Saturday, July 23, 2005

BSG: VALLEY OF DARKNESS: Let's do a little checklist here, since it will avoid critical thinking for a moment. Plots advanced this episode:

Billy & Dee
Baltar & Six and their mumbo-jumbo
Crashdown: Threat or Menace?
Chief: nicest guy on Galactica
Tigh: biggest dick on Galactica
Helo & Starbuck
Lee Adama, Our Hero
Laura Roslyn, Our Savior
Kat & Hot Dog Survive One More Episode

Plots not advanced:
Either Boomer. (Has one of the main credits players not appeared in an episode before? And Tigh and Chief need to ask their agents why they aren't in the main credits yet.)

And have you been reading Wallwriting's BSG reviews? They're quite good, and he gets them up there fast. I loved his conclusion for "Valley":

It wasn't a terrible ep. There were just so many contrivances. They run into D; and exactly how large a planet is Caprica? Thrace's apartment, the museum, the Cylon base, is it all in the same zip code? They all go to aft damage control. Good stories have events and the characterization and themes are demonstrated by how they work around the events. Bad stories have characters and themes and the events are contrived to work around them to make it easier for the storyteller. This was a bad story.

Yet, the characterization was so good that it's hard to dismiss this ep as a loss. In fact, in so many ways it was a roaring success. I am very glad that they have decided to shuffle which characters interact with each other. It's a great way to shake up a TV series without have to take the tired old route of adding a baby to the series, that always spells the jump-the-shark demise of... oh frak!

Yeah--even when the situations are somewhat contrived--or to put it charitably, when the drama demands the central characters constantly be put it in certain high-stakes situations--the characterization is usually amazing on BSG. And the characters did well this episode; here's more thoughts, in a list:

--Billy and Dee. I love these two--they're like refugees from a John Waters movie or something who keep wandering through this bleak post-apocalyptic show about genocide. It was completely contrived to have Dee be the only live one in a room full of corpses, and yet it gave Billy the chance to show concern in his own repressed, fumbling way. Their final scene, with Billy pulling the curtain on the camera, was cute as all bug-out.

--The Death of Socinus. That's what I thought while watching it--"This is the Death of Socinus, and it will be thought of in that way, with capital letters, as something important that did happen in the second episode of the second season of Battlestar Galactica." Chief arguing with the medic, reminding her that she wanted the medkit and what they lost to get it and now it's too late?--Crashdown refusing to deal the euthanizing dose himself--"He's your man, Chief"--Chief telling Socinus all matter of comforting lies, we not even knowing if Socinus heard them, Cally breaking down, as she always does, and yet continuing, as she always does--it was a great scene. Would that every redshirt got such a scene (and Socinus was essentially a long-running redshirt) they would perhaps fear less the inevitable untimely passing that comes with the shirt.

--Chief and Cally were good in the forest too: Cally comforting him, Chief ignoring her, Cally dropping the mother-frakker bomb, Chief looking back in mock astonishment ("Mother frakker? Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?") and then the hug and the kiss on the top of the head. The Chief takes every death of a man he is responsible for personally, and cares for all the members of his little flock in his understated way (I think he think they're all, like Socinus, "tough kids"); he's like the Adama of the non-coms. He is the Adama of the non-coms.

--Lee's starting to wonder about what the hell he's doing--did you notice that? He told Jammer they'd have to roll a hard six (or was it eight?) and then had to admit he had no idea what it meant. "Just something my dad says." And his end wrap-up with Tigh at the Adama bedside, questioning if he was cut out for whatever it was he just did (shooting a charging Cylon in mid-flight--who is cut out for that?)--it's his brother's death still lingering, of course, but a new kind of self-doubt, one that isn't rooted in "my dad got my brother killed."

--Roslyn: will she embrace full-on messiah-hood or will she just keep letting others talk like she is? They keep teasing us.

--Helo and Kara: Okay, I dig the vibe they were going with the piano in the background and the idea of rest and reflection in the midst of the chaos of this episode. I was actually getting a Blade Runner vibe (the scene where Rachel was playing in Deckard's apartment), but I think I've mentioned before that I think the new Battlestar Galactica is a Star Trek vs. Blade Runner mashup, so I clearly can't be reasoned with. But, as Wallwriting points out:

Speaking of Thrace, it looks like we have an answer to the age old question: How little chemistry could two actors have together on screen? Katee Sackhoff and Tahmoh Penikett have the chemistry of an inert buffer and... something that doesn't react with an inert buffer. Look, that's the best I can do right now.

That was why Boomer and Helo had chemistry--they're both mild actors and mild characters. Starbuck and Helo are supposed to have had a relationship, and I can kind of buy it, actually, Helo being like a "safe"choice for Kara or something, and Helo looks like the kind of affable lug who is deluded by women on a regular basis. But Helo could barely pretend to be interested that Kara's revelation that she's not fighting to get back what she's lost--she fights because she fights. She's Starbuck, the Girl Who Fights. And Helo barely raised an eyebrow.

Wallwriting is dead-on with this, by the way:

I also can't believe it's coincidence that in last week's episode, Tigh had taken a similar assessment of a before and after period in his life and how he liked himself then and now. With Tigh, he doesn't really seem to like himself now. He didn't like himself back then either, but after his commission, something that he once felt would be the key moment where his whole life would come back together into a happy state, even after he gets what he wants, he finds he still isn't happy.

Meanwhile, here's Thrace, who is now doing her own before/after reassessment going all the way back to her knee injury. She knows she wasn't happy back then, but she is happy now. Thrace and Tigh are so similar. She's the self-destructive hot head he used to be, and he's the shell of a human and officer that she could become if she doesn't do something about it now.

And yet Adama loves and needs them both.

Anyway, yeah, this episode was as strong as any other episode of BSG in the characterization department. And that's what you watch it for, I think, and why you don't bother Tivoing Stargate: The Legendary Journeys or what have you. It's what sets this show apart.

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