Battlestar Galactica 1-11: Colonial Day
February 2, 2012
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.
Battlestar Galactica was, in large part, about democracy. How effectively can humanity balance the competing needs of a brutal war and remaining a civilized, fair society? Politics was an occasional extension of that: President Roslin seems to be some sort of supreme executive, but she still has to face a democratic process now and than.
The presence of the media was an interesting aspect of Galactica, but it rarely became a thing unto itself. It was an audience for the political characters to play to, and occasionally worry about, but seldom had any characteristics beyond being “The Media”. (Season Two’s Final Cut was significant, but for different reasons.)
Who are these journalists? Who are they reporting for? Are there news organizations and affiliations, or are all of the reporters just on their own? At the beginning of the episode, an interviewer introduces “two of the only legitimate journalists left in the universe.” Who are the others?
Instead, they’re merely a minor Greek chorus, there offer expositions and ask questions that allow the main characters to deliver their important speeches. At the very least, it seems that all the good journalists were killed by the Cylons.
Too much of Colonial Day is devoted to storylines that never really worked: Tom Zarek’s political-terrorist conspiracy, and the continued sinister implications of Ellen Tigh. Zarek never paid off as a villain: While he was an effective political rival for Roslin, his sinister implications never seemed that threatening. He has a couple of guys who look like extras from The Sopranos on his side, but that’s about it; hardly a threatening presence next to the Cylons.
Colonial Day might have been more effective if it had abandoned the conspiracy elements, because what we see of the political process is interesting: Baltar gets to be charming and awesome, and Zarek makes a surprisingly valid point about how everyone is still clinging to the standards of the pre-genocide days.
There could have been more: How does this system of government work? What did Roslin have to do to ensure her win? Part of the point of the episode is that she’s a skilled politician, but it appears she did little more than realize that people think Baltar is awesome. By that standard, I could be president. A couple scenes of negotiations – both Roslin’s and Zarek’s – might have made both characters more interesting, and added background depth to the entire society of the series.
On the other hand, there’s very little to be done to make Ellen Tigh more interesting. After spending an entire episode on “Maybe she’s a Cylon” implications, she begins to make her transition into Lady Macbeth, imposing her own ambitions on her husband. Is she a Cylon, or is she just a bitch? I still don’t know, and I don’t think I ever cared.
Colonial Day was an opportunity to do some world-building, to establish some of the rules and players in the political process which, we are told, is so incredibly important. Instead, it’s just there, a bridge episode that takes the increasingly famous Baltar and puts him in a position of genuine power so he can fuck things up later on. As we’ll see again, Battlestar Galactica could be very focused on its main themes and characters, but could be pretty sloppy and lazy with some of the background details.
- Starbuck and Apollo are back in their role of being awesome at everything. Pilots, sharpshooters, interrogators, and now… security detail? They even seem to be supervising security, which would be another thing entirely, as well as playing detective. Wouldn’t it be bad if there was a Cylon attack while Galactica’s two top pilots where on another ship, completely separated from their vipers? Couldn’t you have a police-type character who was at least officially in charge of security stuff, even if the two heroes were destined to take charge?
- I was going to write something about Helo and Boomer’s adventures on Caprica, but I still don’t care. While both actors improve, Grace Park and Tamoh Penikett are two of the weakest cast members, and keeping them together with no one else to work with just emphasizes that.
- We’re told at the beginning, by the expository media, that Wallace Grey has been playing a major part in President Roslin’s administration. So it’s a little funny that we’ve never seen him before now.