Monday, April 30, 2007

Crusade: 1x03-1x05

The Needs of Earth, Memory of War, Visitors From Down the Street

These three episodes, with one exception, continue a strong opening run for the series, a much stronger opening than Babylon 5, which also hints at the potential depth of these characters. But, the last of these just fails on nearly every level, hitting depths not seen since Babylon 5’s first season.

‘The Needs of Earth’ touches on a lot of classic JMS themes, and has some good stuff, but drags into preachiness during the episode’s second half. However, the opening, in which Dureena and Gideon go to rescue the guy on the planet is very strong. Dureena is my favorite character on the show, I like her rage, and the way that rage can lead her to reckless action. Last time, I said she reminded me of Faith, and that comes across even stronger here. She’s always prone to dangerous action, putting herself at risk to help others. But, it’s unclear whether this is a purely selfless act, or if she actually wants to put herself in danger as punishment for not being there when her world was destroyed.

I think one of the major issues with her character going forward is that eventually her dangerous behavior should catch up with her. So far, she is able to go through this really dangerous situations with few negative consequences, and I’d like to see her struggle either physical or moral dilemmas. Getting hurt during one of her stunts would be an obvious way to show the consequences of what she’s doing, but a more interesting tact would be to put her in real moral conflict with Gideon and the others on the ship. They indulge her mysterious ways because things always work out in the end, but what about when they don’t? That’s the problem we frequently see with these super capable characters, like your Jack Bauer or Sidney Bristow, what happens when they buck the system and fail?

But, considering we’re five episodes into the series, it’s probably a bit early for that. However, going forward, I’m not sure if JMS would have pushed her to a more ambiguous place. Watching Babylon 5, the first season had a very traditional Manichaean conception of good and evil. Then, in season two, Londo and G’Kar both went to really dark places, shockingly so. However, he never put the human characters through that same kind of journey. His biggest mistake with the series was pushing the reset button on Garibaldi after he went through his traitor arc in season four. Season five would have been much more interesting if Garibaldi had to make up for his transgressions.

Anyway, once this guy gets back to the ship, we go into a reverie about the power of art, and the importance of preserving culture. To some extent, this story gets a bit sappy, particularly with the doctor’s comments on the music. But, the basic idea is great, and I do enjoy JMS’s journeys into philosophical musing. I just wish he was a bit more subtle about it.

As a side note, even though I generally enjoy the music on the show, it was notable that the music in the alien porn video didn’t sound very different from what we usually get. There is a certain porn quality to this score, but I still think it was a smart decision to switch composers. It helps give this series its own unique identity. While it has elements of Babylon 5, Crusade has quickly established its own universe.

Next up is ‘The Memory of War,’ which features yet another mysterious lost civilization. I’m glad that the Drakh plague was only going to take two seasons to cure because I’d imagine going to random planets that are deserted, but full of thematically relevant mystery would get old after a while. What is interesting here is Galen, who for the first time feels like a real character rather than a cryptic plot device. He has the most potential of any character on the show, and it’s good to get more time with him.

The production values on the show are a big jump from Babylon 5. While the effects aren’t always completely convincing, for a TV show in 1999, they’re great, and allow JMS to tell bigger stories than he could back on Babylon 5. The climax with the giant machine was a particularly strong sequence, though I’m a bit unclear on the motives of the zombiefied people, particularly Dureena during that scene. Plus, it bothered me to spend so much time with those obvious redshirts during the mission. I was just waiting for them to die.

Despite those issues, this is the strongest episode of the series to date. Dureena’s walk on the invisible bridge was cool, and there was some strong character development. So, it’s a shame that the next episode was so ridiculously bad. I’m a big X-Files fan, and I believe JMS is too, so this should have been a great episode. However, The X-Files parodied itself so much, and so well, it’s tough to say something original. This episode plays like someone who only has surface knowledge of the series, giving us the most obvious jokes, and not working as a story outside the parody.

A large part of my issue with the episode is the casting of the aliens. Why is the Mulder British? It makes it feel like a vague caricature of Mulder, rather than a sharper parody, and the Scully is a non-entity. The Smoking Man is just generically evil, not the quiet menace of the actual character. These characters hit only the general qualities of The X-Files characters, and that means it’s not as funny to see them do stuff. I would love to see a near exact analogue of Mulder crop up on this ship, but this guy only captured a small piece of the character. Plus, those dreadlock tentacles just looked so stupid, it took away credibility for me.

Now, you may say, just chill out, it’s a funny episode. I did like some of the role reversal alien stuff, but it was too close to The X-Files for me to take seriously as an episode on its own, but not focused enough to work as parody. So, it falls into the nebulous realm of bad parody, which is just reproducing the original in a different context and expecting it to be funny. It’s the same kind of thing as Date Movie or Epic Movie, which mix random pop culture characters together and assume that just the presence of a Willy Wonka analogue is hilarious.

But, other than this episode, the show is going well. I’m still wondering where Lochley is, she’s in the credits, but hasn’t appeared in any episodes yet. And, I’m not looking forward to the inevitable disappointment that the unresolved end of the show will hold. But, at least we’ve got The Lost Tales up, which will give us more Galen and perhaps some resolution to the lingering questions of the series.

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