Saturday, April 05, 2008

Battlestar Galactica: 'He That Believeth in Me' (4x01)

It’s been a long time since we saw a new episode of Battlestar Galactica. It was a relief to finally get the show back after a year, though I’m already dreading the six month break that will follow the end of this year’s run. Just air the show and get it done already. But, best not to dwell on that, instead it’s time to be happy that the show has returned, and is doing pretty well. This episode featured some really dazzling moments, but was mostly about maneuvering things into place for future storylines.

The highlight of the episode was the opening space battle, a trippy, hallucinatory experience. Most of the time visual effects are evaluated solely on verisimilitude, or scale. Transformers effects are lauded because they look real, but I feel like we’ve moved past simply replicating reality as a criterion for evaluation, we’re at an age where effects need to be evaluated as art, and these effects are incredible pieces of visual art. The streaking missile lines lingering in the sky, the masses of star and cloud matter, it’s all beautiful, a visual experience. By removing the usual focus on building tension during a battle and instead just sitting back for a more relaxed experience, we’re able to appreciate the art and wonder of it more.

After that, we’re back to more traditional storytelling, which is kind of hard to evaluate at this point. The tricky thing about series premieres is that they’ve got to work for people who haven’t seen the show in a year, and for people who just binged through season three on DVD and are eager for more. So, a scene like Apollo turning down the wings had me thinking oh yeah, Lee resigned and worked on Baltar’s trial. I was used to the status quo, of Lee as military guy, so I wasn’t even thinking this needed to be addressed. But, it’s the kind of thing that someone who’d just seen season three would be wondering about.

To that end, I think the episode suffers a bit because it needs to devote story time to exploring the fallout of Starbuck’s return and the revelation of the four when we’ve had a year to ponder this, and are ready to move on. I think it would have felt disingenuous to skip over Kara’s troubles, and I love a lot of the moments here, particularly when Kara roughs up Anders and the two guards to go after Roslin, but I also think the episode got a bit bogged down in dealing with the consequences of her return. This is the kind of story that might have benefited from a jump forward in time, so we would know that the characters dealt with the issue, but we don’t have to deal with a bunch of scenes that have the same inconclusiveness.

The same is true over on the final four side of the plot. We need to spend time with these people to see how they’re reacting, but at the same time, all the scenes are basically the same, echoes of what we saw in season three’s finale. Move too fast and you risk people saying, you’re not dealing with the character fallout, however, I think we needed something newer here. My favorite moment was Tigh hallucinating that he was shooting Adama, it was obviously a dream, but it was a great way to capture Tigh’s fears about what he could do. I’d like to have seen more of the subjective experience of fear, rather than just showing the characters looking at each other while other people talk.

The storyline that did work was Baltar’s trip to the cult. Baltar has long been one of my favorite characters on the show, and I love what they’re doing with his character here. The early highlight is the scene where Baltar talks to Six and they think he’s praying, but that’s topped by the fantastically devious “one god” scene. Baltar may think the people who captured him are a bunch of crazies, but y’know, as long as he’s there, he’s not going to turn them down.

The question this story brings back to the fore is, what’s going on with the Six who Baltar sees. Is it all a cylon plot to convert humanity to monotheism, or is he really seeing an emissary of God? Either way, I hope the cult of Baltar grows. I like Adama and Roslin at times, but I’d love to see Baltar show them up by winning over more and more minds on the ship.

So, this was a pretty solid episode that set things up, but other than those first ten minutes, isn’t that spectacular on its own. Still, there’s a lot of promise here, and the cinematography and acting on the show remains so good that even if there’s not too much going on, it’s still a joy to watch.

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