Thursday, January 29, 2009

Final Crisis #7: 'New Heaven, New Earth'

After a tumultuous seven issue run, Final Crisis wraps up with its best issue yet, an issue that manages to resolve all the threads in a satisfying way, and perhaps achieves Morrison’s long discussed goal of making the DCU a sentient entity. The parents of the universe are gone, the gods are fallen and it’s up to the characters to invent their own world. A large part of the issue is about the characters gaining the agency to control their own story and build this fifth world of their own design. It’s at once a return to the pre-Crisis DCU, and a celebration of everything that has come since. It’s a complex issue, and not everything about it works, but the overall impact is huge, I think this is easily the best issue of the entire series, and a great way for Morrison to wrap up his current time in the DCU.

The issue begins with a trip to an alternate world where there’s a black president and a black Superman. I was already talking about the resonance of Obama and this comic, and this opening fuses the iconography of Obama and Superman to foreshadow the emergence of a new, better world at the end of the series. It’s also a pretty badass moment to have the president rip off his suit and have a Superman costume underneath. The discussion afterwards about using the “wonder horn,” and the music they hear makes a lot more sense after seeing what Superman does later in the issue.

The issue is odd because it violates so many seemingly basic rules of writing, and in the process proves that rules are good, but what really lingers about a story is the energy and experience of it. The early parts of the issue are told in flashback, or perhaps narration in the present, it’s unclear. Images flow from the narration in a seemingly stream of conscious way, drifting from fight to fight in a haze of action. What this means is that we don’t get to see some important story points. I’m frustrated that we don’t get a closer view of Shilo activating his boom tube, after all the buildup of his story, he either doesn’t appear or is barely visible in this issue. I also find it frustrating that we never really see Wonder Woman liberated from her Justifier enslavement, we can infer it, and we get an emotional beat when she crumbles the mask, but we don’t get the seemingly critical moment when her mind comes back to the surface.

So, there’s some sloppy story construction on those beats. I’m not sure how much is a product of the art and how much is conscious choice. I will say that Doug Mahnke kills it on this book. I’ve heard a bunch of people say they wish he had drawn the whole thing, and I can’t disagree. JG Jones did a good job when he was on time, but he wasn’t good enough to justify the delays or art mess. He’s not Frank Quitely. If Mahnke could have drawn the whole story in a timely fashion, it would have been great to have him on board. At least in terms of art, the series goes out on a high note.

The other major issue is the amount of deus ex machina in the story. On some level, a story about gods is going to always involve this sort of ending, but the stuff about the monitors doesn’t feel as developed as other elements of the story, and that makes it feel kind of out of place here at the end. Darkseid was the villain of this whole thing, and to end on a different, somewhat related, but not really connected story thread feels a bit off. But, I think Darkseid gets a good finale too, so it works okay. It’s partially an issue of pacing, it might have been better to have Batman do the final strike on Darkseid in this issue, while Superman was off with Mandrakk and the Monitors so they could be intercut instead of happen in succession.

One of the things I love about the issue is the sheer epic quality of the story. I think that all three Crises, for their flaws and merits, manage to feel truly epic and important for the universe. They stand as testaments to the insane over the top storytelling capabilities of the DCU. On a meta level, the tour of all of the aspects of the DCU in this series is a way of showing its strength, the power of its lifeblood, a way to combat the vampiric death that Mandrakk represents.

This issue’s use of narration in particular makes it feel huge. I’d be hard pressed to say exactly what sequence certain events happen in, but I felt the importance of them, and was emotionally engaged throughout the entire thing, Lois’s narration serving as a way to heighten our emotional engagement with what’s going on. Yesterday, I said that Superman Beyond worked on an intellectual level and a pure spectacle level, but it didn’t have the emotional component. This issue has all three firing at full cylinder, reading the pages, I was really excited to see what came next because it really felt like anything could happen. There were a ton of panels in here that just made me smile, and that’s one of the greatest things about Morrison’s work, and superhero comics in general. They can be so huge, so archetypal that it transcends the traditional demands of a story and just hits you in that part of the brain that loves spectacle and excitement.

In Superman Beyond, we saw Zillo Valla claim that Superman’s origin story was the most powerful story in the multiverse, the story that could pull Dax Novu back from the darkness. Here, we see that story invoked again, and replayed as part of the battle against Darkseid. It starts with the rocket full of Batman’s iconography. Batman is just as powerful an archetype as Superman, the core things that make him who he is will survive any threat against the world, he’ll always find a way. I love the idea that in a world made of story, symbols and images are the life essence, if those can be preserved on another world, Batman will find a way back to life.

That’s perhaps the boldest innovation in this miniseries, the idea that the DCU is literally built on stories. It will live on because it’s always “To Be Continued,” and the characters will perpetually deal with the same archetypal story elements. Something like the Joker/Batman conflict is a founding principle of the universe and it will always cycle itself through again and again.

Superman’s confrontation with Darkseid is really well done. At this point, Darkseid has infected virtually the entire populace, the world itself is evil, so what can Superman do? As Darkseid says, “Kill me and you kill everything!” So, Darkseid does precisely that, he fires the bullet at Orion, which he knows will eventually come back to kill him, and in the process, he intends to take the whole world down with him. At least that’s the way I see it, the whole bullet backwards in time thing is pretty hard to fathom, but this view of it makes sense.

I love the payoff on the Flash’s long run through the entire series. They bring death to Darkseid and zip off in a haze of trippy visuals and the sort of crazy science dialogue that Morrison does so well. Lois describes it as “the story of the flashes outrun Death, the Black Racer.” In some ways, this caption is used simply to facilitate the dissemination of narrative information, but I’d argue that the goal is also to transform this story into instant mythology. This is a story so huge they’re already telling it to kids within the DCU, it’s the creation myth of the fifth world, the way that the world was saved and changed and rebuilt. And, the crazy brilliance of the Flashes outracing Death and bringing him to Darkseid lives up to that kind of mythos.

From there, we see the dissolution of the world, conveyed in a series of perfectly chosen scenes that convey what I view as the dissolution of the entire multiverse. We see all the scientists working together to buil this Miracle Machine, even our old friend the Chief from Doom Patrol, whose head is no longer in a jar. This builds to the dizzying assault on Checkmate and the Atoms doing something. These panels are drawn from the pure reservoir of superhero stories. This is what every comic should feel like, filled to the brim with insane images and concepts. Morrison has talked about how comics have to up their game now that films can do superheroes. This is what he means, this is a comic that spans universes and does something you’ve never seen before in every panel.

It’s also a marvel of economy. The Arrow and Canary resolution is touching and funny in just three small panels. I love their hands barely touching as they drift through space, staring down at the Metron symbol. A panel down we can another fuck yeah moment with the appearance of Most Excellent Superbat and his team in action. I don’t know who these characters are on an individual level, but Morrison makes me care about them through the sheer pop joy inherent. Who doesn’t want to save Lolita Canary? Who doesn’t love Lighting Flash dashing between panels, all in a massive buildup of light and fire.

I’m honestly not totally sure on exactly what happens at this point in the comic. I know that the Checkmate satellite explodes, apparently killing Mister Terrific and Hawkman and Hawkgirl, while the Super Young Team and the others evacuate via Mister Miracle’s Boom Tube. Then, there’s a separate JLA satellite where the survivors of all the destroyed multiverse worlds stick around. So, are those worlds entirely destroyed, and then rebuilt later on, or are the only survivors the ones who were stuck in the freezer? I guess it might be that everyone’s possessed by Darkseid, and it takes Superman’s wish to make them better again. It doesn’t really matter, perhaps a couple more reads will make it clear.

The sort of free association storytelling is present in the panels where Renee tells her story. Speaking to Overman about his cousin’s death, we jump to a scene that may or may not have ever happened where he screams in the rain while holding her body. On one level, this is likely an allusion to the original Crisis’ famous dead Supergirl cover, but it also works as a visual way to express the emotion he’s feeling. The walls of reality are breaking down at this point, emotion and logic are converging into a psychogenic reality where idea and feeling are indistinguishable from physical reality.

This brings us to Superman realizing that Darkseid intended to kill himself to bring the whole world down into the black hole with him. If he possesses all their minds, his death will destroy everyone. But, Luthor won’t have that. As I mentioned in earlier reviews, Luthor always exists in reverse moral polarity to the world he’s in. Now that he’s in an evil world, he’s going to fight for good.

Luthor claims that “Libra was the anti-life equation and now he’s not.” So, was Libra a physical incarnation of the concept of anti-life? I’m not sure about that, maybe it’s more that Libra was some kind of vessel used to channel the anti-life into our reality. I’ll have to reread to see what exactly was up with Libra throughout, but the point here seems to be that Luthor and Sivana have created a machine that co-opts the anti-life equation and overrides it. So, using this machine, they’re able to rescue the people under the control of Darkseid and restore their individual will.

This leads to the fantastic moment where Frankenstein rides a giant dog and hacks the head off of someone. It’s great to see Frankenstein back in action, I’ll always have great affection for all the Seven Soldiers characters, and particularly with Mahnke drawing, Frank is as good as he’s ever been.

The Morticoccus virus comes seemingly out of nowhere here. Apparently, it was mentioned in Countdown, and is a call back to Kamandi. The way it reads here, it sounds like the “god-bacterium” could easily be Darkseid himself.

So, this all leads up to Superman’s final confrontation with Darkseid. This is another huge fuck yeah moment. The world is seemingly collapsing, but Superman knows the nature of this world, it’s made of “vibrations,” of stories. If you put a better story against this bad one, the good one can win out. Darkseid is the bad virus designed to destroy the world, Superman is an agent of good, rebuilding the world from within. He sings like only he can and Darkseid explodes, unable to withstand the onslaught of pure universal essence.

I love these sorts of moments because deep down I do believe that good and hope will always overcome darkness. As in this series, things can go bad for a long time, but progress will always win out in the end. I don’t think a moment like this is hokey or unearned, it kills it on an emotional level. Love will win out in the end, you can have a whole world of darkness, but all it takes is one little light to make things bright again.

This leads up to the confrontation with Mandrakk, and our intersection with the stuff from Superman Beyond. Mandrakk is the anti-story, the desire to end the universe and prevent the characters from developing any further. He invokes Superman’s origin story, but positions Superman as his father, a man who failed to save his universe. The origin is the powerful keystone of the entire reality, and Mandrakk is trying to twist it to serve his own ends.

Superman igniting the Miracle Machine with his solar battery is a literal representation of the light concept I was talking about before. I love the panel where he reaches his hand out and seems to have a tiny galaxy spinning below him, electricity arcing to create the Metron symbol around his head. There, he truly is a god, the benevolent architect of a new reality.

This leads to another fuck yeah moment when we see a legion of Supermen descending on Mandrakk, shouting “Let the sun shine in!” You can’t help but play the euphoric Fifth Dimension song in your mind, the music that tore Darkseid apart now echoing in your own mind, a truly bizarre bunch of characters stand and tear down Mandrakk.

The choice of such wacky characters as a bunch of Earth-35 animals and Captain Carrot can easily be read as a meta assertion on the health of the DCU. Mandrakk is the kind of reductive writer who seeks to tear down the magic of these characters, while Morrison wants the universe to be strong in all its bizarre contradictions.

The assembly of Supermen also reinforces Superman’s status as the ur-hero of the DCU, the source of everything that has followed. He has inspired all these others, he is the true god and architect of this world, and next to that power, Mandrakk is decidedly insignificant. He is staked, and the cancer eating at this world is gone, the “symmetry of the orrery” is re-established, Darkseid’s hold is slackened and the world can go on again.

Part of this is Nix Uotan’s emergence as a fully realized 5-D aware being. His story is kind of a reverse John a Dreams. He starts out beyond reality a piece of the core universal essence that is chipped away into an individual form to become a monitor. Then he falls in to our reality and gets lost in a human life, forgetting that he was ever anything more than that. But, now he’s fully realized, he has his monitor powers, but also human emotion to anchor them. There is a power in our lives and loves on this world, and that’s what Mandrakk doesn’t understand.

In his power, Nix summons the “Forever People of the 5th World” and the Super Young Team shows up. This reinforces the idea that new characters will be inheriting the roles of the old archetypes in the new world. The Super Young Team are the new Forever People, Shilo the new Mister Miracle, and I’m sure we’ll see a new Orion and others in the future. But, where does that leave the original New Gods? They are seen here watching over the birth of a new Earth, Earth-51, rehabilitating the graveyard world into a flourishing New Genesis. The war is over and a new world can be born.

At this point, the Fourth World gods seem to have passed beyond physical form, and serve more as touchstones for the next generation. They are the archetypal essence of good, and will reign supreme in a world where the archetypal essence of evil has been defeated and fallen deep down in to a black hole. And, they will guide Earth 51 to better things. It’s a classic Morrison trope, the worst, most corrupted thing drawn back to goodness through positive influence. Earth 51 is Quimper, plunged through the worst shit and reborn as a glorious flower.

This all leads up to the Monitors abandoning their post and descending down into reality to live as humans. The Monitors were old order gods, trying to maintain order in the universe, to keep the parallel worlds separated and limit humanity. They are the evolutionary shackles that helped us grow, but have to be thrown out as we advance into a new world. They are in some ways like Barbelith, and the dissolution into white here echoes Jack’s entrance in to the supercontext at the end of The Invisibles.

Superman Beyond equated the Monitors with the DCU’s writers. So, does this ending imply that the DCU is now beyond writers, it’s a self sufficient entity guiding its own way. One could argue that if this is meant to be Morrison’s farewell to the universe, he’s sending it off to a place where malevolent gods no longer control it and the characters are free to live out stories without his outside influence. Throughout Morrison’s DC work, we’ve seen negative portrayals of god-like controlling figures, from Morrison himself in Animal Man to the Time Tailors in Seven Soldiers. Both the Monitors and Time Tailors are mixed influences, but the point of this ending seems to be that it’s time to stop trying to control everything and to let the universe direct itself.

Superman is such a strong idea, he can guide things forward in a fine way. There’s no longer needs for an intermediary, people have shown that they can control their own destiny. Our heroes are now like the gods of old, and the fifth world has begun. We get very little glimpse of what that fifth world will entail, but I guess that’s ultimately up to you. We’re all Nix Uotan, waking up anew, ready to write our own story.

In a lot of ways, the story is comprable to The Invisibles’ liberation from the needs of a structured universe at the end of the series and the journey out to the supercontext. The DCU has been engineered to specific ends by these monitors, they thought that they needed to rule like that to ensure the safe progress of the universe. They sought to keep the universes apart and organized because it was too dangerous to let them mix. But, the people here have shown that they can manage their own reality. The child universe has become an adult and we don’t need the gods to guide us anymore. We can be our own gods. As King Mob said on his way to the supercontext, “I’m ready to play with the grown-ups, babe.”

This leads up to one final big moment, the return of Batman, who’s stranded way back at the Dawn of Man, drawing his sigil on a cave wall. Will the bat symbol become as enduring a symbol as Metron’s sigil? How will he make it back to the present day? Has he become a god? Who knows, but the ending feels right, and I’m eager to see Morrison pick up his story again when he returns to the title in the summer.

So, after all that, what is the major takeaway? The DCU is built on stories, and as such, the Miracle Machine can control it by rewriting the story. When Superman wishes for a happy ending, he’s essentially rewriting his own reality. He’s the ur-hero, the source of all good in the universe, and he’s always going to do just the right thing. This version of Superman seems very influenced by Morrison’s vision of the character in All Star Superman. I think he works even better than Morrison’s JLA Superman, outside of All Star itself, this is one of the best Superman stories of all time.

At this point, he seems to have become meta aware of the nature of the universe. He knows it’s built on stories, and will always continue on, but he’s got to make sure this story goes out on a happy ending.

And it does. After all the messy darkness of the previous six issues, this single issue manages to resolve pretty much all the narrative threads and give us a glorious rush of hope to overwhelm all the darkness. It’s a lot to fit in a single issue, but Morrison pulls it off, and makes it emotionally relevant. I had mixed feelings on Final Crisis throughout, I really liked most of it, but it didn’t hit me in the way that the best Morrison does. But, this issue, he’s at his best, and it’s a great farewell to the DCU for now. I want to read some creator owned work soon, but in a year or so, I wouldn’t mind a trip back to the DCU to check on the Fifth World’s progress.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Final Crisis: Superman Beyond #2

Final Crisis ends tomorrow, and I’ll be reviewing it tomorrow afternoon. But, before that drops, I’ve got a few things to say about last week’s Superman Beyond #2. This is an issue that’s frustrating on some levels, but really exciting on others.

My major trouble with the issue is the fact that it’s both a retreading of themes that Morrison has handled better elsewhere, and an essentially insular work. What does this book have to say about our world as a whole? What relevance does it have to your life or mine? There’s certainly some, but it’s more about the DCU itself, and the process of reading superhero comics. Some of Morrison’s best work, particularly pieces of Seven Soldiers and Flex Mentallo, were largely meta narratives about the nature of superhero comics, but they managed to tell those stories in a way that retained emotional relevance to the real world. They were about real people in a crazy world, this story, with its myriad of Supermen and convoluted Monitor mythology, loses that connection to reality and becomes, much like the original Crisis, a spiral into the mythology of the DCU itself.

My other major problem with the work is that all the major stuff has been covered elsewhere in Morrison’s canon. Final Crisis is by its nature a kind of greatest hits journey through his years of DCU writing, but at its best, the main series has managed to touch on new aspects of the universe and feel fresh. Here, the old sucking out the joy of superhero comics meta theme has been covered before. People have read Mandrakk’s fall into corruption as another riff on Alan Moore’s influence on superhero comics, a theme that Morrison handled much better in Zatanna #4’s Zor battle.

Both Seven Soldiers and Flex flourished because they used superhero comics as a way to riff on parental abandonment issues and emotionally arrested development. The Zatanna Zor battle is a riff on Alan Moore, but it’s also a confrontation with her own unresolved father issues, and consequently it has a strong emotional impact. Superman Beyond hits the popcorn spectacle and intellectual sides of things, but only occasionally hits me on an emotional level. Flex Mentallo, the greatest superhero story ever written, deals with superheroes from an aspirational point of view, spinning through the adolescent power fantasy and ultimate parent fantasy as a way of exploring our hero’s psychological condition.

I think ultimately a large part of it comes down to the fact that I generally enjoy the struggles of loser heroes rather than the super confident adventures of Superman. In All Star Superman, the entire series is about exploring Superman as a god totem, an inspiration to humanity who will show us the way then move on. The series often uses Superman in the way that Gaiman uses Morpheus in Sandman, or Miracleman in his run on that title, as an idea rather than a character. The All Star stories work because they deal with the idea of Superman and use him as an entrĂ©e to emotional engagement. The two greatest moments in the run are both in issue #10, the page where we see Superman comfort a girl who’s about to commit suicide, and the audacious finale where we find out that Superman actually created our world, and the idea of him was so powerful he infected our minds and emerged in our fiction.

This issue riffs on that idea, placing the Platonic ideal of Superman in conflict with a villain who feeds on the essence of the DC Universe itself, the Bleed. The life blood of the DCU is quite literally stories, it’s in the continuing narrative of these characters that the universe maintains its life. Stay out of the stories too long and your life will wane. That’s what happened to the characters in limbo, in the DCU, death is ephemeral, the only real way to die is for people to forget you. In that sense, the characters have more in common with gods than traditional literary characters. It is our belief and interest that sustains them. We know Batman will never die because he’s too powerful a thoughtform. Our desire for narratives about the character feed him, and out of that lifeblood, he’ll always emerge. So, who is the ultimate threat to these characters? It would be a character who could quite literally drain the stories out of them, and prevent them from continuing on.

The series presents a cosmology that’s similar to The Invisibles. In the lower world of the DCU itself, there is a division between good and evil. Characters align on either side and exist in “dualities.” But, on a higher level, there is no duality, only symmetry. That’s what Captain Atom says, and it takes a ritualistic fusing of matter and anti-matter to send Superman to the source of reality, the world of the monitors. When he reaches that world, it’s similar to the cosmology of the Outer Church and the Archons. The Monitors are the creators of the world, they guide the world forward, while Mandrakk struggles to destroy it. But, Mandrakk is the creator of the world as well, there are no sides, only circles.

In the higher realm, Superman exists in the form that was built by Dax Novu, a form that I’d argue represents the ur-superhero from which all other superheroes, and the DCU in general flows. Superman is an ideal that inspired every other superhero that followed, so you could easily argue that the source of the DCU is that platonic ideal of Superman. The story is powerful enough to fuel the entire universe, that’s why Zillo Valla tries to use the story to save Dax. Perhaps the story that inspired the universe can pull Dax Novu back from evil.

It doesn’t, but Superman still overcomes Dax. The battle is essentially the life force of the DCU, Superman, the ur-superhero, versus the destructive impulses that try to tear down heroes. It could easily be read on a meta level, Mandrakk is the kind of writer that seeks to tear down the mythology and take the magic away from the DCU, but no matter what’s thrown at him, the myth of Superman remains strong. I do think that’s a really interesting point, and ties in nicely to the themes of both Final Crisis and Morrison’s Batman run. All these books came out of the post 9/11, Iraq War depressed mindset, and I think Morrison’s essential point is that hope is so strong, it’ll always overcome the people who try to tear us down. Obama has been associated with the iconography of Superman, and it’s easy to read this as a story about the rebirth of the best of America, and the world in general, overcoming an era of vampiric destruction.

But, the story doesn’t end, and it’s in the final couple of pages that we get my favorite beats of the story. For one, I love the throwback to the winking Superman of the 50s, as Lois struggles to recall this crazy story she imagined. But, it’s the final page that had me just saying “Yes!” out loud. For Superman, and the DCU in general, stories are their life blood, so “To Be Continued” means that they’ll survive another day.

That final page also echoes the end of Mister Miracle, where Shilo burst triumphantly out of the grave. There, Morrison presented Achilles as the ur-superhero, who inspired future heroes. Much like in The Invisibles, Morrison is presenting similar concepts through different lenses, here Superman is the inspiration, there it’s Achilles, but it’s the same idea. This essential force of good will always overcome the forces that prey on life. Hope will overcome fear and repression will crumble. Sure, it’s still out there, but it’s in that struggle that we get better. The very idea of a grave in superhero comics is somewhat ridiculous, as we saw in Batman RIP, it’s just one more obstacle. The hero will always find a way out.

In a recent interview, Morrison talked about his recent comics as experiments in audience participation. With Batman RIP and Final Crisis, he’s been leaving room for the audience to discuss and reinterpret old stories through the lens of his current material. I love that concept, and I think in general, it works well. So much of the furor around Batman RIP was the speculation about who the Black Glove was and what Batman’s final fate would be. I don’t think the finale, either in Batman proper or in Final Crisis quite lived up to it, but the experience of speculating was a lot of fun. And, I think after the story’s over, you can read it as simply a great story.

An issue like this can be read on a straightforward level, as just a wacky Superman story, and I think it works there, more or less. But, it’s more interesting to analyze in light of Morrison’s other work and on that meta level that I’ve been talking about here. I think it is a great issue, and the more I write about it, the more layers I uncover. I think that’s largely Morrison’s point with the issue. But, I don’t think that excuses that lack of immediate emotional impact on the initial read.

The question that lingers now is what will happen in the last issue of Final Crisis. We’ll presumably see a universe wide rebirth and explosion into a glorious new age. But, how much time will there be to cover all this. Things looked pretty dire at the end of #6, how much can be resolved? Word has it that the issue will be along the lines of Seven Soldiers #1, a supercompressed narrative. I love Seven Soldiers #1, but that issue had the emotional attachment of all the previous character minis. I’m not as attached to the characters in Final Crisis. But, if it can match the intellectual density and moments of ecstatic emotion that Seven Soldiers #1 had, it’ll be a great conclusion. We’ll find out tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Battlestar Galactica: 4x11-4x12

We’re two episodes into this season of Battlestar Galactica, and so far, the show’s been full of everything that I like, and everything I dislike about it, pretty evenly split between the two episodes.

The season premiere was full of the sort of impressionistic storytelling and compelling blend of intense realism and surreal mysticism that characterizes the show at its best. More than anything else in that episode, I absolutely loved the look of certain scenes, and the strange feel they created. Kara burning her own body as the sun sets is as arresting an image as the show has ever produced, full of strange implications, but also absolutely gorgeous on a purely aesthetic level.

The rest of the episode dealt with the characters’ reactions to finding out that the Earth they’d been waiting for is a desolate, uninhabitable wasteland. On the one hand, I think this is a weak story twist, to have them abandon Earth and keep journeying through the stars. I’ve always found it frustrating that there’s an inevitable reversion to the status quo. Part of it is probably budget reasons, but to spend not even an episode on Earth feels like a lost opportunity.

But, the impact of finding an Earth that is completely uninhabitable was handled well. Dee’s suicide was a major shock, and you got a really palpable sense of despair on the ship. It was an incredibly heavy episode, one that drew me right back into the world of the show after nearly a year away.

Unfortunately, the season’s second episode was considerably weaker. Pretty much everything I dislike about BSG was contained in this episode. The show positions Roslin and Adama as heroes, and occasionally does these stories where they obtusely do whatever they want and complain when people won’t go along with whatever they want. Is it so ridiculous to let the quorum have some say in the direction of the fleet? I want them to align with the cylons, but I still think it’s absurd for them to say that the president can do whatever she wants, and that Zarek is a traitor simply for wanting to stick to democratic process.

Now, the question that always lingers is, is the show saying that Adama and Roslin are right? Maybe there’s an implicit critique of their behavior here. But, the way it’s framed, I don’t think that’s the case. This is the same as them stealing the election from Baltar, a totally self absorbed behavior that for some reason the show accepts as the right thing to do. The moral position of the show seems to be an almost fascist view that Roslin and Adama know what’s right, and it doesn’t matter if it’s not democratic, they’ve got everyone’s best interests at heart.

I think the political compass of the show has been distorted by the fact that Roslin and Adama now agree on everything. The essential tension of the show at the beginning was the hawkish tendencies of Adama versus the more idealistic, peace loving Roslin. Now, they’re the same, and there’s no character of equal weight to oppose them, particularly when they make such a big deal of staining Zarek’s reputation. It seems that we’re to believe that only a corrupt politician could oppose the noble Adama and Roslin.

I like Adama and Roslin when they’re away from politics. One of my favorite scenes in the entire series is the flashback to the two of them on New Caprica, talking about a cabin by the lake. But, when they’re placed in these political debates and act incredibly nasty, it’s hard to feel for them, and the show becomes a weird echo chamber arguing for nothing in particular.

That whole episode was just generally uninspiring. But, the season premiere was lyrical and beautiful as only this show can be, so hopefully it will be the good BSG that shows up for the rest of the season.