-MONTHLY VHS & DVD REVIEW-
copyright © 2001 - 2006 VideoVista
Battlestar Galactica season 2.0|
cast: Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, Katee Sackhoff, Jamie Bamber, and James Callis
creator: Ronald D. Moore
440 minutes (unrated) 2005
MCA DVD Region 1 retail
reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
The US Sci-Fi Channel now divides its series into two halves with a break in the middle.
This, like the fact that US channels interrupt new series' first-runs with repeats from
old series, is deeply weird to the eyes of a European. Especially when the first series
Galactica ran uninterrupted on UK TV resulting in us getting stuff way before
the Americans did. This weirdness also results in the DVD release being staggered. Season
2.0 gives us the first 10 episodes with '2.5' being released in the summer with the
rest of the episodes and an extended version of the Pegasus episode.
I think it's important for a critic to not work in a vacuum. I'm sure that the great
critics of the past would frown on this but I always look at what other people say about
something before I write a review. I don't do this in order to steal ideas but in order
to get what sense of how well the piece in question is going down. Now, the first series
of Battlestar Galactica was the finest piece of genre TV in a decade. It drew
from the lessons of mainstream drama and the gradual infusion of good writing that occurred
during the Buffy
years and took it to a whole other level. It was a peerless and fearless piece of drama
about 9/11 and it was beautiful to see. A glance around at the work of other critics
seems to suggest that the consensus view is that the quality hasn't slipped and that
this continues to be the best piece of genre TV around. Sorry... but they're wrong.
The end of series one saw Adama shot by a cylon infiltrator and the President thrown
in prison for trying to stage a mutiny fuelled by religious fanaticism. As the new series
begins, Adama is in intensive care and the President is still in jail. With Adama out
of action, command of the fleet comes to his alcoholic first mate colonel Tigh. Egged
on by his wife, Tigh makes a series of disastrous decisions that result in the military
shooting civilians and the President fleeing with most of the fleet. By the time Adama
resumes command his fleet is divided and scarred. His only option is to make peace with
the President and re-unite the fleet.
Whereas the first season's theme was undeniably the role of faith in government, this
season looks at a far more vanilla issue, namely the question of whether cylons are
machines or whether they should have rights. This is played out nicely in the culture
clash between the crews of the Galactica and the Pegasus. Whereas the Galactica has
become more and more open to the values of the civilian politicians, the Pegasus remains
a ship that follows the spirit and the letter of military law with zeal. Suddenly the
Galactica's crew finds itself subject to the commands of others and the civilian leadership
are frozen out of all discussions. Admiral Cain has no room on her ship for liberalism
or democracy. Eventually the clash of cultures turns ugly when the Pegasus' cylon interrogation
officer turns his eyes to the Galactica's cylon prisoner Sharon. Driven by the love and
trust that has grown between the Galactica and Sharon, members of the Galactica crew
accidentally kill the interrogation officer and are summarily sentenced to death by
Admiral Cain. Adama then realises that a military without civilian over-sight is a
dictatorship and prepares to take back his men... by force if necessary.
One of the more interesting and less commented upon facts of American drama is that
the first series is invariably the best. This is true of The Sopranos, Six
Feet Under and The West Wing (in fact, the only series it isn't true of is
The Shield, which bizarrely gets better and better). BSG's first series
was incredibly strong because the writers had months and months to plan every plotline
and character arc before the cameras rolled. However, as BSG's second series
only had a few months in which to gestate, the result is a limp and largely unconvincing
attempt to stretch out the issues raised in the first series.
The end of the first series was dramatically unstable. Either Adama was right to be
a sceptic or the President was right to have faith. This nicely mirrored the situation
in the real world where the true believers of Islam or the neoconservative movement
faced down their critics. But TV isn't reality... in order for the plot to progress
the situation had to find a more stable state and, as it happens, the President is proved
right. This plays out unfortunately for two reasons. Firstly, it instantly makes Adama's
principled sceptical stance at the end of the first season seem tetchy and unreasonable
and it drains the metaphorical strength from the whole first series. Adama and the President
could settle their dispute unequivocally... in the real world sceptics and the faithful
Secondly, the way the stability is achieved is by all being forgiven and forgotten
(including soldiers gunning down innocent civilians). In short, halfway through this
set of DVDs, the producers press the reset button and settle all outstanding plot problems.
This significantly weakens this series partly because pressing the reset button is always
shit and partly because it means that a third of the series is spent tidying up loose
ends rather than forging new plotlines. Indeed, the first half of this collection feels
like it is doing nothing but twiddling its thumbs waiting for Adama to get better. However,
even once the plot does get moving, the results are disappointing.
This whole series feels a lot like Star Trek. In a series like the anime
Ghost In The Shell:
Stand Alone Complex, issues of whether artificial life forms should have rights
are dealt with by philosophical debate. However, BSG's handling of the issues
is decidedly non-intellectual. There are no debates. No examinations of cylon psychology.
There's just whether or not we like someone. This is reminiscent of the classic Star
Trek: The Next Generation episode where Data's status as a living being with rights
is put on trial. In Trek as in BSG, philosophical debates are settled
emotionally... is Data or Sharon a person we have feelings for? But the Trekisms
do not stop there.
The fact that Admiral Cain is played by a Trek alumnus is well publicised and
neither here nor there (she has a career outside of Trek and is an actress of
unimpeachable quality). However, rarely mentioned is the fact that the Pegasus
episode is incredibly similar to the episode of Star Trek Voyager where another
more brutal and less principled Star Fleet crew is encountered, we also see the arrival
of techno-babble solutions to problems (the firewall) and the morale-boosting decision
to build a ship from scratch (which also appeared in Voyager). In fact, this
series borrows quite a few ideas and techniques from Star Trek... and just when
some of us thought the old beast had finally been put to sleep.
As a result, we have a series that has gone, in the space of a few months, from rejecting
everything that Star Trek stood for and embracing the need for genre TV to compete
with mainstream drama to a series that wheels out the kind of tropes that made Trek
such a by-word for laughably badly written genre TV. This is a decidedly worrying development.
BSG has utterly failed to live up to the standards of the first series, its writing
has become lazy and constitutes a throwback to an age when it was perfectly acceptable
for genre TV to be a little bit shit. It is heartbreaking to see such a well-acted and
visually stunning series be brought down by poor writing. I do not know if this is a
result of changes in the writing staff or Moore taking a more hands-on approach or the
Sci-Fi Channel wanting the series to become more populist and less cerebral but either
way, I hope this is a blip rather than an indication of things to come.