Saturday, November 18, 2006

Wow, that was Terrible!

I don't really know why I continue to watch Battlestar Galactica. Last night's episode was all ways horrible.

  • Cliche city. Let's see if we can name any other military series in which a subordinate screwed over by a controversial command decision and presumed dead shows up again randomly years later to haunt the person who made the decision? How bout I go with....ALL of them. I guess this episode was inevitable. And, honestly, there's nothing wrong with rehashing cool old plots. People are people, and we like the stories we like for a reason. If it worked once, it'll work again. But it's classier if you take a new twist on it somehow, and this one just doesn't. What's worse, it suffers from all kinds of fake emotion. Adama is supposedly distressed by his decision to shoot down Bulldog's viper, but come now, was it really that hard to make? He was under direct orders. It was one of the foreseen contingencies. He would have prepared himself for it mentally, and it's simply unrealistic that he doesn't blame his superiors at all for having ordered them on the mission in the first place. I think the worst part about it, though, is the use of "uniforms" to "mean things." How obnoxious. We're supposed to pay attention to when Adama's wearing his dress uniform and when not, we're meant to notice that Tigh puts on his uniform again for the first time in months to go save Adama from Bulldog (never mind that when you're rushing off to save someone's life you don't generally waste time putting on a uniform when your civies will do just fine), and the gag-me-with-a-spoon worst moment on TV this year comes when Adama hands Bulldog his uniform just as he's boarding the plane to go to the psych ward. I really hope the actors had a good snicker over that one when they called cut!

  • Gaping plot chasms. A person shows up on a random Cylon raider which is being chased by only two other Cylon raiders, and Kara Thrace is the only one who thinks to check for a trap? And she finds it just by noticing that the two raiders in pursuit are deliberately missing the one they're firing on? I mean, geez - these are machine-people we're talking about, these Cylons! Can't they put on a more convincing show? Better yet, why are they even bothering with this television cliche in the first place? Don't they watch colonial TV? Hell, don't the other Colonials watch colonial TV? Wouldn't they have been better off firing a couple of damaging shots and then letting Bulldog just "escape" so that by the time he found Galactica there wouldn't be anyone on his tail missing worse than COBRA troops in GI Joe to tip Starbuck of that ohmigod this might just maybe be a setup? Speaking of which - the real bombshell. How does a prisoner "escaping" from a Cylon prison (a) learn how to fly a raider (remember, it took Kara - the World's Best Viper Pilot - several hours to get the hang of it in You Can't Go Home Again) and (b) locate the Galactica?????? More to the point, if the Cylons have known all along where Galactica is, then why are there any humans left alive in the universe at all? Oh, and nice touch about Dr. Cottle knowing that Bulldog isn't a Cylon from a simple DNA test, guys! That must've been why Baltar's first assignment from the president was to develop a Cylon-detection test, why it took him several episodes to develop it, why we were explicitly told that it takes a lot of time to test someone, why Baltar himself didn't seem too sure it worked (he let Sharon off the hook after all, right?), why development of this test was so important that President Roslin and Adama even gave Baltar a nuclear warhead for his experiments after his highly implausible explanation for why he "needed" it. All this happened because Dr. Cottle has been able all this time to just administer routine DNA tests and verify that people aren't Cylons?

  • The premise of the whole series is inconsistent now. Thanks, guys! So the "instaburden" that we're supposed to just buy that one of the characters had been shouldering since the series began with no previous outward signs is that Adama thinks he might be responsible for the Cylon attack on the Colonies. And why? Well, because he commanded a mission that sent a viper just inside Cylon space to spy on them a bit. Never mind that this mission is itself hugely implausible. Why couldn't they just send a probe? More to the point, wouldn't they have sent a probe before bothering with the manned flight? And wouldn't that probe have warned them that the Cylons appear out of nowhere when you so much as cross into their space? Why isn't it enough to just set up outposts on the Colonial side of the border? Come to think of it, why aren't there outposts set up all along the Colonial side of the border? Since when is there even a "border" to begin with? I seem to remember something in the pilot miniseries about the Cylons just leaving. No one knew where they went. There's a kind of Panmunjeom (in the form of Armistice Station), but no DMZ. The real clincher, though - if the Colonials sent a spy mission into Cylon space which the Cylons detected (this ep makes clear that they did) and Adama had to shoot down Bulldog's ship to prevent his capture, then what's up with the general disarming fever going on in the pilot episode? In other words, if key members of the military are still convinced that the Cylons are a threat, then why is Galactica being decomissioned, why is Adama a "relic," why is the military being downsized, etc. etc. etc.??? It's horribly inconsistent. Granted, this does buy us some explanation for why Adama, of all people, remains convinced that a Cylon attack could come at any time (and without warning). And it adds a dimension to his decomissioning speech about how you can't just ignore your past mistakes. We all thought he was talking about the failed relationship with his estranged son - it's kinda cool to find out that there was, in fact, a triple meaning to that bit. But of course, that's just a pipe dream because we all know good and well that this mission never existed until last month when the writers pulled it out of their asses.

I, for one, thought it was much, much cooler when we just didn't know why the Cylons attacked humanity. And I guess I have to admit that doing it because of a random raid is kind of a neat idea in a way. The reasoning is this: the Cylons would have attacked eventually anyway. It's clear to everyone (except Adama) that one stupid mission across the border isn't enough to justify genocide to anyone who wasn't already planning genocide. (It's hugely implausible that the otherwise level-headed Adama actually loses sleep over this, actually. Not to mention - we could add to our list of inconsistencies the fact that he once directly asked Sharon why the Cylons attacked. I guess it's plausible he wanted to confirm for himself that it had nothing to do with this aborted spy run - but the point is that Sharon doesn't mention the spy run in her answer.) But it is kinda cool that they would have waited until humanity gave them an "excuse" - once again emphasizing that there's a weird psycho-games dimension to this from their side, and also that they're ultimately machines. They have infinite patience. Of course, they have no way of knowing that anyone involved in the original spy mission will survive their genoicide to stick around for the mind games they're playing in this episode...

Previous paragraph aside, I just don't buy this. It's better thematically for the attack to be completely unprovoked, in every way inexplicable. In fact, that really spoke to me early in the series. Ron Moore makes no bones about this being a series in part about 9/11 and the aftermath - and that really echoed my own sentiment on 9/11. It's pointless to try to explain it. In fact, I once again completely agree with Roslin when she tells Adama that the real reason the Cylons attacked was "a thousand things we did, some of them good, some of them bad." She adds a line that echoes things I have also said: that the reason people cling to fantasies that some single obscure thing "we" did explains the Cylon attack (read: 9/11; read: the North Korean nuclear program) is because it gives them the illusion of control over the universe. In reality, we don't have control. That doesn't mean we're not responsible for our mistakes, but it does mean that we shouldn't be ever-ready to blow the consequences of minor actions out of proportion. It's interesting to me that I find myself liking Laura Roslin more and more each episode (a character who initially annoyed me a bit, though to my credit I always stopped short of joining my other Galactica-watching friends (there were about three during the first season - now I'm the only one left) when they harped on her), even as I start to actively hate the series itself. She and Baltar are the two characters who have really survived intact. And I guess Caprica Six and Gaeta to a lesser degree (though I admit Gaeta might be wishful thinking on my part: I really like that character).

Well, fine. There's no solid indication that the Mission From Adama's Past had anything to do with the Cylon attack - even as one of Roslin's "thousand reasons." And Roslin's level-headedness is once again the one bright point in an otherwise dismal episode. Well, actually maybe there were two. Number Three's recurring dream is not bad - especially the fact that the recurring element is the words "End of the Line" written on a door. "End of the line" is something the hybrid says a lot - and dreams in general have been effectively used in this series (as a subtle reminder to the audience that although this series is pretty straight-ahead military most of the time, there are mystical elements buried just below the surface. In particular, the fact that Brother Cavil knows Tyrol has been dreaming - despite Tyrol's denial - in Lay Down Your Burdens, pt. 1 is an effective use of this technique - as is Roslin's foreknowledge that she would meet and kill one of the Loebens.). But otherwise this is yet another cliched continuity-killer that the writers should've gotten off their chests in season 2.5. More proof that jumped is jumped.

Ron Moore says in an interview with Harlan Ellison that he thinks there are 2 more seasons worth of material left. I think that's only true if you drag your feet as they obviously are now. If Ron Moore has an overall plan for where this sinking ship is going, he needs to actually execute it already and quit wasting our time by raiding the pulps for tired old stories which he pointedly fails to improve upon. These little diversions are doing damage to the thematic and logistic continuity of the series - a series that in itself is damn good.

I think it's ironic, really. The general consensus on the 1970s show was that it was a great idea wasted on a stunningly bad execution. I think that's exactly right. Old Battlestar is sometimes fun to watch, but mostly you just wince in pain at the cheesy, stock dialogue, the flat characters, and the gaping plot holes. But the core idea is damned interesting: humanity on the run after a near brush with genocide. The killers are machine-creatures of unknown motive. It has endless potential to be interesting. Too bad Glen Larson is a gasbag.

When Ronald D. Moore got the helm there was much rejoicing. Here was one of the people who made Star Trek the Next Generation intersting. A proven good writer - he would know what to do with Galactica! In the interview linked (twice, actually) earlier, Moore says pretty much what I just said: that Galactica was a great idea done poorly (man, was it ever!); it deserved a second chance. He said the basis of his show was to take the same idea only take it seriously this time. And that's what we got for the first 24 episodes. In fact, he even improved on the original idea. The Cylons are now humanity's creations - not some random alien bullies who show up out of nowhere. They want to be human - which is certainly more interesting philosophically than the race of unthinking robots we got in the other show. And best of all - their plan to destroy humanity isn't a half-assed bait-n-switch that any credible military would've seen coming a mile away. I can actually believe in an overwhelming nuclear sneak attack based on insider intelligence provided by human-doppelgangers as a plausible genocide. Best of all, they've got religion. How cool is that?

So what happened? Don't know. But as I've said before - I think it's a general lack of foreplanning. The X-Files disease. If you're going to present a show as planned, then damnit you'd better take the time to really plan it. You can cram for one test, but you can't keep cramming week after week. The cracks start to show.

They've rarely been as visible as they were last night.


At 8:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more. Every episode since Resurrection Ship has just continued to demonstrate they have no idea what they're doing. Your list of unexplainable questions is a perfect demonstration.

I've started watching it just to laugh at it, and it's a lot more fun that way. Just accept that the great show it used to be is gone forever and isn't coming back, and it gets a lot easier to find it humorous instead of depressing.

At 5:43 PM, Blogger Joshua said...

Right - just after Resurrection Ship is where it tanked.

I was thinking of not watching it at all anymore, after the ep covered here. I was without cable last week - but this week maybe I'll take your suggestion and just watch it for comedy. It's clear in any case that - as you say - "the great show it used to be is gone forever..."


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