Monday, March 23, 2009

Battlestar Galactica: Series Finale

Since premiering as a mini-series in 2003, Battlestar Galactica has been one of the best shows of any genre on television. With consistently great writing, acting, and directing, BSG shattered the stereotype that science fiction can't be character driven. At its high points, moreover, the show was one of the few around to approach the mythological grandeur of Lost.

Nevertheless, I was nervous as I tuned in to see the series finale. For all of its merits, BSG faltered the last season or two in fulfilling the mythological promise of early episodes like Kobol's Last Gleaming. I was particularly disappointed with the revelation of the Final Five cylons and their backstory, a complaint I'll return to shortly. The penultimate episode, which was all loose ends, seemed to confirm my fear that BSG couldn't possibly tie things up in a satisfying way.

On the whole, however, I was satisfied with the finale. There were problems, particularly where the flashbacks to Caprica were concerned. The show tried to contrast the Colonials' empty existence surrounded by technology on Caprica with their embrace of a primitive existence on new Earth. But the shots of the strip club were absurd -- simultaneously heavy handed and prude. Memo to Eick and Moore: if you can't show nudity in a nudie bar, pick some other setting to make your point.

What I liked was the premise of the Colonials abandoning their technology and interbreeding with the primitive population on Earth. My favorite science fiction uses myth and science in mutually reinforcing ways. There are many legends of heavenly beings who fell to Earth and taught skills like farming and math to primitive humans. Among my favorites is the story of the Nephilim, whom the Old Testament describes as sons of God with a taste for mating with daughters of men.

The master stroke was making Hera mitochondrial Eve. We often think of cavemen as our ancestors. In fact, as Brian Sykes describes in his book Seven Daughters of Eve, recent mitochondrial DNA analysis suggests we Homo Sapiens evolved separately between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago. About 80,000 years ago, we swept out of Africa in a mass migration, displacing and eventually extinguishing other Homo species like Neanderthalis. Now we know why: cylon-human hybrid vigor!

Some complain about the abrupt disappearance of Starbuck -- BSG's version of the Sopranos' fade to black. I personally bought it as a metaphor for Lee's relationship with Kara, whose free spirit remains forever out of his reach like the pigeon he chased around her apartment on Caprica. I also appreciated the pay-off for the prophetic dream of the Opera House. Having events play out on the "stage" of Galactica's bridge while the Final Five watched from the "balcony" was a nice twist.

Unfortunately, that brings me back to my beef with the story of the Final Five. I frankly never believed them as brilliant scientists, particularly Ellen and Saul Tigh. And making them the last five survivors of the Thirteenth Tribe struck me as too clever by half, as did the revelation that the Thirteenth Tribe was actually cylon, not human. If I were Eick and Moore, I would have shifted the focus from the Final Five to the Cylon God, whom I would have made a renegade Lord of Kobol.

In my re-imagining of the re-imagined mythology, the Lords created humans for cheap labor, much as the latter would later create cylons. The aforementioned renegade Lord led a revolt on behalf of humanity that culminated in their exodus from Kobol. He guided the Thirteenth Tribe to Earth, then retired to an isolated island in the western ocean, only to watch the Tribe repeat the terrible cycle of events from Kobol by creating cylons and annhilating themselves with nukes.

The renegade Lord left Earth hoping to warn the other Twelve Tribes, but was intercepted by the cylons. Realizing he was too late to prevent war with the Colonies, he helped create humanoid cylons, who worshiped him in return as their Cylon God. As such, he was able to delay the cylons' annihilation of the Twelve Colonies long enough to find and plant the clues for the route to new Earth. The Final Five were his sleeper agents, unconsciously facilitating humanity's exodus until they awoke.

The Cylon God's plan would have culminated in humanity's realization on the original Earth that they were once slave labor themselves on Kobol. The Cylon God himself would probably be dead, killed secretly in some betrayal by brother Cavil, who caught wind of the covert plan to guide humanity to new Earth. But we also would have learned that the Cylon God created one of the Final Five in his own image. The fifth would have been revealed as Gaius Baltar, rather than Ellen Tigh.

Anyway, that's how I would have written it, but I suppose that's why Eick and Moore get the big bucks. Like I said, my criticisms and alternate mythology aside, I was reasonably pleased with how they wrapped up the series overall and look forward to the upcoming television film Battlestar Galactica: The Plan. What did you all everybody think?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Breaking Bad: Season Premier

I know I owe you all everybody some three-dot thoughts and replies to your awesome comments regarding La Fleur. But I have to take a break from the Lost talk for just a moment to plug another one of my favorite shows, Breaking Bad, which returns for a second season this Sunday, March 8, on AMC.

The premise is dark, but the story is told with plenty of humor. Bryan Cranston stars as Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer at the start of the series. To ensure the financial security of his pregnant wife and son with cerebral palsy, Walt secretly goes into business with a former student cooking and distributing crystal meth.

Cranston, who played the long-suffering dad on Malcolm in the Middle, brilliantly toes the line between drama and comedy with his performance. At the start of the series, you really believe that he's a wimpy science teacher. But by the time Walt walks into a den of criminals armed only with a handful of volatile chemicals, you also buy his transformation into a total badass:

And it's not just Cranston -- all of the main characters are perfectly cast. I'm particularly fond of Dean Norris, who plays Walt's brother-in-law Hank, a DEA agent. Hank is a kind of buffoonish Vic Mackey, a macho man who loves to goof on the nebishy Walter but with an undercurrent of affection that keeps the character sympathetic.

I also really enjoy RJ Mitte as Walt's son, Walter, Jr.. He captures well the quiet angst of an adolescent whose struggle for peer acceptance is complicated by his physical condition. I like that Mitte actually has cerebral palsy in real life. It galls me when shows try to pass off someone Chinese or Japanese as Korean. I'm looking at you, Sopranos...

The talented Vince Gilligan, formerly of the X-Files, created Breaking Bad. I was riveted literally from the start of his pilot, which has attained a kind of cult status in the entertainment industry. If you have a chance to watch the first nine episodes, I highly recommend them. But even if you can't, be sure to catch the start of Season 2 tomorrow night at 10pm on AMC.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Heroes: More Absurd than Ever

I like to whine about Heroes. In my opinion, the show jumped the shark at the end of Season 1 with its anti-climactic finale. Still, I'm a sucker for anything with superheroes, so I'm continuing to watch despite my reservations. Sadly, as last night's episode confirmed, the writing is as absurd as ever.

It's bad enough that they introduced a character who can breathe underwater. Talk about a lame power -- he can't even talk to the fishes like Aquaman! When Claire scrambled to hide him, I turned to my friend JZ (no, not that JZ) and made a crack about how she should just stash him in the jacuzzi.

I never expected the writers would actually stoop to stashing him in the jacuzzi.

Even worse, I think the show is poised to bring back one of my least favorite characters from seasons past. One mystery of S3 is the identity of REBEL, the anonymous computer hacker who has been helping our heroes at every turn. I'm guessing that REBEL is Micah, who can interface mentally with machines.

I don't know what it is about that kid, but he really creeps me out. I would totally buy him as, say, a murderous child psychopath...