Monday, May 26

Galactica Station's Review of Guess What's Coming to Dinner

Gooby Rastor pops inside from his Memorial Day picnic to post his thoughts on Episode 4.09.

I’m sure that there’s going to be quite a backlash against Athena this week, and I will say that my feelings about her actions are a bit mixed; her (attempted?) murder of Natalie was quite the extreme of maternal instinct, wasn’t it? But within that lies the reason I’m sort of okay with what Sharon does in the last act of the episode. A few weeks back, I was very disappointed by the way in which Hera’s parents had left her in God-knows-whose protective care while they went off together on the Demetrius. I felt (and ranted on the subject) that, given Hera’s history such an extended absence was unrealistic on their part. So while Athena’s reaction this week was certainly extreme, it made a hell of a lot more sense than what we’d seen recently, particularly in light of the dreams that Sharon is apparently continuing to have, regarding her child being taken away from her. I think one of the problems with this storyline is (again) how much it has not been on the show for the previous two seasons. While BSG has neglected to explain or use the half-Cylon child, or mention any further interest which the Cylons may have in her, it’s not really unreasonable for Athena to suspect that Natalie would try and take away her daughter again.

Wait Gooby, what are you saying? Are you really trying to justify Athena shooting Natalie down? Have you gone totally Sharonista on us? Well, no. I’m not suggesting that Athena shouldn’t see consequences. In fact, I want to see her pay for what she’s done, the way Helo never had to for “A Measure of Salvation.” Battlestar Galactica was always a great show for consequences in the first couple of seasons; remember Socinus? The show really has been at its weakest when consequences get forgotten. The thing of it is for me, if given a choice between seeing Hera’s parents continuing to forget their child’s history, or else seeing Athena acting like an angry mama bear, I’ll take the latter, and she can reap the punishments for her actions.

But to the episode as a whole. It’s better than some recent fare, such as “The Ties That Bind,” or “Escape Velocity,” but “Guess What’s Coming to Dinner” is a bit of a step down from last week’s episode, “Faith.” In contrast with last week, which brilliantly concentrated on one central theme, tonight the show leaves such questions aside in favor of doing stuff. A lot happens here (kind of), and the stage is set for even more things to happen in the coming weeks. All this is well and good, but one problem arises with pacing in the episode, which only really finds its groove in the last ten minutes of the show.

For me, the issue comes up right at the top of the show. After all the ruckus at the top, the teaser ends not with a cliffhanger, or at least with some sort of hook to take us into the credits, but with Helo, telling everyone to calm down: “Starbuck and Athena have secured the baseship.” Cue the heavy drums to make it seem like high drama, and that’s the act, roll opening credits. It’s not a fatal flaw, but the act break just doesn’t work, and BSG directors typically nail these, so it caught my notice.

From that point on, the show attempts to juggle a number of plotlines and characters. For the most part, the job done is adequate, with a few higher points. The political subplot, focused on Roslin and Lee, finally ties into the rest of the show’s storyline, and we get an indication that the Quorum has some sort of political leverage over Roslin, with the ability to pass a vote of no confidence in her government. Did we know that before? It felt like news to me. There’s still a lot we don’t understand about how the government of the Fleet works, but at least we’re learning a bit more these days, and the holes are getting filled in. I think we’ve seen evidence that Roslin possesses approval power over Quorum proposals, which she’s threatened this season, and also that she can propose legislation as well (didn’t the law to settle on New Caprica come from President Baltar’s office?). A lot of questions remain regarding this executive-heavy system, but it’s only fiction.

I appreciated that Tory’s relationship to Baltar came to light as well, though not a lot really came of it this week... but not really. On the one hand, since there weren’t any (immediate) consequences of it all, it’s essentially just treading water. On the other hand, it’s not really treading water, since at least it’s no longer a secret between Roslin and Tory. But on the first hand, it wasn’t really clear that there was any secret in the first place. In sum total, the scenes between the two give us yet another look at hard-core Laura Roslin, but that’s hardly anything new, and the scenes don’t really seem to serve much purpose from a plot standpoint either. All in all, not really worth the time we spend with them.

The one really interesting development from a thematic perspective, comes when the Cylons voice their desire to become mortal, which is the one bar they see to their being truly human (and I agree). Because this is obviously going to be a big, big part of the later part of the season, I’m going to leave this topic alone for now, except to say that I’ve felt it had to come for a while now, and am pleased that the writers have taken this route. Actually, I rather liked what the writers did with the scheming Cylons this episode. With all the twists and turns they make, it might have seen stuffed and rushed, but I felt the show made it feel natural, which was quite the feat.

Of special note in this episode is the last ten minutes, which almost feel like a completely different episode. Most of the important setup occurs here, after Starbuck meets with Roslin. One question which arises for me: Why did the president ask Kara to go get Helo? We know why she has Baltar brought on board the Raptor, her vision involves him. But right now, Helo seems like a kind of random addition. Who knows, maybe we’ll get a scene between the two of them in “The Hub.” Anyway, poor Karl will apparently continue to play no part in his daughter’s story, as he, Roslin, Starbuck, Baltar, and the Viper squad have all jumped off at the whim of a Hybrid. And that is exciting, if a little far-fetched to think that Roslin would be allowed to visit the basestar without half of Galactica’s crew on board. Oh well, this contrivance I’m willing to let slide, because of the fun that might be had with these characters surrounded by skin jobs and the toasters which they might not be able to control.

As I wrote near the top, the pacing of these last scenes finally starts firing on all cylinders, with the scenes coming fast, the tension picking up, the twists suddenly appearing (“jump”). Plainly, I’m happy to see the show finally coming around to including Hera in the wrap-up, as I consider her existence to be one of the chief mysteries which the show should resolve by the finale, along with: Earth; The Final Five; and Virtual Six/Baltar. I think that the show has done a great job juggling three of the four big mysteries, and am confident that they’re going to be able to resolve each. Now that the question of Hera has been raised again, I’m also confident that the writers know where they’re going to go with her, and just took more time getting this ball rolling. At any rate, the last ten minutes bring this episode from "passable" territory into something higher, for a number of reasons. These next couple of weeks should be a trip.

Speaking of skin jobs, (from a couple paragraphs ago) let’s talk about the Final Four. I was a little bit dismayed to see Anders starting to crack these last two weeks, particularly this time out. So far, each of the new Cylons has handled their transition in a unique way, with Sam having (in a way) the easiest time of it. I mean, sure his wife might shoot him dead, but he at least seems to be willing to accept and explore what it means to be a Cylon, yet the same person he ever was. Contrast this with Tory, who’s certainly willing to accept, but has picked up the adjectives “homicidal” and “sadistic.” I guess they felt they had to kick Sam around a bit, but didn’t Tyrol just go off the deep end a couple episodes back? I certainly understand the guilt which is wracking Anders, but this reaction has a bit less uniqueness about it, coming after the Chief.

Finally, I’m going to take time out to address something which I’ve been noticing recently, which has become impossible to ignore while watching this season: The special effects are amazing these days. Not only is the quality good (naturally), but the space scenes have gone above and beyond all previous seasons, through sheer creativity. One problem with space battle scenes in many TV shows suffer from eventually feeling very “same-y.” cf. Star Trek. BSG has always shaken things up in this respect, but this year, the type of shots which they have shown have taken this aspect of the show to the next level. Not only was the battle from “He That Believeth in Me” simply the most gorgeous we’ve seen, but I’ve been mesmerized by the variety we’ve seen since, from the shot of Racetrack and Skulls taking off in their Raptor two weeks ago, to this week’s sequence of the Cylon basestar jumping into the middle of the fleet, and the ships barely managing to swerve out of its way to avoid collision. I watch Galactica for the characters, for the philosophy and all that jazz, but the CGI has been such an impressive part of the fourth season, and I think it winds up inflating the grades of episodes in which it figures, so I have to mention it here.

So where does this week fall in the spectrum of season four? As far as I can tell at this point, (without yet seeing the forest for the trees) it’s more than passable, perhaps even very good. Some early issues become resolved by the end of the episode, and for every plotline which goes nowhere, there’s a more interesting one which gets in gear.

Total score: 8.7/10

P.S. Ironic that I used a picture of Gaeta without mentioning him in the review, huh?

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