Tuesday, December 12

Capsule Review: Battlestar: Galactica 3.09

Source: Live Journal

Late in the second season, the writers ran into trouble when they chose to generate a seedy past for one of the main characters out of whole cloth. The result was “Black Market”, an episode that suffered from the dual sins of poor characterization (Lee Adama’s sudden sordid lifestyle and checkered past) and an over-the-top plot (human trafficking in what amounts to a small town). Even Ron Moore expressed his dissatisfaction with the episode, vowing to do everything possible to avoid the same mistakes.

Unfortunately, “The Passage” is what happens when history repeats itself. In this case, the whys and wherefores are even harder to fathom. For one thing, the main writer was Jane Espenson, well-regarding from her time with Joss Whedon’s Buffyverse, which seldom relied on cheap dramatics or retroactive character changes. Even if the writer’s room had dropped the ball, couldn’t Espenson have gotten things back on track?

The victim in this case is “Kat”, Starbuck’s longtime nemesis. Kat has gone through hell to gain the respect of her fellow pilots, but much of that is undermined in this episode. Suddenly Kat is a troubled young woman with a checkered past, possibly responsible for the infiltration of Cylons into the twelve colonies. Interesting parallels with “Hero” aside, making her an ex-drug runner seems extraneous and unnecessarily damaging.

All of it has a point, of course. The audience is meant to realize that it’s possible to become a hero, even when you’ve started at the absolute bottom, that it doesn’t matter who you are, but what you are. At the same time, Kat is driven by her self-loathing and guilt into a long and painful death. There was no reason for her to choose that particular path, especially after so much time has passed, and so any “lessons to be learned” are buried under a mess of confusing and contradictory messages. By the time Kara lectures her about responsibility, it’s clear that some of the characterizations are way off.

Beyond the inexplicable characterization, there’s an unnecessary degree of technobabble, something that Espenson herself has praised the series for avoiding. As if to facilitate the decision to kill off Kat, the writers came up with a ridiculous premise that would allow for self-sacrifice and maximum peril for the Colonial Fleet. The problem is that the logic of the situation doesn’t hold water.

The audience is asked to believe that the fleet must go through the center of a deadly star cluster to reach a planet with enough food to stave off sudden starvation. To eliminate the most obvious of alternate solutions, the characters just dismiss the idea of going around the star cluster by saying it would take too long. Apparently it never occurred to anyone to send just the ships necessary for food processing through the cluster and send the rest around cluster on a safer route. Once the food is ready, ships can jump the shorter distance to where the bulk of the fleet is. That’s just one solution; many others come to mind with a little consideration.

This episode also provides the basis for another clash between Humans and Cylons, as Baltar gets some oracular advice from the Basestar hybrid. By linking the hybrid’s information with D’Anna’s dreams, Baltar manages to point the Cylons towards a possible marker for Earth. There’s also an apparent connection to the five unidentified Cylon models. While this leads Baltar down an interesting (and familiar) direction, it’s also incredibly contrived.

If D’Anna’s explorations of the space between life and death, guided in some twisted way by Baltar, had led them to some shared understanding, it might have worked better. That was already implied by her decision to engage Baltar and Caprica-Six in their unusual sleeping arrangements. Instead, the writers chose to dump some exposition into Baltar’s lap. Unless the writers manage to make better sense of that plot element, this contrivance could undermine confidence in the writing staff.

The episode wasn’t a complete loss, of course. The score was excellent as always, often lending more to a scene than the emotional context deserved. It’s been a while since we’ve seen the memorial wall, so I thought that was a nice touch. I had been expecting a return to that idea since the exodus from New Caprica, if only because there should be a lot of new content after the losses there. Even so, it’s a good example of what the audience was probably doing as a whole: searching for the seasoning that would make this episode easier to digest.

(As a sidenote: I also have a podcast associated with my various reviews called “Dispatches from Tuzenor”. Current episodes cover “Battlestar: Galactica”, so it might be something of interest. Go to http://entil2001.libsyn.com if you want to listen!)

Writing: 0/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 0/4

Final Rating: 4/10

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