as Gideon enters the Medbay to see Lochley. This was originally written as the first time they meet, and instead they had already met in “Ruling From the Tomb”. Their interactions here are so much more entertaining and realistic, that it really makes you wish they’d never met at all in “Ruling.” There’s a spark here that was utterly missing without a trace in “Ruling”. The “first date” line also makes no sense having seen them share dinner!

Despite being a pretty good episode, “Each Night” really feels like it should be nearer the start of the run. Are were supposed  to believe after the amount of time that’s passed that they’ve only just decided to run these reasonably basic tests? That they haven’t even discovered it’s a nano-virus yet?

Crusade continuity check and notes:

  • Galenwatch: Absent
  • Refers to the Drakh attack being a few months ago (so 2-4 months?)
  • Very minor continuity error – Gideon describes this as their first “major battle” with the Drakh. Maybe he forgot “War Zone” – I wish I could.
  • Not exactly a continuity error, but one that shows just how none of the orders can ever work perfectly – we’ve seen “Racing The Night”, it shows Gideon on board Babylon 5 – He didn’t meet Lochley? The CO of the station? Pretty bloody unlikely.

We learn more here about the Drakh plague than the rest of the season combined. How much of it actually makes any sense biologically / technologically, I’m not so sure, but we learn the following:

  1. It’s targeted and concentrates on the vital organs – brain, heart, lungs, etc.
  2. It’s a nano-machine, not biological at all
  3. It’s able to mutate and ‘disappear’ into the host very shortly after infection.
  4. Its mutations appear to be able to mimic existing diseases and it appears to be trying different ones until the most lethal one is found and will then be activated in all the machines. Does that mean it would be trying out new mutations all the time? So that in the end it might kill everyone just by trying all the existing viruses?
  5. It’s very similar to the nano-machines used in the nano-shield developed from Technomage tech (funny that).
  6. It’s only infecting mammals
  7. Franklin and Chambers discuss the possibility that all the machines can communicate with one another, suggesting a ‘hive mind’ and that the possibility the machines can actually ‘think’.
  8. Franklin describes a ‘screen’ to detect anything down to 50 microns. I’m pretty sure bacteria are smaller than that and virus a lot tinier.
  9. It starts very small and is able to decompress once in a host. Like a Zip File. Really, that’s how Dr Franklin puts it. How 1999. This is answered in a previously unreleased still from a deleted scene where Franklin is able to isolate the Drakh Plague under an electron microscope and finally see it:

crusade 10 - bug

  • The medical imaging that was so helpful in allowing them to actually see the nanotech machines in “The Memory of War” doesn’t seem to be available (remember kids “nano” doesn’t just mean small, nanotech is technology on the scale of about 1 to 100 nanometers). The technology they seem to have onboard the ship just doesn’t feel consistent. Seeing as both the Technomages and the Drakh seem to like messing with nanotech viruses, does no-one think there might not be a connection? Or think that if they could reprogram the Technomage tech as a shield, it couldn’t be reprogramed to target the Drakh nanotech in the body?
  • We’ve seen tablets used on Crusade before and have been used as far back as the original Star Trek and probably beyond in SF, but I think this is the first time I’ve seen them used as tool during combat – Matheson is using his for reports and to convey orders I think.
  • We get one of our few glimpses of a Warlock class destroyer – The EAS Foxfire.
  • Interesting to see that the space plumber (David Williams) comes from Paterson, NJ, USA – I’m sure there’s no coincidence that JMS was born there, as he wrote the script.
  • I think this is the first time we see that they have the same type of MaintBots on board as Babylon 5.

Chronological Order Analysis:

  • Production order = 5
  • Broadcast order = 13
  • Continuity order = 10
  • Is this episode better in this order? – Yes

Again, as this is part of the “First Five”, it’s in a better location than the Broadcast Order, but like the others it feels “early” from a production point of view. Right now, a part of me wishes that this could be earlier in the run.

(All images are property of Warner Brothers)

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