Revolting Developments

I was going to make some kind of comment to the effect that the reason the Colonials on “Battlestar Galactica” need Cylon technology so much is to enable all their faster-than-light jumps over sharks. But I thought better of it, partly because “jumping the shark” is such a tired expression now, but also because “twirling the jacket” is a much stronger image for me, at least where BSG is concerned.

I’ve pretty much narrowed it down to that moment where the show lost me for good. Because Apollo jumping on a table and twirling his jacket in the air was such a corny moment (not to mention being Tom Cruise-style creepy), and it was so prolonged that I knew exactly what was going to happen next. I guess other potential phrases could be “putting Baltar on the Base Star,” “blowing up Starbuck,” “shooting the leg off Gaeta,” or “bringing back the President’s cancer.” (It’s just coincidental that all these phrases are also excellent euphemisms for wanking).

Whatever the exact moment, I can tell I’ve left the flock because this week’s episode (“The Oath”) would’ve been an excellent episode, taken out of context. There was a strong through-line and strong motivation for the characters. Plenty of action without losing individual interactions. All the major characters brought together, each one given a chance to say what he’s doing and why he’s doing it. Tie-ins to previous episodes to put all in context.

Okay, maybe the last bit is the problem. Because I kept getting annoyed at what should’ve been a cool episode, and it’s because so much of it doesn’t make sense if you’ve been watching the show for four years (or two and a half for those of us who came in late).

One of the strengths of the series has always been that stuff happens: they prided themselves on making big changes to characters and their relationships, instead of having everything reset at the end of every episode. That’s fine for drama, but lousy for continuity. And I don’t mean nerdrage continuity issues like “Seelix claims she was rejected by Anders but we clearly saw in episode 314 that she was hitting on Apollo.” I mean motivations that come out of nowhere for the sake of convenience.

A character speaks for the audience in this episode when he tells Starbuck “nobody even knows what you are anymore.” Ostensibly, that’s a comment about how she came back from the dead, but it could just as well be a comment about how her personality changes completely from week to week. The episode is full of unintentional (I’m hoping) meta-commentary like that.

Hey Apollo, remember that trial? Hey Helo, remember the Pegasus, and that time you betrayed the entire fleet and nothing happened? Remember how we had a big moral quandary about planting a virus in the Cylons’ hub, but had no problem destroying the Resurrection Ship? The series is ending, so they’ve got to tie it in together, but that kind of falls apart when the only thing holding the show together is that without a wiki, people tend to forget what happens from one episode to the next. It doesn’t feel like they’re commenting on the characters’ decisions, but on the writers’.

And I don’t know; maybe it’s the intention of the writers that Apollo is supposed to be the most insufferably annoying character on the show, but having him stop in the middle of a desperate firefight and tell Tigh, “You know, maybe the revolutionaries have a point, what with you being a Cylon and all” was ludicrous almost to coat-twirling levels. Meanwhile, everyone is conveniently ignoring the fact that the Cylons are indistinguishable from humans and that they found a planet thought only to be a myth and they found 2000-year-old bones of Cylons on the planet. These would be interesting things to pursue.

It’s disappointing, because for a while, BSG was the most successful and accessible example of “world-building” I’d ever seen on TV. There was a real mythology and history to these characters. It was a little too self-satisfied with its “edginess,” but more than made up for it by delivering mature stories without devolving into “Star Trek”‘s schmaltz or overly-obvious analogies. Now, it just seems like a bunch of people in a writer’s room trying desperately to tie up as many loose ends as they can, spending more time trying to make 45 minutes of drama than something you have to put genuine thought into. I can see a future of half-Cylon babies and madmen with guns screaming, “Can’t you see? She’s half-black, and I’m half-white!!!”