Saturday, December 02, 2006

Battlestar Galactica - 'Unfinished Business' (3x09)

The premise here wasn't too promising, and even after the episode was over, the sudden introduction of boxing into the universe felt a bit weird, but if you roll with that, it's actually a great hour, and a nice return to form after a couple of off weeks.

The thing that stands out most here is the structure of the show. Very few other shows on television attempt the complex structural and storytelling techniques used on Galactica. In mid season two, they did a bunch of start at the end, track back episodes, and those were generally unsuccessful. What we have here are two seperate storylines that progress forward independently, and comment on each other as they progress. The show does a lot of impressionistic openings, presenting a bunch of images whose meaning only becomes gradually clear. They usually save this for big episodes, like the season one finale or this year's premiere, but it works well here too.

The most interesting thing about this episode was definitely the look back on life at New Caprica. When I heard they would be doing a flashback episode filling in the 18 month gap, I wasn't too excited because I got the sense that they skipped over all the interesting stuff, and looking back would ony mean dwelling on some inconsequential stuff. That is true to some extent, but at this point, just seeing the happiness and optimism they have about New Caprica is powerful. They all seem so happy and the blue skies are such a contrast to the oppressive gray we see later in the Cylon era. I think Baltar got a bad rap throughout the season, but here, it looks like his decision has really worked out. I particularly like Adama and Roslin, their drug fueled ruminations on the future of the planet are great.

The problem with doing any flashback episode is that it has to fit into what we've already seen in the series. In the last episode, the major issue was, if this is so important to Adama, why have we never heard about it before? To some extent, the story with the Chief runs into that issue. At first, it felt totally arbitrary that he would choose to fight the chief, but eventually it becomes clear that he's not fighting the chief, he's fighting the complacency that allowed the cylons to so thoroughly rout New Caprica. Much like on the original Caprica, they got lazy, let their guard down and were overwhelmed by the cylon force. Adama is basically saying that he won't allow that to happen again. He lets himself be hurt as a way of showing to the men that it's important to always be ready for a fight.

Having Roslin all of a sudden be into boxing was a bit ridiculous, but the other scenes between the two of them were great. That's true of a lot of the episode, having the characters suddenly invested in boxing is just weird, but the way it's intercut with the New Caprica stuff makes it work. The boxing become a purely allegorical piece of storytelling, a means to work out what the story is really about, the lingering emotional tensions between the crew.

I've never been particularly invested in the Kara/Lee relationship, but this episode does a good job of telescoping their whole history into a few moments. I like the way moments are continually replayed, and over the course of the episode, we're given context for what we're seeing. The shots on New Caprica are so good looking, it's a joy just to be back there. I really wish they had the budget to spend more time there.

The ending is the most effective part of the episode, particularly the brutality of the fight. Kara seems devoted solely to hurting Lee, and that means using kicks, elbows, anything. I like how the show never even makes issue of the fact that Lee is fighting a woman, Kara is his equal, or superior, in all respects, and the end of the episode makes the point that they're so even, neither can ever definitively top the other. It's that equality that makes them so attractive to each other, no one else in on their level, and if one of them definitively won, it would let them both move on. But, after the stalemate, they each see the other as the archetypal male or female against whom all others will be judged.

So, I really enjoyed this episode. The boxing initially felt a bit goofy, but it worked really well in context, and the narrative structure here was fantastic. The music was also critical to making the episode work, building mood and momentum through the repeating string motifs. It's a testament to the episode that I wasn't even missing Baltar and the cylons, the Galactica stuff was that solid.

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