Thursday, April 03, 2008

Battlestar Galactica – An Early Tease

I think that over time I've mentioned the fact that as someone who blogs about Television as an amateur critic I am at a disadvantage because the networks don't send me "screeners" – episodes of shows sent out in advance by production companies so that critics can have copy to review before the show airs. It is part of my lot in life as an amateur critic, and while I accept it, I have to say that it would be very convenient around season premiere time to have copies of the new shows to review without having to either watch the show as it goes to air or find the time to watch a taped copy. And now I have the opportunity to do just that.

The Sci-Fi Channel in the US has been making a major push to promote the season premiere which will air on both the Sci-Fi Channel in the US and on Space here in Canada on Friday April 4th. As part of the promotion for the start of the final season of the series, the network (through a company specializing in online promotion) has been sending out material to bloggers and others with an interest in television in general or Battlestar Galactica in particular, or both (that would be me). This included a review screener. Getting the screener included some restrictions, the biggest of which was this one: "After the 3/31/08 hold, I will provide only spoiler-free coverage, which means that ANYTHING that happens in the last 15 minutes of the episode is completely off-limits." I confess that this may put a crimp in my style, but it was a condition I was aware of so let's see how it goes.

The first thing that viewers will note when they see the episode on Friday night is a new introductory sequence instead of the sequence that tells us that human beings created the Cylons, the focus now is on the twelve humanoid Cylon models – seven have been revealed (Sharon, D'Anna, Cavil, Leoben, Doral, Simon and Six), four are living in hiding (Tigh, Anders, Tyrol, and Tory Foster), and one will be revealed. Once this opening sequence is completed and the requisite recap of the important events of the past couple of episodes – notably the apparent death of Starbuck – is finished the action immediately picks up from where we left off at the end of the last season, with the Colonial Fleet unable to jump following a massive power outage, and a huge Cylon fleet closing in on them. Oh yes, and Lee finding a live Starbuck. The battle starts off badly, and the fleet suffers a huge loss in its population when one of the big passenger ships is destroyed and another is badly damaged. And with the Cylons seemingly on the verge of finally eliminating humanity, something happens that causes the Cylons to break off their attack. And that's all before the first commercial.

There are three main plotlines in this episode. The first deals with the four hidden Cylons. There are some tantalizing hints that they aren't entirely the same as the humanoid Cylons that we've come to know. They are wracked with doubt as to what their role in things is. This seems particularly true of Anders while Tigh is the one most determined to retain his humanity. It also fits the notion, stated by series creator and Executive Producer Ronald D. Moore in an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that these Cylons are fundamentally different from the others that we know. For them, as well as for us, the questions of where they came from, why they've been activated and where their loyalties actually lie, is something to be discovered.

The second storyline concerns the return of Starbuck. From the moment that we first see her and her ship there is something noticeably different about her and the ship. In fact the difference is so noticeable was that my first thought was that the appearance of her ship was a bit of bad CGI work. But of course the look of things is entirely deliberate, and adds one more aspect to the mystery of what happened to Starbuck. Her claims that she's been to earth and knows how to take them there are greeted with suspicion to say the least. There's a time discrepancy – for Kara only hours have passed but for the fleet several weeks have gone by. And then, while she has pictures of the planet she calls Earth, her ship's flight recorders are blank. When combined with the condition of her Viper and the general human paranoia about the remaining five Cylons Indeed, there's one scene with Lt. Gaeta where this come bubbling to the surface. People are not in a mood to listen to what Kara says.

Finally there is Baltar's story. In Herman Wouk's The Winds Of War there is a line where Captain Henry, speaking about his son Byron who is trapped in Warsaw, tells his wife that their son will come out of the wreckage of the city, probably holding someone else's pocket watch. This pretty much describe's Baltar's situation. Set adrift after his acquittal on a ship where most people would sooner kill him as look at him. He manages to find people who will not only accept him but embrace him. And virtually all of them seem to be women – attractive women. For the moment our Gaius is doesn't understand his situation – even with the guidance of his personal Number Six – but still as happy as a pig in warm...mud.

Inevitably most of the episode takes place within the claustrophobic world of the ship. That's hardly surprising; unlike the 1979 version of the series this version of Battlestar Galactica has never been about the big space battles. Rather it has been about the ship and the people who serve as its crew, and the fleet and the survivors of the attack on the Colonies. I suspect that this episode's opening sequence may be the biggest battle sequence that we've ever really seen in this version since at least the first episode. The fact is that the quality that makes Battlestar Galactica one of the best shows on television is that the aspect of the story they focus on isn't combat but characterization and relationships between people. The original Battlestar Galactica was very much the opposite. Characterization was virtually nil, being replaced with "action" and frequent use of stock footage. The current Galactica is about people forced to deal on a daily basis with life and death situations where they can't afford to make mistakes. This episode, like so many others on this show, is anchored by conversations. To be sure there's action but even when there is violence it is used to reveal something of the people we are watching.

There's a lot more to each of the stories that I've mentioned, but I'm trying to avoid the whole matter of spoilers and I don't think I can go much further than I have without revealing too much, or without revealing elements from the final fifteen minutes. I don't think it's revealing anything shocking to acknowledge that the episode as a whole offers a lot in the way of questions without providing much in the way of answers. That's the way of the show. There's a whole season left to provide us with answers (not to mention additional questions). The episode is definitely satisfying, and I think I have to disagree with Alan Sepinwall, who wrote that "it doesn't majorly advance the plot" if only because I at least don't know where the plot is going right yet. And really, should we expect major advances in the plot in the first episode of a new (and sadly final) season? Or should we expect what this episode in fact manages to deliver, the foundation on which this season will play out; what sets Tigh and the other three "hidden" Cylons apart, what Baltar's part in things is going to be, and of course, the quest for Earth. While I doubt that this episode with excite viewers with a massive WOW factor I have a definite sense that people will come away with plenty of questions but still eminently satisfied. In short, I think you're really going to like this one.

No comments: