I mentioned during last week’s Visitors From Down the Street that it was a good story, but I would not use it as a good example of what Crusade was actually about. This week hits the nail on the head more than any other episode. To describe Each Night I Dream of Home, only one word springs to mind: prescient. Simply put, no other episode shows knowledge of events before they take place quite as well as this. The episode aired in September of 1999; some 22 years before we would be stuck at home dreaming of a time when we could mingle in groups with friends without fear of a “delta variant”. It actually sounds very much like a Star Trek inspired virus too; straight from the delta quadrant. Alas, as CDC guidelines change on a regular basis, what we are facing only sounds like something from the realm of science fiction; an Andromeda Strain that defies definition.
Crusade was setup as a series wherein Captain Gideon and crew are sent on a mission (a crusade, if you’d like) to find a cure for the Drakh virus, released on earth during A Call to Arms, a Babylon 5 spin-off movie. It will kill most of humanity within 5 years. When you consider the implications of that, it’s a kick in the gut. Another word springs to mind: sobering, creating a more serious mood (especially to an episode that takes the time to remind us never to eat anything bigger than our heads). Covid-19 has been with us for about 18 months at the time of writing and it’s mutated where the CDC went from suggesting it was safe to remove masks, to now pushing people back into them. I’m going out on a limb here to say, that decision will fluctuate even more and, while such a speculation will date the article in years to come, I just hope we’re all around to read it so we can laugh about how the Drakh virus could have been handled had the show been allowed to go on. In terms of the episode, there’s a gravity to this story that packs a punch by itself, it’s just that it gains momentum when we think about our own situation. Dr. Franklin is picked up from earth because they need a place to run a test. Franklin, having been on Earth at the time of the infection, has the virus and they have an idea to infect a healthy host so they can track its spread. I’m no virologist, but I can see this being something we would actually do. Not to mix series, but the needs of the many might, in fact, outweigh the needs of the few or the one. I will say this idea falls apart to some extent but the episode is too powerful to really let that get in the way. In essence, the question I have is: if they could transport Franklin safely to the ship, wouldn’t it be better to send the healthy host down in the same way? They plan on infecting him anyway! The best I can think is that they didn’t have a secure pod for which to do that. Still, it’s a minor concern and I still think the episode gets far more points for being a damned good story.
Increasing the weight of this episode is Franklin’s dilemma. As a doctor, Franklin has sworn an oath to do no harm, yet he knows he’s about to infect a perfectly healthy person with a lethal virus. He has 5 years to find a cure and things are not looking good. Dr. Chambers ends up helping with that burden by pressing the button to infect the host which I say is a noble jesture, but Marjean Holden comes across as a little too wooden here, not really seeming to be that effected by taking such a burden on herself. Still, the idea is sound and really gives us pause for thought. Franklin says the virus infects all living things remarkably quickly, and we watch them track the progress before a Drakh attack almost brings everything to an abrupt end. (How strange hearing Franklin talk about 50 micron filters; this has become part of our vernacular as well as I go into the shop to buy a new filter for my air system at home!)
It’s more than just the virus that lends weight to the episode. Gideon has orders not to stop for any reason while traveling to pick up Franklin but gets a distress call, which he responds to, against orders. Gideon tells Senator Redway (played by Lance LeGault, who I remember best from The A-Team as Colonel Decker) that he was on the receiving end of being a castaway and will never turn down helping someone in need. Kudos for being a hero, and for saving Captain Lochley of B5. Also, he acts the hero when he learns that the message Williams sent home is what got them attacked, but fails to ever put the blame on Williams. He understands the sacrifice Williams has made could save everyone and pressing charges against him will not undo what was done. And considering everyone came out in one piece, what’s to be gained? I really like Gideon and wish we’d had more time to get to know this captain. If there’s one thing that the didn’t work so well with this episode, it’s the broadcast order. Due to the network-lead change, Lochley and Gideon have a very different relationship to what we’d seen the last time they were together. I think if you squint just enough, this can work anyway simply because most of their interactions during this story take place where other people are around, so it could just show a secret familiarity that is being kept from the others. In fact, when Matheson picks up on Gideon’s “smiling” at the end, it might even help that idea along.
The episode ends with the reminder that life goes on; babies are still being born and weddings are happening all the time. It’s a reminder of our own reality right now as I just got another wedding invitation the very day I watched this. But when Franklin is asked if they’ll find a cure, he answers, “God’s honest truth: I really don’t know.” And I’m right back to that sobering reminder of what it means to be going about our daily lives right now. Appropriately for the last episode, we finish with Babylon 5. Crusade was cut short too soon, canceled just as it was showing promise. Strangely, I find that more than a little bit scary. And I find myself hoping we’re not canceled before we too can find a cure. ML
The view from across the pond:
This was the last episode of Crusade that was ever broadcast, and we certainly end on a high, with quite possibly the best episode of the series. It feels like the overall series arc is moving along in a significant way for the first time, with the discovery that the virus is a kind of thinking nanotech. That’s some genuine progress.
Arriving to make that discovery is Babylon 5’s Dr Franklin, who has distracted himself from the stress of having the future of humanity on his shoulders by growing some questionable facial hair. I was never a big fan of Franklin in B5, but he’s magnificent here. The emotion comes across in his voice when he acknowledges that he might be fighting a losing battle, and is now facing the horror of deliberately infecting a man with the virus in the name of research. His interactions with Dr Chambers also elevate her to a much more interesting character than she has ever been before. For the first time this series she felt like a real person, rather than a peripheral plot device.
This was a very exciting episode as well, with the Drakh arriving at the worst possible time, and that was a moment of mixed feelings. On the one hand it was scary that they turned up again, but on the other hand it clearly indicated that Franklin is on to something, so it was a mix of hope and fear.
Senator Redway was one of those powerful people in sci-fi we love to hate. Anyone superior to a captain usually falls into that category. Star Trek perfected that. I loved the way Gideon found a way around his orders, refusing to back down and then rubbing Redway’s nose in it. Even when Redway was ready to concede in order to save his own skin, Gideon wasn’t going to let him off the hook. It tied in nicely with Gideon’s refusal to leave anyone behind, and also I liked how he expected the very best of Matheson and never doubted his ability to perform a very dangerous and tricky manoeuvrer. This was a strong episode for Gideon.
It was nice to see Lochley back again, but the messed up episode order really screwed up the Lockley/Gideon relationship. Despite a dubbed line to help matters, this was quite clearly their first meeting, and in fact there was little point in Lochley being in the episode at all apart from that.
The best thing about this episode was how thought-provoking it was, and that was all because of David Williams, played by Timothy Williams (does he always play Williamses?). He is choosing to live five years with the one he loves rather than the rest of his life without her. It contrasts nicely with Redway’s constant focus on saving his own skin above all else, and also makes us think about how quality might just be more important than quantity when it comes to the number of years we have ahead of us. Nothing is certain in life, but David chooses to be with his his fiancée, whatever the cost. Good on him.
So that’s it for Crusade. Before I conclude, let’s have a quick rundown of the characters. Lochley was barely in it, and I don’t see how she could have been sustainable as a regular, but each time she appeared it was nice to see her. Dr Chambers made little impact, apart from this episode. I never warmed to Matheson either. A bit of a boring character, and his insistence on saying “negative” instead of “no” increasingly grated on my nerves. He had potential, because of his telepathic abilities, but even that never quite brought the character to life. Unfortunately it has to be said that the problem there probably lies with the rather wooden acting of Daniel Dae Kim, but he was obviously not helped by the way the character was written. Dureena and Max were both great characters, whom I have written about in detail elsewhere. Galen was by far my favourite and it’s a great shame that he didn’t feature in any of the final three episodes of the series. Is it weird that I returned his thumbs up gesture each time I watched the opening titles? And as for Gideon, well I can’t fault him. The perfect captain, and the best that the B5 franchise had to offer.
So I’m well aware of the tedious reasons this got cancelled, but I have to conclude the cancellation is no reflection on the quality of the series. This is a class above the first series of Babylon 5 by miles, with a consistent high standard that it took B5 three years to achieve. It’s frustrating that we never got to finish this story, but as Gideon says, “life goes on”. Next week we will reach the end of our B5 journey, with a final little footnote for the franchise: The Lost Tales. RP