Tag Archives: BSG

Scene-ic Storytelling: Philosophy and Memorability in SyFy’s Caprica

Scene-ic Storytelling in SyFy’s Caprica

March 25th, 2010

I was listening to last week’s episode of the Firewall and Iceberg podcast, where Alan and Dan were explaining how hard it is to pick your favourite episode of a television show. I concur with their evasion of the question at hand, as picking a favourite episode of a serialized television series seems disadvantageous while picking a favourite episode of a comedy is so highly subjective that it’s a bit dangerous, but I have a followup question: could we pick a favourite scene?

I find this, when I think about it, considerably easier. While picking a single episode of The Wire is impossible, picking a favourite scene seems like it’s possible: sure, there’s still too many to choose from (McNuggets, Chess, FuCSI, Co-Op Meeting, etc.), but we’re more comfortable singling out scenes because there’s an expectation that what we select will capture the quality we most admire in the show being discussed without the baggage that comes with an episode of ensemble, serialized drama which goes in various different directions.

There is a lot of power in scenes to tell a story, or to capture a viewer’s attention. The Hurt Locker and Inglourious Basterds, both nominated for Best Picture this year, are effectively a series of vignettes which rely on being making both collective and individual impressions, building character by creating unforgettable tension and suspense from various circumstances. And on the comic end of the spectrum, Noel Murray’s fantastic A Very Special Episode series at The A.V. Club turned its attention on The Simpsons’ “22 Short Stories About Springfield” episode this week, and the wealth of comments on the post demonstrate that its collection of short vignettes are perhaps amongst the most quotable and memorable scenes in the series’ run precisely because they are part of an episode which admits to being a collection of scenes rather than a cohesive episode.

I raise this question because I want to talk about SyFy’s Caprica, a show that has thus far been more successful at creating memorable scenes than at creating memorable characters or stories. Ending the first half of its first season with a finale of sorts this evening on SyFy and SPACE, the show has used scenes with deep philosophical meaning and implication in order to create a lasting impression that makes me want to see more even when I don’t have as much of a vested interest in what I see in the rest of each episode. These scenes, at times single-handedly, have made Caprica into a show I admire a great deal, but at the same time they are doing nothing to alleviate concerns that some viewers seem to have about plot and character in the show’s universe.

Some thoughts on why this is, and why I think this sort of “scene-ic storytelling” is good for the show in the long run, after the jump.

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Caprica – “The Imperfections of Memory”

“The Imperfections of Memory”

March 12th, 2010

One of the largest concerns that many seem to be citing when explaining their dislike of SyFy’s Caprica is “poor pacing,” which isn’t an uncommon complaint of any serialized drama. Really, Caprica is trapped between the two most common circumstances where pacing becomes a concern: not only is it a new series that is taking a while to get to the bulk of its story, but it’s also being (unfairly) viewed as a continuation of a previous series, which creates other expectations about how fast the show should (or shouldn’t) be moving. For some it’s starting from scratch, and for others it’s having to contend with concerns over pacing that plagued the final season of Battlestar Galactica.

I don’t intend to repeat my previous argument on why I disapprove of the latter concern, but the former issues are legitimate and, to some degree, quite accurate. “The Imperfections of Memory” reminds us that this is in some ways the story of a group of people stumbling into knowledge that we as an audience (regardless of whether we’ve seen BSG) already know, and watching that unfold can be at times a slow and unsatisfying process.

However, personally, I think there’s something interesting about watching the process of discovery, and the power that yields has thus far been worth the slow build, and worth the sideways momentum, and worth the “poor” pacing so long as it’s building to something as philosophically intriguing as it seems to be.

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“Caprica” DVD Review

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“Pilot”

A Special DVD “Review

There is no hiding the fact that the end of Battlestar Galactica was, for me, a cathartic experience, a chance to say goodbye to something that has been a fairly large part of both my critical and academic investigations into the world of television. However, there was always that lingering sense that the journey wasn’t really over: TV Movie “The Plan” is airing this fall, and on April 20th “Caprica,” the backdoor pilot for the upcoming series of the same name, released online and on DVD.

The former project is designed to give more time to characters shafted by the main narrative, and to answer/address some questions that have been lingering but may have proved too tangential for the show’s fourth and final season. In that sense, we know what to anticipate: we know that it will address the Cylon plan to attack Caprica, and that’s pretty well enough to create expectation.

But Caprica is an entirely different monster, primarily because it sits in that odd position somewhere between prequel and spinoff, the communication between it and its predecessor minor in most ways. The decision to release the pilot, always planned as a stand-alone project which could be turned into a series should executives be pleased with the final product, eight months before we have any chance of seeing the series is a calculated risk, and one that feels like a concerted effort to link Galactica and this new series more than may actually be logical, or beneficial.

When you first start watching Battlestar Galactica, one of the things that strikes you is that which wasn’t explained, or wasn’t exposited in some sort of speech. The polytheism of humanity was less a topic of discussion and more a stated fact, and it was less a selling point of the series than it was a sign that this show was going to go beyond the boundaries of traditional science fiction to offer something more nuanced.

In Caprica, however, this is front and center; in many ways, it feels like some of the themes that Galactica took for granted or didn’t often highlight put on display in an effort to provoke the viewer more than actually engaging with the show’s characters…at least on a conceptual level. As executed, I think there’s a lot to like about this project, and in particular there are some really intriguing ideas surrounding the main pairing of Joseph Adama and Daniel Greystone which elevate the show above its lack of subtlety and into a place where I am, more than before, looking forward to seeing what happens when this goes to series.

As for what that series will look like, however, is a question that I don’t know if we can really answer – in the meantime, let’s delve into the series in what I really can’t call a review, since it isn’t particularly objective in its tone, but more of an analysis of sorts. A long one (big surprise, eh?).

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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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