Friday, July 16, 2010

Blogging Battlestar - Water, Jailbirds and Fallen Angels

It was a busy evening for the Battlestar Galactica rewatch, with "Water", "Bastille Day", "Act of Contrition" and "You Can't Go Home Again" on the roster.

"Water" was about one thing and one thing only: Boomer's melt-down as she starts to suspect she's a Cylon sleeper agent. Now, in all fairness, waking up soaking wet and not remembering taking a shower or swim with a flight suit on would be enough to send pretty much anyone off the deep end, but the real kicker for her is the bomb under her seat aboard the raptor. Great development of Boomer's character in this episode, especially the scene in the cockpit where the sleeper agent personality is blocking Boomer from seeing that the scanner readout is registering the presence of water. It's a scene where an actor could have been tempted to give it an over-the-top Shatnerian fight across one's own face treatment, but I'll give credit to Grace Park and the director for going with a light touch: a bit of concern and confusion flitting across her face a couple of times was enough to paint a great picture of an unconcious struggle between the two personalities before Boomer wins out and sees the real picture.

"Bastille Day" was a real treat for those of us who'd seen the old series when it originally aired, with former Apollo Richard Hatch making a comeback. This time, instead of playing a goody-goody constantly invoking the wisdom of his father when he wasn't screeching about the right thing to do, he's now Tom Zarek, a hardened criminal from Saggitaron on a quest for martyrdom. Here's a man with many faces: some see him as a freedom-fighter and political prisoner, others as a terrorist and murderer. And Hatch does a brilliant job of trying to paint the picture of the former image, arguing about trammelled rights and governments that exist for the people. But the real man shows his face when Apollo outs Zarek's plan to actually have the military raid on the prison ship succeed in killing himself and all of the prisoners. It's all about a final PR stunt. And then there's the scene where one of the other prisoners has tried to rape Cali and then shot her - rather than try to stop the man from waving a gun around, rather than stand up for Cali as any real person who believes in freedom and equalit would, he stands by, prepared to let it happen, and screams at Apollo about how it's the fault of Apollo's system of government for making his friend into an animal. We see Zarek's true colours are pretty much gang colours. In fact, as the season developes, we later see how all his talk about freedom, equality and a new way of doing things is just a facade for his own lust for supreme power - we see Zarek as a Stalin in the making. But for all its unpleasantness, this was a gripping, well-written episode. Moreso because despite Zarek's despicable nature, it shows he may be a little bit right about a few things - President Roslin certainly seems incensed at the prospect of an upcoming election, and one wonders if she's been quietly happy with the convenient dictatorship of necessity she's been running (something that pops its head up again every now and again in other seasons too). Ultimately, in one quick scene at the end, we see Rosalin's dark side - she's not the goody-goody Adama dismissed her as in the miniseries pilot, she's someone who used to be a teacher, and one who can be nice to the students, but one who also, in no uncertain terms thinks of herself as the sole adult in the room who is to be obeyed and she likes it that way. She may smile, but she's a velvet sledgehammer. The only thing that bothered me about this episode was Apollo's resolution to the crisis didn't have quite the finesse I would have expected... Guarantee an election? Sure. Makes sense. Allow the prisoners to earn freedom points through hard labour? You bet. Giving control of the Astral Queen over to the prisoners? Um, okay, maybe. But what Apollo should have done - and didn't (and perhaps this was shortsightedness on his part that the writers deliberately left in), would have been to add the condition that while the other prisoners could work for their freedom, Zarek would have to remain behind bars for another life term for inciting riot, taking hostages, and as an accessory to the assault on Cali. With Zarek behind bars but back in the spotlight, it might have made for some interesting plotlines, but, I can't really fault how things panned out. He may be detestable, but Zarek makes for some of the most riveting moments on the show.

"Acts of Contrition" forces Starbuck to deal with some ugly stuff she'd rather not, her abilities as a flight instructor, which brings her guilt over Zack Adama's death lurching back to life, and the necessity of finally coming clean with Commander Adama about the truth behind his son's death. Some great Starbuck moments in this episode, especially when she has to fess-up to Adama. The training of the "nuggets" is a good sub-plot as well, if for no other reason than it addresses a necessity of the fleet's refugee existence: even if 13 pilots hadn't been wiped out at the start of the episode, Galactica would eventually have been forced to start recruiting new pilots anyway to either increase their attack force, provide better shifting, or make up for natural attrition through combat. Among the trainees are Hotdog, who makes it through until the end of the series, and Cat, who doesn't, but has some interesting moments. Despite Starbuck's status as an "angel" (oops! we're not supposed to know that lame fact yet, are we?), she's quite the demon to her trainees. Sure, some hardness is justified to get them combat-ready, but Kara goes over the top, overcompensating for going easy on Zack. But in the end, this angel takes a fall when her battle against a Cylon squadron results in a crash on a harsh planet.

Which leads us to the second half of this episode: "You Can't Go Home Again". Starbuck having to salvage the downed Cylon fighter in order to return to the fleet was a brilliant nod to the episode from the old series (the even more abominable second season) where Dirk Bennedict's Starbuck has to work with a Cylon, a-la Robinson Crusoe, to survive when marooned on an alien world. Meanwhile, Roslin grows increasingly concerned over Adama & Apollo's determination to stay and search for Kara despite the drain on resources and risk to the fleet. This 2-part episode is also where we're introduced to crusty old Doc Cotttle, who always kind of reminded me of Hawkeye on MASH - if Hawkeye had stayed in the military, stopped chasing women, and tipped the balance and became more cynical than wacky. Another strange association in this episode: Helo in the diner. Yup, Helo finds out the hard way that making toast can bring down the 7-foot-tall, machine-gun-handed type of toasters on you. And yet, when I saw that piece of bad news shaping up, and the camera cut back to the toaster for a second, what did I flash back to? Red Dwarf, series 1, with the annoying AI-enhanced toaster who constantly pesters Lister with "Want a piece of toast? How about an English muffin?" Strange, I know, but there it is.
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