Friday, December 15, 2006

Battlestar Galactica - 'The Eye of Jupier' (3x11)

This was a great start to a story, but it's very difficult to evaluate it without any resolution, and this episode gave us nothing in the way of that, just a whole bunch of cliffhangers. The episode is definitely an improvement over the past few, but still pales in comparison to the season opening New Caprica arc.

Watching this season has seen a nearly week to week reversal of my opinion about the series. Towards the end of season two, the show was really drifting and it was only the back to back combo of Downloaded and the fantastic season ending cliffhanger that kept me with it. However, this year's season premiere completely bowled me over. The next two didn't stop, I'd consider Exodus II the best episode the show's ever done. So, where do they go from there? Sadly, it's been something of a retreat to conservatism, exactly what I feared after watching Collaborators. With the exception of the wonderfullly evocative Torn, there's been very little that couldn't have happened in seasons one or two. The resolution of Torn was good, but nowhere near what it could have been, and Hero was another weak episode. I did enjoy Unfinished Business, but last week's episode was one of the weakest the series has ever done. Into this schizophrenic season, we get a midseason finale that's good, but left me wanting more. I suppose that's what a cliffhanger is supposed to do, it's just that this was more me wanting more because very little actually happened, rather than wanting to see the resolution of what did happen.

The basic structure of the episode reminds me of a classic X-Files mythology episode, in which Mulder and Scully would race against the government to find some object that is the "key to everything," inevitably resulting in a standoff that's resolved after the cliffhanger, at which point the object is promptly forgotten and everyone moves on. The Eye of Jupiter is a basic macguffin, setting up the conflict between the cylons and the humans, even though we're never clear exactly what it's role in the overall scheme of things is, or even what the actual object is. Basically, it's there and everyone wants it. That's all we need to know.

There is a lot of interesting stuff in the episode, and if they deliver on what's been set up, this could be one of the stronger stories they've ever done. The best stuff here involves, as usual, the cylons and their uneasy relations with the humans. While I love the Baltar on the cylon ship stuff, I think the show thrives in the tension between humans and cylons. When the two groups are interacting it's great, but alone, they each drift away from excitement and get caught up in irrelevant issues. That conflict is the core of the show, so it's good to keep it front and center.

That's why I love the scene where Baltar and the Cylon party go to the Galactica. I was missing Dean Stockwell, despite all the time on the cylon ship, we haven't gotten to know the cylon men in greater depth. However, Dean brings such wonderful weirdness, any scene he's in is going to be entertaining. He may have been laying it on a little thick here, but it made for a fun scene, and the show can always use a burst of bizarreness. I was feeling a bit of Ben from Blue Velvet seeping into that scene. Baltar's total unease at being caught between the cylons and humans is also great. He's best when he's groveling, so it's good to see him back in that position. He's still one of the show's most fascinating characters and this episode is the best material he's gotten all season.

The other great scene with him is the farewell to Caprica, as he and D'Anna go off to pursue their destiny. I'm really curious to see what this leads to, the buildup's been great, but it'll be difficult to come up with a meaningful reveal for the identities of the five cylons. But, if there's been this much buildup, I'm sure there must be an interesting revelation coming up down the line.

Elsewhere, there's the wonderful scene with the two Sharons. It's one of the first times we've see dialogue between two identical cylon models and it feels odd. I'll say that cylon Boomer Sharon is definitely looking hotter, and seeing her standing near Hera back on the cylon ship was a well done odd moment. We're aware that Sharon is Hera's mother, but this isn't that Sharon, yet it looks just like her.

That said, I feel like the revelation Hera's alive was pretty badly botched. Now, maybe they're building up to bigger consequences in the future, but, for one, I felt like there was a scene deleted that set up the conversation between Adama and Helo/Sharon. But more importantly, where was the emotion from either of them, I feel like this should have been something shocking and they just take it. Now, maybe there'll be a big breakdown in the future, but Sharon put all her faith in these people, was willing to condemn her people to genocide and they completely betrayed her. Now, there's a lot of potentially interesting stuff that could happen if she goes back to the cylon ship, but I feel like the initial emotional reaction could have been played up more.

The other major thing that happened in this episode was the Lee/Kara love quadrangle. I think Unfinished Business was a great episode, but the treatment of the issues here was a bit too soapy. Kara doesn't seem like someone who'd care about getting divorced, so I would argue she's just trying to keep Lee at a distance, and not have to deal with potentially getting married. However, it's still a bit contrived to bring them all together here. That said, I am glad to see a followup on that plot thread, since the episode to episode continuity had been slipping a bit recently.

On the visual front, the algae planet was very cool looking, I still enjoy the heavily color corrected look they use for the different planets they encounter. The stuff on Galactica seemed a bit clearer than usual. The real visual knockout of the episode was the shots of the baseship in the pink/black clouds, very striking stuff. The FX just keep getting better.

One of the biggest issues that's developed over the course of the season is the fact that Adama and Roslin have become different aspects of the same exact character. The early parts of the show were largely based around their conflict, but now we don't have any sort of argument within the fleet itself. Tom Zarek hasn't been on in a while and we really need that oppositional voice to keep things on edge. Maybe someone on the show could step up, or else bring in a new character.

More generally, they need to commit to stronger continuity between episodes and less of these obviously throwaway standalone episodes. It's okay to do the occasional standalone, but don't stack them all together, that's what's going to make people criticize the show. It's still great, but I haven't been blown away by it in a while, I'm hoping the resolution to this episode will do that, but we'll have to wait a month to find out.

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