Category Archives: Battlestar Galactica

Dollhouse’s sense of an ending

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I haven’t blogged about Dollhouse since way back in February. There I wondered if the series would ever get to its meaty center of philosophical questions about identity, the mind, body and experience. It’s safe to say that season two has delivered on all counts. “Meet Jane Doe” does a decent job of making the engagement of the week episodes of season one relevant to the development of Echo’s composite personality. Still much of what happened in the early episodes wasn’t necessary to demonstrate the full implications of Echo’s new abilities. Dushku has come into her own through the Echo character and Enver Gjokaj continues to amaze us all with his power to become anyone and everyone.

But I started this post not so much to ruminate on the awesomeness of the series (which has, by-the-by, become one I heartily recommend – even if it is with the strong caveate that you must make it through the handfull of painfull first few episodes before getting to the good stuff), but instead I’m wondering how much the pacing this season, the tightness of the storyline, and its singular focus stem from the fact that the series was canceled. Part of me seriously doubts that season 2 would be as good without the constraint of having to end the story. In fact the story has already ended on the DVD episode “Epitaph One” which was partially created as a way to finish off the series if it had not been granted a second season and as a means to fulfill contractual obligation for the DVD’s release (at least so sayeth the wiki entry).

In The Sense of an Ending Frank Kermode wrote that “We project ourselves–a small, humble elect, perhaps–past the End, so as to see the structure whole, a thing we cannot do from our spot of time in the middle.” Prime time serialized television benefits from a clear sense of an ending. In Dollhouse‘s “Epitaph One” we see the aftermath of a technological apocalypse and desire to know how the hell they got there.* Having been forced to project the series past its end allowed a structure and a more clearly defined purpose to emerge. A similar thing happened with Lost; it appeared to have a strong, if convoluted, sense of where it was going, but by season three was floundering around looking for itself. Once the decision to end it after 3 more shorter seasons it reasserted its narrative drive and became a much better series again because of it. It isn’t telescoped in the way Dollhouse was; we don’t actually know yet where Lost is going (this promo might give us some idea). Battlestar Galactica OTOH appeared to suffer from its overdetermined (find earth, have plan, shape of things to come, etc.) sense of an ending that its finale was less than satisfying. Knowing the end helps give structure to where we are now – to find meaning in the middle.My desire to consistently situate myself within whatever narrative world I’m currently living in encourages my preference for spoilers.** The surprise/reveal endings are much less interesting than how they got there and what they mean for the future. Knowing the end helps give structure to where we are now – to find more meaning in the middle. The release of “Epitaph One” as a kind of official spoiler has made this season (and through it the previous season) much more rich and interesting.

The changing nature of television, particularly network television is a perennial discussion, so much that it can get a little boring. But within this discussion, what strikes me as really odd is the sheer amount of resistance the industry has towards playing with the standard “a TV series must go on forever to be profitable and successful” line of thinking. Imagine if Dollhouse was originally only meant to be 10-13 episodes long. There’s no guarantee that it would be great – it could have been terrible- but the anxiety over cancellation, over whether or not the story would be fully told, or if we’d all be left hanging, would not have clouded our experience of it. Now, it is quite possibly the case that successful short-run series might be reliant on  writer-producer show runners with name and style recognition and fan bases, but the mere thought of mixing this type of structure into the prime time line up is unheard of.

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*The Whedonverse is littered with apocalypses; Buffy is constantly thwarting them, Angel and co. go out with a bang fighting against one, and the Firefly kids are finding their place after one.

** Case in point, all the twittering about the surprise, game-changing ending of last night’s Dexter finale lead me to search out what has happened. Once I found out I thought, wow, I cannot wait to see how it got there. I didn’t feel cheated at all, but I’m aware that this is my preference and not shared with everyone.

Nostalgia for Battlestar

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I’ve been thinking about Battlestar a lot the past few days while working on the third chapter of my dissertation. Re-watching the Pegasus arc from season 2 the other day reminded me just how good the series was.

So, since I don’t have a fully formed and interesting post for today I thought I would share one of my favorite BSG fanvids. Unfortunately, the stream isn’t available anymore, so I can only post the link to the page which has a link to download the file.

Vid Info from the linked page:

Title: Bring on the Wonder
Editor: annaK
Music: “Bring on the Wonder” by Susan Enan (feat Sarah McLachlan)
Video: Battlestar Galactica 2003
Spoilers: Through 4×18 “Islanded in a Stream of Stars”
Summary: “Bring on the wonder, bring on the song, we pushed you down deep in our souls for too long.” Humans, Cylons, love and loss.

 

One more:

Nothing But the Rain – “Daybreak” (all 3 parts)

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I’ve been thinking about the end of Battlestar Galactica all week, moving from satisfaction to disappointment and back again. At this point I can probably say with some conviction that I’m pleased with the ending. I’m glad that we were able to see the series having actual closure instead of the infinite displacement of finding home or the plan or the one true cylon god into the future demanded by the open-ended serial format.

Things I loved:

  1. The flashbacks. At first I was annoyed by them. I thought, this isn’t Lost, why are they playing with the narrative format in this last episode? It upset my expectations and felt gimmicky. They’ve played with time on the series before (“Downloaded” and “Unfinished Business” come immediately to mind) but for the finale, it seemed strange to finagle with flashbacks. I realized why they were there and what they were trying to convey. They worked to both fill in gaps in the character’s personalities (that Kara does not fear death, Lee has always been a cynical idealist – a contradiction but true – Adama will always belong in his ship, Roslin’s ability to stay strong and muddle through even in the face of trauma, Gaius’ vain egoism as a cover for self-loathing etc.) and to remind us how far they had come, how much they had lost, and just how much had happened to them. They reframed the story, highlighting that it’s about the people instead of the mythologies, mysteries, or even politics.
  2. Gaius Baltar knows something about farming. This was one of the moments when I probably should have reached for the tissues and didn’t. Gaius is the epitome of flawed humanity. He’s selfish, egotistical, and a coward with an “amazing capacity for self-deception.” One of my wishlist items for the finale was a redeemed Gaius, but in order for it to be successful he couldn’t go out in a blaze of glory. He couldn’t be a martyr. To do so would ring false. Lee acts a mirror for Gaius. He sees through Gaius and his throwing who he is back into is face and telling him that it’s not Lee’s expectations that Gaius cannot meet, but his own, Gaius is able to confront himself, which is of course what humanity must do as well – face itself and return to those hard questions. When he decides to fight, he’s still terrified of dying, but it leads him to his first act of selfless heroism keeping Hera safe.
  3. Opera House – you mean that’s it? Ah, the mystery of the Opera House and the shape of things to come. Well we’ve known for awhile now that Hera, the first Human/Cylon hybrid, is the “shape of things to come” and that the Opera House visions were somehow directly linked to her, but to have the visions lead directly to her protection and the direct confrontation between both factions in the CIC was pretty darn awesome. There was no big mystery or reveal, but her safety mattered more than almost anything else. Plus the way the present events and the visions were intercut was very effectively done.
  4. Cally/Chief/Tory – damn how those emotions always get in the way. Just when we thought that everything was really going to get tied up in a nice neat little bow – the human/cylon faction gets Hera back and Cavil and Co. get ressurection back – the messiness of emotions, anger, love, vengeance have to show up and muck everything up. Sure it’s another annoying dead female character, but that is an issue for another post. And poor Cally was finally vindicated.
  5. Starbuck the not afraid of dying badass chick who often makes really poor choices is the savior of everyone. Starbuck is Jesus. The promiscuous fuck-up, best viper pilot ever, and all around pain in the ass is the saviour of humanity. Think about that for a minute. Think about the full implications of Starbuck as savior. It’s just… gah!! Too fraking awesome to explain at the moment.
  6. Athena/Sharon face-off – she makes her own choices (i.e. programming is not destiny). Those of you with your keen serial television memories set to awesome will remember the speech Sharon/Athena gave to Adama on Kobol. Sharon/Boomer’s echoed it in a way that made her choice and her freedom to do so reverberate throughout the series. This rewards fans for paying attention, but also gives the series a sense of narrative/thematic cohesion. Huzzah for serial memory!
  7. What do you hear? Nothing but the rain. This more than almost anything (except for Gaius) made me sad to see the series go. I’m grabbing my gun and bringing in the cat one last time.

Things I loved not so much

  1. God did it – ugh ugh ugh. It’s one thing to argue that there’s a mystical something that’s bigger than humanity (and its children) in the universe; it’s quite another to argue that it’s a personal deity who gives a rat’s ass about the fate of humanity. I did however appreciate that it was Gaius, Mr. skeptic scientist man, who makes the argument for god to Cavil the robot atheist who is at least momentarily convinced by it. But having god be the dude behind the curtain just makes it all too easy for every weirdo question to be answered with, well, god sure is mysterious. Oh, but don’t call him that. Though really, how cool is it that it’s one true Cylon god and not the Lords of Kobol who are behind it all… hmm.
  2. Starbuck – my work here is done – and like that she was gone. This is annoying me less as time goes on, and I can’t honestly say why it bothered me, but it did.
  3. Hey how about we give up all our technology? – So Say We All! So, I was chatting with a friend (hi Tammy!) and she reminded me about how the issue with technology, which is supposed to help mankind, comes back to bite humanity in the collective ass (I guess the Frankenstein mythos is something our iteration has invented) was a central issue early in the series. It was subsequently dropped in favor of its mythological and political preoccupations. However, this does not excuse the randy randomness of the final hour decision to go native. I don’t mind that they went native, in fact, it makes total sense that when finding a new Eden one would feel the urge to leave all the messiness of the old world behind. But it was sloppy writing. It would have been more effective had they fleshed it out more – shown some level of contention – reintroduced the theme again – something to make it seem less random.
  4. Lord of Rings syndrome – too many damn endings. When the screen fades to black more than once – you have too many endings. It should have ended with Hera running through the fields. That would have made for a wonderful and meaningful ending, instead what we got was the train wreck that was the walk through Times Square.
  5. Times Square scene – or – Ambiguity? We don’t need no stinking ambiguity? Hey kiddies, in case you missed it, here’s the moral of our tale: Beware of the robots!!!! Had they done this in a more subtle way (and without that horrible robots montage) this could have been an extremely effective scene. The reveal that Hera is us and we are all part Cylon was great, and having Head Six and Gaius wandering around Times Square would have been awesome. But no – they had to have them speak. So, what could have been great, is instead a poor attempt at thematic closure. It’s an attempt to say “this is what this series is about,” which ends up selling the series short by reducing it to only being about the conflict between humans and robots/technology instead of a more complex rumination on what it means to be human and if being human is anything worth saving. I have more to say about this, but if you’re interested (and made it this far – ha!) you’ll have to wait for the article!

So, those are my initial thoughts. Overall, despite the fairly large gripes I had with the series finale, on the whole I found it very satisfying. So say we all.

Battlestar Galactica finale wishlist

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Thought it might be fun to do a quick wishlist before the season finale tonight. I’ve mentioned some of these on twitter already, so sorry if they’re repeats for you.

  1. What is Starbuck? I’ve been hoping that she’s a hybrid since the final four reveal at the end of season 3. It looks less and less likely especially given what Ron Moore has said here. But I still want some kind of real closure as to what she is or how she was able to, you know, ressurect. I’m kind of hoping Moore is engaging in foilers.
  2. A redeemed Gaius. I know it would probably be more dark for him to not ever learn a thing, but I’d like to see him at some point do something for someone other than himself, but I don’t want him to do it for love either (for Caprica). Just do it because it’s the right thing with no expectation of anything in return.
  3. Starbuck in a viper.
  4. Lee to not die. Indeed, if everyone else dies, it should be Lee who makes it back to fill everyone in, since he’s so often acted in the role of chorus (he and Helo).
  5. Adama to go down with his ship.
  6. What are the head characters? Are they some kind of projection? Manifesation of the universe? God? Beings of Light? What the frak are they?
  7. The cycle of “this has all happened before and it will all happen again” to be broken.

I’m sure there are more, but those are the big ones I can think of right now. What are yours?

What’s Alan Watching?: Battlestar Galactica: My favorite episodes

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What’s Alan Watching?: Battlestar Galactica: My favorite episodes.

This is an excellent list. I’d probably change a few here and there (Scar isn’t a favorite of mine).  The New Caprica arc is my favorite of the entire series. It’s bleak and stark and just the best kind of thoughtful and engaging art that rarely comes along. That first opening sequence in “Occupation” is absolutely stunning.

BSG – “Someone to Watch Over Me” “Islanded in a Stream of Stars” & “Daybreak part 1″

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Time to catch the frak up. I want to get my thoughts about these last three episodes before the end of everything on Friday. I’ve been following the response on Twitter and various large blogs. Some of the fans have been disappointed with how the series has been progressing (or failing to progress) or that it’s boring. When I read these comments I remember that there are people out there who enjoy BSG for very different reasons I do. Many watched for the action sequences, dog fighting, grand space battles, shoot ‘em outs with Centurions; some watch for the mythology and mysteries; some watch for the intimate portrayal of human frailty through its varied cast of characters; while finally others watch for the ways in which BSG engage with and comments on contemporary life. Of course, people can and do watch the series for multiple reasons, but there does still seem to be one aspect that drew some in more than the others. The people who watched for the space battles and mythology seem to be the ones most likely to be dissatisfied with these episodes. I have thoroughly enjoyed them, but I have always found the characters, the political allegory, and the rumination on what it means to human to be the most interesting and best parts of the series.

–“Someone to Watch Over Me”–

Of the these three episodes, this one stands out as one of the series’ best. It engaged in a bit of melodrama — the scene with Chief running through his projection house, frantically opening all the doors, and collapsing in his “daughter’s” room — spring first to mind, but the high melodrama worked. By engaging in it, the emotional stakes were raised helping to communicate the dire situation that the fleet is really in.

The Boomer/Chief plot exploited BSG’s narrative seriality by bringing the audience all the way back to season one though flashbacks and the “previously on Battlestar Galactica” segment. In order for the emotional payoff of Boomer’s betrayal to be effective, we had to be reminded of what Chief and Boomer had gone through; how the Chief rejected her because she was a machine and the irony of that rejection.  The episode’s title also ironically plays with the lyrics to  “Someone to Watch Over Me.” (Here Ella sing it here http://www.wat.tv/video/ella-fitzgerald-someone-to-12hmh_tzsf_.html)

There’s a saying old
Says that love is blind -
Still we’re often told,
“Seek and ye shalI find.”
So I’m going to seek
A certain lad I’ve had in mind.
Looking everywhere,
Haven’t found him yet;
He’s the big affair
I cannot forget.
Only man I ever
Think of with regret.
I’d like to add his initials to my monogram.
Tell me, where is the shepherd for this lost
lamb.
There’s a somebody I’m longing to see
I hope that he
Turns out to be
Someone who’ll watch over me.
I’m a little lamb who’s lost in the wood.
I know I could
Always be good
To one who’ll watch over me.
Although he may not be the man some
Girls think of as handsome
To my heart he carries the key.
Won’t you telI him please to put on some
speed -
Follow my lead -
Oh! How I need
Someone to watch over me.
Someone to watch over me.

It would be a fair assumption to begin the episode thinking that it’s Boomer who is the “little lamb lost in the wood” looking for the the man who carries the key to her heart, “the big affair” that she can’t forget. The indications from the the previous episodes, (the cutaway to the Chief when Boomer asked Ellen who could she love) and the reminder scenes on the “previously on” all point to Boomer’s longing for Chief. Sure Chief misses Boomer, but it’s felt more like a wistful longing rather than as his defining characteristic. But by the end of the episode, we like Chief, realize we’ve all been had. She played on everyone’s emotions and expectations. Especially, I think the expectation that, love would bring her around to the “right” side, like it did with Athena. But everyone forgot, that Boomer and Athena are different; they each make their own choices. Boomer plays on this faulty assumption and swipes Hera right out from under everyone’s nose. Then we realize, Chief was the little lost lamb and feel her betrayal with him.

The scene between Boomer and Helo gave me pause. It felt so wrong on so many levels. I kept thinking, how could he not know? How could he not sense that something was completely wrong with the situation? I felt angry with Helo because he failed to notice that the woman he was with was not his wife but also felt pity for him since, really how could he? He was in some respects raped by Boomer. The scene following as Athena stumbles into the ready room is similarly heartbreaking. She relays the important information, Hera is gone. Get help. Only then does she break down and begin wailing on him. This is the second time she’s lost her daughter. It’s cruel what she has had to endure.

Which brings me to Starbuck. I love Kara. She’s quite possibly one of my favorite fictional characters ever. She’s a big ball of human contradiction. Sure, she can be annoying, but that’s what makes her such an interesting character. She does things that make no sense, that are bad for her, or bad for the people around her. And she often makes these completely wonky decisions because she’s still not sure who she is –and I don’t mean literally here– back in an episode early in season two, she tells Helo that she doesn’t mourn or fight for what she’s lost, but fights because it’s the only thing she knows how to do. She’s only secure in the cockpit. Everywhere else she’s lost. This all comes to a head again in this episode.  She felt as thought her knowledge of Earth gave her life meaning (as it did to the whole fleet – which is why it was so utterly devastating that it was a nuclear wasteland), but the discovery of her dead body on earth has once again set her adrift. So, she begins her conversation with the piano player, who is obviously her father.

And how fraktastic was this scene?

This entire series of events was great for so many reasons. That overhead shot of the two figures playing the piano as the music begins to swell, the push in on Tigh’s wide eyed stare and “what the frak?” were just wonderfully done, and it was a way to reveal some things without having to do it through clunky exposition. Scenes like this are what make BSG so great. Sure big space battles are super entertaining to watch, but the simple beauty of hands playing on a piano (and hands are an important reoccurring symbol through out the series) is seldom found on my television.

– “Islanded in a Stream of Stars” and “Daybreak Part 1” –

“For a moment of night we have a glimpse of ourselves and of our world islanded in its stream of stars—pilgrims of mortality, voyaging between horizons across eternal seas of space and time” (Henry Beston, The Outermost House). http://en.battlestarwiki.org/wiki/Islanded_in_a_Stream_of_Stars

Starbuck’s identity issues continue in this episode. Searching for answers she reveals to Baltar her secret in true Kara form while peeing in the head. The song, knowledge of which s,he now shares with Hera and the final five, seems to have given her a new sense of identity. And like others in the episode (which I will get to in a minute) she’s coming to terms with the reality of her situation. She must acknowledge that she died. She must mourn herself, so that she may move on. And in a sense, Baltar’s revelation about Kara’s death and seeming resurrection makes it possible for Kara to accept who/what she is. And she finally does this by placing her photo –smiling happy Kara Thrace — on the memorial wall next to Kat. She says goodbye to her former self. Lee sees her there and reassures her that he will always be there for her. It was a touching moment and one that sets up the action to follow.

Anders as a hybrid – yes please.

Baltar’s attempt to engage with Caprica was also touching. He perhaps more than anyone else in the fleet is in need of redemption. He is seemingly incapable of change. He’s still the same old Gaius – and Lee remarks on this in “Daybreak Part 1” as well. He’s never done anything for anyone but himself, and this is ultimately, I think, what makes him (and via him humanity) redeemable. Let me work back a minute and explain. In the miniseries, Adama in his speech says:

Why are we, as a people, are worth saving? We still commit murder  because of greed, spite, jealousy, and we still  visit all of our sins upon our children, and we refuse to accept responsibility for anything that we’ve done.  [...] Sooner or later the day comes that you can’t hide from the things that you’ve done anymore.

This is lesson Baltar has failed to learned, but it seems like Adama realizes that it’s doing things without thought for oneself that makes one redeemable. This is ultimately why he decides to mount a rescue mission to retrieve Hera. And what’s wonderful about one’s capacity for selflessness as road to redemption is that it’s not tied to any essentialist conceptions of humanity. It’s something one does. These thoughts need to be worked through more carefully and thoroughly, of course, so please pardon if they seem too vague or general.

Battlestar Galactica – “Deadlock”

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A lot has already been said about “Deadlock.” Indeed at this point I’m already a week late. It seems like the general consenus has been that it was terrible. Absolutely awful. And I’m sad to say that I will have to agree. So many things failed to make sense. The plot was contrived and soapy (which doesn’t necessarily have to be bad, but in this case, it totally was). When I saw the previews for “Deadlock” I thought, “I really hope it’s not too much Cylon soapyness” but when Tigh, Caprica 6 and Ellen were all yelling and carrying on like infants I realized that my fear had become a reality.

I’ve never enjoyed Ellen’s character, and not for the reasons I so often see. Not because she was manipulative, or that she enjoyed sex and liquor, or that she was fiercely jealous and power hungry. No, those things in a woman tend not to bother me at all. What bothered me is that the writers chose not to do anything interesting with her. Battlestar has always been a series that generally played with stereotypical characters, (not always successfully, but they at least try). But Ellen was always a stereotype. Her actions were always painfully within realm of the spider woman. She never went against type or did anything remotely surprising. Her final redeeming aspect was her willingness to use her body to free the man she loved. But even that was tarnished as her “selfish” love for Tigh lead her to betray the rest of humanity and so she had to go. Her death was one of the most touching and heartbreaking scenes in the entire series even though it was problematically about Tigh and not about her. And I guess that’s why she was always so bothersome to me, Ellen’s purpose was the make Tigh a more complicated and interesting character.

So, when I heard Ellen was the final Cylon, I was not pleased. But then she came back and she came back interesting. Thoughtful, wise, and not to mention a snappier dresser. She was calm and completely secure with who she was. That moment in the resurrection pod goo bath thingy, when she realizes where and who she is as she slicked back her hair calmly, cooly, and knowingly was reassuring. Okay- they’re finally doing something interesting with Ellen. She was eloquent in response to Cavil’s childish ramblings, and then in “Deadlock” it all fell apart again. She was the castrating woman. Jealous to a crazy fault, manipulative, and as the fate of the Cylons and their relationship with the human fleet hung in the balance, all she could think about was that Tigh and Caprica six were having a baby.

Which brings me to the whole “all Cylons need to make babies is true love” routine. It’s a load of crap. Ellen’s jealousy of Caprica made little sense, epsiecally since Tigh began his creepy relationship with Caprica imagining that she was Ellen. All the blame fell onto Tigh; the didn’t love Ellen enough to make happy Cylon babies, but maybe it’s Ellen who didn’t love enough. Anyway, the mystical quality that Battlestar has invested in procreation is something worth exploring in more detail at a later point. I understand that when humanity is at its end that birth becomes more important, I’m just not sure that it needs to become reactionary as it appears to be doing right now.

A few other issues with the episode:

  1. Chief’s random decision to leave the human fleet. He’s been mister thoughtful, brooding, grumpy man since he found out he’s a Cylon, and for him to just – without any thought at all – “so, yeah okay let’s blow this joint,” did not make sense.
  2. Where the hell are the Leobens and the last Three? Wouldn’t their votes count? Where on earth have they been? Three/D’Anna particularly. She kept killing herself to learn the secrets of the final five, was boxed, and is now completely alone. There’s an interesting story there that they are completely ignoring in favor of the introduction of a new love triangle of doom. I completely forgot that D’Anna decided to stay behind on Earth. Woops.
  3. With only a handful of episodes left, a soaptastic filler episode is not a good use of their or the audience’s time (especially since “Someone to Watch Over Me” was so awesome, but felt rushed – they could have had some of that buildup for that episode in “Deadlock” – but more on that in the next post).