Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Battlestar Galactica: Returning to Form? Or Saying Goodbye?

I'm a science fiction geek; most of you know that. And, as such, I happen to really like the SciFi network television series Battlestar Galactica. Generally, it is not only the best science fiction series on the small screen, it is also one of the best drama series on the small screen. Yes, it belongs in the same sentence as House, CSI, Law & Order, Grey's Anatomy, you name it. The human element of the show stands out as one of the most innovative, most relevant, and most well-written. Seriously.

But, therein lies the problem. The show not only follows Humans, but a race of human-created robots known as Cylons. In Battlestar Galactica, the Cylons represent (almost) everything that we as humans hold as evil. The Cylons are genocidal, vengeful, and narrow-minded of purpose. They hold a different religious belief system than that of the humans in the series, which is one of the subtle causes of the war between Humans and Cylons (ironically, it is the Cylons that are monotheistic in the show). Cylons also behave immorally and irresponsibly when conducting scientific research, lacking any discipline or reservation. Anything goes, screw the debate. Of course, this is also the result of irony, as the Cylons were created in much the same manner.

I'm digressing a bit, so let me get right to the point: the show has been sub-par since the absolutely wonderful Season One. In Season Two, the show abandoned its magnificent pacing, forcing its audience to adjust to an extremely variable "passing of time." Also, the show began to explore a distracting, yet compelling, Cylon point-of-view, and revealed the reason for the Cylon "genocide" (the quotes are added because, given the nature of the Cylon scientific experiments, it is no longer clear why the Cylons wanted to annihilate humanity).

The show, in a forced attempt to remain "relevant," tried to get us to care about and perhaps see things from the so-called villain's side of the fence. While this is nice in geo-political theory, this is usually bad for television. Think Lost, whose ratings are suffering as we are introduced to "The Others," once the pinnacle of faceless television villains. For better examples, let's take a look at some high-profile war films. Does anybody remember the Vietnamese segments of We Were Soldiers? Of course not. They were the bad guys, and despite the film's (half-hearted) attempts to humanize them, we just didn't care. Sure, humanizing the enemy in Letters from Iwo Jima worked, but what about in Flags of Our Fathers? No, because Clint Eastwood was smart enough to know that "the enemy" needed its own film, or would have otherwise been too distracting.

At the end of Season Two, the series broke a cardinal rule of screenwriting and jumped "One Year Later." Hoping to draw us in with audience-originated "what happened" questions, the show instead alienated its audience with those same questions. Almost a full-season later, many (if not most) audience questions are still unanswered and we, more than ever, are left with the feeling that we were cheated out of a virtual year's worth of plot and character development. Also, during the early portions of Season 3, the show seemed to become much less about Battlestar Galactica and more about Baseship Cylonica, once again taking us away from the plot and characters that we actually do care about.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, it took NBC Universal more than half of Season 3 to confirm the show would be returning for a Season 4. The catch? Instead of the usual 20 episodes, Season 4 is now currently slated for only 13. Which means that the show could have been given the feared "wrap the story up" ultimatum. Also somewhat unsurprisingly, the renewal announcement came after Season 3 shifted from the Cylon-oriented plot to the much more traditional, much more successful "Humans on the run" plot that made the show such a hit in the first place. If anyone out there thinks this is purely coincidental, you're dead wrong. Even crap shows like the two Stargates lasted so long because they never alienated their audiences. Yes, they're far less profound and relevant than Battlestar Galactica, but they know who they play to, and they keep playing to them.

We started watching the show because we wanted to know about the misguided, but ultimately good, Humans running from the miscreant, and ultimately evil, Cylons. What we have now are the misguided, misaligned Humans running from the misguided, misaligned Cylons. What's worse is that the "stapled-together" Cylon sub-plot only makes them look really, really stupid. And that's not exactly something audiences look for in their uber-villains.

The good news is that the recent episodes of Battlestar Galactica have been a return to form, somewhat, and the show appears to be once again headed in the right direction. Is the rest of Season 3 and what's been allocated for Season 4 enough to save the show? Or are we looking at the beginning of the end of the journey, and will Episode 4.13 indeed have the rag-tag fleet find Earth?

Guess we're going to find out.

1 comment:

  1. i kind of tend to agree... i think.

    While you were a bit long winded with your approach, i think that the writers tried to get too complex with the show. Think about it, how long has it been since the Cylons have even been seen in the show?

    In the first two seasons, they were constantly one step ahead of them.

    Now i understand that you can only write so many close calls before it gets over the top.

    i did like the class struggle of the recent e[ospde.

    Posted by God on March 1, 2007 - Thursday - 4:30 PM

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