Category Archives: Battlestar Galactica

Review: Battlestar Galactica – “The Plan”

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“The Plan”

October 27th, 2009

There has been an odd lack of excitement surrounding “The Plan,” which isn’t exactly surprising. On the one hand, the show’s finale proved somewhat divisive, which could have turned some fans away from revisiting the series. On the other, there is more long term interest in a project like Caprica which could run for multiple seasons than a one-off movie, which might have fans focusing more on its impending premiere. However, I really shouldn’t fit into either of these camps, as I’ve yet to get truly excited about Caprica (although I am certainly intrigued) and I quite loved the finale. And yet, nonetheless, the DVD release of The Plan (in stores today, October 27th) snuck up on me in a way I had not anticipated, and its release seems to lack the fanfare one would expect for what will be our last time spent with this universe (or this time period in this universe).

Perhaps it is best that one goes into this one with low expectations, however. As someone who loves this show, having written an undergraduate thesis about it and spending four hours writing about the series finale into the middle of the night with no regard for my personal health, the purpose of this film should excite me. Promising to explain the Cylon plan to destroy humanity, and to detail how the individual Cylon models came to play their roles in the first two seasons of the series, one feels as if there is some really compelling material to be had here, the kind of stuff that would have me wishing I could go back and rewrite my chapter on the Cylon/Human binary all over again.

And yet, “The Plan” is a qualified failure, raising some intriguing issues but in an indulgent fashion that in its relentless need to fill in the gaps of where this is happening relative to the show’s narrative proves more distracting than informative, more confusing than enlightening. I feel as if there is an intriguing narrative waiting to be found somewhere in this mess of a two-hour television movie, but that narrative is lost when it is so clearly segmented to fit into the series’ existing structure. While we’re busy playing the game of “spot which footage was from the show and which was shot new for the movie,” there’s something interesting going on here that’s just not coming through as clearly as it needed to.

In individual moments, this feels like Battlestar Galactica – as a whole, it feels like a DVD extra where you can click a button and see what the Cylons are busy plotting at that particular time, something which would be more interesting if they hadn’t tried to turn it into a motion picture event.

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BSG: The Long Goodbye – Romancing the Cylon, Revisited

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Romancing the Cylon, Revisited

March 27th, 2009

Those of you who have stopped by Cultural Learnings’ “About” page have likely noticed a rather auspicious little nugget that a few people have asked me to expand upon:

He recently completed his undergraduate honours thesis on the genesis of medieval romance within the 2004 re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica.

Some respond with disbelief, others with appreciation, and I have to presume that some people just raise an eyebrow and move on with their lives. However, as clearly evidenced by this week’s continued coverage of Battlestar Galactica’s Series Finale, I am not capable of moving on from Battlestar Galactica. There’s always a risk when you choose to write your thesis on a subject that you will leave with a fundamental hatred of said subject, but I left my thesis with even more appreciation for this series, and this blog has become the outlet for my continued engagement with those ideas.

And so, to cap off The Long Goodbye, I’m going to do something highly indulgent: I’m posting my thesis.

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BSG: The Long Goodbye – The Real Higher Power of Battlestar Galactica

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The Real Higher Power of Battlestar Galactica

March 26th, 2009

There has been a lot of discussion following “Daybreak” regarding the role of religion in the series, a lot of it claiming that the finale’s use of religious terminology and the concept of a “higher power” was too reductive and problematic to serve as an endpoint, too clean and concise to possibly capture the moral ambiguities and political differences that have plagued the series. I will admit, up front, that I can’t particularly relate to this argument, for two reasons.

First, I feel it is primarily an argument of semantics: while discussing the finale during the special edition of the /Filmcast [Now available for download here!], Devindra Hardawar noted that he viewed the higher power as a “natural order,” something which derives its power as much from nature than it does from anything religious. What he was describing was spirituality, not religion: yes, the terminology of Angels was utilized within the series to describe certain aspects of the finale, but are we really going to take word use as a justifiable argument in a world with fundamentally different values of religion and language that would make such a definitive reading problematic?

Second off, I don’t particularly feel it matters due to the reaction the finale achieved for me personally: while there are various nitpicks that Devindra, Meredith Woerner and I discussed during that two-hour breakdown of the episode, for the most part the finale was designed to provide powerful and dramatic moments for the characters we wanted to see, and for this journey for Earth. Those moments don’t become fundamentally less powerful when they are given a place within a broader agenda as long as that agenda does not supercede the characters involved: since the “higher power” remained vague and unexplained, it allowed the impact to sit where it should sit.

But getting talking about the idea of an omniscient force, or higher power, got me thinking about the individual who is most responsible for defining every single one of those road signs to Earth, of bringing all of those characters to life. Bear McCreary, who has been scoring the series since the show’s first season, has been perhaps the most single-handedly responsible for the series’ emotional success, having had a hand in every episode and having been “in control” of character destinies with pivotal decisions that, up until this season, have been primarily behind the scenes.

But with the advent of his blog, Bear McCreary’s genius has been put on full display, and while he no doubt still plays coy about the role he has played in the show’s overall aesthetic, the fact of the matter is that he is an indispensable part of the series’ identity, and of the various Galactica-related talents moving over to prequel series Caprica he is by far the one who may have the most immediate impact. It is no surprise reading McCreary’s epic explanation of the work he did for “Daybreak” that there was something special about the music in this episode, because my recollection of its finest moments often come through not as images, but rather as music.

So while some are off cursing the series of omniscient powers that apparently solve the show’s problems too easily, I’ll be over here worshipping the real higher power, and problem solver, of Battlestar Galactica.

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BSG: The Long Goodbye – Battlestar Galactica and the Trouble with Twenty

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Battlestar Galactica and the Trouble with Twenty

March 25th, 2009

[After reading Media Studies scholar Jason Mittell's thoughts on the finale over at Just TV, I got thinking about the narrative structure of the finale, and how different it was from the season that came beforehand. As a result, we have our third part of The Long Goodbye: the most formalized attempt I've made at describing Season Four's struggles.]

It is impossible, and probably not even desireable, to go into a series finale without some sense of the agency of the show’s writers, creators and producers who are behind the strings pulling things together. By the very nature of the media hype surrounding the event, especially for shows which have garnered critical or commercial success, there is going to be a focus on the person “responsible” for what people are about to see. In many ways, it’s about blame: if things go awry, if decisions are made which anger long-time viewers, there will be someone who can be held up to the clambering crowd of naysayers as the individual who sent their beloved series down such a dangerous path.

Battlestar Galactica is no exception to this rule, and its finale had numerous moments wherein you could feel Ronald D. Moore exhibiting creative license, making decisions to leap forward in time, to explain away potential plot holes, to prescribe meaning to things in a way which didn’t feel as organic as we may have liked. But that’s his prerogative, this show having been his “creation,” and it’s also not a fundamentally bad thing: while it may end up being divisive, as a show that was designed to get people talking many of his decisions in the finale were well-crafted and connected with the series’ existing identity.

And yet I do have a problem with this idea, just not in the context of the finale itself. My problem is with the fact that the same type of sense of the producers controlling the flow of traffic, withholding information or making deliberate decisions, has been present from the very beginning of the season in a way that wasn’t as productive. There was very little organic about the way the season was organized, as if proximity to the series’ final destination sent them careening around in circles for eighteen episodes before deciding in the finale to get on with it already. The result was, in a bit of a fascinating twist, the realization that for the most part this Finale could be viewed directly after Season Three and still be an effective emotional climax to the series.

With that realization, the omniscient writers and producers who were in charge of this journey are suddenly held accountable not just for the end, but for everything that came before it – considering this question closer makes the ultimate case for the value of shortened cable seasons as opposed to the lengthened order the series was provided.

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BSG: The Long Goodbye – Live Series Finale Discussion

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Live Series Finale Discussion

March 24th, 2009

[I figure I've done plenty of writing in regards to the Series Finale, but there's always a place for some diversification: as we continue The Long Goodbye, we have a special edition of the best darn movie podcast on the internet devoted to the subject at hand.]

While the first episode of the McNuttCast took on the series as a whole in a shortened time period, there’s always been room for a more detailed and lengthy discussion of the epic finale itself. As a result, I’m as always honoured to be joining the /Filmcast for another discussion about Battlestar Galactica – I always love being on the show, but discussing BSG is often my favourite part, primarily because it gives me a chance to pick on Dave and Adam for not having yet caught up with Devindra Hardawar and the rest of the self-respecting viewing public in watching the show. I’m always glad to be able to help facilitate these discussions with Devindra, and now with Dave and Adam banished until they finish the series we’ve got plenty of time to dig into what was an epic two-hour finale without worrying about spoiling them.

We’re going to be joined by Meredith Woerner from io9.com, and I will warn you now: I’m not sure on Meredith’s thoughts, but Devindra and I loved the finale to death, so this could well be a lovefest. The joy of live streams, though, is that some of the contrarians can come out in the chat room, so perhaps we’ll be able to get some devil’s advocates after all.

I’ll post the link to the entire show once it’s posted, or you can subcribe to the /Filmcast on iTunes, but tonight at 9 EDT you’ll be able to hear the discussion live at /Film’s Live page. And, just in case you didn’t figure this out, there will be MASSIVE spoilers for the finale and everything that came before it.

Live BSG Finale Discussion Tonight @ 9pm!

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BSG: The Long Goodbye – The Critical Response to “Daybreak”

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The Critical Response to “Daybreak”

March 21st, 2009

[I always write my reviews without reading what other critics have written, not because I don't respect their opinions (precisely the opposite) but rather because I feel as if I have nothing to add once I finish reading them on occasion, and I want to feel motivated to write and produce blog material. And while I may have gone with the "volume" approach with the Series Finale, this doesn't mean that other critics haven't been able to far better focus on some of the issues I really wanted to emphasize myself. So, let's take a trip through the critical response to the finale as we start our Long Goodbye.]

Critics love Battlestar Galactica, and those that don’t do feel kind of bad about it. This is one of those “events” in the world of television criticism, where it becomes the dominating topic of discussion within critical fields, and while there is a mostly positive buzz surrounding the finale this doesn’t mean that there isn’t some disagreement. So let’s, below the fold so as to not spoil anyone, start sorting through the reviews for some things they made me reconsider, and some things that I want to question.

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BSG: The Long Goodbye – Introduction

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Introduction

March 23rd, 2009

I have written a lot about Battlestar Galactica over the past two years of this blog. One of my very first posts, in fact, was about how Battlestar Galactica was more or less taking over my life, leading me to see parallels in literature, in every day life, and expecting in some way that it would slowly meld with my own life. And, on Friday night, it pretty well did: after watching the finale, I shut myself into my room and turned out an epic, sprawling and rather indulgent review that was part catharsis and part exorcism. It was not, however, a goodbye.

I don’t think I’ll ever say “goodbye” to the show, what with the DVDs I could watch, or the academic papers I might eventually write, but at the same time I felt after writing that review that I need some more time, and some more posts, to really come to terms with this ending. And so, throughout the week I’ll be posting a myriad of thoughts on the show, whether it’s some links to the views of other critics, or an extended analysis of Season Four’s narrative structure, or potentially even something I’ve been resisting for a while but may have found its ideal time frame in the wake of the finale. I’m also considering the rather insane task of confronting the issue of the finale’s religious elements, but perhaps I’ll come to my senses before wading into that particular conflict.

Regardless, it’s one last chance to get some of this off my chest before I know I’ll have to put it on the backburner in favour of academic pursuits.

Monday:

The Critical Response to “Daybreak” – A collection of various critical analyses of the finale, with some of my own insight sprinkled in for good measure.

Tuesday:

Finale Discussion - A two-hour discussion of the series finale done with Devindra Hardawar and Meredith Woerner, recorded as a special edition of the /Filmcast, is now available for download at the above link.

Wednesday:

The Trouble with Twenty – As ironic as it sounds, an analysis of how the problems of feeling like the season needed more time could have been solved by shortening its season to tighten the show’s narrative.

Thursday:

The Real Higher Power – With all this talk of God and religion, let’s realize who really holds the most control in the BSG universe: Bear McCreary, composer of the Gods, controls our emotions and reactions more than any writer, producer, or higher power ever could.

Friday:

Romancing the Cylon, Revisited – My obsession with BSG is perhaps best represented by my undergraduate thesis about the series’ connection with Medieval Romance, so what better way to finish this cathartic week than spreading it to the world?

[Come back daily for another dose of The Long Goodbye.]

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Series Finale: Battlestar Galactica – “Daybreak Part Two”

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“Daybreak Part Two”

Series Finale – March 20th, 2009

“Ever since we found out who…what we are…”

When the Battlestar Galactica Miniseries first began, there were two main questions: who are these people who are leading humanity forward after this devastating tragedy, and what is the nature of the Cylons who caused that devastation? It was part of that central binary the show put forward, humans vs. Cylons, but from the very beginning these are not two separate questions. In the character of Boomer, this balance between who/what was inherently questioned, as those who straddled the line between human and Cylon were forced to confront these types of questions. When the Final Four Cylons were revealed, they all fell on different sides: Tyrol accepted “what” begrudgingly in the quotation above, Tory downright embraced it, while Tigh refused to abandon “who” and continued to emphasize his personal identity.

At this point, we as viewers are all people straddling this line between “who” and “what” in the shadow of “Daybreak,” a series finale which struggles less from pressure within the show itself and more from the external pressure of fan expectation. The problem is that we, as fans, grapple with similar problems: are we concerned, moving into the finale, about who these characters are and what journey they have taken, or are we too caught up in the “plot holes” or the questions to which we demand answers? It’s not a new binary amongst viewers: for ages people have been complaining about episodes for having too few explosions, or for being too slow, or for not doing enough to advance the show’s complicated plot structure. Whereas for most of those episodes, I’ve noticed strong character development, effective mood building, and an almost cathartic sense of pacing that is part of what makes the series more than just science fiction.

“Daybreak” is an episode that, more than answering which side of this binary people should fall on, should destroy it altogether. This isn’t about plot, or character, but the intersection of these ideas. In the show’s fourth season, amidst some admittedly complicated and on occasion bungled storylines, one thing that has remained consistent is the idea that the definitions of human and Cylon are melding together. Much as Edward James Olmos argued against race being used as a cultural determinant during the United Nations panel earlier in the week, we should be beyond the point of considering these people purely along the lines of human vs. Cylon, just as we should be beyond the point of considering the show in terms of plot vs. character.

So, let there be no red line drawn down the deck: with this epic, sprawling, action-filled and philosophically-driven finale, Ronald D. Moore has accomplished what he set out to do. He manages to meld together the cheeky with the solemn, the profound with the surreal, the whimsical with the emotional, in a way that gives you that sense that destiny is not a four-letter word, that plot and character are neither slave to the other, and that whatever this show accomplished it will go down in a fashion befitting of one of television’s most effective pieces of programming, period, independent of its science fiction heritage.

So say, if not us all, then at least this particular believer.

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Battlestar Galactica – “Daybreak Part One”

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“Daybreak Part One”

March 13th, 2009

Methinks that Ronald D. Moore has placed a red line right down the ranks of the Galactica faithful, which is something that he seems to revel in – it is not that the beginning of “Daybreak” is inherently a bad episode, but rather that it represents a very cautious approach that is treating this three-hour finale as an episode in and of itself as opposed to an extension of the episodes that came before it. The result is another in a long line of setup episodes, weaving in and out from his main character’s past lives in Caprica City in a way that makes thematic sense to the show as a whole, but doesn’t actually feel like it connects with the mutiny, or the rest of the fourth season thus far.

There’s something to be said for this kind of approach: with a cast this large and with a timeline this varied in terms of both action and reaction, it’s easy to see why returning to who these people were before “the Fall” would be of some value. And yet, at the same time, I left the episode not pondering how much these characters have changed but rather how much they’ve remained the same. Something about the way the episode was structured made it a bit too easy, the parallels between their former lives and their current predicament too simply stated, for us to forget some of what has happened to them, to remove the context of forward momentum and replace it with a potent nostalgia.

The result is something different, not something wrong: when Adama has his heroic speech, we are properly on the edge of our seat, properly considering the gravity of this situation, and properly realizing just how epic this is going to eventually be. But we’ve been waiting for something epic for a long time now, and by layering that suspense with the catharsis of the flashbacks we’re taken out of the season and placed into a series perspective perhaps too disconnected from the season thus far.

I’m left wondering not whether Moore is steering this ship in the right direction for the finale, which has the right kind of epic qualities as we need it to have coupled with a strong connection to these characters and their past lives, but rather whether this finale remains unchanged from the plan originally designed for when the second season was to be only 13 episodes – I have a feeling that it wouldn’t have been any different. As a result, while it feels like we’re heading in the right direction for a series finale, I don’t quite know if it feels like an ideal capoff to the season in and of itself.

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Battlestar Galactica – “Islanded in a Stream of Stars”

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“Islanded in a Stream of Stars”

March 6th, 2009

“You know sometimes I wonder what “home” is. Is it an actual place? Or is it some kind of longing for something, some kind of connection?”

The entirety of Battlestar Galactica has been about a search for a new home. From the end of the miniseries, when Commander William Adama told everyone that they had a map to a new home called Earth, there was always a preoccupation with finding someplace to settle, someplace to rebuild what they had before, somewhere to plant the roots that had been so violently uprooted by the Cylon attack. But from the very first moments of ’33,’ it became very clear that this wasn’t going to be a simple journey, and at every point where they felt like they had found home (In season 2′s visit to Kobol, appropriately titled “Home,” or on New Caprica at the start of Season 3) it was taken away from them by some cruel reality from their past.

But every character on the show has nonetheless remained buoyed by something, some sort of vision or location which connects them to something imaginary yet more real than anything they were experiencing. It’s almost a metaphor for the show itself: even with all of its spaceships and explosions and epic battles, the show has found grounding in human emotions and human relationships in the same way that its characters, faced with the surreality of their years of struggle, return to that which offers the most peace with themselves. We saw our first direct example of this last week, wherein Boomer had actually built a home for her and Tyrol that, when she was sad, she would go to in order to get away from it all.

Moving this into the realm of Cylon projection is reflective in the fact that the search for a home has become even more complicated when you include the Cylon side of this equation – they too had their initial home destroyed by some unknown force, and were forced into a bitter search for purpose. And they too thought they had found the answers, whether it was the Colony revealed in this episode (where the Final Five built the Other Eight Models) or Caprica and Boomer’s plan to settle the Cylons on New Caprica with humanity. But for whatever reason, fate and destiny never led them to the point where either Cylons or humans were able to find a home that was their own, that brought them not just complicated questions or theories but rather something approaching the peace that only the imagination could create.

While the second half of this season has had a number of episodes which serve as a clearing of the air in an effort to make distinct the themes the show is looking to delve into in the two-part finale to come in the weeks ahead, this one is the one that is most broad-reaching: whether it is Adama’s realization that his search for Home never really even started, or how the principles of fatherhood drive both Helo and Tigh into very different perspectives of what makes a place or home, or how Laura Roslin has always held onto her own dream-like projection, or eventually how someone like Kara Thrace acknowledges that she’ll never quite be home until she accepts just who she is. The only thing that ties everything together is that, for all but one of them, none of their conceptions of “home” have anything to do with Caprica and its ruins, Kobol and its gods, or even Earth and its destruction.

They’ve been “Islanded in a Stream of Stars” since the attack began, but the island meant something different to every single one of them; the problem has not been that their actual location or condition have been wrong, but rather that the various different secondary realities have been in conflict. Now, as we move closer to our conclusion, the people aboard Galactica are starting to rise to the occasion, finding in themselves not just their place of peace but also the self-awareness necessary to either let go of their inhibitions or accept that their vision of home might not be what they’ve been searching for all along.

And the result is an emotionally powerful penultimate episode of a series that, having always been about a search for home, has at the very least found itself one in the annals of television history.

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