Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Battlestar Galactica: 'Maelstrom' (3x17)

My reaction to this episode is tentative, really depending on whether or not Kara's actually dead. It's clearly one of the most well constructed, interesting hours of the back half of the season, but if Kara is gone, it's a mess of wasted opportunities, and a major mistake for the future of the series. If she's not, then I'm pretty happy with the way things went.

First off, I just want to say that the production values on this show are absolutely phenomenal every single week. The effects shots here were gorgeous, moody and evocative. The show has passed the point where the effects are just about being realistic and credible, they're now as aesthetically beautiful as anything else in the episode.

On top of that, there's a bunch of fantastic visual moments in this episode. The teaser, with Kara and Leoben having sex in paint was amazing, a striking, emotional visual. Later in the episode, I loved the way the plane seemed to blur with Kara's memories of both her mother and Leoben, really exciting stuff. Even when I take issue with the narrative direction of the series, I can't fault the look.

Kara has always been one of the strongest characters on the series, with her strength so powerful it becomes a shield, keeping her emotions in and others out. This episode shows us what previous episodes only hinted at, that her mother instilled this mindset in her, helped build the Kara Thrace we now know. I loved the scene where Kara remembers playing the trick on her mother with the bugs, the joy she got out of this prank.

I also loved the scenes where she and Leoben watch her past. This isn't the cylon Leoben, it is apparently some external force taking on the guise of him, because in her mind, he is the one who holds the answers. He implanted the idea of a destiny in her brain, and she feels like he's the only one who can tell her for sure what that destiny is. If she really is dead, then they wasted a huge opportunity by not giving us another scene with the two of them together. I loved the subplot of her capture in the early going, and I've been waiting for followup on it ever since.

It can be tough to accept a random guest actor as a critical part of a character's life, but Sackhoff and the actress playing her mother totally sold those scenes, the passive aggressive negativity they pass between each other. The bedside death scene had a really powerful aura about it, something very special.

But, that's not what people are talking about from this episode, it's all about the ending, which presents us with the apparent death of Kara. Now, most of the discourse seems to assume that she's not actually dead, either she's a cylon or she was rescued by the raider, or she's crossed over into that land between life and death and will perhaps return from there in the future. I really hope that she isn't dead because this entire episode seemed to start with the goal of getting Kara to kill herself, it didn't come organically out of the story. It's similar to my issues with Byron's death over on Babylon 5, the character didn't seem to get to that place where they'd commit suicide. This episode sold it a lot better than that one did, but the way things played out, it felt like a copout to avoid dealing further with Starbuck's issues.

I think it could have worked to have Kara's psychosis drive her to the point of suicide, but if they were going to go that route, it would have been better to slowly develop that during the recent standalone episodes, and bring it to a fore here. Now, obviously the clues are planted, but those moments have lost their emotional immediacy. And, after all this talk of her destiny, it would be pretty anticlimactic for her to just die here.

I really enjoyed the hour, but it's hard to assess now. If this really was Kara's death, I think it was a mistake, she's one of the strongest characters and as the last three episodes show, the series is worse without her. If she's not dead, then maybe this was the jumpstart the character needed to develop further. Either way, I'm excited for next week's trial of Baltar, and the buildup to the season finale.

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