Tuesday, July 20, 2010

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.

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