Selected Writing

Battlestar Galactica

Many of my thoughts about earlier episodes of the show are recorded on this messageboard, including some of the less articulate ones! Visit at your own risk.

Sometimes a Great Notion by David Weddle

An interesting start to the ultimate season of the show, the only season where we can be reasonably confident the writers know where they’re going when they make a dramatic choice. They addressed several of the main mysteries in this episode alone, almost like chores… the final of the five cylons, the circular motif “it has all happened and will happen again,” the “song” that brought the special cylons together, and at least some of the ambiguity around Starbuck’s past. I’m glad that they’re not drawing us out with these questions anymore. I was getting tired waiting through what would have otherwise been decent enough television for the revelations that actually “mattered.”

One or two interesting twists, but otherwise kind of meandering. The suicide theme was mostly in the way for me; it was well dramatized, but not very fully explored, and not really central to the story what with all the “main” plot threads competing with it for our attention. Starbuck discovering her own corpse was affecting as an image, but it would have been more potent if we understood the implications. And of course, Dee, for the shock value, but that was really just tying up a loose end in a way that fit with the mood of the episode.

Some decent direction: I quite liked peering through Roslyn’s burning book at Starbuck building her pier in the twilight.

For the record, I was fairly bored by the webisodes, but then I usually am. Not to diss on the story, which actually wasn’t that bad, but it would have been better as a single vignette. I’m just not sold on the format.

A Disquiet Follows My Soul by Ronald Moore

This ep. wasn’t the most climactic, but it put together a solid foundation for the brewing revolution (which hopefully means Zarek will get some screen time doing something other than looking like a smarmy stoat), and it cut out the plot hole around Tyrol’s baby. I guess some will be disappointed that we’re not blazing a trail to the finale yet, but even without the bells and whistles this episode was more satisfying than most.

Ron Moore just has this grasp of pace and drama that makes his scenes sparkle. Roslyn’s jog was probably one of the most watchable sequences this season: it reflected a “point of no return” for her character, and extends it into the premise of the episode, which is “we all deserve to live.” Even the tiny parts of the episode like Baltar’s sermon and Cottle’s irascible “she’ll live” when his nurse complains about his cigarette reinforces the theme. I’m convinced this sense of meaningfulness is what makes Moore’s writing special, beyond the obviously elegant technique: Moore’s episodes have a higher number of dialogue-free scenes than most, and they visit a wider variety of locations on Galactica. The dialogue-free scenes in particular allow McCreary’s music to manipulate us more directly, giving a sense of moment. His various parallel storylines (Starbuck vs. Gaeta, Lee vs. Zarek, Adama and Roslyn, etc.) all unify on the theme. It’s just good form all around.

I for one am glad Moore will be topping off his own saga with the final two-parter, “Daybreak.”

The Oath by Mark Verheiden

I’m a little disappointed at how little Baltar’s role as a supposedly brilliant scientist has seemed to matter since, I don’t know, he realized how to cure Roslyn’s first cancer. Certainly, the show was originally a little more oriented around “tangibles” at the beginning – water, fuel, low gravity, nuclear power and fallout on Caprica. I miss that because it grounded the show more firmly in “hard science fiction” instead of what seems to have become a more “spiritual science fiction.” Granted, as an adaptation, exploration of the spiritual is part of the reinterpretation of the original.

I thought this episode, “The Oath,” was pretty good. From the writer of “Black Market” it could even be considered amazing. The action kept going (it had a nice cliffhanger), no dreaded first-scene flashbacks, and it was nice to see the revolution set up in the last episode come to peak so quickly. BSG was originally never very ostentatious about “runners,” those tiny scenes in tv that remind us that something is going on but don’t do much else. I remember being super impressed in Season 1 with Boomer’s suspicion that she was a cylon – they introduced it early on and I thought it would take the whole season to develop, but they cut right to it in the second episode of the season when Boomer “wakes up” in a storage locker drenched in water with a bag full of plastic explosives. That was suspenseful tv.

On the other hand, while Gaeta had reasonable motives to want to stop the cylon alliance, the episode seemed to go out of its way to assure us that he deserved to die by giving him all sorts of reprehensible decisions to make. I thought it would have been more interesting if Verheiden would have taken more pains to “convince” us of the rebels’ point of view.

Unfortunately, the simple fact that only minor characters, evil personalities from the show’s past, and unknowns make up the bulk of the rebellion (besides Gaeta himself) guarantees that they will be quickly thwarted, and many of them killed.

I’m not sure I understood the point of Roslyn’s decision to stop being the President for just a little while. I guess, plotwise, it was to allow the government to spiral out of control and to give her a chance to cosy up to Adama outside of the tensions of their jobs. It just goes to show how so many decisions get made in Galactica: plot first, a clean arc for its characters and a natural pace second and third. It’s part of why Galactica’s characters seem to play musical chairs with their jobs: one day Lee’s a viper pilot, then a statesman, then a commander, then a lawyer, and now he’s a statesman again. In this episode he got to play soldier once more, which honestly is where he seems to fit best. It was nice to see Starbuck get back to those roots, too.

There haven’t been any real disappointments yet this season, and to be honest this was the episode that I was most worried about. I predict a steady increase in quality until the end. The wildcard would seem to be the episode after next, which will be written by a green writer, Ryan Mottesheard, who according to imdb has never written a produced screenplay before. He’s been a script consultant of some kind for much of the show, but BSG appears to have been where he got his break. Quite exciting… I hope!

Blood on the Scales by Michael Angeli

I thought this was fine, but basically just a checklist of what had to happen. Highlight for me was Roslyn’s ultimatum to the rebel fleet. Low was probably that Zarek had to go out this way, as a regular bad guy that gets his comeuppance. His debut was as an idealist who used the law as a weapon, much more like Gaeta was in this episode. In fact, it would have fit better for me if their positions had been reversed.

So did the cylons, after voting to officially leave the fleet, just decide not to for no reason? It wasn’t as if, at that point, Roslyn was effecting much control over them.

If the message was about which side is really better than the other, then that theme could have used some vitamins. As it stands, the story seems like more of a stock recipe: if you’re hateful you will be punished in the end.

No Exit by Ryan Mottesheard

The show is growing backstory like a tumor! They’re patching holes in the plot of the story like it was the Galactica’s rotten hull. In fact, fixing the hull was the only thread (out of the three) that wasn’t purely expositional. No wonder they got the green writer to do it; no one else must have wanted the job of delivering so much information at once!

Deadlock by Jane Espenson

I can’t see why so many people dislike this episode. There are some confusing parts, many of which have been liberally screamed about on message boards around the world: why does Tyrol want so badly to leave the fleet when he just risked his life to save it in the not-so-long-ago revolution? My longstanding complaints about Baltar maintain, but I still thought this was the best episode in S4.5 so far, maybe even better than Moore’s. So many scenes ended on the perfect button, like Laura agreeing with Jean’s “beautiful” after Gaius gives a pathetic little syllogism, except she’s staring at her new assault rifle… or Ellen realizing with a little horror that her return to Saul’s life has basically torn it apart and killed his child (and realizing that’s what she secretly wanted!).

I for one am really glad that Ellen’s personality has survived her cylonification in a way that Anders’s and Tory’s haven’t so much – not that Tory ever had one. Her character has always made chaos for the crew ever since the very beginning. This is the diabolical Ellen of her very first episode, Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down.

I guess a little comedy background like Espenson’s makes for a good grasp of irony in drama. Revelations like Tigh’s baby being named after William Adama hit harder for me than “who’s the next cylon really?” because they transform a character we think we’ve got figured out (and, like a chain reaction, the baby’s namesake reveals to us that Ellen, despite claiming she was just trying to hurt Tigh, was really correct about his love for Adama above all else).

This was such a rich episode. Espenson does Baltar better than anyone, and keeps his comedy from overriding his disturbing blindness to his role in other people’s plans. I love how the last scene of the episode establishes that Baltar did the wrong thing by convincing Adama to arm his group of clueless vigilantes and, by extension, that Baltar’s hallucination seems to have it in for him. That Espenson can do all this while making us chuckle at his “we need GUNS! Lots of guns!” line is really very skilled. Even though, yes, his characterisation as brilliant scientist and egotist is only half fulfilled.

…Why would the cylons ever leave the fleet without the final five with them to rebuild resurrection? The whole point of them staying with the fleet was for protection, and their need for protection doesn’t seem to have changed much since they left Earth.

I don’t know if this came from the script, but there were some fine shots, too. Adama filling the frame with his grimacing, amber face as he pours his also amber-colored drink was quite a good angle. Tigh’s tussle with Ellen on the briefing room floor was another one that stuck with me. Also: Ellen’s hand reappearing on Tigh’s shoulder after their argument in the sick bay.

Finally, I can’t give Trisha Helfer enough credit for portraying like seven different versions of Six simultaneously and making them all convincingly different.

Someone to Watch Over Me by David Weddle and Bradley Thompson

Do you know, the Final Five theme song kind of irritates me? It’s ‘audience inferior.’ The characters’ reactions to the song are so hyperbolic (in particular, Tigh’s fantastic gurn) that it’s wearing out its prophetic/mysterious potential and becoming a tease. Also, the song’s contemporary inspiration is distracting, and especially meaningless if it doesn’t, in the end, tie together in some way with the present day (i.e. we were the 13th tribe, or something.), a scenario that I’m not sure is desirable.

I thought “Someone to Watch Over Me” was much better once Tyrol decided to replace Boomer with the abducted Eight. That was the first interesting choice of the episode, and quite an interesting choice too… just a pity that it had to wait until the last act or two. After that we got a causal chain of pretty brilliant scenes, including Boomer screwing Helo in front of Athena, Boomer ripping a new one in Galactica (although it would have been nice if they had established a little further back that a jump could have this effect), and Athena beating Helo’s back – for the horror of it and for his impotence. All of that stuff was high-intensity and quite worthy, I thought. Roslyn’s collapse at the end was bleah, though, ’cause like “All Along the Watchtower” her metaphysical connection to Hera is only a fact – we don’t understand its significance or even its potential.

The A-plot around Starbuck was yawnable, not because it was too slow, if there is such a thing, but because what it established (that Starbuck is connected in some way to the Final Five) is such an incremental revelation for a show that has a lot to explain in a satisfying way in just a handful of episodes. Galactica has a funny way of spending five minutes on the entire backstory of the thirteen colonies (“No Exit”) yet just chilling with Starbuck on the piano for ever so we can snatch a tiny insight into her cosmic role.

I grant you that we were introduced to a new character that will probably turn out to be Daniel or at least someone important (although you’d think they already had enough of them competing for screen time), but in the meantime we have to endure repetitive visions of Starbuck being haunted by her own zombie, giving mission briefings, waking up, and showering. I thought the episode theme was going to be about repetition (what with the piano player repeating his composition), but that kind of evaporated. What we are left with is a contemplative overlay of piano music on top of the other, more dynamic storylines, an overlay that doesn’t manage to inject any special meaning into what we see. Unlike the show’s other great montage, where a passacaglia plays over Lee boxing with Adama and Helo chasing Boomer on Caprica (“Lay Down Your Burdens,” I believe), the piano here doesn’t resonate as completely with the scenes it plays on top of.

I did like the last scene, with Tyrol hunting for the baby Boomer promised him and essentially realizing that her promises were all false. Likewise, I’m glad that Boomer wasn’t simply “convinced” by Ellen on Cavil’s basestar, as that seemed like quite a leap for her. However, in a show where characters routinely make sudden leaps and changes of mind, the revelation about Boomer’s true intentions has less impact, in my opinion, than if something seemed terribly fishy about her choice from the beginning.

Nonetheless, I’m relieved that BSG made it to the finale without collapsing under its own weight. I thought it might do after season 3 and even after the more promising season 4.0. The remaining episodes are written by Michael Taylor and Ron Moore for the curtain. The two of them must have a rapport since they will be codeveloping the recently commissioned Virtuality for Fox. I expect them to be excellently written, even if they don’t deliver on every expectation that BSG has accumulated like barnacles over the course of six years.

Islanded in a Stream of Stars by Michael Taylor

After tonight’s uneventful story, I’m surprised that they’re going to try and pack all of the climactic action of the show into a two-part finale. Even though Moore will be sending his baby off, as he should, I can’t imagine it being a satisfactory coda. I’m officially anxious.

I like Michael Taylor, but this episode was really low on suspense, which for a Galactica ep. is the kiss of death. There were some good moments for the characters, though, like when Baltar confronts Caprica Six and he realizes that she’s grown more than he has (which for a major character almost seems like an admission of guilt on the part of the writers). Boomer’s attachment to Hera was convincing enough, even though the whole “cylon projection” thing has been a nuisance from the start. Some good camerawork, especially in the scene with the hull breach and during the new quorum debate. The greedy talk about gutting Galactica was suitably poignant.

As drama, this episode makes sense; the characters have identifiable goals, transform over the course of the episode, etc. But it’s almost all unimportant, and the threads are almost entirely unrelated (the only connection being Anders’ manipulation of the ship: judging by how crudely it was thrown in that Anders could jump Galactica, you can bet on it being important in the finale).

It’s weird. I was about to say that the series could probably be cut between the flight from Kobol, the Eye of Jupiter, and the arrival at Earth, but there is so much character ambulation that very few episodes are literally disposable. The real issue is whether these multitudes of character arcs are going to make any difference to the main plot. A bit like Six Feet Under, if the series ends like a giant anecdote, then its overarching qualities are going to seem as hollow as Galactica’s hull.

(As an aside, I can’t believe they just threw this new location – the cylon Colony – at us this late in the series and plonked Cavil, who has until now been perfectly happy on his basestar, in the middle of it, just so they could have a “cylon hornet’s nest” to blow up in the finale.) Can you really think of any other way for a crewless Galactica to “go out with style?”

Daybreak, part 1 by Ron Moore

Oh, Ron Moore. I think it was Robert McKee who said that you’re much more likely to be forgiven for giving a weak story a strong ending than a strong story a weak ending. Not that I thought would come right out and call this episode weak (or, indeed, this ending strong), but it is pretty much more of the same. Connect the dots. The major turning point of the episode is when Adama changes his mind, for goodness’s sake. I am normally a worshipper of Ron Moore’s plotting and eloquence, but it would have taken a great deal to reclaim my opinion after the first third of episode was dedicated to flashbacks, and it never arrived. The red line was a nice set piece, and the sole moment of the episode that I felt engaged, but only superficially, since it still strikes me as strange that anyone, besides Roslin and a handful of others, could comprehend Hera’s significance enough to be willing to risk their lives for her.

I’m getting tired of hoping that things that are introduced in this show will eventually make sense or seem significant. Learning more about Baltar’s daddy issues helps us understand the character, but this is a character that everyone already takes for granted (the plot seems to be there more for Caprica Six). The same goes for Roslin. What does knowing that her family was killed in a car accident tell us that her diagnosis with cancer didn’t? And this is leaving aside that flashbacks are on many levels completely nondramatic. It’s very hard to create suspense out of events that happened years ago. Their purpose, even when they are used masterfully (like The West Wing‘s “Two Cathedrals”), is to support and enrich action that exists in the present. Even then they are treacherous because they are basically “explanation.” It’s like when someone is telling you this really compelling joke (jokes are nothing but suspense) and then goes “oh I forgot to mention, the guy is actually married” or whatever. It doesn’t help that flashback puts the author front and center. There’s nothing wrong with that in itself, but it can come across as quite a crude way to make a point.

There just isn’t much to say about this episode. It’s still setup, like the last million episodes before it. Like an increasingly complicated joke, it’s becoming less and less likely that the punchline is going to be worth it. In a way, I’m glad to have the opportunity to say so, because I was beginning to be worried that I was capable only of a blind admiration for Ron Moore.

Daybreak, part 2 by Ron Moore

I don’t buy the common sentiment that BSG is a show “about the characters.” That seems like such a cop-out to me. Good characters generate good plot, which affects the characters in turn. People seem to take Moore’s claim – that the finale was finally put in motion when he wrote, “it’s the characters, stupid” on the writer’s room wall – as proof that the rest of the story is somehow tertiary. I’m all for looking at a story from a different point of view, like those of, say, the individual characters, but to suggest that they can survive without an equally strong plot and theme is folly on the part of the internets at large. What’s new?

For what it’s worth, with this ending, it was nice to see BSG sticking to its roots as an adaptation. The finale maintained a steady dialogue with its source material through the end.

And while I truly admire many of the solutions Ron Moore formulated for his final episode, including the fantastic interpretation of the opera house as Galactica, I wasn’t satisfied with any of the individual characters’ endings. So much for “it’s the characters, stupid.” Even Adama and Roslin, tightly performed and scripted as their scenes were, weren’t brought any further in their relationship than they’ve been for some time now already. These were the exact same people that sat next to each other around the fire on New Caprica. Like Jacob says in his Television Without Pity review, most of the character arcs were already over by the time Daybreak premiered.

To summarize, we have Lee “I just wanna explore” Adama, Kara “I have no good explanation” Thrace, Galen “I plan to piss off” Tyrol, “I’m a giant coincidence” Hera, Tigh and Ellen, who we are supposed to believe were always a happy couple at heart, Baltar and Six, who were not nearly as important as we thought they were, and the whole fleet. Despite the many rationalizations, I still cannot fathom why everyone in this previously divisive, independently streaked potpourri of all humanity would simply decide simultaneously to forego technology and return to the land just because Lee says so. Even Lampkin seems to look at him like the fresh air has done his head in. Believing this is even worse than believing that a crewload of people were willing to galavant off for Hera, because at least then there was a red line. And I could only shake my sorry head at a random asteroid crashing into the floating raptor, launching rockets just in time for everyone to be back on Galactica safely having a moral argument. Oh dear oh dear.

Was there no hope for Anders then? It seemed to be a case of, “he might wake up at any moment” just an episode or two ago, and now he’s fing off into the sun?

Okay, I did like a lot more than I pretend to. It was expertly directed; the scripting was crisp; the action was pacey; I didn’t even mind the centurions; the twist around Tyrol flipping out over Tory at the worst possible moment was a fantastic moment of realized dread. Even the flashbacks mainly worked – except perhaps for Adama’s, which unlike the others didn’t particularly illuminate his actions in the present. It’s just that the characters felt too little justice. And I felt like the show had to push too hard to become meaningful at the end. The most elegant endings are the ones that you realize make sense at the very last minute. By the time Daybreak was broadcast, the question had already been for all of us, “will the cycle continue or won’t it” for several years (!). Simply for the Baltar angel to restate the question 150,000 years later failed to bring it to any new level, which is the function of an ending. It was just connecting the last dot.

My judgment is that, on the whole, Daybreak was as good of an ending as this season was going to get. It “fit.” But what it fit with was perhaps not the proudest season of television ever. That would be season one, and looks to stay that way.