Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Battlestar Politica

Battlestar Galactica is a surprisingly smart show. It's got the hardware of sci-fi, but has deeper characters than almost anything else on TV, as well as a fascinating, if dark, sensibility (which is probably understandable when your pilot has the human race nearly wiped out).

I also liked how audaciously they ended last season--after the humans settle on a planet, the show flashforwarded a year. But, after watching the third-season premiere, I'm not sure if this gamble has paid off.

First, we're in stasis, with most of the humans stuck on a planet run by the Cylons while the rest hide in space. Second, we've lost the sense of quest, since the original plot engine of searching for Earth seems to be gone. I'm not saying every episode has to be filled with action, but this is a slow way to start.

Third, and worst of all, is the politics. This used to be one of the best things about the show--how it commented on the world today (as much sf does) as well as humanity in general. In the past, though, this was all part of what helped drive the story forward. Now, with discussion of suicide bombers and the like, it's getting heavy-handed. I still want the political stuff, but not front and center.


Anonymous Lawrence King said...

Well, although I definitely like BSG, I found the political arcs in season two utterly unbelievable.

A bunch of humans have second thoughts about whether the Cylons are bad? Maybe that happens during a Cold War, when some Americans question whether the Soviets are all that bad. After all, none of them have been killed directly by the Russians. But the Cylons reduced the human species from about 50 billion to 50,000: in other words, 999,999 out of every one million humans was killed. And the Cylons are still chasing them. Then a group forms saying "The Cylons aren't bad?" How many Armenians during the deathmarches said, "You know, maybe we are wrong to think the Turks are hostile"?

And the political debate was the worst. Roslin says, settling here will annihilate the human race. Baltar says, no. Suddenly the moderator says, "That's all we have time for, the debate is over." What the hell else is more important? For that matter, why does this television network have anything at all to show on TV other than news? With 50,000 humans in subsistence living, why are there half a dozen media channels? Are these fleeing humans finding time to film enough new sitcoms, dramas, and soap operas to fill up six channels?

Am I nitpicking? For me, this is so ridiculous that it really hurts my enjoyment of the show. It seems as if Ron Moore is so insistent on making his show "relevant" to current issues, and "accessible" to non-SF-fans, that he has never thought about the deep psychic scars that losing 99.9999% of the human race would cause. Almost every person in the fleet has had the vast majority of their own friends and family wiped out, and it's back to politics as usual within a couple months?

7:26 PM, October 10, 2006  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

Regarding season three.... I really liked the premiere. Some of the subplots -- especially the Starbuck one -- are quite gripping. And Roslin steals any scene she's in.

(The weakest link in the main cast is Apollo, which is sort of ironic insofar as Apollo was the star of the Old Show.)

However, I fear they will fall into the same problem as they did in the past two seasons. They already have decided exactly what point in the drama they want to be at when season three ends. Now they have to fill the time between now and then, and from what I saw in the premiere, they have enough plot to fill ten or fifteen episodes. So I expect some pointless filler mixed in with great stuff.

Scriptwriters have been writing for movie-length and TV-length slots for decades. But long-term-arc shows are fairly recent -- Babylon 5 is the first one I saw. Now, all the hot shows have arcs -- 24, Lost), etc. But it seems to me that writers have not yet, fundamentally, figured out how to pace an arc-based show. B5, BSG, and 24 all alternate between too rushed and too dragged out.

Buffy avoided this problem because, hidden under the apparent girl-versus-monster arc, each season's arc really was character development. Joss Whedon starts with the character development and then works in the Good Guys Versus Big Bad story. This seems to work better. I suspect that the reason is that slow character development has been done in radio and television serials for many decades, and so experienced writers know how to pace such a story, whereas plot-arc-based stories are too new.


7:33 PM, October 10, 2006  
Blogger LAGuy said...

A related problem in season two was the finale where some on one side tried to steal the election. When the irregularity was discovered (but not yet widely known), the side that lost (closely) decided to live with the result. Why? To keep a tradition of democracy going on? These people believe the very existence of humanity is at stake. It hardly matters if you set a bad precedent when a good precedent won't be followed since everyone will be dead.

If Moore really wants to be relevant, he can not only show how regular rules break down in extreme (really really extreme) situations, but how the reasons behind the old rules no longer make sense anyway so perhaps they should break down.

To me the show started going downhill when they discovered the tomb that suggested the old scriptures about Earth were correct, and then essentially didn't follow up on it.

I've also been annoyed by all the reporters. Just how many newspapers and magazines do 50,000 support?

I also agree that Apollo is the worst character. They keep trying to make him interesting, but nothing works. Just kill him off already.

10:22 PM, October 10, 2006  
Anonymous Lawrence King said...

And one more: If you stick a thick electric wire in my arm, I bleed and bruise. If you stick a thick electric wire in a Cylon's arm, she can interface with a computer.

Yet the most brilliant scientists in the fleet haven't yet figured out how to test whether someone is human or Cylon.

11:36 PM, October 10, 2006  
Blogger Irene Done said...

Wait. Back to Apollo: do you think the role is played by the weakest actor or that Apollo, as written, is the weakest character?

Excellent point about the reporters.

12:35 AM, October 11, 2006  
Blogger LAGuy said...

Excellent question, Irene, but before I answer, let me make two observations.

1) What a great name you have.

2) You now join our list of sister blogs that look just like us: lipstadt.blogspot.com/ and www.gayandright.blogspot.com/ (Irene's is http://notbillable.blogspot.com/. Check it out.)

Anyway, Lee "Apollo" Adama.

It's usually hard to tell if you should blame the actor of the role. A lot of actors seem awful until they get a good part.

But in this case, I blame Jamie Bamber. Why? Because they've tried so hard to make his character work. His central issue is (or was) his problems with his dad, but he also had a strong yet troubled relationship with Starbuck, as well as an important one with Roslin. He's also had close relations with about three other women, and is allegedly a solid commander. Yet, with all this going on, I never cared about him or hoped he would be featured in any episode.

1:09 AM, October 11, 2006  

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