"When you have reached the end of the road, then you can decide whether to go to the left or to the right, to fire or to water. If you make those decisions before you have even set foot upon the road, it will take you nowhere. Except to a bad end."
REVIEW: Ok. THIS was supposed to be the first episode, and you can tell because 1) everyone's in it (save for Lochley), which hasn't happened since the re-pilot, War Zone; 2) characters and concepts are introduced in efficient dialog; and 3) the one flashback of Gideon getting his mission is most definitely NOT from the previously seen War Zone. AS a pilot, it's a lot better than War Zone was, a lot more intriguing and focused, with director Michael Vejar doing his level best, as usual, to push the limits of the effects and keep the frame interesting. We're essentially thrown into the middle of things, in medias res, with the mission underway, a characters like Galen aboard without much explanation, Gideon's magic box whispering sweet nothing destinations into his ear... We have to catch up, but we know the past will unfold just as well as the future in coming episodes. It's enough that the action and characters are clear, at this point, everything and everyone full of potential and promise.
Well maybe not Max, I still find his greedy slightly ridiculous. Not that there's no money to be made in archaeology (that is to say, in the Babylon 5 universe), but I don't think it jibes well with being a misunderstood genius. He seems like the kind of person who would be pursuing this for its own sake, because he needs puzzles to solve, and so on. (Note also a discrepancy between the two pilots: Gideon has been assigned Max here, but clearly chose him in War Zone.) The plot thankfully makes use of all our heroes. An ancient city, linguistic and medical mysteries to be solved, tombs to be opened, guns to be fire, hovertrike dogfights evoking Star Wars, and Galen creates a creepy CG facsimile of himself to spy on the planet's hidden inhabitants. Something ignored earlier/later is Dureena's insistence that Galen teach her magic, which redefines their relationship. The only thing missing is Matheson using his telepathy (it must have been a wrinkle too many because it isn't mentioned, I expect it to get a proper "introduction" in one of the last few/first few episodes), but overall, it's an excellent showcase for each character's abilities.
And at this point in the TNT-mandated order, it's a welcome change for Crusade to actually be about the Drakh plague. Because the intent was to introduce the mission, there's a real urgency to what's happening, no time for other pursuits. It's a quest made more suspenseful via Gideon's memory of brokering safe passage through all of Alliance space, agreeing to only take 4 years to find a cure to then sit in orbit the fifth year to shoot escaping ships from the sky once Earth panics. I know JMS planned to end the plague arc in the middle of Season 2, but that would have been a super-dark Season 5 had the mission failed, and I think I would have liked to see it. The planet they're surveying also presents a bleak future because it too was hit with the plague a thousand years ago. Their response when they failed to cure it was to go into hibernation, letting one "keeper" run things until he got sick and died every couple years, and dissecting whoever was lured to their planet. Gideon promises he'll never let Earth get that desperate, and further will give these aliens the cure when he finds it, if only so they can stand trial for killing so many people over the centuries. And again, we should be feeling queasy here. We know Earth is easily corrupted, and the series could well have tracked Gideon's own fall from his high moral ideals into desperate and immoral actions.
REWATCHABILITY: High - Had Crusade started on this footing, and kept it up, I might've liked it a lot more. Exciting, snarky, tense, intriguing and thoughtful.