I think I figured out the bizarre placement of these episodes. The Path of Sorrows is listed as 109, meaning 1st season, 9th episode, but it aired at number 4. So I started thinking: was this to get all the character stuff out of the way and make sure the viewer know who the cast was? Maybe get their buy in early to see how it played out? I thought that because this is another episode that develops backstory for us with Matheson, Gideon and, yet again, Galen.
The episode takes us to a place where an alien “priest” sits in a snowglobe confessional to hear people’s deepest secrets and then forgive them. Beyond being unique in that there is no “enemy” or bad guy, this give us a perfect opportunity to explore more of the background with key players. This time we again learn about Galen and his adventure with Isobel. They were betrayed by other technomages and she was injured. She dies from her injuries but promises Galen The Obnoxious that she will send a message to him from beyond. When he gets the message, he ignores it. Because he’s Galen the Obnoxious. Marcus also felt that the universe worked better this way, believing that it’s better to think it’s random than that the stuff that happens to us is actually deserved, but Marcus was not as pig-headed as Galen. I can’t see him throwing a message on the floor and walking away. (Maybe because he would never litter, but I still don’t buy it!) Galen even makes Dureena cry to open the door (which they leave open when they leave) even though he just needs to think about Isobel to get tears out of his own obnoxious face! I am beginning to drastically dislike our resident “know it all” and the way he talks with his lower teeth always on display.
Matheson’s backstory is filled in a bit more, with him being a Psi Corps operative that eventually betrays his people after administering sleeper drugs on a known insurgent. Now, this is a big ask because we know he’s been scanned before by other telepaths. We’re expected to believe they never detected this betrayal? I mean, thanks to the weird episode order, it was just one episode ago that he was under investigation so surely that would have come up. Not to mention, you’re telling me with all Psi Corps’ paranoia, they had no cameras and microphones in the room when Matheson was administering the sleeper drugs?
The most interesting back story is that of Ensign Gideon who, 10 years ago, went on a space walk to assess damage to the Cerberus before they were destroyed by what might have been a Shadow vessel. Galen shows up to rescue him. Later, during a game of poker, Gideon obtains something called an Apocalypse Box, though we’ve little idea what that means other than “it gives you an edge.” Oh yeah? Did it give the previous owner an edge in who would win the poker game? It also lies, but not all the time, which means its the Crusade version of a Vorlon! This also sounds very “fantasy” further leading me to believe that this series was leaning heavily on the fantasy genre instead of the Scifi. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. The quest alone should prove it, but the crew seems to be questing in their own backyard so far, not venturing that far from home.
While each character has his pros and cons, Gideon is really being portrayed as a great captain. He “never walks away from someone in trouble”, reminding me of another of the great heroes of Science Fiction television. Gary Cole continues to impress me the most, though I think Dureena has real potential too. The effects around the alien are well done, as well. While I liked how the creature would drop its head into its body like a turtle, it was actually the silence around its communication that really appealed to me. It’s a subtle thing that enhance the episode quite a bit. Of course, I could not help but ask: how did the crew get it into that room? The door was very clearly not as wide as the snowglobe!
Ultimately, the episode is about the characters and an alien that forgives them. That absolution seems to lift a weight from each of their hearts. It’s an interesting idea but does feel like it should have come later in the series, once we’d gotten to know the crew so that we could see a shift in their attitudes after this story. And yet, I still see the potential bubbling right there under the surface. I’m just sorry we didn’t see how this story should have unfolded beyond the 13 episodes. I think we might have been on a good path. ML
The view from across the pond:
Crusade takes a leap towards the mystical this episode. Tears are needed to enter the Path of Sorrows, and Galen seems to think genuine tears are needed. You would have thought he would have tried water first on the door, or at least peeled an onion rather than bullying Nafeel straight away, but when we enter into the realms of the mystical we must expect all logic to be thrown out of the window. Assumptions are made without challenging them, and those assumptions range from the mundane to the spiritual.
At the mundane end of the scale we have Max’s assertion that blasting through the doors will destroy what’s inside. Tell that to Captain Hopper from Doctor Who’s The Tomb of the Cybermen. And we also have Galen jumping to the conclusion that real tears are needed, “in case we were being watched”. Let’s leave the spiritual assumptions for now and come back to those, because this episode tackles more than one big issue.
The creature sitting inside what looks like Rover from The Prisoner is a bit like a priest in a confession booth. It is all couched in deliberately mystical language which sounds silly when you think about it too much (“I don’t know what you are saying but I know what you are saying.”), but ultimately it’s exactly the same thing. It offers forgiveness on behalf of something or somebody else. Fundamentally, that is of course completely useless, but it’s a means for people to be healed, and it has something important to tell us about letting the past go and moving on. Both Gideon and Matheson get their first good night’s sleep for years after this. They have faced their inner demons and can get on with their lives.
It doesn’t quite work, because the creature is a sort of Kosh-like riddle-monger, using an irritating economy of words. People have to heal themselves, with the creature’s few words nudging them in the right direction. The upside of all this is we get some flashbacks that provide fresh insight into some of the main characters. My favourite was Gideon, who was abandoned by his ship and left floating in space, which is a horrendous thought, and very neatly illustrates why he “never leaves anyone behind”. We also got to see his first encounter with Galen. Matheson’s betrayal of Psi Corps didn’t work quite so well, as it was all a bit too rushed and therefore his change of heart was not sufficiently earned, a consequence of a considerable chunk of dialogue being cut (from the wrong place in my opinion) to meet the running time.
But once again, our most interesting character is Galen, and here we return to the unchallenged assumptions that slightly mar this episode. His girlfriend had obviously been reading too much Wuthering Heights, because she made a pact to contact him from the afterlife. Yeah, I’m not sure it works like that, but anyway he can’t hack the idea of heaven because in his mind that means somebody must have decided his girlfriend should die.
This is actually a common spiritual assumption and a justification that gets trotted out all the time for atheism, but it requires the joining of dots in two places that they don’t need to join. Firstly you have to equate afterlife with a deity. In other words, you make the spiritual assumption that there cannot be an afterlife unless life and afterlife co-exist within some kind of entity-controlled system. Having made that link, you then have to make the frankly bizarre assumption that a deity has to be a micro-manager, controlling every aspect of life. It’s a philosophy that leaves nothing to chance, and make slaves of us all. That’s always the big flaw in the argument Galen puts forward. Do you cease to believe in your manager at work if he doesn’t take an interest in the colour of the paperclips on your desk?
The writing came down on the side of the spiritual in the end, with Galen receiving his message from beyond, and yet he screws it up and throws it away (littering is not cool), unwilling to countenance the idea for a second. I guess there’s truth in that. We all tend to be blinkered in our philosophies. Perhaps that’s the most important thing this episode has to say. We need to open our minds a little more. RP