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Crusade – Continuity Order – S01E00 – A Call to Arms

A Prelude to a Crusade

Written by J. Michael Straczynski

Directed by Mike Vejar

Grade: B-

Spoilers follow.

Episode Synopsis:

Sheridan’s dreams lead him to a group of strangers who will help him face a new threat from an old foe.

Episode Review:

Why episode zero, I probably don’t hear you ask? Well, I wasn’t too sure whether or not to include “A Call To Arms” in this Crusade watch-through, seeing as it’s more of a Babylon 5 movie than a Crusade pilot, but I felt I had to for the sake of context and completion.

Sadly, it’s not a triumph, but then neither is it a failure either – it’s a competent enough TV movie that probably would have benefited from sharing the epic feel given to “In The Beginning” – after all, it could be the end of the world as we know it…

That’s not to say it’s no good, it’s actually a lot of fun, with a reasonably fast pace, a few good twists along the way, and some effective injections of light humour. Just don’t expect much depth beyond the race to discover the Drakh threat and the vague problem that Sheridan’s pals might condemn him to a mental institution, all finished up with the obligatory big battle at the end.

At the beginning, Bruce Boxleitner plays Sheridan as if he’s having a whale of a time – he’s getting back out there from behind the ISA Presidential desk, doing something practical and it’s great to see his reaction to that. At one point he’s like a teenager – sneaking out of the house (Babylon 5), pinching the family car (the Excalibur), and leaving a recorded note – it’s almost like an interstellar Ferris Buehler’s Day Off.

Jerry Doyle returns, with Garibaldi much the same, despite the new responsibilities of family life and running Edgar’s Industries – sadly he never returned for Crusade (plans were apparently squashed by TNT).

call - tony todd

The main guest star is Tony Todd and he would have made a bad-ass captain for the Excalibur in Crusade, which I’m pretty sure is why he was cast. I’d imagine many first time viewers who knew of the Crusade spin-off, but not who was cast as the Captain could easily imagine (the awesome) Tony Todd is the guy for the job, thus making his sacrifice more shocking. Although the scene with his daughter makes his death all the more predictable, his line about protecting her from the monsters always gets to me. I know, I’m a big sentimental sap.

The rest of the supporting cast do a good job – Tony Maggio’s Drake seems just to be neurotic comic relief at first before affecting the story later, while the actress playing the pilot of the Excalibur (Marjean Holden) would go on to play Dr. Sarah Chambers in Crusade. Jeff Conaway gets a short, fun appearance which would sadly prove to be the last one he filmed for a Babylon 5 related production.

As with the other TNT movies, it’s in (TV) widescreen and, of course, the show looks so much better for it. I know there’s an issue with the effects to stop the show being remastered and rereleased on Blu-Ray in the widescreen format, but I wish someone would have the foresight to realize that spending that money upfront would result in a huge renaissance in interest, purchases and profit for Warner Bros. I can dream can’t I?

As I mentioned earlier, despite the widescreen, a few things drained the potential for this to be the epic adventure it should be. First of all and probably the biggest issue for me is the music – Evan Chen’s score is a little esoteric – flitting somewhere between orchestral and synth, but doesn’t carry the emotional impact or subtlety of Franke’s grand works (an issue which continues into Crusade as well). The humour, although effective, does serve to decrease the tension. Then we have the Drakh, not the most charismatic or threatening of villains, and their threat is further diminished by being off-screen almost the entire time. The majority of the time the Drakh appear only in the form of their bland spaceships.

Another major factor, in my opinion, is because of the new techniques being tried out here. One of the main goals of “A Call to Arms” production was the implementation of new production techniques, that would then be used on Crusade. As Crusade was to be more of a ‘planet of the week’ show than Babylon 5 ever was, it would require a lot of exterior shoots. However, exterior shooting is very expensive (and sadly, Babylonian Productions always worked with budgets way below shows such as the Star Treks, Stargates, etc.) so it was decided to film exterior locations in the studio. I’m sure the production crew tried very hard to achieve this – they created at least three different worlds in this movie – which is more than most seasons of Babylon 5! However, in my opinion they didn’t fully convince, despite turf being shipped in or giving over whole studio spaces to become rocky plateaus, druidic stone circles, etc. Much like the Star Trek “exterior” sets, something about the exterior work sadly looked ‘stagey’ to me. I’ll stop bitching here for a second though to say the hydraulically controlled shuttle interior is a triumph though.

The final issue for me is that the visual effects simply don’t feel up to par – the quality was always more variable after they ditched Foundation Imaging to bring it in-house and this one is one of the more disappointing occasions. Despite featuring massive fleets and super-sized death machines, all too often the battles feel ‘off’ – more like a video game, with the mass and solidity of the ships not well conveyed. One of the issues is that the scale often feels wrong – the worst example of this is the Shadow Death Cloud / Planet Killer.

call - shadow(I apologize for how grainy the image is)

We’re told this thing is insanely massive – it has to be to engulf the Earth! Then when we finally see inside the cloud (particularly at the end, once it activates prematurely) it looks like it would barely wrap around Belgium. Of course, I know this work is all being done on a TV show budget, and this TV movie includes a HUGE number of effects and composites shots, but when some don’t work, it serves to pull you out of the story.

I don’t mean to be such a downer on “A Call To Arms”, it really is worth your time to watch for many reasons. I think the issue for me was that my expectations were set so high, and when it didn’t quite live up to them, I couldn’t help but start nitpicking.

Crusade continuity check and notes:

  • Galenwatch (because he’s hard to pin down) – Present, in spirit.
  • While you could just jump straight into “War Zone” – I think you get more out of the series having watched this first. It provides the full background to the Drakh plague, you meet some of the new characters and get to see the Excalibur in action.
  • We meet both Galen and Dureena here for the first time. Dureena comes off better, partly due to more screen time, but she’s also able to help out in surprising ways, with a nicely sarcastic turn of phrase and nicely acted. Galen is only in it for a small time, so it’s hard to get a good idea of his character, apart from his cynical tone, rather convoluted help and cod-Shakespearean dialogue.
  • You get a great introduction to the Excalibur, both internally and externally. Overall, I always liked the interior design and the layout – intentionally submarine-like and more high-tech looking than previous Earthforce designs – although we only get to see the conference room, a few corridors and the bridge. As for the exterior, I’ve always been a little lukewarm to the ship design – I like a lot of the early Mayrand concept sketches which accentuated the Vorlon and Minbari influences more than the human tech, but these were gradually smoothed away until we get the somewhat unwieldy-looking Excalibur – it has some interesting design touches, but as it’s rendered an almost uniform light grey. This means it looks a bit low texture and dull at a distance. Nice to see the adaptive armour plating in action, but the “one minute power-down” following the firing of the main gun is such a plot device, it can’t help but annoy a little.
  • The ISN news report at the beginning mentions “A ground-breaking ceremony to those who died in the recent telepath crisis…” something which is returned to a little later in Crusade.

Chronological Order Analysis:

  • Production order  = 0
  • Broadcast order  = 0
  • Continuity order  = 0
  • Is this episode better in this order? It’s in this location in any order

Naturally, as it’s set before the series, there’s nothing that is out of continuity. Whether or not you watch this before Crusade, it’s always going to be first in the order.

(All images are property of Warner Brothers)

< Introduction to Continuity Order | Next episode “War Zone” >

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Crusade – Continuity Order – 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” >

The Many Viewing Orders of Crusade (and a Watch-through)

Introduction

For many reasons, there are multiple episode orders that now exist for watching the short-lived television series Crusade, which was a spin off from the acclaimed SF TV series Babylon 5. I’m going to do my best to cover them all and analyze the pros and cons of each, but first a little…

Background

Back in 1999, ST:DS9 was wrapping up, ST:Voyager and Stargate SG1 were plodding along doing their thing and this funny little show with Muppets called Farscape just started, but for me, Crusade was the next, best hope for space-based TV science fiction after Babylon 5 ended.  I remember waiting with great anticipation for what was to come. Then came the worrying rumours of production hell, until finally we received what was produced. I’ll try to summarize how I felt at the time:

Throughout the first broadcast (for me it was on Sky One), it was hard not to be disappointed by the choppy quality, jarring tonal variation and shifting character personalities. Then there was that soundtrack, the bloody soundtrack – I promise I’ll try not to dwell on the misconceived, distracting, plinkity-plonky-plonk-plonk… sorry, where was I?

“A Call To Arms” laid out the main themes well enough – the Excalibur would be out there searching for a cure to the Drakh plague, an illness that will kill the entire population of Earth in five years or less – so priority number one is and should always be, the cure. The first episode continues this priority (and recaps the situation for those who missed the TV movie) with a large dose of action, exposition and heaps of cheese.

Then how do they follow this up for the next two episodes? The first is all too in love with Technomage whimsy; wizards, holo-dragons, “spells” and demons. Followed by an episode where Galen (a character we barely know at this point) hijacks what appears to be the lone spaceship scouring the known galaxy for a cure, all for his own mysterious agenda. This all serves to deflate the urgency of the show’s “mission” – as well as make Galen look like a dick.

Thankfully the show gets back on the cure trail again for the next episode out, with episodes then generally alternating between looking for the cure and solving problems they come across. There was still some variability in quality and tone, but with good episodes mixed in there.

Finally, we reached the last five episodes. These five episodes were the show before TNT interfered with it, the “pure” show, so to speak and were produced first (I’ll refer back to these as the “First Five” episodes from time to time for ease of reference, sorry if that brings back bad memories of the “Final Five” from the dying days of the BSG reboot). Now we finally saw how the show was meant to be.

It wasn’t perfect, but it did a lot more of what we were lead to expect: The team would scour ominous ruined cities for ancient technology and forbidden knowledge, mull over moral quandaries, get hints at conspiracies and have to make tough decisions along the way. All this with a healthy concentration on the “mission” of the show – the cure. Not all of the five episodes were classics and there was room for improvement of course, but it felt like it could have been a worthy successor to Babylon 5, while different enough to rightfully hold its own. The final episode returned the now, sadly-missed Richard Biggs in what was to be his last Babylon 5 performance, for one of the better episodes of Crusade’s 13 episode run, so at least it went out in style.

After finishing on a high, I felt cheated, as I’m sure many fans did, but we knew this was not the fault of the writers, production crew, actors, etc. They gave it their all in amazingly trying circumstances (really, go look up the story – it’s mind-boggling), but by TNT the heralded “saviors” of Babylon 5. TNT had produced the final season of Babylon 5, the four TV movies and then decided the best thing to do was “fix” their new show until it was completely broken, and left little chance of another channel rescuing it.

I re-watched the show a second time a few years later, again in the broadcast order and it cemented the views I discussed above, but I always felt the order of episodes could be improved to give a better experience of the show – especially for first-time viewers coming in fresh from Babylon 5. This post is my attempt to analyse if there is a better order for viewing the show than in “Broadcast” order.

cover.jpg.asset_rgb2

I knew a few orders existed online, so I looked them up and checked for any others. So here are the ones I found, plus a couple I actually made up after a bit of thought – currently I’m up to 7 and there’s an argument to be made for all of them (almost):


Option 1 – The “Original Broadcast” or “DVD” Order

00. A Call to Arms
01. War Zone
02. The Long Road
03. The Well of Forever
04. The Path of Sorrows
05. Patterns of the Soul
06. Ruling from the Tomb
07. The Rules of the Game
08. Appearances and Other Deceits
09. Racing the Night
10. The Memory of War
11. The Needs of Earth
12. Visitors from Down the Street
13. Each Night I Dream of Home

As well as the original broadcast order, it’s also the order the DVDs are in and the order it’s listed when downloaded (I believe). I’m sure it’s the order almost everyone watches it first time around. However, due to the weaknesses of watching in this order, which I addressed above, I believe you shouldn’t watch it in this order.


Option 2 – The “JMS Sci-Fi Channel” Order

00. A Call to Arms
01. Racing the Night
02. The Needs of Earth
03. The Memory of War
04. The Long Road
05. Visitors from Down the Street
06. The Well of Forever
07. Each Night I Dream of Home
08. Patterns of the Soul
09. The Path of Sorrows
10. Ruling from the Tomb
11. The Rules of the Game
12. War Zone
13. Appearances and Other Deceits

Back in 2001, when Babylon 5, Crusade and the TNT movies were playing on the Sci-Fi Channel, JMS apparently came up with an order that according to JMS was “best from a story point of view, even though it means some visual inconsistencies in terms of unexplained costume changes.”

Yes, it’s a great idea to start with “Racing the Night” and a couple of the “First Five” episodes, but then it just goes kind of batshit crazy. Personally I’d feel immense pity for any first-timers watching the show in this order. The uniforms chop and change, the chronology is all over the place, and as the continuity is so screwed up. It ends with “War Zone” and “Appearances” just jammed on like an after thought or a parallel universe story. It would be better to just dump them completely if watching in this order.

Personally, I think this order is the route to madness, but some people online swear by it. That said, people online swear by a lot of crazy stuff. The nice folks over at Babylon Podcast (link to the first episode in this order) watched through the show in this order, so please feel free watch and follow along with them, because I sure as hell won’t watch it in this order.


Option 3 – The “JMS Chronological” or “True JMS” Order

00. A Call to Arms
01. War Zone
02. The Long Road
03. Appearances and Other Deceits
04. The Memory of War
05. The Needs of Earth
06. Racing the Night
07. Visitors from Down the Street
08. Each Night I Dream of Home
09. The Path of Sorrows
10. Ruling from the Tomb
11. Patterns of the Soul
12. The Well of Forever
13. The Rules of the Game

This is taken from Wikipedia and is considered the “true” order by JMS. While an improvement over the Sci-Fi Channel and Broadcast orders, I still feel this version is too flawed.

JMS endorsed this version and it appeared in the Official Babylon 5 Chronology (published in The Official Babylon 5 Magazine in 1999-2000). Author Terry Jones explains the running order was changed to fill JMS’s desire to have the grey “bellhop” uniform stories incorporated within the black “explorer” uniform ones, dates included in the show and the dialogue changes in “Each Night I Dream Of Home”. It also fixes the “nanovirus shield” issue. It is also supposed to work with the unproduced scripts which were published in various places online and in the Crusade script books.

Initially this appears to be a great improvement over the previous two orders. It brings the original five episodes earlier in the run which helps the pace of the show, as well as moving the Well of Forever much further back. Despite them stating it fixes continuity errors, it still leaves some:

  • Gideon and Lochely meet in Each Night I Dream Of Home (ep 8)- and appear to know each other, but then meet for the first time in Ruling From the Tomb (ep 10).
  • “Racing the Night” still starts with a dream/memory that contradicts War Zone.
  • The grey jumpsuits magically disappear without comment in the Path of Sorrows (now ep 9) – although this isn’t the worst crime ever.

Some of this is quite jarring if you want to enjoy a smooth, consistent storyline. It should be stated that the original broadcast order also had an issue with the “nanovirus shield” being used before being discovered, as well as dubbed dialogue being added to “Each Night” to keep the continuity on track, so it’s not like the original broadcast order was perfect even with fixes.


Option 4 – The “All-inclusive” Chronological Order

Very much related to Option 3, this order can be found in the Babylon 5/Crusade script books. It incorporates all of the produced episodes and the unproduced scripts into an order that attempts to give the clearest picture of how the show would have developed if they had gone to a full season, instead of the half we got.

It does include all of Option 3 – The Chronological Order, and so includes the continuity errors, however, as most viewers (first time or otherwise) won’t have access the scripts to be able to pursue this option, Ill not be doing this order in this piece.


Option 5 – The “Continuity” Order

00. A Call to Arms
01. War Zone
02. The Long Road
03. The Path of Sorrows
04. Ruling from the Tomb
05. Appearances and Other Deceits
06. Racing the Night
07. The Needs of Earth
08. The Memory of War
09. Visitors from Down the Street
10. Each Night I Dream of Home
11. Patterns of the Soul
12. The Well of Forever
13. The Rules of the Game

While looking on Wikipedia at the various series orders, I noticed another option! The so-called “Continuity Order.” This takes the JMS Chronological Order – with all the benefits to pacing and characterization, but re-adjusts it to allow for the Gideon/Lochley meeting to occur in order, as well as a couple of other tweaks.

I’ve tried looking up online to find who actually worked this order out, so I can give credit where it’s due, but to no avail sadly. It’s not featured in the Crusade book either – so thanks to you, whoever worked it out! Feel free to drop me a comment if you know who came up with it.


Option 6 – The “Pure” or “First Five” Order

00. A Call to Arms
01. Racing the Night
02. The Memory of War
03. The Needs of Earth
04. Visitors from Down the Street
05. Each Night I Dream of Home

There is an option I’ve not seen mentioned online, and one that seems like an obvious option. That’s the one I’ve called the “Pure” or “First Five” order. This simply takes “A Call to Arms” and adds the first five episodes produced before TNT really screwed around with the show and that’s it. You get the show in it’s purest form, un-muddied by interference. So you get to see two excellent episodes, one good and two more mediocre ones.

This removes ALL continuity issues, but it leaves you with the frustration of knowing there’s eight more episodes that now don’t fit with the rest.


Option 7 – The “Expanded Pure” or “Screw TNT” Order

00. A Call to Arms
01. Racing the Night
02. The Needs of Earth
03. The Memory of War
04. Visitors from Down the Street
05. Each Night I Dream of Home
06. The Long Road
07. The Path of Sorrows
08. Patterns of the Soul
09. The Rules of the Game
10. The Well of Forever

The “purest” view of how Crusade should have turned out is just the first five episodes produced and was discussed in Option 6.

This order I’ve developed starts with the “First Five” order and then continues on as far as possible without causing continuity issues. This does mean the uniforms change for no reason after episode 5, but that’s not a major issue really. We now have to lose the episodes “Ruling From the Tomb” the first meeting of Lochley and Gideon – no great loss,  “Appearances..” as the suit change would be the wrong way around and as “Warzone” completely clashes with “Racing the Night” we have to ditch “Warzone”, really no great loss.


Going Forward – A Watch through of the Continuity Order

I have to admit I prefer the idea of watching all the episodes in the best possible order, so I’m going to try Option 5 – The “Continuity” Order. I believe the only serious remaining issues are the “Racing the Night” introduction clash and the jumpsuit change, but I’ll just imagine a scene where Gideon goes to the Excalibur laundry room to fix the sonic-washing machines on uniform laundry day (I believe JMS said that had the show continued, there would likely have been a comment to this effect).

So I’ll stick to the Continuity Order in my watch-through – reviewing the episodes as I go, as well as commenting on the continuity and whether this new order is actually beneficial.

(All images are property of Warner Brothers)

Beyond The Rim

0 - beyond the rim2

May 22nd will be eleven years since Richard Biggs sadly passed away. So I figured why not make myself more sad by making this image. Unfortunately there’s no image I could find that also incorporates Tim Choate and Michael O’Hare.

(Original image owned by Warner Brothers)

The Declaration – a Babylon 5 Wedding Reading

Back when I was preparing for my wedding I was looking for a secular reading. I saw all the usual ones you may have heard, as well as some lesser-known ones. I looked for something that meant something to me, I searched for ‘nerdy’ wedding readings (and the like), but nothing ever seemed to fit.

Finally I found one I liked and used, but I never found one I loved. Roll on a few years and I came across the odd post online about people using a version of G’kar’s “Declaration of Principles” as written by J Michael Straczynski and realised how close it fit for what I would have liked to have said at my wedding.

For those of you not familiar with the series, the declaration is written for the newly-formed “Interstellar Alliance” (something like the Federation in Star Trek), by G’Kar – a warrior/philosopher.

However, I’ve not seen any of these modified versions anywhere. The original speech is from episode s05e03 – “The Paragon of Animals” and is as follows:

***

ISA Declaration of Principles by J Michael Straczynski

The universe speaks in many languages, but only one voice.
The language is not Narn, or Human, or Centauri, or Gaim or Minbari
It speaks in the language of hope
It speaks in the language of trust
It speaks in the language of strength and the language of compassion
It is the language of the heart and the language of the soul.
But always it is the same voice
It is the voice of our ancestors, speaking through us,
And the voice of our inheritors, waiting to be born
It is the small, still voice that says
We are one
No matter the blood
No matter the skin
No matter the world
No matter the star:
We are one
No matter the pain
No matter the darkness
No matter the loss
No matter the fear
We are one
Here, gathered together in common cause, we agree to recognize this singular truth and this singular rule:
That we must be kind to one another
Because each voice enriches us and ennobles us and each voice lost diminishes us.
We are the voice of the Universe, the soul of creation, the fire that will light the way to a better future.
We are one.

***

It’s performed memorably in the episode by both Bruce Boxlietner and Andreas Katsulas as John Sheridan and G’Kar respectively, their fabulous performance can be seen below. I apologise for the clip quality:

Now I realise for those doing a completely nerdy wedding, the declaration might be considered sacred and should not to be changed. However I felt that such wonderful ideas and sentiments would benefit everyone if they could be used more widely.

To this end I conducted a few edits to remove some of the fictional names (the human languages now included are the most spoken in the world) and the more ‘cosmic’ elements to provide a more secular reading for weddings. So with apologies to Mr Straczynski, what follows is my edited version, the punctuation is edited to produce a flow somewhat like Andreas Katsulas’s delivery, but you can adjust or edit it further to suit your style:

***

The Declaration of Principles by J Michael Straczynski
(Edited by N Clatworthy)

The universe speaks in many languages, but only one voice.
The language is not English, or Mandarin, or Spanish, or Hindi or Arabic.

It speaks in the language of hope.
It speaks in the language of trust.
It speaks in the language of strength and the language of compassion.
It is the language of the heart and the language of the soul.
But always, it is the same voice

It is the voice of our ancestors, speaking through us,
And the voice of our inheritors, waiting to be born.

It is the small, still voice that says:

We, are, one.

No matter the blood,
No matter the skin,
No matter the race,
No matter the country:

We are one.

No matter the pain,
No matter the darkness,
No matter the loss,
No matter the fear:

We are one.

Here, gathered together in common cause, we can agree to recognize this
singular truth and this singular rule:

That we must be kind to one another

Because each voice enriches us and ennobles us and each voice lost
diminishes us.
We are the voice of the Universe, the soul of creation, the fire
that will light the way to a better future.

We are one.

***

Ten Coolest Moments in Babylon 5

Warning: the following post is FULL of spoilers

Obviously the “coolness” of something is a highly subjective thing, even the definition of the word could be argued to mean a million things in this context. For me it means it could have been something I’d never seen before, an amazing plot twist, great effects or great writing. It’s not necessarily about the best speech, best acting or biggest moments.

Getting to ten moments was difficult as hell, there is a ton of great moments and performances, but if didn’t make me think ‘cool’ then they didn’t make the list.

Please remember this is simply a bit of fun! I decided to put them in the chronological order of the show, not by favourite: 


 1. The Sigma 957 ‘Walkers’

S01E06 – Mind War

This is our first real impression that the ‘universe’ of Babylon 5 is bigger, more awesome, stranger and scarier than it first seems – those enigmatic Vorlons are just the tip of the iceberg. Watching this at the time of first broadcast as a teenager, with only a few other shows as a point of reference, was simply awesome – you’d never see anything as epic as this on Star Trek (at least at that time). G’kar’s summation of Catherine Sakai’s encounter is just perfect.


2. The First Appearance of the Shadows

S01E13 – Signs and Portents

There’s no way the first appearance of the Shadows wouldn’t make the list. They show up for a split-second, destroy a ship that has been a major pain in the ass for Sinclair in the blink of an eye and yet somehow don’t turn Londo’s trinket into a cloud of plasma. The ship is black, sleek, almost spider-like and partially glimpsed – a move straight out of Alien. From what I remember, the spine-tingling screams would come later in season 2, but this was more than enough. JMS preferred to refer to them as Shadowmen, lets be honest though – ‘The Shadows’ is about fifty times cooler. Their first appearance is at the start of the following compilation:


3. Babylon 4 Appears

S01E20 – Babylon Squared

There are so many awesome moments and unanswered questions in this episode, that I can’t just pick one – I know this is cheating, but it’s my blog:

a) It appears there’s another Babylon station; it’s bigger, cooler looking (in my opinion) and green. Oh and it’s adrift in time…

Babylon4
b) We see what may happen to Babylon 5 in the future – including Garibaldi kicking so much ass it’s untrue.

c) We find out this station is being stolen to help win a war against dark forces. At this point in the overall story, it seemed implicit that this happens in the future. This is backed up by Sinclair being somehow caught up in this future-stealing of B4 and is ‘The One’ – whatever that cool sounding title means!


4. Our Heroes DON’T Save the President

S01E22 – Chrysalis

Another episode that blew me away at the time and shows this isn’t your regular TV show – it seems like our heroes have all the pieces of the conspiracy and will be able to stop the attack on the EA President. Then Garibaldi is shot by his right-hand man and their chance is gone. Most TV shows avoid change, B5 wouldn’t be the same without it.

chrysalis-07


5. Kosh is Seen by (Almost) Everyone

S02E22 – The Fall of Night

So many cool things happen in a row here that it’s impossible to separate them out; it’s a series of awesome that keeps on building all the time. First Sheridan writes the best apology ever:

Then on the way to deliver that apology he has to jump out of a moving axis train to avoid a bomb. This means that he’s jumping into the zero-G at the center of a space station that produces its gravity by rotation, so while he isn’t being pulled to the floor by gravity, he’s still going to hit it at a high speed (train speed + jump + station movement = physics is a bitch). We learn no-one can get out to save him in time with a jet pack (they have those on board?), so Kosh flies off to save John. After two years we finally see that guy, you know, the one whose appearance has been teased countless times, revealing himself as an angel and flying up to save Sheridan…

Except that where Sheridan sees an angel, the Drazi see Droshalla, Narn see G’Lan and Minbari see Valeria – all races see their own version of a holy ‘being of light’ – Kosh is truly recognized by everyone.

Except Londo, Londo sees nothing…

The varied implications of this scene on so many events past, present and future is immense and one hell of a thing to do in the last episode of a season…


6. The White Star and a Shadow Ship dogfight, in Jupiter

S03E08 – Messages From Earth

Man I love this whole scene – the sheer audacity of the whole idea – a dogfight in a gas giant! The effects are amazing, probably my single favourite bit of work Foundation Imaging does on the three seasons they handled the effects. I know there’s only a handful of effects shots in this sequence compared to others, but they’re awesome.

Apparently JMS gave Foundation Imaging the option of doing this or having a Shadow vs EA vs White Star battle in Jupiter’s orbit – good choice F.I. this was like nothing that’s been seen on TV.


7. Delenn’s Arrival

S03E10 – Severed Dreams

What an episode. From the declaration of independence, raging ship to ship battles outside, to the boarders inside, the scale of this episode is incredible and a complete game-changer. Everything the crew has planned feels like it could collapse at any moment. Our heroes get the upper hand at a terrible price, then the EA reinforcements show up… it’s all over. Then it isn’t:


8. Sinclair becomes Valen

S03E16+17 – War Without End

WWE forces us to revise some of the cool stuff we thought we knew from Babylon Squared, but in ways that are insanely satisfying and very clever. It’s chock-full of amazing moments, but as the story begins to come to a close, these new facts about when and where B4 is being taken bring you a slow realization of just what Sinclair’s plan is and how perfect it is. JMS doesn’t always get full respect as a writer, but here he’s at the top of his game as we realize just how ambitious and well-layered his plan was regarding the transformation of Sinclair into Valen. Everything has come full circle and Sinclair’s destiny is fulfilled – he’s truly the arrow shot from the bow. He’s exactly where he needs to be – for himself and the universe.


9. Vir’s Wave

S03E06 – Into The Fire

I’ll admit, this is probably my favourite of these ‘cool’ moments. There’s so many great moments from Into The Fire – even if the solution to the Shadow / Vorlon problem was a bit polarizing to fans.
However, the best moment in the episode and maybe the series entirely, isn’t a big effect or pivotal moment, but an incredibly quiet one, and the character involved is Vir – quiet, awkward, unassuming Vir. It’s so amazingly satisfying – Morden gets his just desserts and Vir gets exactly what he asked for from Morden. It’s payoff, glorious payoff.


10. Humans become ‘Second Ones’

S04E22 – The Deconstruction of Falling Stars

Deconstruction is an odd episode in many ways (a series finale in the wrong place almost) with the various stories a little piecemeal, but despite this, the overwhelming impression of this episode (and much of Season 5) is promise for the future.
This feeling is summed up as we learn the narrator of the episode, a human, is viewing ancient historical data on Earth, just before it is about to be consumed in a supernova. As the episode ends we see he’s evolved into a being of energy, inhabits an encounter suit much like a Vorlon’s and leaves upon an organic-looking ship bearing the seal of the Rangers…


So there you have it. I’m sure no one will agree with all of my choices as the ‘best,’ if you have any you’d care to share, please leave a comment.

In search of Babylon 5 (or what hot tubs have to do with Babylon 5)

CAUTION: The following may contain spoilers

I had a thought the other day, I wondered if the studio where Babylon 5 was shot still exists in LA, and what, if anything, was left of it. I had the occasional daydream back in the 90’s of flying to the US and trying to find the place. Being a broke student from the UK made fulfillment of that a little difficult though.

I remembered they were supposed to be based well outside of the ‘glamour and glitz’ of the Hollywood studio system in an old, converted factory (a self-contained world you might say). This was completely in keeping with the frugal, outsider nature that Babylon 5 maintained throughout production.

The sign below was apparently one of the only outward signs during B5’s lease of this building, that something special was going on inside the bland, industrial estate facade. I remember seeing the ‘Sentient Xing’ sign in one magazine or another back then:

Image This is not the actual sign, but one that someone online must have done from an original photo – no source sadly.  JMS had a few words to say about it:

From: jmsatb5 at aol.com (Jms at B5)

Date: 19 Jun 1997 02:13:48 -0400

Funny thing about that sign…I came up with the concept and the design, and told John and the art department to come up with it after I saw a couple of people come near to being clipped as they came around the gate (it’s kind of a blind spot)…and that darned thing has gotten more photo exposure than almost anything else on the stage.

jms

So here in 2014, the year of the show’s 20th anniversary, I decided to do a bit of Googling to see if I could track down the studio.

I searched “Babylon 5 studio” and “Babylon 5 filming location” which led me to numerous references in interviews of “filming in an old hot-tub factory in Sun Valley, California” or words to that effect. That was something of a start, but I was a little disappointed not to find anything specific about the location on the internet though.

Quickly looking up Sun Valley online, showed me that it’s a pretty large area to narrow down. So back to the internet… I found a few more references – one that it used to be an “Aqua Tech” hot tub factory, another it was in “a cul-de-sac, next door to a factory that made Orange Bang”

I searched “Orange Bang, Sun Valley” got me here: 8600 Tamarack Ave, Sun ValleyCA 91352 – on Google Maps it looks like this:

Image So it’s possible – Orange Bang, cul-de-sac… the bigger location next door has the potential to be large enough to house a tv show.

So I searched “Babylon 5, Tamarack Ave” which got me to the following link: http://jmsnews.com/forums/showthread.php?t=2789 and that’s a bingo! The address was: Babylonian Productions, 8615 Tamarack Ave., Sun Valley, CA 91352

D’oh. Didn’t think to search for ‘Babylonian Productions’. You live and learn. So there you have it, 8615 Tamarack Avenue, Sun Valley, CA – former home of Babylon 5 – on Google Streetview in 2014:

Image

Pretty uninspiring it has to be said! Looking on Bing Maps (in particular their oblique aerial images) – shows what it might have looked like during B5’s time, with all the trucks:

Image

From the reverse angle, you can see what seem to be trailers, probably for the cast of some production. Nice junkyard next door too:

Image

Yep, definitely trailers:

Image

Apparently it’s been home for multiple businesses since, mostly entertainment industry stuff. It was home of Charlie Sheen’s Anger Management show, and while this seems of little relevance (although it may be what’s shooting in the images above), someone went for a taping of the show there and took a quick photo:

Image

(image taken by EricW on Yelp)

Notice anything about the font for “Stage A”? Nice to see that some traces of B5 remain. I wonder what else might be there – Any old bits of set? A PPG that got knocked behind a radiator and is gathering dust?

Want to know what the current facilities include? (getting a bit anal here I admit):

listinglisting 2

(http://www.loopnet.com/Listing/16300191/8615-Tamarack-Avenue-Sun-Valley-CA/)

It’s good to know the place is still there. If anyone’s ever visited the location, I’d love to hear about it, and see any photos! Kind of funny to think one of the best tv shows ever was shot in such an un-glamorous locale. I’m sure if I’m ever in LA I’ll have to take a drive out to this anonymous-looking industrial unit, right next door to a scrapyard and a busy interstate, and my wife will think I’m crazy for the umpteenth time…

I wonder if JMS was on hand to shut the lights off when they moved out.Image

Edit – 30th March, 2014:

I posted this on Reddit’s r/babylon5 subreddit and got a very interesting reply from user eryntzun:

I was there just after they struck the sets on Crusade. Good to see old Big Bird hasn’t been changed any. They named each stage after a Muppet. A was Big bird, I think B was green so it was Kermit. C was pink/purple/blue I think, forgot the name of that. There’s a picture somewhere of Mira and Bill hanging out next to that stage, waiting for their scene.

The ceilings were pretty high, actually. They have to be, considering the White Star bridge was pretty tall and it was a swing set. This used to be a former hot tub factory. They ran the wires in giant wooden troughs above everything. Everything was made of wood, not too surprising since they didn’t bother to cover up the sounds of people walking on what is obviously wood. One year they came back for a new season and the Zocalo had become warped, because it was so hot that summer.

All that was left inside was the paint on the walls, a few pictures outside Kermit. That’s where the craft table was always for people to eat quickly during shooting. Otherwise it was outside in a tent for lunch. There were huge weird pencil drawings in the little rooms outside each sound stage where people would wait until the light was off.

The office of the person who gave us the tour still had scripts in it along with books full of all the props. I was allowed to look at props, but not the scripts because Crusade had not finished airing yet. The blue screen was still up inside Big Bird. It was to the side and part of the end of that stage. Stage C was for swing sets but it was a lot smaller than the others, but the doors were still plenty tall. You could also still see the tape lines for the Crusade sets where the prison cells were, etc.

JMS name was still on one of the parking places outside, and the Sentient Xing sign was still on the gate. If I knew where my photos were I would share. Not all that exciting though, pictures of empty stages with concrete floors and colorful walls. Bear’s empty prop cage and all that.