Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Battlestar Galactica: 'Kobol's Last Gleaming' (1x12 and 1x13)

I did a post on the whole end of season one, picking up from my review of the first four episodes, but blogger was down and it was lost. So, I'm going to bring back the stuff on just the season finale, because in covering that, I can cover most of the major stuff that occurred.

Following the first four episodes, I was feeling that the series wasn't quite as strong as the miniseries that started everything off. The show was good, but it was falling a bit too much into pretty clean standalones, where the characters would go through some kind of trauma and emerge out the other side having learned a lesson or solved a problem. As the season went on, things became more complex, and the most interesting element of the show came to the fore, the cylons. There have been plenty of stories told about politics and war, but very few of those have the philosophical complexity of battling synthetic humans. The best episodes of the season were the ones that explicitly dealt with the issues surrounding the cylons.

The season finale is an episode that takes the series to a whole new level. I love the overture like opening of the two parter, which quickly throws us into a bunch of different plot lines, culminating in the wonderful moment where Starbuck calls Baltar Lee. I've grown to like the vast majority of the characters of the show, but Lee is still pretty much a non-entity, the Riley of the show, so that moment isn't that interesting from a Lee/Starbuck shipper perspective, but more from what it does to Baltar's ego.

Throughout the season, Baltar and Six's bizarre interactions have been simultaneously the funniest and most philosophically challenging aspect of the show. In this finale, we finally get the sense of Baltar's ultimate role in everything. Having stumbled into the vice presidency, he finds himself increasingly bullied by Six, who is manuvering him according to her agenda.

Once Baltar crashes on the planet, we get one of the best sequences in the show's run, in which Six shows Baltar around the temple. This sequence reminded me of classic X-Files mythology episodes, where you get the sense of something huge going down, just total awe at the proceedings. It also has the paradoxical fact that even though the moment feels relevatory, we actually don't learn that much. However, the circling shot of Baltar and Six kissing is such a fantastic visual, the emotion of the moment sells it.

From what I could tell, it seems like the cylons want Baltar to be the caretaker of their new generation of hybrid children. Presumably, he will care for the child of Sharon from the planet, should she make it back to the Galactica. Of course, it would take a lot of coincidences for the cylons to know that Baltar would come across her, however, I suppose they knew that at some point the hybrid would come about and Baltar would be the most knowledgable about things.

The other classic X-Files mythology moment was Sharon's journey into the ship. This is what I'd been waiting for all season, there's been some great work with Sharon, particularly in contrasting the two different versions of her. This was most notable in the scene where Galactica Sharon is wiping the word Cylon off a mirror, while Planet Sharon is having sex with Helo. Here, Galactica Sharon finally learns what she's apparently suspected for a while, she's a cylon. This sequence was brilliantly pulled off, because you're expecting one of two results. Either, Sharon will walk off the ship, rejoin the cylons and kill her copilot, or she'll come out a hero, keeping her cylon nature a secret.

So, I figured she would go into the new season conflicted about her cylon status, even as she continues to serve on the Galactica. But no, they dropped a ridiculous twist and had Sharon shoot Adama. This worked wonderfully because it came right at the moment where you're feeling that everything's safe, and sends you into the new season with every single plotline in chaos. Not since the first season of Twin Peaks has a series dropped this many cliffhangers.

Another arc I've been enjoying is Roslin's gradual transition into strong religious believer. This is great because it puts the conflict back into her relationship with Adama. She's aware that they don't know the way to Earth, but her faith is trumping Adama's logic. There's a basic philosophical schism between the two of them and exploiting that for story material is great. Roslin is definitely walking the line of faith and insanity in her decision to send Starbuck off to Caprica. Ever since her encounter with the cylon from her dream she's been a much more interesting character. Having her thrown in prison puts everything in chaos for the next season.

Following from that, I loved Starbuck's indignation when Adama tells her they don't know the way to Earth. That throws into question everything she'd believed, and sends her off to Caprica against orders. The fight between her and Six was great. The series seems to be drawing parallels between this civilization and the ancient Greeks, never more so than in this duel at the Delphi Museum. It looks like Starbuck may be spending at least a few more episodes on Caprica, since that Cylon ship only has room for one.

And that leads into one of my favorite plot strands from the first season, Helo's experience on Caprica. This subplot is interesting because it's where we've gotten the most insight into the cylons. Sharon seems to be a later, more developed model, and Six is clearly jealous of her ability to get Helo to love her. She seemed to have a similar relationship with Gaius, but there was always a distance between them, unlike the complete selfless devotion Helo has for Sharon.

The revelation that Sharon is pregnant raises a lot of questions about the line between cylons and humans. Clearly, their ultimate plan is to create a cylon/human hybrid race. They seem to be jealous of the humans' ability to feel emotion, feeling that it somehow makes them closer to the Gods. The cylons are motivated almost exclusively by this extreme religious fervor, and they apparently believe that the hybrid race is the ultimate destiny of their people. What's curious is why they would eradicate all of human society if they wanted to start this hybrid race. It's possible that they have some vast prison holding humans to use in the creation of the hybrids.

The pregnant Sharon would challenge the way humans perceive cylons. The definition of a species is that they can reproduce with each other and produce viable offspring, so if the cylons could reproduce with humans, the line is gone between the two species.

Even so, this leaves a lot of questions about what the cylons want. Would they want to reconcile with the humans if given the chance, or are they still committed to eradicating human society? There's certainly a lot of interesting stuff to cover in the next season, the political side of the show is becoming much more interesting, and the cylon stuff is always fascinating.

That's one of the most interesting things about the show, the sheer variety of what's going on. You've got pieces of Star Wars, The West Wing, The X-Files and Blade Runner in there, all co-existing. It's a scope that's nearly unparalleled, and the effects work on this show is better than nearly all movies, let alone TV shows. T

his is the sort of show that would traditionally be hailed for being "more like a movie than a TV show," but in actuality, it's another example of the way that longform television storytelling is redifining the craft of film itself. I'd already seen TV make mob movies irrelevant with The Sopranos, family drama movies look completely unambitious with Six Feet Under, and superhero films painfully simple with Buffy, and now's a show that makes the vast majority of science fiction movies look pathetically pedestrian.

I still love movies, but watching these grand, ambitious shows with their gradually developing character arcs and narrative revelation has made it difficult for me to even enjoy the traditional three act Hollywood film. Those characters feel so constructed and unrealistic next to the complexities of someone like Sharon here. And what this show adds is effects work that's better than nearly any film out there. I think when people look back on the late 90s and early 00s, this era of television is going to be comprable to the 1970s in film, when content restrictions were loosened, and creative people got the chance to be bold, experimental and change the nature of the medium. Let's just hope that TV keeps the doors open for auteurs well into the future.

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