Saturday, October 07, 2006

Battlestar has Jumped. Yeah, I Said It!

Last night saw the return of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica - formerly the best show on television. Unfortunately, it seems to have jumped the shark last year. Halfway though the second seaason it went on hiatus, and when it returned everything was crappy. Very little warning for this (though I note a couple in the link above). Probably it has something to do with relaxed supervision by Ron Moore, who took a more active role right at the end to try to get the show back on track. The season two cliffhanger went a great deal further than these things generally do - which is a huge gamble. If they can pull it off, then the second half of season two can be comfortably buried and forgotten. If they don't, though, there will be nothing left for them to build on.

Last night we got a first look at how they're doing. The first two episodes of season three (shown as a single episode) - Occupation and Precipice - aired. My overall impression? There's some potential here, but we're a long long way from out of the woods, and I frankly doubt, at this point, that they're going to pull it off.

First the good stuff:

  • The subplot with Loeben and Kara is very interesting - It's nice to see Loeben Conoy back. He was always one of the more interesting of the Cylons (I'm not a fan of Sharon-as-Cylon or D'Anna Biers. Sharon is too weak, and D'Anna doesn't seem to have much of a function.) Better still, the mind game he's playing with Kara is genuinely creepy AND relevant to the (still largely undisclosed) Cylon "plot." This is the series as I remember it from the good ol' early days!

  • They're doing good stuff with Baltar again - Baltar was always one of the stronger characters - and indeed, was the character from the old series that needed "reimagining" the most. The 1970s-series Baltar simply didn't make any sense - a typical cookie cutter badguy. This Baltar is sympathetic and psychologically completely convincing. Only, during season two, like with so many other characters, the writers began sacrificing consistency for convenience. A lot of what happend just prior to and during the presidential election didn't really fit. But with this episode we're back on track - back to the tortured child with growing doubts about what he's gotten himself into.

  • Dean Stockwell is doing a great job as Number One - or is he really Number One? We don't know, but he seems to be the top dog. In any case, this character is really interesting, and Dean Stockwell plays him perfectly.

  • The cliffhanger works - we're honestly curious what happens to President Roslin, and what comes of Cally knowing that Jammer is in the police.

Unfortunately, there was probably more to hate than to like.

  • Tyrol and Gaeta's relationship is unrealistic - It should be obvious to everyone that Gaeta is playing a vital role in the resistance. Tyrol losing his temper with him and calling him a collaborator (he works as a mole in the President's office) is just dumb writing. Tyrol isn't that kind of man, and Gaeta hasn't done anything to deserve it. It smacks of season 2.5. There's an interesting story that they want to tell - that of the stiff-upper-lip sacrifice, the person who does what has to be done even though he is misperceived as a traitor - but unfortunately there's no place to work it in, so they work it in anyway. It's annoying to see this kind of slopppy "wishful-thinking" storytelling still around. Very much like the Black Market episode, where there's a decent story to tell, but casting Apollo in the middle of its events simply doesn't work because Apollo ain't that kind of guy. More than that, as a personal aside, I really like Gaeta. He's probably my favorite character on the show - so it's twice as annoying when they play fast and loose with things involving him.

  • Apollo is fat This sucks on so many levels. First, it's counter to character. The developments in Apollo's life make no sense. The Lee we're seeing here simply isn't the same angry hero that they started with. Second, it's unrealistic. On the run and planning a rescue operation isn't the time when people just go soft for no reason. Third - even if the circumstances were different, we're given no background anyway. COMPLETE character development copout on this one! Fourth, the timeframe is inadequate. Lee couldn't have gained that much weight in four months - or, if he did, he would hardly need other people to force him to confront the fact that he's "going soft" (and Adama wouldn't have waited this long to have it out with him). Fifth, no story purpose that I can tell is served by any of this.

  • The Cylon occupation makes no sense - we're given no motivation for this sudden change of heart on the part of the Cylons. Originally they were trying to wipe humanity out, then they weren't, and now they wanna be friends and get along, and somehow they think a repressive reign of terror will get that accomplished? Now - all of that I could maybe buy (it's paralleled in human history by Japan's occupation of Korea in some ways after all). But the main motivation for the Cylons not simply wiping out what's left of humanity - this "plan" that they supposedly have (that seems to involve breeding with humans) - is nowhere to be seen. They don't seem to be doing anything. Just sort of hangin' out, really. ARGGGHHHH!

  • Choosing Sharon to be the liason is dumb - With all the qualified people on the Galactica and Pegasus, Adama picks Cylon-Sharon to rendezvous with the resistance on New Caprica? REALLY??? It stretches credulity in the first place. Sharon shot Adama, and he's long been the most vocal proponent of just offing her. He's shown a capacity for this kind of forgiveness before - so it's not totally implausible - but I think we the viewers would like to see that development. Here, we're asked to just accept it. More than that, though - even if Adama has had a great turnaround on the issue of what to do with Sharon, it's a dumb choice from a military point of view. There's too much at risk and too many obvious objections from everyone else. More to the point, there's no answer for those objections! Helo or Dee would have done just as well - why not one of them? Also, it's hard to imagine that the resistance on the ground simply accepts this. And yet, they do - without even a single mention of the fact that the choice of Sharon as liason might indicate a Cylon trap? The whole thing is ridiculous.

  • Tigh smokes - which he's never done before, but now we never see him without a cigarette? Isn't drinking his vice? What's up with this? What's it supposed to mean? He took up smoking because he quit drinking? Seems to me like they're throwing out all the cool anti-PC cred they built up with Dr. Coddle out the window (speaking of whom, just where the hell is Dr. Coddle anyway?)

  • The idea of a resistance is dumb - which isn't to say people wouldn't do it, but I doubt they'd really be this stupid about it. A race fighting for its survival doesn't use suicide bombers to kill its own people, even if they are traitors! Nor does it waste scarce supplies "sending a message." What would defeating the Cylon occupation really mean, actually? Not worth speculating on, because it's simply impossible. There are endless copies of Cylons. If the rebels get out of hand, presumably what happens is everyone gets rounded up and carted to lots of other planets in much smaller groups where this "plan," whatever it is, is carried out. Such an open resisitence is self-defeating, in other words, and we really have to ask why Tigh and Tyrol don't know that?

  • Jammer is another "old friend born yesterday" - this technique is getting really old. Jammer has never been a major part of any story before, and yet somehow we're supposed to feel torn over his decision to join the police? This character we've never met (outside of an exchange with Cally early on about it being "everyone for himself" that makes him unsympathetic anyway)? Please.

  • The police carry out their orders REALLY?

  • Number Five doesn't need Baltar's signature on the detention order, just like Baltar says - or, if he does, Gaeta should know that Baltar didn't have a choice but to sign. Gaeta of ALL people - who is playing a somewhat comparable role to Baltar. But I don't even think the signature is necessary to begin with. The Colonials already unconditionally surrendered. Why go through all the formalities? Just so we can have a cool scene with the internal Number Six again? What happens if Baltar refuses? Do they shoot him? What about their signature then?

  • Number Five shoots Number Six moments after we're told that there is a kind of stigma on "Caprica Six" for having committed the first act of Cylon-on-Cylon violence - so, what, now it's OK? One Cylon kills another (they resurrect, of course), and so now they all can? Just for show? Maaayybbbeee - but that scene felt gratuitous.

  • The War on Terror references are too thick - the whole colonial suicide-bombing thing is a bit too obvious, and it's annoying as well becuase it feels like an insult to our intelligence. Most smart people realize that there's no point in waging a war on a tactic; President Bush should just call it what it is, a "War on Islamofascism." So being preached to in this way seems condescending. I will admit, though, that I like the "Israelis as Palestinians" angle.

So despite a handful of Cool Things, generally speaking the show is no better than it was at the end of Season Two. I think it's now safe to say without reservation that Galactica jumped the shark and isn't ever going to be what it was. Which isn't to say I won't keep watching it. I care, I hate to admit, what happens with the Kara/Loeben arc. But honestly, I guess it's because I'm not quite ready to give up on it yet, even though I know it's almost certainly pointless. The first season and at least a third of the second season were just too good. With some of the same people still floating around on the writing staff, it's hard to just call it a day and leave it at that. And so goes more of that scarce resource they call time...


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