Join us in the Junkyard as we enter the final few weeks of a major undertaking: the entire Babylon 5 series including the spinoff, Crusade. We start Crusade with a typical setup episode. You can’t expect opening episodes to be that strong, what with having to establish all the main players, but War Zone does a fair job. From the outset, we are reminded of what lead to this series; the events of A Call to Arms. In that movie, the Drakh released a plague on earth that will take 5 years to adapt to our biology and destroy all life on our world. Coupled with the deaths of some 7000 military personnel, the Drakh have become public enemy number one. When a ship goes down on Ceti 4, the newly established crew is sent to recover them. So on day one, their critical mission is put on hold. Odd concept. I do think the series did the right thing opening with a news clip to remind us of the previous events, then immediately sets the stage for our new Captain. As his crew panics and fighting breaks out on his ship, Captain Gideon keeps calm and proves himself both a capable fighter and a level-headed leader. Within the first 5 minutes, we have a likable captain.
The episode works like any good origin story: Gideon is given a command to seek the cure for humanity and he gets to pick his crew. But right away a few things strike me. Sarah Chambers is going to be our “chief of staff” who will work with the rest of the medics (all of whom I’m guessing will all be background characters). Interestingly, Marjean Holden played a navigator in A Call to Arms, which initially struck me as a misstep: why have the same actress play a different role. But JMS is nothing if not clever. He establishes that she has a sister on Earth. While she would not have been on Earth at the time of the quarantine (serving with Sheridan on the Excalibur), it is possible that she opted to go back to see her family regardless of personal risk, just as Sarah attempts to do in this episode, before she is assigned to her mission with Gideon. Another thing that made me boggle is how excited Carrie Dobro’s Dureena is when Peter Woodward’s Galen turns up. The two barely interacted during A Call to Arms so what was she so happy about? I admit, we don’t know what happened on B5 immediately after the movie ended, so there is a chance they got some time together to become better acquainted but that hardly seems like the time needed to get to know the technomage and become excited by his presence. Galen also channels his inner Vorlon, even speaking Kosh’s infamous line, “And so it begins”. (It’ll be interesting to see what Roger thinks of a new Mr. Riddles!) Speaking of technomages, I commented at the time of A Call to Arms that there was a very distinct feeling of fantasy to this series. We have a mage, a rogue, a healer and a fighter all established on the Excalibur on a quest for a cure; a veritable holy grail to keep the human race alive. How much more epic fantasy do we need to get? (I’d make a wise crack about Trace looking too much like Clark Kent, but perhaps superheroes are not fantasy enough…)
Visually, the episode sports more special effects than its predecessor, but by today’s standards, they are a bit dated. Still, a valiant effort, but it comes off not dissimilar to a video game. As an avid gamer, I’m hardly complaining. On the other hand, the battle looks stylish, taking lessons from A Call to Arms, with a silent overlay as the captain states his orders with that strange music playing throughout. (I appreciate trying new things, but the music in this is hyper-strange and I don’t know if I like it. In fact that’s not true: I do not like it, but I’m hoping to adjust to it!) Another strange thing is the intro which captures elements of the past asking the Vorlon/Shadow questions (Who are you, what do you want) before moving on to more questions (where are you going, who do you serve and who do you trust). Like the music, I can only think to call it weird. Yes, it establishes the series’ “mission statement” well enough, but it’s an unusual opening to say the least. (It’s put into context at the end of the episode when Gideon recruits Galen to the team but that hardly makes a good opener; I so loved Season5’s opening…)
To tie in with the main series, I was trying to figure out where the events took place if Gideon was left floating in space “9 years ago”. Once again, I credit the writing because JMS said Crusade takes place 5 years after the events of season 5. Thus, 9 years back would have been season 2. Season 2 featured The Geometry of Shadows where the Technomages left the galaxy. It all works and helps build the larger universe; a quality of B5 writing that I have always admired.
The captured Drakh poses a question to Gideon: “who will you be?” It’s an interesting thing to ponder. All of our decisions define us throughout our lives. Gideon is going on a mission to save humanity and he says it himself: he won’t be gentle about it. What does that mean about him? And moreover, is that why Galen opts to travel with him, especially after he shows doubt in who he can trust? Crusade offers us a lightweight story considering the magnitude of their mission but as openers go, it’s a good start and introduced us to the cast. I can’t help but see it as a fantasy story in a sci-fi universe, but only time will tell. While we only get 13 episodes to work with; it won’t be a long road to see if the series had merit, but it promises to be an interesting one. ML
The view from across the pond:
Well, that was pretty good. I had a little search around on the internet after this episode and found out that JMS wasn’t happy with the opening episode, due to interference from the network, but maybe they knew a trick or two because it’s certainly a much better opening to a series than we had for Babylon 5. In particular, the opening mutiny was apparently specified by the network rather than being something JMS wanted to do, and that’s actually a really good sequence and grabs you right from the start. It’s a strong introduction to Captain Gideon, who immediately shows how capable and intelligent he is:
“All I have to stop is you. You’re the mouth.”
There’s truth in that. Any kind of rebellion or political movement tends to live or die on the strength of a figurehead. Gideon removes the head from the snake.
The premise for the series also grabbed my attention straight away, much more than B5’s opening gambit (here are some diplomats who live on a space station). Earth is in quarantine and everyone will be dead in a few years if no cure for the virus is found, so Gideon is tasked with going out into the universe to search for a cure, as the captain of a very impressive ship.
“We need the right ship and the right person to find that cure.”
Ship? How about ships? How about all of them? Well, a lot of them anyway. But apparently the imminent death of the entire human race only justifies the use of one crew. Luckily it’s a really good crew.
Against the backdrop of some very insipid opening music, the title sequence introduces us to just seven main characters, so this is a more tightly focused ensemble cast than the parent series, which seems like a wise move. The episode introduces all of them at once (apart from Lochley, who we know anyway), which is a bit of a mess, and doesn’t allow them all a chance to shine. Perhaps I’m just used to the way anime does things, with the first episode generally focused on two or three main characters, while others are brought in subsequently. As a consequence, neither Dr Chambers or Lieutenant Matheson make much of an impression, although I have high hopes for Matheson as Daniel Dae Kim is a great actor. So far he comes across as a bit wooden.
As for the others, I like Nafeel and Max Eilerson, who both look like they will be enjoyable loose canon kinds of characters to watch. We’ve seen Nafeel before, so I already came into this liking her. Having an archaeologist as part of the show is a great idea, perfect for the premise, and I enjoyed seeing him on an archaeological dig at a site that looked more than a little Egyptian. I’m not sure I like his ethics, as he seems to be focused on finding “something of value” rather than learning about the past.
Galen is going to be an interesting character, and I love his skills: appearing, zapping the enemy, and fading away, but if he’s on the team then the cards are perhaps stacked too much in favour of the good guys. It’s hard to see where the jeopardy is going to come from with a technomage on the team. The villains of the week were quite creepy, but reminded me a bit too much of Skeletor from He Man.
But I think the biggest asset this series has is Gary Cole as Gideon.
“I’m not subtle, I’m not pretty and I’ll piss off a lot of people along the way.”
I like him. My first impression of this series is that it has more potential than its parent series did, so why do I only have another 12 episodes to watch? What went wrong? I’m looking forward to finding out. RP
The short version of what happened behind the scenes with Crusade is that TNT wanted out because they realized the B5 audience was not the TNT audience and vice-versa. But cancelling would be a breach of contract, so they made life miserable with notes until JMS pulled the plug.
Case in point, this entire episode. Good or bad, forcing a new first episode at the last minute was a dick move. And I do think the original pilot (“Racing the Night,” now aired later) is much stronger.
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I agree about Racing the Night, but I’ll hold off on saying more about that episode until we get to it 🙂 Thanks for joining us on our Crusade journey!
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The differences in specific strengths between a parent series pilot and a spin-off pilot may be that the latter’s may make a somewhat bigger splash for established fans. It’s particularly understandable for series like The Sarah Jane Adventures, Deep Space 9, Stargate Atlantis and others that remained the most familiar to their parent series. I could understand the challenges that Crusade and Legend Of The Rangers had. With such an established SF universe like Babylon 5 in the bank, fans could therefore still sufficiently enjoy Crusade for the same reasons that Whovians still enjoyed Class. It would make an originally intended pilot being finally aired sometime afterwards an even truer retribution.
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Thanks for that information.
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Babylon 5 despite its success with the parent series may have missed its marks for spin-offs. It’s even more sad in light of how fruitful Star Trek, Stargate and Dr. Who spin-offs could be. But in light of how each originally successful SF franchise endures in its own way, knowing that there’s always a lesson to be learned, we can still applaud JMS for all his best efforts.
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