Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Time And Place, And Underpants Gnomes

Off the top of my head, I would argue that there are four problems with writing long-running plots in television series:

  • You might get cancelled half-way through, and a lot of people will be pissed (Carnivale);
  • You wake up in the middle of the night, realise you've been making shit up for four years, and try to cack-handedly weave it all together (The X-Files);
  • Russell T Davies might decide to give it a go, and bizarrely only a few people will be pissed, which doesn't make sense because THE MAN CAN'T WRITE PEOPLE WAKE UP PLEASE!

Ahem.

  • If you have X episodes left, and only enough story for X-Y episodes, then it encourages you to write a wheel-spinning episode in which pieces are moved around the board for forty minutes, and then something tragic happens and we are supposed to care.

Of course, the only thing worse than the wheel-spinner is the wheel-spinner when you're only a month away from the end of the series. Thanks for nothing, last night's Galactica.

Well, for almost nothing.

Right, that's the preliminaries out of the way. Shit will now get serious, y'all.

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I'm pretty sure no-one in this world or any other is crying out for a list of things I couldn't give a shit about, but just for the record, I am now adding "Spouses pissed off that their other halves moved on after they apparently died." I mean, I get why it's a problem, I get that it's not just the seeming betrayal but also the ruination of everything Ellen has been pinning her hopes on post-resurrection; it's just not of any interest to me. When firing on all cylinders, one of the best things BSG does is take two people, with totally different viewpoints, both of them at least partially valid, and chucks them in a room together. Often one of them has a gun.

This doesn't work quite so well when one character doesn't have a leg to stand on, and knows it themselves. This is why every time someone has a go at the Five for what happened on the Colonies fucks me off so bad. I get why people are so pissed that they'll blame any Cylon within reach, but once you've accepted the memory loss (to say nothing of the fact that we now know the Five stopped the first war), you need to stop being a dick, and there's nothing more to say.

Anyway, if a passing whine by Lee pisses me off, you can imagine how much I dislike entire episodes predicated on the "I know this doesn't make sense but I need you to feel it is justified anyway" line of bullshit. It's sort of vaguely interesting seeing how the aspects of "human" Ellen are bleeding back into the previously calm and collected improved Cylon model, but it is also vaguely interesting watching CAG maneuvers, but I suspect an entire episode of them would leave me feeling cheated.

If you're not going to set up a particularly interesting interplay, you can always try to ramp up the tension with a looming crisis. What did we get this time, though? A vote on whether or not to leave. Why did Saul even agree to the idea of majority in the first place? Just so we could feel like there was some tension? He was obviously never going to leave. So you had the immovable object of Tigh's devotion to Adama (and anyone who thinks "Saul loves Bill more than anything" counts as a surprise needs to pay closer attention) against the unstoppable force of Ellen being a bitch. Yawn.

Then Caprica loses her baby. Which in real life is sad on a very direct level, there's a whole potential person who doesn't get to burst into the world and then get fucked up by inches, but I am incapable on any level of caring that a potential fictional character will now not be seen, so on TV this stuff only matters insofar as how it is reflected in the characters we already know. And frankly, Caprica has been annoying me so much lately that it's difficult to care on her behalf (I'm so glad that Chip Six is still kicking ass and taking names, more on her in a bit).

Tigh, on the other hand I feel for. In fact, Tigh was by far the best thing in the entire episode. You could have had a much better episode wrapped around him, one in which space strippers attack the fleet in TIE fighters [1], and he still would have been the best thing in it. Just for "I feel it less with words!" alone. I love that over the last four years hardly an episode has gone by without me feeling I understand Tigh just a little bit better than I did before. Even more, I'm amazed that it's taken as long as it has to finally peel away Tigh's final layer, to understand that his problem is that he loves so much, in so many different directions, that he can't function without booze and bile. That he can't find a way to express his love in something as limiting as words (which is a beautiful counterpoint to what Cavil said last week, to Cavil words limit his ability to function as a machine, to Tigh they can't express the way he functions as a person).

The other moment that made the episode came as Tigh embraced Adama, and started with the words "It's not the same as Zack, I know." Having lost his child, needing to be consoled by his oldest, dearest friend, Saul is compelled to begin by recognising how his own pain cannot compare to Bill's. If you love someone enough, you don't see pain as being past, or present. You never assume anything has healed.

I am also prepared to offer bonus points for watching the two fleets merge, though I then take most of them away for doing it so unbelievably heavily.

Wikipedia tells me that a lot got cut out of this episode, including dialogue helping to explain the situation in Dogsville. The marines are pulling out of there due to lack of numbers (at least partially due to the mutiny, though whether this means the mutineers have been executed, or imprisoned, or just that too many people were shot during the fight, isn't made clear), which has allowed the Sons Of Ares to fill the resulting vacuum. Watching Gaius continue to dance his little I-think-these-people-are-dicks-but-I-am-also-learning-to-love tango is beginning to grate a bit, but hurrah for Chip Six still being awesome with chips. While everyone else is whinging or sulking or shooting themselves, she's still working towards the plan. Whatever that actually is; The One True God alone knows who those automatic weapons get pointed at, though the smart money Baltar just signed up to lead the armed militia for the mysterious Third Faction. How much Adama regrets his decision to give automatic weapons to Gaius (who'll probably get the hang of reloading eventually) will probably depend a great deal on what the greater plan is. Step one: resurrect Starbuck. Step three: profit.

But what's step two?

Rewinding slightly, just what the frak has happened to the other mutineers? I let them off not saying anything last week because the exposition marathon needed to take place without the B plot drawing too much attention away from it. No Exit, first and foremost, was constructed according to the "Pay attention, children" method of television writing. Deadlock didn't have that excuse. What happened to Racetrack? Did Skulls survive? What happened to Racetrack? Is Kelly now in Gaeta's spot on CIC? What happened to Racetrack? Is she now a space stripper in a TIE fighter? [2]

There's a certain irony in the fact that so many questions were answered last week, and last night they declined to tie up what loose ends still existed. Fuck irony, though. I want closure.

I want Racetrack.

[1] Yes, my concept for "best episode ever" hasn't changed since I was fourteen.

[2] I should point out for the record that Leah Cairns is a great actress and probably a very nice person. It isn't cool to just view women as sex objects, no matter how unfeasibly attractive they are.

Seriously, though: space stripper.

1 comment:

jamie said...

Well, you can't have her. I've got dibs.

(Also, Leah Cairns is apparently happily married :( )

I was going to try and write some extensive responses to your points, but to honest I don't have an issue with many of them (and one minor one has been thrashed to death over email).

It's true, probably not the best choice of episode-type at this stage (you can tell from the word go that it's a Jane Espenson effort), but I can almost forgive that because of Michael Hogan knocking it out of the park once again; astonishing performances by him and Tricia Helfer which were extremely moving. In contrast to you, I liked Kate Vernon's part in this as well, although I concede the point that it doesn't appear to be vital plot-material, and we've got a helluva lot of that to chew through in - now - a measly four episodes.

And while I was overjoyed to see everyone's favourite sex cult leader back in the mix, alongside the chick in his cranium, the fact that most of his storyline was truncated to the point of 'eh?' was somewhat confusing and disappointing. I would love to see an unedited version one day, because from all I'm hearing around the net it would apparently succeed in the dubious aim of making the arming of Baltar's flock seem a reasonable idea - or at least, not completely batshit crazy, no matter how much Adama has been knocking back.

If you're able to get the podcasts, apparently the latest is very illuminating and mentions the fate of our favourite raptor-pilot, or so they claim at galacticasitrep: http://galacticasitrep.blogspot.com/2009/02/rdms-podcast.html