Battlestar Galactica – 2×11

This episode hasn’t aired on UK television yet, but this morning I drank so much coffee that the entire episode spontaneously jumped across space and time into my short-term memory. It was quantum.

2×11 – Resurrection Ship, Part 1

One of the problems I had with Battlestar Galactica’s first season was that its intelligence and dramatic potential did not always translate into great individual episodes. Bastille Day and Litmus in particular were blighted with hackneyed stories and by-the-numbers characterisation. While there’s still plenty to enjoy in the series at its worst, even in the early days it was clear that the show could do better.

By the start of Season 2 the series appeared to have upped its game in most departments, building on the first season’s strengths and discarding its weaker aspects. Sadly the momentum of the first few episodes couldn’t last. While I still feel that this season has been an overall improvement, clunkers like The Farm and Home, Part 1 have shown that the writers are still capable of missteps. The current three-parter is teetering on this same brink simply because it takes a potentially complex tale and reduces it to broad strokes more typical of lightweight fare such as Stargate: SG-1. It’s compulsively watchable on the level of a Hornblower-esque action yarn, but falls short of the complexity we’ve seen this show produce.

As I noted last time there’s something to be said for a villain you can “boo”, in the right context. In a three-part story such as this, however, there is ample room to make Cain less obviously Wrong. Here Cain remains a thinly drawn character type instead of a real person. She benefits slightly from the writer defusing the immediate confrontation; events came to a head far too quickly last week, and we do at least get to see more of her working style here. We even get to see Starbuck agreeing with her on some issues. What undermines this is yet another horror story from her morbid XO, this one managing to be even more sledgehammer unsubtle than the last, which is no mean feat. It’s only a matter of time before she makes someone walk the plank.

Given that Cain really does have a lot of valid points about the Cylons, Adama’s partiality, and the changes which have been wrought on the crew by their experiences, there was potential here for a more complex clash of ideologies. This is entirely undermined by turning Cain and much of her crew into psychopaths. What we’re left with, at best, is a simple black and white contrast between our enlightened heroes and their regressive counterparts.

Any subtlety here is mainly confined to the sub-plots. The most compelling elements are those relating to the two Cylon captives. Baltar really shines in his interactions with the traumatised Six, and Tricia Helfer is given the chance to show more range than usual. Six’s desire to die ties neatly into the central macguffin of the (impressively gothic) resurrection ship, but is also a shocking reversal of our expectations of Cylon behaviour; it reflects powerfully the inhumanity of the Pegasus crew. Sharon, in contrast, responds to her attempted rape with anger, blaming all humans by association, and Adama’s apology understandably falls on deaf ears. The apology shows Adama’s (and our own) very conflicted view of the Cylons: part hatred, part empathy. Given their dual role as genocidal villains and noble victims this is perhaps hardly surprising. Meanwhile Helo and Tyrell’s discussion about their mutual relationships with Sharon is welcome in showing the ways in which they have changed and matured since coming to blows with one another.

I also very much enjoyed Roslin’s role this week. After largely standing on the sidelines in Pegasus (something which may be rectified in the longer cut of that episode destined for the DVD) here she jumps into the fray with both feet. Her no nonsense adjudication of the two commanders is very welcome. Although obviously I do not condone assassination I’m particularly pleased that she is the one to suggest it; partly because it adds to that hard-nosed pragmatic streak we’ve seen her display more than once, and partly because it makes the unthinkable more thinkable when it comes from her lips. We know that she would not lightly make the suggestion. One of the things that is interesting about these characters and their relationship is that they don’t always fall into the traditional roles, or morality, you might expect. Adama’s initial bemused reaction, and their warm relationship generally, is very gratifying.

Despite my complaints I am enjoying the story that’s being told. While this episode doesn’t progress the story a great deal it does lend extra weight to the more satisfying sub-plots, and the two episodes do work better together than Pegasus did in isolation. It seems likely that part three will continue in the same vein. What lets it down is the feeling that this programme, of all SF on the air at the moment, is better than this.

EDIT: Managed to bollox up the html for a minute there so I apologise if anyone got an eyeful of spoilers.

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