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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Review: Battlestar Galactica Season 2 1 - 6

I was going to do this as an episode by episode review of the rest of the series as it comes out, but then I realised “bugger that, I don’t want too many weekly commitments that I’ll never meet” so I went for a half-season opinion piece instead. Overall I really enjoyed the first season of the new Battlestar Galactica, and its two part opening mini-series. It’s a dark, post-Babylon 5 and rather Space Above And Beyond influenced Sci-Fi TV show. It plays to my love of the hopeless, end of all things, we’re going to lose & die scenarios, especially when they’re continued as part of an ongoing piece of fiction. We’re now what I presume is about half-way through the second series (episode 7 is next).

Season 2 has continued the onslaught of punishment, both mental and physical, heaped upon the survivors of the human race. Season 1 left us with the Cylons having completed almost total genocide, with the Galactica fleet as the sum total of humanity’s sorry remains (with the exception of the man on Caprica, obviously). The perverse mental torture & psychological experimentation at the hands of the human-looking Cylons gave things an added edge and just increased the nightmare the survivors were living in. Which was all good stuff, dark and full of death and the continued possibility that anyone could be a Cylon as even we viewers (who did know more than the crew) clearly don’t know anywhere near everything.

For Season 2 we’ve continued the loss of human and human-Cylon life, as well as tormenting various main cast members in new and exciting levels. The assumed control of the fleet by the military after imprisoning the president for her actions in sending Starbuck off to Caprica (against orders) has been particularly good. Who do we, the viewer, root for? We know their survival depends on them all working together, we know military control is a very, very bad idea indeed and unsustainable without resorting to real levels of oppression (at least I hope, no matter what side of the political spectrum the viewer falls on, that the real world has taught us all that much). We know democracy has to continue, we know democracy ruins military operations like the minor matter of keeping the remains of humanity alive, we know the President did wrong and we know the military has a very valid problem with her actions. It’s a nicely presented grey situation, and top marks to the writers for pulling it off.

The problem is perhaps the fault of TV as a medium. We’re pretty certain that the President shouldn’t be locked away for good and so on, but we’re not entirely sure why. If they just elect a new one, what harm has really been done? She endangered the lives of the civilians (by reducing the pilot strength) and asked a soldier to disobey perfectly decent orders. TV, however, has taught us to assume that the President, as a lead character without any obvious malicious intentions, has got to remain. I think the situation they’re in was always going to be a “whatever decisions are eventually made, everybody loses” one, but it’s really strengthened by our expectations of TV shows, not the story by itself.

I do have two actual problems with season 2, rather than the above which is just a concern (I don’t sit there watching each episode and worry about TV conventions damaging that situation, I just think of it afterwards and shrug a bit). The first is the emergence of the religious aspect. I’m an atheist and this very likely colours my opinions here, but I felt the part of religion in the show was not sufficiently built up. It all arrived a little too quickly. There were occasional mentions of it during the mini-series and first few episodes of season 1, but no real indication of the apparently serious role it plays in their society. The female Cylon has always banged on about it (er, no pun intended), but they’re so separate from the humans they resemble that I don’t find that a valid build up for the human side. Certainly nothing was established that might explain why a previously sane character would endanger possibly the last 50,000 members of the human race on a sudden increase in religious conviction.

So yes, I think the religious fundamentalism of the President, whilst a valid and potentially very interesting part of the story, was not built up credibly. Despite my own lack of belief, I do enjoy plenty of fiction makes use of religion, often to similar extremes and produces an excellent story out of it. Here though I find myself unable to fit the President’s messiah complex and the blind following of half the fleet into what’s come before in the Battlestar Galactica universe. She comes across less as someone caught up in her beliefs (which may be bang on) and more like a crazy person.

My second problem with season 2 is Starbuck. Now c’mon, did anyone really want to see our favourite cigar smoking, ass kicking, arrogant star pilot humanised to such an insane extent? It’s one thing to have some sexual tension between her and Apollo, and for her to have one night stands in the same way that a male pilot of a similar personality would. That works, as probably would a relationship with Apollo. It’s another thing to turn her into a weepy, falls-in-love in a James T. Kirk fashion with resistance fighter leader on Caprica, traditional TV woman. That doesn’t work, at least not for Starbuck. Sure, it’s a swing from one stereotype to the other, but they’re at opposite ends of the spectrum. It’s not been subtle and it doesn’t read like an expansion/progression of the character by the writers, it reads like they sat down and said “shit, we need to make Starbuck more human” and just flicked a switch one episode. The old Starbuck was fun to watch throughout season 1, the new Starbuck has not been during season 2. Bah.

Posted by Alex Hopkinson @ 2:42 PM


At 8:55 AM, August 31, 2005, Anonymous said...

Hey Al, glad to see The Word up again. You're kinda early for a half-season review, Season 2 is 20 episodes. Not a bad thing though, and I agree with you about the Starbuck thing. The relationship with the rebel-guy seemed a bit rushed. And about last week's episode (Aug. 26 (Home pt2)): did the whole "we're on Earth, and now we're not" thing seem a bit strange to you too?

At 8:55 AM, August 31, 2005, Gouf_Custom said...

Hey Al, glad to see The Word up again. You're kinda early for a half-season review, Season 2 is 20 episodes. Not a bad thing though, and I agree with you about the Starbuck thing. The relationship with the rebel-guy seemed a bit rushed. And about last week's episode (Aug. 26 (Home pt2)): did the whole "we're on Earth, and now we're not" thing seem a bit strange to you too?

At 8:58 AM, August 31, 2005, gouf_custom said...

sorry about the double post

At 9:44 AM, September 01, 2005, Alex Hopkinson said...

Heh, thanks - and no worries, I'm too lazy to clean it up!

I didn't know about the length of season 2 actually as researching these kind of things requires effort... Good though, the more the merrier. I suppose that explains why things aren't moving quite as fast and frantically as they did in the first season.

And yeah, I was somewhat baffled by that section at the end of last week's episode. I think I'm going to have to watch it again, because they seemed to say they were on Earth (which did seem odd as I didn't think they'd slap "super teleporters" into the show) and then suddenly everyone's back on the ship enjoying a speech.

At 12:47 AM, September 05, 2005, Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'm thinking it's most likely just a projection or something like that. Either way they probably won't go back or explain it.


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