Thursday, February 19, 2009

Catching up with TV: BSG and Lost

[Warning: spoilers abound for those who aren't up to speed on the only two TV shows I'm currently watching]

I have but love to share for the pacing and content of Battlestar Galactica's final half-season. With only 10 episodes to go, an entire mythology to unpack, and a home to finally discover, Ronald Moore and crew saw fit to spend the first four on a mutiny plot that, apparently, had absolutely nothing to do with the show's most pressing issues. And as if to add insult to injury, they followed four episodes that offered no new revelations with a single episode that overflowed with them, many of which were the product of memories triggered completely by accident.

In fact, it seems as if all of Season 4.5 to this point has been poking fun at the show's mythology: the much anticipated reveal of the 5th member of the "final five" cylons was so compoundingly disappointing that I can only suspect that, having realized that outing Adama or Roslin or some other important character would seem a) predictable, and b) nonsensical, the show's creators decided to instead undercut every expectation we may have in increasingly hilarious fashion:
  • our final cylon, Ellen, is already dead and has been for some time, and so the anxiety about her identity was a total non-issue
  • she was an incredibly marginal character anyway, and it's hard to imagine a character that we would have suspected less or a reveal that would have made even less of an impact
  • the "final" five is revealed to be something of a misnomer, since they're actually the first humanoid models
  • they're also 2000 years old and completely disconnected from the cylons who rebelled against humanity, which muddies the underlying conflict
  • Ellen's not even the last mystery-cylon, as we've now learned about Daniel's existence
All of which also appears to undermine what we were meant to understand as the thematic premise of the show: namely, that the hubris of the human race in thinking themselves gods has led to their own destruction. Rather, the eradication of the human race now appears to be part of a larger scheme orchestrated by one cylon to humiliate and break the final five, the parents who he has grown to resent and hate. Humanity's culpability in their own destruction is no longer even all that obvious.

I'm sure that all this has ruined the show for some people, but i like the move away from the mythology. Rather than acting out of, in varying proportions, a sense of guilt and/or destiny, the characters seem newly self-motivated to find a home and redefine themselves because they want to, not because they're supposed to. In the pilot, Adama asked whether humanity deserved to survive, a question that Athena shot back at him when she first landed on the ship. And if the mutiny hadn't have happened, if the fleet continued to press on only because they were supposed to, that question would still be hanging in the air.

(On a totally separate note - anyone have any good guesses as to who Daniel will turn out to be? The creator of the 12 Colonies' cylons, as revealed in the Caprica promo stuff, is named Daniel. And it's been pointed out that Starbuck's unnamed, unseen dad was an musician, which might be important given that Daniel is said to be artistic. I think it's important to point out, though, that the number of each Cylon model appears to indicate, roughly, their human age. Since Daniel is number 7 and is sandwiched between two women who appear to be in their late 20s or early 30s, wouldn't it make sense that he'd be the same age?)

* * *

On the flip-side, I think that Lost's fifth season is only now finding its feet. Among many others, I've complained that the structuring of the episodes has felt a bit off, that the absence of true flashbacks and flashforwards - which had always been tied to particular characters in each time-frame, if not particular themes as well - was making it difficult to enjoy the show. Not only were the events on and off the island totally separate and disconnected, (with certain, rare expections like Desmond and Daniel's meeting) but the fact that the groups had to share screentime meant that very little happened in each episode.

All of those problems seemed to be rectified in this latest episode, at least. It begins - and ends, though we don't know that initially - with the moment that Jack, Kate, and Hurley find themselves back on the island, implicitly promising us that while they begin the episode in LA with little hope of reconciliation or return, this is where they'll end up by the end of the hour. With the flashback/forward having been more or less abandoned this season, this was an unexpected surprise and it was nice to see it return - and for so much to happen in this one episode, too.

Which isn't to say that we're totally done with LA - given the mysterious and unexplained circumstances that led to Sayid, Kate, and Hurley ending up on the plane - and Ben's injury and visit to the marina, where we might guess Desmond and Penny are docked - we have plenty of interesting material for future flashbacks. But the creators have rightly guessed that we've seen enough of the real world for a while and that we'd much prefer to see everyone back on the island where they belong.

Added on Feb. 20: Come to think of it, this episode is how season 5 should have started - with Jack waking up, finding Kate and Hurley, then gradually finding everyone else and establishing the new status quo. How did they get there? Well, that's what the flashbacks would have shown us.

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