Ruling from the Tomb was the first really solid Crusade episode for me. It’s not that it’s a great story, but it’s played for fun for so much of the episode, you have to appreciate it. Actually, story-wise, it’s sort of idiotic. There’s a plague that’s going to wipe out all of mankind. That’s a big deal. The Excalibur has been sent to find a cure. News flash: also a big deal! We’re 6 episodes in and if the series had been allowed to continue, that is certainly very early days but the crew of the Excalibur hasn’t made it very far.
To give some perspective, let’s look at an ocean. You start off in NY harbor and you’re told: go forth on earth and find a medicine. You don’t know where to look so you start off close to home looking for leads. After a few weeks, you leave the US coast and head out to Europe, or maybe South America. Bermuda. Bahamas? Come on pretty ma… um, sorry. The point is, you start branching out. Now space is substantially bigger than one ocean on a small world, yet 6 weeks into the series, Gideon is back in NY harbor. Ok, maybe New Jersey. That’s not saying much. And it’s not as though he’s there because he has a lead. No, he’s going to talk about the fact that they have very limited time. Clearly someone doesn’t understand things about medicine, conferences, time limits or logic! I wish I knew who came up with this genius idea. Oh… it was Stephen Franklin. Of course it was! Yeah… well, let’s acknowledge that the episode is founded on a silly premise. Once you get past that, you get to put Captain Elizabeth Lochley and Matthew Gideon together and that is tremendous fun!
Just this afternoon, at the time of my writing, I was talking to a friend at work about Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and how wonderful it was having Sean Connery and Harrison Ford playing off one another. This lead us to find other fun duos in TV and movie history and came up with… well, maybe not the best examples, but when you have a good duo, the dynamic can carry a lot of the story. (Dare I call them a dynamic duo? Sorry…) Whether Lochley is mocking Gideon’s “rugged handsomeness” (“it’s a code word”) or Gideon is asking Lochley about her former husband, the banter is tremendously enjoyable. Gideon identifies that the two are too similar and that’s why they rub each other the wrong way, but from the audience’s point of view, it’s delightful. “Were you under him?” Lochley enjoys the opportunity to make Gideon squirm while talking about his hero, Captain John Sheridan. It’s fun for the viewer to be pulled into the conversation; a series of easter eggs to the loyal fan who stuck with the show through the parent series. But Gideon is not outmatched. When Lochley says her middle name is “security”, Matthew counters that he’s worried that her last name might be “breach”. Their dialogue is solid, but the fun not restricted to them. Gideon’s discussion with his second in command which leads to “you read my mind” is magnificent since Matheson is a telepath. The normally annoying Eilerson mentions how one person was canonized while the other became canon fodder. And even the annoying Mars cop tells Lochley to bring a Ouija board if she wants to interrogate a criminal. There’s plenty to enjoy in the episode. I can’t decide if the bar scene really added anything, but there was something to Eilerson’s dance with Dureena. (I found her strange attack on the thief awkward because it just seemed so odd, but it was fun seeing her take down a big thug. Her mouth seemed to open so wide, he was probably afraid of being eaten…)
But the story seems to go out of its way to bash religion and in that regard, I expect better from JMS. Of course, this isn’t one of his episodes, which might explain a lot, but with him at the helm, I’d still think he’d have had to approve it. I’m not bothered so much by bashing religion simply because I believe in letting people draw their own conclusions about such things. You can say what you want, I don’t necessarily get pulled into an idea just because someone says it. Anyway, long before it was stated, I knew the lead terrorist was speaking to “Joan of Arc” so there was no big surprise. But when the discussion was going on at the end of the episode, Eilerson, Dureena and Trace are discussing what is little more than: religion makes people do bad things. Yeah, sure, sometimes that is the case. Jesus told people to be good to one another and people spent hundreds of years killing each other to prove what he said. Um… ok. Seems like a pretty loose interpretation. I mean I get it; it’s true on a surface level but if you dig deeper, it’s about conviction or zealotry. People who are convinced of a thing are going to fight more vehemently to defend it. Sort of like Roger and I discussing Babylon 5; I mean it’s obvious that B5 is one of the best shows ever to grace our TVs. He doesn’t buy it and is clearly wrong. But he’ll offer me proof of my wrongness, to which I’ll ultimately have to declare war on him because, that’s what conviction does. It’s not that religion is wrong! Religion is typically a comfort for people. It’s when people become zealots that things go pear-shaped. You can get much the same sort of reaction at a ball game when opposing team’s fans get into a “discussion”.
Obviously, Roger isn’t wrong. He has what’s called “a different opinion” and he’s 100% right to have it but then neither of us are zealots. If this week proved anything (see this week’s Top of the Docs article), we are in agreement more often than not! The point is, of course, that the “message” of the episode seems a bit blunt to me because it didn’t really dig as deeply as it should have. Not unlike the investigation into the doomsday cult that Gideon thwarts. But hey, I really enjoyed the episode, so I’ll take the pros and the cons together. ………But I know you all know that B5 is the best show, obviously… (conspiratorial wink)… ML
The view from across the pond:
Oddly this is the first episode to feature Elizabeth Lochley although we are six episodes into the season, and I’m wondering why she’s in the main cast at all. Having watched this episode it’s not entirely clear how she can possibly appear on more than a very occasional basis. In fact, it feels like there has been more effort to establish Trace as a main character, and yet this is his last appearance. This has been a bit of a topsy turvy series in the way that it does things. I’m also not sure the characterisation for Lochley was quite right here. Her run in with the fabulous Juanita Jennings as Lieutenant Carr was a huge amount of fun, but didn’t seem to display the same controlled demeanour that we were used to from Babylon 5. The scenes with Lochley and Gideon were much more successful, with the actors able to create some instant chemistry, a sort of edgy attraction bubbling under the surface of their rivalry. There were some great lines during their dinner together, with Gideon asking Lochley if she was ever “under” Sheridan, the surprise revelation for Gideon that Sheridan was the “loser” who got Lochey to lower her defences and then let her get away, and best of all…
“Your technique with women is, well, piss poor.”
Quite a lot of the running time was dedicated to Max and Dureena having fun in a bar, and I suppose this was the kind of stuff us anime fans call “slice of life”. In narrative terms it was pointless, but it allowed us to get to know the characters a lot better. Seeing these people with their guard down humanises them in a way that can never happen in the usual dramatic situations, and I ended the episode liking Max and Dureena a lot more than when I started. There was a great pride-comes-before-a-fall moment where Max thought he didn’t need Dureena’s protection, and then he turned out to be a very funny drunk and a pretty nifty dancer too.
But I can’t avoid the main plot of the episode any more and it was… not great. Superficially the doomsday cult might seem like a clever idea for a story, but if they believe that the plague is god’s work then why would they murder people who are eventually going to die from the plague anyway. They seem to think that they need to stop scientists from curing the plague, but if it’s the act of an omnipotent god then why would they need to do that? A sort of science vs nature debate could just about work here, with the cult trying to prevent the scientists from stopping nature taking its course, and yet the plague is not natural. It’s a weapon of war.
For the second week in a row we have some attempt to examine the nature of belief, and once again a loss of faith has resulted from a god failing to prevent a death, which was a tired cliché when it cropped up the first time around, let alone in two consecutive episodes. I already discussed last week the abandonment of logic that leads somebody to believe only in a deity who micromanages, and that hasn’t got any better this week. Take the following quote as an example:
“Captain I have five years to cure the Drakh plague. Do I believe in God? I’ll get back to you on that, in five years and one day.”
Can you see the flaw in that logic? I don’t think many people do, so I’ll spell it out. If Gideon and his scientists cure the plague then they will take the credit for that. It will be an act of science not an act of god. If they fail to find a cure then god isn’t doing his job properly.
Worse still is the confused message behind the episode. What are we being shown here? Is this an episode about a cult or an episode about mental illness? It tries to do both, and does badly at both, managing to demonise faith and mental illness in one fell swoop. Were there some kind of a deeper message hidden away beyond trying to show that both of those things are bad then it might be justified, but I really don’t think there is. I’m beginning to see why this didn’t make it beyond 13 episodes, but with the characters really starting to come to life that’s a shame. RP