Thursday, May 10, 2007

Crusade: 1x06-1x08

Crusade rocks on with three episodes that are of pretty much the same quality as the previous ones. The show is much stronger than Babylon 5’s first season, but it remains hobbled by the fact that almost every episode has the same structure, and it’s tough to really care about the standalone situations introduced in each episode. But, on a moment by moment basis, it’s thoroughly enjoyable, and I’m going to be sad to reach the end of the show without receiving any kind of meaningful closure.

‘The Long Road,’ like all too many episodes, begins with a mysterious direction from Galen, which prompts him and Gideon to go investigate a mysterious small town. The setup here reminded me a lot of The Wicker Man, with its secretive town, and innkeeper’s daughter. Unfortunately, the story did not lead to Gideon being seduced by the daughter in the night while she bangs on his wall, nor did it lead to him dressing up in a bear suit and beating up some women. But, we have a guest appearance from Edward Woodward, star of the original Wicker Man movie. He looks a lot older.

Like a lot of Crusade episodes, this was a good story that didn’t quite have enough material to fill the whole 45 minutes. Like a lot of early Babylon 5, the story drags on a bit, either with an extended coda that spends too much time wrapping things up, or just a series of extraneous developments that don’t add to what we’ve already seen. It’s a lot harder to write a consistent run of satisfying standalones than a big arc, and a lot tougher for the viewer to engage with. We have no particular reason to care about this town, and in the end, it’s mainly interesting for what it reveals about our characters. Considering the technomages supposedly left the galaxy, we sure do run into a lot of them around. They seem to be the all purpose way to show that a story is meaningful.

Next up was ‘Ruling from the Tomb,’ which brought back Captain Lochley, finally justifying her place in the credits. While Lochley was never a critical character on Babylon 5, she seems to be a JMS favorite, cropping up in most of the TV movies, and also in the upcoming Lost Tales. While I think it’s a big mistake to put her in Lost Tales, as one of only two Babylon 5 characters returning, she’s a good fit here. Having a Sheridan or Delenn on would be overwhelming, in the same way that it was to have Buffy on the first season of Angel. She was sucha strong presence that I wanted to see their old dynamic played out, ‘I Will Remember You’ was more like an episode of Buffy than an episode of Angel.

Lochley’s interaction with Gideon is fun, particularly their discussion of Sheridan. He has become such a legend in the galaxy, ordinary people can’t understand him as a human being in the same way we do. That’s something they played with in the later years of Babylon 5, and it works even better here, when he’s not actually there to counteract that perception. Lochley knew him back before he was an icon, and is able to puncture the myth.

This episode features one of the typical standalone issues that plagued numerous Babylon 5 first season episodes, namely a mysterious character from someone’s past returns, bringing danger. In this case, it’s a character from Trace’s past, yet, Trace has only been in one episode, so we don’t really care that he had a religious affiliation in the past. I’m not sure if it’s a result of the screwy viewing order, but it’s odd that Trace just all of a sudden returns here, after not being seen since ‘War Zone.’

The religious guy falls prey to another classic JMS standalone problem, the generally wrong, but morally ambiguous character who forces the characters to assess some kind of universal debate, in this case the validity of religion. Gideon’s way of defeating him, by revealing that the plague will kill everyone within a year, would likely have some really bad consequences, like causing a panic on Earth. They never talked about that, how they would take back what he said. Wouldn’t you be suspicious that the government was trying to cover up the truth about the plague by claiming Gideon was just lying?

The stuff with Dureena and Max in the bar was fun, and gave some nice character shading to those two. They have a fun dynamic, Dureena has the most energy of all the characters on the show, and has the potential for a Londo like journey through moral ambiguity. However, I guess we’ll never see that.

And finally, we’ve got ‘The Well of Forever,’ another Galen gives a mysterious direction episode. This one also suffers from having about thirty-five minutes of content, and seemingly retreading some previous Galen stuff. The intent was clearly to make Galen more human by revealing this loss in his past, but it doesn’t quite work. It’s such an obvious way to build sympathy, it feels transparent. It’s also a bit of a copout at the ending, with a “Don’t do that again,” but no real consequences admonition by Gideon.

One of the interesting things here was more insight about how the Psi Corps has been restructured. That was cool to see, but again, we’ve got a trickery on the part of the Captain that lets everyone get what they want easily. I was talking about The Sopranos the other day, and realized that David Chase really hates his characters, but is fascinated by them. I think one of JMS’s problems is that he’s too in love with all his characters, and won’t let them do really ambiguous things. Everyone has to have pure motives.

The only characters he wrote who weren’t like that were Londo and G’Kar, and it’s no coincidence that they’re by far the best characters on either series. Morally ambiguous characters work because they make you want them to be better. If characters are always good, as in the case of Sheridan, you want to see them do bad things, and that works agans the moral universe of the series. It can be fun, as in Buffy season six, where I loved Buffy’s flirtation with darkness, but the closest we got to that here was Garibaldi’s season four arc, which was wiped out by the reveals at the end of the season.

With Londo, I always wanted him to do the right thing, and it was awful when he aided Morden in season two. The brilliance of his arc was to have him do the right thing for a brief moment, and then have everything go to shit by the end of the fifth season. JMS never put his human characters through that same kind of trauma, and the way this episode goes, it’s clear that the character he writes as good are given too wide boundaries, frequently getting too easy resolutions to their issues.

I’ll add that the visuals in this episode, and the series as a whole, have been fantastic. The effects made a big jump from Babylon 5, and make me eager to see what they bring out in The Lost Tales.

So, these episodes were strong, but no quite to great. The show has a lot of potential, and I would love to be proven wrong about these characters and their potential for moral ambiguity and complexity. Dureena is one of the more interesting people JMS has created, and Galen has a lot of potential if he moved beyond cryptic phrase sprouting guy and got real development. I’m eager to see more, it’s a shame there’s only five episode left.

1 comment:

crossoverman said...

Random trivia - the actor who plays Galen is Edward Woodward's son.