Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Actor Maury Chaykin Dead

Sad news yesterday that actor Maury Chaykin has died at age 61.

Chaykin had roles in SF productions such as the movie Blindness and various series including Stargate: SG1 and Lexx.

But I think I'll remember him more for his non-SF performances, like the suicidal commanding officer at the frontier fort in Dances with Wolves, or Desmond the hermit musician in Whale Music. My favourite Chaykin role though, was when he played FBI agent Frank Capella in The Art of War. I love how he muses to his much younger partner about the murders and conspiracy they're investigating being like pro wrestling: part reality, part acting, part bullshit, combined with big scary guys from parts unknown in dire need of psychological help. The line itself is great, but the performance was masterful.

Rest in peace, Maury.

Syfy to Release New Series about the Cylon War in Belches rather than Episodes

I don't normally post about movies or series that are in development, especially early on in the process, because there are too many obstacles that can pop up to delay or entirely derail them. But once in a while... And this is one of those instances, where a tidbit that's just too tasty to pass up (and one that fits with the theme of most of my recent posts) has come to my attention:

The Chicago Tribune was reporting the other day that Syfy (the US science fiction specialty channel) will be developing a new series about the Battlestar Galactica universe's first Cylon War, called Blood & Chrome. (The story was also picked up by Syfy's own site, Blastr. Thanks also to Steve who caught the story when it hit and promptly drew my attention to it.)

The story will focus on the adventures of young William "Husker" Adama. The intent is to give the series a feeling of realism similar to contemporary war movies like The Hurt Locker, according to BSG and Caprica co-executive producer Michael Taylor, who will be writing the script for B&C.

That's the good news. Frakin' great news, as a matter of fact!

The bad news, though, is that it's going to be an online series consisting of nine or ten webisodes, each lasting only nine or ten minutes.

Now, I've got no problem with a series being run entirely online as opposed to on TV (as long as the Syfy site doesn't block viewers from outside the US from accessing the content, as those of us in Canada frequently find out when trying to watch web content on the sites of US networks).

What I do have a problem with is the new programming/writing/producing philosophy of micro episodes. I hate the misconception that more and more media are adopting these days (and I say this as someone who used to work in the media) that viewers/listeners/readers have the attention span of fruit flies. That consumers have the ability and the will to change channels to other programming is less a testament to their ability to focus on a single topic than it is of the weakness of the programmed content that's fed to them. When you've got good storytelling, as BSG and Caprica have excelled at, and when you've got a pre-existing loyal demographic, which is the case here, having been built by the quality of the afore-mentioned shows, then people will come to your site and watch long-form content. Hell, they'll expect it. Because long-form content for a drama like BSG or any of its spinoffs is invariably more entertaining, more challenging, and more satisfying than a quick hit can be.

You might point out that the success of the special BSG webisodes (the story about life under the Cylon occupation of New Caprica, and the one about Gaeta and Boomer) proved the viability of the micro programming choice, in terms of delivering storytelling and attracting the audience. To be fair, the webisodes were good stories - taken together as complete stories, that is. Individually, each webisode was a tantillizing but somewhat jarring and disjointed chunk. After a couple, I decided to stop watching them and hold off until they were finished and available to watch back-to-back, thereby creating a full-length episode. Comparitively, the viewing experience was far better watching them all together, and I think that's the case for any story involving a collection of scenes - they work better together than independently. Think about it, if you had to watch one of your favourite BSG episodes for the first time, let's say the pilot miniseries (which, admittedly, due to long feature length was broken up into two or three episodes initially, but each presented enough of the story to count in this example, I think) or "Pegasus" or "Razor" or "Final Cut" or any of a dozen others, would you rather watch them as single, full-length episodes, or diced up into little pieces and spoon-fed to you over weeks or months? I'd venture to guess that most people would probably join me in wanting the whole thing in one sitting.

You might also suggest that short webisodes may not be too different than the 7-10 minute segments we already get between commercial breaks in a normal hour of television. But I think there's a crucial difference in the effect on the storytelling if one makes an audience wait 2-5 minutes until the commercials end, versus a week or more between shotglass-sized webisodes. If you're only breaking for a commercial, some of the installments can have a slower pace and focus on character development, moments of reflection, or even the odd scene shot. Having a full-length episode that's only broken by commercials allows conversations, debates and moments of high drama to continue and develop on themselves. Even action is better in a longer format, because a commercial break usually isn't enough to significantly interrupt mounting tension. Let's step outside of BSG for a second and look back to just over a decade ago to the other greatest feat of drama in television history: Babylon 5. Can you imagine having to wait a week or more to see episodes like "Comes the Inquisitor", or "Shattered Dreams", or "Into the Fire", or "Intersections in Real Time" spoon-fed to you 9 minutes at a time? There's no way the tension could be sustained. Taylor is promising lots of cliff-hangers in B&C, but really, when they've only got 9 minutes at a shot, they've got to create an experience so intense that people will have to come back the next week, but then they'll have to start with another blast to reinforce that what the audience has been waiting for will be worth it, and the end result is that all the writers will be giving us is a series of cliffhangers, rather than subtler, but no less meaningful dramatic developments and character moments. The writers will, in effect, be trying to FORCE FEED US A STORY THAT'S ALL IN CAPS. Nobody wants to read extensive blocks of text that are all in caps (except newscasters, that is), and I'd certainly get tired of the visual equivalent after a while. That's the JJ Abrams I'm-gonna-make-Trek-into-Armageddon-for-the-ADD-generation way of doing things, not the BSG way of telling a story that people will care about in the long run.

So are the folks at Syfy planning on serving-up spitball-sized additions of the BSG franchise only because they've bought into the myth of the short attention span? No, I think there's more at work. The reason is to force us, as viewers, to visit their site more often, thereby strengthening their brand and, more importantly, getting more exposure for ads on their site and thus increasing their ad revenue. Money talks and daggitshit walks, fellow fanboys and fangirls.

And wanting to make a buck is fine with me. But there are better ways of getting us to come to their site, like exclusive bonus material, live interviews with opportunities for fans to ask questions, contesting, or investing in the production of more full-length, well-written webisodes - 1-2 hour webcast productions like Razor or The Plan - that will inspire greater fan appreciation.

The problem Syfy doesn't seem to understand is there's nothing to prevent me, as a viewer who prefers the longer format, from waiting until the full web series has played out, then going to their site once and once only to watch all the webisodes back-to-back - just like I did with the BSG webisodes. That way, they only got one hit out of me, which doesn't do their sales department any good when trying to up the rate card with advertisers. Or, I could wait and buy it on DVD or Blueray or whatever - again, not seeing much of the ads 'cause I'd skip or fast-forward through them or go get a pop or something. Or, and this does the network no good, I could download it off of a free torrent site where some other kind soul has probably already gone to the effort of editing the epis together seemlessly and without ads.

If Syfy wants audiences to get the story from them directly and on their terms (including exposure to ads), they ought to be doing a better job by producing full-lenth episodes rather than visual belches.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Blogging Battlestar - Bucking Bronco

Tonight's Battlestar Galactica review covers "Pegasus" (the extended version of the episode) and "Resurrection Ship" parts 1 & 2. I've always tended to look at these as one single, long episode rather than 2 or 3 separate ones, since they address a single story arc: the arrival of the Pegasus and the ensuing crisis involving Admiral Cain.

Many of my thoughts about Pegasus, Cain and her crew, and their comparison to Galactica have already been covered in my February 2008 essay on the BSG made-for-TV movie Razor "Distorted Reflections in a Razor", so I'll try not to repeat myself.

In "Pegasus", the fleet encounters the unthinkable: another battlestar that survived the massacre of the Colonies. It's a beginning that harkens back to the original series episode "The Living Legend".

But aside from the name of this other battlestar and its commanding officer, the two series' takes on this encounter couldn't be more different. The original Commander Cain is an older man, in fact an old friend of Adama's, a brilliant tactician, and though reckless in his determination to make war on the Cylons, he is never a direct threat to his fellow humans. He may be something of a pirate captain, but a merry one modeled after Errol Flynn in Captain Blood or The Sea Hawk. The new Admiral Cain, while being equally gifted in battle, is a woman, young - at least reletively young for someone holding the rank of Admiral, holds a higher rank than Adama and wastes no time putting him in his place (where the original Cain was also a Commander and at least initially gave Adama the nod as the person in charge), and is a person who's viciousness cruelty make her an altogether different sort of pirate - a realistic pirate rather than a movie caricature, someone probably more closely akin to Edward Teach - Blackbeard.

It isn't long before Admiral Cain shows her true stripes. She shows a profound lack of respect for the President by refusing to return Roslin's calls. She shares supplies with Galactica but not the other ships of the fleet. She interferes with Adama's command, swapping crew from the ships and demoting Apollo. She berates Adama for his decisions and command style. She unleashes Lieutenant Thorne, her "Cylon expert", to rape and torture Boomer under the guise of intelligence gathering. When Helo and the Chief are arrested and taken to Pegasus after rescuing Boomer, Cain orders their executions without an open trial or allowing them representation. Word gets out of her track record of killing her XO and raiding another civilian survivor fleet, drafting some passengers, murdering others, and leaving the remainder to die in ships that had been stripped of everything including their FTL drives. By the end of "Pegasus", Cain and Adama are seconds away from an all-out shooting war. As "Resurrection Ship" unfolds, Cain sets in motion a plan to murder Adama (although, in all fairness, Adama's working on a similar plan of his own).

At the end of "Resurrection Ship", Cain's been assassinated (not by Adama, but by Gina, the Six who was held captive aboard Pegasus who Baltar helped to escape) and Starbuck gives a speech at her funeral to the effect that humanity would have been much better off if Cain had lived. Really? Sounds like Starbuck's been manipulated pretty effectively by Cain. She sees qualities of relentlessness and tactical talent in Cain that she admires, and Cain says the right things to Starbuck, that she'll make it her business to launch a campaign to retake the Colonies. This all comes as Starbuck is still struggling with her disillusion in Adama as a result of learning that he didn't know the way to Earth prior to Kobol, and as she nurses resentment for Adama and Roslin refusing to allow her to mount a rescue of Anders and the other survivors on Caprica. Starbuck has been drawing a kind of grudging inspiration from Cain as her other idols have let her down, and the loss of this idol contributes to the gradual downward spiral that ensares her. The truth is, Cain was a menace to the fleet and the future of humanity. Her only redeeming action was to call-off the assassination of Adama. Even then, you'd have to be pretty naive to think she wouldn't change her mind eventually and try to either arrest Adama or make another attempt on his life. Never mind what she'd do to the fleet.

Lots of great dramatic moments in the "Pegasus"-"Resurrection Ship" story arc. Hard to watch, in some cases, because of their difficult subject matter, but brilliantly written and performed none-the-less.

Roslin owns one of those moments in the scene aboard Colonial One after the confrontation between Cain and Adama, where she tells Adama he'll have to murder Cain. She delivers her recommendation with such matter-of-factness that the audience and Adama have to take a second to process its utter cold-bloodedness. But you can't find fault with her position. Roslin may be advocating assassination, and it's true that's troubling, but there's no doubt she's saying this in the interests of the fleet and the future of humanity. It's not because she's intimidated by Cain, clearly, in the office show-down she demonstrates that she's not. Roslin's heard the reports about what's happened in the past and what's going down in the present, and she's had a good look in Cain's eyes and seen her for the cruel pirate-queen that she is. Roslin may not like saying that someone needs to be killed, but she knows it is needed, and she doesn't flinch.

As I've mentioned on previous occasions, probably the best dramatic moment in the story, and possibly one of the best dramatic moment an actor has delivered on screen, in any story, for a long time, is a quick second in the scene in Galactica's corridor when Adama gets the call with the news that Helo and the Chief have been convicted and will be executed. For there merest heartbeat, Edward James Olmos' face is a fist desperately trying to keep a grip on an explosion of emotion. With swift subtlety, we see surprise, rage, desperation, fear of getting into a fight he probably can't win and which will not only kill many or all of his crew but endanger the entire fleet and humanity's future, uncertainty about rebelling against the chain of command, and then grim resolution. Everyone who professes to be an actor should be required to study Olmos in this scene. And beyond the acting, just looking at the character and the situation he's in, this reaction is completely believable.

This story arc was important for Apollo as well. There have always been times throughout the series when it was clear that being a viper pilot just wasn't what Lee really wanted to do with his life. But this story marks the real turning point for Lee. Things are now awkward with Starbuck and he's feeling alone, Adama has ordered him to help Starbuck murder someone, he's having to live within a different fighter pilot culture aboard Pegasus that's sucked out whatever joy there had been in the job for him. It culminates with Apollo admitting that he didn't want to survive being stranded in space with a leaky suit after the destruction of the blackbird. It's a shadow of depression that will hang over him for a long time.

Lots of interesting Six (and Gina/Six) and Baltar moments too. Watching the scenes in the cell aboard Pegasus, you really believe that Gina/Six has been brutalized to the point of being broken. As the angel Six, her rage and horror at Gina's treatment are certainly affecting, but what's truly riveting is her hurt when Baltar, in an effort to win-over Gina, steals Six's story about going to watch sports. Here we see how easily Baltar can betray even those he claims to love. And yet, it's also a sad thing to watch. Clearly Baltar is desperate for something like a real relationship. He gets plenty of sex around the fleet as the charming Vice-President, and the "angel" Six in his mind provides more than enough intellectual stimulation, but he lacks a real-life amalgamation of the physical and intellectual/emotional, and when he sees Gina, as damaged as she is, he sees an opportunity to finally have both at once. Unfortunately for Baltar, Gina isn't Caprica Six or the angel Six, and he'll get no real satisfaction or relationship out of this betrayal.

What doesn't work in the Six-Baltar moments is the continuance in lapses by the writers in their presentation of Six's character. By this time, Six has already declared herself to be an angel, not a Cylon. And yet when she sees Gina/Six in the Pegasus brig, her reaction is deeply personal, rather than the more generalized horror that another person would feel. It's a "look what they've done to me" reaction, which doesn't fit for some non-corporeal agent of a deity. The writers also make the mistake of having the angel Six tell the story of buying sports tickets on Caprica and imagining Baltar were with her. No, that would be the Cylon known as Caprica Six. Angel Six wasn't there on Caprica - or, at least, she didn't appear to Baltar then and didn't have a relationship with him. The contradictions in the presentation of the angel Six character continue to grow more obvious to the detriment of the overall series. The only redeeming factor is that if we try to forget the whole angel nonsense, if we for a moment go back to the good old days when we didn't know any better and we believed this Six was a figment of Baltar's imagination or some kind of Cylon implant, then these moments with her in "Pegasus" and "Resurrection Ship" are deeply moving. They would be damn near perfect, but then that annoying feeling starts up in the back of the brain and we remember that none of this works because she's supposedly an angel.

And there are other aspects of the plot that don't quite fit as well as they should. Why would Adama allow Colonel Fisk and members of the Pegasus marine force aboard Galactica during the attack on the Cylon resurrection ship? He's just come within a scrotum-tightening instant of being in a battle against Cain, and the Admiral's made no bones about her lack of respect for his decisions and her resolve to toss him in the brig for taking a stand against her. How could he possibly not think that Fisk & co would be sent over to create mayhem? Sure, this is armchair quarterbacking, but in that situation, there wouldn't even be a debate - most people would just say "no" if Cain phoned up and said she was sending some of her toadies over. Ultimately, the only reason the writers included this was to create tension from the question of who would order the trigger-pull first, which leader would survive the day. Could they have written a different kind of threat to Adama's life? Sure. They could have done something more believable, like having Cain outline a plan to her people to launch a full nuclear salvo against Galactica at the close of the battle against the Cylons. They could have. But that would have lacked the visceral tension generated only when the camera can pan from one face to another in the same room, where one person doesn't know that the other is waiting to kill him. Good drama, even if it makes no sense in terms of how the story has played out so far.

Another scene that was well put together overall but had some problems within it was the confrontation between Cain and Adama in front of Roslin about Colonial One. At one point, Cain snarles at Roslin, telling the President that as Admiral, she has complete authority to dispose of Helo and the Chief. What's strange is that Roslin doesn't cut her off right then and there. Usually, Roslin doesn't hesitate to assert her supreme authority. Watching the scene play out, I was left thinking how out of character it was for Roslin to not stand up and tell Cain that as President, she's Commander-in-Chief and thus has the power to rescind Cain's orders and her position. Roslin could have told Cain that as President, she has the authority to choose a new Chief of Staff, and then demoted or relieved Cain, and appointed Adama as Admiral. Would Cain have accepted Roslin's authority or decision? Knowing Cain, absolutely not. But by making the statement, Roslin could have immediately given Adama the authority to act immediately, rather than waiting, and it would have served Cain with notice that the President has the final word. You might argue that Roslin didn't do this because she didn't want to provoke Cain, but again, I'd point to the fact that historically, Roslin has never shied away from asserting that she's in charge.

Watching this scene, I also wondered why Roslin didn't take her explanation of the obvious outcome of a fight to its logical conclusion. She states that Pegasus could probably beat Galactica, but that it would be left heavily damaged and with many injured and dead crew. To really drive the point home in concrete terms, she should have carried it further and explained that the ships of the fleet, knowing they couldn't trust Cain, would then leave the crippled Pegasus behind for the Cylons to destroy (or even have its defenceless carcass picked over by a vengeful, resource-hungry fleet). Sure, Cain got the point from what Roslin did say, but by putting the end result in no uncertain terms, Roslin might have scored a few more points.

I also have to wonder, again, in keeping with what would be logical for the story, why Roslin didn't order her own security guards to arrest or kill Cain at the end of that meeting. Remember, she wastes little time once Cain has left the room in telling Adama he needs to assassinate the Admiral. And she's no stranger to ordering an execution, as Leoben and Sharon both found out, with Sharon only surviving because she dangled the right kind of carrot in front of the President. Clearly in asking Adama to kill Cain, Roslin feels fairly certain that the other officers of the Pegasus don't have the stomach for a revenge-motivated fight, and that they'd either submit or jump away and go about their own business. That begs the question, why wait? Why ask Adama to formulate and execute a plan at some time in the future, with chances of success in doubt - especially since Adama balks at the idea when she presents it to him, when instead she can get things done quickly and simply on her own. No doubt she had a silent alarm installed in her desk after she returned to Colonial One in the wake of Adama's coup, so she could probably have her guards queued-up and ready to act before Cain even knew what was going on. So why not do it? Because even though it would have made more sense, it wouldn't have allowed for the tension during the battle with the Cylons as we waited to see whether Adama and Cain would follow-through with their individual assassination plans.

The "Pegasus"-"Resurrection Ship" story arc ends with a major victory over the Cylons, the death of Cain, and the gain of a massive new battlestar. And yet, this being BSG, there's still that unsettling feeling that tells us that even though the people of Galactica have survived a ride on this bucking horse, there's another bronco or bull waiting in the pen to throw them and stomp on them later.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Blogging Battlestar - A Bird on the Wing

This installment of the ongoing review of Battlestar Galactica involves an episode about dreams coming true: "Flight of the Phoenix".

"Flight of the Phoenix" is an interesting choice of title. The most obvious interpretation, and probably most likely, is an allusion to the mythical firebird rising from the ashes of its own destruction and taking flight into new glory. Certainly the way the episode plays out, it would appear the fortunes of the fleet and our main characters might fit with this - for the time being at least. In the most literal sense, the phoenix is made manifest in the construction of the blackbird stealth fighter. The episode begins with the Chief inspects a crippled viper in the hanger and comes to the frustrating conclusion that it's a write-off. He's later inspired to build a new type of fighter, and slowly the blackbird comes together, built from the salvaged bits and pieces of wrecked vipers, cast-off materials, and unwanted engines and chunks of other ships. Piloted by Starbuck (who, later in the series, becomes a phoenix of sorts herself), the blackbird is initially a wild thing, difficult to control. Even when Starbuck grows comfortable at the reigns, the fighter is like a creature of myth - slipping in and out of notice in the blink of an eye and only reappearing to Apollo and Galactica when its pilot wants it to.

The Chief has his own phoenix-like transformation in this episode. Since the beginning of the series, Tyrell has lost his civilization (or, what he currently believes to be his civilization), his lover, his dignity (especially during the bombing tribunal), members of his deck crew, and successively with each battle, the ships he's been tasked with maintaining. The blackbird give him purpose. It is a chance to stretch his imagination, to be innovative, and to build something new and useful, rather than simply trying to maintain things which are decaying. It's a source of pride for the Chief and his crew of knuckledraggers in building something that hadn't been done by the fleet's aero-space engineers back when the Colonial civilization existed. This is one of several transformations the Chief will experience over the course of the series, but for now, it's one that allows him to fly high for a while.

Meanwhile, this episode offers another chance for Sharon to rise from the ashes of Boomer's betrayal. As a Cylon virus chews its way through the guts of Galactica's computers while hundreds of raiders bear-down on the fleet, Sharon offers the best chance for the Colonials to turn their fortune around. Sure, Adama's right when he tells the President that Sharon helped to wipe the virus and bounce it back to infect and incapacitate the oncoming Cylons (in a scene reminiscent of Winona Rider's android interfacing heroin junkie-style with Father, the ship's computer in the craptastic Alien Resurrection) because she wanted to ensure the survival of herself and her child. But there's obviously something more to it than that. Sharon actually cares about reintegrating with the people of Galactica. As poorly as they've treated her, she's rising above the mistrust, threats and imprisonment and taking a stand on their behalf. This doesn't earn her a ticket to freedom, but it's a start.

And that's because there's another rebirth going on here, the rebirth of trust, or at least the hope of trust, between Adama and Sharon. The first moment is when Adama has Sharon brought to his cabin to talk about more than just how the virus works or Cylon weaknesses; his first question is "Why do the Cylons hate us so much?" He's trying to understand them. It's not an order either, it's a question. That question, that attempt to gain understanding, is what will eventually pave the way for Adama's (grudging) acceptance of the Cylons as people in the fourth season, and people that he can have peace with, live side-by-side with, and ultimately trust. It's a trust that begins with this conversation with Sharon, where he might still have the urge to strangle her for Boomer's betrayal, but it's an urge he's now able to surpress and look beyond. This is built-upon at the end of the episode when he understands that Sharon has turned the virus on the in-bound raiders, leaving them completely vulnerable to Galactica's vipers. There's a look that they exchange when he realizes this. It's a look of respect, a little gratitude, and a trace of trust. He sends her back to her cell, but that look is Sharon's first glimpse of freedom.

But the other possible interpretation of the episode's title might be that "Flight" refers to something fleeing, and that the hope for the possibility of a rebirth might have left. Looking at the overall series, we know that the construction of this new toy and this giving the Cylon bully a black eye by knocking down a couple of hundred raiders isn't the fleet's rise to a new glory. On the contrary, it marks the beginning of a very dark period where they're soon faced with the threat of Admiral Cain, where they're led astray by the false hope of New Caprica, and where the crew of Galactica will become embroiled in the Zarek-Gaeta mutiny. To be sure, there are victories along the way, but this society is a long, long way from rising from its ashes.

Top 5 Rejected Masters of the Universe Characters

As I mentioned in my last post, a website featuring art inspired by He-Man and the Masters of the Universe has got me thinking about one of my favourite childhood toys, and, in retrospect about some of the really dumb characters that were created. Some, like Stinkor or Man-e-Faces had stupid names (and, in the case of Fisto, a name that was probably borderline inappropriate). Others, like Mech-a-Neck had lame powers (okay, you do an ET thing extending your neck... so what? More neck for someone like Beast-Man to go all medieval on). While still others, like Moss-Man and Prince Adam, were insultingly pointless. And that got me thinking... if the crews at Mattel and Filmation were scraping the bottom of the barrel to give kids characters like these, what were some of the ideas that were too bad (I think that was another character's name, wasn't it?) for even them to try and market?

So with that, I give you

The Top 5 Rejected Masters of the Universe Characters:

5) Beach-Man - Not to be confused with Beast-Man, Beach-Man is He-Man's chronically-underemployed cousin who sleeps on The Most Powerful Man in the Universe's couch, spends most of his days surfing and stays up until 4 in the morning in the company of his dealer, Moss-Man, toking-up, eating cheezies and giggling over Captain Caveman reruns. Too undermotivated to be considered a goodguy, he's not much of an enemy either, except to Teela after a drunken evening after a beach volleyball game and apre-party a few summers ago. Powers include spending countless days in the sun without getting burned or skin cancer, ability to hang-ten, run on sand, and chat-up hot chicks engaged in topless sunbathing. Accessories: surfboard & coconut bong. Rejected for potentially infringing on copyrights for Captain California character from Hero High.

4) Odd-i-Tor - Included in this list to represent the few MOTU characters who don't fit into the "-Man" name scheme, Odd-i-Tor is a powerful force unto himself, aligned neither with He-Man nor Skeletor. This character was originally employed by the King of Eternia to monitor government spending until he fell out of favour for publicly exposing a fraudulent expense account scandal within the royal family. Skeletor briefly flirted with the notion of recruiting Odd-i-Tor for his own diabolical plans, until the fearless accountant informed the skull-faced-one's minions about the non-existence of a pension plan they'd been promised. Powers: crunches numbers the way Beast-Man crunches skulls, can detect hidden accounts better than the X-ray vision of Triclops can see through walls. Accessories: calculator and conservative business suit. Rejected for being just too damn frightening.

3) D-Livery-Man - A young Eternian fast-food delivery driver who used to make a lot of runs to Snake Mountain (Skeletor's lands are in ruins, after all, so there's not a lot in the way of food production going on there - consequently, he and his minions live on takeout) until one day he took longer than 30 minutes to get there and had to give up the food for free. Thereafter, D-Livery-Man joined He-Man in his battle against evil. Powers: generally reliably fast delivery of fast food & ability to pull in good money claiming he doesn't have any change, thereby requiring the fortress-owner to give a larger tip than originally intended. Accessories: 1993 Honda Civic hatchback with cow-print seat covers, warming bag, cell phone. Rejected because series writers didn't want to be reminded that the character would probably make more money than them.

2) I-Scream-Man - A truly devious villain, I-Scream-Man pretends to offer the solace of cool, soothing treats on hot days, until his victims take a bite from their purchases. Powers: causing crippling brain-freeze in those who eat his ice cream treats, allowing him to incapacitate them at his leisure. Accessories: ice cream truck, assorted frozen treats. Rejected because hearing the simulated musicbox tunes blasting from the ice cream truck every episode would drive the audience insane, thereby preventing them from buying the franchise toys.

1) Peaceful-Diplomatic-Resolution-and-Fair-Financial-Compensation-Man - A former independant labour dispute mediator, this character was eventually hired on contract to negotiate an end to the long war between Skeletor and He-Man that had devastated the face of Eternia. Powers: firm but non-threatening demeanor, ability to discern the true wants and goals and limits of both sides in a dispute. Accessories: endless supply of mediocre coffee. Rejected for having the ability to put an end to the conflict that is the entire reason for the existence of the toy line and cartoon.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Memories of the Masters of the Universe

The other day, I was flipping through an old issue of Wired (April 2010) and came across a small blurb I hadn't noticed before mentioning a blog showcasing art from a display with works inspired by He-Man and the Masters of the Universe: ihavethepowerart. Quite a wide range of takes on the denizens of Eternia, some of them quite good. My favourite was "The Fall of Stratos" (or "Star-toast" as my younger brother used to call him back in the day), although "Cosmo Skeletor" was worth a chuckle.

Of course, all of this got me thinking back to my childhood and the big pile of MOTU toys we had in the basement. Castle Greyskull was the best of the accessories - my mom thought it was a gruesome thing and refused to get it for us for Christmas when we asked, but my maternal grandmother, sweet lady, went behind her back and bought it for us anyway. My favourite action figure: Mer-Man. Don't ask me why, especially since the real action figure didn't look anything like the photo advertisement. The one that was available in the store had small eyes and big cat-like ears on the top of his head (it was the same head they'd use a couple of years later for Stinkor), rather than the big eyes and side-mounted fish-fin-type ears promised in the ads. Maybe it was because he had one of the coolest swords of all of the characters: a big sawfish bill.

The best part about buying the action figures though was the cool little comic that was included in the package, with each comic usually having an origin story for the character it came with. Forget about the shiny, happy, orderly Eternia presented in the Filmation cartoon. The first of the comics, issued with He-Man and Skeletor, painted a grim picture of their world as a post-apocalyptic wilderness; an overgrown, monster-infested ruin centuries after a devastating war between sorcerers and scientists. And He-Man? Not some pastel pink-wearing princeling. Nope. He-Man was a badass hunter and warrior a-la Conan (although I always thought the action figure looked like James Coburn's face with a bad blond bowl-cut on top of Arnold Schwarzenegger's body), best in his tribe, who set out one day looking for adventure, killed some fiendish beast that was attacking the Sorceress, and got his powerful equipment and weapons as a reward. About the only thing the cartoon kept from the comic was Skeletor's origin as an evil wizard exiled from another dimension. The only problem with the comic was that Mattel stopped commissioning new issues after a while - they came up with dozens of new characters over the years, but they kept packaging the same half-dozen or so issues they'd started with.

And speaking of characters, the original bunch were kinda cool: He-Man (obligatory strapping barbarian dude), Skeletor, Mer-Man, Beast-Man, Trapjaw, Man-at-Arms, Stratos. But then they started scraping the bottom of the barrel with guys like Stinkor, Buzz-off, and a large assortment of "-Man"s, Moss-Man being perhaps the lamest (until the cartoon forced an extension of the line to incorporate characters from its seperate storyline, the worst of which was Prince Adam). I mean, Moss-Man? Give him enough time and he'll grow a fuzzy green layer over things. Might be a serious threat if you like a nice front lawn that'll impress the neighbours, but in the heat of battle? Okay, okay, not all of the "-Man"s were a write-off: Ram-Man was pretty cool, especially because the action figure actually had spring-loaded ramming capability. But most of the new or later additions were dumb. Not that this prevented us from buying them. Because we did. Sigh.

What stands out most about the cartoon was that we watched the first season on VHS about a year before it was first broadcast on TV. It was a shock to see how they'd changed the story from what we'd devoured in the comic, and the whole Prince Adam transformation storyline was downright awful, but being kids we enjoyed the animated fight scenes.

By the time the movie with Dolph Lungren, Frank Langella, Courtney Cox (back when she was still attractive, before she got disturbingly skinny during the Friends years), and Star Trek Voyager's Robert Duncan McNeill came along, we were older and had long since stopped collecting the toys (had given them all away, as a matter of fact) and went more out of curiosity than anything, just to see what they'd do with it. Meh.

From there, I pretty much forgot about the whole franchise until a few years ago my wife and I were flipping through the channels and stumbled on YTV or Teletoon running a revamped version of MOTU with a completely different animation style. It wasn't bad, but nothing worth writing home about. More than anything, I think the appeal that caused us to watch a couple of episodes was the nostalgia factor for me - thinking back to those old days of the Mattel ads with a monotonous baritone dirging "He-Man, He-Man" as the camera swooped in towards Castle Greyskull, with the jawbridge clattering down and the kid onscreen dashing Skeletor out front saying "It's Castle Greyskull, and it's MINE!" - "Not so fast, Skeletor!" growls kid #2; "He-Man!" yelps kid #1. Ah, the good old days, when a couple of well-armed steroidal action figures would make you feel like one of the Masters of the Universe.

New Tron Legacy Trailer

Haven't seen the new Tron Legacy trailer yet? You should!

Everyone talks about the cool new look of the lightcycles (which is true, they do peak fairly high on the awesometer), but I'm giving the nod to the sleeker, and yet somehow more menacing new recognizers. Fingers crossed for a movie scene with one of those babies crunching something.

And just when you thought this trailer couldn't get any better, keep a sharp eye out for the Black Hole poster. Oh. Yeah.

December 17th can't get here fast enough!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Blogging Battlestar - Family Reunions and Family Portraits

Tonight's Battlestar Galactica rewatch included "Home" (parts 1 & 2) and "Final Cut".

"Home" brings to a close the chapter of BSG where the fleet's engaged in more-or-less aimless wandering and starts everyone down a clear path to Earth. Roslin & co, guided by Sharon, and later joined by Adama et al (after he decides that the fleet needs to be reunited), navigate their way through tough terrain, fight through a Cylon ambush, and eventually find the Tomb of Athena where a holograph is activated giving them a view of the night sky from Earth, with the constellations (which match the ancient flags of the various colonies) and a nebula provide a very clear roadmap as to where the lost 13th Colony can be found.

Not much is really made about Kobol aside from its usefulness as a roadmap and that it's apparently cursed. The Colonials seem pretty focussed on getting in, getting directions, and getting out. Somewhat understandable, since the Cylons know where the planet it is and what its significance is, and probably know (since they haven't heard from their local basestar since its destruction) that Galactica's cruising in the area looking for a fight. So there's a need for speed before a buttload of toastermobiles shows up looking for trouble. And yet Adama and his crew have always been practical people, and that's why there's something missing (minor though it may be) from this episode. When Adama leaves to track down Roslin and the TOA, he knows it'll take hours or days before they reach their goal. But only one raptor heads down to the planet. Why, when the fleet has to watch its supplies carefully, does he not send ships down to do a quick harvest of whatever is useful from Kobol? Couldn't the fleet scan for surface deposits of useful ores and send mining ships down to do some quick stripmining? For the miners especially, by now they've got to be used to get-in, get-out missions when the fleet has a couple of minutes in whatever star system they're hunkered down in. What about asking around to see if any ships are equipped to do some clear-cut logging? The fleet is still using paper (for printouts and toilet paper, among other things), and even with recycling, there's no harm in increasing the supply. It was mentioned in an earlier episode that there are birds singing in the forest... that means life is thriving (several thousand years after whatever nameless disaster beset the planet) and they'd be irresponsible not to send a raptor and a transport out to look for open grassland, find whatever herd beasts are running around, gun them down by the thousand, and take them back up to the freezer ships so the refugees of the fleet might actually have something to eat down the road. Sure, it would mean spreading the ships out, which might make them more vulnerable to Cylon attack, but that's what raptors and vipers and emergency jump coordinates with spooled-up FTL drives are for. The fleet's either gonna be vulnerable just drifting in orbit, or vulnerable gathering much-needed provisions. It would have been a small thing for Adama on his way out the door to tell Gaeta to organize a quick harvest, but the writers dropped the ball on that one.

But they did keep up their high standard of writing great character moments. Adama having to talk about the difficulty of feeling anything other than rage was interesting to watch. He's a man who has to keep tight control of himself in order to maintain control of his ship, and his words and careful painting of his model show just how much effort he's putting into it. That control issue erupts on Kobol when he sees Sharon, and he loses it, but in the end, in the showdown outside the TOA, it's back in place - if barely - and that shows his capacity for growth. He may still hate Sharon, but he's able to overcome his rage enough to realize that it would be wrong to kill her.

It's also notable that Adama chooses D as his confessor. Apollo and Starbuck aren't there, but he doesn't choose Tigh, his oldest friend, who supposedly is there for him to confide in. So why D? Maybe she's right when she says he might have picked her because she doesn't say much. Maybe it's because she's of such a lower rank that he never sees her outside of the CIC (and inside she's just one of the crowd fulfilling tasks much like the computers and other equipment), and so there's an element of anonymity or forgetability to her - he can say what he wants and not really have to look her in the eye again. But good on D for holding him to account, for saying what needed to be said to kick Adama into taking responsibility for his part in the split and spurring him towards fixing things.

The real tragedy, of course, is that this is a moment that sets an unfortunate tone for D for the rest of the series - she becomes someone who others confide in (Adama now, Apollo later) but for whatever reason, she doesn't feel that she has anyone to talk to. We never see D unburdening herself to anyone, and it's likely this is a contributing factor in her eventual suicide. She carries the weight of everyone else's problems on top of her own, and feels alone. Isolation, even amidst the crowded refugee conditions, is a major theme across the entire BSG series.

For Tom Zarek, the trip to Kobol was telling in that it revealed that while he's ambitious and untrustworthy, he's not stupid. As much as he dislikes Roslin, he knows killing her would be a mistake. And he knows that once Adama shows up, the game's over - at least for now. He may have given up on the idea of becomming the new commander, of being the real power behind the throne, but we've already got the sense from his actions in other episodes that Zarek knows how to play a long game, and just like a fleet-wide case of IBS, he'll be back. Gotta wonder too about the final goodbye with his henchman. It was very intimate. Makes me wonder if they were more than just friends. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but if it's true, then it certainly shows another side to him, one that may be capable of relationships (if only relationships where he's the acknowledged boss).

Roslin, for the most part, remains pretty consistent. She's still always thinking about how to manipulate people to get what she wants (note that she'll talk about her goals until she's blue in the face, and pull every resource around her into getting them, but she won't even give consideration to Starbuck's request to rescue the survivors on Caprica), and she's still utterly untrustworthy. Promising that Sharon would be safe if everyone would put their guns down, then promptly ordering her flushed out the airlock shows that. Roslin doesn't even take a minute to think that maybe, having been around Sharon for months, Helo might be on to something - or that Helo's opinion of Sharon might be corroborated by Starbuck. She makes a promise of convenience and then dumps it as quickly as she would a Cylon prisoner. I will give her a huge amount of credit on one account though... when she and Adama are having their heart-to-heart, Roslin does some series self-reflecting and wonders if it was a mistake to leave the Colonies, if they ought to have stayed and fought. Quite a refreshing change for a person who's normally so determined to get her way and move forward with her agenda. Call it self-doubt or second-guessing, but there's a respectable amount of self-reflection going on there, and it's a sign of a bit of growth as a person.

For Sharon, this episode is (these episodes are) a real demonstration of how genuine her love for Helo is. She's willing to help the Colonials, even though Roslin has already tried to throw her out of an airlock and threatened the lives of her lover and her child, and even though Adama tries to choke her to death. At any point on Kobol, she could have left the Colonials to fend for themselves. She certainly didn't have to help them defeat the Cylons in the ambush, nor did she have to set-up and take-down Zarek's buddy, thwarting his assassinatin plan. She could have snagged Helo and disappeared into the wild woods of Kobol to live a-la Tarzan, rather than sticking around for an uncertain future of imprisonment and possibly death. Considering what happens to her over the rest of season 2, it might have made more sense to slip away and remain behind. And even if we put aside the fact that she becomes a respected member of the fleet family later in the series, if we just stick to what we know based on seasons 1 and 2, it's clear that she's not sticking around as part of a Cylon espionage plan because there isn't much intelligence to be gathered or mayhem to wreak in a brig, especially with the very real possibility of execution, given Roslin's penchant for lying.

In the end, having the road to Earth laid out for them, the Colonials leave their (most recent) mother planet behind them, and in doing so, the writers leave the audience with a lot of unanswered questions about the mysteries of Kobol and what happened to its civilization.

"Final Cut" puts BSG in the position of following some other long-running series, in that at some point it hits the magic, indeterminant threshhold where the writers, in an attempt to shake things up, do a documentary/media POV episode. The earliest example I can think of was MASH, but certainly in the world of SF, Babylon 5 did it (a couple of times, in fact) and I suspect there have been others. At any rate, it makes for a very tightly-focussed episode that gives us deep, if quick, looks at what's going on in the hearts of a number of Galactica's crew members. It was also a nice way to reveal another Cylon model, D'Anna Beers, played with zest by Lucy Lawless (why are all the female Cylons hot? I'm not complaining, I'm just saying. In fact, I seem to remember Kandyse McClure, who plays D, making a joke to that effect in an interview once). Ultimately, all the revelations that occur are entirely beside the point, the entire exercise is just a cover for the real intent of D'Anna, to gain intelligence on Sharon's condition and report back to the Cylons. She's running a deep-cover operation, which is what the Cylons do well. What a sneaky, yet satisfying way to end the episode.

The flaw in this episode, or, more to the point, with the writing of the overall series, is that "Final Cut" is where Six comes out of the closet as an angel. On one hand, it finally puts to bed (pun only partially intended) the whole question of the mind-frak she's been pulling on Baltar all along. The Vice-President isn't mad, and he doesn't have a Cylon chip in his head. He's being visited by some sort of non-corporeal servant of some mysterious entity that's allegedly a deity. But on the other hand, this revelation contradicts many of the things imaginary Six has said to Baltar - statements as have been noted in previous postings very clearly label her as some sort of Cylon or Cylon product - some of which she came out with just a couple of episodes ago. A really dumb shift in direction on the part of the writers and producers in what has otherwise been a superbly crafted series.

Onward to Earth.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Blogging Battlestar - Resistance Is Futile

At times, it felt like I was watching Red Dawn again during tonight's Battlestar Galactica rewatch. Sure, there was an absence of pre-Dirty Dancing Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in this dance with bullets, but the whole notion of a sports team mounting a guerilla offensive against an overwhelming force of invaders was just too close to be a coincidence. Not that I have a problem with it - one of the many enjoyable aspects of the writing of this series is the unabashed willingness to make allusions to pop culture - love-letters, if you will, to Hollywood fare of the past couple of decades. But on the reviews...

In "Resistance", Helo and Starbuck link up with Anders and his teammates from the Caprica Buccaneers and it isn't too long before the undercover angel and the amnesiac Cylon have stars in their eyes when they look at each other. It's a relationship that you just know is going to be trouble, and over the life of the series, I think the writers did a great job of playing out how much trouble Anders and Starbuck will be for each other, and yet in spite of this, maintaining their love from one another (even though Starbuck also loves Apollo). In their own way, they're as messed-up as Tigh and Ellen, and as fated for tragedy and regret. But at this point, it's the rapid development of attraction between two people who live fast and recognize this in one-another, and both actors do a convincing job of pulling this off.

Aboard Galactica, Tigh's control continues to unravel as ships of the fleet begin to refuse to resupply the military, Roslin plans - and eventually executes - an escape (with the help of Tom Zarek, no less!), and Ellen bullies him for not being strong enough. There may be a small part of Tigh that does actually want to be in charge - the part that makes rash, hard-ass decisions when fuelled by alcohol and pushed by Ellen. But for the most part, the Colonel knows he's not cut out for absolute command and he isn't happy holding it. Because of this, he's constantly afraid of making mistakes, and it's when he's running scared that he's most likely to frak up.

And speaking of frakked up, Cali is another character on the edge these days. There have always been glimpses that she's got what appears to be a crush on the Chief, but now she shows herself to be ferociously in love with him, to the point where she'll do anything to protect and avenge him. I've said before that I have a tough time understanding why she'd blackmail Baltar, threaten to expose the fact that he killed Crashdown on Kobol. Yeah, she's willing to leverage anything at hand to save the Chief from being imprisoned in the brig and suspected of being a Cylon (even though, unbeknownst to everyone -probably, at this point, even the writers - he IS a toaster!), but you think she'd see how obvious it is that it would be tough to get Baltar into any real kind of trouble. As Baltar himself pointed out, he saved her life. And Cali isn't stupid. That's what makes her blackmail threat a bit of a stretch as far as the writing of the episode goes. But I guess the writers could rest on the crutches of love having the ability to make people blind, in this case, making Cali blind to everything except getting the Chief out. She's so single-minded that even when the Chief is cleared, Cali is still driven to kill Boomer. Is this youth? Is it the pressure of everything that's happened since the holocaust getting to her? Maybe some of both, but probably also an overdose of the protectiveness that goes with love - supercharged to the point where she'd do anything to avenge the hurt and injustice that the man she loves has gone through because of Boomer, even if Cali has never really had the Chief for herself.

During Cali and Baltar's conversation, we're privy to another piece of dialogue from Six that undermines the later efforts of the writers to make her into an angel rather than some sort of Cylon program or manifestation of mental illness. Here we see Six get quite upset about the racist term "toaster" that Cali uses, even to the point where she insists Baltar admonish Cali for using it. Would an angel, representing a deity that allegedly doesn't take sides, really care about vocabulary tossed around under pressure? I doubt it. This bit also reminded me of a scene in tghe previous episode, "Fragged", where Six talks about humanity's capacity for murder, and Baltar responds that the Cylons have done a good job of killing as well, and Six responds to the effect of "you taught us well". Us? So she is a Cylon. Same as above, an angel wouldn't take sides to the point of using "us", meaning herself included among the Cylons. Admittedly, this is nitpicking. But it's the growing number of these little inconsistencies - not even inconsistencies at this point in the story, because it's all quite consistent until the massive shift in direction for this character in the later seasons - that really makes the later efforts to rebrand the imaginary Six as an angel look dumb.

This is an episode where we see another example of how brutal Baltar can be when pursuing his own ends - and an example that again involves Boomer. That's quite a coincidence. It's one of those scenes that reminds us, just when we're tempted to pity Baltar because he doesn't get any respect from Galactica's crew (except for Gaeta, who one friend of mine rightly pointed out has been crushing on Baltar since day 1) just as he doesn't get any from the President, that there's a very vicious side of him that can come out and do a lot of harm, without remorse, if he feels it suits his purposes.

But in this scene, we also see that whatever her Cylon programming, Boomer really does love the Chief. She's willing to expose how many other Cylons are in the fleet (eight - another interesting coincidence, considering her model number) to save him from Baltar's lethal injection. Then again... knowing what we know from the end of the series, that the Chief is one of the revered Final Five Cylons, I'm now wondering if maybe she saved him because there was some ultra-deeply buried part of her program that would do anything to ensure no harm would come to one of the Final Five, even if neither her Boomer cover personality, or her real, hidden Cylon persona, conciously recognized him as such. Hmmmm...

Then there's the return of Adama at the end of the episode. There's still a sense that things are going to get worse before they get better, but at least now there's hope that things have the possibility of getting better.

"The Farm" switches the focus back to Caprica for the most part, where Starbuck has been injured in a Cylon ambush, and initially unbeknownst to her, captured and taken to a Cylon "farm". As she'll eventually discover, this is a facility where Cylons conduct breeding experiments with captured human women. Experiments that keep the women confined and wired to machines. Experiments that, for all the suffering they inflict on the captured women, fail to produce a next generation of Cylons. The site of the bed-ridden women whose sole purpose was to breed experimental offspring reminded me of a description of the "tanks" used by the Tleilaxu to create clones and other biological products, as described in one of the Dune books. Again, this could be a simple coincidence, but the BSG writers seem saavy enough that I don't think so. I think this is a much a nod to Dune as the Anders gang is to Red Dawn.

What's really important about this episode though is the insite we're given into Starbuck's character. Granted, all this is questionable considering she's revealed at the end of the series to be an angel, which could mean that most of her past, including her childhood, is just a fictional memory to pad her personality (much like Rachel in Blade Runner). None the less, real or implanted, the memories of the abuse she suffered as a child are shocking to behold, but also go a long way to explaining her frequently nihilistic, self-destructive personality. You may feel nervous for Starbuck as a captive, but you know that because she's Starbuck, she'll probably escape one way or another. Knowing that she was physically abused as a child though, and seeing her having to be reminded of that, is the real torture at work in the hospital. And it takes only one scene to paint that grim picture.

The episode also introduces us to another Cylon model, the doctor. While this character plays a reletively minor role throughout the series, he's important in that he provides another personality to the Cylon mix, one that's rational, cautious and generally compassionate. As a Cylon, we'd be tempted to call him one of the bad guys. But this is a show where simple distinctions like that just don't work. Certainly what he's doing on the farm is horrible, but seperated from his job, he's basically a nice guy. The BSG universe shows that yet again, it is a place of infinite shades of grey.

Back at the fleet, Adama may be back in charge, but not of every ship. Roslin is still running the show for many of the refugees, albeit from a meat locker, and we see more of how far she'll go to maintain that control. One can't help but note how she was very quick to play the religeous card in calling on the ships of the fleet to follow her to Kobol, and yet she's quite uncomfortable when some of the prisoners aboard the Astral Queen kneel and wait for her blessing. The fact that she balks at really playing the role of a religeous figure when it's right in front of her, but is willing to play on people's faith when she's sending a message over the wireless to split the fleet - thereby putting all of the people aboard the seperatist ships in danger since they will be without Galactica's protection in a region of space frequented by Cylons who by now must be aware of hostile activity - shows what a cynical, calculating politician she really is. She'll use religeon to suit her purposes, but initially shying away from being the prophet who delivers blessings shows that really, truely, deep down, she doesn't believe. Admittedly though, it would have been worse if she would have readily stepped right into the blessing with an easy smile, because that would have shown her to be a dangerous egomaniac. As it is, she may be manipulative and determined to stay in power, but she hasn't completly lost her mind. It may sound like I'm rabidly against Roslin. I'm not. I think she's a prime example of the brilliance of the BSG writers, and Mary McDonnell's acting, in creating a well-rounded character - one who is neither sickly sweet nor abjectly evil, but rather a complex human being who can be quite likeable and charming, but also driven, determined, cunning, and ruthless as her inclinations and circumstances dictate. If I'm hard on her from time to time, it's because I'd hold any real politician to the same account.

At her side is Apollo, who, despite his tendency to switch sides, is at the core a reletively consistent personality. He always tries to do the right thing. And as Roslin's team martials their efforts to convince the ships of the fleet to join them in ditching Galactica for Kobol and the road to Earth, Apollo refuses to engage in maligning Adama in front of their entire civilization. He may not agree with everything Adama has done, but in the end Apollo won't completely turn against his father.

In the end, Roslin leaves with nearly a third of the fleet.

And with that, I'll leave off tonight's installment of Blogging Battlestar.

Blogging Battlestar - Season 2

Season 2 of Battlestar Galactica kicks off with as much, if not more, intensity than the explosive magnificence of season 1. Tonight's BSG rewatch serves up "Scattered", "Valley of Darkness", and "Fragged" to get the tension going.

In "Scattered", we're hit with the stark reality that Adama is on death's doorstep. To make it worse, help is not on the way - the appearance of a Cylon basestar drives the fleet into an emergency jump, but in the confusion, Galactica goes the wrong way, and the problem for the Commander, is that Doc Cottle is off on one of the fleet ships. The only way to reunite with the fleet is to jump back to where they started, where the basestar lies in wait, and to recompute the proper coordinates before they're destroyed. For all his boozing, Colonel Tigh is left with the sobering reality that he's now in charge. It's a great view into Tigh's personality as we see that for all of his faults, at least Tigh is completely honest with himself - he needs Adama. What follows is a terrific example of how a battle scene can keep you on the edge of your seat, even when the emphasis is not on the fighter dogfights or the slugfest between capital ships. The audience is white knuckled over whether the hastily networked computers aboard Galactica can determine the fleet's location before the Cylon virus juggernauts through the firewall that Gaeta's cobbled together. Oddly enough, I found myself wondering why the Cylons would even bother to transmit the virus in the first place. After all, they found out in their first engagement that Galactica and its vipers weren't working on a network basis and were immune to the virus that crashed the rest of the Colonial military fleet's systems. In months of fighting since then, nothing's changed. So why keep sending the signal? Sure, it might be standard operating procedure that's been programmed into the Cylon raiders, and one that maybe they just never got around to dumping from their systems. But you'd think that as efficient machines (at least, the raiders and Centurians behave in a pretty efficient manner), the Cylons wouldn't keep anything around that wasn't useful anymore, that they wouldn't try using a trick that's been proven to be ineffective. Ultimately, you might say the Cylons are just cautious and will try everything in the book every time, just on the off chance that things have changed and the old tricks might work again. Makes for a great clock-is-running-out scene anyway.

Meanwhile on Caprica, Sharon's flown the coop in Starbuck's raider and Helo's left with a surly Kara Thrace. It's a nice aside that shows just how upset Starbuck is, not so much at Helo, as at herself for being drawn in by Leoben, for finding herself in a position where she's unsure of which direction to take. There's a point in her appartment where she notes that she doesn't know how to do anything but fight, and the problem, clearly, is that she's been in a situation for a while where it's not clear who the enemies really are or what the true objective is.

"Valley of Darkness" gets a lot worse. It becomes a different kind of story, not one of exciting space battles, but a gut-wrenching one of being chased through a maze in the dark by near-indestructable monsters - a Cylon boarding party is on the loose in Galactica. For Tigh, this is an ugly blast from the past - he's been through this before in the first Cylon war. I seem to recall one of the extras on the DVD mentioning that there had been a flashback scene written that included the old model Centurians rampaging through a battlestar, but it was decided not to produce that scene. Pity, 'cause it would have been extremely cool. And there's no sacrifice to the relentless pacing when the story shifts to check-in with the crash survivors on Kobol. Things are just as bad in the forest where one of the group lies injured and dying, and the Chief, Cali and one other deckhand have to go back to the crash site to get forgotten medical supplies. The problem is compounded by the fact that Crashdown, in charge of the group, is starting to come unravelled - life in a raptor has given him nothing he can use to cope with having to keep a band of shipmates alive when they're being hunted by Cylons in an alien wilderness. To make matters worse, the other deckhand is killed by the Cylons as he, the Chief and Cali return to the others, and when they get back they learn that Secinus is going to die, and the only way they can help him, in a nice nod to Saving Private Ryan, is to kill him themselves. Overall, this is definitely one of the best episodes of the season, and one of the top 20 of the entire series. Thrilling and very focussed.

"Fragged" takes us back to Galactica for a different kind of fight - a political battle. Colonel Tigh feels increasing pressure as the Colonial Quorum demands to see the imprisoned Roslin and pushes him to rescind his undeclared martial law. For Tigh, even without Ellen egging him on, even without the alcohol impairing his judgement, this would be a fight he'd have no idea how to win. Tigh's a fighting man who knows how to bull his way through a Cylon line, not someone who knows how to outmanouever politicians or craft messaging to convince the public that what he's doing is reasonable - hell, in Tigh's opinion, the public exists to serve his ship, and the politicians are a nuisance to the point where they're almost as much a threat as Cylons. He should have wasted no time to get legal charges laid against Roslin for whatever charges are appropriate for someone who's undermined the chain of command and incited mutiny and theft. From there, he'd have been best served putting out messaging to the effect that Roslin was under arrest pending criminal investigation and trial. He then could have turned government of civilian affairs back to the Quorum, which would be obliged to honour the legal procedings, all the while continuing to issue messaging to the effect that it's of penultimate importance that Galactica's chain of command be honoured and its decisions respected so that it can continue to successfully protect the fleet as it always has. He wouldn't have come out of it being lilly white, but he would have looked a damn site better than he does as the story actually pans out. And his biggest mistake, of course, was allowing the media to accompany the Quorum when he trotted out Roslin to illustrate her lack of mental fitness (and failed due to a guard's covert complicity with her). This is the point where his remaining credibility is shot, with the mistake of officially declaring martial law being the last nail in the coffin.

On Kobol, it's a disaster of a different sort as Crashdown orders an attack on the Cylons. What I could never figure out was why, later on in the series, Cali tries to blackmail Baltar by saying she'd expose him for lying about killing Crashdown. Seems kind of dumb, and certainly ungrateful, seeing as how Crashdown was about to kill Cali in this episode, and it seems he'd become unhinged enough that if Baltar hadn't shot him, the Lieutenant would have probably gone ahead and killed her. Certainly, the Chief's attitude seems as though he agreed with what Baltar did, and in addition gave the Vice-President some grudging respect for concocting a story that would preserve Crashdown's honour. Luckily for all of them, the cavalry comes and the Chief gets himself another Saving Private Ryan moment as he pulls the trigger on his sidearm, and suddenly all of the Cylons get "blowed up reeeal goooood" by the rescue raptors.

Next up, more infighting among the fleet.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Blogging Battlestar - Politics, Theft and Treason

Tonight's Battlestar Galactica rewatch brought me to the final three episodes of season 1: "Colonial Day" and "Kobol's Last Gleaming" parts 1 & 2.

In "Colonial Day" all eyes, for once, are not on Galactica. Instead the fleet devotes its entire attention to the political battles taking place aboard the Rising Star. The movers and shakers among the refugees have gathered aboard the luxury liner to convene the Quorum of the Colonies - the Colonial parliament, where their newly elected representatives will attend to the government business of their civilization. But a wrench is thrown into the works when it's announced that terrorist and prison ship uprising leader Tom Zarek appears as a duly-elected representative of Saggitaron and forces the issue of the election of a Vice-President. For Roslin, it's a matter of life and death - beyond politics, because if Zarek wins the Vice-Presidential election, her days could be numbered. It's a great episode for showing some of the political battles that go on behind the scenes in any society, and for peeling back more layers from some of the lead characters. It's a chance to see the degree of Ellen Tigh's aspirations, to the point where she'll deal with anyone, even a known terrorist, if she thinks it'll get her a more privileged position in life. There's certainly more than a hint that her complimentary day aboard the Rising Star that she tells the Colonel about later is due to the fact that she divulged the location of where the assassin was being held to Zarek. With Zarek, we see his ability to turn on the charisma and make the cameras work to his advantage as he tries a legitimate drive at power, even as he keeps a retinue of prison barge thugs around him to intimidate others, and, let's face it, assassinate anyone who gets in his way (or who might implicate him in the plot to smuggle a gun aboard the ship and kill... someone who gets in his way). For Roslin, the epi reveals that she's not just a capable administrator, she's also a masterful political player. But not quite masterful enough... the scene were she invites Baltar to run for Vice-President is proof that she isn't quite the expert player she thinks she is or that she ought to be. Prior to the meeting, she said that meeting with Baltar was one of two unpleasant things she had to take care of. There's a mistake right off the bat - working with someone you don't trust or like. Now, in the political arena, no-one would argue against the fact that sometimes this is a necessity, but in order to work with those one finds objectionable, the good politician must at least keep a game face on. Roslin has no idea what a game face is. When she goes into the men's room to extend her offer to Baltar, she doesn't even make the effort to sound friendly, and she certainly doesn't extend her hand (even though he's made a point of washing his). It was very telling where she abruptly left the room without offering to shake hands after Baltar accepted. Very telling indeed, considering she had a handshake and kiss when she first came face to face with political opponent (and threat to her life) Tom Zarek. No, even though Baltar accepts, helping her out, making her political life so much easier, and eliminating the Zarek threat because of Baltar's own ability to charm the public and media, she can't be bothered to even extend the courtesy of a handshake or friendly tone. It's fitting that the scene takes place in a washroom, because Roslin essentially treats Baltar like a piece of used toilet paper - something that's been necessary, but something she doesn't want to be around. Here's a president who's either way too confident of her status as absolute ruler, or someone who's still got a helluva lot to learn about finesse in politics. Or both.

In "Kobol's Last Gleaming" parts 1 & 2, the fleet discovers Kobol, the original homeworld of the Colonial civilization (at least in its current incarnation - as we'll find out later in the series), and it runs into a major rift in its power structure between Roslin and Adama, while Boomer's depression and identity crisis finally resolve themselves in a way that will have near-tragic consequences. The discovery of Kobol comes at a time when Roslin is putting more and more faith in her kamala extract-induced visions and her perceived role in a religeous prophecy. Instead of seeing the abandoned homeworld as a source of resources and refuge, the President thinks it's only a roadsign that, if deciphered properly, can point to Earth. With this in mind, she wants to use Starbuck's captured Cylon raider to jump back to Caprica to recover an ancient arrow that can help point the way on Kobol. Problem is, Adama doesn't put much stock in religeon or drug-induced visions, and thinks the raider should be used to take out a basestar orbiting Kobol. In the ensuing confrontation, both leaders make mistakes. Roslin clearly oversteps her bounds by interfering with the military by going behind Adama's back, breaking the chain of command and inciting Starbuck to steal the raider and go AWOL on the mission to Caprica. The President also breaks her promise to keep the fact that the location of Earth is unknown confidential. After all of this, one can't blame Adama for needing to take some sort of action - Roslin has overtly undermined his authority and cannot be trusted again. That's even putting aside the fact that she's acting based on a drug-induced vision, and thus, technically, probably could be considered unfit to lead. And yet, Adama is not innocent in all of this either. He is guilty of conducting a military coup. The fact is, ultimately, as president, Roslin is the boss, and if she identifies some hare-brained mission to recover an antiquity as the priority for the survival of their people, that's the directive that has to be followed. If Adama didn't like it, he should have followed whatever process of impeachment was spelled out in existing Colonial law, accompanied by an agressive PR campaign and support of the government system's right to appoint an alternative civilian leader, rather than staging a coup.

Then there's poor Starbuck. Carrying a freighter-load of emotional baggage even before the destruction of her civilization, Starbuck's caught between the demands of two powerful personalities that she respects (essentially Mom & Dad), is feeling alienated from Apollo, and is still reeling from her encounter with Leoben. It's all a symbol of her inner conflict over the question of where she fits in, what is her destiny. Given what we learn of her true, angelic nature (lame) in the series finale, one has to wonder if this turmoil is more deeply rooted in her inner guiding-angel self struggling against the muddled human personality overtop. Things don't get any easier when she arrives on Caprica, only to have the shit beaten out of her by a Six. Sure, Starbuck puts up one hell of a fight - she is, after all, Starbuck. But the Six is stronger, faster, better. Having her fighting ego crushed pretty quickly like that (despite her eventual win) is only a precurser to the real kick to reality she receives when she finds Helo alive (which is good), accompanied by Sharon - very bad, because as far as Starbuck knows, Boomer's back with the fleet. The fact that Sharon is a Cylon agent, that her friend is actually an entity committed to destroying her people, is too much to handle, and Starbuck has a meltdown. And again, knowing what we know about Starbuck as of the end of the series, I'm forced to wonder if this little breakdown isn't another manifestation of the struggle going on within Starbuck herself. As the Vorlons illustrated painfully clearly to Sheridan and Delenn, the most painful question in the universe is "Who are you?"

And clearly, Starbuck isn't the only one grappling with this question. Aboard Galactica, Boomer has been in crisis for some time. The bombing of the ship's water tanks, the explosive beneath her ejection seat, the blackouts, would have been enough to put Boomer into a tailspin as it is. Her breakup with the Chief (her former lover, but as we find out at the end of the series, one of her creators, and thus father of a sort - definitely some kind of weird Elektra thing going on, definitely a formula for mindfucking even the most healthy personality) has caused her even more hurt. As the episode begins, Boomer has hit bottom and is suicidal. Not knowing who she is, feeling that there's no-one there for her, has put her in a dangerous place. Talking with Baltar turns out to be near-fatal. Baltar's been many things up to this point, weak, cowardly, selfish, vindictive, spiteful, manipulative, but this is the first time he's been truly evil. Baltar knows that he has an opportunity to say something supportive that might help Boomer get to a place where she won't harm herself. He even knows he could do this and then exploit her vulnerability and seduce her. Instead, recognizing that she's a Cylon and thus a threat to himself, he says something carefully calculated to push this hurting individual over the edge. Say what you will about the need to defend yourself against an enemy that's exterminated your people and is likely to eventually kill you as well, what Baltar did was inhuman. Does she survive her attempt to shoot herself because she changes her mind at the last minute, or is it the submerged Cylon personality kicking in to save itself? We'll never know. In either case, it's in this conflicted state that Boomer accepts the mission to destroy the basestar over Kobol. But given the highly dangerous nature of the assignment, one might wonder if Boomer's just taking it as another way of trying to kill herself. Meeting her fellow Eights resolves her identity crisis though. Or does it? Is shooting Adama an act of her Cylon personality? Or is it the Boomer overlay personality concluding that since it's a Cylon, it might as well do what a Cylon would be expected to do, and in assassinating the Commander, find another way to guarantee that her live would end?

It's a season finale that leaves the fleet without its two strongest leaders and two of its best pilots.

See you next season.

Top 5 Drinks of SF

Let's face it, whether you're racing across a distant galaxy at faster-than-light speeds, or trudging through some mystical forest on an epic quest to find a magic jewel or something, living in the worlds of science fiction and fantasy is thirsty work. And whether the beverages (alcoholic or not) quaffed by our thirsty heroes are the focus of intense discussion or merely background set pieces, the drinks that are served are often the trivia that spring to mind most readily when fans are discussing finer details of their favourite SF. As the boys from Monty Python once sang "I drink, therefore I am!" If you were to saunter into Callahan's, or The Green Dragon, or some dive bar in Mos Eisley, or anywhere else in the SF omniverse, you might wave the bartender over and order a round of brevari, raktajino, beer (from any brewery), pumpkin juice, warnog, jovian sunspots, or ambrosia, but there are some drinks that rise above the rest. Let's whet our whistles with:

The Top 5 Drinks of SF

5) Blue milk (Star Wars - Episode IV A New Hope) - What's the one thing that everyone remembers about the Lars homestead on Tatooine in the first Star Wars movie? It isn't the oil bath, the toy shuttle in the garage, or the fact that the house is a big hole in the ground. It's the blue milk that Luke, Uncle Owen, and Aunt Beru drink with their meal while discussing whether young Master Skywalker will remain at home and be a bumpkin or head off in pursuit of higher education at the fleet academy and become a jackbooted cog in the repressive Imperial war machine. Why? Because we've all bee indoctrinated enough with the slogans of the Dairy Board to recite without even thinking: "Milk - it does a body good" - even when it's blue. We all know that the best way to grow up to be a Force-wielding galactic hero is to build strong bones and muscles with a tall, frosty glass of blue milk every day. For those of you who are azure lactose intolerant, you're out of luck. No Jedi knighthood for you.

4) Blood wine (Star Trek franchise) - You may occasionally hear talk of Klingons throwing back tankards of warnog or hooking the Alpha Quadrant on their especially potent coffee, raktajino, but the real fuel of the glorious Klingon Empire is blood wine. Potent enough to knock a human out cold after just a few sips (unless he's taken an alcohol inhibitor), blood wine is the drink of heroes who have come home from beheading enemies, laying waste to planets and slaughtering the entire race of cute and cuddly Tribbles.

3) The Pan Galactic Gargleblaster (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) - Invented by renegade galactic president Zaphod Beeblebrox, according to the Guide, it is the best drink in existence, "the effect of which is like having your brains smashed out with a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick." If it's the best, why isn't it in first place? Well, if very few beings in existence can drink more than one, and if there are several rehabilitation centres that exist to help those who have consumed one recover, then perhaps it's too potent to be the best, at least, in any practical sense. I know, I know, even saying this might mean that I'll never be able to show my face in the Zaphod Beeblebrox bar in Ottawa, but I stand by my words and that's a risk I'll have to take.

2) Water of Life (Dune) - Who'd have thought that vomit from a drowned sandworm would be the key to getting your Freman party rockin'? Yes, it's guaranteed to give the whole tribe a buzz that'll let them break the funk out for a day or two before they slither off to war against the Harkonens, but the real draw of the Water of Life is that it lets you see the future - not just think you're seeing the future like a few too many stubby bottles of skunky u-brew from the guy down the street might do - but actually see the future in all its permutations, and maybe even set up a genetic chat line to all of your ancestors. The only drawback, and this is what puts it in the number two spot, is that in its initial state, it's lethal. Having to concentrate on having your body alter the chemical structure of the drink so that the poison is rendered harmless is no way to start your first shooter.

1) Magic Potion from a Six-Demon Bag (Big Trouble in Little China) - It lets you "see things no-one else can see, do things no-one else can do", and makes you feel "good, kinda invincible", if a bit warm. It's main advantage over the Water of Life is that it won't kill you. It also can summon a pretty good belch. 'Nuff said.

So what SF drink would you toss back if you could?

Blogging Battlestar - Zen, Ambrosia, and Blowing Shit Up

On the menue for tonight's Battlestar Galactica rewatch: "Flesh and Bone", "Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down", and "The Hand of God".

In "Flesh and Bone", a Leoben model is discovered aboard one of the ships of the fleet and Starbuck is dispatched to interrogate him. Here we see the line between the "goodguys" of the fleet and the "badguy" Cylons blur pretty thoroughly as Kara starts in with the torture. Sure the Cylons are responsible for genocide, but (and this is putting aside what many experts agree is the highly questionable validity of information gleaned from it) the viciousness necessary to administer torture, and Starbuck's willingness to administer it (even justifying it as simply as "He's a machine, there are no limits to what I can do.") certainly don't cast her in a good light - in fact, the ongoing brutality forces one to remember Adama's words in the pilot about people still committing acts of violence, and his questioning of whether humanity deserved to survive.

Meanwhile, there's a very interesting aside moment when Boomer checks in with Baltar to volunteer to beta test his Cylon detector. As I've mentioned before, it's those quick little flashes of emotion on Six's face that tell us so much about the Cylons, and the same thing happens here. When Baltar gives Boomer his greeting/come-on, we see a scowl on the face of the "angelic" Six behind him, and for the rest of the encounter her body language is stiff and guarded. Now, for a character who turns out to be, by the end of the series, an angel, this makes absolutely no sense. The imaginary Six, to date, and for the rest of the series, has absolutely no problem with Baltar fucking half of the fleet, so long as his mind remains hers. Why now this awful stab of jealousy towards Boomer. Sure she's an undercover Cylon, but why should that matter to an angel? We know from their behaviour in previous episodes that the Sixes have it in for the Eights, but again, that should be completely irrelevant to an angel. And yet, this angel is pretty unhappy to see Boomer anywhere near her Gaius. Here's one of the first big stumbles of the writing team. At this point, when we saw the series for the first time, we saw the imaginary Six and figured she was a delusion of Baltar's or some kind of Cylon neuro implant. Both of which would completely make sense in terms of accounting for the imaginary Six's dislike of Boomer in this scene. But, as viewers who've already seen the entire series through to its to some degree questionable ending, a rewatch makes this scene very strange, because we know Six is an angel, and so her snarl of jealousy is just plain baffling. At least the mystery of of the Shelley Godfrey Six's disappearance from the Galactica in "Six Degrees of Separation" is explained satisfactorally in The Plan, but no such explanation is forthcoming for this discrepency. More to come on this front.

On to "Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down", one of Edward James Olmos' (Commander Adama) directorial contributions to the series. It's also one of the few episodes that really tries to be funny. I've heard a lot of people take potshots at this epi, but I think it's pretty good. A nice change of pace (and one that's needed from time to time) from the sturm und drang of day-to-day refugee survival. The humour works and it's as good a way as any to introduce Colonel Tigh's trouble-making wife Ellen, because the fact of the matter is that Mrs Tigh is such a petty, conniving, manipulative, occasionally stupid, destructive force, that treating her arrival any other way would have required such a degree of menace and sadness that it would have been too hard to watch. It also highlights that even under stress, the ridiculous can and will air its head from time to time, and if you're not the one who's embroiled in it, it's pretty funny. Of course, the episode does end on a serious note when Baltar gives the "results" of his test - he tells everyone that Ellen his human, but then confesses to Six that he'll never tell anyone what the real test result was. At least, by playing coy, this time the writers avoided telling us something that would have created a difficult-to-explain-away inconsistency later. Here they've left it wide open so they can exploit it at the end of the series to make Ellen the last of the Final Five.

"The Hand of God" is all about blowin' shit up. And a magnificent job it does of it too. Just a straight-forward story about the Galactica's crew figuring out how they're going to get their mitts on an asteroid loaded with tylium that's in the clutches of the Cylons. Okay, okay, there's the odd cutaway to Caprica to check-in with Helo & Sharon and where, courtesy of a cold-can-of-beans-induced bout of puking, we discover the important fact that the first human-Cylon hybrid is on the way. But it's still mainly a story about people in fighers blowin' shit up. And what a great job it does of it. Exciting battle scenes with some nice nods to SF antiquity. The first was when the decoy mining ships blow their cargo containers, revealing that they're acting as pocket carriers full of vipers ready to launch the real attack - an allusion to the pilot of the old series where the Cylons coverly made their way into Colonial space during the peace treaty signing hiding their raiders in freighters. Then of course there's the general image of vipers flying across the surface of an alien body trying to ignite tylium to destroy Cylons, except in this case it's an asteroid and a Cylon refinery base, rather than the old series with Starbuck & Apollo single-handedly (or would that be double-handedly?) igniting the surface of the insect planet Carillon to destroy a pair of basestars. Lastly, Apollo's run down the canyon and through the conveyor tunnel was a total love letter to the Death Star attacks in Star Wars and Return of the Jedi.

The only thing that bugged me about this episode was during the planning of the attack when the military types called-in Baltar to identify the best part of the Cylon base to hit to cause maximum damage. Now Baltar may be their Cylon expert, but what precisely does that have to do with tylium mining and refining? Wouldn't they have been better served calling in some of the senior staff from the fleet's tylium mining and refinery ships? That is their bread and butter after all. But, they had to find a way to leverage this epi into another public display of Baltar's vital role for thei fleet's survival. Ah well. This logical hiccup certainly wasn't enough to take away from the enjoyability of this episode.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Blogging Battlestar - Trials and Tribulations

For tonight's Battlestar Galactica rewatch, a double feature: "Litmus" and "Six Degrees of Separation".

The dominant plotline of "Litmus" concerns Sergeant Hadrian's McCarthy-esque witchhunt for Cylon sleeper agents in the wake of a suicide bombing by a Dorrel aboard Galactica. What's most interesting about Hadrian's overzealousness to uncover a conspiracy isn't that she goes out of line to the point of putting Commander Adama to the question, because, after all, Adama knew that fear of sleeper agents would make people paranoid, and Roslin warned that tribunals can turn on unexpected people in improper ways. Nor is it interesting in the sense that Hadrian's clearly subscribing to the philosphy that a good offence is the best defence, in an effort to hide the obvious, catastrophic inability of her security staff to stop a man from killing a guard and stealing weapons, and their inability to tell that a man's walking through the corridors with a butt-load of explosives strapped under his jacket. No, what's interesting about Hadrian's ferocity is that she keeps coming back to the improper, concealed relationship between the Chief and Boomer, even though that relationship's relevance is sketchy at best. It's so vicious, in fact, that I have to wonder if it's personal, if this is a bit of scorned woman syndrome at work here. Maybe it's simpler than that, maybe she's just getting back at the Chief for pulling rank on her (or at least putting her in her place reminding her that he holds a higher rank) during the early stages of her investigation. But her intensity seems to be more than that would warrant. Admittedly, there's nothing in the earlier episodes (and I think she only appeared in one prior epi - the one with the drone that accidentally goes off in the hanger, killing 13 pilots) to indicate Hadrian had eyes for the Chief, so maybe I'm reading too much into this. But really, her attitude in trying to impale the Chief and Boomer for their relationship goes beyond the investigative, even the paranoid, into the angrily personal. She wants revenge on someone because she wants someone and can't have him (or her?!).

Meanwhile, back on Caprica, another trial of sorts is taking place: the Cylons are setting the stage for Helo and Sharon's love on the run, and part of that involves hurting Sharon to make sure she looks like she's really had it hard in the metal clutches of the centurians. And the rooftop beating is a very interesting scene. Not out of some adolescent thrill for an imminent catfight, because this isn't a fight, Sharon isn't defending herself, and there's no thrill to seeing this kind of brutality as Six does everything short of curb-stomping the 8. What's interesting is that quick little smile Six gives before laying into Sharon, because that's the second major revelation of the state of Cylon culture that the series has given us. The first, obviously, is that at least two of the models (the Leobens and the Sixes) are deeply religeous. But this feral grin as prelude to attack shows us that all is not well in terms of inter-model relations. The Sixes, or at least this Six personality, don't like the 8's. I seem to recall Dorrel asking Six at one point (perhaps in an earlier episode) whether she was jealous that Sharon was picked to fall in love with Helo and to attempt to get pregnancy. That smile shows that clearly she is. And this is one little crack between Cylon models that hints of the abyss beteween models that will tear their society apart in later seasons.

Another Six moment in the epi that's worth mentioning is the imaginary/angel Six's bullying of Baltar aboard Galactica. "Don't make me angry, Gaius. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry." she snarls, following it with a gentle kiss. Damn, she was scarier with that than Bruce Banner ever was before going Hulk on some asshole.

"Six Degrees of Separation" is when it appears the chickens have finally come home to roost for Baltar - a Six appears claiming to have evidence that Baltar allowed Colonial defence security to be compromised, facilitating the holocaust that destroyed their civilization. Some great character-development moments for Baltar as his terror - and seemingly the evidence against him - mounts. It gives us the brilliant washroom scene where we see the extent to which Baltar is willing to go to cultivate allies, clear his name, and confront enemies, and getting nowhere doing it. Except, that is, to deliver one of the best lines in the entire series: "No more Mr Nice Gaius!" We also see Adama and Roslin come clean about how they feel about Baltar. And we can see in that scene at the end aboard Colonial One when Roslin is giving the apology press conference, in that one long look that Baltar gives her, that he's marked her as an enemy, that the apology is in no way personal, and that she's just made his list - a sign of things to come.

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.