Sunday, 4 May 2014

Battlestar Galactica Season One


The Miniseries Part One written by Ronald D. Moore & Christopher Eric James and directed by Michael Rymer

What's it about: The Twelve Colonies are under attack from the Cylons after a 40-year armistice...

Commander-in-Chief: Played with gruff authority by Edward James Olmos, Adama is a character that runs through the entire gamut of human emotions throughout the four season tenure of the show but manages to keep most of those feeling bottled up. That means those moments where he displays flashes of anger or distress really count for something. He is precisely the sort of man that you would want in charge of a fleet on the run; respectful, loyal, smart, brave and pretty much unshakable. That makes the character sound incredibly boring but he is also capable of making terrible mistakes, losing his cool at inappropriate times and letting his pride get the better of him. It makes him a flawed hero but a man to look up to nonetheless because he is always doing what he can for the best of the fleet. Like most of the characters on this show, I love how human Adama is - flawed, multi-faceted and often very surprising. Adama has a soft spot for Starbuck despite her rebellious attitude, in fact he actually seems to admire her for it. She was once in a relationship with his now deceased son and there is always a feeling between these two of a father/daughter relationship. Sometimes even more so than Adama's relationship with his surviving son. The restraint that Adama shows when Lee accuses him of murdering his brother because he pulled strings to get him in the service is to be admired. I think Adama knows if he reacts violently that his relationship with his son will be irrevocably destroyed.

XO: At this stage of the game Tigh is almost a stock First Officer; a grizzled, unlikable old drunk who is nonetheless very good at his job. Interestingly, throughout the course of this series I would say that Tigh is the one who goes on the biggest journey and proves the most fascinating to watch. You couldn't really tell that at this point though. Michael Hogan has a great deal to offer and come the final season he is easily my favourite performer on the show. But more on that later... It's a shame that nobody makes Tigh eat his words when he claims that the Cylon attack on Caprica is just a joke at Adama's expense.

President: Oh President Roslin. A magnificent character who you can't help but cheer for even when she jumps in the wrong direction. Most of her appeal comes down to the measured performance of Mary McDonnell (who looks uncannily like Elisabeth Sladen from Doctor Who), an actress who takes a tough role and wrings every nuance out of it that she possibly can. The first thing we learn about Roslin is that she has cancer which immediately puts our sympathies with her. The fact that she doesn't seem especially maudlin about the news and confronts it with a brave face even more so. The first conversation between Adama and Roslin is an argument, which pretty much sums up their acerbic relationship in the first season as the two strong willed characters figure how to maintain an impossible situation together. Just as Baltar is trapped in a nightmare scenario, so is Roslin. As the highest ranking political representative off planet (with the remainder of the political having gone up in smoke on Caprica), she automatically sworn in as President. Is the Secretary for Education up to the job of rallying the survivors of this mass slaughter into a community? Adama certainly has his doubts but Roslin's steely resolve, humane decisions and grace under pressure mark her out as the finest candidate for the job. Even in the wake of her cancer scare. She very sensibly asks if anybody has considered the possibility of surrender but it clearly isn't an option. We learn that Roslin never really enjoyed politics and was on the verge of getting out. What a twisted turn of events for her this turns out to be. She is practically in tears when she has to accept responsibility for the survivors as President until she can see uncertainty in others faces, then her tone hardens and she shoves her own doubts aside.

Firecracker: Sporadically riveting and dull, Starbuck is a character packed with potential but one that the writers occasionally get lazy with. She's an explosive, screwed up pilot who relies on drink and sex to feel something and it is very easy to fall back on those traits when there is nothing to say about the character in some episodes. However Katie Sackoff has obvious appeal (beyond the physical, although she is most definitely a babe) and thanks to her tortured performance she is the character I usually feel the most for on the show. Starbuck is shown immediately as somebody who happily flouts the rules, winding up the XO about his whoring wife to a point where he throws the gambling table aside and flings herself violently at him. Fans of the original series might have been appalled that Starbuck was written as a woman but she can more than look after herself, proves to be a stunning viper pilot and can be seen tossing back the liquor and chomping on a cigar.

Apollo: Despite his bizarre walk (seriously check it out, Bamber always walks like he needs a crap), Lee Adama is our action hero and beefcake on the show. Introduced as a square jawed, revered pilot who can do no wrong, it quickly becomes clear that this character has baggage of his own. Namely his relationship with his father which has practically deteriorated beyond repair, the pair at odds over the death of Lee's brother. The Ballad of Apollo and Starbuck begins in there first scene together where they remain cordial but clearly want to rip each others clothes off and screw on the floor. It's a complicated relationship which goes through a multitude of ups and down but one thing is for sure, the attraction between these two was there right from the beginning. Possibly the hottest pair in any TV show. Lots of possibilities with the Roslin/Lee relationship, especially with him taking her position over his fathers during a power struggle. They enjoy a sparky, warm chemistry ('Captain Apollo has a nice ring to it, don't you think?') and I look forward to seeing more.

Traitor: 'You have an amazing capacity for self- deception. How do you do that?' Wow, what can be said about Gaius Baltar this early on in the game. A man of almost incalculable hubris, who makes mistake after the mistake and the entire human race suffers unspeakable losses as a result. This could have been an easy role to overplay but James Callis is far too smart a performer to camp up the anti-hero. Instead he plays Baltar as a tortured soul, one who is at the mercy of his enormous ego and who is shitting himself that his role in the disaster on Caprica will come out. I don't think there has ever been a character quite like this before and his presence on the show automatically lifts it into the realms of something very special. You can't help but tune in to see what hideous mistakes he will make next and how by the luck of the Gods he somehow gets away with it. Baltar is introduced as a close aide of the current President and a man with controversial opinions about the advancements of robotics. When it becomes clear that he is having a relationship with Six you could be forgiven for thinking he is complicit in the Cylon attack when the writers take the far more exciting approach of his libido leading him to a security leak in a moment of weakness. His reaction to the discovery that the attack would never have succeeded without his error of judgement is one of the best moments in the miniseries. Panic, desperation, cover up...Baltar considers it all. Because the intent wasn't there he refuses to shoulder the blame despite the fact that the guilt clearly weighs on him and he is terrified of being discovered. There is something delicious about such a pathetic man being trapped in such an agonising situation. Adama says during his rousing speech that there always comes a day when you cannot hide from the things you have done anymore. Gaius Baltar is hoping to keep that day at arms length for as long as possible.

Sixie: How gorgeous is Tricia Helfer? She is practically a walking Barbie doll with a perfect physique and features and yet do not mistake her for some blonde bimbo who has been hired because of her looks. She's a massive talent and securing her as the most recognisable humanoid Cylon was a huge bonus for the series. Seductive and unknowable, curious and exotic, dangerous and glamorous, Six has a distinctive, addictive presence. She mentions there are twelve models and she is number six, an important piece of information as the show charges on and more models are revealed.

Chief Engineer: Aaron Douglas looks so young and fresh faced in the miniseries, a far cry from his worn down appearance in subsequent seasons. Tyrol, like Lee, is a pretty cut and dry character at this point. His the Miles Edward O'Brien of Galactica, the everyday man who keeps the ship in one piece and ensure the vipers are in tip top condition. And like O'Brien the writers find more ingenious ways to torture this character to show every aspect of his humanity stripped away. His quiet, angry reaction to the sacrifice of so many of his men really makes the moment count.

Secretary: I took to Billy instantly, especially his bashful attraction to Dee.

Helo: Didn't really impact (apart from the fact that he was really cute) until he agreed to give up his seat on the raptor for Baltar in Caprica and stay behind with the rest of the victims. A brave decision that would have a profound effect on both his character arc (he would go on to meet Sharon in season one on Caprica) and the rest of humanity (keeping Baltar alive is just about the worst thing he could have chosen to do).

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Humanity's children are returning home today...'
'You cannot play God and then wash your hands of the things you have created.'
'Why can't we use the starboard launch?' 'It's a gift shop now.'

The Good:
*   The opening few seconds lull the viewer into a feeling that this might be a low budget affair featuring some creaky modelwork before the stationary ship we are witnessing turns and the stars spin in an incredible display. The CGI on this show is consistently extraordinary and that was the case right from the opening episode. Watch how the station explodes and a piece of debris hits the 'camera', that's a special effects team really thinking about how to make the audience sit up and pay attention. The space battle sequences are the result of years of watching other series perfect the art (there are shades of Babylon 5 and DS9 to the quality of CGI conflicts in space), taking the best approaches and then putting their own spin on things. Missiles shoot unpredictably out of Cylon raiders and just because the vipers are being driven by the 'good guys' it doesn't guarantee anybody's safety.
*   Immediately the classic series of Battlestar Galactica is alluded to with the original Cylon model appearing on the document held by the human representative at the political meeting point. I'm really pleased that this show hasn't completely forgotten its past, offering little kisses to fans of the original show. I have only watched the odd episode in passing so I can't really comment on how accurate the continuity ties up but I know how I felt when Doctor Who came back for a new generation of children and it honoured its history so stringently (stirrings of the original BSG theme can be heard over a news report). Clearly the population of Caprica have no idea of how advanced the Cylons have become, especially their ability to mimic humans. The new design CGI Cylons are sleeker and far more deadly, with razor sharp hands that can turn into machine guns in an instant. I love that they kept the blood red laser eye that darts back and forth across the visor (and the same effect on their raiders is especially ominous) but it is a shame that their distinctive voices have been excised completely. These are not characters, these are merely foot soldiers. An old fashioned Centurion can be seen proudly displayed in a museum, a relic of the past.
*   In precisely the same way that the Dominion were such a fantastic, insidious threat on DS9 (Ron Moore showing his roots), the fact the Cylons have mastered human forms gives this series its central theme of identity and what makes a person who they are. Doral is seen escorting a group of visitors around Galactica right after the credits and Six spends a great deal of time manipulating Baltar on Caprica - these human Cylons have infiltrated the human race without any suspicion. That Invasion of the Body Snatchers sense of 'they are amongst us' is one of the most expertly handled concepts in the series, especially when it is revealed that characters that we already know could be one of the enemy's number.
*   'It's all hands on here...' I really like the idea of the Galactica being looked upon as a ship that is past its prime and ready for retirement. It adds another layer of character to the show that this old, weary battleship becomes humanity's last hope for survival. The ship itself is superbly designed; cramped corridors, a functional but stylish command hub (the CIC), a hangar deck teeming with engineers and viper relics (space craft built to scale within the set - very impressive) ready to be put out to pasture. The lighting is harsh and unrelenting, the details are realistic (Adama uses a phone rather than some outer space communicator) and the whole operation feels entirely plausible. It is this level of grit and realism that marks this show as something a bit different from the wealth of other science fiction shows on the market. It feels only a few steps removed from our military. Michael Rymer's outstanding direction of the early scenes aboard the Galactica cannot be overlooked; there is a tracking shot the follows characters from room to room, down corridors and into the hangar that allows this ship to feel like a bustling operation and its crew a well oiled workforce. It feels as though a lot of money has been poured into the construction of this setting, the Battlestar that we are going to call home through four years of impossibly difficult scenarios. Bravo to all concerned. Caprica City is beautifully realised too, again it manages to keep one foot in the door of reality whilst still being recognisably a science fiction setting. It's a modern cityscape but one which looks a lot like a polished metropolis that we might recognise albeit with functional looking craft screaming through the sky shuttling people to different locations. Battlestar Galactica's skill is that it manages to present a science fiction environment that doesn't alienate people who aren't keen on the genre, whilst satisfying those who are. Not an easy feat to pull off. 
*   It took Star Trek TNG seven seasons to take us lower decks to see how the lesser ranks relax and socialise but BSG gets in there immediately, allowing the show to work on several class levels. We get to see the Commander and the XO relaxing and drinking in their quarters rubbing shoulders with scenes of the deck hands and pilots gambling, flirting and drinking in the mess. It's a show where everybody is given the same amount of consideration and that is quite rare. We're privy to the pilot briefings too, allowing us to those who protect the fleet in their professional and social surroundings.
*   The moment when I realised that this show was going to go to some dark places and take risks that other shows wouldn't wasn't when the population of Caprica was decimated - I've seen mass extinction in science fiction before - but the simple death of a baby whose neck is snapped to prevent it from having to face the coming apocalypse. What is so fascinating about this act is that is clearly abhorrent but ultimately could be seen as an act of kindness in the wake of the Cylon massacre. This is a quick, clean death. The alternative probably would have been agonising. Any show that can present the casual murder of a child as an act of mercy is doing something quite different in my book. Another feature of BSG that I heartily commend is that it regularly features situations where characters have to face some very ugly choices, ones where the audience has to ask themselves if they would have the balls to go through with it themselves. Tigh has to seal off several decks in order to save Galactica but in doing so he is condemning many deck hands to their deaths in the vacuum of space. It's an uncompromising set piece that sees Tigh have the courage of his convictions and forces us to watch as innocent lives are flushed into space. Astonishing.
*   Whoever decided to employ such a wealth of hand held camera work should be applauded. As we continue on through the series there will be many moments of experimental realisation on the show and this was the first brave step. At times it feels as though the cameraman is hopping from one foot to the other the way it wobbles precariously as we swing round from one character to another but the massive impact this has on the show, making it feel like documentary rather than a filmed drama and again injects a level of realism that is unusual in science fiction. Even the CGI effects feel as though they are being filmed by a documentary crew at times, with sudden zooms and a lens that scans the area until it finds its target. It can be more like watching the news than a TV series, planting the viewer right in the action and often giving the cameraman the chance to get right up close and personal with the actors and giving them no place to hide behind more glossy, fictionalised camerawork. Don't get me wrong this is heavily stylised but in a way that drives the action in the most riveting, personal way.
*   It's bizarre that the attack itself should be so remote (see below) because the aftermath is brilliantly handled. I especially liked the gaggle of survivors that happen upon Helo and Boomer and their downed raptor. Only a handful of these people are going to escape this nuclear wasteland and they have to draw and lottery to see who it will be. What a dreadful game of chance to face. Delightfully for a second it looks like Baltar is so desperate to survive that he is going to steal a blind woman's ticket to freedom. People try and bribe their way onto the ship but its clear that in this apocalyptic circumstance money has suddenly lost its value.
*   The episode ends with the lead characters son and the recently sworn in President apparently killed. Television convention tell us that this cannot be the case because it would be foolish for a writer to build up such strong characters and dispose of them so quickly. BSG has already proven in its first hour and a half that it doesn't play by the rules (wiping out most of humanity for starters) so there is a lingering possibility that this could be for real. That's how convincing this feature length episode has been.

The Bad: For the most part this is an extremely well judged pilot for a television series; dramatically, academically and visually. However if I had one serious complaint (and it is something that show rectifies almost as soon as it begins as a series) it is that the attack on Caprica itself is seen as more of an intellectual exercise rather than a dramatic one. It is a set piece that is very quickly skipped over so we can cut to the evacuation of the survivors and the consequences of the attack. We don't get to see the advance of the Cylon ships or them screaming into orbit, we don't get to see the cities burning on the ground (merely a very distant shot of explosions on the surface from space) and don't get to see the suffering of those who are going about their daily lives. Given the series' documentary feel there is a strange feeling of distance from the drama of the attack itself. It's not as if it had to be an expensive venture either, one set being destroyed and a handful of extras and the reality of the situation could be brought home. Even the initial reactions of those in command are muted. All the action takes place in the atmosphere, this is an extremely impersonal attack. Perhaps that is right given it is the result of an army of robots. It wasn't until Roslin made an official report to the press and their heated reaction that this felt like it was having an impact on those who have survived.

The Shallow Bit: Sex is prevalent on this show and it is often portrayed as a savage, ravenous act of lust. It's certainly not a show to watch with your mother. The cast is almost universally attractive so the nudity is a bonus and it is one of those shows that will take the sexual act right up to an explosive climax. So not one to watch when you're horny either.

Moment to Watch Out For: 'Is this a joke?' Adama's reaction to Roslin order for his assistance is a scream. This is definitely going to be a relationship to watch. 'We're in the middle of a war and you're taking orders from school teachers!'

Result: 'It has begun...' From the very first scene the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica makes it mark and is heavy with a sense of foreboding. Given the quality of this miniseries it would have been a criminal act to have prevented it from going to series. It's too good to ignore. A slightly muted attack on Caprica aside, this is a superlatively devised drama featuring strong characters, a realistic setting (both on Caprica and Galactica) and fascinating dilemmas and it is all wrapped in a distinctive and original visual style. Often shot like a documentary rather than a polished drama and allowing the actors to get up close and personal to the camera, there is a palpable sense of realism to BSG that is lacking in a lot of science fiction. This is the sort of high drama that could appeal to non fans of the genre. The performances of Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, James Callis and Tricia Helfer stand out most vividly but there isn't a duff note in the stellar cast. What's astonishing is that many people (including myself) probably went into this expecting a remake of the classic series, all sparkly robots, camp costumes and melodramatic acting and what was delivered instead was a series that revolutionised the genre. I think BSG took everybody by surprise but being devised by the strongest writer on the DS9 staff I should have had far more confidence. There is plenty of action but the miniseries is long enough to allow for some stirring world building and plenty of moments of character. It is the characters that are our way into any story and if they are fudged then it doesn't matter how strong the narrative is. Fortunately this show features the strongest ensemble of characters I have ever stumbled across, everybody from the Adama at the top of the chain to Cally at the bottom is given equal weight and consideration. This is only the first half of the miniseries but already it has covered so much amount of ground, barely setting up this corner of the universe before tearing it down. Evolution is the name of the game and points at this series being a real risk taker. A massive thumbs up and I'm really excited for the rest of the journey: 9/10


The Miniseries Part Two written by Ronald D. Moore & Christopher Eric James and directed by Michael Rymer

What's it about: Stand and fight or run and survive?

Commander-in-Chief: Adama is smart enough to recognise that Leoben is a Cylon as soon as he meets him but plays along for as long as possible to gather some intelligence on the creatures in their new humanoid form. Adama proves himself physically very capable in a fight although it is not a function that we see him perform too often on this show. He literally beats Leoben to a bloody pulp with his torch, an act that shows just how far the hatred for the Cylons runs deep. It also marks BSG out as a show that isn't afraid to show the raw side violence when the situation calls for it. I like the fact that Adama is man enough to admit when he is wrong, it is something that he does several times over the course of the series and it takes some character to look at yourself and decide that you made the wrong call. Spotting Billy and Dee flirting in the CIC, he can see that there is a real need for the human race to escape the battle zone and get copulating. For an experienced war veteran, a man who hates the Cylons and who has just suffered an operatic defeat at their hands this is a real moment of development to decide to run away and survive rather than stand and fight. Roslin might be a good influence on him yet. Adama's rousing speech to his disheartened crew is like a two finger salute at the Cylons and really pushes the idea that humanity will survive despite their best efforts. This was a necessary, optimistic speech to ensure that they head out into the universe with the right attitude although I do wonder if Adama will come to regret telling his people that he knows where Earth is. He makes a big promise that Earth will become their new home. I hope it is one he can keep.

XO: Tigh doesn't want to accept that the war is over and that they have lost. He wants to turn around a give the Cylons a bloody nose. Tigh offers Starbuck an olive branch but she slaps it away calling him weak and a drunk. Another relationship to watch because I think he might just prove her wrong.

President: 'Do you plan to declare Martial Law and take over the government?' Interesting to see such an amicable exchange between Roslin and Baltar given that they will be bitter rivals in the second and third seasons. At this point it is a relief to see anybody alive. Baltar cannot even remember her face but he's so self serving I doubt he could remember anybody didn't feed his ego. It is worth noting that it is Roslin's idea to form a convoy and escort them out of the system and to safety. Adama fights this notion and if he had had his way there is a good possibility that the human race may have been wiped out. I love the scene between Laura and Tammy, the little girl who has lost her parents, because it works on so many levels. It shows how good Roslin is with children and how she earned her position but it also marks the first instance of having to face one of victims of her Presidency, not half an hour later having to condemn that child to death at the hands of the Cylons in order for the rest of the fleet to escape. In a moment of weakness Roslin admits that the world is probably going to end and all she can think about is that she is going to die of cancer. She thinks that is selfish but Billy corrects her, it isn't, it's just human. A gorgeous moment and one that could sum up a lot of what this show is all about: examining the human condition. Roslin uncomprehendingly has to keep telling those in the military that the war is lost and the only sensible thing left to do is to run in order for them to survive.

Firecracker: Again there is a moment of barely restrained moment of sexual frustration between Starbuck and Apollo (I bet fans of the original series are appalled to see that sentence see the light of day). These two need to tear each others clothes off and have at it already. You should always be certain that the end of the world is nigh before you confess your sins because you don't know what the consequences might be if you happen to survive the apocalypse. Starbuck admits that Zack Adama failed his flight training but she passed him anyway because she was in love with him and she wanted to cut him a break. If she hadn't done that there is a very good chance he would still be alive right now. This may have serious ramifications in the future. 'You are beyond insane!' Lee screams at Kara as she head butts her viper with his and drags his sorry ass back to Galactica. This one is a risk taker alright, and she usually manages to get away with it too.

Apollo: I can't say I was entirely surprised when Apollo and the President survived the apparent nuclear explosion and it disappointed me somewhat to hear a technobabble explanation that wouldn't be out of place on Star Trek. This show is usually a lot smarter than that. Adama's quiet and relieved reaction to the news that his son is alive and then the mute hug they share in Lee's quarters means there may be hope for these two yet. Given the magnitude of the events in the past couple of days they need to put their differences aside and work together.

Traitor: They saved the surprise of Six's haunting presence in Baltar's consciousness until the second half of the miniseries and it makes for a great moment. Is she a representation of guilt? Is there a Cylon device in his brain that has planted her in only his field of vision? Is she directing him somehow? There is some comic value to this apparition too, Baltar reacting out loud to a phantom that only he can see. Baltar is in the awkward position of understanding the Cylons better than anybody and thus being able to spot their devices and who is a plant aboard Galactica and yet he cannot point these things out because he would have to explain how he knows. It would implicate him. Half the fun is watching him find ways around this whilst keeping his name in the clear. Callis' 'surprise' when he is told that the Cylons have taken on human form is delicious ('They could be any one of us' 'That's a very frightening possibility...'). With Baltar creating what is in essence a Cylon detector he has become not the man who sold out humanity to the enemy but potentially the most important man in the fleet.

Billy: One of the character threads in season one that never ceases to make me glow is the relationship between Roslin and Billy, two gentle people supporting each other through a crisis. When she admits that she has cancer to him he already knows, he has been observing her closely and has seen the signs. In amongst all the conflict that exists on this show, Roslin and Billy are like an island of calm respect.

CIC Officer: One of the unsung relationships on BSG is the ever changing but always fascinating bond between Felix Gaeta and Gaius Baltar. During the miniseries Gaeta is in awe of the good Doctor, completely unaware of his part in the destruction of Caprica and the exodus of humanity. They make an excellent team because Gaeta is constantly impressed with his mentor and Baltar enjoys having somebody around to stroke his ego. Their amicable, early relationship takes on a whole new level when we learn later on that Felix is bisexual, adding an extra element of spice to his fascination with Baltar.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'It's about time we caught a break...' - never has that line been more earned.
'Sooner or later the day comes when you can't hide from the things you've done' - although this isn't directed at him, all I could think about was Baltar.
'We need to start having babies' 'Is that an order?'
'It's not enough to just live, you have to have something to live for. Let it be Earth.'

The Good:

*   From the outset loss is one of themes that BSG handles so potently. Given that the main body of humanity is wiped out in the miniseries and all that is left is around 50,000 citizens in a fleet that is unprepared for life on the run, death is a daily occurrence that those remaining have to get a handle on. A quiet moment between Starbuck and Tyrol at the beginning of the second exemplifies how loss has suddenly become a way of life and in a crisis you have to swallow your feelings and get on with your job and save your grief for later. Bodies are laid out in a cargo bay under shrouds as a powerful visual of the sort of losses that have been suffered off planet and that is a mere fraction of those who have been massacred on Caprica. The scale of the slaughter is impossible to get your head around.
*   There is some disorienting and deft camerawork when Galactica makes its first FTL jump which captured the rarity and emotion of the moment rather than setting the standard for all similar scenes when the show goes to series. This is a group of survivors turning their back on their loved ones and deciding to move on, that is a massive commitment to make.
*   My favourite aspect of the second half of the miniseries was watching the President cohere the survivors into a fleet and dealing with all the supply issues that come with that. Are there enough resources to cope with the 50,000 odd people that will be forming this exodus? Power, food, water, medical supplies...the list in endless and the script takes a realistic approach to pooling resources and trying to ensure that everybody gets their fair share. Again it is BSG taking a realistic approach, looking at the tough decision those in charge would have to make when there are suddenly 50,000 mouths to feed and no way of getting any no supplies. The direction continues to impress, the camera circles around Adama, Roslin, Billy and Doral as they discuss (read: argue about) their next move. Dancing around the actors like this means we get to see all of them as they say their piece whilst being caught up in the giddy whirl of their debate. The script does allow those who make the decision hide away from them either - as the fleet is about to jump away we can hear the plaintive, begging cries of those they are about to leave behind. Once this is all over Roslin and Lee show great character facing those decision head on and will have to assuage their consciences later. Make no mistake, people are being left behind to die (although the shots of the little girl waiting for her parents might have pushed the point too far).
*   Can robots have a soul? That's a huge question that I have seen Trek try and examine (and fail to come up with any kind of definitive answers, whilst still having some profound things to say on the subject). Religion plays a massive part in BSG whether you like it or not and it gets more relevant as the series progresses. At this stage of the game it seems like the Cylons are merely mimicking their masters, trying to understand their definition of life. When we come out the series at the other end we have been on such a journey with these creatures that it is the closest I have seen a TV series commit to showing machines with feelings and a belief system of their own.
*   It unusually takes me quite a long time to become attached to a group of characters on a television show. If it's a series with troubled beginnings it might take a few seasons (Torchwood) and if it's an exceptional one it may only take a few episodes (Buffy) but rarely have I become as invested in a community of people as quickly as I was with BSG (DS9 might be the exception with many the characters bursting with life in the pilot). Moore and James spend so much time kicking these characters down that the moments of relief really make an impact. We've already seen this cast go through hell and so I really felt moved watching the reunion of Boomer and Tyrol, the kiss between Dee and Billy and Adama holding his son he had presumed dead.
*   I haven't mentioned the music by Richard Gibbs which is very remiss of me because it is responsible for creating so much of the atmosphere on this show. I feel as if it is even stronger when Bear McCreary takes over on the main series but admittedly he takes a lot of his cues from Gibbs. What stands out the most is the subtle but threatening theme when Six appears to Baltar and the uplifting harmonies when everybody starts coming together again.
*   It's great to see the miniseries thinking about storytelling possibilities for the future, in particular the supplies that the fleet is going to need and the prison ship full of 500 convicts. Roslin has to step in at this point and refuse to allow the Commandant of that ship to start starving his prisoners because supplies are running out. It's a fascinating question - when supplies are low who is denied them first?
*   Look out for the terrifying shot of the Cylon mothership that emerges and vomits hundreds of raiders towards Galactica. These are the sorts of numbers that would make anybody run. The battle scenes are slick, fluidic, chaotic...clear enough to see what is going on but messy enough to show that all hell is breaking loose. If the special effects team can keep this up then BSG is going to be at the forefront of cinematic space battle sequences. With shields down and countless missiles screaming towards the ship, Galactica jumps into FTL at the very lat moment. Proof, if it was needed, that Roslin made the right call.

The Bad: I was desperate to know what was going on back on Caprica and so the whole sub plot at the ammunitions depot felt a little superfluous in the wider scheme of things. They could have hit the facility, loaded up and been gone in minutes but instead this sequence takes up a massive chunk of screen time with the help of some random jeopardy (dropping an explosive). Detailing operations is both a strength and a weakness on this show. It would be very Star Trek to show up, load up and move on but BSG takes the time to show that this is a lengthy and difficult operation. It is realistic but it also a little uninteresting. Sometimes we don't have to see how every nut and bolt works. Leaving Doral to fend for himself because they suspect that he is a Cylon is a big gamble - if he isn't that is another member of the ever dwindling human race that has been put out to pasture. In some ways it makes the decision too easy when it turns out that he is a Cylon. Although it does go to show how effectively they have infiltrated humanity unnoticed.

The Shallow Bit: There is no denying that Tricia Helfer looks smoking hot in that red dress. No wonder Baltar is so distracted.

Moment to Watch Out For: Boomer is a Cylon. What a bombshell to drop at the last minute and leave the audience hanging. What if this hadn't gone to series and had never been resolved?

Result: Deftly giving the audience a firm idea of the format of the series ahead, the second half of the miniseries isn't quite as strong as the first half but seen as a whole the three hour TV Movie is a spectacular accomplishment. Vivid, instantly flawed and captivating characters. A gripping scenario. Tough choices. A unique, stylish look. A sexy cast and even sexier production values. And oodles of threads, both character and plot, to build upon. My issue with the second half comes down to it being perhaps half an hour longer than it needed to be, with the scenes on the ammunitions depot too protracted and a little repetition as the same problems are discussed amongst the vast cast. That is more than made up for by the gripping character pairings; Roslin and Adama, Baltar and Six, Lee and Starbuck and the general sense of the series being pushed in a fresh and unknown direction. Heading into a series I wonder how serialised BSG is going to be and if there will be space for standalone episodes? It is such an arresting post apocalyptic scenario that I can't imagine the writers will want to stray too far from the main story that often. Will Baltar ever be discovered? Can Roslin cut it as President of the survivors? Are there any more Cylons amongst the fleet? Will Boomer ever be discovered? I have three times as many questions that I would like answered and the fact that this show has gotten me thinking so much already is a testament to how intelligent and engaging the writing is. If we had to suffer several abortive attempts to bring Battlestar Galactica back to television in order for it to return in this condition then I am pleased it took so long. I have a feeling this is going to be one hell of a ride: 8/10

2 comments:

Ulkesh said...

Yes! I've actually just begun a BSG rewatch, and ironically, given your comments, it's only happening because my mom wants to see it! I'm unreasonably excited to read your reviews going forward seeing as you're probably my favourite reviewer.

You know what I'd really love as well, just as friendly, post-Battlestar, pressure-free suggestions: 'Stargate' and 'West Wing' reviews. Just throwing those out there. :)

In any case, keep up the good work, Joe.

Joe Ford said...

You really are too kind about my scribbles. I am a massive fan of both Stargate and The West Wing and wouldn't rule either of them out in the future :-)