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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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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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The McNuttCast: Episode One – “Battlestar Galactica”

mcnuttcastlogoConsidering how much time and energy I’ve devoted to Battlestar Galactica, one would think that I would have spent all of this week preparing an epic list of episodes, plus some final thoughts before the show’s series finale this evening. However, I realized at a certain point that I couldn’t do it: there was too much to say, too much that I’d end up repeating in tonight’s review of the finale itself. If I was going to discuss or engage with the series, I had to diversify.

As a result, after many requests and much rumination, my brother Ryan (from McNutt Against the Music) and I collaborated on the very first, and special, edition of The McNuttCast, a half-hour discussion about popular culture, including television, movies, music and video games.

In this episode focused solely on Battlestar Galactica, we discuss everything ranging from favourite episodes and characters to the pacing concerns in Season Four and our hopes for tonight’s finale. We discuss some big questions, including at what point the series first struck us as something genuinely unique, and also some smaller things along the way.

When The McNuttCast moves to its normal structure, it’ll be a bit more of a departure for me and the blog – rather than replacing any existing blog content, it’s rather there to add a little bit of diversity. While I’ll be leading the way on television, and the Elder McNutt has the music beat, we’re pretty even on movies and video games, so it will be interesting to see how I adapt to suddenly discussing those topics on a regular basis in a critical framework beyond Twitter. There’s more information about our goals and our future structure in the first episode.

In the meantime, though, it’s all Battlestar all the time – in our 30-minute structure (this one runs a bit longer) we don’t have room (or the free time) to delve into every single episode, so feel free to let us know which ones we forgot, or which ones we were remiss in including. And, of course, come back in the wee hours this evening for my full, likely thesis-length review, of the second part of “Daybreak.”

So say we all!

McNuttCast: Episode One – “Battlestar Galactica”

Download the MP3 (36:20)

NOTE: You can find chapter breaks in the list below – we’re currently working on getting the Subscription side of things together, as this was a bit of a last minute launch (and the Elder is currently on a plane on his way to Saskatchewan of all places). When we get things finalized, we’ll be sure to update accordingly.

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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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