Battlestar Galactica 2×16 and 2×17

I didn’t have time to write reviews for either of these episodes, but I went to bed last night and found that the magical elves from the shoe-shop down the road had crept in and bashed out the whole text in one night. And it shows. The hacks.

Battlestar Galactica – 2×16 – Sacrifice

So mediocre was this episode that I didn’t have the heart to write it up, but the completist in me won’t let it rest. So what do we have here?

One of this programme’s most frustrating tendencies, of which it has many, is marrying a potentially interesting, provocative idea to an off-the-rack story of the week. In this case not so much off-the-rack as found in the bottom of the bargain bin. Initially we’re in Die Hard territory, as Apollo gets to hide in the air conditioning while an armed group takes hostages. Thankfully we’re spared a Bruce Willis impression, but the episode merely segues into a fairly uninspired hostage situation, livened only by Starbuck’s marvellously botched rescue attempt. If it’s true that Scar was due later in the season this would have provided admirable build-up. As it is, it sits somewhat oddly to find Starbuck still screwing up and, perhaps, still drinking. And of course there’s the titular sacrifice, which becomes astonishingly predictable once you realise which minor character is suddenly getting lots of airtime yet serves no useful purpose. At least Billy gets some truly good material for a change, but sadly his death has little emotional impact.

What’s interesting is the underlying idea of another splinter group within the fleet; this time not Cylon apologists but activists who feel that the military has gone beyond failure and into active collaboration with the enemy. In an intriguing teaser we find one woman mourning her husband through a concise and somewhat spectacular flashback. All fairly promising. Unfortunately this is literally as far as the episode goes in exploring the idea. We’re left with some half-hearted “don’t deal with terrorists” rhetoric and a gritty but predictable ending. Really, for all the grit and gusto, this is standard TV action fare and all the less compelling for it.

Battlestar Galactica – 2×17 – The Captain’s Hand

This show has often made the teaser into something of an art form, juxtaposing music and images to inspired effect. But not today. Here we find an entirely prosaic opening which showcases each of the week’s story arcs one at a time, and is notable mainly for featuring Apollo and Dualla, half naked, in bed, flirting, and yet still managing to display an almost spectacular lack of sexual chemistry.

The episode marries a political plotline to a military one. While each is interesting in its own way, both are under-developed. I can’t help thinking that either storyline alone, given more room to breathe and develop, would have made this a more interesting and complex episode. Inevitably it’s a step up from last week’s soporific affair, but for every great moment there’s something which feels rushed.

In Plot A the Pegasus makes a welcome return with, yes, another incompetent commander. It’s as if all of Star Trek’s insane Admirals were posted to the same ship. To be fair, this one is a great deal more subtle than we’ve become accustomed to, and the character of the engineer with no feel for command is quite deftly drawn. He’s necessarily something of a broad brush sketch given the limited time the episode has to devote to him, but hits enough of the right notes to be intriguing. The different ways that Starbuck and Apollo relate to him also ring true.

The actual Pegasus storyline feels rushed, with the massive Cylon attack having less impact than it could because it’s presented in such a cursory way. Nonetheless the resolution of Apollo’s first successful command, and Garner’s somewhat redemptive return to the job he knows, both work well. There’s something of a understated theme this week of men and women working outside their comfort zone: some rising to the challenge, some retreating. I can’t help but think that for Adama to promote his own son from Captain to Major to Commander in the space of a few weeks might raise a few eyebrows.

Then again maybe Apollo will succumb to the Red Kryptonite hidden in the Captain’s room and turn evil. Which would be no odder than some of the things he’s done recently. I’m still puzzling over where Starbuck and Apollo’s mutual antagonism sprang from this week: the explanation at the end doesn’t quite excuse another jarring discontinuity from one episode to the next.

Amazingly the series passes up yet another chance to destroy the Pegasus. I think they’re just toying with me. Can it be they’re actually going to keep the thing around? Given Lee Adama’s meteoric rise to power, it looks as if they just might.

Meanwhile Roslin gets a sub-West Wing storyline which begins by half-heartedly tackling the issue of abortion, one which frankly deserves far greater and more complex musings than the episode has to offer. Perhaps fortunately the plot swiftly moves in a more interesting direction: the imperative for the human race to reproduce or die. While it’s not clear whether Baltar is cooking the books with his statistics, it does provide a fascinating glimpse into the ways that preserving a normal society may become impossible when faced with such an extreme refugee situation. Again the idea is scarcely developed, but I’m very pleased that they addressed it.

Baltar’s bid for the Presidency, at Zarek’s prompting, is another good idea and very well played by James Callis. This development was presaged a few weeks ago but like much in the episode it still seems rather abrupt, particularly his speech at the press conference which wasn’t entirely convincing. Nonetheless it’s a great story development, and the final close-up of Baltar’s serene expression is perfect.

Clearly this political plotline will come to the fore in the run up to the finale. I only hope that the series allows it to breathe. The programme seems to be stuck in stop-start mode; lurching forward in a series of momentous but strangely disconnected events. At present it lacks either the power of a serial or the effectiveness of tightly written standalone episodes, falling uneasily between the two approaches.

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