Babylon 5 #116: War Zone

"This is my command. I'll do whatever's necessary. If that means turning the entire galaxy upside down and shaking its pockets to see what falls out, then that's what I'll do. I'm not subtle. I'm not pretty, and I'll piss off a lot of people along the way. But I'll get the job done."
IN THIS ONE... Captain Matthew Gideon is given the job of commanding the Excalibur to find a cure for the Drakh plague. Introduces the cast, etc.

REVIEW: Same universe, new show, how's it rate? Well, the pilot is all about putting the pieces together, though some of that (recapped) was done in A Call to Arms. We already know the Excalibur, not that we see much more of it, a few of the characters - Dureena has had a slight make-up and attitude adjustment, the latter making her impish more than angry, I don't think it's an improvement; Lochley, though she has yet to be made a member of the team; Galen the techno-mage, acting as a kind of guardian angel figure; and, in a way, Dr. Sarah Chambers, familiar only because the same actress played a different officer in the TV movie - and the Drakh (to save on make-up, they gave the troops the bone mask from their original appearance, but without the weird effect, they look pretty terrible). As far as the premise goes, the episode starts minutes after the battle to save Earth ends, and we're soon pursuing and fighting a stray Drakh ship, fresh from the seeding of Earth with a time-delayed plague. That problem - and Earth isn't really taking it with any kind of grace - could become a story-telling one if the production isn't careful. It's a lot like Voyager's, in that the crew is after something specific, but can't ever get it. So each episode gets mired in Gilligan's Island syndrome, where each inroad becomes a cul-de-sac. This was reportedly imposed by TNT and imposed on JMS who hoped to end that particular arc and move on to other things halfway through the second season, but as we now know, that was never meant to be. At least he narrowly misses that Gilligan feeling by having the crew find something that will HELP Earth researchers without being some kind of magical cure. Another carry-over from A Call to Arms is, sadly, the discordant music and sound design, pulling another blazing battle (and no ugly zoom-ins in Crusade, thank you) with only music and no voice or effects tracks. It's an experiment that just doesn't work, turning the action into a montage that takes all the energy and urgency out of it (cool though they might LOOK). Throw in a similarly atonal opening sequence and you start to see why it didn't pick up a host of new fans.

Gideon is our hero, and I have a lot of good will for Gary Cole generally. His no-nonsense attitude isn't unlike Sheridan's, though he's a lot less personable. I like that he was chosen because he was "dangerous", essentially a maverick, and that LIKE Sheridan and Sinclair (and indeed, a lot of B5 characters), he's an outsider. Suddenly, those qualities that probably kept him marginalized in Earthforce, are just what's required. He knows what he wants and won't let anything or anyone stand in his way, including his image-conscious superiors who soon prove THEY couldn't possibly carry out the mission. Other new characters include brilliant archaeologist and linguist Max Eilerson, another contrarian cut from the same cloth, and Lt. John Matheson, Gideon's first officer, a sensitive telepath following some "new rules" post-whatever it is Lyta did to the Corps. Obviously, things are all very new so these characters are just sketched in. Gideon gets most of the attention, including a flashback sequence that's taken right out of the Sinclair story - the captain floating in space and getting his life saved by Galen for unknown purposes only now coming to the fore, a special destiny.

As he confronts Galen, he is asked First One-type questions spoiled in the opening sequence, this time devoid of a sort of knowing wink I raised an eyebrow at: There are answers to "Who are you?", "What do you want?", and "Where are you going?", but at "Who do you serve and who do you trust?", the closing credit for creator J. Michael Straczynski seems a worse ego trip than his name on the back side of Babylon 5. In the actual scene, Gideon admits to not knowing, and that proves to be the correct answer. Galen will help because Gideon has no master but the quest itself. Not the chain of command, which he has already brazenly gone against, and not any vice the Drakh can exploit. As the plot progresses beyond the initial set-up, we'll see whether others in the cast are as steady, or if Gideon himself will doubt and falter. If the show lasts long enough for us to find out.

ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WORMHOLE: In Star Trek too, the station-driven show was followed by a ship-driven show, but the idea of a specific long-term mission to save Earth would actually be used in Trek's future (or past, depending on how you look at it), in Enterprise's third season.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Recaps a lot of points from A Call to Arms, and reuses its austere soundtrack, two reasons why it falls flatter than a series opener otherwise might. At this point, I'm interested in Gideon if no one and nothing else.


Ryan Lohner said...

Not that having a lot of fans would have helped. As I understand it, TNT literally cancelled the show before it even aired and put the extant episodes on TV purely due to their contract. And I've heard JMS threw in some quite vicious jabs at them similar to the "Jarvis toilets" line from B5, which actually is the thing that's gotten me the most curious about it.

Galen's rescue of Gideon is fully portrayed in the Techno-Mage novel trilogy, and comes off rather differently than what this sounds like. And like I said before, if you're going to seek out these books, that's the best series to go with. As a bonus, book three is set after the series would have ended, and acts like all of JMS' plans for it are still canon, so you can pick out certain bits and pieces of what the show might have been (with the bonus that he didn't have to adjust to any real world compromises like B5 suffered so many of).

Cradok said...

Yeah, Crusade was dead before a single minute was shown. In fact, even before ACtA was shown at the start of 1999, people figured the show had had it. It was originally supposed to start showing the week after the movie, but had been pushed back six months, and TNT were being cagey about it and stopping promotion.

The weird thing is that this came after Crusade had had its budget upped. After the first five episodes had been filmed, a planned one-week break was extended, and new sets and costumes were made, and a new 'intro' episode was written. Originally, the show had started with everyone already on board, but TNT wanted a 'gathering the cast' episode. Because of all this, the first five episodes shot are actually the last five shown, and continuity gets a bit screwey at times.

The reasons for the cancellation, as usual, nobody knows for sure. JMS says that TNT interfered him into cancellation, TNT say that JMS was an uncooperative diva. The truth... is probably somewhere in the middle. Two things we do know for sure is that while the actual ratings for B5 were good, the carry-overs - people who would come for B5 and stay for other stuff - were low. B5 fans were only watching for B5. Also, Crusade was TNT's first original sci-fi show, and at the time they were known for sports, wrestling and daytime drama, and talky, mythy sci-fi doesn't tend to fit naturally with those. Taking both of these things into account, the accusation that TNT were pushing too hard to make the show into a more sex-and-action sci-fi direction is probably true. And, as we well know, JMS doesn't deal well with outside interference of any sort, and probably pushed back too hard, causing TNT to pull the plug, rather than wait and see.

The episode itself? Plotwise, a bit too empty, but I felt it did character very well. Better than the originally planned first episode did, definitely.


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