Tag Archives: Technomage

Crusade – Continuity Order – S01E01 – War Zone

Poor Zone

Written by J. Michael Straczynski

Directed by Janet Greek

Grade: D+

Spoilers follow.

Episode Synopsis:

The crew of the Excalibur come together to begin their quest for the cure to the Drakh plague.

Episode Review:

My memory was that this episode was weak – no surprise, many first episodes are. Unfortunately it’s worse than that, this episode pretty much stinks. I really want to love and embrace this show, but this is painful to watch. I know, I know, JMS wrote this script under duress and naturally didn’t make much effort, but boy does it show. Sadly I can’t review an episode for what I want it to be, or what it could have been, only by what we, the viewers, see on-screen.

It’s hard to know where to begin. There’s so many issues here, but it boils down to one thing – with this episode, TNT get exactly what they wanted. The first scene of the entire series is one of the most pointless fistfights ever put on film, just like they wanted. The rest of the episode that follows is stuffed with clunky exposition, artificially injected action, broadly written characters, cheesy dialogue and clichés abound. The simplest description I can make is that it’s written more like a children’s show.

You have to assume this is kind of the point JMS is trying to make. It ticks almost all the boxes of what TNT wanted Crusade to become and shows how hackneyed, predictable and clichéd a series it would have been if they’d followed all the notes. It makes that point, but it’s at the expense of the viewer – It’s like cutting off your own nose to spite your face. There’s still some good dialogue peeking through, like a diamond in the muck, as though JMS wanted to let everyone know he’s still in there somewhere.

It seems the rest of the cast and crew got the message that JMS was doing this episode through gritted teeth, and treated it in the same fashion. The acting at best is passable, the effects are lacking, and the direction flaccid despite being an action episode conducted by the usually effective Janet Greek

The story itself is exactly what you’d expect from the first episode of an ensemble cast show – getting the team together, then giving them a problem to overcome to bond them all together. While part of you can’t help but think that it’s interesting to see how everyone came together, in the end it’s just as predictable as you imagine. You end up feeling that if you’d not seen this episode, you wouldn’t have missed much you couldn’t have surmised later. Which is just the idea JMS had tried to implement when the original plan was to premier with “Racing The Night”.

It has to be mentioned that despite everything, the episode is really quite ambitious in scope, so at least there’s that. We start at the Earth orbit battlefield, swing by Marsdome, stop off at the unnamed world near where Gideon was rescued, then proceed to Ceti 4 for another space battle with the Drakh and another battle montage set to music and no other sound – once in a while these are fine, but it was becoming something of a Babylon 5 cliché.

The CG is sometimes pretty bad – whether it’s a case of penny-pinching to not spend money on an episode that they didn’t want to make, or they just didn’t have time for the complexity of this episode, it’s simply not very good. I remembered the CG Drakh looked bad at the time, but now they look shockingly unreal:

I realise they were trying something new for TV here, and they get kudos for trying, but the technology just wasn’t there yet. In fact, doing fully CG figures rarely works now in big budget blockbusters, here we’re in pure uncanny valley territory. The CG landscapes vary in effectiveness, passable at a distance and/or with a little haze, but once they get more close-up they look worse and worse.

For some reason they chose to keep the Drakh masks with glowing eyes for the soldiers. These still look as ridiculous as the did in the Babylon 5 episode “Lines of Communication” – the actual Optic Nerve-designed Drakh prosthetics are awesome, why wouldn’t they stick with those? Plus, the weapon design looks extremely unwieldy. So, in the end the Drakh look a bit cheap, cheesy and not threatening enough. The dialogue their leader spouts is pure cliché and sometimes the Drakh feel like they’d be more at home on the set of a Power Rangers show.

drakh power rangers

Most of the regular cast at least try to put in some kind of a performance. As you’d expect, Gideon takes the lion’s share of the screen time, and while he actually looks a little unsure in his role from time to time (maybe done on purpose as he has a new ship to command), he comes across as a decent, hard-nosed-but-fair kind of captain – yes, he’s very much the “renegade captain” trope, but Cole’s insouciant approach suits the role well.

In one of the best scenes, Gideon reassures Matheson he’s the right man for the job, despite some people’s concerns over him being a telepath. The acting that goes into that scene alone is what pushes this episode up a grade to a “D+”… just.

Despite only appearing a few times and not having made much impact (for me anyway) in “A Call To Arms”, Galen actually comes across better here. He brings some of the cooler Technomage aspects into play – casually kicking Drakh ass, vanishing a lot, dropping smoke-bombs, quizzing Gideon on his quest, hacking the Excalibur with ease, rescuing Gideon in flashback and generally sneaking around under their noses like a wizardy know-it-all.

The rest of the crew doesn’t get much time to shine, but acquit themselves well enough and show off their main character traits – David Allen Brooks demonstrates Max Eilerson’s smarts, greed and tendency to get good lines, Daniel Dae Kim as John Matheson is stoic and dependable, Marjean Holden as Chambers is strong, decisive and sympathetic -probably the most rounded character. Only Carrie Dobro gets little to do as Dureena. The weakest link has to be the shoehorned in, bad-boy pilot Trace Miller, he’s like a bland James Dean cut-out rebelling against nothing. I know he was forcibly introduced to pacify the TNT executives, but he served almost no purpose for the entire thirteen episode run. Maybe he would have gone the way of that other memorable pilot, Warren Keffer. I can dream…

It’s hard to imagine a first time viewer watching this and wanting to see more, especially if they’ve never seen Babylon 5. I have a hard time recommending anyone watch this – even though I know there’s better stuff down the road. Looking back, the Babylon 5 pilot “The Gathering” and first episode “Midnight on the Firing Line” may be a bit rough around the edges, but they’re sheer poetry in comparison to this train wreck.

Crusade continuity check and notes:

  • Galenwatch – Present
  • We get our first look at the title sequence, which works quite well, I always liked the swishy-sword/Excalibur gimmick. They’re definitely trying to impart a mythic feel to the crew’s quest, with some interesting darker undercurrents. The theme tune itself is one of the few times I don’t mind Evan Chen’s music, I just never felt his scores fit well.
  • On board the ship, we see the Excalibur flight deck, and see its assignment of human fighter-craft on board (both Thunderbolts and Starfurys), something we never saw in “A Call to Arms”. We get a mention that the Excalibur is a mile and a half long, then get to see the cool tube cars that run the length of the ship.
  • The ship is now fully crewed and it seems the main ‘team’ roles are filled:
  1. Matthew Gideon – Captain
  2. John Matheson – First Officer
  3. Dureena Nafeel – Resident thief
  4. Galen – Wizard
  5. Dr. Sarah Chambers – Chief Medical Officer
  6. Max Eilerson – Archaeologist, linguist, weekly pain in the ass
  7. Trace Miller – Ostensibly a pilot, but no real idea what he’s supposed to do.
  • While we heard Gideon had the opportunity to pick his crew, we don’t find out if anyone, bar Matheson came with him from his old command. From the way the crew seem at home with most of the systems, we might assume most of the crew were already assigned prior to his arrival – particularly with how accomplished their performance is against three Drakh cruisers.
  • This episode features the newer, black explorer uniforms – which was about the only suggestion TNT made that I actually agree with. Although why were the Explorer crew supposed to have different uniforms? They’re Earthforce, and we saw another Explorer Class ship (from the B5 episode “A Distant Star”) had standard uniforms – I know, probably brand recognition and all that.
  • This Drakh commander seems quite weaselly, very happy to hide while others protect him, not the calm puppet-masters we’ve seen in the past on Babylon 5.
  • We flash back back to the time when the Technomages migrated away from known space – just before the Shadow War (set just after the events of the Babylon 5 episode “The Geometry of Shadows”). At that time Gideon was stranded in just a space suit and apparently Galen rescued him – something we’ll return to in more detail in a later episode.
  • The Captain has an unusual, powerful alien object hidden in his room, which seems intelligent, knows many secrets, speaks to him and seems inherently untrustworthy. This is the same situation as the protagonist in Philip Jose Farmer’s novel “The Unreasoning Mask”.

Chronological Order Analysis:

  • Production order  = 8
  • Broadcast order  = 1
  • Continuity order  = 1
  • Is this episode better in this order? – Same as the Broadcast Order

Definitely supposed to be the first episode in order, despite being shot later. No obvious potential continuity issues. Although “Racing the Night” has Gideon dream/remember being tasked with the mission on Babylon 5 – but I’ll bring that up in that episode though.

(All images are property of Warner Brothers)

TV Movie / Pilot “A Call to Arms” | Next episode “The Long Road” >

Crusade – Continuity Order – S01E02 – The Long Road

Carry on my Woodward Son

Written by J. Michael Straczynski

Directed by Mike Vejar

Grade: C

Spoilers follow.

Episode Synopsis:

A conflict between Earthforce and a small colony gets out of hand once an old friend of Galen’s gets involved.

Episode Review:

While an improvement on “War Zone,” this episode is not exactly a televisual delight either, thankfully it doesn’t insult your intelligence quite like the last episode though.

The story revolves around a disagreement between some local yokels on a low-tech world (Regula 4) and some pantomime bully Earthforce officers, who are forcibly mining the planet for a mineral that seems to boost the human body’s ability to fight off viruses. However the locals have help from a Technomage (well, ex-Technomage) who is aiding their cause. You can’t help but think the crew of the Excalibur have more pressing issues than sorting out this kind of diplomatic issue, even if it does involve a dragon.

The episode is a bit slow, far too in love with Technomages and their often whimsical tendencies (but at least it shows some of their negative potential – both their ability for destruction and the potential for their “charges” to begin using the Technomage as a crutch), all wrapped up in a reasonably predictable high-tech vs low-tech issue. That the colonists are yokel stereotypes pulled from Stargate’s Big Book of Bumpkins, means you end up with all the clichéd characters you’d expect – honest simple folk, hot-headed morons, cute sympathetic daughters, and incompetent officers ignoring their concerns.

From the main cast, this is basically a two-hander for Galen and Gideon, and despite being something of an odd couple, they share some fun moments as their personalities clash, but always retain their innate respect and friendship for one another.

The best part of the episode has to be Edward Woodward’s appearance and worth watching for that alone. When it comes down to it, the whole episode is an excuse to get him and his son Peter together on-screen. There’s a lot of nice ruminations about the father and son relationship that are quite touching, even more so now that Edward Woodward passed away a few years ago and is sadly missed. Here his quiet moments are full of pathos, then while he pontificates in his Technomage persona he unleashes his full RADA abilities to command the moment.

The darker the CG effects, the more passable they are – shots of the landscape are fine until lit up. However, once they are clearer, they lose their effect. For example, the mine site looks completely unreal, and poor Alwyn’s Technomage incantations look pretty lame, about as threatening as interpretive dance.

Then there’s that golden dragon. A nice idea for the end of a teaser (as Alwyn asks “who does dragons any more?” Well, Game of Thrones does now, but this was fifteen years ago), but it looks so rubbery and cartoon-like it wouldn’t scare anyone – strange when the holodemons look quite nasty in the flesh.

crusade 2 - holodemons

The holodemons are a very cool design – especially when they solidify to smack the soldiers – but you have to think that all that PPG fire in the inn, with those civilians there was not a good idea, That none of the soldiers would have automatically threatened or attacked the Technomages seems unlikely, seeing as they’d just observed them “summoning” them.

The sets are pretty decent throughout – particularly the exterior of the mine and the inn interior – although the inn does look like it was built yesterday. The wooded outlook above the mine looks reasonably realistic for being shot on the stage, showing up the CG all the more unfortunately.

All in all, nothing too memorable and from a continuity stand point, completely skippable, but you’d miss some nice character moments. So why was this episode called “The Long Road”? A shout back to “A Call to Arms” when Galen used the line? To show the crew have a long road to travel? Is life “The Long Road”? Your guess is as good as mine.

Crusade continuity check and notes:

  • Galenwatch – Present
  • This seems to be set at least six weeks after the first episode “War Zone” – Have the crew done anything of note in that time?
  • Slight continuity issue – As the Earth Alliance is so big on the antiviral mineral (testing had been positive apparently), this begs the question how do they know an antiviral would be any help? I don’t believe we even learn what the Drakh “plague” is until the episode “Each Night I Dream of Home” – For all they know it could be a bacteria, a chemical or something else entirely! I don’t think we see any further references to this antiviral agent later on in the season.
  • We get quite a lot of information on the Technomages – we learn they weren’t all one big happy family, and Alwyn believed that they should all have stayed around for the Shadow War to help on the side of light. While Alwyn stayed for the Shadow War, we get no idea of whether he helped at all.
  • Elric (the mage Sheridan saw on Babylon 5) became Galen’s mentor after Galen’s father died, then died himself only a year after the mages went into hiding.
  • Something you might miss – Alwyn’s dramatic appearance early on blows out all the candles and the poor daughter of the innkeeper has to scurry around re-lighting candles. I bet she hates it every time he shows up…
  • There’s a gym and basketball court on the Excalibur, located inside what seems to be a massive, unused hanger. I have to wonder – these ships were originally made for the Interstellar Alliance to use and so the gym was part of it – this conjures up images for me of Drazi pumping iron and Pak’ma’ra on the treadmill…

Chronological Order Analysis:

  • Production order  = 7
  • Broadcast order  = 2
  • Continuity order  = 2
  • Is this episode better in this order? – Same as the Broadcast Order

Although it works okay in this location with only a small continuity issue, I’ve always felt it might work better later in the run. There’s not much going on that would clash with the continuity here apart from the mention of six weeks since the attack, so it might be moved further back in the viewing order if need be. I always felt this was a bit of a weak episode to be so early in the show’s run.

(All images are property of Warner Brothers)

< Previous episode “War Zone” | Next episode “The Path of Sorrows” >

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)

< Previous episode “The Long Road” | Next episode “Ruling From the Tomb” >

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 – 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)

 < Previous episode “The Needs of Earth” | Next episode “Visitors From Down the Street”>

Crusade – Continuity Order – S01E12 – The Well of Forever

Who Should You Trust?

Written by Fiona Avery
Directed by Janet Greek

Grade: B

Spoilers follow.

Episode Synopsis:

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

Episode Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

crusade 12 - space jellyfish humping

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

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

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

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

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

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

crusade 12 - zoom out

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

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

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

Crusade continuity check and notes:

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

crusade 12 - crystal

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

crusade 12 - pants

Chronological Order Analysis:

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

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

(All images are property of Warner Brothers)

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

Crusade: The Continuity Order Conclusion

Well that’s that. While I started this exercise to watch in the Continuity Order and analyze that, I also looked at the episodes and reviewed them also, so this conclusion will be in two parts – the first being an analysis of the Continuity Order and the second, more of my conclusions about the show in general.

Continuity Order Analysis

Overall, I felt that the Continuity Order is a decent improvement in the order of the episodes over the “Broadcast Order”. Especially for those first time viewers of Crusade coming from viewing Babylon 5,  I would heartily recommend the Continuity Order over any other. It fixes the most continuity errors of the “Broadcast” and “Chronological” orders, gives better pacing overall and the rearrangement of certain episodes affords them greater impact.

While the fixing of continuity errors is important, I felt that the movement of certain episodes for pacing and impact have a greater effect on the viewers enjoyment.

While it might be obvious if you’ve read the reviews, you’ll probably know that in my opinion, the biggest problem this order fixes is the early placement of “The Well Of Forever.” When viewed in this order it actually resonates with the audience. When it was third in order, it simply felt like an unwarranted diversion from the Drakh plague and served to make Galen appear to be a huge asshole.

Moving the “First Five” episodes earlier also does a few good things. First of all it brings the series back on track sooner, with more urgency to their quest. This is a show about a pro-active quest for a cure (at least for the first season as planned) , not simply reacting to events put in their way – a problem the “Broadcast Order” suffers from in far too many of the early episodes. Secondly, as the “First Five” episodes were produced first, most had an understandably “early” feel to them, such as too much expositional, and characters being portrayed more broadly. These aspects are still noticeable in this order, but are less obtrusive. I wish these episodes could be even earlier, but certain ones have to be before them.

The movement of “Patterns of the Soul” means that like “Well…” it’s another episode that resonates more with the audience due to its placement later in the run. Dureena’s discovery of a lost tribe of her race is a stepping stone in Dureena’s character, she finally loses the responsibility she’s carried of being the last of her race and having to preserve their memory. That is now replaced by her motivation to focus on others and find a cure for them.

While this order fixes continuity errors such as the Nano-Virus Shield being used before it’s discovery, and keeps the order in which Gideon and Lochley meet, there are still a few continuity errors that remain and are unfixable without editing or adding new dialogue:

  1. Largest of all – in “Racing the Night” we see Gideon’s first meeting about taking on the job – all of which takes place on Babylon 5, not Mars. Also, somehow Gideon manages not to meet Captain Lochley while he’s there.
  2. The “disappearance” of the grey (bellhop) uniforms in between “Each Night I Dream of Home” and “Patterns of the Soul” – This is so minor that it’s quite forgivable.
  3. The dates of the Drakh Plague Conference on Mars and the events in “Visitors From Down The Street” appear to occur out of order. There’s a couple of these kinds of errors, but they would only be noticeable to the most eagle-eyed and so pretty forgivable.

For me, the only slight disappointment that comes from the Continuity Order, is that it finishes with “The Rules of the Game.” If you were so inclined you could say that this displays something about the circularity of life, and that this show finishes where it began… The problem for me is that this order finishes on an utterly mediocre episode that leaves the viewer with no sense of closure. “Each Night I Dream of Home” might have been poorly situated from a consistency point of view (in the Broadcast Order) but its central message about striving for a solution when all seems against you, was a nice note to end on.

So all in all, the Continuity Order for me, is the best of the possible orders. That’s not to say it magically makes Crusade amazing. Despite the reasons that caused it, Crusade is not a great show – it has some great moments, but also its fair share of bad along the way. Overall you’re left with a feeling of missed opportunity, which is the saddest of all conclusions for a spin-off from the mighty “Babylon 5”.

If you want my more detailed thoughts on Crusade, please feel free to keep reading, otherwise thanks for your time.

The Continuity Order is your Friend. Watch the Continuity Order.

Crusade Series Analysis

crusade start

Crusade has become something of a “Curate’s Egg” for me, but I’m sure for many other Babylon 5 fans. I’m sure a part of that was my initial high expectations, which then became tempered by the tales of development hell and actual cancellation by TNT prior to the first episode even being released, yet despite all that, how bad could the final show be, with those involved? After all, the creator and most of the crew of the show I’ve probably (actually) gotten the most obsessive about in my life were making a spin-off…

The following is my own personal feelings on the various aspects of the show we got, I’m not trying to say my opinions or outlook are any more valid than anyone else’s, but here we go…

Storylines

Arc plots

“War Zone” re-sets the stage after “A Call to Arms”, but only “The Path of Sorrows” or “Each Night I Dream of Home” are probably 100% arc vital after that. Yes, a few other arc instances occur, but with those three episodes we learn about the most about: the Drakh plague, the Cerberus incident, Technomage schisms, the Apocalypse Box and the Telepath War fall-out – all the most interesting directions the series would have explored. “Patterns of the Soul” re-introduces conspiracies within Earthforce, but the episode’s events looked unlikely to effect the show much – just hint at further development.

Compare this to the first half season of Babylon 5. As well as a huge amount of universe building from scratch, we also get introductions to important storylines and foreshadowing: The mystery of the Minbari surrender, the Narn-Centauri conflict escalation, the Vorlons being mysterious, Telepaths as a blessing and a curse, then Mr Morden shows up with his “associates”…

Had this been all we got in Babylon 5, it would have been very similar to Crusade – in such that it’s “setting out its stall” so to speak. However, what it did that Crusade didn’t get a chance to do is progress the arc plots. Babylon 5 had introduced a major on-going plot regarding the “hole” in Sinclair’s memories – by the eigth episode we actually get it explored in a big way and are left with a pile of implications and questions. In comparison, in Crusade we’ve had interesting, shiny baubles dangled in front of us, but no real progression. Of course, we now know we were only an episode away from some major revelations before it was cancelled…

Standalones

Crusade as developed, had plenty of room for standalone episodes, but like Babylon 5, standalone episodes were not Crusade’s strong point – For every “The Needs of Earth” or “The Well of Forever” we get a “Ruling From the Tomb” or “Rules of the Game”. While I’d say none of the episodes are quite as weak as “Infection” or “Survivors” – it’s still disappointing from a team on a roll after Babylon 5.

Something that bugged me a little, is that after “A Call to Arms”, the so-called antagonists – the Drakh – barely feature, we only see them in two episodes. Really, just two: “War Zone” and “Each Night I Dream of Home”. I know the plague was going to be wrapped up in a season or two, to be replaced by an Earthforce threat, but it’s a little strange.

Cast

The cast, much like Babylon 5, was fit for the task. Maybe not packed with big names (bar Gary Cole) or even names I’d even heard of at the time, but they fit their roles nicely.

Gary Cole’s laconic Captain could say just as much with a glance as a sentence, was sardonic, yet happy to drop the silly stuff in once in a while.

Daniel Dae Kim was excellent as Matheson, despite not always getting the most to work with, his relationship with Gideon was warm and amusing, and the chances he got to stretch his acting muscles (“The Needs of Earth” and “The Well of Forever” jump to mind) showed a quiet depth and sensitivity. I was happy to see his career took off afterwards (and just noticed him in an episode of Seinfeld)

Peter Woodward plays Galen as the usual Tolkein-like wizard mix, he’s playful, intelligent, self righteous, evasive and has a dark streak of steel beneath it all – I’m not sure if the intent was to never know which version of him you’d get every time, but he could seem a little inconsistent.


Marjean Holden didn’t often get to do much beyond just “being the doctor,” but she always seemed kind and caring, with a nice line in dry humour from time to time.

Carrie Dobro was excellent as Dureena, her character always seemed fresh and immediately improved any episode she appeared in. Her playfulness, her ability to convey hot-headed rashness at one moment and serenity the next was great.

David Allen Brooks as Eilerson was also great, a character who at first seems the epitome of the slimy 80s company man (think “Burke” in Aliens maybe), got the best lines and the funniest put downs. He’s knows he’s always the smartest guy in the room, if someone else is correct, they just got lucky. That he was slowly growing into an actual human being in front of our eyes was interesting. As he sees his skills being used to do more then just make a big paycheck, and instead be appreciated, was great to watch.

Tracy Scoggins to a greater or less extent continued her character as portrayed in Babylon 5, while she was solid enough, she didn’t get much to do with progressing the plot and her character grated on me endlessly.

Most of these actors aside, from Gary Cole, Tracy Scoggins and Daniel Dae Kim, haven’t had much screen time since, and that’s quite a shame.

Score

Hating on Evan Chen’s score has gone beyond beating a dead horse by now. My opinion is that I understand why they tried it, but it wasn’t great. That said, I feel it was getting better as the episodes progressed. Overall, I think we’d all have preferred Christopher Franke to continue and I’ll leave it at that.

Sets

First of all, it must be said the Excalibur is a fabulous piece of work. The sets, the design, everything looks great and easily the equal of other, higher-budget SF shows of the time. Although for some reason the cavernous gym and recreation center still seem ridiculous to me. The other stand-out has to be the shuttle interior, being built on hydraulics really sells the idea of atmospheric flight, completely unlike the usual placid scenes you get in every other TV show.

The temporary “interior” sets were usually pretty decent, especially the multiple ruins sets. Sadly they would fall back on the “dark, industrial corridor” sets that looked lifted straight from “Down Below”, because they were.

Crusade attempted to shoot everything on stage, with the intent to save a huge amount over location shoots. The problem with that is making them look real – this also involves time and money. While they would use the trusty, old “dusty tunnels and polystyrene rocks” method of every SF show, ever, they also tried to show alien worlds with different ecosystems. While a great goal, the problem was that they worked to varying degrees, especially once composited with CG backgrounds. Even with the best will in the world, only about half of these “indoor for outdoor” shoots actually produced something that looked natural, and not an obvious set. Nature is random and messy – trying to portay this artificially is very difficult.

Yes, they were trying to do a story on a bigger scale, with new worlds most weeks, but they’d already had some practice with the concept ahead of time. Babylon 5’s “The Ragged Edge”, “The River of Souls” and “A Call to Arms” – all were all developed and written so that they could incorporate and test some of the techniques they wanted to use in Crusade – In my opinion they often looked as good or better than they looked on Crusade.

CG Effects

Crusade was trying to show a wider view of the universe than Babylon 5, with its aim to include more planets and city-scapes than Babylon 5 ever did. I’m pretty sure one of the reasons (beyond the expense) that Babylon 5 concentrated on space effects is that the technology available for the budget allowed it to look good enough, the technology required for realistic cities, forest etc. just wasn’t there. Sadly, it’s very apparent in Crusade that it still wasn’t. Almost all the worlds have a “rubbery” appearance that’s the downfall of low texture and “muddy” CG.

You can use the episode “War Zone” as a microcosm for the failings of the CG.

Desolate landscapes, which should be easiest, look like texture-less renderings. Composite shots, such as the ones with Max on the planet near the start are either composited with the angles wrong or people fading in and out through the CG.

This lack of texture / quality control causes a lot of the space effects to look lacking as well. It doesn’t help that the Excalibur and Drakh vessels when shot at medium and long distances look slick and texture-less – close up there is some textures, but it’s lost at distance.

The CG figures, which thankfully they only repeated once, were frankly bad at a distance and then very poor close up. I’m sure someone had to spend a bunch of time on it, but someone on quality control should have looked at it, said it doesn’t work, and shot it live, because it really could have been.

To repeat a point made in one of the episode reviews – I understand they were trying to do something not attempted on TV before and it’s very laudable they tried. Some might say it’s better to try and fail than play it safe. I’d say it’s better to push what you can do on a budget, but realize what works and doesn’t – something Babylon 5 tended to do.

Conclusion

So that’s the Crusade we got and it’s not great. It is great occaisionly, but also it’s terrible occaisionly. For the most part it’s reasonably fun, interesting and adequate – how’s that for completely damning with faint praise?

I’m sure my continued interest in it is due to it being the spin-off of a show I loved and is set in the same universe. The actual tales of what happened behind the scenes at TNT that have trickled out are just amazingly ridiculous and demonstrate why we got such compromises throughout. In the end it leaves you frustrated as it’s just another of those “might have beens” of the continuing Babylon 5 universe.

As stated above, the “Continuity Order” is very much an improvement over the original “Broadcast Order”. That said the “Continuity Order” doesn’t magically make bad episodes good, or fix the major gripes I have with the series. While the vast majority of these gripes were caused by the interference of TNT, I can only review the show we got and not the one I wished for back in 1998.

Thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings about a fifteen year old tv show, even more so one that only lasted thirteen episodes….

If you’d like to continue on this journey, I’m going to follow up with an article on the unproduced episodes of Crusade. These have either been made available online or as part of the Babylon 5 / Crusade script books.

I’ll be starting with “The Ends of the Earth” and when I’ve completed the pieces I’ll post the link to continue here.

(All images are property of Warner Brothers)