"The Long Road" Review
First Published: 06/17/99
Crusade's second episode, "The Long Road", is a vast improvement over "War Zone". It's a great character story with humor and a little drama. Joe Straczynski must have been feeling generous because he even gave TNT a Western town and a fight in a bar.
In "The Long Road" the Excalibur comes to the aid of a mining operation on a colony world. The colonists, who have forsaken modern technology, are opposed to the strip mining facility next to their town. The captain supporting the miners has been charged to carry out the mining operation at all costs because a mineral in the planet's soil is a natural antiviral agent that may be of use on Earth.
The miners have been terrorized in various nonviolent ways, including visions of a huge golden dragon. Galen correctly surmises that this is the work of Alwyn, a self-exiled technomage played by Edward Woodward, Peter Woodward's father. Gideon and Galen try to use Alwyn's influence over the colonists to find a peaceful resolution to the dispute.
On Babylon 5 - even at the height of the Shadow War - scenes with two characters in a room are often more interesting than huge space battles because the real meat of the Babylon 5 story is in the characters. It's the same for Crusade, but the conversations in this show are not about galactic politics or war - they're more personal. Alwyn and Galen used this time to reveal each other's character to the audience.
Edward Woodward appears to enjoy the chance to overact as Alwyn. This isn't a bad thing. Technomages are larger than life and arrogant. However, what makes them so interesting is that below their pompous exterior is a layer of mystery and humility, which is brought on by their wonder at the universe. It's nice to see another technomage, but this will hopefully be a one time occurrence. There's not room in Crusade for more than one character of this type.
Gary Cole performs much better as Captain Gideon in this episode. His relationship with Galen is developing quickly. It will be interesting to see if Gideon ever takes any flak for the trust that he places in Galen. It's impressive that an episode can be carried with only two regular characters, and this opens up possibilities for other character combinations in future episodes. Gideon's failure to score a basket in the gymnasium scene is also a nice touch. Welcome to the real world!
Not everything works perfectly in this episode. The special effects are lacking. The attacking creatures in the bar are good, and the dragon is OK when you consider that it's supposed to be merely a hologram of a dragon, but the mining facility - what could be seen of it - was poor. Evan Chen's music still intrudes. At one point Galen reacts to something Alwyn says, and at first I thought he was reacting to a sound that is actually part of the music. My only story criticism is that half-way through the story the colonists are being portrayed too much as a faceless mob. In the second half, the innkeeper has several good scenes. It would have been better to flesh him out earlier in the story.
The following paragraph has some spoilers about the conclusion of the episode.
When the innkeeper says "We don't have to be reasonable as long as we have you", the expression on Alwyn's face is perfect as he realizes his mistake with these people. Then the innkeeper's daughter collapses and my immediate fear is that Alwyn's revelation will be discarded in favor of some cheap solution in which the antiviral agent is no good and the mining is stopped. However, Joe Straczynski comes through. The girl's illness turns out to be an added complication rather than a solution, the captain himself asks Gideon to fire his weapons to destroy the mine, and the innkeeper's statement is revisited.
"The Long Road" is an intelligent piece of science fiction that is a worthy addition to the Babylon 5 universe. If the rest of the episodes are this good, Crusade should be allowed second season.