Monday, March 30, 2020

Battlestar Galactica S1 E2: Water

"There's a reason why you separate military and the police. One fights the enemy of the state. The other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both then the enemies of the state tend to become the people."

-Commander William Adama-

With the beleaguered remnants of humanity on the run following the fall of Caprica, the pressures to survive mounts. Humanity labors in who to trust making efforts to distinguish between humans and Cylon sleeper agents. Compounding those issues are the harsh realities of rationing the basic necessities of sustenance and resources in space. Moore's warship carrier the Galactica is indeed in a crisis situation as the series moves forward.

Battlestar Galactica, Season One, Episode 2, Water sees the Galactica making efforts to share its water recycling system with other ships within the fleet when the tanks are unexpectedly ignited by a saboteur. Was it a Cylon? A Cylon sympathizer? A human traitor? Moore would challenge our perceptions throughout the series.

In science fiction, humanity always battles the odds when it comes to resources in the new frontier of space. With BSG not only was the Galactica facing a shortage of water, that shortage is compounded and made worse by sabotage and detonation of existing tanks upping the dramatic ante.

Water and resource issues plague space stations and New Terra in the series The Expanse (2015-present).

Stargate Universe (2009-2011) endured its own resource issues includiing a water shortage aboard the Destiny in a first season episode of its own also called Water. In these aforementioned entries in sci-fi all are excellent and handled with nail-biting credibility within the genre.

Battlestar Galactica's Water is particularly gripping as the fleet's inhabitants must ration and fight a two-prong war against the Cylons and/or thirst and starvation. You'll recall similiar dire days in Saga Of A Star World from the original Battlestar Galactica (1978-1979. Have you seen grocery stores the world over during the Coronavirus pandemic of late?

Battlestar Galactica makes for a thrilling exercise in survival with its Water entry into the resource story book of science fiction.

Despite these fairly straightforward storylines in the first two episodes, what is most fascinating is every small, interpersonal interaction on board the Galactica. Every episode digs deeper into character and the complexity of human behavior, the responses to circumstances as well as the environment and politics.

The triangle of William Adama, Laura Roslin and Lee Adama is established with an almost natural maternal leaning for Lee toward Roslin. Kara "Starbuck" Thrace and Gaius Baltar are introduced to one another. Number Six and Baltar continue to intrigue psychologically. Motivations by all involved are complex, credible, natural and evolve with great intricacy throughout the series.

Additionally, through Sharon Boomer Valerii the writers present inner human struggle within the Cylons that would become part of the series. Boomer clearly is tortured between a Cylon mission and her realization of self-determination and free will and what it means to be a human.

This is what makes this new Battlestar Galactica such a riveting experience---believable crisis in character and events aplenty.

Writer: Ronald D. Moore. Director: Marita Grabiak.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Ronald D. Moore: On Battlestar Galactica's Flawed Characters

"Our people are deeply flawed, deeply human characters. They are not, by nature, innately heroic or noble creatures. They are simply ordinary people who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. They do not always make the right decision and they do not always do the right thing. They make mistakes, act out of pettiness and spite, and occasionally do things that are reprehensible. However, they are also capable of growth, or change, of learning to overcome their flaws and rising to the challenges laid before them and performing great and mighty deeds."

-Ronald D. Moore, Battlestar Galactica: the Official Companion, p.96-

Extracted from Moore's Battlestar Galactica series bible, those words ring true and echo forth the series as the anti-Battlestar Galactica Classic as envisioned by Glen A. Larson. In many respects the new version of Battlestar Galactica is the antithesis to it, the mirror universe. This prism of human nature is much less noble filled with some of the worst and most base of human qualities.

If it becomes too much there's always the hopeful optimism of the original Battlestar Galactica the arms of which await you.

Moore's perspective on humanity is much darker than the original. The truth of humanity falls somewhere in the middle of the two and this writer likes to lean toward Larson's more hopeful vision. Nevertheless the flawed universe of Moore's world is a fascinating rumination on human nature at its worst despite those moments of "growth." In fact, some might believe Moore's grim world to be a bit too dark.

There is of course a place for both and again the truth falls somewhere in the middle.

These alternate views of humanity are why I love both series equally, two sides of the human coin. Both are riveting and exceptional and often beautiful in their execution.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Battlestar Galactica S1 E1: 33

"There are limits to the human body and the human mind."
-Gaius Baltar-

"We make mistakes. People die."
-Commander William Adama-

"Yes we're tired. Yes there's no relief. Yes the Cylons keep coming after us time after time after time. And yes we are still expected to do our jobs."
- Colonel Saul Tigh-

As much as Battlestar Galactica (2003-2009) held a mirror up to humanity post 9/11, revisiting the series one could easily apply our own current viral reality in the fight against corona virus to the series grim unease and distrust.

It's been roughly 17 years since Ronald D. Moore reimagined the classic Battlestar Galactica by Glen A. Larson drawing upon the despair of a nation utilizing the allusion of the terrorist attacks by radical Muslims on September 11, 2001.

In many respects Battlestar Galactica (BSG) is just as relevant today unintentionally touching upon a similar zeitgeist with the onset of the Wuhan/Corona Virus (COVID-19) that originated in China.

Where the series once worried about which of us was the terrorist, so too does the series reflect the unsettling times we live in today regarding who exactly is sick or contagious around us. Could they be in the very same room?

There are differences of course with respect to motive or lack thereof to do harm, but the concerns are there. New issues supplant old ones and BSG endures.

BSG so deftly captured the concept of the unseen enemy. Who was a Cylon? Could they have infiltrated the Olympic Carrier or another vessel in the civilian fleet?

Today, who on board is an asymptomatic carrier? Who could potentially destroy us through a pathogen? Are we willing to reintroduce a missing ship back into the fleet not knowing the potential damage it could inflict on the remaining survivors of the human race? How fitting to watch this series in these times.

And so begins Moore's imperfect but powerful allegory. His existential story on what it means to be human began with the splendid Mini-Series (2003), but capitalizes on all of it more officially with the near meticulous science fiction opener, Battlestar Galactica, Season One, Episode 1, 33.

The attack by the Cylons resulted in "fundamentally altering Colonial life" (p17, (Re)Framing Fear: Equipment for Living In A Post-9/11 World, Cylons In America). When reflecting on episode 33, one could easily replace the 9/11 attacks with the current viral seige across the planet. The scourge is changing how we live.

"The action is chaotic, the military and leadership disorganized, and the survivors shocked and fearful" (p17). The realities of March 2020 would reflect a similar reality. While it's clear our world is impacted daily with new facts and new ideas, there is no doubt about the efforts being made every day, but the struggle is real as the saying goes. Despite our inability to pinpoint what the future holds we endure and remain steadfast in the battle as much as Commander William Adama.

In this inaugural episode of BSG, 33, a perfect title if ever there was one, represents the theme and content of the opener. It also represents the pressure and stress upon humanity through a measurement of time as the Cylons relentlessly locate the fleeing humans every 33 minutes.

"Time is constructed as an oppressive and potentially destructive force second only to the omnipresent Cylon threat" (p213, Authorized Resistance: Is Fan Production Frakked?, Cylons In America). The threat of time running out is real in the series as humans race against the clock. Equally, it couldn't be more real in humanity's race against the community spread of a contagion in 2020. Every minute costs lives.

The return of the missing ship, the Olympic Carrier, in 33 even stokes fears of a viral infection impacting the fleet of a technical kind as noted in the entry. How appropriate. Fear and anxiety are in rich supply.

As Moore noted himself about episode 33, "we're in the middle of a crisis" (p232, "Kobol's Last Gleaming, I And II": Battlestar Galactica As Quality Television, Finding Battlestar Galactica). The applicability of the series then and now is resounding and almost shocking.

The series begins in crisis for the Battlestar Galactica and its survivors. Weary, exhausted and on the run, the tireless Cylons force our human survivors to jump every 33 minutes. There are thrilling moments visually that feel like an allusion to predators striking a wounded animal when it comes to the space combat of BSG. Sci-fi fans will rejoice in those sequences. When the Cylon Base Ships surround our human brethren, the scene works like a strong, modern day visual metaphor akin to the hunt of Moby Dick where seamen once pursued the great leviathan. In this story the Galactica is our massive, imperiled whale.

The great Battlestar Galactica slips away escaping destruction at the hands of the Cylons through the blessings of FTL (faster than light) jumping technology. This is perhaps my favorite technique in science fiction alongside the recent effects employed for the Discovery on Star Trek: Discovery.

The episode concentrates on the oppressive weight felt by our human characters and 33 shines. Only a brief glimpse of those dodgy (especially now) CGI Cylons reminds us why it was always the human component of Moore's BSG that kept us fully engaged and absorbed to the human plight. Maybe one day they could clean up those Cylon effects. They are flawed especially when compared to the still breathtaking space battles.

33 is a minute by minute thriller that opens the series with the fate of the Olympic Carrier and the establishment of the human race fleeing the Cylon tyranny.

This is a scary, gripping, thrilling work of television that raised the bar and set the tone for a remarkably strong science fiction series that is more a reflection on human behavior than nearly any other. This is easily one of the best television openers in science fiction history.

As for the fate of humanity today amidst a global pandemic, as Apollo says from the cockpit of his viper in 33, "Let's be careful out there."

: Ronald D. Moore. Director: Michael Rymer

Friday, March 20, 2020

Stargate Universe S1 E18: Subversion

"I am not a spy." -Colonel David Telford-

"Right now I'm thinking of the greater good." -Colonel Everett Young-

Many series have their ups and downs. Shows graced with two or three seasons sometimes struggle to find their footing before cancellation. A podcast by James McLean and John Kenneth Muir dubbed First Season Wonders/Second Season Blunders (June 2018) explores those missteps in entertaining fashion.

Buck Rogers In The 25th Century (1979-1981), War Of The Worlds (1988-1990), Space:1999 (1975-1977), Seaquest DSV (1993-1996) and Millennium (1996-1999) are among their targets of analysis.

As this writer approaches Stargate Universe Season Two with SGU, Season One, Episode 18, Subversion, one wonders if this rendition of the franchise won't struggle in its own right after being so strong in its first season.

Brad Wright and Robert C. Cooper's reinvention of the franchise was under tremendous pressure in its first season. Criticism was lambasting the series from all corners of fandom and sometimes unfairly so and without proper perspective or understanding of trajectory.

There was a strong desire by many viewers to see SGU (2009-2011) share more in common with its sister series Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007) and Stargate Atlantis (2004-2009). The call for change on the show put considerable weight on the shoulders of the creators. Instead an effort to drop it sometimes comic book-styled adventure roots was dropped in favor of a more exploratory science fiction journey into the unknown with an emphasis on the human nature of its diverse cast of characters.

As Season One comes to a close with Subversion (the first of the last three episodes) we see the series connecting more and more, beyond communication stones, back to Earth.

The sense of isolation that truly shined for the series' first season seems to be the victim of an invasive mission creep of the SGC making a play to alter the vision of Stargate Universe. Was this originally the intention of Wright and Cooper or were the creators caving to some pressure from the outside to see the show change? Existing Stargate fans were vocal. One can only hope this was all part and parcel of the original playbook and series bible as it were.

We shall see if SGU remains the wonder it has been for the bulk of Season One into its final trilogy of entries and beyond especially into Season Two. As someone who enjoyed some aspects of the changes found in Year Two of Space:1999 as well as Buck Rogers In The 25th Century. Will SGU remain as substantial for its second season or will a blundering misstep ensue?

This writer can't imagine SGU would undergo that radical transformation. Yet, will it feel different from the show's initial seventeen episodes? We undertake that exploration as SGU closes out its journey into the stars, the darkness and the unknown with its fantastic first season. We can hope a second season gem is set to follow.

Subversion sets the table for the conclusion of the final three episodes of SGU Season One. It's the opening to a thread that comprises the season's final trilogy.

Revealed are deeper top secret underpinnings within Stargate Command (think Section 31 or the Federation in more current iterations of Star Trek) as the mission of Colonel David Telford is revealed and how that work was connected to the Lucian Alliance. That aforementioned entity is brought into the SGU fold from the world of Stargate SG-1 including a special guest appearance by Richard Dean Anderson (General Jack O'Neill) and Michael Shanks (Dr. Daniel Jackson). One wonders if the show's backers were getting nervous?

While it's likely a pleasure for some to see these worlds collide for fans of SG-1, SGU developed such a different flavor and atmosphere the two worlds seem ultimately at odds. The third series had its Richard Dean Anderson guest appearance in Air but here we were going back to the well again. Though as much as SGU feels entirely like its own entity, its own unique creature, it is still connected to the world of Stargate and bridging the worlds makes sense to a degree. Those connections were made between SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis and they are made here indubitably to the delight of SG-1 fans. "I know what makes me special." Even the old Jack O'Neill's humor cannot be suppressed from infusing some fairly intense and serious moments. But it all does run against the grain of a more serious Stargate.

As someone who thoroughly enjoyed SG-1 the Lucian Alliance was always something of a bore for me personally. Further, SGU is a thoroughly more engaging animal than anything the Lucian Alliance could add to it, but I'll reserve my final judgment on this trilogy until the season's end.

To delve deeper into the potential conspiracy Colonel Everett Young and Nicholas Rush hatch a plan to make contact with the Lucian Alliance through the communication stones. The stones return Rush back to Earth using the body of Colonel Telford. Is Telford a Lucian Alliance mole or spy or is he an American patriot? Is Rush the mole or is he experiencing memory bleed from his previous connection to Telford in an earlier SGU entry? Whatever is in play the Lucian Alliance is indeed a threat to Stargate Command and the ship called Destiny.

Subversion's suspense over the question of divided loyalties is threaded nicely and all of it is complemented by a moody, thriller of a score by the late Joel Goldsmith. His outstanding compositions continue.

The episode ends on a cliffhanger setting up the final two-part finale dubbed Incursion.

While Subversion is generally fine as an entry in the series, my problem with it lies in the fact I've enjoyed so much of what has preceded it. Ironically, the title itself is an accurate reflection of that reversal within the series for me.

SGU has been expertly weaving this seamless mix of humanity's inner conflicts whilst it barrels headlong within the Destiny into the unknown of space. It has been a nearly flawless mix of the internal struggles against a back drop of the external outer space exploration and mysteries of space that draw the sci-fi fan in all of us. That element of SGU made it special. It's likely why it likened itself to a good degree to the often forgotten science fiction effort that was Space:1999. Space:1999 was filled with wonder and mystery and SGU has established some of that approach within a more contemporary context. With Subversion SGU turns inward to the human struggles and betrayals and ultimately the franchise for linking to an established mythology set within Stargate SG-1.

There was something entirely fresh and spectacular about the SGU series until writers Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie seemingly subverted that rhythm with a kind of U-turn backward tying us back to the familiar faces and world of the SG-1 past. Not to be too hard though as it would seem Mallozzi and Mullie were damned if they did or damned if they didn't. All of that said perhaps every move by the team was entirely as they envisioned it and this writer just isn't enjoying the move away from space. That simple.

Subversion retains the mood, atmosphere and style of the series to date, but feels a little more earthbound with the switch to the Lucian Alliance. This either sits well with the viewer or doesn't depending on what variables and expectations or not the viewer brings to the series.

The episode does however bring the season full circle tying the back end to events from Air that opened the series setting the table for the Incursion finale. SGU intends to weave a darker human undercurrent through its politics and military command structure and Subversion serves the story to that end nicely.

Subversion, as good as it is, stands as a great example of what a tightrope it was for Mallozzi and Mullie and this new series to walk with the long established franchise. In most cases, it simply gets harder and harder to traverse that line.

Writer: Joseph Mallozzi/ Paul Mullie. Director: Alex Chapple.