Two-Fisted Tales

A lot of Babylon 5 fans aren’t crazy about the spinoff series Crusade, but I really liked it; I think it’s visually more beautiful than B5 (the effects technology had improved), plus it has two of my favourite characters, the cryptic, melancholy Galen and the lovably obnoxious Max Eilerson.

Galen and Eilerson

Galen and Eilerson

Frustratingly, Crusade was marred by intrusive network micromanagement, and then cancelled halfway through its first season. Here are some of TNT’s actual requests:

Can we lose the makeup on Dureena … and make her an alien by her attitude [instead]?

We’d like to have one of the characters include a sexual explorer, so when they make contact with a new race, his or her job is to go and have sex with them.

We want to see more fist-fights on the bridge.

We’d like to see an episode worked around a wrestler, since wrestling is hot right now.

We think you should give the captain a dog for a pet. [Note: as if any science-fiction show would do that!]

Rather than have the characters work their way out of the problem as depicted, we think it would be better if Captain Gideon arranges to have Dureena compromised so the antagonist will rape her, and Gideon will catch him in the act, and use this as blackmail to get the character to back off his demands.

When show-runner J. Michael Straczynski proved strangely unenthusiastic about these suggestions, the network pulled the plug. (There’s some evidence that these requests were not entirely sincere but were instead simply a way of finding an excuse for cancelling the show; if true, that makes TNT look better in one respect but worse in another.)

Sadly, there is no correct viewing order for the episodes that were produced; the network interfered so much that they completely screwed up the continuity. For example, you’ll see someone use a device in one episode and then invent the device in a later episode, or see two characters as lovers in one episode who suddenly just barely know each other in a later episode.

Because the show had already had a pilot (the Babylon 5 tv-movie A Call to Arms, which ought to be on the Crusade dvd but isn’t), Straczynski didn’t write an introductory episode but just led straight off with “Racing the Night.” When you see it, it’s obvious that it was intended to be the first episode; the characters all say introductory, expositiony things and tell each other stuff they all already know, like “When Interplanetary Expeditions heard that we needed a crack archeologist and linguist, they gave us you.”

Starship Excalibur

Starship Excalibur

But then the network said they wanted some earlier episodes to introduce the characters and break the viewers into the show more gradually. So Straczynski had to go back and make some earlier episodes (including a new first episode, “War Zone,” which begins – at TNT’s insistence – with a fist fight, and in which one of the characters says “we had to make some compromises to get this show on the road,” a coded message that TNT evidently didn’t pick up on).

But the network had also mandated a uniform change for the crew halfway through; so now the supposedly earlier episodes had the characters wearing the supposedly later uniforms. The result is a complete tangle of continuity.

After the show’s cancellation, Straczynski briefly posted three unproduced Crusade scripts – “To the Ends of the Earth,” “Value Judgments,” and “End of the Line” – that revealed where the show had been headed; maddeningly, it was about to get especially good, as well as tying in more closely with two of the main plot threads from B5. When the supposedly uncopyable format in which Straczynski had posted the scripts proved all too copyable, Straczynski yanked them down, but it’s easy enough to find “pirated” versions online. (Hint.)

At any rate – and, at last, the occasion for this post – Straczysnki is finally releasing, via the Babylon 5 CafePress store, first a book titled Crusade: Behind the Scenes (available now) and later, a three-volume set ambiguously titled Crusade: What the Hell Happened (available at some time in the future). These four books together promise to fill in a lot of detail about how the show would have gone (including, but definitely not limited to, those three unproduced scripts).

One Response to Two-Fisted Tales

  1. Anon73 February 18, 2010 at 7:52 pm #

    Well thank goodness we have a government system of regulation and powerful private centralized network studios; without those, we might have been treated to a well-written sequel to B5!

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