It’s been a little chaotic these last few weeks so time for a catch-up on Battlestar Galactica. It doesn’t hurt that after a few so-so episodes, Ron Moore knocked this one out of the park.
Battlestar Galactica – 2×18 – Downloaded
An interesting episode in many ways, but one which raises more questions than it answers. Just how individual are the Cylons? I’d been assuming that what one Boomer knew, all Cylons (or all Boomers) would know as soon as she dies. For example, we have some evidence that Caprica!Boomer remembered the relationship with Tyrol. Here it’s far from clear that the Cylons are anything other than individuals who happen to look alike, and happen to live in a society that frowns on individualism. I’d like far more clarity on this issue as it’s fairly fundamental to the Cylons as a species. Why has Galactica!Boomer never been grilled on this topic?
The teaser is clever, especially the ‘original’ Boomer waking up in a cylon tank and being told she’s come home. Her terrified reaction is more than justified. After an evil fake-out which leads us to think for a moment that Baltar is a Cylon, the conceit that Caprica!Six sees Baltar in her head is very neat. I’m not sure how it can be objectively justified, although the idea does occur that maybe the nuclear explosion in the pilot did some mumbo-science that combined/imprinted their consciousnesses on one another. Either way it’s one of those storytelling devices that works superbly, so I hope they can offer some kind of plausible non-explanation down the line. I also appreciated Caprica!Six’s mixture of empathy and duplicity: while she appears to be on Sharon’s side, it’s clear that she’s more like Baltar than she knows, and driven entirely by enlighted self-interest.
I do like the idea that for the Cylons “celebrity”, and by extension individualism, are threatening. In terms of story it’s clear that we’re headed towards some kind of sea-change in Cylon culture, whether that be civil war or a more subtle development. I have some problems with the essential run-around simplicity of the plotting and the apparent imbecility of Caprica!Xena’s scheming, but overall it was pleasing enough. The other thing that really bugs me is that we only ever see human Cylon models (now termed “skin jobs” in a direct lift which acknowledges the debt to Blade Runner) who we have already seen. Are we really supposed to believe that of the twelve Cylon models Caprica is populated entirely by five or six models with not a single other type wandering into shot? I appreciate the production constraints but it really is ridiculous, assuming the writers don’t have a trick up their sleeves.
Battlestar Galactica – 2×19 – Lay Down Your Burdens, Part 1
I’ve spoken before about the excellence of this show’s pre-credits sequences. One of its most compelling attributes is the ability to layer events and music in such a way as to imbue them with great style and meaning; indeed, some of its more memorable sequences have been entirely wordless. Perhaps this also exposes one of its biggest flaws: set-up is easy, delivering on that set-up is hard. While Battlestar Galactica’s set-up and visuals are mostly stylish and compelling, the storytelling and content are much less consistent. It’s fine to produce great moments and sequences which resonate, but those moments often float like islands in a sea of bad plot contrivances. I’d far rather have those great moments form part of a continuous, logical, thoughtful story.
The opening of this episode is right up there my shortlist for Best Teaser Ever, alongside Kobol’s Last Gleaming. Not coincidentally, that episode was also the beginning of a season finale and was also penned by series creator Ron Moore. Moore’s self-penned scripts have been rare but are generally several notches above anything his staff seem capable of turning out (for example the Hugo-winning “33”). He’s capable of delivering a story in a way which feels seamlessly logical and character driven, even when this is plainly not the case. It’s a knack which reminds me of Joss Whedon.
This script is no exception. From the moment the episode starts we’re in a world which feels realistic, with characters who seem psychologically three-dimensional. It doesn’t matter that the decision to return to Caprica comes out of the blue, that the new planet arrives out of left field, that Sharon sticking a jack in her arm makes no sense, or even that the Chief has developed a dramatic psychological complex between episodes. It doesn’t matter that this is the kind of extemporising which has plagued the second half of the season, leaving it feeling patchy and illogical. Moore makes it all seem as natural as drawing breath.
A great example of why this works is Starbuck’s brief call to Galactica Actual, a brief and wry exchange which speaks volumes about the thought processes which led to the Caprica mission, and the relationship of the two individuals concerned. It’s this deftness at sketching in details which sets the episode apart. Likewise, Roslin and Adama’s pre-speech rituals are nicely understated (despite Mary McDonnell fluffing the giggles), Lee’s tiny moment in the briefing room establishes him firmly as Pegasus Captain despite minimal screen-time and no actual commanding, and Tyrol’s crisis of confidence seems real despite a total failure to show any build-up or fall-out.
In terms of content there’s a strong theme of the fleet’s hopes and fears. After nine months of struggle and fear the fleet has become increasingly angry and factionalised in recent weeks, and it begins to bear fruit here. Nothing could be scarier than the idea of constant, unending flight without the prospect of refuge, or even the insidious fear that no-one is what they appear to be. Nothing could be more tempting than the urge to put all that to one side. It’s a classic test of fortitude and courage to be tempted out in the wilderness by the promise of an easier life, one that reminds of everything from the Bible to the Odyssey. Roslin is peddling hope, but difficult, messy, pragmatic, uncertain hope; Baltar’s pipe dream of a safe refuge is a far more appealing kind of hope – the knowable, certain, comforting kind. It’s easy for him to paint Roslin’s realism as fear-mongering, and her religiosity as impractical. In this last issue I think he has a point, but Roslin’s point that the scriptures have proved to be practical is also valid.
Nice to see a guest spot from Dean Stockwell as Tyrol’s padre. He’s as likeable as ever, and noticeably less ‘mannered’ than I’ve often seen him. While Tyrol’s dilemma seems disconnected from the rest of the episode and indeed the previous episodes, it makes sense and is an obvious concern for the human fleet to have to deal with. It also gives Tyrol something useful to do for the first time since the Cain three-parter, which is always welcome. And of course thematically it sits very well in an episode which is about hopes and fears.
Looking back not a great deal happens here, and my opening thoughts still apply. This entire episode is set-up, albeit set-up of a more complex kind than we’ve seen of late. The real test will be next week, and possibly the start of season three, in seeing how well this set-up is paid off.
As an aside, Ron Moore talks a little about the lack of time to plan future storylines in his blog, here, and also acknowledges it as one factor in his dislike of a couple of the year’s episodes. I’m intrigued by this but can’t find more specifics, unless they’re in the podcasts.
I’ve been sorting through my old reviews, which are here: 1×01, 1×03, 1×04 & 1×05, Up to 1×11, 2×01, 2×02, 2×03, 2×04, 2×05, 2×06, 2×07, 2×08 to 2×10, 2×11, 2×12, 2×13, 2×14, 2×15, 2×16 and 2×17. There are spoilers.