I realized with Memory of War that Crusade is a weird show. I know the network gave JMS more than a little grief but this episode feels like someone thought it should be the introduction to Galen, a character that I find insanely annoying at this point. He gets a slow-mo walk into the ship like he’s some awesomely powerful Darth Vader of the B5 universe, but we’ve already met the annoying, lower-tooth talking, big eyed starring Brit. He has this horrendous habit of trying to sound ominous while talking about things no one should know, without ever saying why, and starring intently without blinking to really get his point across. To compound matters, he loves pulling his hood off dramatically even when he’s been in a room for several hours. And using his Sylvester McCoy mod that all technomages have, he’s able to vanish from a room without being detected short of the hurricane that precedes him… or follows him for that matter. I just don’t get it. Actually I do: this was supposed to be the second episode, but that really jars severely when watching the series in the final established order.
“Nothing much good on TV tonight anyway!” It was good seeing a bit from ISN, once again establishing the greater B5 universe, but more than that, Gideon continues to grow on me. He’s smart, sarcastic, and knows how to lead. He may not listen to Galen completely but he recognizes that caution is the right path to take. And like his hero, John Sheridan, he’s willing to “follow a friend into hell” when necessary. Again, like Trek, I’m reminded of the power of friendship and I love that in my sci-fi stories! I also confess to really liking Dureena, whose high wire act actually had my toes curling! The special effects are not great but I think the idea of it was enough to set my teeth on edge!
Ok, so the rumor is this world is a dead world that suffered the effects of a virus and might hold the key to the Drakh virus that’s on earth. Worth an investigation. Dead world stories are great; they have the hint of ghosts lingering everywhere. It’s different from barren worlds; worlds that never held life. No, this has things moving in the shadows that can slit throats. There’s a sense of the Lovecraftian as everyone goes mad and kills one another. A haunted planet that might hold the cure to a disease… very good indeed. Alas it’s not the Drakh plague, but another one and doesn’t quite have the payoff I was hoping for…
You see, this one has a special villain; a genius loci. In other words, Technomage Sean Connery wannabe lives on this planet and he’s still sore after his lookalike was cast in the Highlander series years before. He believes “there can be only one” and has a license to kill everyone else on the planet. (Don’t worry, I know he’s not really Sean, but he reminds me of him; maybe from Outland, or one of the other low budget SF movies 007 did back in the day…) Thankfully Galen the Unknowable Hood is carrying his Staff of Ridiculousness and he throws it into a machine which breaks it thus saving the day (even after taking a knife to the shoulder). Highlander 007 goes up in a blaze like God in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, where we see his face in the fire, and they go back to the ship, now equipped with a tool that will allow them to expose themselves to the Drakh virus for 48 hours. (Which is weird since the start of the series had them use a tool that would allow them to survive 48 hours in the presence of a virus. So… what changed? Oh, that’s right: the order of the episodes. So we already saw this tool work before they got it and still had their neat black uniforms. Boy howdy this is a roller coaster!) The problem is that the virus shield ended up bothering me on another level: they were going to a planet that died of a virus! Why were none of them wearing hazmat, self-contained suits? We know they exist because we saw Chambers in one when going to the sewer, so why go down to the planet unshielded? (And don’t say because the virus would be dead, because no one knows that!)
At the end, Gideon has a chat with his favorite cupboard dweller, the Apocalypse Box, and it tells him not to trust Galen. What can that mean? Do I care? Galen will invariable waltz in like he owns the place and offer nothing more than Kosh did, except that Kosh was more fun because he was an alien and time aware, which perhaps justified his phrases. Galen thinks he’s God’s Gift to Middle Earth of the Stars but really he’s just a dude with a dark ship that has no controls or a seat who speaks cryptically because he read the Hobbit and knows that’s how mages speak. Forget telling people what they need to know to stay alive. He just references the Book of Tolkien and explains: mages don’t need to tell you anything because, hey, live or die, it’s all about a good riddle!
For me, the best element of the episode is having Dureena go back to get the Staff of Ridiculousness for Galen. Why? Because it spoke of friendship. I do love stories about friendship. I just hope as the remaining episodes play out, I start to like Galen again. I think watching them in this order has impacted me adversely because I am certain I liked him more the last time I watched it! ML
The view from across the pond:
We start with a news report that is all too familiar for viewers today but would have seemed like a wild fantasy in 1999: a worldwide pandemic causing economic turmoil, all aircraft (well, spaceships) grounded due to quarantine measures, and what looks like a pterodactyl flying over. Well, maybe not that last one.
“Nothing much good on TV tonight anyway.”
What we have on TV tonight is functionally the same episode as last week. The series is starting to settle into a pattern of the Excalibur arriving at a planet that has been ravaged by the plague in the past, a landing party going down to the surface to look for a cure, and some lurking danger on the planet killing people off. I’m not sure how sustainable that format would have been over the course of one season, let alone five. It’s already starting to feel repetitive.
It also raises another problem. If your series arc is about looking for a cure for a plague, then you don’t really have a series arc. What you have is a long sequence of failures before the eventual triumph, so the series is running on the spot. This episode gets around that problem with some real progress made for a change: by the end of the episode they effectively have a vaccine that lasts 48 hours. It’s a start. But in terms of getting closer to an eventual cure I think the significance is overstated. It is couched in terms of people who are unaffected being able to mix with the victims without fear of infection, for research purposes, and yet there’s already an entire planet of victims, including every scientist already living on the Earth. They’re not short of people looking for a cure in laboratories. So it’s a step forward, but not a huge one, and I’m not convinced it would ever be relevant to where the series is heading in terms of finding a cure. I suppose we will never know.
“Death glides out of the darkness.”
The fear factor is ramped up even more this week. When you’ve got an incredibly powerful person on the team like Galen, it really brings home the level of danger when he’s frightened of something. The planet is introduced to us as a place that appears to be haunted, and even technomages are afraid of. When people start getting killed it always happens off screen, with just the screams being heard, which works well. An unseen foe is often the most frightening, and as soon as the enemy was revealed the episode became anticlimactic.
Galen continues to be the best character in this series, and his warnings to Gideon came across as genuine concern for his best friend. I love their relationship. Like G’Kar, Galen can’t open his mouth without saying something either (a) funny, (b) thought-provoking, or (c) something about the human condition that hits the nail on the head.
“Have you ever wondered why there are so many dead worlds out there? Let me tell you why. It’s because despite the best advice of people who know what they are talking about, other people insist on doing the most massively stupid things.”
Dureena is also a wonderfully entertaining character. I was already nervous when she was perched on that ledge looking down, and then she started walking across a narrow holographic bridge. Just as I was worrying what would happen if it switched off when she was still on it, that’s exactly what happened. I think that was the most exciting sequence this series has given us so far. I also loved how she turned up at the end, caked in dirt, carrying Galen’s staff. No words were needed to express what a resourceful hero she is.
Again we are left with questions that might never be answered. Is the apocalypse box playing fair, or is it endangering Gideon for a laugh? When it warns Gideon about Galen, is it telling the truth, or lying to mess with Gideon’s head? How did Gideon think that Max would be safe behind the thinnest wooden door ever? And is hair just frowned upon for technomages, or is it banned altogether? If the latter, it looks like an outrageous moustache is a good way to get around the rules. If Galen doesn’t turn up sporting some facial hair for his next slo-mo entrance, I’ll be most disappointed. RP
About the series arc… JMS has been pretty open about where it would have gone had the show continued. At this point I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say the plague was meant to be the inciting incident of a larger story, kind of how the hole in Sinclair’s mind and the Minbari surrender functioned on B5. Will say more once you finish.
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Some SF classic shows may succeed with an intentionally short era, sometimes even ending on a haunting cliffhanger like Sapphire & Steel. For an SF series that’s cut short too soon by all the wrong people in power, JMS’ open intentions for Crusade thankfully still earns more reflection from fans who are often most excited by what might have been. Thanks, Ben.
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