Apparently the revolutionaries of the last few episodes were armed with low-caliber exposition rounds, Teflon-Flashback coated to penetrate the armor of the Rules of Dramatic Writing, including “Show, Don’t Tell.”
But I kid “Battlestar Galactica” only because it annoys me so much. This week’s episode (“No Exit”), was paced and written as well as it could be, and it had some fine performances from everybody — especially Kate Vernon as Ellen — making the best they could of the material. But it was pretty much an exact manifestation of what I was afraid of once it became clear that the series had too many loose ends to deliver a satisfying pay-off.
The first miniseries was a great bit of television, but what really got me hooked on the series was the storyline that built up to discovering Kobol: the idea that the series hadn’t just created a sci-fi drama series, but had actually developed a fairly complex history and mythology. Especially since that mythology wasn’t the typical believer-vs-heretic scenario you see in science fiction, but was nuanced and mature, just as religion and faith are in real life. There were True Believers and non-believers, but most people just existed in a middle realm of atheism or lapsed faith or simply belief that had fallen by the wayside because it simply wasn’t relevant anymore. It gave all these 45-minute-long bursts of drama some real weight and depth, and fit in perfectly with the overall theme of the show, that pure good and evil are rare and are overwhelmed by the billions of shades of gray.
So I’d been hoping for a process of divulging bits and pieces of backstory over time, instead of a night of some pretty good actors reading from the Wikipedia entry on The History of Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined Series). The show’s always been impressive for what it can accomplish on a limited budget, but this was the first episode I can remember where the budget limitations were painfully visible. Could they not have had more memories on Earth? A flashback to the science lab, or even to the creation of the first human-like Cylons forty years ago? Focus an entire episode on these key events, instead of flashing back to someone telling someone else about these key events? Or just have Anders babbling Hybrid-like semi-nonsense, instead of giving regular 5-minute recaps?
My problem with the way it was handled isn’t just that it offends my Dramatic Sensibilities. It’s that I couldn’t follow it all. There was too little to reinforce it or tie it all together. If you want to know the facts, it’s all summed up in this community effort on the Chicago Tribune’s website. But if I wanted to read fake sci-fi history, I wouldn’t be watching television.
So as not to end on a complete downer: everything that was done is thematically strong, I think. Again, those themes of humanity, of people encompassing both good and evil instead of being purely one or the other, and the idea that we have more similarities with our enemies than differences. And I don’t doubt the big Cylon civil war they’re building up to is going to be pretty epic, and it’ll have some heft to it instead of just being effects sequences. And one of the commentors on some blog brought up a point I hadn’t considered: using Cylon biotech to repair the Galactica has implications not only towards Cylon/human hybrids, but on possibly repopulating Earth.
Or, I suppose, the next episode could jump forward a year, and we could spend the remaining episodes watching characters explain to each other how it all went down.