Monday, December 18, 2006

Battlestar Issues

Started from this Barbelith Post

For me, the two best things the show's done are the miniseries and the New Caprica arc, and the rest of the episodes have always been somewhat inconsistent. I really liked the first season, but it had a bunch of weak episodes, and not until the season finale did they reach the level of the miniseries again.

What made the miniseries and New Caprica so great was the extreme odds against our characters. The show has been very reluctant to play out negative consequences for its people. There's changes, but seemingly there's always an attempt to bring us back the old status quo. This means that there's not that much tension in the standalone episodes, or even the cliffhangers. I didn't find it particularly egregious to show the result of the cliffhanger in the promo because this isn't the kind of show that has the courage to put the main characters in real danger.

Compare that to something like 24, where there's a lot of tension because pretty much anyone could did at any time. Alternatively, you could do something like Buffy where the stories all have major consequences and lingering character arcs. The BSG people go through stuff, but there's not that same sense of consistent forward progress. In this season, Tigh went through some truly fantastic stuff, but it's pretty much done now, same for Starbuck.

Basically, the show just isn't willing to play out the consequences of storylines that will detach it from the status quo. Going into this season, I assumed New Caprica would be the new status quo for the show and last for at least a season. The episodes there were riveting, and it really did feel like anything could happen. This new cliffhanger we've got is the same kind of thing that could have happened in season one or two.

There is some forward progress, but not enough. It's possible to do a lot of standalone episodes and have them accumulate in character development, as in Angel or The Sopranos season five, but these standalones seem to happen, then be forgotten. I think it was a huge mistake to end New Caprica so quickly, and part of what made the show seem to lag in the second half of the season is that it feels old next to the bold new stuff in the first half.

I think the issue is a lot of people are uncomfortable with the development of the cylons beyond just an evil force out to get the humans. I've read a lot of reviews complaining about the baseship storyline, saying that it's taking the mystery away. Now, that might be true, but mystery gets old after a while, I think the cylons are much more interesting than the humans, their culture is fascinating and the more that gets revealed, the more interesting it becomes. Now, I would agree that the piano music/dissolve style got a bit old after a while, but the baseship segments were still much more interesting than the stuff on Galactica.

One of the show's best episodes was Downloaded, which gave us a totally different view of the cylons, and seemed to herald a moment where the cylons would try to help humanity rather than extreminate them. I think that's a much more interesting direction to go in than to just return to the same setup we had for the first two seasons, as has been done now. The show is always more interesting when the line between cylon and human is blurred. Look at the Leoben/Kara storyline from early in the season, what makes it so fascinating is that Leoben has a legitimate desire for love, we can understand his motivations, and the 'evil' of his actions comes out of an understandable place. That's much more effective than having the cylons as an all purpose evil force without any sort of motivation.

Ultimately, I feel like the basic status quo of humans on the run from the cylons just doesn't work anymore. Episodes that focus on character issues still work, like 'Unfinished Business,' but something like 'The Passage' feels very outdated, something that belongs back in the first season. The show needs to grow beyond those episodes, beyond the obvious status quo and into a new form. New Caprica did this and it was the best episodes the show's ever done. Hopefully the second half of the season will do the same thing.

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