You know what happens on the long road? Crashes. Whenever you’re driving for a while, the risk increases. The longer the road, the higher the risk. Alas, we’re only two episodes into Crusade, but The Long Road is a traffic accident. The police report shows that Babylon 5 was driving at warp 2 when it ran a jump gate and crashed with The A-Team, causing them to plough it into Dungeons and Dragons. Thankfully no one was hurt. But that really is what we have here. I commented on that after watching A Call to Arms and then again with War Zone; this series is of the fantasy genre wearing the mask of a sci-fi show. We’ve got our fighter hero, a mage, rogue, a ship called Excalibur and now we have a dragon and an inn. Can’t have a good fantasy without visiting an Inn. And hey, we even have a second mage in this story!
The story follows the standard trope that some big nasty is doing something bad to the land and everyone is up in arms but they lack the resources to stop the atrocity. But wait! What’s that? Shh, listen closely! That music is going to play… If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire the B5-Team. Then instead of guns shooting, we hear PPG’s. I can almost see the A-Team opening replaced with images from B5! (This pattern can be found with The Incredible Hulk and The Greatest American Hero too, should you be wondering! It’s not original, no matter how much I might want it to be. Hell, this episode might even be a Little House on the Prairie episode!)
Perhaps the irony is that it’s not Gideon and his crew that save the day ultimately meaning the B5-Team isn’t really the A-Team. It’s a magician playing a sleight of hand trick on the attacking bad guys that wins the day. Oh, ultimately it’s a trick to get Marshall Teague (T’Lon from B5) to order Gideon to fire on the mine thus solving the problem but it’s Arwyn’s action that leads to that decision. Gideon could have done it himself I suppose, but then he’d be in violation of orders; at least with Teague giving the order, Gideon avoids complications and everyone gets what they want. (We can hear the piano music from The Incredible Hulk playing as Arwyn leaves town to go somewhere new…)
I couldn’t help but notice that there was a bystander on the long road that witnessed the events: Star Trek’s The Cloud Minders. In that episode, Kirk explains that an invisible toxic gas is causing problems for the lower caste of that world. The elite do not believe it until Kirk beams Babylon 5’s Jeff Corey down to the planet, exposes him to the gas, and gets into a fist fight with him to teach him that yeah, invisible though it is, gas does exist! Ah, technology! As if to come full circle, bringing B5 and Trek together, that’s part of what happens here when Claire, the bar owners daughter, falls victim of the poisonous atmosphere. Luckily, Claire survives!
The episode is hardly original. I believe JMS called it a favorite of his yet I find this one tedious because of how many similar shows I’ve seen that do the same thing. Not to mention, the moment the crew were sent on another mission it felt like that ultra-high priority premise upon which the show is based was of little consequence. I was happy to learn that the reason they were sent to Regula IV was that it might hold a potential key to the survival of humanity. But if that’s the case, wouldn’t they be setting up mines all over the planet, not just relying on one small operation?? Still, there are some items of note. Galen followed his teacher, Elric, who we met in The Geometry of Shadows. It’s meaningful when Galen talks about Elric’s voice, as Michael Ansara had a very distinctive voice. I love that level of world building too. I also like the message that resorting to the ways of the “bad guys” is never the right way to do things. Arwyn tries to warn his people of this but they fail to heed his advice. This sort of lesson rarely ends well.
Well, if nothing else, we saw that the Excalibur has a gym complete with basketball court and treadmills. The latter might have been helpful to avoid the accident on the long road. It definitely slowed the progress towards finding a cure… and keeping me interested. ML
The view from across the pond:
Last week we had Skeletor. This week it’s a giant dragon, created by a “terrorist” with a sense of humour, who also turns engines into peanut butter. The source of the problem is a planet that is being mined for a naturally occurring anti-viral substance, and heading down to investigate are Gideon and Galen. This is the kind of approach I wanted last week, with a tight focus on just two of the characters, rather than throwing just about everyone into the mix. Matheson once again features to a lesser extent, but that’s it for the main cast, so we really get a chance to get to know Gideon and Galen properly.
“And if you’re wrong.”
“Oh, that hardly seems likely, does it?”
Galen isn’t quite the new G’Kar, but there’s potential, and I think he is going to be my favourite character. There’s a touch of Marcus to him as well, always ready with a wry comment. The Brits like to find the humour in any situation, and that’s true of Galen, just the same as it was with Marcus. Like G’Kar, Galen is also the sort of character who steals every scene. Our attention is always drawn to him. Their plan of blending in with the locals is doomed to failure from the start. Local clothes or not, Galen stands out so much that he couldn’t fit in at the annual convention of bald Englishmen.
For a moment this episode had me worried that I was going to be subjected to a Western, with all that “get out of our village” stuff, but instead we had a compelling story of a farming community being displaced by miners. You’ll find plenty of stories like that in sci-fi, but they are almost always about corrupt rich people putting financial gain ahead of the rights of the ordinary people. Although this is fundamentally that same story, it is complicated by the fact that these are humans mining to find a cure to a virus that will kill everyone on Earth, so the welfare of a few villagers is stacked against billions of lives. Despite that it plays out as a fairly straightforward good guys vs bad guys story, so I felt that more could have been done with that troubling conflict of interests.
There is also no real sense of jeopardy, with a technomage protecting the planet. He is holding back in order to save lives, but ultimately he’s not going to lose this battle. But the episode isn’t really about that. The heart and soul of the episode is the relationship between Galen and his father figure Alwyn, both of whom have broken away from the main group of technomages.
Cast in the two technomage roles are father and son Edward and Peter Woodward. I remember Edward Woodward fondly from my childhood. He used to be on television every week, presenting something that escapes me, and all I remember was his introduction each week, “Hello, I’m Edward Woodward”, which never failed to make me laugh. How many woods does one guy need in his name? Also for reasons I’ve never quite been able to explain, one of my favourite jokes has always been one about Edward Woodward that makes no sense whatsoever, but I can’t help but laugh: what do you call Edward Woodward with no “D”s in his name? E war Woo war. Yeah, I know. Say it enough times and you might get a fit of giggles like me.
Anyway, enough of my childish brain. The point is that having a real life father and son adds another layer to this. It comes close to putting in-jokes on screen at times. Just look at the eye roll from Galen when Alwyn is commenting about a father wanting his son to surpass him. The characters are not actually father and son, but their relationship is something very similar, and the two actors obviously don’t have to stretch to make that work.
So that’s two enjoyable episodes so far, and potentially at least one character I’m going to absolutely love watching each week. I’m yet to see a reason why this couldn’t have been another five year journey. RP