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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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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 – “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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Battlestar Galactica – “Deadlock”

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“Deadlock”

February 20th, 2009

“Imagine, instead of 50,000 survivors, there are only five.”

The above are the words of the fifth and final Cylon, words that are in fact quite resonant: considering what we have learned of the Cylon back story in the last few episodes, the Final Five are survivors of a sort, the last of a dead race that have worked to create their own legacy. The Cylons are actually a weird race, in that there is this battle between control and destiny that defines them: if they hadn’t started to rely on pro-creation, taking the future of the race into their own hands and out of their more natural resurrection, maybe the holocaust wouldn’t have hit Earth. And if the Final Five hadn’t agreed to work with the Centurions in order to create the other 8 models, perhaps the attack on the twelve colonies wouldn’t have happened, and there could have been something approaching peace. These are just some of the points wherein questions of blame and responsibility tickle up and down the Cylon timeline, creating the backbone of what we thought would be at least half of the series’ trajectory moving into its final episodes.

What fascinated me about “Deadlock” is that instead of focusing on these types of questions, it removes us from the show itself and places us into the minds of the writers, as they move the characters around like they’re playing checkers on a chess board (Yes, that was a “The Wire” burn). While it was understandable early in the show’s run to have blatant transition episodes like this one, where people start taking on new roles and where old trajectories are shifted into new directions, both this episode and “No Exit” are so blatantly the result of setup that one can’t fully engross themselves in this world. We are coming to the point in the show’s run where the audience is more engrossed in the fate of these characters than ever, and I find myself consistently being drawn out of that element of the series in favour of pondering just how blithely they are willing to state the obvious, linger on that which needs not lingering, and delve into the absolute wrong kind of opera at this late stage of the game.

And if they seriously couldn’t plan out even half a season well enough to avoid episodes that read like this, then forgive me if I don’t join those who are concerned about how this is all coming to come together in a month’s time.

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Season Premiere: Battlestar Galactica – “Sometimes a Great Notion”

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“Sometimes a Great Notion”

January 16th, 2009

I had to wait over forty-eight hours to watch this, the beginning of the end for Battlestar Galactica as it enters its final ten-episode stretch. I logged onto Twitter in my hotel on Friday evening, as I am in Montreal for the continent’s longest running debating invitational; it was a force of habit really, but I found something I wasn’t prepared for. I saw a tweet that said the words “Final Cylon.” I paused, threw my hands in front of my screen, and immediately went on a self-imposed twitter ban (which failed miserably once I devised security methods to avoid spotting more spoiler material).

I was, regardless of my adverse reaction to spoilers in general, shocked by this news: here is this piece of news that we were so desperate to discover, so apparently integral to this final season that they changed the opening title cards, and all of a sudden we have the answer in this episode’s final moments. It all felt so counter-intuitive, so different from how we expected this episode to go down.

In that sense, it is almost exactly the opposite of the fourth season premiere last year, which felt like the very basic repercussions we had spent a lengthy time imagining. Here, the common trait was that everything was bigger than we imagined: while not outside of the realm of possibility and the breadth of internet predictions, the events which transpired had an extremist slant that never felt sensationalist and more importantly never felt as if they were ending or simply stalling for time. The “who” question for the Final Cylon is not really the show’s preoccupation: instead, their identity is a sharpening of focus, a lynchpin of identity for what we now know is a far more complicated Cylon mythology.

The world of Battlestar Galactica was broken open when we learned the identity of eighty percent of the final five, but what resulted was an isolation of their turmoil to an investigation into their psychological well-being. The irony is that here, as their identity becomes public and the entire fleet becomes part of their journey, their inner trauma only becomes more profound: these characters now have even more complicated questions about their identity, just as humanity does facing the scorched earth they believed and prayed was home, and they have new factors such as history or destiny to consider more carefully.

“Sometimes a Great Notion” feels like another stage of escalation in the season’s general purpose: it is not about who the Final Cylons are so much as who they were, who they are, what they are understood to be, and who they wish to be in the future. Answering those questions is not so much about naming them than letting them loose in a world now even more defined by their unique journey. The result here is an episode that, more than anything in the first half of the season, feels like we’re sifting through the denseness of this serious to the intersection of philosophical and personal interests that will define the series finale.

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