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BSG Season 1: 33 Ep. 1 February 29, 2008

Posted by Chris in Battlestar Galactica (Re-imagined).
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 Baltar’s Imaginary Six:  Beauty, Brains and Relentless Religious Faith

In this first episode of the new series, the writers crank up the tension to remind us of what’s at stake.  The contrast between the repetitive, tireless attacks by the Cylons every 33 minutes and the worn-beyond-frantic defensive maneuvers of the Humans emphasizes the strengths of sentient machines and human weaknesses.  Baltar — symbolically representing humanity and its frailties — is lost in dreams and hallucinations of his Imaginary Six.  The ceaseless attacks and his guilty conscience have conspired to push him into a corner.

The monotheistic religion of the Cylons is also contrasted against the polytheistic beliefs of the Humans. To us, monotheism seems to be a natural outcome of cultural and spiritual evolution.  We associate monotheistic culture with the rise of western civilization — something that seems inevitable to us from our narrow, rear-view perspective.  So when we’re told the Cylons are the monotheists, we’re also being encouraged to see them as an evolutionary inevitability — that they will ultimately triumph over the spiritually-lacking Humans.

Baltar’s atheist views are an interesting contrast as well.  His lack of conscience, his belief in rationality (as long as it serves his interests) and his lack of religious faith are all tested when a passenger aboard a civilian ship in the fleet requests a meeting with Roslyn where he will reveal a traitor in their midst.  Of course, Baltar assumes he is the traitor and proceeds to freak out.  But when the civilian ship (the Olympic Carrier) disappears after a hyperspace jump, Baltar’s time in the “foxhole” (where there are no atheists) makes him susceptible to his Imaginary Six’s suggestions that God is watching out for him.  His religious skepticism remains.

When the Olympic Carrier returns unexpectedly, Baltar convinces Roslyn and Adama that the Cylons are playing a trick — that the ship threatens the fleet.  As the ship heads towards the fleet despite warnings to veer off from Galactica, the Cylons appear and deploy for an attack.  At the same time, Galactica detects nuclear weapons aboard the Olympic Carrier.  As Roslyn wavers over whether to destroy the civilian ship or not, Baltar’s freak-out grows more intense.  His Imaginary Six encourages him to repent his sins and accept the Cylons’ one true God, and Baltar breaks under the pressure, repenting his sins.  At the same moment, Roslyn gives the order to destroy the Olympic Carrier, as if she was directed to do so by the Cylon God after Baltar repented. 

This sequence reiterates the just how weak humans are, and Baltar serves as the ultimate example.  Baltar’s convictions are malleable, fragile and ultimately break when put under stress.  The Cylons are machines.  They are repetitive, relentless, and ruthless.  They seem unstoppable.  But this episode suggests that their motivations and methods are not completely mechanistic.  They are driven by a deep religious faith.  While we assume that faith is a uniquely human quality and strength, the Cylons’ faith is rooted in their mechanistic nature, making their faith relentless and powerful as well — much more so than the wishy-washy, take-it-or-leave-it, polytheistic faith of the Humans.  And while the Humans have faith in each other — perhaps their saving grace — the Cylons are working to undermine this as well by turning what appears to be a harmless civilian ship (just like the 9-11 terrorists did to us) into a threat and by planting human-looking Cylons among the fleet.

BSG Season 1: The Miniseries February 27, 2008

Posted by Chris in Battlestar Galactica (Re-imagined).
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 The Cylons Were Created by Man:  That Makes All the Difference

Well, for starters it appears to me that Ron Moore and David Eick (the co-creators of this “re-imagined” BSG) can’t move quickly enough to establish how they’re gonna do this differently than the old series.  I seem to remember from the old story that the Cylons were created by an extinct alien race.  Here, in the first frame of the miniseries we get a clear statement of difference:  “The Cylons were created by Man.”  And then, “They were created to make life easier on the Twelve Colonies.”

This dramatically reorients the the moral compass of the plot.  Before, Humans were the innocent victims of alien, robotic and therefore, evil aggressions.  They were not responsible in virtually any way for their current travails (somebody with a better recollection of that series than I will probably object on this point and I welcome your comments to set me straight, if true).  Now they are clearly implicated.  They created a race of sentient beings that were used as slave labor.  Now, the Cylons are not evil per se.  On the contrary, they deserve some sympathy and understanding as to why they might want to eradicate their human problem for good.  This makes our judgments about who’s good and who’s bad very confused.  Ultimately, after watching the series through Season 3 at this point, I’m ambivalent about both races — Human and Cylon.  This is obviously the point.

The statements of difference continue through the opening scenes to come.  The beautiful Cylon woman contrasted with her fellow Cylon Centurions give further confusion about just who is Human and who we should care more about.  In the opening scene on Galactica, the camera follows a beautiful woman jogging through the active corridors of the ship.  Shortly, we come to find out that this is Starbuck, a tough, adventurous male character in the old series, and here an attractive woman with the toughness to-boot.  Here, the creators seem to make a nod to Whedon and his tendency to feature kick-ass females prominantly in his stories.  The next scene’s fist-fight between Tighe and Starbuck solidifies this impression.

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A Homage to Whedon as Serenity Flies by the Window of a Doctor’s Office on Caprica

The confusing messages continue, as we see the same Cylon woman killed in the first scene now walking down the street in Caprica City.  She comes upon a baby and her mother and is obviously very interested in the child.  She seems genuinely moved by its beauty and vulnerability.  But when the child’s mother is distracted, she snaps its neck.  While this could easily be interpreted as simply the act of a machine experimenting with life and death (a theme delved into more in Season 3), closer observation suggests that she is actually performing a perverse act of mercy, since she knows that the Cylon nuclear attack is just hours away.

The creators’ choices with regard to technology are similarly bold statements that set the series apart from it’s 1970’s cousin.  Adama’s forceful statement to Roslyn on the ban on networked computers on Galactica, the Galactica tour guide’s similar statements of exposition that give Adama’s statements context, and the liberal use of low-tech, analog technologies all make a bold and even somewhat jarring impression on first view.  All present a picture of a society that is extremely ambivalent about technology — something we would expect from the society that gave life to a race of cybernetic killers.

And the differences continue.  While family relations between Adama and Apollo in the old series were harmonious and saccharine, the first scene with these characters together in the new series is a bitter argument.  Likewise, Baltar is not some comically evil character straight from central casting.  Here, he is a victim of his own genius and the hubris it seeds.  This is one of the first signs that the creators planned to take this show in a different direction on more than just a superficial level.  Differences in technology, social structure, and character gender are all intriguing and important elements that create a unique science fiction story and universe.  But by creating strong conflicts between the main characters the creators send us a message that they intend to give us a character-driven show — something the old series did not do well.

As the Cylons begin their attack, the fascination with older (more “human”) technologies continues.  Both Cylons and Humans alike fire bullets and missiles — a nice touch that makes an unfamiliar world a little more understandable — a little more “real”.  The fact that the old Vipers work while the new ones have been incapacitated by the Cylons.  The fact that the crew is so nervous about performing a “jump” with Galactica.   These reinforce the impressions of a technophobic culture.

The sneak attack of course, has deep resonance for us in the post-9-11 period.  But the show’s creators have muddied the waters some and given us something to think about.  While the Humans are victims, Adama’s speech just before the attack where he questions whether they deserved to survive, echoes through the attack that comes.  The fact that the Humans of this story sewed the seeds of their own destruction by creating the Cylons has some clear parallels to our own situation vis-a-vis the Middle East.  As the current standard-bearer of the west, the U.S. has certainly played a role in creating the conditions that brought about 9-11 and while we were certainly victims that day, just like the Humans in BSG, we must know and understand our own role in bringing about our current situation in order to, as Roslyn says, save “…our collective asses.”

So how can the Humans reconcile with the Cylons?  How can the Humans change who they are to save themselves from extinction?  Baltar’s conversations with his imaginary Six (assuming she really is imaginary) give us a glimpse into one way the creators of the show offer us to come to grips with our collective guilt.  Baltar and his imaginary Six’s recommendation seems to be to simply ignore the guilt.

Imaginary Six to Baltar:  “That’s part of the reason I fell in love with you.  You have a clarity of spirit.  You’re not burdened by conscience or guilt.”

Baltar wants to believe that we can ignore the mistakes of our past. 

On the other hand, Adama is coming to realize that we need to face our past mistakes in order to survive — in order to make ourselves worthy of survival.  At this point at the beginning of the series, both Adama and Baltar see benefits from their different approaches.  Independently, each discovers that the Cylons can take human form.  Adama discovers Leoben is a Cylon while at the Ragnar Station and kills him.  Baltar finds out Six is a Cylon, then decides to implicate Doral as a Cylon as a cover for revealing his discovery of the Cylon device in Galactica’s CIC.  Though he has no idea whether Doral is a Cylon or not, it turns out that he’s right.   Evidently, selfishness and malformed conscience have their advantages.  As the series progresses, the creators return to this theme (among others), inviting us to judge for ourselves how we can and should address our past misdeeds.

What a fantastic bit of television this is!

Interview with BSG Creators February 23, 2008

Posted by Chris in Battlestar Galactica (Re-imagined), Interesting News.
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Here’s the link to a fascinating interview with the co-creators of the re-imagined BSG series, Ron Moore and David Eick.  In it, they discuss the themes running throughout the four seasons of the series and their obvious but never simplistic parallels to our society and it’s contemporary dilemmas.  The first interview file covers topics of the legal system, lawyers, trials, while the second audio file covers topics such as tribunals torture, necessity vs. moral principles, and deference to the military.  It’s well-worth a listen and it looks like there’s more to come.

BSG Season 3: The Son Also Rises Ep. 17 February 20, 2008

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Lampkin Plays on Caprica Six’s Love for Baltar and in the Process Reminds us of the Complexities of Character and the Questions of Fate that BSG Masterfully Evokes 

This episode begins soon after the death of Starbuck and we see Adama grieving over the loss, even as his name is being pulled out of a hat to serve on the panel of judges at Baltar’s trial.  Lee and Sam are greiving too, with Sam drinking himself into an accident where he breaks his leg and Lee trying to find a way to fulfill his promise to Starbuck that he’d put her picture next to Kat’s on the memorial board on Galactica.  But putting her picture up there would mean admitting that she’s really gone, and he can’t seem to bring himself to do it.

As a scene transition, we’re shown a great shot of the outside of Galactica, looking fully banged-up and shot to hell.  It seems like a metaphor for Lee and the others, banged-up by war and grieving for Kara. 

Amid all this emotional turmoil trial preparations continue and after the first lawyer is killed in a terrorist bomb attack, we’re introduced to the attorney for Baltar’s defense, Romo Lampkin played by Mark Sheppard, the actor who played “Badger” in Firefly — a nice bit of casting, that, playing a scummy criminal and now an (apparently) scummy defense attorney.  But just as Baltar is not what he seems to be to the majority of the people in the fleet, Lampkin is shrewd and, in his own way, principled.

Lee’s assigned to protect Lampkin, and both go to interview Caprica Six to find out if she’s a threat to Baltar in the trial.  As a way of getting under her skin, he tells her about how he loved a woman once that seems to echo the experience of love that Lee had for Kara.  Just like Starbuck, his woman always seemed “…to have a way of walking — processional — as if she were on her way to her own execution.”  This description seems to resonate with both Caprica Six and Lee — Lee undoubtedly hears this echo as he listens to Lampkin tell the story of his lost love.  Caprica Six sees herself in the role Lampkin’s lost love, doomed to death at the hands of her captors and tortured by the memory of her love for Baltar, she too walks in her own processional.

After a narrow-miss assasination attempt on Lampkin, Lee feels the pull to help Lampkin in his trial, while Adama pressures him to return to his post as the commander of the air group.  Lee chooses to defy his father and go with Lampkin and in the process finds a way to let go of Kara.  He puts her picture up on the memorial.  The trial looms.

BSG Season 3: Maelstrom Ep. 16 February 14, 2008

Posted by Chris in Battlestar Galactica (Re-imagined).
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Kara’s “Special Destiny” as Foreshadowed by Her Mandala Obsession and as Interpreted by Leoben

Ahhhh…and then, just like that, we’re back on track.  Or so it seems.  The downhill slide starts to level off at this point in Season 3 (and none too soon) after many a stand-alone episode.  This episode starts with Starbuck suffering through nightmares about fraking Leoben, the mandala she painted in her apartment on Caprica and it’s duplicate they found in the Temple of Five, and her “special destiny” that are implied by both.  Driven to frustration and fear that her destiny may mean she’s a Cylon, Kara seeks insight from an oracle on Galactica.  Instead of providing comfort, the oracle tells her word-for-word quotes from past events with her mother and Leoben.  The upshot of what the oracle tells her is that her special destiny is in the process of revealing itself and the Leoben is the key — he will show her the way. 

Kara’s obviously shaken by this encounter and afterwards, while flying patrol in the atmosphere of a planet where the fleet is refueling, she sees a Cylon raider and pursues it into the eye of a storm — a storm that looks like a darker version of her Temple of Five mandala.  She pulls out of the storm just before she dives into the heart of the storm and is crushed by the dense atmosphere.  When no one else can confirm her sighting of the raider, we start to believe she’s hallucinating.  On a second mission into the clouds, she sights the raider again, and she gives hot pursuit.  This time she gets knocked out in flight (either by the raider’s gunfire or a lighting strike from the storm) and she finds herself in her home on Caprica with Leoben. 

He tells her that she’s drawn to the storm and the mandala — that she wants to fly into it, but she’s afraid of the unknown and death.  He takes her into the past to watch her as she finds out that her mother has terminal cancer.  She tries to comfort her mother, but is rejected.  She swears she’ll never see her mother again.  Leoben tells her that her mother died waiting for her to come back, but that it’s not too late — that she can still talk to her.  Kara comforts her mother as she dies, and Leoben tells here that now that she’s faced death, she understands that it’s not to be feared and that by facing it, she’s free. 

Her vision fades and she’s back in the cockpit, heading into the storm and toward a certain death.  Calm from the knowledge gained from her vision, she flies to her death (presumably).  While Lee sees her plane explode in a star-burst of fireworks, we’re left to question whether she somehow might have escaped since we are shown her fingering her eject lever just before the explosion. 

So passes Starbuck’s character from the series (?) and we’re left to wonder if we’ve really been given the full story.  Was her special destiny simply to face death and her fears, or is there some tie-in, as yet unrevealed, to the mandala and its role as a signpost for Galactica on it’s way to finding Earth.  Will the Humans have to face and accept death, just as Kara did, in order to reach their goal — to find Earth?  These questions remain tantalizingly unanswered even as we mourn the passing of a favorite character from the show.

Star Trek New Voyages Fanfilm February 10, 2008

Posted by Chris in Star Trek: New Voyages.
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Well, I just finished watching an episode of Star Trek New Voyages called “World Enough and Time” and I’m shocked to realize, let alone say it in public on this blog, but I didn’t hate it!  In fact I can honestly say that I liked it quite a bit!  Now there were many faults I could quibble with that one would expect when it comes to the often low quality of fanfilms, the acting and the writing being foremost among these shortcomings.  But in general, neither of these criticisms could be leveled here.  The writing was solid and almost eerily true to the spirit of the original series.  The acting sometimes lacks polish, but it seems to improve over the course of the episode I watched and by the end, I found myself more-or-less buying into the notion that the characters were at least a fair simulacrum of the original series’ cast.  I’m thinking I’ll check out a few more of these episodes (they’ve done a number of them) and if I like them, I may review them here.

BSG Season 3: Dirty Hands Ep. 15 February 10, 2008

Posted by Chris in Battlestar Galactica (Re-imagined).
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 Baltar’s Political Resurrection “Buried on Page 5” of this Somewhat Lackluster Episode

Yup…the downhill slide continues, but perhaps not at such a dramatic pace.  This week: focus on chief Tyrol and his labor-leaning tendencies.  Man of the people that he his, this episode shows the chief pulled into the middle of a labor conflict between the fleet brass and the fuel refinery ship.  Somewhat interestingly, the writers use this episode to set the stage for Baltar’s comeback.  Though in prison, Baltar’s revolutionary writings (“My Triumphs, My Mistakes”) are being smuggled out and distributed around the fleet.  They’re causing a stir, highlighting the economic and political disparities between Capricans and the other colonists.  The writings are striking a chord among the working class of the fleet, particularly in the case of the fuel refining ship.  Working conditions here are dangerous with long hours and child labor practices.  These conditions are exacerbated by a lack of more long-term prospects for transfer or career growth — refinery workers will remain at their jobs for the foreseeable future and their children will likely follow in their footsteps.  A caste system threatens to develop.

The refinery workers go on strike and hide critical machinery parts.  The chief is tasked with getting the refinery rolling again, putting him in contact and conflict with those he led as a labor leader on New Caprica before the Cylons arrived.  Forced to imprison the refinery ship’s leaders to get them to release the parts and get the plant rolling again, the chief also convinces Roslyn to avoid a hardening of the class system by instituting a lottery that rotates personnel around the fleet.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem like a workable solution since the dangerous working conditions are still exist and tear a hole in the (obviously fake) arm of one of the rotation workers while Tyrol is inspecting the refining ship.  This sets Tyrol’s jaw so to speak as he sees the true dangers at hand.  He stops the plant and calls a strike to the cheers of the ship’s workers.

So as the strike spreads to the deck crews on Galactica, Tyrol is thrown in the brig and Adama personally threatens him with a charge of mutiny and a death sentence.  Adama gives the order to arrest Cally and have her executed along with the other labor leaders.  The chief caves in and calls off the strike.  Adama’s disturbing behavior is softened somewhat by his immediate release of the chief and allowing him to have a sit-down with Roslyn to discuss a resolution.

Overall, as far as the downhill slide of these waning season 3 episodes go, this one’s not so bad, really.  We’re shown how Baltar is beginning to find his voice again while very plausible class and political conflicts begin to appear in the fleet.  Unfortunately, the episode ends on a somewhat of an anti-climactic note with the chief having a drink with Roslyn discussing platitudes of how they will fight for social equity with their “dying breath”….Oi!