Saturday, June 7, 2008

Diana's Adventures In TV Land: Battlestar Galactica S3

It took me a bit longer than expected, but I've finally completed the third season of BSG.

The New Caprica storyline was an excellent exercise in dismantling the cast, taking them apart to see what makes them tick. Jammer's weakness, Starbuck's flirtation with insanity, Adama's guilt, the horror of Fat Apollo, Tigh's determination... we'd seen these things before, in smaller quantities, but New Caprica really strips the characters down to their most basic attributes. Our heroes are humiliated, beaten down, and contrary to expectations, some of them never really recover. In fact, it splits the people very decisively, between the resistance of New Caprica and people who were either seen as sitting on the sidelines or actively helping the Cylons, and this division goes all the way to the end of the season and Baltar's trial.

Jacob at Television Without Pity made an interesting comment about New Caprica: the characters get what they want, in the worst possible way. I think he's absolutely right - Kara's desire for a family is perverted by Leoben; President Baltar is rendered utterly powerless; Six gets her boytoy back and he's not quite what she remembered; the refugees have their new world and it's a living hell. This extends to "Unfinished Business" too, because Lee also gets what he wants, and he would've been better off without it.

After all that human drama, you'd think we'd finally left the mumbo-jumbo behind. Then we get to the Algae Planet and the Temple of Five.

It's the same thorn in my side each time: the religious aspect comes off as an attempt to push the plot forward in the absence of more realistic or complex mechanisms. Someone gets a vision or hums a song or follows a bouncing ball, and boom, we've reached the next part of the story. Or some never-before-seen quasi-Biblical text just happens to metaphorize exactly what's going to happen. It's bad enough on New Caprica when an "oracle" basically tells Three all about baby Hera, or the whole Eye of Jupiter thing where the Final Five Cylons are introduced in some huge and mythic way that gets deflated in a major way at the end of the season, but they finally crossed the line for me in "Maelstrom".

You see, until that episode, the metaphysics were a distraction on the level of plot, but somehow the characters managed to work around it: Roslin is no less compelling as a "prophet", Six's proselytizing doesn't keep her from playing mind games with Baltar. But "Maelstrom" is a huge emotional moment for the cast, the violent climax of a major character arc, and any real resonance is smothered beneath a layer of vague ramblings about "destiny", which is shorthand for "yeah, we don't know either, but give us some time and we'll think of something." That was just not cool.

I confess that by season's end I was sick and tired of Baltar: the bug-eyed neurotic routine had played itself out, and I think he lost the charisma that made him such an effective counterpart to Roslin. But the trial was interesting, because the writers managed to steer me into agreeing with Lee. Baltar is many things - a coward, a pompous jerk, a moron despite his intelligence - and he made decisions that cost thousands of lives. But legally, technically, in the ways that matter when you're thinking about shooting him in the head? He wasn't a traitor. He didn't order the colonization of New Caprica knowing that Gina had summoned the Cylons. He didn't give Caprica-Six access to the Colonies' defenses knowing what she was, and what she'd do with the information. Is he to blame for the tremendous loss of life? Yes, but indirectly so, and that doesn't justify killing him.

Anyway, much like last season, we also have a Worst Episode Ever in "The Woman King", which - if possible - was even lower on the scale than "Black Market". Over-the-top, superficial shlock that somehow turns Helo into a saint despite oversympathizing with the Cylons to the point where Roslin writes out a check addressed to him in the amount of Reality. I think there's been some deviation from the general direction with Helo, because it's one thing to love Sharon despite her being a Cylon, it's quite another to see all Cylons in the same light, especially after New Caprica (which, as Roslin rightly points out, Helo never experienced).

And finally: the Final Five. Spoilers ahoy, but... okay. Let's take them one at a time. Tory? Sure. Works for me. Sam? A bit harder to swallow after "Downloaded", but I can still suspend disbelief enough to buy it. Tyrol? Now we're having problems. Sure, there were those two minutes where he suddenly starts thinking he's a Cylon, but the whole point of that was to illustrate the very human fear that It Could Be Inside Us. Making him a Cylon after all not only messes with that, it detracts from Hera being the Special Little Hybrid That Could (because Cally's pregnant within a year of them getting together), it also screws up the whole dynamic that he had with Boomer.

And finally, Tigh. This is where it all falls apart for me. Setting aside the fact that no machine could handle that much alcohol, Tigh was one of the most flawed, conflicted, human characters on the show. He was also one of the few with a shared history reaching back into the pre-history of the show (ie: he and Adama were friends for thirty years). Retconning him as a Cylon is just too implausible.

It just doesn't work, not really, despite assurances from the writers that the Final Five are "different". It's certainly convenient that they don't seem to follow the same rules as the rest of their kindred, for reasons that aren't even remotely apparent, but... "meh" is pretty much all I get out of that.

It was still a good season overall, because the aspects I regularly enjoy - the politics, the action, the drama - still overpower the juju, but I'm starting to worry that the metaphysical storyline is becoming more and more prominent; it'd be pretty disappointing for the last season to get totally lost in pseudo-spiritual nonsense.