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War Zone
Maintained by David Boyd
Last Update on July 19 '99
Title: War Zone
Episode Order Number: 101
Production Number: 108
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski    Director: Janet Greek
First US Air Date: Wednesday 09th June 1999
Episode Message Board: Talk about the Episode here
Contents: [Plot] - [Regular Cast] - [Guest Stars] - [Review]
Plot:

    As panic reigns in the wake of the Drakh attack, Earthforce ships - including the explorer class vessel under the command of Captain Matthew Gideon - desperately race home to aid Earth. Too late to help fend off the attack, Gideon finds himself re-assigned to the prototype ship, The Excalibur. No sooner does he set off with his new ship, when word comes of a Drakh ship from the attack that has crashed on a Ceti 4. Hoping to glean some early clues about the plague virus, the Excalibur races to plunder the wreckage.... but the Drakh are on the way too.

Regular Cast: Gary Cole, Daniel Dae Kim, David Allen Brooks, Marjean Holden, Carrie Dobro, Peter Woodward
Guest Stars: Alex Mendoza, Tim Thomerson, Brook Parker
Review:

[Review 1] - [Review 2]

By Lars Joreteg

Review 1: Crusade Episode 1 - "War Zone"

"As first days on the job go, this one wasn't too bad" - Matthew Gideon

And so it begins... Finally, after months of delays and despair, the Crusade has begun, and "War Zone" marks the start of Crusades run as a "limited series" on TNT. While this pilot episode is nowhere near as good as the better Babylon 5 episodes, it presents us with an interesting premise, fascinating characters, and very promising possibilities.

This episode takes place hours after the Babylon 5 TV-movie "A Call to Arms". The Drakh have launched a massive attack on Earth, and all ships are called in to help in the defense. Captain Matthew Gideon rushes home on his Explorer-class starship, but he arrives too late, the battle is already over. The Drakh were barely defeated, but before retreat they managed to spread a deadly bio-genetic plague in Earth's atmosphere. Within five years this advanced plague will adapt itself to Earth life, and kill everything. The scientists see no hope in finding a cure in only five years, so several ships are sent out on a desperate mission - to find a cure to this alien plague somewhere before it is too late. One of these ships is the Excalibur, an advanced prototype starship, the only one of its kind. With a lot of alien encounter experience, Captain Matthew Gideon is given command of the Excalibur. Meanwhile, above a remote planet, an Earth Alliance destroyer battles one of the escaping Drakh ships. Critically injured, the destroyer manages to force the Drakh ship down to crash on the planet. The Excalibur is dispatched to investigate the Drakh ship, but will she get there before Drakh reinforcements arrive?

Crusade certainly feels like a different show, that much is made clear during the opening credits, which are very different from the typical Babylon 5 style. There are no narrator(s), instead it starts out with a conversation between Galen and Gideon, posing the following questions: "Who are you?", "What do you want", "Where are you going?", and "Who do you serve - who do you trust?". Presumably the answers to these questions will be very important for each of the Excalibur crew. After the dialogue, the music kicks in slowly, while we see the main characters in action. The theme is not one you easily remember and can hum along with, like Christopher Franke's original Babylon 5 theme, but I like it. Make no mistake - this is certainly not intended to be the sixth season of Babylon 5, Crusade is something... new.

Gary Cole plays captain Matthew Gideon, a commanding officer who has total dedication to his crew, but will stop at nothing to complete a mission. I found him to be very interesting, calm on the surface, but someone you definitely would not want to be on the wrong side of. Gideon could be described as a mix of Sinclair's sensibility and Sheridan's aggressiveness, but with a definite no-nonsense attitude.

Daniel Dae Kim plays Lt. John Matheson, the first officer onboard the Excalibur, the only one in the crew to have served with Gideon in the past. He is a telepath, but after the end of the telepath war, telepaths can again serve in the military under new rules. Always in control, he continually monitors the Excalibur through his headset. It's hard to put my finger on specifics, but something about Matheson makes him seem very competent. He is a very cool character.

Peter Woodward plays Galen, a technomage, exiled from the technomages due to too much contact with others. He is a lot like Babylon 5's Kosh, speaking in riddles, and generally being cryptic. He is a very interesting character, but I didn't really care for how he was used in this episode, I thought he was much better in "A Call to Arms". I just hope he won't become Crusade's universal plot device, with his technomage abilities.

Marjean Holden plays Dr. Susan Chambers, chief medical officer. She is hard to comment on, since we don't see much of her at all in this episode. Hopefully we'll see more of her soon.

Carrie Dobro plays Dureena Nafeel, member of the thieves' guild, and lone survivor of her species from a Drakh attack. She isn't given much to do in this episode, but she plays an aggressive female well without overplaying it. (By the way, is it just me or does she look a lot like Delenn in her last shot of the opening credits?)

David Allan Brooks plays Max Eilerson, an IPX archeologist and linguist that joins the crew. He is a very different character than the others, a civilian with very different motivations than the rest. He is very good at what he does, and he makes sure others know it too. He is given a lot of the unnecessary exposition (dialogue that explains things just for the audience) in this episode, but I thought he came across very well. He is my favorite character so far.

Tracy Scoggins plays Captain Elizabeth Lochley, who runs Babylon 5. She is in the opening credits, but does not appear in this episode. Nonetheless, I thought that her portrayal of Lochley improved throughout all of Babylon 5's season 5, so she should be good.

The main actors all did a good job, with the standout characters being Eilerson, Gideon, and Matheson. The guest stars did not do so great, however, but they were adequate I suppose.

The main problem with this episode is that is an introductory episode. Half the episode is taken up by awkward plot elements that bring the characters together, not very interesting. But this is not specific to "War Zone", most pilot episodes have this problem. A two hour pilot movie would have fit this kind of an introduction episode better. Some character introductions weren't very good, however, but Dureena's seemed most forced. Shouldn't she have come very highly recommended from ISA president Sheridan? A Sheridan cameo/guest starring would have been nice too, as a symbolic passing of the torch. But after they finally got on the Excalibur, then the plot became more interesting, when they go to investigate the Drakh ship and rescue the archeologists. The end battle with the Drakh ships was nice, but it could have been choreographed much better. I don't know if the silence during the battle was due to being accurate (no sound in space), or artistic, but the silent battle style did work better here than in "A Call to Arms".

The effects good overall, but I was disappointed to see that the cool new jump-point effect introduced in "A Call to Arms" was gone. The current effect seems to be a mix between the old Babylon 5 style and the "A Call to Arms" style. The Excalibur does look wonderful, in all its 2-kilometer glory, the ship just looked big! The ground scenes were not as well done, but still decent. The PPG and Drakh weapon effects were pretty poor, though, they looked like real rush-jobs. Hopefully those effects will improve. The Drakh makeup was pretty good, with the return of the warrior-Drakhs from season 4 of Babylon 5. Their face-masks/helmets looked a little bit cheesy perhaps, but at least it is continuity.

The sets look A LOT better than in Babylon 5, pretty spiffy. Nice touch with the submarine-like "scope"/view-screen too. I like the black uniforms, very nice and militaristic. The internal security forces look quite a bit tougher and cooler too, with uniforms and armor very similar to the movie "Starship Troopers". Crusade definitely looks better and more expensive than Babylon 5 did.

The music has certainly improved quote a bit from "A Call to Arms", it actually worked quite well in some scenes. But Evan Chen still has quote a bit to learn, for example - the music during the final battle was very jarring. I do like the opening credit theme a lot, though, it grows on me every time I hear it. There is even a hint of the Babylon 5 theme in there, I think. (listen carefully during the scene with the doctor in the contamination suit) Or maybe I'm just hearing things. :-) Anyway, I feel a lot better about the music now than after "A Call to Arms". It really gives Crusade a unique sound, but there is also room for major improvement.

In conclusion, "War Zone" has a few problems, but there are many likable characters, the show certainly has a lot of promise. Crusade deserves to be renewed. Bring on more episodes!

Rating: 7/10

- Lars Joreteg (lars.joreteg@usa.net)

 
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