It's the Journey
First Published: 02/14/99
Many Babylon 5 fans are eagerly awaiting the premier of the Crusade spin-off series. Joe Straczynski has said that Crusade will have a five-year story arc that is set up in the Babylon 5 TV-movie "A Call to Arms". I have heard a significant amount of skepticism on the Net and elsewhere that basically asks, "We already know how Crusade will end, so how can there be any tension in the show?" To these people I answer: It's not the destination; it's the journey.
This article contains spoilers for "A Call to Arms". I will also touch briefly on "Sleeping in Light" without any major spoilers.
At the climax of "A Call to Arms", the Drakh launch a biogenetic plague on the Earth. The Drakh did not have either the time or the ability to adjust the plague to the Earth's biology, so it is not immediately effective. The bioweapons division estimates that the plague will take five years to adapt to the Earth's biology, at which time every man, woman, and child on Earth will be dead. This is the setup for Crusade. The Rangers will search for a cure to the plague. Since it was engineered by the Shadows, there may be a cure for it hidden somewhere in space. The Excalibur will follow up on any findings of the Rangers. They must succeed within five years - the five years of the Crusade series starting in the year 2267.
The skepticism arises because we have already seen the year 2281 in "Sleeping in Light". In this episode, we see General Ivanova in her office on Earth. We also hear Garibaldi and Franklin referring to Franklin's office on Earth. So, the Earth has survived the plague. We know the ending of Crusade. What's the point of watching it?
It's not the destination. It's the journey.
The meat of the Babylon 5 story isn't merely that Sheridan's forces won the Shadow War or defeated President Clark. The important part is how these outcomes came to pass. Even more important than that is how the characters evolved during the run of the show. Even though many things happened in Babylon 5 that could be considered surprising for a television show - characters changed allegiances, became villians, and even died - we must confess that it was no great surprise that the good guys eventually won. Knowing the outcome didn't make the show any less fun to watch or reduce the amount of time fans spent analyzing and predicting the story line.
So, knowing the outcome of Crusade doesn't make it any less exciting. We know they'll find a cure, but at what cost? Who will die or lose their soul along the way? Who will try to stop the Excalibur from finding a cure? What strange alien civilizations will they discover on their journeys? How will their faith be tested? Who will prove to be more than suspected? We have five exciting years of answers ahead of us, and we don't even know all the questions yet.
If my arguments above haven't convinced you yet, here's a second way to look at the Crusade dilemma.
If you've been with Babylon 5 since the beginning, think back to when it first started. Pretend you haven't seen any episodes except for "The Gathering" and "Midnight on the Firing Line". Pretend you weren't on GEnie and you haven't read any of Joe's messages. What's the plot of the five-year Babylon 5 story? At this early point it doesn't look like the Shadow War, or the Earth civil war, or the formation of the Interstellar Alliance. At this point all we see is an ill-fated attempt to bring peace to four major powers. The blood feud between the Centauri and the Narn and the resentment between the Minbari and the Earth Alliance seem to be the major issues facing the galaxy. These problems together with Jeffrey Sinclair's missing twenty-four hours are the only apparent arc plots visible. From this vantage point it sounds like the last episode will feature G'Kar and Londo killing each other and Sinclair finding out about his missing twenty-four hours.
How wrong we were! And maybe we're just as wrong about Crusade. Maybe they'll find a cure in the second season, but uncover an even greater danger to the Interstellar Alliance. We know so little about Crusade that it's unreasonable to think we know how it will really end.
If that's not enough, I'll give you a third option. This one is a bit of a curve ball.
Who say's they'll find a cure? "Sleeping in Light" is set about fourteen years after "A Call to Arms". If the plague wiped out the population of Earth, the surviving humans on the colonies will have had nine years to verify that the Earth is now safe and resettle it. You never know.
Just remember: It's not the destination; it's the journey.
This article is also available in German at SF-Radio.net. Thanks to Matthias Pohlmann.