Tag Archives: Sci-Fi

Battlestar Galactica – “Sine Qua Non”

“Sine Qua Non”

May 30th, 2008

Yes, you’re not seeing things: that date above is in the future, which means that I have perfected the art of time travel. Or, more accurately, I’ve perfected the art of hijacking a British satellite feed in order to watch this week’s episode of Battlestar Galactica three days before it airs on this continent.

Yes, SkyOne is now three days ahead due to the Memorial Day holiday break on Sci-Fi, which is good news for those of us able to see it early. Now, I was trying to decide whether to write a review now or later for this one, and know that my decision to focus on the former is largely due to a desire to discuss it while it is still fresh in my mind; I know how hard it will be for those of you on feeds to resist the temptation to read before you watch, and I apologize for the trouble.

However, there’s a lot to talk about here, some of which I found interesting and some which, well, I didn’t. Plus, the return of a much-loved character that, although engaging, ultimately falls in the latter category…I think.

So, head below the jump for thoughts and spoilers…and, if you’re not coming back until Saturday, see you then!

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Battlestar Galactica – “Guess What’s Coming to Dinner?”

“Guess What’s Coming to Dinner?”

May 16th, 2008

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Season Four.

Yes, certainly, there has been some strong episodes in this first half of the fourth season, so my apparently very late welcome to the series is not to say that the show has been wholly off its form since its premiere in early April. However, with this our 7th episode in the first half of the season that is likely to serve as our only episodic Battlestar fix in 2008, the show is finally returning to what it does best: episodes that combine every conceivable point of strength for the show into a single forty-minute segment.

Here, we have everything: the subtle character moments (albeit in smaller number than episodes past), the haunting thematics, the secret agendas, the political intrigue, the mythology of the series emerging, the cliffhanger endings, and most of all the kind of acting that you just don’t get on other shows these days. The episode leaves us with so many unanswered questions that you’d swear we are leaving for a lengthy break starting now as opposed to in (likely) a month’s time.

But, nope – in two weeks time, we will find out what all of this week’s fantastic episode means. For now, let’s dig in.

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Battlestar Galactica – “Faith”

“Faith”

May 8th, 2008

If there’s anything that Battlestar Galactica’s latest episode asks for, it is certainly the episode’s title: faith in its vision, faith in its journey, and faith in its slow as molasses pacing. If there was any hope in this changing, then “Faith” certainly set the record straight: with still a large number of episodes to go, Ronald D. Moore is going to take his sweet time getting to “the point.”

Of course, I am not one to criticize this decision – the nature of this final season is that it is having to tie together three seasons worth of action, suspense and drama into something even bordering on conclusiveness. It’s the same problem that any series faces towards the end of a season, or the show itself, but one that is particularly tough when you have two distinct societies, with multiple destinies intertwined within each one, to deal with. Human and Cylon are both on a collision course with something big, but how they get there needs to be choreographed.

I am kind of wary on “Faith,” if only because on a plot level it didn’t even live up to the low standards that I provided for it. It is one thing to spend a quarter of the episode with a very character/mythology driven story for Laura Roslin, that’s earned considering the show and Mary McDonnell’s respective pedigrees; the big problem is that the dramatic payoff to the Demetrius payoff was neither suspenseful nor dramatic on a broad plot level. We already knew what Kara Thrace learns from the Hybrid, we pretty well presumed what was going to be the end result of their journey, and outside of a random leg injury I never felt like anything was truly in jeopardy.

But, in the process, there was a few key scenes that elevated the material, and a sign that even though we’re not moving as fast as some would like we are definitely on the water in the river between the past and the future storylines.

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Battlestar Galactica: “Escape Velocity”

“Escape Velocity”

April 25th, 2008

It was inevitable: after a monumentally eventful third episode for the show’s fourth season, we were bound to find ourselves at least mildly disappointed in “Extreme Velocity.” Written by Jane Espenson and directed by Edward James Olmos (Adama, for the unknowing), the episode was very slight: of the four plots that we picked up on last week, we abandoned two of them while the other two never really showed any new potential to the level that fans had imagined it.

In other words, we probably wouldn’t have conceived an episode that portrays a predictable Tyrol-like response to Cally’s death, and we wouldn’t have abandoned the Cylon Civil War in order to focus on not Baltar’s character, per se, but rather the emergence of his total religiousity. For others, it might hearken back to the unfortunate string of episodes at the conclusion of the third season that the show admits were desperate attempts to save an episode in the editing room.

I don’t think it is nearly to that level: while certainly a lighter episode on plot than we are used to, there was nothing overly objectionable about its content. Considering that the themes of the season are very much returning to the opening of the second season and the division within the fleet along religious lines, it is good that we are seeing more of both politics and people relating to this development. While I do think that a few of the storylines felt like they were getting either too much or too little time, and that there were certainly some balance or editing issues to deal with, the end result is a decent setup for the things to come.

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Battlestar Galactica – “The Ties That Bind”

“The Ties That Bind”

April 18th, 2008

Speaking to a friend ahead of this episode, I said the following:

“I’m curious to see where it goes from here – the human plot has kind of hit a roadblock, so it’s going to be up to the Cylons to carry the dramatic weight I fear.”

So, considering these expectations, I should have been really frustrated with “The Ties That Bind,” an episode where almost all of the dramatic weight was founded on Cally, one of the most maligned characters amongst certain populations of the show’s fans. While there were a series of intriguing and fairly fantastic revelations on the Cylon side of the coin, it was ultimately a footnote in the episode compared to our central drama.

Now, I’ve never been on the side of Cally haters per se, but rather of the mind that Cally’s character was never given a justifiable reason to exist outside of her relationship to Tyrol. The character was never asked to carry any dramatic weight outside of either being beaten to a pulp or being placed in mortal danger – as a result, we got a lot of screaming and crying, but little in the way of nuanced emotion or any such things.

I’m not saying that what we saw from Nikki Clyne last night was revolutionary performance, but Michael Taylor managed to draw from her past in order to craft, at the very least, an intriguing point of representation. Cally, through anti-depressant fueled journeys, becomes a loose cannon – she is suspicious and paranoid in her altered state, and begins to suspect Tyrol is hiding something. Upon investigation, she stumbles across his biggest secret, and all of a sudden Cally has gone from nuisance to all-out ticking time bomb.

And then it went off, much sooner than I think any of us expected.

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Battlestar Galactica – “Six of One”

“Six of One”

April 12th, 2008

With a gun in her hands, and a suicidal Kara Thrace in front of her, Laura Roslin pulls the trigger – she misses, and while we ponder how she did so at such close range we notice something: what she shot was a photograph of Adama and Roslin, together. If that’s not an omen, I don’t know what is.

If last week’s premiere was perhaps a symbol that the show was starting off on a slightly different trajectory than the third season, then this week’s episode solidified our point of reference: this is season two all over again.

We have questions of faith, the schism between our two leaders, and even the same people in positions of personal crisis. I don’t say this as if it is derivative, but rather that it is a strong return to form – it may not be the 0 to 60 we saw last season, but it is a strong mythology turn that will serve the show well.

Read on to learn while Starbuck is in a cell, parts of her are all throughout the ship.

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Season Premiere – Battlestar Galactica Season Four – “He That Believeth In Me”

“He That Believeth In Me”

April 4th, 2008

I had said earlier this week that I was going to spend copious amounts of time analyzing the third season of Battlestar Galactica…and then proceeded to spend copious amounts of time watching it instead. As a result, I expected to enter into this episode ready to compare it to the season which preceded it.

Instead, I’m comparing it to Lost.

Like any good serialized show of this nature, Ronald D. Moore and Co. ended last season on a cliffhanger, something it has done in past seasons. However, something was different this time around: I don’t know if it is that the stakes are lower, or the action slower, but something has changed. My point of comparison is this season’s Lost premiere: we had the revelation in the previous Finale, so the premiere will pale by comparison.

I think, in this case, I had already watched this episode in my head: the new Cylons happening to stumble into scenarios where people question their humanity unknowingly, Starbuck struggling to return to the real world after her absence, and everything being very bizarre for Gaius Baltar. I think the problem was that the episode never went beyond that: it was great for what it was, but having already deduced much of this myself I was sort of behind.

I actually quite loved the episode: laughed out loud, gasped in horror, loved the acting, etc. It’s just that after such a huge revelation, what was put on the screen was everything we had already imagined as fans of the series dealing with a year-long hiatus. And, well, that’s kind of a let down. But, let’s discuss further.

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Signposts to Battlestar Galactica Season Four: Occupation/Precipice

[With Battlestar Galactica’s 4th Season starting on Friday night, it’s time to take a look back at some of the important parts of the 3rd Season as I rewatch it in preparation of the premiere. We’ll start with the opening two episodes, and progress with four more signposts from there.]

When I finished watching Season Two of Battlestar Galactica, my response was quite simple: “That was ballsy.” Jumping forward over a year in time created a lot more questions than answers, and if I learned anything from Alias it was that sometimes you risk overwhelming your audience. And, inevitably, what Ronald D. Moore did was, in fact overwhelming…but for all the right reasons.

The occupation of New Caprica by the Cylons was supposed to be overwhelming, both on a visual and intellectual level. When Col. Tigh emerges from the Cylon prison missing an eye, you get a sense that bad things are happening, and that there isn’t going to be an easy out from this scenario. We’re stuck in this occupation, as the viewer, but can escape to Galactica and avoid the struggle directly.

The result is an opening to a season perhaps amongst the best in television, the intellectual equivalent of 24’s four-hour openings of the middle seasons. It wasn’t action-packed in a traditional sense, rather using dense plotting and challenging situations to interrogate our understanding of our own lives and of the lives of these characters.

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Cable Bound: Sci-Fi Acquires Rights to Air Jericho

A while back, I noted how the Writers Strike finally showed one of its benefits when CTV picked up Mad Men for Canadian broadcast: it was a move that probably wouldn’t have happened if not for a lack of new programming, and it was vindicated by the series’ Golden Globes victory. Now, however, an entirely different sort of benefit has popped up that has big ramifications for the little series that could.

Sci-Fi Network announced today that they have picked up the rights to air the first two seasons of Jericho, starting with a four-hour marathon on February 11th, the day before the series’ new episodes air on CBS. When the series was first canceled, many fans threw out Sci-Fi as a potential alternate home for the series, and now this will become at least partially true. More importantly, however, it also sets an important precedent.

While I don’t want to create rumors with really nothing but speculation to fuel them, this provides a parachute of sorts should Jericho fail to get the ratings CBS is looking for. I don’t want to presume its failure, but it’s always nice to acknowledge a contingency plan – by already establishing this relationship with the Sci-Fi network, there is a greater likelihood that they could pick up the show for a third season.

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For Your Consideration: Lead Actresses – America Ferrera and Mary McDonnell

[In Week Four of Cultural Learnings’ 59th Annual Emmy Awards Nominations Preview, we’re looking at possible contenders for the Lead Actress awards in both drama and comedy. Today, we present our third set of candidates. For complete listings for the Supporting and Lead Actor candidates from the past four weeks, check out our For Your Consideration index]

Lead Actress in a Comedy Series

America Ferrera (Betty)

Ugly Betty

There isn’t much that hasn’t already been said about America Ferrera’s breakthrough performance as Betty Suarez on ABC’s hit dramedy. Ferrera waltzed away with the Golden Globe earlier this year, and chances are good that she’ll walk away with an Emmy in hand in September as well. It would be easy, then, to take her actual performance for granted: her nomination is so assured at this point that people have stopped even speculating about it. Delving deeper, however, you do find a quality comic performance beneath the hype. Betty is a character we need to believe as both hopelessly awkward and yet a good-hearted, intelligent, smart individual. Ferrera, despiting being made “ugly” for the role, never appears less than radiant as Betty. She goes to extreme lengths to display Betty’s inner beauty, and it never feels clichéd. There is something about Betty that makes her a worthwhile star in the series; as the season progressed and her character became less picked upon, Betty became a complex and intriguing character capable of supporting physical comedy, romantic comedy, drama and just about everything else in between. And that diversity is the work of America Ferrera, and it is work worthy of Emmy consideration.

Beginning the series as a walking fashion disaster working for a fashion magazine, Betty is immediately a sympathetic character. However, she was not yet a sympathetic heroine, and it was Ferrera who really allowed that to blossom. I think that it is a result of how much responsibility lies on Betty’s shoulders: she had to balance supporting her family emotionally and financially, her strange and awkward boyfriend, her new job, her mean co-workers, and in the process she always kept a smile on her face. However, I found Ferrera best when that smile was wiped off and we saw her either at her lowest or at her most resilient. Those moments where Betty could have quit, could have been run down, could have given up; those were the times when Ferrera’s acting shone. Every time I see the show’s opening title, with braces-laden Betty smiling awkwardly, I am annoyed; really, Betty isn’t that cliché and showing her as such does the series little good. Ferrera is at her best when just plain happy, not happy in spite of others.

Episode Selection: “Pilot” (Aired September 28th, 2006)

I am resisting changing this selection because it is a strong performance from Ferrera and is perhaps her most comic. And, let’s face it, it won her a Golden Globe. However, I have serious issues with the Ugly Betty pilot on the whole, and they extend to Betty herself.

The pilot spends too much time attacking Betty for comic value: in fact, it got so played out that it basically stopped after the show’s third episode. Producers realized, much as I did, that doing so would only make everyone else look like complete assholes compared to Betty, which won’t sustain an entire series.

And I like Ferrera more when she is interacting with those new co-workers on a non-confrontational basis. I’d actually be tempted, then, to highlight one of those episodes. However, the “buzz” worthy elements of her character are how she has bad fashion sense and smiles through it all, so the Pilot highlights what voters will be looking for…but I don’t think it does her true acting ability justice.

YouTube“Pilot”

Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Mary McDonnell (Laura Roslin)

Battlestar Galactica

I believe that President Laura Roslin is perhaps one of the best characters to rise out of the 2004 reimagining of Battlestar Galactica, which is saying a lot considering the amount of great ones that have been part of the series. What I love about Mary McDonnell’s portrayal of the character is that, without fail, you are always rooting for Laura Roslin to succeed except for those moments where she is clearly wrong. In those cases, McDonnell makes you want to see Roslin get let down as easily as possible, in order to ensure that she isn’t too damaged in the process. After becoming President from the lowly position of Secretary of Education, Laura Roslin had to learn the ropes and find her own middle ground on a variety of issues. This year has really been one where she had to face the consequences of those actions, and one where she was forced to deal with the growing problems facing the people under her command. All the while, her own personal demons came back to haunt her, and her journey forward into the show’s final season is perhaps its most interesting. Through it all, Mary McDonnell has delivered a subtle, visceral performance that is certainly to be considered for an Emmy nomination.

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