My Battlestar Galactica retrospective kind of disappeared for a few months; partly on account of me being lazy, part of which, perhaps, was that I wasn’t looking forward to writing about Colonial Day. It’s not that it’s a bad episode – I had a lot to say about Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down, one of the worst of the series – but it’s a dull, perfunctory episode. It does one important thing – make Gaius Baltar the new Vice President – and throws in some meaningless conspiracies and a couple of fistfights. But as I watched it this time, I found it was notable for the many things it didn’t do.
One of the things I love about Parks & Recreation is its sense of continuity. The writers have created a mythology for Pawnee and its citizens that makes everything just a little bit more real, albeit also more ridiculous. Running gags like the terrible history of Pawnee, often depicted in its murals, absurd media personalities like Perd Hapley, and the utter horribleness of the library show up in bits and pieces; while any given bit may or may not be a winner, they have a cumulative benefit to the show.
For instance, when you watched Season 3’s Ron & Tammy Part Two, you probably noted Ben Wyatt’s preference of calzone instead of pizza, and how absolutely everyone thought that was a terrible idea. Maybe you didn’t come away from the episode thinking “Hey, I hope Parks & Rec explains more about Ben’s attitude toward Italian fast food,” but then, BAM, this week comes along and gives you even more about Ben’s attitude toward Italian fast food and how it’ll lead to financial and personal success, and it is awesome.
(Caution: This post contains spoilers for Symphony of Illumination, the seventh-season Christmas episode of How I Met Your Mother.)
How I Met Your Mother is unique among TV shows for its approach to narrative and storytelling. The entire show is conceptually a flashback, a father telling his children stories of his youth. That alone isn’t particularly unique – it’s basically The Wonder Years – but even within that framework, there are stories about stories. Events are described by multiple characters, often tainted by perspective or memory, there are flashbacks within flashbacks, and more than one narrator has been revealed to be entirely unreliable.
It doesn’t always work. How I Met Your Mother is frequently lazy, with characters explaining events they should have little-to-no knowledge of. The central concept of the story of how Ted met the mother of his children fades in and out of effectiveness, depending on whether you think it’s cleverly subverting viewer expectations or merely dicking around and drawing out the series far longer than it needs to be.
The Office had one of the best series finales I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, the series kept going.
In Goodbye Michael, the series bid farewell to Steve Carrell with a sweet and funny episode that not only summed up the character and his relationships with his co-workers, but in many ways closed the book on the entire series.
Alas, Goodbye Michael wasn’t even the last episode of the season, never mind the series. A search to find a new manager took up the last few episodes; when Season Eight began, Robert California, a steely and successful businessman, had not only taken the job, but got himself promoted to CEO, leaving Andy Bernard in charge of Dunder Mifflin Scranton.
Filling the shoes of Steve Carrell (and, by extension, Michael Scott) is a daunting prospect. Carrell largely defined The Office with his blundering, selfish, if well-intentioned boss. If you replace him with another Michael Scott, it looks unoriginal, but if you replace him with someone too different, you risk breaking the dynamics of the show. But while The Office may have been successful with the casting of the new boss amalgam – you could do a lot worse than basing your show around Ed Helms and James Spader – the dynamics and energy have been sorely lacking in the eighth season.
After the dregs of Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down, Galactica bounces back with one of my favourite episodes. This isn’t necessarily the best episode, but it may be the most fun.
Hand of God is an old-fashioned caper. The fleet finally finds a source of fuel, but it’s guarded by Cylons. They’re outnumbered and outgunned by the Cylon force, so they need to devise a cunning plan to win the day. It’s basically Oceans 11 in outer space.
The Battlestar Galactica review has slowed down lately, thanks in part to a wedding and all its accompanying visitors and houseguests.
But it’s also because I knew this episode was coming. Tight Me Up, Tigh Me Down is by far the worst episode of the first season, and one of the worst episodes of the entire series. While Galactica is seldom perfect, this is one of the few episodes that is outright bad.
Torture is a funny thing.
Most people would probably agree that torture is bad. But in fiction, as with other forms of violence, torture takes on a certain air of respectability. When the good guy has captured the bad guy, and the audience knows the bad guy is really the bad guy, is it really so awful to torture him a little bit? There’s no danger of ambiguity in Flesh & Bone: Leoben is a Cylon and everyone knows it, because Adama killed a Leoben model in the miniseries; it’s not like Starbuck is interrogating someone who’s merely suspected of being a Cylon.
And unlike even the scummiest of villains on 24, Leoben isn’t human. So really, what’s the harm in beating the crap out him while trying to find out where he hid a bomb? Is one Cylon life more valuable than hundreds or thousands of innocent humans? “Of course not”, you’d say.
Last episode, Number Six did a pretty good Bruce Banner impersonation, warning Baltar that he wouldn’t like her when she’s angry. In Six Degrees, she makes good on that threat: After Baltar makes fun of the Cylon god a few too many times, the Six in his head disappears, only to be replaced by a real-life Six, who claims to have evidence of Baltar’s treason.
We can pause, for a moment, to recognize one of the funniest scenes in the entire series: Baltar arrives in Galactica’s command centre to find his fantasy woman standing among the crew. Except she’s not imaginary at all, and Baltar’s discovery of this fact plays out like a Marx Brothers routine. There aren’t a lot of funny scenes in Battlestar Galactica, but I suspect most of them involve James Callis.
Why only 12 Cylon models?
If you can make robots that pass for human beings, why limit yourself to 12? Wouldn’t it be easier to conquer and/or destroy humanity if you had 50, or 100?
But okay, let’s say you only get 12, for reasons I have yet to hear but may be totally plausible. Five Cylons are super secret and special, so you’ve got seven. But why do they have to be identical? They all have the same shape, same hair, same face, often the same clothes. Tricia Helfer changes her hairstyle and puts on glasses a couple of times, but that’s the extent of Cylon diversity.
Why don’t they have a Fat Doral? Or Bearded Leoben? Or even Boomer With Slightly Shorter Hair? Even if you’re stuck with a basic genetic template, surely, in the future, there are a variety of options for cosmetic enhancement?
Act of Contrition and You Can’t Go Home Again are two halves of a story, so we’ll knock them both off here.
Why would anyone think making Starbuck a teacher is a good idea? Yes, she’s the best fighter pilot in the universe, but she’s also undisciplined, insubordinate, and possibly crazy. While there’s no question she knows how to fly a Viper, her true awesomeness lies in her instincts and reflexes. Having Kara Thrace teach pilots how to fly is a bit like the Billy Bishop Flying School. Surely there’s another pilot – Apollo or Boomer, if you need a main cast member – who could handle at basic training.
But let’s overlook that plot point, as we have overlooked several plot points and will need to overlook even bigger ones to come. We can even explain it by suggesting that Adama wanted to teach Starbuck some responsibility, that he needed her to be more than just an awesome pilot/sniper/interrogator/strategist. We can even overlook Starbuck’s occasionally excessive awesomeness, since she’s such a fuckup whenever she’s not blowing shit up or punching people in the face.