Friday, August 28, 2009

"Out of the box is where I live."

Kara Thrace, notorious playboy. Drinking, smoking cigars, wiping the table at cards, fighting, sleeping around, and she does it all without any real-world conventional views of gender rolls. Is she just a token "strong woman" in a sea of girlie-girls? No, she is an equal - to all the men and women in her world. In a show that digs deep into the human feeling of race, religion, politics, war and terror, it sets aside any feminine or feminist ideas and presents us with true equality.

Kara is the most obvious example of how this "sexless" universe runs, but surely not the only one.

President Roslin's swearing in in the Mini-Series gives us a first glimpse of the notion of equality in this universe. No one even so much as mutters under their breath about the capabilities of a woman in this role, but comments about being led by a schoolteacher abound. There is just no gender lens for the characters to look at her through.

Cally Henderson, dislike her though we may, is unquestioningly part of the deck gang. Her small hands are actually praised at one point, as she is able to manoeuvre a part in small confines, but never is she demeaned for being a female mechanic.

Adama turns to Starbuck for out-of-the-box thinking in The Hand of God. He not only values her opinion, he continually draws strength from her originality and spunk. But what about Kara Thrace in a dress (in Colonial Day)? Where does this fit into the feminine/feminist dichotomy? The look on Lee's face shows it doesn't happen too often, so maybe she is just still "one of the guys?"

Head-Six, though seemingly a figment of Gaius' imagination (or is she?) is strong and manipulative; she gets her way. But is that because Six is a hard-hitting woman, or because whatever Head-Six is is stronger than Gaius? Thinking this way makes my brain hurt a bit.

Sharon is sort of a wild-card in the feminine/feminist gap - it is almost as if one Sharon is the girlie-girl, and one is the tomboy. Galactica-Sharon comes across as insecure and needy, but is that just her internal struggles with her latent Cylon programming? It seems that when her Cylon side takes over, she is strong and self-confident; it is just the "human" side of Sharon that is weaker. Boomer seems to constantly need assurance and assistance from Tyrol, their relationship doesn't come across as a partnership.

Caprica-Sharon is tortured as well; her loyalties lie to her kind, manipulating Helo with feminine whiles to whatever path her plan is to take them down. She plays her Cylon role with more self-assurance and strength, though, than her counterpart in the fleet: when it seems that Sharon has made up her mind to stick by Helo and defy her kind, it is a final choice, and we see no remorse or indecision. She is in it with Helo, and they will stick together. We see this theme with the two of them repeated over and over; Sharon and Helo are equals, partners, allies.

(Aside: I also love that all officers, male and female, are addressed as "Sir.")

Oh, and the best scene of the night: Kara punches Lee, and he socks her right back. No "can't hit a girl" rule here!

For a counterpoint, go here for an article on how the show is not so feminist after all, which I find takes some things out of context but is interesting nonetheless. Notice: it takes into account the full arc of the show, so there are lots of spoilers. You have been warned.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cally Annoyance Point

In Litmus, while discussing with Jammer and Socinus the implications of Cylons appearing human, “This is too much. I don't even wanna know this.”

Whining is not going to change reality, sweetheart.

Friday, August 21, 2009

“You bite me, I’ll bite you back.”

Act of Contrition, You Can’t Go Home Again and Litmus

While the whole show is about telling a story with characters, these episodes are about telling stories about relationships between characters. We get to explore more about the relationships of Kara/Lee/Adama, Adama/Lee, Adama/Tigh, Gaius/Head Six, Sharon/Helo, Sharon/Tyrol, Tyrol/Deck Gang and Adama/Roslin.

Kara’s story richens with Act of Contrition and You Can’t go Home Again. Her relationships with Lee and the Old Man are explored, uncovered, and rubbed raw. The scene in Adama’s quarters is pure heartbreak; Adama’s “walk out of this cabin, while you still can,” through gritted teeth pulls out so much emotion from the two characters. Of course, the guilt at this dismissal is heightened when Adama has to face abandoning Kara on the moon. But the scene that really shows a little bit more of who Kara is, is the scene in the hospital with the Old Man. She asks if her knee will be ok, and he, supportively, suggests that Starbuck is such a fighter that there is no way it could not be ok. The look of anguish on Kara’s face as she turns away to hide her tears speaks of many possibilities: of her literal pain; of thinking of the coming stress of rehab; of facing the thought of her fellow pilots fighting without her while she is bedridden; or that maybe, just maybe, she was looking for a reason to never get in a viper again.

I love the development of the Father/Son relationship between the Commander and Lee. They unite together in their determination to find Kara, no matter what the cost, putting aside whatever wounds have been re-opened of late about Zak. But Lee's heart-wrenching question to the Old Man after they decide to give up the search and leave the moon seems to splinter this sudden alliance: would the Commander actually never leave, if it were Lee down there? We may get an answer to this in a similar predicament later in the series...

We also get to see a little bit about how rank and friendship intermingle in the military. When Tigh admonishes Adama’s decisions to remain on the search for Kara, Adama “pulls rank” and dismisses him. Tigh’s immediate salute shows how much he values the importance of the chain-of-command and respect for the Old Man above all else. Regardless of personal feelings, the Old Man is the boss, in any situation. Further conflicts of rank and familiarity are shown in Tyrol’s relationship to his Deck Gang, in their willingness to cover for him no matter the cost. When Tyrol pleads with the Old Man for Socinus’ release, it is as one man approaching another for mercy and understanding, but Adama stands firm and again “pulls rank,” Tyrol salutes him in obedience, despite his emotion. Tyrol is realizing that being the Deck Chief brings more responsibility than just making sure the vipers are running, he is realizing that he has a team that looks up to him and counts on him. His respect for authority, and guilt over what his relationship has done to a friend and colleague, leads him to break things off with Boomer. Makes you wonder what this will do for her emerging internal conflict of Cylon/human loyalties…

The moment in the hallway where Gaius and Head Six are arguing is an interesting and expository scene. We are still wondering who, what and why this vision of Six is in Gaius’s head, but her forcing him against the bulkhead just brings questions to any theories of her nature. How can she physically affect Gaius if she is just in his head? What is going on!?

(Aside: I always found the description of her character as “Head Six” a little misleading; I don’t like the opportunity for it to be confused as meaning “Leader-Six” or “Boss-Six” instead of “In-Gaius’-Head-Six.” Before reading that this is the term used to identify her, I always referred to her as “Gaius’ Six,” which I like better. But, in the efforts of avoiding confusion, I will use the preferred nomenclature.)

The advancement of the story of Helo and Sharon on Caprica is very engaging. You can tell it is building up to something, and when Helo survives the attack to find Sharon missing, even he must suspect something is up. In the bombed-out factory, when Helo rescues her, the look on Sharon’s bruised and bleeding face as she says that they should get out of there is a little bit more emotional – a little scared, even - than just keeping up appearances. Could it be that the Cylon’s secret plan for Helo is backfiring as Sharon falls for him?

I love the irony of the witch-hunt tribunal focusing on Tyrol and Boomer’s whereabouts and the nature of their relationship; “…conspiracy and collusion with the Cylons.” Turns out, Tyrol actually was meeting and colluding with a Cylon, though neither he nor the Cylon in question is aware of this! Brilliance.

All told, there is nothing better than watching fledgling President Roslin rise up on her shaky legs and spank the Adama boys into obedience to reason. Her power in that scene speaks to the person and leader she will become: strong, reasonable, powerful, understanding, convincing, and – very often - right. The growing mutual respect between Commander and President begins here, with them both better understanding how to work with, instead of against, each other.

Next week, we get the unambiguous excitement of Shelley Godfrey, Leoben Conoy and Ellen Tigh. Can’t hardly wait!!!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Cally Annoyance Point

From Bastille Day, in reference to biting off Mason's ear on the Astral Queen, "He's lucky that's all I bit off."

From "The character of Cally was supposed to be killed off in the original drafts of this script, but David Eick decided he wanted her to fight back during the rape scene rather than be killed off."


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

“I didn’t know we were picking sides”

33, Water and Bastille Day

33 and Water always have been my absolute favourite episodes. That may change on second viewing of seasons 4 and 4.5 (Oh, the tension! Oh, the dramatic reveals! Oh, the sweet high definition!), but I think for now I am safe to say that these episodes hold a place in my heart as the hook that grabbed me into the BSG universe.

Yes, that’s right, 33 and Water were the hooks. Yes, the Mini-Series is excellent, yes, it grabs you hard and doesn't let go, but 33 and Water, sweet Water; they just squeeze...

Let’s compare. The Mini-Series is given the freedom of introducing you quickly (well, as quickly as a three hour long pilot needs to be forced) to a lot of characters and giving them tiny, teasing back-stories that you know may or may not be fleshed out later. It has to tell a lot of story in a limited time frame, and not just the event as it happens, but a brief history of this universe needs to be told for context. The Mini-Series is given the liberty of using dramatic effect to draw you in, just as much as it uses the story and characters. There is drama, suspense, action, excitement, story, and character, but the character part, by fault of the amount of story being crammed into three hours, is the part that slacks, if any part can be considered lacking. But BSG is a character-driven show, so 33 and Water are when you really start to fall in love.

The reveal of Sharon as a Cylon at the end of the Mini-Series is drawn out to perfection in Water, especially in relation to Head Six's comment about sleeper agents not even knowing they are Cylons, and yet acting out programming. Grace Park's performance as Boomer is phenomenal, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Boomer's character arc's consistency is what makes her one of my favourite characters in the show. I especially loved her tension in the Raptor when she and Crashdown find water - the twitch of her thumb on the detonator speaks volumes about her internal conflict of human/Cylon loyalties.

The story with Sharon and Helo on Caprica brings a different depth to both iterations of Boomer. Knowing that this Sharon is a Cylon and knowing that she knows that she is Cylon but is playing at being Boomer, and that Helo doesn't know that she is a Cylon or even that Cylons look like people (did you follow all that?) is dramatic irony at its finest. But the questions of her plans and motives are tantalizingly unknown, plus it leads us to wonder if Sharon on Galactica will act with the same assurance in her true identity as her counterpart does. Or, conversely, if Sharon on Caprica will have the same conflicting loyalties that Boomer has shown on Galactica.

(I must interject here to say that I am a huge fan of Tamoh Penikett’s Helo, and have been right from the start. Apparently the writers wanted to drop his storyline, with the implication that he died on Caprica, but viewers wanted to know what happened to him. Phew!)

Jeff has never been Starbuck’s biggest fan, much to my chagrin, because I have always found her deep and fascinating, not to mention a wonderful exercise in opposites – strong and yet adolescent, self-assured and yet fearful, beautiful and yet masculine. Now, knowing her entire storyline (just a tease, no real spoilers…) Jeff is feeling more like he can appreciate her character – flaws, irritations and all. I love the scenes when she and Lee approach the Olympic Carrier. She is delighted to send a warning shot across their bow, but balks with horror at actually shooting the ship down. But when push comes to shove, she is an officer, and obedient to her superior officers, and to the Old Man.

Bastille Day has never been my favourite episode; while I acknowledge the weight and importance of Tom Zarek to the arc of the series, it doesn’t mean I have to like him! It was interesting to note the reactions of those who had not seen the show; they thought Bastille Day was the best of the night. I can concede its importance to furthering the show’s deep and involved storyline. It introduces a number of ethical questions, and speaks to some realistic challenges that the fleet is going to face. They do need elections, they are a society, and they do need consistent and responsible politics. Not to mention the questions of food and water for 50,000 people. I think as a long-time fan of BSG I had taken for granted that the show asks the hard questions, and it was refreshing to be reminded that it is rare programming that isn’t afraid to challenge itself again and again.

I also really love the quiet and emotional introductions of the Memorial Hallway, and of President Roslin’s borderline obsession with updating the population count, both being constant touchstones of life in the fleet.

Overall, a gripping start!

Toaster Ratings:



Bastille Day:

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Cally Annoyance Point

From the Mini-Series, in reference to the FTL jump, "I hate this part."

Well, we don't particulary like you, Cally.

Thoughts on the Mini-Series

First, a disclaimer: Okay, I will try my best not to make any comments that spoil this for people who haven’t seen it, but I can’t make any promises. If I drop teasing hints here and there, bear with me! If I full out reveal something you didn’t know, sorry! You have been warned.

It’s amazing what a combination of fresh eyes and 20/20 hindsight will bring. No matter how many times I have seen the Mini-Series, I am always drawn in and surprised. There is always some little thing – a look, a bit of dialogue, a seemingly insignificant person in the background – which I didn’t pick up on previously. The interaction between Head Six and Gaius is much more interesting than it had been before I knew the nature of their relationship. Kara’s run through the ship serves a fascinating introduction to characters both integral and seemingly unimportant. And boy do Michael Hogan’s acting chops ever shine! Only Clint Eastwood has perfected the growl better.

Watching with people who have not seen any of the show before was also a treat: a friend’s comment about Head Six (“I am going to find her really annoying”), the surprised look on their faces when they realized that three full hours has passed, our friend’s passionate belief that Chief Tyrol will certainly be revealed as a Cylon!

What I love about the Mini-Series is its ability to immediately draw you in to an entire universe; it quickly introduces a whole fleet (in fact, a whole creation!) worth of characters – good, bad, evil, angelic or something completely different and unknown - who you just can’t wait to learn more about. It brings you hints of deep religion, fascinating colonial politics, and a history as fraught with excitement, war, drama and tragedy as our own. The Mini-Series is the perfect setup for telling these stories, setting up this history, and fighting a terrifying (and sometimes quite familiar) war in an amazing and character-driven way.

I remember back to the first time we watched BSG - a friend had convinced us against our protesting that we should watch the Mini-Series with him, and so we did. And we didn't - couldn't - stop there! I think we watched another six episodes straight. Addictive doesn't describe it.

We have since watched the first season three times; the full series up to the end of season 3 twice; 4 and 4.5 once on TV only; and the Mini-Series 33 and Water another time again. Repeated screenings really do make this show better. And it is not just knowing how the characters turn out and what events transpire that enriches the experience (though it does, oh how it does!), but it is marvelling at the depth and breadth of the writing, acting and directing, the attention to detail - BSG has a very rich and complex mythological canon, and sci-fi fans are unforgiving! – and the absolute story-telling of it all.

On to the technicalities. The last time I watched the Mini-Series was on HD-DVD (yes, we are that obsessed that we have multiple formats!), and I have a few comments about that.

Point 1: I was relieved that they had managed to sync up the audio. My two biggest pet peeves when it comes to audio-visual entertainment are when the aspect ratio is wrong and when the audio and video are out of sync. Both irritate me tothe point that I would rather not watch something. Usually the aspect ratio is something that can be fixed with tweaking of settings, and usually the audio-sync issue is something you only see on TV channels (A&E HD is notoriously bad for it). But when it is on a high-definition release of something, I will not stand for it! You’d think that with the high-def release of a sci-fi TV show you could take the time to do some QA and make sure your audio and video are synced. Anyways, now we have Blu-Ray, and our beloved Starbuck is saying the words as her mouth moves, and I will stop ranting.

Point 2: The video cut is as good as can be expected. There are still a few scenes that are grainy – grittier than the overall feel of the show, that is. I’ve read that the quality of the video presented in the Mini-Series, while impressive, is less than we should come to expect throughout the rest of the series. If this is the case, than I am truly excited about what’s to come. There are some very impressive battle scenes in the Mini-Series and they looked better than ever in Blu.

The Blu-Ray release is THE definitive way to enjoy BSG.

The Mini-Series is introduced by none other than Ron Moore (RDM) himself- for those less obsessed; RDM is the brainchild behind the reimagining. RDM’s introduction primarily served to congratulate us on purchasing the show on Blu-Ray, and that it is the ONLY way to see it as he originally intended.

When watching, I’ve kept in mind that the intended presentation of the show is to make you feel that your part of the action- which certainly leads to a rather gritty production. Battlestar Galactica will never look like a George Lucas production- (Thank the Lords of Kobol). As a result, some grit and picture grain are to be expected – and embraced.

The audio track also sounded better than ever. I am fortunate enough to have a sound system that is able to take advantage of the DTS-HD Master audio. Each explosion shook the condo and the Anti-Aircraft guns on the Galactica fired a particularly satisfying “thud.” Maybe the neighbours didn’t like it, but we sure did!

I will say that the default setting that I normally use for my centre channel was not sufficient and I found myself turning this up a few points in order to fully catch all of the dialogue. After some adjustment the centre channel was crisp and clear as one would expect. The dialogue is still a bit too “bass-y” for my preferences.


In the spirit of BSG, we are changing our rating system to toasters.


Video and Audio: