[Episode Written By: JMS] (8/01/99)
The Excalibur encounters a crippled ship filled with dead aliens, save one. The crew is exposed to a force which threatens to take over the ship. Despite Gideon's protests, the crew gets new uniforms.
This is a pure science fiction episode. Here the old body-snatcher device is used in full force, but it is used with a twist and is exceedingly well executed. Cast, crew and writer are in perfect sync throughout the production. This is the kind of quality we saw in seasons three and four of B5.
In the middle of the serious tones of this episode, a bit of comedy is thrown into the mix as two interior design consultants give the Excalibur the thumbs down. Classic. JMS is getting very good at throwing everyday things into his futuristic science fiction. When in doubt, look around and write what you know. It doesn't matter if your in the twentieth century or the twenty-third, people can and do act like this. Hell, I bet JMS has some pretty weird people in his neighborhood just like all of us. I say take out a notebook, climb on a bike, and get an education on life. You'll probably come back with an idea or two.
Something doesn't have to be high tech to be science fiction.
Now, to the uniforms. I actually planned to do a full review of the cast uniforms this week. I was waiting to get used to them. They were, in a word, all over the place. No character seemed to wear the same thing and it is visually confusing. I don't know if the new uniforms will solve that problem. In any event, a full review of the uniforms will have to wait. Instead, check out a special review of the opening title sequence below.
Why were the uniforms changed? There is a weird slant to this
situation. What you have seen so far are the last eight episodes
that were filmed, after severe interference from TNT. What you will
see in the next 5 episodes will be what was filmed first and will consist
of JMS's true vision for the series. So, the black uniforms were
actually created second and the white and red (new) uniforms were created
first; however, they are introduced in reverse in the episode airing order.
Confused? Thing about it a few minutes.
So, if TNT would have ordered more episodes, at episode 14 we would have to see the re-introduction of the black uniforms again, or another change. It is my belief that JMS did it this way so that after they were away from TNT (on another network), he could use whatever uniforms he damn well wanted to.
Consider this. In this episode, replace Gideon with JMS and the design consultants with the execs at TNT. And now watch the episode in a new light. It is possible JMS used this episode as a means to vent some frustration. Gideon will wear his new uniforms but he doesn't like them, and perhaps neither did JMS (The title of this episode says a lot as well).
Did I like the plain black jumpsuits? Yes. As stated by JMS' writing, they were functional. They had pockets...imagine that. And more importantly they reminded me of uniforms worn on submarines. The Excalibur is a stylized submarine in form and function, just don't paint it yellow guys.
Look for a very special quest star, John Vickory (Mr. Welles), who is a welcomed face minus his Minbari makeup. Vickory surely helped define what a Minbari should act like, and is always one hell of a villain. Welcome back.
MUSIC: (4 STARS)
I got to take my hat off to Chen for the first time in this series. I don't know what side of the bed he got up on in the morning, but I urge production to immediately erect a wall on the opposing side. The opening 5 minutes of the episode were dramatically detailed. For the first time in memory we heard some prolonged tones.
Of note was a subtle use of a heart-beat-like tone as the alien died. Turn your entertainment center up real loud and listen to the ambiance this creates.
This is NOT the same Chen we have come to expect. And I hope this is a sign of things to come.
ACTING / CHARACTERS: (4 STARS)
Gideon is becoming more and more sarcastic. I believe that JMS is writing a lot of himself into our new captain. He has been through a lot, battling the powers that be to maintain quality and keep his dreams on the air. A person can only take so much of this before something pulls loose. Gideon (in inner monologue and out) is teasing that he would like to "kill" people he doesn't like, in so many words. There is a ball of restrained anger inside of him, unfortunately he is a man who always will have to restrain himself...for the greater good.
Also note that Max complains that he can't "kill" people that disturb him during a movie. The frustration spreads :)
On a personal note Max is starting to remind me of myself, in work habits and attitude. Ok, now I'm scared.
I would like to know just how JMS became a master of the "English Fop" type character (no offense to our English friends.). We saw it a lot with the Regent character in B5, and we see in in force here. Funny, classic and no one writes it better. Then again, I don't think anyone else writes it :).
PLOT: (4 STARS)
An episode that was obviously planned out before writing began. Careful planning. Solid. I never saw the ending coming. I had to think about it a minute before I fully pieced it together which is terrific. I'm sick and tired of having things handed to me in science fiction. The sacrifice was certainly something some writers would not consider, which is probably why is was unexpected.
CGI: (4.5 STARS)
Very stunning. You don't often see hundreds of dead bodies in science fiction, and NEVER on television. This is something the powers that be frown on. Death is one thing but mass death is too disturbing for the mass audience. I doubt you would ever see this kind of thing on the major networks.
Watching the bodies bouncing into each other was a great effect and plot device. Bravo. I congradulate the designers for taking the risk on such a complex shot. These aren't ships, these are organics, so its a trillion times harder to pull off. Bodies spin and give differently than metal.
As I pointed out in Path of Sorrows, the designers at Netter are getting extremely good at the EVA scenes. This is a process you never saw, unless you were watching a big budget movie. They are no longer being used sparingly.
Note the extra CGI work done at the end when the two EA ships tow the alien derelict away. The same effect could have been accomplished via dialogue, but the extra work is worth it and noticed.
Note a slight error during one of the bullet sequence (see below).
There have been a lot of complaints on the net about the quality of the opening sequence. I am someone who believes that the opening sequence of any hour length show defines that show, and it is an element that producers don't pay enough attention to sometimes. It is the bridge that new viewers see and the welcome mat that established audiences wait for. It should "not" be an excuse to go to the bathroom (not to say that this one is). JMS is one person who spends a lot of time of his opening sequence, enough time to create a new one each year.
With that said, I like Crusade's opening. It is symbolic of what this first season is about. The question format is very important dramatically. Two questions remain unanswered...but the real question is: should they be answered? JMS established in B5 that some questions should never be asked.
But the fact that I like the sequence does not close the book on this matter. I am but one person. It is my belief that the majority of viewers out there will NOT like this sequence. They will not understand the symbolism. Thus it is only effective for established fans of the series. New viewers will feel alienated.
As far as Chen's music goes, it takes many viewings to get used to it. But overall, it is much too quiet. The point where Gideon leaves his command chair and Matheson takes the seat is a dramatic point in the sequence where you would expect the score to raise dramatically, but it does the opposite. Thus at that moment there is a hole. The dramatic moment is ruined. There should be an arc in the score: In the beginning it should be light and then a quick crescendo, leading to a light ending. Instead it is all light and thus is flat...which is a shame because just a few seconds of tempo change could have corrected the problem.