Sunday, March 04, 2007

Battlestar Galactica: 'Dirty Hands' (3x16)

You’ll notice that I’m a bit behind on this review, what with the next episode having already aired. But, I’ve reviewed the whole season so far, and I want to get some quick thoughts on ‘Dirty Hands’ in before I watch Maelstrom. Perhaps the greatest statement I could make is that it took me until Thursday to even watch the episode. It’s not so much that the past couple of episodes have been bad, it’s more that they’re just there. One of these mixed in with a really strong episode isn’t a problem, but stacking three of them back to back has totally drained the season of any momentum.

Now, I’m sure in a couple of weeks I’ll be raving about the show again, but it’s not smart to have such obvious peaks and valleys in the schedule. You can pretty much assume that the season will start out strong, dip for a while, come back at the midpoint, dip again, then get a final burst of momentum to close things out. Now, this is true of a lot of shows, but seldom are the filler episodes so obvious as here.

I don’t think the show has to focus on the cylon mythology to avoid being filler, but the nature of these episodes is such that they don’t feel connected. The characterizations shift all the time, from Baltar as war criminal menace to Baltar as underground folk hero, depending on what’s needed to serve the individual story. Roslin and Adama in particular seem to shift motivations all the time, becoming basically abhorrent in this episode, to the point that it’s hard to come back next week and support them again. For me, they crossed the line from morally ambiguous to just nasty, particularly with the threat to kill Callie. And, how has no one brought up the fact that Baltar was elected president, and Roslin, who had previously attempted to steal the election, got back into power through some pretty questionable means. It’s not a monarchy, and even if there is support for Roslin, at least question the way she got back to power.

Plus, I’d still argue that Baltar made the right choice by settling on New Caprica. Things have gone pretty bad during their time back on the ship, and there’s no guarantee they’ll ever find Earth. Of course, being a TV show, they probably will, and we’re not going to end with them just starving and gradually dying out to lack of resources. But in reality, that would be a very real possibility.

It’s very frustrating to have Baltar and Six on the sidelines while we spend so much time with B-list cast members. At least get me a decent Six subplot in one of these episodes before doing two about Tyrol. And how about some more on Sharon, or Kara, especially considering the rumors about Maelstrom. Don’t pull a Lost and focus on a character just so they can die at the end of the episode.

Again, it’s not so much that this was a bad episode, the union stuff was tense and compelling, but that’s more a testament to the acting and filmmaking than the writing. I don’t get the sense of any real direction, and even a fantastic end to the season isn’t going to make up for the wheel spinning we’ve seen in the middle.


crossoverman said...

I'm going to completely disagree with you here as I think the character motivations are complex rather than just being random to fit the story. The political prisoner who sends out a manifesto is an old story - it's even been in BSG before, with Lee reading Zarek's book.

Certainly with Baltar's trial coming up, these ideas that Roslyn and Adama are commanding without regard to some laws and certain morals might become an important part of Baltar's defense. As you point out, it was a good idea to settle - there was no way of knowing what would happen. And this adds layers to something which until now might have been a foregone conclusion - Baltar being found guilty.

The standalones this season have been of far higher quality than last years - and these past two episodes have fleshed out the human population and the needs of the fleet because this story is about humanity, not about the Cylons. As much as you'd like it to be about the Cylons.

Patrick said...

I guess my big issue with the standalones is that they're too consumed with plot, so we spend too much time resolving the conflict the episode presents, and not enough getting real insight into the characters. It's a similar situation with Babylon 5 season one, you can craft arcs out of what happens, but the episodes themselves don't present explicit connections or growth.

I guess I'm more a fan of the Buffy/Six Feet Under style of focusing stuff on the characters and building plot out of that, rather than using external plots as a test for the characters. I've enjoyed all these episodes, and I think they raise some issues, but putting them all back to back made it seem like just a bunch of random stuff without coherent motivation.

I'd agree that the story isn't really about the cylons, and it's not their absence as an external threat that's bothering me so much as the absence of the most compelling characters on the series. I probably should have mentioned the fantastic scene with Baltar's native accent, so at least he got some good stuff here. One of my favorite episodes of the season was 'Unfinished Business,' which did a fantastic job of using the standalone plot as a way to explore the characters. More of those would be welcome. Ironically, this, the only episode that gives a strong sense of resolution and closure to what it's exploring, is the only one whose issues kept coming back, with the exact same stuff being repeated episode after episode.

In the end, it comes down to a conflict between the show that is and the show I want it to be. I can enjoy it for what it is, but I just wish they could work a bit to make episodes as strong as the New Caprica ones, or even the cylon ship two parter that followed.