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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 – 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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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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Left on the Cutting Room Floor: “Deadlock,” Editing and Soap Operatic Indulgence

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Left on the Cutting Room Floor:

“Deadlock,” Editing and Soap Operatic Indulgence

Last weekend, still stewing in frustration over “Deadlock,” [my review] the latest episode of Battlestar Galactica, I tweeted the following to my twitter followers:

Pretty sure I could write five blog posts this week delving into points of contention on last night’s BSG. I must resist this.

As you can see, I lasted until this morning, as I have in weeks past, before needing to delve back into episodes that frustrated me, trends which concerned me, and that voice in my head that for all of my enjoyment of BSG’s four seasons is extremely cynical about the show’s direction when the show ends in three weeks. The last three episodes of the show have all felt “off” for me, and I’m at a point where I need to see something in tonight’s episode, “Someone to Watch Over Me,” that convinces me less of Katee Sackhoff’s talent or Bear McCreary’s musical genius and more of Ronald D. Moore and David Eick’s vision for completing this thing in only 4 more hours of television.

I am aware, of course, that these hours are really only 43 minutes, and that in that amount of time the show only has time to do so much. In fact, on numerous occasions this year, there have been moments where I’ve wondered what was left off the cutting room floor, and how some content seemed ill-fitting for particular scenarios. And after reconsidering “Deadlock,” and reading some of the interviews with the show’s writers regarding episodes like aforementioned Deadlock and No Exit, I’ve come to a conclusion that somewhere, in those minutes of uncut footage and those ideas not followed through on, there might have been a way to quell my cynicism.

But we got a love triangle instead.

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Battlestar Galactica – “Blood on the Scales”

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“Blood on the Scales”

February 6th, 2009

For the second time this season, I found myself in a situation wherein being able to watch Battlestar Galactica wasn’t in the cards. I am not a fan of this particular development, as it is inherently frustrating, especially when the episode was actually spoiled for a couple of people I was with for the weekend. BSG’s friday night time slot seems great in theory sometimes, but when you actually have an event going on it’s kind of tough to find the time to slot it in.

And by the time I did sit down late Saturday night to watch “Blood on the Scales,” I have to say that I didn’t find it quite as exciting as some others did. Perhaps it was the scenario in which I watched it, but there is something about this episode that felt like it was the simplest of solutions. There wasn’t anything surprising in the episode, outside of a couple of loose ends that never really played a role in the episode. This isn’t to say that the episode lacked excitement, or that its darkest moments had no impact on me, but rather that for all the escalation and all the entertaining turnarounds it ended up exactly where we knew it would end up.

So this isn’t likely going to be incredibly lengthy, primarily because I wrote so much about “The Oath” that saying too much more here is probably going to get redundant.

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