Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Battlestar Galactica - 'The Woman King' (3x14)

I watched this episode a couple of days ago, before I went on the binge through the end Babylon 5 season four, and going through that great run of episodes doesn’t make the lackluster ‘The Woman King’ look any better in comparison. This episode is representative of virtually everything I find frustrating about Galactica, and only a little bit of what’s so great about the show.

I’ll start with what was easily the best scene of the episode, Sharon’s visit to Six’s cell. Basically everything works here. The dynamic between the two of them is full of conflicted feelings, Sharon thankful that Six helped her escape from the ship, but still uncertain why she did it. Six herself is apparently uncertain as well, as her Gaius makes clear. I loved the interaction between her and the vision of Gaius. The fact that she is having these visions would indicate that she too has some sort of special destiny, and is being manipulated towards it by a higher force. The sequence where D’Anna saw the white column world between life and death seemed to prove that these hallucinations are connected to some kind of essential force and aren’t merely a chip.

Beyond that, we get the great reveal that Roslin is watching and recording all this. She looks menacing there, baffled by Six’s behavior. There’s a great mix of darkness and comedy, because we’re aware of what’s going on, but she remains clueless. It’s not a deep Cylon functioning, it’s her own particular psychosis. A really top notch scene.

As for the rest of the episode, it’s Galactica on autopilot. Very rarely do their standalone episodes work, primarily because they truly are standalone, very rarely making important leaps in character or plot. The Sopranos season five was structured with primarily ‘standalone’ episodes, each telling a story that wrapped up within the hour, generally focusing on one or two people within the cast. However, there, the episodes actually weren’t standalone, they used a one time story to go deep and push the characters in new directions. The story may have been resolved, but the issues for the character were far from over. You got the sense that everything mattered and there was real progress forward. The same is true of Angel season five, which used a standalone structure to actually go deeper into the world than they had during the relentlessly serial fourth season.

But, this is more in the X-Files model of set up a story, play it out, then forget about it. Helo may go through some troubles here, but we don’t get the sense that there’s any lasting consequences. With a few exceptions, the characters on here don’t change too much. Stuff happens, but it doesn’t accumulate in the same way it did on a Buffy or Six Feet Under, and that’s frustrating. Again like the X-Files, the characters only seem to remember stuff on occasion, during the mythology episodes, and are manipulated into whatever circumstances the plot demands at other times.

The ideal way to do a standalone structure would be as a chance to build up the minor characters, but you can’t get true insight into people when they’re consumed by the conflict of the week. ‘Unfinished Business’ was a fantastic example of this, giving us real insight into Kara and Lee by narrowing the focus to their relationship, they should do more standalones like that, and less focused on a lame plot of the week..

Sadly, next week isn’t looking much better as we get a trapped in the airlock episode. The 13 episode pickup for next season may be the best thing for the show since it’ll cut down on filler and give more focus to things.

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