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BSG Season 1: Act of Contrition Ep. 4 April 23, 2008

Posted by Chris in Battlestar Galactica (Re-imagined).
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Noble Sacrifice or Self-Destruction? — Starbuck and the Crew are Caught in a Cycle of Love Leading to Sacrifice Leading to Self-Inflicted Wounds

It’s interesting that in a series whose central premise is the persecution of the Humans by “machines”, this episode begins with a self-inflicted loss as a Human-controlled drone (read: “machine”) cuts lose on the hangar-deck and kills a bunch of pilots during a celebration for one of their comrades on his 1,000th flight.  The Humans can’t seem to keep their own, “dumb” machines from hurting them, let alone the their rebellious Cylon servants.  In fact, this episode seems to suggest that Humans are more than capable of hurting themselves, with or without machines.  This sets up the plot line for the episode as Adama asks Starbuck to train the next batch of replacement pilots.  But rather than healing the wounds from the hangar-deck loss, Adama’s request only scrapes the scab off a previous tragedy — the loss of Adama’s son and Starbuck’s role in it. 

Further self-inflicted wounds are described in flashback scenes for various characters.  Starbuck’s memories of how she passed Zack (Apollo’s brother) in flight school even though he was dangerous in the cockpit.  Starbuck adds insult to this self-inflicted injury by telling Apollo what she did.  In brief, he was horrified and pissed.  This all builds into the memory of how Adama confonted her and found out what she did for Zack.  And all this interspersed with quick-cut scenes of Starbuck falling through the atmosphere of some planet with her Viper burning up around her.  The bad memories continue with Starbuck’sfear of training a class of new pilots due to her guilt about Zack’s death.  After the blowout with Adama she buckles down and starts to adjust to being an instructor resolute to the task of making something of the trainee “nuggets”.  Just as this transformation of her character takes place, where she moves from self-destructive behavior to self-sacrificing, she sacrifices herself to save Hot Dog, one of the more high profile “nuggets” (and the real-life son of Olmos). 

But Starbuck isn’t the only one working to distinguish between self-sacrifice and destruction.  The self-inflicted wounds are slowing growing between one of the Sharons (later to be known as “Athena”) and Helo on Caprica as they fall in love.  Here, their selfless acts of love for each other set the stage for later in the series when they form a key couple affecting the day-to-day politics in Galactica.  In this sense, they are responsible for a great deal of the tension and the “wounds” that occur later in the show. 

Similarly, we privy to Dr. Cottle’s examination of Roslin.  As he learns the facts of her cancer, he confronts her on why she did not have regular breast exams for a period of five years.  Her defensive answer is that she was very busy, but this is mere deflection.  [!!!SPOILER ALERT!!!] Since Roslin was having an affair with the President, she may have been inflicting punishment on herself for her love by ignoring the growing warning signs of her illness. [!!!END SPOILER ALERT!!!]

In all these cases, we see a repeated pattern of love leading to self-destruction and guilt, leading to more self-destruction.  What an interesting and depressing show this is!

io9’s Top 10 Unsung Sci-Fi TV Series April 4, 2008

Posted by Chris in Interesting News, SciFi TV Shows.
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Several of these series are new to me, so I’ll be checking them out.  I recent stumbled across Surface, and was surprised that I really liked it (despite several scientific and practical implausibilities).  I keep hearing such great things about Farscape.  I tried to watch the first few episodes and couldn’t deal… It’s just hard for me to take Muppets seriously — sorry Jim.

Caprica: How the Cylons Were Created April 2, 2008

Posted by Chris in Battlestar Galactica (Re-imagined), Interesting News.
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Ahhh…just as I’m struggling with how to survive after the fourth and final season of BSG, hope springs forth in the form of “Caprica”, the long-awaited prequel.  This article claims insight into the series’ plot, and of particular interest, the motivation for creating the Cylons.  Interestingly, the Cylons weren’t created as robotic slaves, but rather as a repository for their creator’s recently deceased and uploaded personality and memories.

Olmos: BSG Finale is “Devastating” March 28, 2008

Posted by Chris in Battlestar Galactica (Re-imagined).
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According to Ronald D. Moore, the writers’ strike gave the BSG team the chance to re-think the second half of the fourth and final season of the series, and Edward James Olmos says, “It’s devastating…don’t watch this program; it’s not an easy ride.”

So while this was reported by io9 as a cue that this means the finale will be “depressing,” this geek is licking his chops with anticipation for some delicious sci-fi TV drama.

Geek Hiatus for Practical Concerns March 18, 2008

Posted by Chris in Navel Gazing.
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Diagram of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, represented as a pyramid with more primitive needs at the bottom.

Diagram of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, represented as a pyramid with more primitive needs at the bottom.

Maslow said that in the hierarchy of needs, human beings will always value exigencies of the immediate (air, food, water, shelter) over the things higher on hierarchy — like blogging about science fiction TV, for example.  So since we just bought a new house and are in the process of moving 12 years worth of junk from one house to the other, I’m taking bit of a blogging break.  Stay tuned!  I’ll be back in a week or so.

BSG Season 1: Bastille Day Ep. 3 March 12, 2008

Posted by Chris in Battlestar Galactica (Re-imagined).
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 Apollo:  Now That I Have You at Gun-Point, I’m Going to Give You EXACTLY What You Want!

And we start this episode with a continuation of the liquid theme.  Tighe wakes up, rolls out of bed and drags out his last bottle of liquor, measuring how many shots he has ’till empty.  Then we’re off to hear some exposition where the dire needs of the fleet for water are re-capped along with the logistics of extracting it from a nearby moon.  The need for manpower to accomplish this drives the Roslyn to offer the 1,000 prisoners on the inmate transport ship a chance at freedom if they help extract the water.  So as the series progresses the water motif continues to develop.  While it represented the illumination and understanding of the unconscious  in the previous episode, here it morphs into a metaphor representing an understanding and control over the nature of humanity — or what remains of it.

Roslyn and Adama’s motives seem fairly straight-forward here — they’re looking for water to ensure humanity’s survival.  But they’re also interested in preserving the structure and power of the government (such as it is) and the lack of water threatens to spark an uprising within the fleet.  Their need for water is driven by the imperative of survival in real terms but also in terms of the stability it offers that will allow their fragile democracy and civilization to continue to exist.  But others in the fleet have different ideas about how humanity should save itself and control of the water is the political and symbolic pivot-point.

Just as Apollo is announcing Roslyn’s offer to the prisoners, they take over their ship and Apollo is taken hostage.  The prisoners’ leader, Tom Zarek — played by Richard Hatch, the same actor that played Apollo in the original series — demands that Roslyn step down and an immediate election be held for the presidency.

Apollo is caught in the middle in more ways than one — between his (already shaky) loyalties to his father and commander, and Roslyn in his new role as military adviser.  When Zarek takes over the ship, he finds his loyalties split again, as we find out that he’s read Zarek’s political writings and admires him.  So while Apollo tries to fulfill his duty by putting down the prison ship uprising, he comes to recognize the legitimacy of what Zarek wants:  free elections for the presidency.  Here he’s caught between Roslyn and Zarek as well, since Roslyn doesn’t think elections are possible during the current crisis.  Perhaps most importantly, he’s caught between his own notions of right and wrong — duty to father or to democratic principles, duty to his role as a captain in the military or to his role as military adviser to the president, duty to his fellow hostages or to his mission.  So just as the Cylons rebelled against their Human parents, Apollo is negotiating how the landscape of his own personal rebellion against two personal and societal authority figures:  his father (by working for Roslyn) and the President of the Colonies.

Roslyn is caught as well between her beliefs in democracy and her conviction that the government stands on the precipice, ready to fall over and take what remains of humanity down with it.  Adama is caught between his love for and desire to protect his son, and the imperatives of the moment — to put down the prisoner uprising, to stop a general rebellion from catching fire, and to restock the fleet with water.  Throughout, water plays the role of a symbolic and practical touchstone, infusing the plot and the characters with an existential imperative. 

In the end, Apollo manages to find a way to convince Zarek that it’s in his and the fleet’s interest to cooperate, release the hostages, and save the fleet from dehydration, all at the point of a gun.  By threatening him, Apollo is able to simultaneously give Zarek what he wants without appearing to have caved in to his “terrorist” demands — he commits (without approval from Roslyn or Adama) that there will be elections for president in nine months.

Whedon’s Dollhouse Pilot Starts Production March 7, 2008

Posted by Chris in Interesting News.
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According to DollhouseTV.net the series pilot will begin production on April 23rd.  Should be interesting to see if Whedon can work his magic on the small screen again after his disappointments with Fox on Firefly.

BSG Season 1: Water Ep. 2 March 4, 2008

Posted by Chris in Battlestar Galactica (Re-imagined).
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Boomer:  Symbolically Drenched in Water, She Enters the World of Her Own Unconscious

This episode opens with Boomer, sitting alone and spacing-out.  Water drips off her and we see that she’s completely drenched.  As she comes out of her trance, she realizes that she has a duffel bag with dry clothes, ready to change into.  She begins to unpack and is shocked to find a plastique bomb among her clothes.  She manages to control her growing panic long enough to check the small arms supply room where she finds that a number of detonators (like the one she found in her bag) are missing. 

Her suspicions are growing that she is a Cylon.  But her programming is keeping her conscious mind from believing what her unconscious mind already knows.  Shortly thereafter, explosions aboard Galactica release most of the fleet’s water supply into space.  Symbolically, drenching Boomer in water and having her unconsciously destroy the fleet’s water supply provides us insight into her personal state of mind.  Water is often used as a symbol for the unconscious mind — the world of dreams and repressed urges.  Like a sea mammal coming up for air, Boomer’s repressed Cylon identity is beginning to force its way to the surface of her conscious mind, but only for brief periods of time.  Now, her Cylon identity is maneuvering for full expression.  By blowing up the water storage tanks, it has not only crippled the fleet’s life support systems, but it has symbolically shattered the barrier between Boomer’s conscious and unconscious minds, threatening to undermine her sense of self and her loyalties to her friends and crewmates.

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Boomer’s Unconscious Identity Violently Erupts into the Real World

Just like Baltar, Boomer is beginning to realize that she is guilty of traitorous acts (see Kym‘s comments on my 33 post for where this insight orginated).  And while both did not intentionally betray their friends and governments, each feels a growing sense of panic and self-doubt about their real identities.  What’s interesting here is the way the writers have chosen to portray each character’s reactions to their crises of self-doubt.  While Boomer, the Cylon who thinks she’s Human, seeks comfort from her friend and lover, Chief Tyrol, Baltar trusts no one except his Imaginary Six, a Cylon who may or may not actually be imaginary.  So while the Cylon seeks solace and protection from humans, an act of faith in “humanity”, Baltar, the self-centered and egomaniacal human, finds solace and fawning affections from an imaginary and sexually-charged Cylon.

Boomer’s erratic behavior continues as she’s sent out on recon to find a new supply of water for the fleet.  As she surveys a planet, her sensor screen tells her that she has found water, but her conscious mind doesn’t seem to register it.  As she struggles with herself, we also see her fingering another plastique bomb below her seat.  It seems that her unconscious Cylon programming is instructing her to blow herself and her Raptor up instead of admit to herself and the fleet that she’s found water.  Again, water serves as the pivotal symobolic element in this story, representing the dangers of the unconscious and the self-understanding it holds.  For the moment, Boomer is able to appease her human identity by convincing herself that she has found a sabateur’s bomb.  This mental maneuver allows her to consciously become aware of the water discovery, thereby allowing her to continue to believe she is human.

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!