Sunday, February 15, 2009

BSG Season 4 Update

Very, very spoilery. You've been warned.

There have been some undeniably brilliant moments in the last few episodes of Season 4.5. "The Oath" about the squelching of Gaeta's/Varek's rebellion was as great as anything we have seen since Season One, or even those first amazing four episodes of Season 3... Remember those? Sigh...

But the first few of the last ten episodes have been weirdly devoid of the answers that the show is going to have to provide if it is going to resolve in an even remotely satisfying way to the audience. Well, that all ended this past week, in which we were served up an episode that was so ridiculously, absurdly "exposition-y" (to use a screenwriting diss) that even though I had been clamoring for answers, I ended up staring at the screen with my forehead thoroughly wrinkled, and not understanding the answers that were flying past at FTL jump speed.

The answers churned out in the worst way - not through character choices, but through a monologue of Sam and a dialogue between Cavil and Ellen in which they say lots of things both of them already know just so the audience can hear it too. This is the definition of bad, bad way to out your back story. It wasn't worthy of BSG although, arguably, inevitable in light of the deep plot holes the show had dug itself into and all the time that has been wasted in meandering brooding episodes these last two half seasons.

Frak. Season 4 has all but abandoned the former glory of the show - that of being a non-sci fi show that was a brilliant way to examine the tensions of living in a post 9/11 Western Civilization. The episodes this last year are in no sense the clever metaphorical shadows of our lives today that we couldn't believe were on television back in the first few years of the show.

The show has also failed to live up to its pretensions to being all about what it is to be human. Recent interviews with Katee Sackhoff ("Starbuck") and Ron Moore (Executive Producer/Creator) have tried to defend the lameness of the recent 5th cylon revelation by posturing that the real point of the show wasn't about the Final Five anyway, but about uh, an epistemology of human nature. The show hasn't really had much insight to add to that question, and seems to be in serious danger of subverting itself on this level, at least at this point in the final season.

So, all those folks out there whom I have goaded into watching the show so as to think deeper thoughts about post-9/11 geopolitics and ethics, please know that you can only find that through about episode 4 of Season 3.

Since then, BSG has been flailing around with occasional moments of psychological/character brilliance (Dualla's end - Kara's Maelstrom - Cylon Civil War) but mostly just a lot of standard episodic sci-fi angst (Hero - Helo vs. Genocide Doctor - Tyrol Friend of Downtrodden Workers) for which few of the "special audience" of BSG (ie. non sci-fi fans) would ever have succumbed to obsessive love of the show.

But back to last week's answer-smorgasbord episode "No Exit."

So, there were two devices introduced to catch up the audience to all the plot points that should have been coming out in tantalizing ways over the last four years, but couldn't because basically, the show writers didn't have any idea where they were going until apparently the end of season 3. The first device was Sam's bullet-to-the-brain which conveniently released all his thousands of years of memories and which he then proceeded to dump on Kara and the other Final Four. The next device was a flashback to a newly resurrected Ellen Tigh, engaging in a weird mother to teenage son spat with Cavil, in which they argued evidently once again about why it is better to be nice (Ellen) and why it is icky to be human (Cavil).

From a character standpoint, the ensuing regurgitation of exposition was a mess. I guess it answers some of the questions they need to, but it was done in such a filibustery and "need to get this over" way, that it didn't feel fair. And so, even though we have been dying for and demanding answers, the result was unsatisfying.

The biggest problem is, of course, in the whole Ellen thing. What is it about being resurrected that turned Ellen the Ditzy Whore into Mother Teresa, eh? Ellen Tigh was a narcissistic, unbalanced, sexual predator, who routinely betrayed anyone who got n the way of her own desires and ambitions. Now, we are supposed to believe that she is the wise, technically brilliant, maternal, creator of the skin jobs and resurrection technology. Yeah, I'm buying that like I bought Denise Richards as a PhD in physics in one of the Bond movies...Just having had your memory stripped wouldn't turn you into a silly serial sensualist. She would have remained brilliant and loving, even if she couldn't remember having created a race of nearly perfect human clones. The truth is, Ellen was such a lightweight as a character, that the show's writers had killed her off. She wasn't coming back. Until they needed to dig themselves out of a whole.

It's all wrong.

Then, we are supposed to believe that Cavil actually knew who were the Final Five the whole time he was fighting Deanna over her quest to discover their identities. We are supposed to believe that he was having sex with his "mother" Ellen on New Caprica in some kind of Oedipal way, and plucking out Saul Tigh's eye in a fit of adolescent pique, all the time sadistically enjoying his power over not only the Final Five but the whole cylon race? It just isn't on the screen, folks.

No, none of it is there. For these revelations to be satisfying, the writers would have had to have planted seeds of them back there when we were watching those characters years ago. But they couldn't plant any seeds because they hadn't been able to think it all through.

Now, the writers want the audience to just go with them, and accept that there was this whole other AMAZING but hidden level of stuff going on. But there wasn't.

This is bad storytelling. It's so bd, that frankly, I don't even care any more how they resolve Kara's "death" and whether the characters make it to any place as a new home. My sense is the writers will just say anything in the style which has made me averse to sci-fi which always has bizarre impossibility as a plot device possibility.

Oh well. Notwithstanding what seems to be a disastrous slide towards thematic mediocrity, we can all still enjoy what's left of Battlestar Galactica for the buckets of beloved character angst that the writers can surely stuff into the last few episodes. We can enjoy the ways in which they are going to kill off Roslin and certainly the Admiral. We can look forward to Lee and Kara's certainly tortured last good-bye just before they kill her off - I'm banking that Lee, Helo and Athena are going to make it. It's still been a great show in many of its parts, and has surpassed nearly anything I've scene on television before.

So say we.... oh well.

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