The Babylon Diaries: Crusade

Who Are You?
Matthew Gideon. Captain. Attached to the Earth Alliance starship, Excalibur.
What Do You Want?
To find a cure to the Drakh plague before it wipes out all life on Earth.
Where Are You Going?
Anywhere I have to.
Who Do You Serve?
And Who Do You Trust?

Crusade – Introduction

11/22/2011

Crusade is the first attempt at a spinoff series from Babylon 5, picking up at the end of the solid but unspectacular B5 TV movie, A Call to Arms.  I know as little about it as I knew about B5 back when I began that little project. It’s the same universe and seems to have some of the same characters, but is it anything like it’s big brother? Let’s take a look.

Dramatis Personae in 2267

Captain Matt Gideon (Gary Cole)

A gambler by nature, Captain Gideon was given command of the Excalibur because of his willingness to go where he has to and do what he needs to in order to discover a cure for the Drakh plague that is threatening life on Earth. However, he also has possession of a mysterious green box that seems to be giving orders of it’s own. What is means is anyone’s guess.

Lt. John Matheson (Daniel Dae Kim)

Matheson is Gideon’s loyal second in command and one of the few telepaths to join Earthforce after the Telepath War. He must follow strict guidelines and keep himself in control or he will face punishment at the hands of EarthGov and disappointment from his fellow telepaths looking to rejoin the rest of humanity.

Max Eilerson (David Allen Brooks)

A brilliant archeologist and linguist, Max’s professional excellence is matched only by his ego and ambition. He’s agreed to help Gideon and the Excalibur, but, make no mistake, profit is first and foremost on his mind.

Galen (Peter Woodward)

Galen is one of the elusive and cryptic Technomages who fled to the outer reaches of known space during the Shadow War. His tendency to meddle in the affairs of others has result in exile from his order, and he is now travels with the Excalibur crew to assist them in their quest. Of course, the jury’s still out on how much he knows and much he’s withholding…

Dr. Sarah Chambers (Marjean Holden)

Dr. Chambers has become the foremost expert on the Drakh Plague and is the Excalibur’s best chance of discovering a cure. Despite the misery of their current situation, she remains optimistic and hopeful for the future.

Dureena Nafeel (Carrie Dobro)

Dureena is a thief by trade and the last known survivor of her race, who were annihilated in the final days of the Shadow War. She now travels with Gideon to help stop the extinction of another race and hopes to get revenge on those who ruined her world.

Trace Miller (Zeus Mendoza)

Trace is an expert pilot who was on the same expedition as Max when they were found by the Excalibur. After Gideon saves his life, he agrees to sign on to the mission.

Captain Elizabeth Lochley (Tracy Scoggins)

Captain Lochley remains the top dog on Babylon 5, an occasional port of call for the Excalibur and her crew.

Episode 101: War Zone
Grade: C+

So, the first episode of Crusade is over and it… wasn’t so good. Not terrible, certainly, or even particularly bad, but everything about it just felt like it was lacking. We get a really quick recap of the last ten minutes of A Call to Arms and meet our new protagonist, Captain Bill Lumbergh, er, Matthew Gideon, and the crew of experts and scientists who will inhabit Excalibur as it searches for a cure to the Drakh plague.

In War Zone, Excalibur puts down on a planet where a Drakh warship has crashed, hoping to discover information.  Along the way, they pick up Max Eilerson, a self-centered archeologist and linguist, and Trace Miller, a pilot on Max’s expedition, who both also seem like they’ll be regulars.

It’s not a bad opening plot, I guess, but I feel like I’m already missing the intrigue that was immediately present in Babylon 5. Even before the Shadows and the PsiCorp showed up, the political maneuverings and fragile alliances on B5 got me hooked. In comparison, this just feels very vanilla. We’re all on the same side and it’s all very noble. Yawn.  In other news, I was pleased to see Dureena and Galen back, though neither have much to do here, and I think Trace is a step up from Warren Keffer, for whatever that’s worth.  Gideon seems okay as a leading man, but the Lumbergh thing may end up being really hard for me to ignore. I’ll try not to harp on it.

Other little things:

  • What’s up with the uniforms? I don’t think I’ve seen anything like them before.
  • The Drakhs just look goofy with their masks on. Did they look this Halloween-y on Babylon 5?
  • The new music is… interesting.  I’m not sure yet if I like it, though the music-only battle scene (which they also did in ACtA) was cool
  • Gideon’s flashback is giving me visions of Sinclair’s missing 24 hours. Coincidence?

Best Line
Matheson: Mission accomplished.
Gideon: No, the mission’s just beginning. But as first days on the job go, it wasn’t too bad.

Episode 102: The Long Road
Grade: B

Okay, I’m a little confused—I thought that Excalibur was heading out into deep space, “where no man has gone before” and all that. I guess I’m mistaken, because Earthforce contacts Gideon and sends him with Galen down to Regula 4 to tangle with terrorists and, apparently, a dragon.

What they find instead is Alwyn, a technomage who is attempting to protect the local colonists against Earth’s invasive mining operation and it’s potentially deadly side-effects. However, Alwyn’s nonviolent tricks are starting to lose their effectiveness and the colonists’ frustrations are turning to anger.

I liked this episode quite a bit more than War Zone. It was pretty light and fluffy plotwise, but I was nice to some of the humor that the last episode seemed to be missing entirely. Galen, in particular, seems a lot less melodramatic and more human—and funny, which is nice. I think I’ve decided I like him. Also, Evan Chen’s music worked nicely here, probably even better than Christopher Franke’s would have.

Best Line
Gideon: You know something about this, don’t you?
Galen: Perhaps. And if I’m right, then it’s definitely something you should see.
Gideon: And if you’re wrong?
Galen: Well, that hardly seems likely, does it?

Episode 103: The Well of Forever
Grade: B

This was an interesting little character-building episode. After Galen produces a magic stone (or something) that holds coordinates to a mythical crossroads known as the Well of Forever, Excalibur journeys off of established hyperspace routes in search of the answers it provides. Along for the journey, however, is Mr. Jones, a telepath who must conduct an intrusive and uncomfortable deep-scan on Lt. Matheson as part of the new laws governing telepaths living in open society.

I enjoyed The Well of Forever perhaps a little more than the previous episode but overall it still didn’t quite reach the level I wanted it to. Although this was really clearly supposed to be a “Galen” episode, I found myself more interested in Max Eilerson. I like that his motivations aren’t terribly high-minded and that he introduces some dissent in the ranks. It made me consider whether or not Gideon made a mistake by taking him onboard Excalibur in the first place.

There were several other moments I enjoyed in this episode, like the encounter with the giant hyperspace jellyfish and learning about the disbanding of the PsiCorp as part of the fallout from the Telepath War (which I’m still annoyed we didn’t get to see).  Also, there’s a moment at the end of the episode where Matheson gets a note from Gideon written on personalized Excalibur stationary. I like that. It felt very Babylon 5.

Best Line
So, you have a magic rock that provides you with a mystical place that is a metaphorical book that gives you answers to questions we haven’t asked yet. And you want us to spend days in hyperspace based on that? – Max Eilerson

Episode 104: The Path of Sorrows
Grade: B-

So, The Path of Sorrows finds our crew stumbling upon a mysterious orb in a closed-off temple on a faraway planet.  They bring it onboard and discover that it is the legendary Orb of Exposition, capable of infodumping entire character backstories with a single misty scene transition. In particular, the creature inside the orb gives us a peek at a few of the defining moments in the lives of Galen, Captain Gideon, and Lt. Matheson, and forgives them for whatever guilt they still carry around with them.  The whole thing feels kind of clunky, but I did enjoy a lot of what followed (except for Galen’s story, which felt redundant, since we just heard about his lost lady love in the last episode).

I definitely bought the idea of Matheson as a company guy for the PsiCorp back in the day and enjoyed getting a little taste of how business was conducted during the Telepath War. Gideon’s “Shadow” story was well-done and really did a good job evoking B5 Season 2. I also thought the gambler who gave him the Apocalypse Box in flashback #2 did a good job getting me interested in exactly what it is and what it does. It looks Vorlon. What happened to it?  Does Gideon still have it?

Best Line
Matheson: You like going nowhere at 120 miles an hour?
Galen: Of course. That is man’s natural condition.

Episode 105: Patterns of the Soul
Grade: D+

Patterns of the Soul finds Excalibur called by Earthforce to Theta 49, a small planet where a possibly-infected group of humans have settled. The colonists left Earth at the same time the plague hit, and, if they are carrying the virus, the generals want them either returned to the quarantine zone or eliminated. Planetside, Gideon finds resistance among the persecuted colonists and Dureena is shocked to discover a long-lost tribe of her people.

And I cared about absolutely none of it. While I appreciate their efforts to give the lady doctor (whose name I can’t even remember) something to do, everything about this episode stunk. Anemic acting. Terrible dialogue. An eeeeeevil plot driven by shady military leaders. I’m really starting to think that doing Crusade in diary form was a mistake.

Best Line
You have no real compassion. Just a wallet where your heart should be. – Dr. Sarah Chambers, to Max Eilerson

Episode 106: Ruling from the Tomb
Grade: B-

Well, Ruling from the Tomb was a substantial step up from Patterns of the Soul, but that doesn’t mean it was anything other than mediocre. As in most of the episodes that came before it, Excalibur is still not searching the stars for a cure to the Drakh plague, as advertised. Instead, the crew is visiting the newly independent Mars colony so Dr. Chambers can head up a disease conference. Also in attendance today are Captain Lochley, who has second billing in the credits so should have shown up way sooner than this, and a doomsday cult intent on blowing everyone sky high with a stashed nuclear weapon.

It’s a story that could have been interesting, especially when they tied in Trace’s history with the Foundationist seminary, but the acting from both Zeus Mendoza (Trace) and John Novak (Lebeque) was just embarrassing and stomped on any chance I had at feeling involved in this episode. There were little bits, like the Max/Dureena dance scene, that have me convinced that there is a good show lurking in here somewhere, but it seems clear that no one has quite figured out where it is yet. The inclusion of Captain Lochley was refreshing (if a little forced) and I really did enjoy her interactions with Captain Gideon. Tracy Scoggins and Gary Cole seem to have good chemistry together and, despite my reservations about the show overall, I do wish that there were more than seven episodes left for their relationship to develop.

Best Line
I try to never upset someone who is at the helm of a rapidly falling object when I’m inside it. – Max Eilerson

Episode 107: The Rules of the Game
Grade: B

We’re back on Babylon 5 for The Rules of the Game, which ends up feeling like…wait for it…a Babylon 5 episode! On the political front, Gideon and Lochley are negotiating with some aliens I hate for permission to land Excalibur crewmen on their sacred planet, Lorka 7. On the personal front, Max and Sarah meet Cynthia, Max’s ex-wife, who owes money to an extortionist lowlife that followed her onto the station. And in the middle is me, who still can’t muster enough feelings to really care.

It isn’t that I disliked either story. The Max stuff was okay, though it didn’t really tell me anything new or interesting, and the Lorkan story had a real B5 bent to it, which I ought to have enjoyed. Really, though, I’m not interested in a Babylon 5 story at this point. I want a Crusade story. They’ve sold me on being a different beast from their big brother.  They have different uniforms and funky music and an aesthetic all their own. I don’t want to see them running back to safe territory and that’s exactly what this episode did.

Best Line
Müller: I head all about you. You’re some kind of big shot brain guy back in school.
Max: The term is prodigy. Seven letters, three syllables. I can see why it gives you problems.

Episode 108: Appearances and Other Deceits
Grade: A-

ALL RIGHT! Crusade has finally given me an episode I truly enjoyed! Appearances and Other Deceits didn’t knock my socks off with special effects or emotional drama, but it was a fun, solid, cogent episode that really made me want to throw in the next disc and keep watching.

In it, we find Captain Gideon actually doing his job and exploring the unknown in search of a cure to the Drakh plague when he and his crew stumble upon a derelict alien spacecraft. A single survivor is discovered within and when it is brought aboard Excalibur, a parasitic race of energy creatures that spreads through skin-to-skin contact begins infecting the crew. Soon, whole decks are swarming with infected and the entire ship threatens to fall under their influence unless Gideon, Matheson, Max, and Dr. Chambers can come up with a solution fast.

I don’t know if there was any one thing that made Appearances so excellent. It had the perfect balance of danger, humor, and cleverness without any of the fat that padded out so many of the episodes before it. I really liked getting to see a humbler side of Max as he wrestles with survivor’s guilt and I appreciated finally getting an explanation of why the Crusade uniforms don’t match the ones on Babylon 5. (Speaking of which, tell me they’re not really changing them to that grey and red jumpsuit. It looks like it fell out of Galaxy Quest.)  I’m wondering, though, where Dureena was during all of this. And Galen! He’s hasn’t been around in forever. I imagine they both would have been majorly helpful here.

Best Line
Damn, Eilerson was right about all of this. I hate it when he’s right. He’ll be insufferable for days. – Matt Gideon

Episode 109: Racing the Night
Grade: B

So it looks like the uniforms are staying. Hm.

Anyway, there’s a really excellent story somewhere inside Racing the Night. In fact, I’ll say that about 25 – 30 minutes of this episode was good, solid television sci-fi. Unfortunately, it was packaged inside 15 minutes of dull, plodding bloat that stops the good parts from being as effective as they should be.

The episode sees Excalibur exploring the surface of an empty planet where the original race has apparently disappeared, leaving their world, their technology, and some tantalizing scraps of secrets free for the taking. Mysteriously, however, no one has.  Instead it just sits there, apparently unguarded. Did the original inhabitants die from the same plague that is affecting Earth?  Does the planet hold some technology that might help?  It’s an interesting mystery and has a worthwhile payoff, but the episode is just a little too long for it’s own good and relies a bit too heavily on bad CGI in a few sequences (I’m looking at you, Virtual Galen!).

Also, it was nice to get some explanation as to Galen’s unexplained absences, though it seemed like information we should have had earlier.  I like his relationship with Dureena as well and think that it could have held interesting possibilities. With only four episodes to go, however, I think that’s something that will just have to stay rattling around in my head.

Best Line
Gideon: I thought you said you don’t hold a grudge.
Galen: I don’t. I have no surviving enemies. At all.

Episode 110: The Memory of War
Grade: B+

For an order that’s supposedly so mysterious and elusive that people go their whole lives without ever encountering one, we sure do seem to meeting our share of Technomages in this series, huh? Nevertheless, The Memory of War is a fun little episode where Captain Gideon and the crew of Excalibur travel down to another deserted planet, despite the protestations of Galen. Unfortunately, team members begin turning up dead once they arrive and now all of them may be caught in the clutches of something they can’t see and can’t catch.

I think I enjoyed the mystery and the danger of the first half of this episode a lot more than the answers we get in the conclusion, but I had a lot of fun with this overall. We learn a bit more about Galen and see more of his not-quite-defined relationship to Dureena. We also see Captain Matt talking to the creepy box we saw back in The Path of Sorrows (this was in the last episode, too, come to think of it). Even if the ending wasn’t quite up to expectation, there was a lot of good stuff going here.

Best Line
Galen: Look Matthew, to those of us in my order, another Technomage is the only family have. After I was asked to leave the order as a penalty for having too much contact with the outside, I came to rely on you. And on the others and on this place. Perhaps more than I should have. I would hate to have to start all over again.
Gideon: Then why don’t you come with us? We could use you.
Galen: Because I would hate to die even more than I would hate starting over.

Episode 111: The Needs of Earth
Grade: A

Snow White and the Seven Narns. Hee hee.

Alien porn and dirty jokes aside, I really loved this episode. I admit I’m a sucker for any sort of hippy-dippy “music can save the world” story; they just make me feel all warm and fuzzy.

Anyway, our plot: Based on a “you didn’t hear it from me” tip from the Rangers, Excalibur goes off the grid to a non-Alliance world and busts a criminal out of prison who claims to have access to hundreds of years of his world’s most important information. The Feds, however, don’t take kindly to Excalibur’s intrusion into their affairs and have no problem blowing Gideon & Co. out of the sky to even the score.

Even beyond its kumbaya underpinnings, I loved all the little character-building moments The Needs of Earth gives us.  We see the softer side of Sarah and the harder edge on Matt. We see an unsure, fearful Matheson (Daniel Dae Kim does a really excellent job here) and some pretty nasty mommy and daddy issues from Dureena. It felt like all of our characters were finally brought into a sharper focus for me and it makes me regret how little time Crusade and I have left.

Best Line
We talk about the needs of Earth. Well, there’s more to it than the obvious. While we’re waiting on science to discover the math that will lead to a cure we need something to sustain us. This is the music and the literature of hope. It’s what we need. Another culture forgot that. We can’t. Not now. Not ever. – Dr. Sarah Chambers

Episode 112: The Visitors From Down the Street
Grade: A

Well, this was just clever as hell.

After following a distress signal, Excalibur comes across a drifting spacecraft and discovers two inhabitants within: Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. Well, they’re actually named Durkani and Lyssa, and they have green skin and tentacles, but they *are* a pair of down-and-out federal agents trying to unmask a conspiracy between shadowy figures in their government and aliens from another world.  Gideon has no idea what the pair is talking about, but can’t deny their evidence: they speak English and wear neckties; they have photos of zeppelins that the government dismisses as “swamp gas” and of crop circles that look like the American flag.  Have humans really been in contact with an extraterrestrial government for hundreds of years? Has mankind been secretly influencing the development of this alien race? And what to make of the mysterious older man in the suit who suddenly arrives, claiming to have all the answers and demanding custody of the fugitives?

It really is a fun, stellar episode. I imagine it’ll age poorly as viewers get further and further from its point of reference, but I had a blast watching this one.

Best Line
Gideon: Refresh me, Lieutenant. How did we get in the middle of this?
Matheson: I believe it was an act of mercy, sir.
Gideon: Remind me never to do that again.

Episode 113:  Each Night I Dream of Home
Grade: B

So that was the end of Crusade, huh? Bummer.

I think that what Each Night I Dream of Home did well was it brought the threat posed by the Drakh virus into focus. First, it gave us the return of Stephen Franklin and revealed that he is one of the infected billions, which was something I had honestly never considered. I don’t want Doc Franklin to die! I mean, I guess we already know that the character doesn’t but still! It really had an effect on me. (Also, FYI—Richard Biggs acts *circles* around the other people in the episode. He was so frickin good.)

Additionally, when I watched A Call to Arms and heard “Earth has five years before the virus adapts to our biology,” I mentally classified it in the same category as Lorien’s proclamation that “John Sheridan has twenty years left to live.” I mean, yeah, I guess it’s a big deal and everything, but we’ve got time. This episode provided a much better (and scarier) picture of how the virus acts, which I have no doubt would have impacted my viewing of later episodes.

The actual episode itself wasn’t outstanding, but I think everything it accomplishes would have served an important purpose by contextualizing the larger series. As the last-ever episode of the show, however, all those same factors just become a disappointing tease. What a shame.

Best Line
Gideon: It’s a strange thing, Lieutenant. If I close my eyes I can see every detail of the Earth’s surface as clearly as we’re seeing it right now. But after my father died, I tried to remember his face. It always slipped away from me. Why is that, I wonder?
Matheson: Maybe it’s because we can’t decide which face to remember. The face of our father when we were children, the face of our father the first time we left home, the face of our father the last time we saw him. They all blur together. We lose the details. But Earth is constant. Earth is forever.
Gideon: You’re too young to be having thoughts this old, Lieutenant.

CLOSING THOUGHTS ON CRUSADE

So, all in all, Crusade was… interesting. I don’t regret watching it diary-style, like I humbugged about back in Patterns of the Soul, but there simply wasn’t enough time for any of the thoughts I had to pay off (or not pay off) in the way that Babylon 5 allowed. This was definitely a show still trying to get off of the ground: the characters were all drawn but not quite defined; the mission was in place but never with quite the right urgency.

It also really felt like a show that had been tinkered with. I’ve avoided actually researching this, but between the weirdly-spaced clumps of episodes and the unnecessary costume change halfway through, I can see Network Executive fingerprints all over this one.

Despite those shortcomings, I still think I wound up with a healthy respect for Crusade. It had the guts to try and do something different. It had its own look, its own pace, and its own style. It didn’t all work all the time, but even just making the attempt earns them major cool points in my book.  I’m just disappointed that it will always be remembered as just another peculiar failure that never got the chance it needed.

So long, Crusade. You deserved better.

8 comments

  1. Since you said you don’t know anything about Crusade, you might be interested to know that at least several of the problems you have with Crusade were due to one of the worst cases of Executive Meddling in the history of television. (yes, I AM including Firefly)
    Strzynski decided not to write everything personally the way he did most of B5, simply because he was fricking exhausted (and who could blame the man??) but the input he DID intend to have was hugely reduced, mainly because he was spending most of his time fighting tooth & nail with the TNT executives.
    He went on the record as saying most of the TNT people he worked with in Atalanta (who were all creative types, or from a background of same) were very nice people. BUT since Crusade was the first real major, risky investment of TNT, all the top execs, who were all strictly finance people, kept trying to force Strzynski to include more ‘rating grabbing’ aspects.
    For instance? ‘Racing the Night’ was originally the pilot episode.
    The Execs ‘suggested’ that one of the crew should be a ‘sexual explorer’ who would drop their pants everytime a new race showed up (I’m pretty sure it was supposed to be Max Eileerson or Dureena).
    Speaking of Dureena? Have any vague memories of a C-plot involving some EarthForce type showing up to ‘assess’ Matheson’s conduct as a telepath? Gideon got Dureena to get on a shuttle car with him & think very hard about a bomb, meaning the EF type ran to Gideon babbling about a bomb, thus revealing himself as performing an unauthorised scan, letting Gideon blackmail him with ‘you take off Matheson, I take you down for the exact same thing’. The TNT execs suggested that instead Dureena should be set up to be raped by the EF type, Gideon should record it, & use that to blackmail the EF guy into leaving Matheson alone.
    Strzynski said in an interview about the time of Crusade’s cancellation that if he’d done most of what the finance execs wanted, he could have kept the show going for several seasons; but he chose not to because he would have probably lost his soul & definitely gone straight to Hell.

    • Based on the episodes I watched, that really doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. Interesting, though. Thanks for the background!

  2. This series gave me the impression JMS had been playing D&D a lot. We’ve got a Thief (complete with guild), Wizards, and Rangers as well as a Dragon. The fantasy cross-over in Babylon 5 didn’t bother me as it was dabbled out over 5 years, here, it just felt silly.

  3. I loved crusade because I saw the potential of this series. Plus, it was a fantasy title draped in a sci-fi cloak, set in a popular sci-fi universe (Babylon 5). Hearing of JMS’s plans for this made it sound as if it would get even better in the future.

    Oh well. It is a shame we’ll never get the whole story.

  4. Overall I didn’t think the show gelled at all. There were few characters of any real gravitas when compared to the original series.
    Whilst thirteen episodes is not enough to develop the characters properly Gideon is a bit dull even with his magic talking box, Dureena makes sense in D&D not SF, ditto Galen who spends too much time trying to be enigmatic,Number One the telepath is just too out of kilter with all we know about Teeps, the Doctor is barely one dimensional.
    This leaves Max: the only interesting character and he genuinely has a believable constellation of characteristics.
    I haven’t mentioned Lockley-her character was very well established in Series 5 of B5-particularly when she encounters her dead buddy from her youth. Despite comments on the DVD her character gets no useful development in the few shows she appears in here.

    Would it have been any good if it went five seasons?
    I think the problem is that the central arc does not have the legs to carry the show through 100 episodes.
    Having Franklin turn up in the ‘last’ episode proves the plague gets beaten.
    Franklin is of course alive and kicking in Sleeping in Light 15 years later.
    The stakes are therefore eliminated completely by establishing he has the plague now.

    What else might have sustained the show over such a long time?

    Well, no doubt JMS had something planned for the talking box-the head of an established character, a holographic link to G’Kar?
    We will never know I suspect.
    It would have been nice to have had the chance to see how the show would have developed but we didn’t and the box set of 13 episodes is just a curiosity that does not hold up alongside its parent show.

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