Tag Archives: Psi Corps

Crusade – Continuity Order – S01E03 – The Path of Sorrows

A Tale of Telepaths, Loss and Boxes

Written by J. Michael Straczynski

Directed by Mike Vejar

Grade: B+

Spoilers follow.

Episode Synopsis:

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

Episode Review:

This is more like it – the first decent episode so far. Mysterious buildings on an abandoned world, potential healing technologies, interesting character revelations. Thankfully we also get some decent concepts and dilemmas to get our teeth into – regret, redemption, forgiveness, secrets and sorrow.

This episode explicitly ties the show into the continuity of Babylon 5 and therefore it’s something TNT hated. Although, even with the best will in the world, it still has the feel of fan-service – Shadow ships kicking arse, scenes from the Telepath War, hints at Technomage unrest – but that’s what was needed to bring the Babylon 5 fans in and try to keep them.

The entire plot of the show is pretty much a framework from which to hang flashbacks, character developments and revelations, and so it isn’t always the most subtle, but at least what we see allows us to begin empathizing with and understanding the characters more. This episode takes our heroes and shows them as flawed, damaged, haunted, and all the more human.

This episode is more of an ensemble show than the last episode, although it begins with most of the main cast, but then concentrates on Gideon, Matheson and Galen:

Gideon’s revelations are a mixed bag – we certainly sympathize with him during his encounter with the Shadows where they destroy his ship (the Cerberus) and all his crew-mates. We then see him rescued by Galen when all seems lost – it explains his commendable compulsion to always answer a distress signal and never leave a person behind. We feel his frustration when his story is disbelieved by Earthforce. As a counter point, we then see Gideon “win” the Apocalypse Box (the origins and abilities are still reasonably unknown canonically, I believe) at a later date – that Gideon would keep and use it seems reckless – especially when it appears to have caused a man’s death right in front of him.

We knew Matheson was in the Psi-Corps, and while not in a position of power, he’d gained the trust of those in power (such as Gary Graham from Alien Nation). He appears to be a good little drone, going so far to accept a comment that the real enemy are the “mundanes”. For him to have gained trust, had he performed acts against mundanes? Were they criminal acts? At this point he sees the rebel telepaths as terrorists until he’s shown that the Psi-Corps casually murders all members of the rebel leadership. His realisation and change of heart to betray the Psi-Corps is a little too quick and easy, but he’s put on the spot and maybe he realizes he has a lot to repent for. I believe the female telepath he meets was originally meant to be Lyta Alexander, but according to JMS, Pat Tallman was busy on a movie.
crusade 3 - psi

Galen is a manipulative asshole early on, playing on Dureena’s fears to allow them to open the door (with a solution that seems straight out of Tolkien), but to balance that out we later see him in a more playful, contemplative mood with Matheson in the tube car. His line about this being where he gets off “metaphorically, metaphysically, and literally” is great. We also get the reminder that he, out of all the Technomages, was the one who rescued Gideon. In his vision, we see a more human Galen finally. We witness how hard the loss of his lover Isabelle (played by British actress Sophie Ward) hits him, despite her protestations to accept it as part of the plan of the universe – something he rejects and becomes an integral part of his character.

crusade 3 - galen

I’m not sure if I like that he gets the message at the end of this episode instead of in a later episode, or that it’s so damn vague. However, his look as he contemplates the message from out there and weighs the implications if, by chance it might be from Isabelle is one of his best moments in the show – that he rejects it out of hand is a bold character move, and shows the depths of his damage.

It’s the first time we see the Apocalypse Box and it pretty much steals the show despite doing nothing but sit there enigmatically, glow and emit some kind of voice-chime (this makes it sound like a Vorlon) – the design of the case is suitably antique, then the apocalypse box itself is simple, but looks a bit ethereal as well.

crusade 3 - box

For the most part, the CG effects are pretty good throughout, only the explosion at the Psi-Corps base looks a bit weak. The snow globe alien itself is a great piece of work by Optic Nerve, but the bubble does look very plastic indeed, in fact the seam where the two halves join is particularly visible. Oh well, if you’ve bought into the idea of a telepathically-forgiving snow globe alien, slightly low quality props are unlikely to bother you much. The tower exterior should get special mention, it’s quite impressive in scale and a decent effort is made to convey its age.

Despite some clunky dialogue and a few moments lacking in subtlety, the episode is really quite good and finally makes you think spending some time on this show might be worthwhile. It would have been nice to see the skeletons in everyone’s closets before Galen forced the issue, but the episode is only 43 minutes long after all.

Crusade continuity check and notes:

  • Galenwatch – Present
  • According to JMS, this was written during the time of the “First Five” episodes, prior to TNT’s pronouncement about changes required, and TNT hated this episode.
  • The Earthforce interviewer back in 2259 drops President Clarke’s name – Babylon 5 viewers will know he was in league with the Shadows and their allies – from the interviewer’s manner it seems like he was trying to help cover up the Cerberus incident.
  • We see that Matheson was fundamental in allowing the rebel telepaths strike a major blow in the telepath war/crisis – for me this raises the question of when it happened. We heard that the telepath crisis was described as ‘recent’ back in A Call To Arms. So since that happened Matheson joined Earthforce, rose to the rank of Lt. Commander and was posted on an Explorer class ship – it seems like a lot has happened in a short time – maybe Matheson was something of a trial case for allowing teeps into Earthforce, so he was given a higher rank from the get go? Would some of the crew have resented that?
  • That Matheson appeared be be a good little drone makes you wonder what he might have done, both against “mundanes” and rebel telepaths, before his change of heart. This might have come back to haunt him later in the show.
  • The Galen and Isabella scene ties in exactly with the “Technomage Trilogy” of Babylon 5 novels.

The Apocalypse Box comes with a number of interesting issues:

  • When exactly did Gideon get the Box? It seems he was a Lieutenant by this point. There was a skimmer in the flashback, I’m not sure if that technology was available for humans until around 2262.
  • Has he used it at all since commanding the Excalibur? Early on in the episode, Eilerson is dubious of the information provided by Gideon’s source – the Box may have been the source.
  • Another thought – Gideon was only an Ensign in 2259 (a Lieutenant by 2262 maybe) – he became a captain pretty quickly afterwards it seems. According to Sheridan in the Babylon 5 episode “A Distant Star,” there weren’t many Explorer class ships, so that implies it was a prestigious position to captain one – Did Gideon use help from the box to earn his position?
  • The previous owner and/or prisoner of the box informs Gideon it knows things no-one else knows, but sometimes it lies. The way he wagers it and laughs maniacally upon losing it implies the box would not just allow itself to be given away or discarded. The previous owner’s death then occurs seconds after he leaves – he explains that there was no other way out – this could imply many things:
    1. You own it, then you die – maybe it’s a “curse” or the box actually causes it telepathically, telekinetically, etc.
    2. If you want to get rid of it you have to find a way to pass the box on to a new owner who wants it willingly. As the guy basically allowed himself to be outplayed, maybe the box considered this “cheating” – so the box killed him somehow.
    3. He gave away too much information on the Box’s secrets – the box killed him somehow.
    4. He killed himself by jumping in front of the car/skimmer – maybe he couldn’t live with what the Box tricked him into doing?
    5. Maybe its a combination of the above – naturally he dies just as he has something important to say to Gideon…

Chronological Order Analysis:

  • Production order  = 9
  • Broadcast order  = 4
  • Continuity order  = 3
  • Is this episode better in this order? – Yes

It’s only a small change in the order, but in my opinion this episode works well here and better than where it was in the broadcast order. It allows us to get a handle on the characters earlier, as we get background and motivations for some of their actions later in the series.

That we learn of Isabelle now and see Galen’s reaction to the message, it makes the relocation of “The Well of Forever” all the better in a narrative sense – to save any spoilers of future episodes we’ll discuss this issue when we get to that episode.

The episode is not dated very explicitly. Part of me wonders if this would work better switched around with the Long Road to get a better episode earlier in the run – but maybe the huge dump of character background might be too much, too soon.

(All images are property of Warner Brothers)

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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)

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