"War Zone" Review
First Published: 06/10/99
Crusade premiered on 9 June 1999 with the episode "War Zone". This was the eighth episode filmed. It was requested by TNT as an introductory episode and therefore picks up immediately after the events of "A Call to Arms". The story centers on the gathering of the Excalibur's crew and the race to capture a crashed Drakh ship.
Joe Straczynski should have been allowed to stick with his original plan of starting the Crusade story six months after "A Call to Arms" with the episode "Racing the Night". The assembly of the crew in "War Zone" feels forced. Any show would have a hard time establishing several new characters and showing them meet for the first time within one hour. In order to rush the assembly of the crew along, a few situation were resolved in rather unrealistic ways. For example, Captain Gideon threatens to quit if the thief, Dureena Nafeel, is not allowed to join his crew, and Max Eilerson is conveniently recruited after the Excalibur leaves Mars without an archeologist or linguist.
Crusade is definitely not Babylon 5. This is evident from the beginning in the cinematography and music. There is a whole different feel to the show. Evan Chen's music during the opening credits sets the tone as something other than the galactic space opera that Christopher Franke's opening score of Babylon 5 evokes.
Speaking of Evan Chen's music, it still detracts from the show in places, but it is better than his music in "A Call to Arms".
As expected, Peter Woodward's Galen is the standout character in the show. A look from him can easily convey the confounding mystery that the technomages are known for. Gary Cole's Gideon seems a bit too smug and always has a smirk on his face. However, there seems to be an underlying thoughtfulness in his portrayal that will hopefully be developed in future episodes. David A. Brooks as Max Eilerson is satisfactorily self-centered and egotistical. The other characters had little opportunity to establish themselves in this episode.
One of TNT's alleged requests was that Crusade should divorce itself from Babylon 5. Although Straczynski dismissed most of TNT's comments, he seems to have bypassed several opportunities to refer to Babylon 5 during "War Zone". Gideon's scene with the Senator could easily have included references to President Sheridan, the Interstellar Alliance, and the Rangers.
So, how does "War Zone" stand as a first episode? How does it compare to "Midnight on the Firing Line", Babylon 5's first episode? Not very favorably. The early Babylon 5 episodes had their problems. For example, Christopher Franke's early music for humorous scenes between Londo and Vir was terrible. He improved, so Evan Chen should be given the chance to improve as well. However, the main thing that "Midnight on the Firing Line" had right out of the starting gate was several excellent portrayals of characters. Andreas Katsulas and Peter Jurasik brought their characters alive from the very beginning, something that hasn't happened for Crusade in its first episode.
J. Michael Straczynski has stated on Usenet that "War Zone" is Crusade's weakest episode. He blames this on his giving TNT what they wanted - lots of introductory exposition and lots of action. Next week's episode will hopefully better reflect the Crusade that Straczynski wanted us to see.