Saturday, May 03, 2008

Battlestar Galactica, "The Road Less Traveled": I will turn this sewage treatment ship right around!

"Battlestar Galactica" spoilers coming up just as soon as I shave my head...

While the overall fan reaction to season four, part one seems to be very positive, I've seen some complaints here and there about the lack of forward momentum in certain storylines. As Todd VanDerWerff put it in his review of "The Road Less Traveled" at The House Next Door, "Battlestar Galactica? You’re kinda givin’ me blue balls."

And I can see where Todd and other frustrated fans are coming from, even though I've been loving almost every minute of this season. "Crossroads, Part II" packed a bunch of series-altering developments (Baltar's acquittal, the revelation of the Final Four, Starbuck's return) into the space of 10 minutes. The five hours since (not counting "Razor") have for the most part dwelt on the emotional fall-out of those developments. The various story arcs are moving -- Cylon civil war, the rise of Baltar's monotheistic movement, Roslin vs. the Quorum, the Final Four each losing their minds in different ways, and the star-crossed mission of the Demetrius -- but, to borrow some terminology from Ronald D. Moore's previous franchise, it's at impulse power when I'm sure we'd all prefer warp speed.

I suppose part of my indifference to the pace comes from having faith, misguided though it might turn out to be, in Moore in a way that, say, I didn't have in Cuse and Lindelof in the middle seasons of "Lost." I know some major plotlines over the years were conceived on the fly (like the identities of the Final Four), but I believe that Moore knows exactly where this is all going and that he's going to take us someplace interesting at the end of this journey.

Beyond that, though, I think the pace works for the stories that are being told. We need to spend a while with the Demetrius on its road to nowhere so we can understand the building threat of mutiny and why even Helo -- loyal, dependable, Starbuck's #1 pal Helo -- would eventually agree to go along with it. We need the rag-tag fleet to be in a period of relative peace (but not prosperity) for Baltar's movement to really catch fire, and for Tigh and Tyrol and Tory to have the time to go as crazy as they each have in their own way. If there were Cylon attacks every five seconds or planets to be mined or other crises to be solved, I can see Tigh or Tyrol being able to button down all their raging feelings about being Cylons, but when nothing much is happening externally, what else are they going to do but turn inwards and freak out?

And because the cast continues to knock it out of the park every week playing these wonderfully-etched characters, I can't look on these episodes as filler. "Galactica" is a show that asks lots of fundamental questions about society and even the nature of existence, but it asks them through its characters as much as through its stories. This season may be a slow build, but if I have the opportunity to watch Aaron Douglas rage against the universe or James Callis show us a genuinely repentant, even sympathetic, Gaius Baltar, I can be patient.

As to the episode itself...

We have no way of knowing whether Leoben speaks the truth about the 2/6/8 portion of the Cylon fleet, but it's nice to have the mind-frakker back around Kara and Anders. A few things to note from his time on the Demetrius:
  • Kara remembers her epiphany about her mother and the other things that Head Leoben told her in "Maelstrom," even though Head Leoben insisted he had no connection to the real Leoben.
  • I don't think Leoben knows Anders is a Cylon, but his usual mix of mystical double-talk hit home with Sam anyway, particularly the line about "those who embrace their nature and those who fear it."
  • I understand that the crew was going stir-crazy and more anti-Cylon than usual, but why didn't Sharon speak up, even privately to Helo, to offer her own take on Leoben, and how he's considered kind of a whackjob even by the other Cylons?
  • Kara is "an angel, blazing with the light of God." But if we think of the various Head characters as angels, then does this mean that she's everybody's Head Kara?
  • Moore said on one of the podcasts (which are being posted slowly and in a random order) that Helo wasn't originally on the Demetrius, and that he was added to the crew after an unusually wise network note asked why Helo didn't have much to do this season. I'm trying to imagine how all of this plays out without Capt. Agathon (male) aboard. Gaeta certainly has no reason to be loyal to Kara after she nearly airlocked him, and none of the pilots (Athena included) have ever been that fond of her.
As for Tyrol vs. Baltar, I'll second my awe at the work of Messrs. Douglas and Callis, both in this episode and throughout this season. I should not believe Baltar on any level, should be convinced that he's using his cult to once again further the goals of no one but Gaius Baltar, but dammit if Callis doesn't have me taking Baltar's sincere regret and empathy for Tyrol at face value. And dammit if the hairs on my neck didn't all stand up when Tyrol screamed himself hoarse telling Baltar "You didn't know her!" I love the decision to have Tyrol shave his head, as it's often associated with trying to remove a certain level of humanity from those being shaved (military recruits, concentration camp victims, etc.); though Douglas is fleshy and angry and in every way human, he does seem ever so much more machine-like with the "Full Metal Jacket" look. The less-is-more approach we've seen often this season (see Adama's first reading visit to Roslin in chemo, for instance) was well used in Baltar's visit to Tyrol's quarters; Galen doesn't say a word, and doesn't even move until he reaches out his hand to shake Baltar's, and the moment was much more powerful for what wasn't said or done until then.

One final note: please, no discussion of the details of the preview for next week's episode. I should have learned my lesson after the Sci Fi promo department gave away most of the developments of the algae planet two-parter's conclusion, but once again I let them ruin certain things for me this week, and I don't want them to be ruined for anyone who learned their lesson better than I did.

What did everybody else think?


Ben said...

Good call on 'Full Metal Jacket'! He really reminded me of Private Pile, especially when he was contemplating suicide and rubbing his head.

The tension is ratcheting up, I watch each episode with baited breath waiting to catch a glimpse of where its going to go!

Oh, I never watch the preview AND I close my eyes during the opening credits so I dont get any sneak flashes of whats to come! :D

Anonymous said...

I don't really understand the pacing worries that some have over this show. I mean they do still have 15 hours to wrap everything up. That's still more than a full season for most cable shows.

excentric said...

After 'Due South' I'm happy to see Callum Keith Rennie in anything, and he is very, very good in this. I don't mind the pacing, we need to see what finding out they are cylons is doing to these people. It's always been a character drama for me, and these characters are amazing, and amazingly portrayed.

Mrglass said...

A reference to 'Full Metal Jacket', but also to Marlon Brando in 'Apocalypse Now'. Aaron Douglas was great once again, although the scenes with Baltar could have been written better.

This season is amazing compared to season 3, the fact that there are no "filler" episodes really improved the series. Once again, I can't wait for next week. Where is a good internet episodes leak when you need one?

Anonymous said...

Alan asked: "Does this mean that she's everybody's Head Kara?"

I've been considering that too. I kind of felt the same way about Gaius, given his miraculous survival on Caprica during that nuke attack, but that's just too confusing--he has his own head angel. It's like exponents of exponents.

And if, say, Kara died and is now a Head Kara appearing to the entire fleet, does that mean that Head Six, Head Baltar, and Head Leoben were all people who once died and now appear when they choose to whomever they choose? I'm not ruling it out, and it's certainly an interesting theory, but I'm guessing Kara isn't just a Head Kara appearing to everyone.

Paul Worthington said...

As for the pacing, structure, and plot advancement, I really prefer these episodes that focus on the characters' reactions to the big plots to the stand-alone episodes that shoe-horned in the character bits we care about around actions that we knew were of know consequence as they started and ended in an hour.

In terms of the big picture mythology, my guess -- not spoiled at all -- is that it will end up reflecting the original series more than we've been led to expect: and in that original, the Cylons were led [at least, it was implied, in the distant past] by a mythical figure who appeared to the fleet as a powerful good guy but when hit with a gun shot looked like a classical devil.
That makes me wonder if the "One God" of this series' Cylons is a benevolent god -- or, well, adversarial.
And so Balter might be sincere... but he is not exactly a force for good -- and the actual belief of his followers might prove to be of a lot more consequence than Tory's dismissal this episode would imply.

Also: It's interesting to me to read the angry reactions of some fans to the supernatural mythology of the show, as if it was supposed to be some hard science fiction series -- when we've constantly been shown things that hint at magical, not scientific, forces.
Conversely, I'll be disappointed if everything is given a pseudoscience explanation, or if the supernatural references are dismissed or unaccounted for.

erin said...

Aaron Douglas takes my breath away. His intensity, in different forms (anger in the middle, silently listening to Baltar at the end) speak to so much of his range. He's just amazing. I think the plot is completely secondary to the character development, and I love all of it. I'm waiting with baited breath to see how it's all going to turn out! I ove it all!

Mrglass said...

Also: It's interesting to me to read the angry reactions of some fans to the supernatural mythology of the show, as if it was supposed to be some hard science fiction series -- when we've constantly been shown things that hint at magical, not scientific, forces.

Constantly? When? The answer is: never. Ever since the mini-series Galactica has been realistic and everything in the show has been explained (at least possibly) rationally. Introducing a real "deus ex machina" now (wheter it's God, or angels, or some enlightened aliens playing these roles) would be a pure cop-out, and I don't think it will happen.

Of course religion is a big part of Galactica, but The Hand of God will never have any real effect in the show.

Paul Worthington said...

Mr. Glass:
It's subjective at this point, but I've read lists made by those more into it than I that enumerate the none-to-few occurrences on this show that are either badly written mistakes, or the work of something that has more capabilities than the Colonials or the Cylons.

Most blatantly: Kara's resurrection and new Viper: Either she's just another Cylon and the robots have the previously unseen ability to perfectly duplicate brand new Colonial ships -- or there is something else going on.

It might just be the original people from Kobol or wherever, or Earth, or the Final Five or what have you -- but there is something going on more than robots and vipers.

It might be "more advanced pseudo science" rather than magical gods and demons, but nonetheless, the story will rely on and deal with something beyond the capabilities of the normal characters, and something beyond "hard science" guns-and-rockets fiction.

Mrglass said...

Paul: until the series end, we can't know if the mysterious events we witness are caused by supernatural forces. So far, nothing has ever been explained this way in the show.

Now, I will admit it is hard to imagine how the writers will deal with (at least) three puzzling storylines: Roslin sharing a dream with two Cylons, Starbuck's resurrection, and of course Baltar's visions. Note that only the last one was present in the first season; Galactica unlike Lost is not based on a "mythology" to be "revealed" next episode/season/in X years.

The most obvious rational explanation for all three would be: he or she is a Cylon! But it can't be the case for all three, so I am curious to see what the writers have in mind. Still, I doubt "God did it" will ever be the conclusion of Galactica.

Paul Worthington said...

"Until the series end, we can't know..."
Yeah, that's what I meant by it being subjective at this point.
I just hope it won't be by the conclusion! -- that there are some definitive answers here...

[And that we get the conclusion before 2009!]

And actually, 2 of your 3 conundrums have in-show "scientific" answers: the Cylons project visions, as explained when Baltar was on the BaseStar.
As the 'Final Four' have been semi-nearby for a lot of those instances, it can account for Head Six and related 'head' characters, for Rosyln's visions, and more.

Anonymous said...

When Baltar went to Tyrol's quarters, did anybody else notice that Tyrol had his gun resting on his stomach? That, and the completely unsettling way Tyrol was staring at him, had me on edge the whole time.

The pacing isn't bothering me at all. These are such great characters.

Mrglass said...

And actually, 2 of your 3 conundrums have in-show "scientific" answers: the Cylons project visions, as explained when Baltar was on the BaseStar.

You lost me there... Please explain?

Paul Worthington said...

When Baltar was on the BaseStar, he was shown that while the setting is very bare, the Cylons perceive virtual realities that they create and project to each other.
Man, I thought my previous comments here were geeking out...

Anonymous said...

This show has established a disturbing trend of abusing women (Gina, Athena, Cally, Kara) and then having some of those women "go back" to their abuser (Cally, Kara). Taken with the tendency to match really old guys (Cavil, Tigh) with hot young women (Boomer, Caprica), it's even more telling.

Anna said...

Really, I am baffled by all the negativity surrounding this episode. Apart from Sharon being really poorly written, I thought it was excellent. It says a lot to me that I didn't even notice Roslin and Adama hadn't been in it at all until like the 50-minute mark. First episode in the show's history, I believe.

Anyway, I think the reason the mutiny storyline really works is that we actually do know that Kara is right (people have pointed out that this is the third instance that we've seen Orion, which means they are getting closer to Earth) and that Leoben is telling the truth (we know about the cylon civil war and that the hybrid knows about Kara and her destiny); but unfortunately Kara and Leoben are still both completely nuts! Not knowing what we as the audience know, the Demetrius crew would be crazy to follow them to the basestar; but with us knowing what we know, it's not so black-and-white.

As for the mythological/God debate: Mrglass, I don't know what you mean that they shouldn't "introduce" the idea of God or angels into the show now... God has always been a part of the show since the miniseries. And HeadSix has always referred to herself as "an angel of God," and she knows things that no actual being could possibly know. But, obviously, we can't know how everything will be explained at the end of the series, but I personally highly doubt that everything will be 100% scientific.

Anonymous said...

If you want to know why the general fan reaction isn't so positive, it's probably because the general fan population doesn't like the characters as much as you. I don't exactly find these characters interesting enough to be enraptured by their metaphysical ramblings for episodes on end. I'm in it for the more large scale themes, and I don't think they translate down to the characters quite as well as you do. It's like spending time with your spouse. A lot of people won't find everything about your wife/husband to be riveting, but you sure do. The best thing to do is ignore what the general consensus of the internet.

By the way, I was thinking more Matt Pinfield than Vincent Dinofrio.

Nicole said...

I'm inclined to think that Starbuck is more of a Moses figure that leads them to the chosen land, and so I don't think she will be the final Cylon.

And I hate whoever does the promos, because the same ones are used on Space and they ruined next week's episode for me.

Anonymous said...

Like Mrglass, I had always assumed that the series was playing around with religious themes, but would in the end, put forth a "hard science fiction" explanation for the events of the series.

Now I am not so sure. Maybe it is because the series has been playing so much with the new testament themes in recent episodes. Or maybe because I am only now realizing how many old testament themes are built in to the earlier seasons - genocide, exodus, and so forth.

Plus, I am not sure at this point if there could even be a hard science explanation for the various head incarnations. If, as Mrglass speculates, everyone who has "head" experiences is a Cylon who is projecting, then at least Baltar and Starbuck would be Cylons, and arguably Roslin as well.

One alternative explanation is that the "final Cylon" cannot only project in its own head, but also project visions into the heads of others. The various visions are therefore manifestations of the will of the final unrevealed Cylon. The only problem with this explanation, of course, is that Capirca Six had Chip Baltar visions on Caprica, around the same time that Baltar was experiencing his visions. If the final Cylon is some master vision puppeteer, he/she sure gets around.

One random observation - I love the fact that the term "Cylon" is used differently in the plural form by different speakers. The skin jobs tend to refer to "the Cylon" as if it is a mass noun, while the humans refer to "the Cylons" in the plural. During tonight episode, Baltar refers to the fact that Tyrol hates "the Cylon", implying that he in part buys into the collective use of the term, perhaps because he has lived for a short time on a baseship. Its such a subtle thing, but I assume the various usages of the term is intended to reflect how different characters view the Cylon / Cylons.

Mrglass said...

I don't know what you mean that they shouldn't "introduce" the idea of God or angels into the show now... God has always been a part of the show since the miniseries.

The idea of God is fine and has indeed been a long tradition in Galactica, but God herself showing up this late in the series and influencing events directly is something I wouldn't like to see.

If, as Mrglass speculates, everyone who has "head" experiences is a Cylon who is projecting, then at least Baltar and Starbuck would be Cylons, and arguably Roslin as well.

Hey, leave me out of this, I don't even know what this "projection" thing is supposed to be, ask Paul!

But yes, something needs to be explained about those characters before the show ends; and I am sure it is coming.

Personal opinion: Baltar is not the final Cylon; he's way too human, and that would make his story pointless. Neither is Roslin (why her and not Adama, since both their "assistants" are Cylons?). Starbuck on the other hand is a strong contender, but just too obvious (I still think it will be Dr Cottle).

Anna said...

I guess the difference between us then is that I actually do buy in to what HeadSix has been selling for three years already and have felt as though God has been influencing events right from "33." It seems to me that the writers have been writing it that way the whole time.

K J Gillenwater said...

Anna, I agree with you. God has been a huge player in this whole game. You can go back to the early episodes where Head Six is telling Baltar what will happen in just a few moments or soon...I see that as a prophet getting visions from an angel or directly from God.

The puppet like move of last week, when Baltar appeared to be held up and moved forward seemed very God-like or angel-like to me as well.

Considering they were motivated to look for earth based on prophecies in their multiple-god bible, this has been very religiously related from the very beginning.

I think Kara and the comment about her being an 'angel' was very interesting. I started to wonder if maybe this wasn't related to the battle between God and fallen angels...throwing them out of Heaven. With Earth being their 'hell'? I don't know, but this show is very much guided by the supernatural...and in a science fiction context, I find it to be a very interesting way to explore faith and God. What is all means.

I'm a little bummed that the crew mutinied. I really want Kara to make that jump! I don't want them to go back and will really be upset if one or a few of them don't get put on a fighter and sent 'adrift.'

Anonymous said...

This show has established a disturbing trend of abusing women (Gina, Athena, Cally, Kara) and then having some of those women "go back" to their abuser (Cally, Kara). Taken with the tendency to match really old guys (Cavil, Tigh) with hot young women (Boomer, Caprica), it's even more telling.

Thank you for sharing the thesis of your next paper for your Gender Issues class.

Anonymous said...

Sigh. Not for a class, Jim Treacher, just a critique on the show.

Anonymous said...

Somehow, I missed the "2/6/8 portion of the Cylon fleet" reference by Leoben. What was he saying then?

Anna said...

mase, Leoben said their basestar was attacked by their own kind and set adrift in space. Their FTL drive was damaged, so I guess Leoben took out a wounded heavy raider to go find Kara and convince her to jump to the basestar, visit their hybrid to learn more about her destiny, and then let their basestar piggyback on the Demetrius's navigation system so they could jump to where they wanted to go.

I'm not entirely sure, but I thought someone said something about this particular group of cylons (Team Natalie, I'm calling them) wanting a truce with the whole Colonial Fleet, presumably so they could go look for the Final Five who they think are in the Fleet.

Did I get that wrong?

barefootjim said...

Count me among those who have really been enjoying this season.

I have never had any issues with the combination of hard science (space travel, killer robots) and metaphysical mumbo-jumbo, because, well, I think that it's a fun mix, when done right.

(I know, I just used the word "fun" when discussing BSG. Gods forbid.)

Finally, I'm glad that I'm not the only person who is so spoilerphobic that he misses the poundy drums part of the opening credits.

Figure that I can see them on the DVD.

Anonymous said...

Sigh. Not for a class, Jim Treacher, just a critique on the show.

Sigh indeed. There's nothing better than being taken literally by someone you've just mocked for being overly literal.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Mr. Glass...this has been, at the very least, a world for Deism since the beginning. Mr. Moore is, IMHO, making a clear case for universalism. When they all get to earth, and when they resolve this thing, I predict they're going to find they have more in common than different, spiritually speaking. And there is NO way this has all been explained by a scientific, or pseudoscientific, ala Star Trek, explanation. There's a God in this world, we're just not sure yet who or what it is.