Wednesday, July 09, 2008


Or, in this case, Mid-Season Adjustment Disorder. Adjusting to the mid-season break and the absence of Battlestar Galactica from our screens. Although why they didn't just go ahead and call the recent batch a short season like the makers of Heroes did with their 11 episodes (quite good, but not as compelling as the first series), I don't quite know. For a half-full glass, it seemed positively spilling over with developments. Enough to deserve the 'Season' label.

Oh well, not that a name makes a bundle of difference. It's still over and gone for the time being. And as well as our having to adjust to the BSG-shaped hole in our viewing habits, we're having to adjust to the huge curve ball they threw at us at the end. In much the same way, I guess, as the producers had to adjust their show to fit around the writers' strike. Such is the nature of TV these days that whenever there is a break - Season or mid - there's an obligation to deliver a big whammy of an ending. This one came up on us so fast, I have a sense it initially belonged at the end of episode 11.

But. I could be wrong.


After all, it's not the first time BSG has done this sort of thing to us. If I cast my mind back to the end of Season 2 - and it's pretty easy to do, as the impressions are all still surprisingly vivid in my mind - I recall being wowed, while at the same time feeling a jolt, as events jumped forward "One Year Later..." and we were asked to adjust to a whole new ball game on New Caprica. Shaking up the status quo is one of the things that BSG is so exceptionally good at, but there are times when I think it could exercise a measure of patience when steering us into wildly different territory. I guess they don't feel that taking a little pace off the ball is the best approach, if their intention is to hit it out of the park.

But there we are, that's fans for you. We grumble when it's too slow, we grumble when it's all too fast. Pace is a tricky beast. Last year, the series felt like it was dragging its heels and/or treading water (tough combination) for a run of 4 episodes in the middle (an attempt to economise, by all accounts, after the budget blowout for the stunning Exodus at the beginning of the season). But that run included Dirty Hands, an episode which in hindsight I have greater respect for, not least because it provoked a great deal of thought and because it was in a similar vein to the first Season's Water, tackling core issues (labour disputes and water supplies, respectively) for a society of spacegoing refugees. Also because now, with the pressure on to move the central story forward, there hasn't been room for that kind of story and, what do you know, I rather miss it.

See. Fans: never satisfied.

Still, when all that's said and done, what Season 4 Part One (?) has delivered has been consistently compelling. Right from where it picks up after the *massive* cliffhanger from the previous season (and that, Rusty, is how it's done), where you have absolute confirmation - actually in the opening header - that yes, those four who thought they were Cylons are actually Cylons. And after that initial holy shit moment, we're straight into battle, emerging battered and bruised (in a good way) and certain only of one thing: everything has changed. Watching the reactions of Tory, Tyrol and Tigh in the light of their Cylon wake-up call is at least as fascinating as all the missile exchanges and explosions. Can we trust them at all now? Can they trust themselves? And, what's more, what the hell do we make of Starbuck? Or, perhaps, what has someone else made of her? And on top of that, out of one combat encounter between Anders and a Cylon raider, it's all change in the Cylon camp too. Now that's masterful.

As you'd expect things settle down a bit after that, but it's not as though we're really given time to breathe as we explore the impact and implications of these dramatic shifts. They really hit home for Chief Tyrol, while the calculating Tory adapts with frightening ease to life as a Cylon, and I'll be honest I felt the cold when Cally was blown out of that airlock. Thank Gaius that Baltar's still around to amuse us as he embraces his role as Messiah to his (mostly female) faithful disciples. In this series, you have to find humour wherever you can and even life in Baltar's harem isn't all laughs.

And as much as I might attempt to make light there, it's that moment of Cally's death that leaves an indelible mark as the series progresses, one that, more than simply confirming that, yes, we're in the final season so even regulars are viable targets, feeds into the climactic face-off in Revelations where Tigh offers himself up for sacrifice and lends proceedings startling conviction. You believe that Lee Adama might actually space the old soldier. You believe that the show itself might dispense with him.

Really though, I've no desire to relive every good bit. What am I saying? Of course I do - but I'll attend to that in a rewatch and here I'll confine myself to a brisk skimming some of the cream off the top: the cloak and dagger as the four newly revealed Cylons attend their weekly meetings; the Cylon centurions turning on Dean Stockwell et al and kicking off the Cylon civil war; the tensions on that cramped freighter as Starbuck and crew venture on their independent search for signs of the path to Earth; Gaeta crippled and suddenly rendered analogous to a Cylon hybrid, a navigator lying there and mumbling (all right, technically singing) in a world of his own, the Cylon hybrid snapping her eyes open and shouting, "Jump!" as she's plugged in and hijacking the base ship along with the President and all; Athena, driven to protect Hera, blowing a hole in Natalie - how thoroughly she lets down Adama - and how thoroughly he has a change of heart, when he appreciates what he is depriving her of by keeping her apart from her child; the unboxing of D'Anna (which I for one had been hoping for for some time) and her telling Roslin she was one of the Final Five (ha!); the Temptation of Laura Roslin, where she is handed the opportunity to murder Baltar; Adama's reunion with Roslin; Tigh standing up and grassing up his fellow Cylons. And *especially* Bill Adama collapsing as everything he knew and trusted in Tigh crumbles before him!

Holy, as I believe I mentioned before, shit.

Too many 'moments'. Taken together it's the progression that impresses, of the characters and of the series as a whole. It's not always speedy, but it's relentless.

And in part it's because of that generally careful pacing, allowing us time to sit back - or often sit forward, perched on the edge of our sofas - and admire that progression, it is a shame the final pointer to Earth is ultimately delivered so swiftly. It's such a principle goal of the series - at least, it's been perceived as such - it feels all too easy. Of course, that is then instantly mitigated by what they find there - in a classic 'be careful what you wish for' hard lesson - but even so. For my money, the events of those few minutes seem to call for another episode unto themselves.

(And my very sage friend, Stuart, points out, we could have been treated at the same time to a thread involving Gaeta and his discovery that he was 'tried' as a collaborator at the hands of a Cylon kangaroo court. That ought to have been another "holy shit!" episode right there. With perhaps the discovery of Earth being enough to prompt Gaeta to set the score aside.)

It's difficult, looking back, to see where cuts could have been made to facilitate that ending at this stage. Possibly we could have lived without Romo Lampkin and his cat. But I have to say, I like the character and the thread concerning Lee's ascension to the presidency is key, added to which there is much more concerning Adama going on in that episode. And in any case some radical shuffling around would have been required. So, who knows.

In the end, I suppose, it comes down to maths and the pressures of television. Ten episodes is all we were given at this point and there's that obligation, as I say, to deliver the BIG GASP moment at the break. In fairness, it was quite a GASP - epic Planet Of The Apes type stuff - and an amazing bit of imagery to take away with us and meditate on in the interim. What the hell does it all mean? Where are they going to take us next with this? (And where can I get a widescreen shot of that as a cast photo? :) ) And, as my wife pointed out to me when we were done watching, "just be glad they didn't finish it five minutes earlier."

In a sense, if they had, with Lee poised to push the button and expel Tigh into the chilly depths of space, well, I might not have been so persuaded that he was going to go through with it. As any of us who have watched Doctor Who recently will know, the actual cliffhanger is all too often just a tease preceding a cheat. BSG has, thus far, generally delivered on its promises, but awareness of the tricks might well have undermined that scene for me. Given the lengthy delay then until the second half, the 'semi-finale' we got was more fitting: an appropriate level of wow and the raising of a great many questions.

For that, I'll forgive the relative haste. Two seasons ago, like I say, I was in a similar position, and BSG came back with Exodus. That just means a lot now is riding on the second half and the actual series Finale. And in that sense, nothing has changed. Even if everything else has, apparently.

Change is as good as a rest, they say. Which is presumably why they're giving us one at this stage. Now I guess it's just a case of sorting out the half-time entertainment.


Stuart Douglas said...

I'm now wondering if the effects of Gaeta nearly getting spaced by two Cylons was actually intended to be an episode, since I've just realised that it's also Anders who costs Gaeta his leg.

Or maybe that's a plot thread to be addressed next year?

In any case, it's a comforting feeling to know that if it doesn't come up it's because the writers decided not to go there and not just because they forgot about it or added it for no reason (did someone say 'Shadow Proclamation?)

I remain gobsmacked that some usually sensible people can dismiss BSG as unsubtle soap opera whilst dancing on pins to praise/sort the more thoughtless bits of New Who.

SAF said...

Well said, Stuart. I've now realised that the Gaeta confronting those Cylons (including Anders!) would be the episode of BSG I would write, given the chance. It'd be terrific stuff. (Well, if written by someone other than me, of course.)

It may yet come up, but equally it may be a thread dropped because of the writers strike, which would be a shame. Even then not as big a shame as Stolen/End, which was all intentional *and* had an extra 20 minutes over the odds to play with and, well, as you say, people still find ways to label it as "Brilliant".

Frankly, never mind the way some folks dismiss BSG, I remain gobsmacked that people can dismiss Girls Aloud as a cheap pop outfit while praising certain bits of New Who to the heavens. They're on much the same level, but you can at least dance to one of them if you feel so inclined. ;)

Stuart Douglas said...

The more I think about it, the more I hope they do it. Gaeta's bound to have problems believing that the Four didn't always know the way to earth - so Anders shooting him in the leg was all the more unnecessary, from his POV.

SAF said...

Yeah, it's an obvious consequence of all of it. Not obvious in a "oh, I saw that coming" way, but obvious in a "ooh yes, that story needs to be told" sort of way. Now you've started me thinking about it all, I really really hope they do! So that's just one more expectation riding on the second half, eh. ;)