August 15, 2016

Crusade: "Each Night I Dream of Home"

It is 1 September 1999, and time for the final episode of Crusade.

The Excalibur is ordered to return to Earth to participate in a vital experiment, run by former Babylon 5 medical officer Dr Stephen Franklin (Richard Biggs). On the way they pick up current Babylon 5 commanding officer Dr Elizabeth Lochley (Tracy Scoggins). They are then attacked by a group of Drakh vessels, intent on preventing the experiment from taking place.

Crusade comes to its ignoble end, not with a bang or a whimper but with an hour of profound and slightly muddled mediocrity. Things happen, characters have conversations, the over-arching plot of the series is advanced, but it all feels too weakly developed to have any kind of effect. It almost feels like the whole of Crusade in miniature: the ideas are too derivative to grab the viewer's attention, the characters are lacklustre and stereotypical, and too much of the dialogue is poorly written and uninteresting.

The one decent aspect of the episode is Franklin's experiment: on Earth, where everyone is already infected and random pockets of the planet are dying out from freak near-extinct illnesses, it has proven impossible to track down and identify the virus at all. By deliberately infecting a virus-free human that was off-world when the Drakh attacked, Franklin - aided by Excalibur's Dr Chambers (Marjean Holden) - can see it take hold from the beginning and hopefully identify it. That he does, and the revelation that it is not a biological organism by a nanotech weapon is a great development.

The man volunteering to be infected is David Williams (Timothy Williams), who wants to be allowed through the Earth quarantine to marry his fiancee. He is a poorly written character, and also poorly acted. As a result it is near-impossible to buy into his motivations and feel any sense of drama.

Meanwhile Gideon (Gary Cole) gets to reunite with Elizabeth Lochley, a subplot that automatically staggers because Crusade's episodes were all shot and broadcast in the wrong order. The last time we saw them together they had hooked up and slept together. Now they're back to being flirtatious acquaintances. It takes a moment to work out precisely what has happened. While it is always nice to see Lochley in the series - Scoggins really took the part and did great work with it over Babylon 5's final year - there is no logical reason as to why she is here. She is simply picked up in deep space from a damaged Star Fury fighter ship without explanation. It is once again weak writing.

There is a nice action climax, as a Drakh attack coincides with Franklin's experiment, but then the episode simply ends. There were scripts already written or in development for another nine episodes of Season 1, so when TNT dropped the axe there was no opportunity to actually wrap things up. Will the Drakh plague wipe out all life on Earth? We know that it won't because Babylon 5's "Sleeping in Light" and "The Deconstruction of Falling Stars" were both set well beyond that time. What is the secret of Gideon's talking alien box? What is going on behind the scenes of the Earth government? Who were the aliens that destroyed Gideon's earlier starship? We will never know. The thing is, given how poorly this series has been - the bad episodes execrable, the good ones mediocre - it is difficult to actually care. Crusade is an unnecessary appendix, one that will only keep getting watched because it hangs onto the end of a much better TV series.

This episode wasn't very good. It leaves Crusade with six watchable episodes out of 13, and a quality ratio of 46 per cent. That is actually pretty similar to Babylon 5's first season. I suspect, had TNT not pulled the plug on the series, that Crusade might have followed a similar trajectory and become stronger as it went. J. Michael Straczynski seems to work best with long-running story arcs in full swing - until they're set up he wallows in low-quality filler and derivative narratives. Had Crusade focused more on the search for the virus and the other plot strands that had been drawn in from the early episodes, there's a reasonable chance it might have survived.

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