Monday, April 14, 2008

Battlestar Galactica - "Six of One" (4x02)

So far, this season of Battlestar Galactica has been a bit frustrating. Each episode has had some great scenes, but I’m not feeling a lot of momentum. The tagline for the season is “All will be revealed,” but I usually find stories based on ‘revelations’ to be a bit tiresome. The reason I dropped Lost was because it was all about teasing out the big answers, and not about watching the characters grow. The axis of causality wasn’t what characters did, but an extratextual authrotiy that decides when it’s time for the characters to know something.

This worked last season with the cylon revelation because of the presentation. From a storytelling perspective, it’s pretty poor, some music starts playing and all of a sudden we find out four random characters are actually cylons. But, because it’s played with the insane camera angles and churning score, it works. The production overwhelms the flaws in the writing. But, now we don’t have that much narrative momentum. We basically have characters hitting the same beats over and over again, beats that may be necessary for the characters, but aren’t that much fun to watch as a viewer.

Look at Starbuck. She’s forced to play this same “We’re going the wrong way” line over and over again. I love Starbuck, but I think putting her in this position strips her of a lot of the energy that makes her work. I want to see the unhinged authority thwarting pilot who appeared briefly at the end of last episode, when she decided to go bust Roslin. Or, you could go in a different direction, and have her be a more grudgingly spiritual person, who must believe now. To some extent, that’s what happened, but it’s played in such a way that she gets a bit annoying.

And, I think there’s a lot of potential problems with sending her on a scouting mission to find Earth, primarily the fact that she can’t actually find it for a while. The show isn’t one to permanently mess with its status quo, so I don’t see them reaching Earth until near the end of the series. What will she do for the rest of the time? And, won’t it hurt the show to have her away from everyone else. The Helo subplot in season one was great because it let us learn about the cylons, but what will this subplot show us? Though, I suppose I should wait until the plot actually gets going before judging it.

The acting in this episode felt a bit off for me as well. Sackhoff is usually great, but I just wasn’t feeling it this episode. The same for Roslin and Adama, I felt an awareness of the performance in a way I usually don’t on the show. It might be the writing, since everyone was a bit off. The characters are forced to talk in circles around the same issues, and there’s no sense of forward momentum. There’s virtually no narrative at this point, it’s just examining what’s happened already. I don’t really have a sense of what the season will be about, beyond the vague idea of looking for Earth.

The stuff over on the cylons was better, but also struggled with the fact that it was pretty much just people talking. I loved the scenes where Cavil watches Sharon twirl around, and the use of that same cylon music cue is hypnotic. But, again, I felt like the production was covering up for the fact that there’s not that much of substance there. We’ve got some dissent in the cylon ranks, and a Six taking the lead. There’s lots of story potential there, but it only begins here.

What did work superbly was the stuff with Baltar, particularly the scene with Tori. I love how Baltar is starting to believe his own lie, and maybe at this point it’s not really a lie anymore. I find it strange when people call Baltar a villain, he may be a sleaze, but he’s human and vulnerable in a way that Adama and Roslin aren’t. They’re out to oppress this guy who’s been the victim of many awful circumstances, maybe I should hate him, but I just don’t.

But, good Baltar is countered by a seemingly endless string of scenes saying good bye to Lee. Lee is to this show what Riley was to Buffy, a one dimensional character in a multi-dimensional world. I thought he left the military already, why are they doing this whole party for him? I was talking with someone yesterday and she was saying how you can tell a lot about someone’s personality by who they came out of “Unfinished Business” liking, Lee or Kara. I had no love for Lee.

So, it’s not a great episode, pieces are still moving into place, and I’m not feeling much forward progress. But, I’m sure things will pick up eventually. And, at least Baltar’s still great.


Anonymous said...

I almost completely disagree with you about this episode - you talk about narrative drive, but you criticise the narrative twist of the Cylon reveal. You criticise (or dismiss) the fascinating character study of Roslin and Adama and Six, but fall in love with some naked Boomer dancing? Okay...

The comparison with Lost is baseless - whatever the supposed theme of this season is, it is the last season and hopefully everything will be revealed. I'd hate for this show to finish without major questions being answered.

Meanwhile the question of who or what is human is being addressed in the most confronting and complex ways - Tori trying to understand her nature, Roslin and Adama talking about mortality, Six and the other Cylons talking about their origins and what rights they and their machines have.

And why can't you come out of "Unfinished Business" loving both Lee and Kara? Or, frankly, hating both? In fact, that episode is a character study through and through - it's not about answering questions, it's about providing further insight into the characters. I understood Lee way better after that episode (and Dualla much more after seeing the Extended Cut of the ep on the DVD set).

BSG is making some extraordinary television at the moment. The forward narrative drive is building steam again - because the status quo has changed. Those key humans-as-Cylon reveals is a HUGE change in the status quo - both thematically and narratively. Both forward in the narrative and backward.

I know you loved the stuff on New Caprica last season, because you saw it as a massive change in the status quo. I can't argue with that too much - but it was clearly another stop on the series' arc of finding Earth. It shook things up considerably and the fallout of that decision is still being felt, but the status quo is changing all the time - even though the basic premise remains the same. I don't have a problem with that when the characters are growing and changing so much and we get such beautiful insight into them like we did in this week's episode.

Patrick said...

Intellectually, I can see all that, but with a few exceptions, the episode just didn't work for me on an emotional level. Everything seemed to be there for a good episode, but the stuff with Starbuck, or that Adama and Roslin scene just didn't click for me.

I think part of it is like what I was talking about with Doctor Who season two, I like some of what the show does so much that it can be disappointing when it's just good. This episode was better than most of season three, far better than those weak standalone episodes that clogged up the season's second half, however, coming after the beautiful craziness of the season finale, I can't help but want every episode to live up to what that episode did, hit that same hallucinatory, trippy place. And, when it doesn't, it feels a bit disappointing.

I think the lengthy hiatus hurts the show for me as well, I still remember what happened, but I'm not as emotionally engaged as I would have been coming right off the season three finale.

But, I'd agree that there is some really good stuff in here. The stuff with Tori was fantastic, and that one scene with Tigh was amazing.