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Monday, January 31, 2005
TV Round-Up
Battlestar Galactica: Act of Contrition
Let me say this up front: I am getting a bit weary of the "flashback" episodes. (No, not the ones that Happy Days did where we saw clips from previous episodes, though those are not high of my list of great television). What I'm talking about is when a show starts you in the middle or end of the story and then suddenly pulls back to "three days before" to show you what happened leading up to the dramatic events playing out on screen. Alias does this all the time--so much so that the impact is being lost by the show. It almost stinks of lazy writing--we've got to hook the fans into the action so let's do it early and then take the time to set up the story.

But as overused as this storytelling concept can be, every once in a while, it's used right and an entire episode benefits from it (or an entire series in the case of Lost, which continues to amaze me week in and week out that they can pull off the flashback narrative) . "Act of Contrition" is one of those episodes becuase instead of just flashing back to what led up to Starbuck crashing in the atmosphere of the planet, we get flashbacks within the flashback setting up things even more. It's a bold choice and one that works from a storytelling angle and from a directoral angle. I loved how the earliest flashbacks were the brightest and as we got closer to the current events, the lighting got darker and darker, as did the overall tone of the story.

For me, this whole episode hinged on one great scene in Adama's quarters. Setting this up. Starbuck was engaged to Adama's son and Lee's brother, Zak. He was in flight training and failed, but she passed him, leading to his death. Lee knows this, Adama doesn't. When there's an accident on the flight deck and 13 pilots are killed, the fleet must look to find new trainees to fend off the Cylons. Starbuck is put in charge of training them and goes hard-ass on them, not wanting to fail again and lose them like she did Zak. Adama has no clue of this until Lee lets it slip off-handedly, assuming Adama knows. Starbuck is called to his office and, well, the drama begins.

Starbuck comes clean, tearfully--after Adama has re-iterated she is like a daughter to him. The look on Adama's face says it all--Adama goes from sympathy to pure anger. You can see the slow change on his face as it sinks in. Edward James Olmos earns his paycheck for the week and the entire series in one scene as he tells Starbuck to get out while she can still walk. Man, the guy plays a great slowburn. That scene alone made the entire episode.

Starbuck gives the trainees another chance and while out training, some Cylons show up. Starbuck goes back to fight them off while experienced pilots scramble, taking out all of the patrol. But she is hit and starts spirallng toward the planet where we rejoin the story at its current time and we get those three dreaded words, "To Be Continued"

Needless to say, I'm on the edge of my seat and will be eagerly tuning in for the next installment of this show. Just about everything they're doing here is great stuff--from the character work to the acting to the direction. This episode nailed every moment and every scene so perfectly. Yes, it did require a bit more attention, at first, to get the flashbacks within flashbacks but once you do, the story is so richly textured and well done that it's worth the investment of time and energy.

And the scary part--I hear from our UK friends (who have already seen the entire season) that it only gets better from here. (I've avoided SPOILERS about upcoming episodes, so please don't tell me where it all goes..)

As a Farscape fan, the biggest attraction of this new episode of Stargate was that it featured Claudia Black. Of course, that also kind of ruined some things as well because I just couldn't quite get around the fact that she was playing someone else in a sci-fi show that wasn't Aeryn Sun (kind of like I would have a hard time seeing Sarah Michelle Gellar in a movie or show that involved vampires). Hence, I kept thinking--no, that's not how Aeryn should act...come on, get with it!

That said, this episode had its moments, even if it was fairly predictable. Black's character takes over the ship of our heroes not knowing Daniel Jackson is on-board. They fight, she tells Daniel she is going to save her people, turns out to not be true, ship gets bounded, Hammond and compay ride into save the day and Claudia Black's character escapes in the end. Yeah, no new ground broken here. There was some talk about heading out to Atlantis, but since it's far too early in the season to have Daniel Jackson gone from the show for a few episode or to split time between Earth bound stoires and those on-board the ship, you had to figure they had to go back to Earth from some reason. Also, knowing that Claudia Black was in there, took a lot of the suspense out of the early scenes when she's in G'ould armor and we can't see her face.

I guess if they're setting some things up for the next few episodes, it will be OK. But I can't see what was established here other than a connection to Claudia Black's character. I guess I'll just have to wait and see where all of this goes...

Stargate Atlantis
: The Defiant One
On the other hand, Atlantis shows what can be done within the confines of a rather predictable episode. A team heads out in a puddle jumper to an abandoned Ancients satellite. They pick up readings of a Wraith ship below and head down to get some tactical data. Turns out a Wraith is still alive inside, leading Shepard to have to go one on one with it to keep it from escaping or calling more Wraith to help out. Not exactly the newest premise, but it all worked well. First of all, there is a sense of energy to the story--that there's something driving things along. Then, we have the nice work with the characters. Shepard is pretty much turning into a virutal copy of John Cricthon, but I don't mind that much--now if they split him off into two Shepards, that could be going a bit far. McKay also continues to develop and it was nice to get some of the supporting case some time. Maybe that's my thing with Stargate--I don't feel like much effort is made with the supporting characters. Here, we get Gall, who is fed on by a Wraith but not to the point of death and how McKay reacts to that. Gall's observation that McKay has changed is actually a good one and it made think, "Yes, come to think of it, he has." And Gall's solution to free McKay from his responsiblity to him was a genuinely shocking moment.

That said, I found the solution a bit too easy. Weir sends out a rescue team even though no call has yet come so they can arrive just in time to blow away the Wraith. I just found that a bit too much of a cop-out and it marred what was, otherwise, an enjoyable and fun episode.

posted by Michael Hickerson at 1/31/2005 11:00:00 AM | |
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