Sunday, June 2, 2013

Series Review: Battlestar Galactica

In addition to long walks with the puppy, seeing Into Darkness and much needed relaxation in general the big accomplishment of last weekend was finally finishing Battlestar Galactica (henceforth referred to as BSG.)  This was a big deal because it's taken us several years to get through the whole series.  Why?  Well, long story short this is not the kind of series you can just pick back up and watch any old time.  Much like a good book that requires your undivided attention we had to be invested in watching so that we could know what the hell was going on.  So it is that although we began watching... 3 years ago?  We only finished it now.  And it's entirely too important a series not to comment on.

As with a lot of my other reviews I must warn that this will contain pretty much every spoiler there is- I simply don't know how to write about it without commenting on these things, so it's just gonna happen.  As such, I must implore you that if you have not seen this series you should NOT read this because it will ruin one of the most important entries of the space opera genre for you.  Seriously.  If you have, please read on, leave your comments and let me know what you think.

Ok, so since i'm writing this review for individuals who have already seen the series i'm going to skip the synopsis since a)I suck at writing them and b) it's too damned complicated to try to sum anyway.  Instead, I will jump right into what I think:

From my vantage point, it seems the the series can be separated into 3 parts.  Part 1 comprising the miniseries and seasons 1 and 2, part 2 comprising season 3 and part 3 comprising season 4. 

Part 1- After the Fall, Civilization in Space and History
The miniseries chronicles the attack on the colonies and throws us head first into the world of cylons and humans.  We get a crash course in the history of the war, a look into how the cylons managed to so thoroughly destroy the colonies (thanks, Gaius!) and a rundown on Galactica herself.  Then season one starts right off where the miniseries left off with the fleet trying to outrun the cylons.  The miniseries and these first episodes are full of war- death, destruction, explosions, and military maneuvers.  All these high intensity scenes make you very aware of one of BSG's greatest strengths: it's got damned good CGI.  This is- by far- the best I've seen in a television series.  Movies?  No, I wouldn't say it's that good.  But for TV?  It's effing amazing.  And the sound is right up there to match.

Another thing on the production front I feel the need to point out is the music.  The creators did a great job not only at creating a fantastic score that mirrors the mood of the scenes but that song they composed for the series itself fits perfectly.  Songs win academy awards when they so perfectly fit the movie that the sound is synonymous with the movie itself (think Jaws, Jurassic Park, Godfather).  Those first few notes are synonymous in my mind with this series.  Great stuff.

Anyway, the rest of seasons one and two, while giving you plenty of backstory and plot development, are mostly stand alone episodes that show us the human race doing their best to survive a race well equipped to wipe them out.  This, to me, is the best of what space opera has to offer.  There's lots of drama, romance, death, renewal and strength and the actors on this show are really spectacular.  I have to give specific props to the fearless leaders Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell who show an incredible amount of range over the course of the series as well as the two female cylons Tricia Helfer (6) and Grace Park (Boomer/Athena) for playing so many different incarnations of themselves you sometimes forget it's the same actress.  They're all incredibly gifted and deserve wide acclaim for the series.

These first two seasons, on the whole, are where the series shines.  While there's plenty going on in the cylon conspiracy realm it doesn't overwhelm the individual plots of the episodes and we find ourselves carried along quite easily, blissfully wrapped up in this world, without really worrying too much about where it's all leading.

Added Bonus: The pseudo movie "The Plan" shows the first two seasons from the Cylon point of view and answers the question of why a race so advanced and capable keeps on fraking up their attempts to destroy the remaining survivors.   (Hint- it's their humanity.  Kind of a theme throughout the series...)  It really fleshes out a lot of the previously mysterious events making the first two seasons whole.  Check it out if you haven't already.

Part 2- New Caprica, The Opera House and the Cylon Revolution
Season 3, for me, is where it started to fall apart.  First off, New Caprica was a harsh wake-up for those of us who mistakenly thought that the miraculous first two seasons would continue as they were.  Not only are we thrown way into the future where things have changed so drastically (Wait- Sam and Kara are married?  The cheif and Cally had a kid?  Lee married Dualla, got fat and turned... orange?  What the frak?) that we can barely make head or tail of anything but the series itself starts to shift the way things take place.  Here they're really trying to move the cylon plot forward, most story arcs take place over several episodes and the whole thing takes on a different tone.

While the acting, score, effects and action sequences are still great they can't save the series from a convoluted plot.  Much like Lost each episode asks more questions than it answers and we're left with this building sense that there's something fundamentally important that we're missing.  It's confusing and frustrating and many episodes had me venting my frustration at the tv screen with no relief when the closing credits rolled.

Part 3- "Earth", The Final Five and The Mysterious Kara Thrace
Season 4 is where they try very very hard to end the series with dignity while answering the questions asked by the past 3 seasons.  They are not successful in this endeavor.  Yes, we get an answer to why the cylons keep saying "All of this has happened and it will happen again" in the form of "Earth" and the ending on the real Earth 150,000 years before we all started watching the show.  The final scene with 6 and Gaius walking the streets of New York with robots looking creepily advanced and that damned "All Along the Watchtower" song playing in the background is very foreboding and cool.

But the conclusion to the Opera House visions seemed, to me, like a hastily planned tableu.  Why did they have to bring Hera to the bridge, exactly?  Oh, so that all those visions could come true?  Oh, ok- except that that doesn't make any sense!  After seeing those visions in so many damned episodes I expected something a little more climatic.

And the final five themselves?  What the hell was the point there?  Oh, they each hold a piece of the resurrection formula and they're going to give it to the cylons so that they'll finally leave the humans alone?  Great, that makes sense.  Except that Galen goes Hulk halfway through the transfer and kills Tory- whoops, sorry cylons!  What?!?  And later on, when Tigh and Ellen are talking to Galen, and Tigh's like "Oh, I would've done the same thing" as if it's no big deal that they just pretty much destroyed their race?  Really?!?

And, I'm sorry cause I know I'm ranting but I can't help it, but what the FRAK happened to Kara?  She's dead, she's back, she spends the bulk of the season wondering what the hell she is and bemoaning her existence and then after using the song to help find the real Earth she just fraking vanishes?  One minute she's talking to Lee, the next she's gone.  And we never found out what the hell she was.  This made us so nuts we went back and re-watched the end with Ronald Moore's commentary and you know what he says?  He says that the actress (Katee Sackhoff) actually begged them to give her character a definitive ending and they refused because they thought it would be better to leave the audience going "huh?"  Honestly- his word: "Huh?"  Screw you, Ronald Moore!  So, so angry.

In the end the last seasons left way too many unanswered questions (Kara, what the frak the Gaius and 6 visions were, what happens to the cylons, etc, etc) for me to rate this series as highly as I would like.  I still love it, don't get me wrong.  The first two seasons are SO GOOD that I wouldn't skip it for the world.  But I'd be lying if I didn't say I think they failed to bring it all home in the end. 

That being said, the series will hold a special place in my heart right next to Star Trek (original, Next Gen, Deep Space, etc) and Star Wars (original trilogy, of course).  And given the love I hold for them that's saying a heck of a lot.

4 comments:

  1. Yeah kara was sure a wtf moment haha and it did drag in the middle for sure. But it was surely a series worth watching. Unlike it's wannabe clone Stargate Universe.

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  2. It's a pity they failed to deliver for you, because it sounds like you really got on with the first two seasons. From your review, I get the feeling that they did the fatal thing, they let the arcs take over! Babylon 5 started that trend, they have a lot to answer for when you have to have the entire previous history of a series in your pocket to understand what is going on in later eps. I don't mind arcs, they add a background continuity to a show, but the primary word here is 'background'. When an ep serves only to move an arc along and it doesn't have its own plot (or the plot is so thin it needs CPR), the series is no longer a series, it's a part work and changing that nature in the middle of a run is not fair, but I have seen so many series do it. And to do that 3 times - my sympathies.

    I'm a fan of the original BSG - and they did the same thing to us with Galactica '80 - although I remember enjoying 'space scouts' as a kid ;P My fav ep on that last original season though was the 'what happened to Starbuck ep', because Starbuck was always my favourite, despite, with hindsight, knowing that he's a womanising, gambling twat a lot of the time :D.

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  3. Given how little I enjoyed the first season, reading that it falls apart in the third leaves me with very little desire to pick the show back up again. Do you think I ought to, Bev?

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    1. I would need to know why you didn't get on with the first season to know whether or not investing more time in it would make you more or less disappointed. Perhaps at some point we can have a discussion about it.

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