Well that was real mature...

Well that was real mature...

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Reflecting on Babylon 5's Crusade (or Rearranging the Chairs on the Deck of the Titanic)

With the reboot of Babylon 5 on the horizon for a possible debut in Fall of 2022.  I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the failed attempts to expand the original universe back in the day. In 2007 Babylon 5: The Lost Tales was an attempt to do direct to home video stories, but the home video market was in flux and creator J. Michael Straczynski was disappointed with the outcome and didn’t want to do anymore low budget revivals. In 2002 SciFi Channel attempted a spin off series called Babylon 5: Legend of the Rangers. Set three years after the original five-year arc and focused on a misfit crew of Rangers on beat up ship. The pilot movie, “To Live and Die in Starlight,” was well cast with great characters and had potential. Sure, it had a few missteps here and there, but it was a stronger pilot than its original parent series had almost a decade earlier.

And then there was 1999’s Crusade.

Plagued by network interference that led to it being cancelled prior to the first episode being broadcast, it has created a very mixed response from fans. I’m a fan that loves the show. It was extremely well cast. The characters were compelling. The basic premise of a prototype spaceship looking for the cure to a plague that was deliberately visited on Earth by its enemies was an interesting hook. Some people hated the premise, but most fans knew it was just a way to get into the new five-year arc. We know it would change drastically since we saw in the series finale of Babylon 5, which was set 14 years after the events of Crusade, that Earth is doing just fine. Even the creator said the plague would be cured during season two, and that the main thrust of the story would revolve around the dark discoveries made while in search for the cure.

Crusade was set up by “A Call to Arms,” the last tv movie made during the fifth and final season of Babylon 5, and I maintain that if you take that “pilot” movie and the thirteen episodes produced and compare them to the original Babylon 5 pilot, “The Gathering,” and it’s first 13 filmed episodes, then Crusade, even with all the network interference, stands taller than its processor and is full of more potential.

Crusade star Gary Cole as Capt. Gideon

Babylon 5 has been a tough sell to fans for years. Initially dismissed as a low budget Star Trek rip off, only the very literary sci-fi fans seemed to embrace the show and that was because of its promise of a novel for television with a pre-planned story arc. Creatively there were stumbles but overall, it achieved its goal. The result was fantastic to anyone who had stuck with it.

It was the little space station that could.

Since Straczynski had done the impossible, he was going to try it again. I think Crusade would have been even better. He had done it once and learned a lot. With this second story he could apply what he had learned and craft a better story. But alas, TNT had other ideas. While initially thrilled with Babylon 5 ratings (they showed the first re-runs as well as the first broadcast of season 5), they realized the show was not growing an audience. The Babylon 5 viewers that tuned in did not stick around for their other shows and the regular viewers tuned out when Babylon 5 was on. However, they realized this too late, they had already committed to Crusade.

A lot of things happened behind the scenes that disrupted production and eventually led to its stillborn debut. If you are interested, you can read about it in Straczynski’s autobiography Becoming Superman. The behind-the-scenes debate is not what this blog is about.

It’s about the nerdiest of the nerdy. A recommended viewing order for new viewers of Crusade.

Periodically, Babylon 5 finds its way to new viewers. This year it popped up on HBOMax, last year it was running on Comet TV, prior to that it was on Amazon Prime. Sometimes the pilot movie is included, but the four tv movies that were filmed during seasons 4 and 5 are usually not, nor is the Legend of the Rangers pilot, The Lost Tales or Crusade. The fans that stick with it and get hooked (and if you stick with it, you will get hooked) eventually go searching out the movies and Crusade on DVD. But the behind-the-scenes drama resulted in a sometimes-confusing watchlist.

Here is the “Original Broadcast/DVD” order of the episodes (the numbers in parenthesis are the production order):

00. A Call to Arms
01. War Zone (108)
02. The Long Road (107)
03. The Well of Forever (106)
04. The Path of Sorrows (109)
05. Patterns of the Soul (110)
06. Ruling from the Tomb (111)
07. The Rules of the Game (112)
08. Appearances and Other Deceits (113)
09. Racing the Night (103)
10. The Memory of War (102)
11. The Needs of Earth (101)
12. Visitors from Down the Street (104)
13. Each Night I Dream of Home (105)

This order is NOT recommended by fans even those of us who watched it unfold in this order over three months in the summer of 1999. Here is a little back story on production without getting into too much of the tall grass of the behind-the-scenes drama.

Matheson (Daniel Day Kim) & Gideon in the original costumes.

The first five produced episodes (101-105) were intended to be the first five broadcast but ended up being the last five. TNT put the show on production hiatus after the first five episodes and requested changes including replacing the stiff gray uniforms with new more comfortable looking black costumes. However, they also mandated a new first episode WITH the new costumes. The show went back to filming with two completed scripts (106-107) while a new series opener was created (108), then filming continued (109-112) while an episode was created to explain the costume changes (113) another episode was set to be filmed that would explain the change back (114). At this point the plan was to air the new premier (108) a couple of episodes including the episode explaining the uniform changes (107 and 113) then the “first five” with the original gray uniforms (101-105) then the episode explaining the change back to the black uniforms (114) then proceed at pace with the remainder of episodes (106, 109-112, 115-122).

Then TNT cancelled the show before broadcasting a single episode. Production ended with 113, so the broadcast batch was stuck with the new premiere (108) all the remaining post hiatus episodes (106, 107, 109-113) and finally the first five (101-105).

This caused continuity issues:

Gideon and Lockley first meet twice in “Each Night I Dream of Home” (105) and again “Ruling from the Tomb” (111) The former was “fixed” at the last minute with a looped line of dialogue (I’ll talk about this more later).

A nano virus shield was used in “Patterns of the Soul” (110) before it was discovered in “The Memory of War” (102).

On screen dates of May 13th in “Visitors from Down the Street” (104) and June 5th in “Ruling from the Tomb” (111) have the episodes in reverse order.

In “The Memory of War” (102) the Apocalypse Box warns Gideon not to trust Galen after his actions in “The Well of Forever” (106) instead of before.

This doesn’t even count the contradiction between the new first episode “War Zone” (108) and the dream sequence/memory/flashback of Gideon getting command in “Racing the Night” (103) which I will also address later.

When Sci-Fi Channel got the rights to re-run Crusade, Straczynski provided a new order for the show to broadcast. It ignored continuity of the costumes and stuck the mandated episodes at the end of the run.

Gideon in "Visitors from Down the Street"

This is the Straczynski/Sci-Fi Channel Broadcast order:
01. Racing the Night (103)
02. The Needs of Earth (101)
03. The Memory of War (102)
04. The Long Road (107)
05. Visitors from Down the Street (104)
06. The Well of Forever (106)
07. Each Night I Dream of Home (105)
08. Patterns of the Soul (110)
09. The Path of Sorrows (109)
10. Ruling from the Tomb (111)
11. The Rules of the Game (112)
12. War Zone (108)
13. Appearances and Other Deceits (113)

This order did build a better audience for the network than the TNT order, but fans, again, do NOT recommend it for new viewers since the last two episodes are the “new premiere” and the episode that explains the costume changes at the end. It’s bewildering to those who don’t know the events behind the scenes creating more continuity issues than the ones it fixes. According to Straczynski was “best from a story point of view, even though it means some visual inconsistencies in terms of unexplained costume changes.” He may be the “great maker,” but the continuity havoc kills any verisimilitude for me and takes me right out of the story.

Another order later emerged for the Official Babylon 5 Chronology.

00. A Call to Arms
01. War Zone (108)
02. The Long Road (107)
03. Appearances and Other Deceits (113)
04. The Memory of War (102)
05. The Needs of Earth (101)
06. Racing the Night (103)
07. Visitors from Down the Street (104)
08. Each Night I Dream of Home (105)
09. The Path of Sorrows (109)
10. Ruling from the Tomb (111)
11. Patterns of the Soul (110)
12. The Well of Forever (106)
13. The Rules of the Game (112)

Straczynski endorsed this version among several others. 

It appeared in the Official Babylon 5 Chronology. The author explained the running order was changed to fill Straczynski’s desire to have the first five incorporated episodes from the post hiatus break.

There is also a version that also includes unproduced scripts which were published briefly online and in the Crusade script books but many viewers (especially first timers) won’t have access the scripts.  

Initially this version fixes some continuity errors, but several stubbornly remain:

It fixes the nanovirus shield issue (102/110) and the Apocalypse Box warning (102/106).

Gideon & Lochley (Tracy Scoggins) in "Each Night I Dream of Home"

However, Gideon and Lochely still meet in “Each Night I Dream of Home” (105) and appear to know each other, but then meet for the first time in “Ruling from the Tomb” (111), thanks to the looped dialogue that was used to fix the issue initially.

“Racing the Night” (103) still starts with a dream/memory that contradicts new premiere, “War Zone” (108). The grey uniforms disappear without explanation after 101-105.

There are some other viewing order versions floating around on the internet but these three are the most prevalent.

This brings us to the first of my two suggested viewing orders. The first one I will call:  “Altered Production” Order:

00. A Call to Arms
01. War Zone (108)
02. Appearances and Other Deceits (113)
03. The Memory of War (102)
04. The Needs of Earth (101)
05. Racing the Night (103)
06. Visitors from Down the Street (104)
07. Each Night I Dream of Home (105)
08. Well of Forever (106)
09. Long Road (107)
10. The Path of Sorrows (109)
11. Patterns of the Soul (110)
12. Ruling from the Tomb (111)
13. Rules of the Game (112)

I start by putting all the episodes in production order. The reason is very simple. While *some* episodes are intentionally filmed out of order, for the most part shows are made in the order they should be seen so the actors play the process and not the result. The network mandates threw a lot of that out the window with Crusade so that leaves me with an altered version of the production order.

Then, I move the ones that *have* to be moved. The new introduction episode “War Zone” (108) must be first right after “A Call to Arms” and “Appearances and Other Deceits” (113) must go before all the gray uniform episodes (101-105). Next, we flop 101 and 102. The recording Natchak Var hears of Dr. Chambers in “The Needs of Earth” (101) appears to be referring to “The Memory of War” (102), which makes sense if you consider the original broadcast order was supposed to be 103, 102 then 101 to start the series (more on that below).

With this new order, fixed is the “Nano-Virus Shield” which requires “The Memory of War” (102) be before “Patterns of the Soul” (110) Also fixed the order of on screen dates of May 13th in “Visitors from Down the Street” (104) and June 5th in “Ruling from the Tomb” (111) and now in “The Memory of War” (102) the Apocalypse Box warns Gideon not to trust Galen before his actions in “The Well of Forever” (106).

It’s still not perfect.

The grey uniforms abruptly disappear without explanation, but it’s easy to assume they are dumped off screen, also not irrational since Gideon hated them.

We still have the issue of Gideon and Lochley meeting in “Each Night I Dream of Home” (105) and appearing to know each other, but then meeting for the “first time” in “Ruling from the Tomb” (111) but I rationalize this as Lochley is frustrated and distracted when Gideon walks up to her in the latter episode. Either way it makes far more sense for “Rules of the Game” (113) to be their last meeting (unlike the original broadcast order which has it before “Each Night I Dream of Home” (105) since the feeling in that episode is one of emotional distance.)

Crusade cast with the revised costumes.

Problematic in *any* list is “Racing the Night” (103). It was originally intended to be the series premiere after “A Call to Arms” and starts with a dream/memory/flashback that contradicts the new mandated series opener: “War Zone” (108). However, it has some wiggle room. The events in the dream that take place on Babylon 5 could have happened after “War Zone,” but because it was a dream it could be mingled with memories of seeing The Excalibur for the first time at Mars. The events are real but jumbled and mixed up in the dream like haze. Not an irrational leap (certainly less so than the other rationalizations) plus if Gideon was on Babylon 5, it would explain meeting Lochley and them appearing to know each other in “Each Night I Dream of Home” (105).

Note: There is a temptation to move “Racing the Night” (103) to the third slot, since it was originally intended to be the first episode, but the creation of “War Zone” (108)  makes that mostly moot plus it would seem abrupt for Dr. Chambers to go from seeing a softer side of Max in “Appearances and Other Deceits” (113) only to call him “king of the pig people” in Racing the Night (103)  So a few episodes including one with the alien porn in “The Needs of Earth” (101) allows for a reset for her view of his character.

This brings me to my second recommended viewing order. I call it “Alternate Production Order” (for Alternating Order):

00. A Call to Arms
01. War Zone (108)
02. Appearances and Other Deceits (113)
03. The Memory of War (102)
04. Long Road (107)
05. The Needs of Earth (101)
06. The Path of Sorrows (109)
07. Racing the Night (103)
08. Patterns of the Soul (110)
09. Visitors from Down the Street (104)
10. Ruling from the Tomb (111)
11. Each Night I Dream of Home (105)
12. Well of Forever (106)
13. Rules of the Game (112)

Most lists (unless they ignore continuity) do one of two things. Either have the gray uniform episodes (101-105) last after “Appearances and other Deceits” (113) (like the original broadcast) or move them up as far as possible and have the gray uniforms vanish unexplained off screen (I do that myself in the “Altered Production Order”).

This thinking has hemmed in viewers to two options both of which result in continuity issues. However, there is one obvious way to get around this that no one seems to have thought of. In fact, it never really occurred to me until I was watching seaQuest DSV (ironic since it looks like the mandated TNT uniforms appear modeled after the first season black uniforms on that show). On that series we would see the crew wearing different uniforms (tan and black in the first season). At first it seemed mission specific, so that would not translate to Crusade, but then it would vary, sometimes in the same episode. So, I thought, why assume an “all or nothing” attitude to the uniforms post “Appearances and Other Deceits” (113)? If we can assume they simply vanish off screen as some lists do, then why can’t we make an equally valid assumption that they chose to alternate between the two uniforms?
seaQuest DSV

This led me to an alteration to the “Altered Production Order” where we alternate the gray and black uniforms episodes implying that the new uniforms are worn part of the time and the regular uniforms are also warn part of the time after “Appearances and Other Deceits” (113). Since 114 was never produced to transition back it’s not a stretch to assume both versions could be used. The real military has various classes of duty uniforms. Plus, it would free up room to fix other issues.

We start with my “Altered Production Order.”

First we move “Ruling from the Tomb” (111) between “Visitors from Down the Street” (104) and “Each Night I Dream of Home” (105) fixing the Gideon/Lockley meeting AND keeps the on-screen dates in the correct order.

Cole on set after the hiatus
Next, we fill in the gaps between the grey uniform (“first five”) episodes by moving up episodes using the production numbers except for “Well of Forever” (106), which I will cover below.

Long Road (107) moves up behind The Memory of War (102).

Path of Sorrows (109) moves up behind Needs of Earth (101).

Patterns of the Soul (110) moves up behind Racing the Night (103)

The reason for moving those three up and not “Well of Forever” (106) is that the aliens scanned by Matheson in “The Needs of Earth” (101) and “Visitors from Down the Street” (104) are the ones Mr. Jones mentions in “Well of Forever” (106) meaning it must go after “Each Night I Dream of Home” (105) since “Ruling from the Tomb” (111) has already taken the slot between “Visitors from Down the Street” (104) and “Each Night I Dream of Home” (105). It keeps it closer to production order and keeps it well after “The Memory of War” (102) when the Apocalypse Box warns Gideon not to trust Galen.

We are out of gray uniform episodes, so we end with “Rules of the Game” (112) which has a nice symmetry since it ends with a shot of Babylon 5.

So, there you have it. If you dig my two options or hate them, let me know.

A quick shout out to another blogger whose posts inspired this blog and my examination of the viewing order list. He goes into far more details on alternate viewing orders and even does a watch through on his favorite version (one not listed here). You can check it all out here: https://greysector.wordpress.com/2016/03/18/crusade-the-continuity-order-watch-through/

Also check out another blogger who did a far more detailed re-working of Babylon 5’s first season viewing order, which was also a big influence on this piece. https://b5season1order.wordpress.com/

Yes, sometimes obsession and too much time on my hands are a bad combination. I should seek treatment.


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