Thursday, 5 May 2011

Battlestar Galactica Season One: "Bastille Day" - It's Allegory Time, Feel Lucky?

Some joke about putting people in cages. I'm tired.

Ah, the first glimpse of Battlestar Galactica, the sledgehammer subtle political allegory machine. To be honest that's probably a bit mean, in the latter years it got a little less all up in you face with this stuff, but there was always a near overwhelming level of earnestness to it, mostly tied to the character of Lee Adama. And while it's an admirable for a show, let alone a genre show, to tackle modern politics in such an upfront way, you can't help but feel you've slipped into a fancy dress version of a sixth form debate at times.

-This isn't the last of this, and I think they get better at it as the show goes along, but in all honesty I can't say 'Bastille Day' entirely worked for me. Perhaps I'm just too cynical to be preached at in such a steadfast way, but there you go.

- It wasn't a complete washout though, much of the stuff working at the side of the main plot I found enjoyable, but it's hard to commit to liking an episode when its main thrust doesn't really work for you.

- So, at the end of last week they found a water planet, yay, but it turns out everything is frozen to shit and it will require some merciless labor to extract it. So Adama decides that a ship full of prisoners is probably the best bet, but Lee Adama objects to this because these guys aren't slaves etc, so they decide to offer a labor equals freedom policy. Work the water planet, get free.

- Already I think Lee Adama is the most problematic character in the series. They sell him as both a loyal military man and unflinching idealist, someone who kills people because he's told to yet is supposed to be someone who is a firm believer in a liberal morality. Which of these guys he is tends to depend on what scene he's in, and its never very consistent from when he's a protagonist of an episode, such as here, or a supporting character such as '33'. One problem Lost always had is that characters would devolve back to their broader interpretations when they weren't the focus of an episode, but with Lee Adama that gear switch is even more extreme.

- So of course, the prisoners mobilized by a Tom Zarek, a terrorist/prisoner of conscience take everyone hostage. This leads to several political discussions between Lee and Zarek, a character I liked and actor Richard Hatch does well to lend something more to him then to be a walking talking point, on the nature of oppression, what it means to be free and if terrorism is justified. I don't mind shows doing this, but this isn't a delicate example of how intelligent political discussion should go, to say the least. I think the word is ham-fisted.

- The episode did something smart making recurring characters the hostages instead of regulars, because A) it made you think they could die. B) it fleshed out some of the recurring characters, from president's aide Billy, Pilot Dualla, and Cally the assistant mechanic. All of whom had just had exposition before this, so it was a nice touch to see them get some meatier scenes.

- But the psycho prisoner tries to rape Cally bit was a little obvious.

- Cool Baltar/Starbuck moments of the week, she gives the most unprofessional/hilarious miltary reprimand ever, and Baltar has his imaginary girlfriend tell him how to make a Cylon detector using a nuclear Bomb. Great stuff from Tricia Helfer in that scene, who is increasingly feeling like this show's secret weapon.

- If I hadn't seen the show before, I'd be rooting for Zarek to be a recurring character anyway, mostly because even if I didn't like this episode all that much, its a good performance and it feels like there's more to get at there.

- For some reason I didn't think Mary McDonnell was very good in this episode, she seemed a little detached and rushed her lines. I'm sure its just an anomaly, or that I have brain damage.

- The episode resolved itself rather weakly, with rapist prisoner causing a commotion that both allowed Lee to kill him and to point a gun at Zarek and get everyone to call it off. It was good to see him being true to his idealism, and I liked the fact that that he stood up to both Commander Adama and Roslin, but the character doesn't make any sense at the moment.

- Allegory is a difficult nut to crack, because you have to be true to what you want to say but also true to the reality of your universe, and I felt Moore just pushed things a little obviously toward things we would recognize, such as terrorism etc. I also had a problem with Lee essentially forcing the prisoners to take his deal, by all rights he should believe in their right to tell him no too.

- Some good stuff with Tigh, also peripheral to the main story, as his alcoholism begins to feature more drastically.

- Overall a flawed episode, that just seemed to be trying way too hard. It felt like the kind of standalone episode you get while show-runners are spinning their wheels. It's a necessary evil, particularly at the start of a show, when you've got characters to introduce and worlds to establish, but in hindsight they always feel the weakest. What you gonna do.

Rating: 5/10

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