BSG: I spoke too soon

Some reasonably big and fairly specific spoilers here for the second half of season 2 of Battlestar Galactica.

Kam and I have been watching the second half of season 2 of Battlestar Galactica, and I'm sorry to report that the writers seem to us to have lost their way.

We're still a few episodes from the end of the season, so they could still redeem the show, and anyway I'm hoping that this is just a lull rather than how the series is going to be from now on.

But I'm pretty disappointed with the last several episodes we've seen. Even these episodes have some really nice moments, but overall they feel sloppy to me.

I think the main problem is that they're nice simple straightforward single-episode stories. The writers of the show have demonstrated that they're exceptionally good (imo) at multi-episode sets of overlapping story arcs, but when they sit down to put together a self-contained one-episode story, they end up churning out formulaic and cliched plots that are full of holes and stretch my suspension of disbelief about character motivations. The creative team earned a huge number of author points from me in the miniseries and in the first few episodes of season 1; those author points made me very willing to believe that characters who behaved "out of character" later in season 1 and early in season 2 were showing interesting new sides and interesting character development. But in the second half of season 2, I'm having a harder time cutting the writers slack.

And in particular, I have to take back what I said yesterday about (a) making us care about character death, especially redshirts, and (b) actions having surprising long-term consequences.

Here's the big spoiler for this entry:

In the second half of season 2, a major character who I liked a great deal dies.

But so many major characters have come so close to death so many times that I had concluded that the series just wasn't ever going to kill any of them. For almost all of the previous near-deaths, I had at least a moment of believing it would really happen--the writers were doing so much unusual-to-me stuff that I thought they might actually have the audacity to kill a major character.

But sometime around the halfway point of season 2, I stopped reacting that way, and started assuming that all the major characters were safe.

And so I didn't believe it when this one died, not until it was made very clear that they really had died. And once it was clear, I didn't have much of a reaction to it at all. Mild sadness. This from a show that, until these last few episodes, made me cry just about every episode.

And the plots are getting goofier. In "Epiphanies," Roslin's order to terminate the pregnancy seems to me entirely unmotivated, as evidenced by everyone except Adama reacting to the news with stunned surprise. "Black Market" wasn't too bad, but felt like filler--and it would've had a lot more power if Lee's prostitute friend and/or his ex had ever appeared in the series before, so they wouldn't have felt made up for this episode. I actually rather liked "Scar," but it was still a lot weaker than it should've been--the same plot and elements could've been put together into a really tight and tense episode (especially if Scar had ever been mentioned prior to this episode), but the actual episode wasn't nearly as good as it could've been. But I thought the final scene between Starbuck and Kat was really good, my favorite scene in a while.

Then "Sacrifice," which seemed to me to be full of plot holes. And "The Captain's Hand," which was rife with plot holes. (Though I did really like the final scene between Lee and Kara.) And which ended with an explicit moral. I'm not sure I've ever before seen an episode of a TV series meant for adults that ends with one character seriously asking another (not quite in so many words) "What lesson have we learned from today's episode?" That really annoyed me.

Speaking of plot, I praised the show the other day for picking up dangling plot threads. But in the past few episodes:

  • They've completely lost track of the fact that a big part of why Roslin is viewed as a prophet is that she was dying (and thus matched the "dying leader" of prophecy).
  • Starbuck seems to have given up way too easily (imo) on her promise to go back to Caprica to rescue the resistance fighters.
  • Nobody seems to be looking into the miraculous cure for cancer they've discovered.
  • Adama seems to vacillate between wanting to kill Caprica!Sharon and trusting her (I realize his feelings are complex and conflicted, but he regularly seems to switch between being mostly on one side and being mostly on the other).
  • They don't seem to be making any particular progress toward finding Earth, even though they now know how to proceed.
  • And nobody has worried that the Pegasus, as a modern battlestar, could be subject to the same computer attacks that took out most of the military fleet.

One more thing: There was a big fuss in season 1 about the fact that Lieutenant Valerii was sleeping with Chief Petty Officer Tyrol. As I understood it, the problem was that a Lieutenant is a commissioned officer, while a CPO is a noncom, so their relationship counted as fraternization. But now Lieutenant Captain Commander Lee Adama is sleeping with Petty Officer Second Class Anastasia "Dee" Dualla. The difference in ranks is significantly larger than between Sharon and the Chief, and appears to be growing daily :). So why is it that nobody is batting an eyelash at this fraternization? I mean, Lee and Dee are among the hottest characters on the show as far as I'm concerned (especially Lee--zowie!), so I have no aesthetic objections to seeing them together with their clothing off, but this seems like a pretty big hole in the plot to me.

(Then again, there's no explanation of why there's gravity in the Raptors, or why there's sound in space; I'm willing to write off some of this stuff as just genre conventions. But I become less willing to do that as the show provides fewer other sources of viewer pleasure for me.)

Anyway. I'm mostly just venting here; I'm still hopeful that the last three episodes (or four-ish, since the last one is double-length) will stop trying to mimic episodic shows and go back to the smoothly flowing ongoing-story approach the series does best.

P.S.: In case it's not obvious, please don't tell me anything about what happens in the last three episodes of season 2; I'll be seeing them soon, and I don't want to know anything about them in advance.

5 Responses to “BSG: I spoke too soon”

  1. Jenn Reese

    I got disappointed with the series at exactly the same point. But I really feel like it stumbled and for almost all the reasons you’ve mentioned. I watched the beginning of “Black Market” three times trying to figure out if I’d missed an episode somewhere, because who the hell were these people?

    I’m fascinated that you think Lee is a hottie. He’s too much of a pretty boy for me. I’d take Kara any day. 🙂

  2. Jed

    🙂 I like pretty-boys. I found Lee attractive all along, but what really got me was when he took off his shirt. And then what really really got me was when I saw some of the making-of stuff and saw the actor with a light dusting of beard (like in this IMDB publicity photo) and then discovered that he has a particularly appealing British accent. (His fake American accent totally fooled me.)

    I find Kara extremely appealing as a character, and I still want to see her and Lee get together eventually, but I don’t find her especially physically attractive. (I was going to say she’s my favorite character on the show, but really I like almost all of the characters quite a lot; hard to pick a favorite. It helps that I think most of them are really good actors. …I especially love the rare moments when we see Kara being vulnerable, usually when her face is turned away from other characters but the camera lets us see through her façade for just a moment. I’m sure that’s a standard technique in movies and TV, but for me it works really well.)

  3. David Moles

    I won’t tell you what happens in the last couple of episodes, but it does pick up. I’d actually put off watching them because I was getting sufficiently disappointed with the middle of the season, but the writers do eventually go a long way toward redeeming themselves. My only real complaint is that they try to pack too much into those episodes; it’s a shame they didn’t have the good ideas sooner so they could have skipped some of the filler.

    I kept wondering why I was liking Lee so much more than I’d expect to like such an obvious LA TV prettyboy, but then when I found out he was an actual British actor (and, therefore, an actual actor) it all made sense.

    I see Lee and Dee’s relationship as a symptom of how far military discipline has slipped, and how the Colonial Fleet’s gradually turning into Roslin and Adama’s nomadic barbarian war band. Admiral Cain would never have let them get away with it. 🙂

  4. Ted

    Once you’ve reached the end of the season, check out this post and the ones it links to for some good analysis.

  5. Jenn Reese

    Okay, that’s a very hot picture of Lee! You win this battle, Monsieur Hartman. 🙂

    I agree with David about the end of the season.


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