Monday, April 7, 2008

Battlestar returns

So I missed the season premier of Battlestar Galactica on Friday night (we were at a dance performance at Texas State--the experience clarified the understanding that we enjoy jazz dance quite a bit, modern dance not so much). Since Galactica jumped the tracks so badly last season, and showrunner Ron Moore's comments in the interim seem to indicate that he doesn't grasp this simple fact, I've not held out much hope of the series "sticking the landing," as it were, in this final season. As I sat down last night to finish up the latest installment of "Memory," my brother calls from the living room that Galactica is coming on. Well, crap. Like the siren songs of old, I can't help but abandon my best-laid plans and flit in there like a moth to the flame.

So, did it suck? Did it not suck? That's hard to say. There was no spectacularly obvious mid-course correction to the series that makes everything awesome again. Neither was there anything as awful as that "Along the Watchtower" singalong last season. Mainly, things remained status quo, which isn't a good thing.

Apollo remains a spineless wuss. Last season, after resigning his commission in a pissy fit, he backtracked and hopped in a Viper five minutes later when the Cylons attacked. Way to stick with your convictions, dude. Now, in the newest episode, Papa Adama gets all mushy and offers him his commission back. Because Adama's all about bending the rules, you know. Apollo rejects this offer, instead deciding to enter the civil service, where he can do more good. You know, at least until he hops into another Viper the next time the Cylons attack. Throughout the series, Apollo has been the most ill-written, inconsistent character bar none, and that doesn't look to change any time soon.

The so-called "Final Five" Cylons (minus one) had another group hug, declared to each other that they'd never do anything to harm the Galactica and that they were loyal to humans. Yet if they're so loyal, why did none of them suggest they turn themselves in? After all, Boomer eventually made out okay with that "proof of loyalty" gambit. Instead, they opt for a cover-up. And really, the whole Final Five thread has half-assed written all over it. Between seasons 2 and 3 Ron Moore gave an interview stating that all the active Cylon models had been revealed, that the remaining five had been "Boxed," and we'd see another of the models Boxed in season 3. This happened with the Lucy Lawless character, but apparently Moore abandoned those other plans and retroactively made characters into Cylons who make no sense. Tigh? Tyrol? Gimme a break. This is absolutely a third-season contrivance. The only way this would make sense in the narrative continuity is if the Cylons are, top to bottom, batshit crazy insane. It actually hurts my brain to think how the writers are going to contort storylines to retroactively shoehorn this nonsense into the characters' backgrounds. The only "out" I can think of is that during the occupation of New Caprica the Cylons took each into custody and did some heavy-duty brainwashing to implant this stuff into their heads. Because the alternative is just too dumb to fathom.

Starbuck. Oh, Starbuck, what are we going to do with you? People view you with suspicion, so that gives you leave to beat the crap out of your security detail, husband and hold the President at gunpoint. Nice. What ticks me off about the whole Starbuck subplot is something that's bothered me about the third season as a whole--everything is either/or. The early seasons were all about shades of gray, with no answer being acceptable or right, but the characters tried to choose the one that was least bad. Now, as Adama and Apollo's conversation showed, we're reduced to two choices: She's either a Cylon or she's telling the truth, ignoring a host of obvious alternatives people in power should seriously consider. Leave it to Starbuck herself to think of them: She's a clone derived from her time in captivity on Caprica, or she is Starbuck, but was captured and manipulated by the Cylons in the months she'd been missing. This is good. What's not good is that Starbuck immediately dismisses these possibilities and gets all violent, which is exactly what a Cylon or Cylon agent would be expected to do. Idiot plot alert! The ensuing confrontation is coming about solely because everyone with the power to avert it is acting like idiots. Sheesh. This used to not be the case with the show.

Finally, we come to Baltar. I actually don't have a problem with the character, since unlike Apollo, he's been written consistently as a self-centered genius with a tremendously inflated sense of self-importance from day one. But the whole religious cult thing has gotten too heavy-handed. The monotheistic/polytheistic conflict served as a nicely textured backdrop for the Cylon/human conflict, and that's where it belonged. Moving that element to the forefront, with Baltar as some sort of prophet, exposes the fact that these are both shell religions. There are no tenets, no actual beliefs of spiritual paths or anything associated with actual living religions shown on Galactica beyond maybe lighting some incense on occasion (and I'm even sure about that, to be honest). They're make-believe, and if the show is going to make the viewer believe that these people on either side believe passionately enough about their God/Gods to fight and die over them, then by golly those beliefs have to be shown as real, not just some lip-service to off-camera happenings. I actually played around with a story pitch/novel tie-in idea addressing this issue head-on to a degree a year or so back, but then season 4 was announced as the finale and the whole exercise seemed rather pointless. Suffice to say that my brilliant idea introduced a powerfully atheistic viewpoint to the equation. But that's neither here nor there.

I wish with all my heart they'd address the Cylon in Baltar's head already. Farscape did the concept first, and did it much better. It didn't drag out as long, either.

I've decided to stick with Galactica throughout the rest of the run. I've been here this long, so why stop now? Recently, Ron Moore said the entire fourth season had been plotted out more than a year ago, but during the writers' strike he had time to think and "came up with something better." Huh. We'll see. Hopefully, he rewatched the first two seasons and realized why the show was so much better then--more drama, less soap. I tell folks the show "jumped the shark" with the destruction of the Pegasus. Not that the destruction of the second Battlestar was in and of itself a bad move, but rather the show went downhill from there in startling fashion.

The characters' universe seems to have contracted rather than expand. It's somehow become a smaller show, more insular. Case in point: President Laura Roslin no longer keeps a running tab of the surviving human population. Think about that for a minute, and the differences it symbolizes between the first season and where we are now.

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