Tuesday, February 10, 2009

So Say We All -- Part 4

"Blood on the Scales" (Part 2) (414)

Although it sees the end of two of the show's more important characters – Lt. Felix Gaeta was introduced in the miniseries; Tom Zarek, in episode 103 – why, precisely, would showrunner Ron Moore choose this exact moment to do a two-parter in which the Galactica crew is rent by a mutiny? There are, in fact, several reasons, and I believe they, in the aggregate, form a compelling reason why Moore would take three (including 412, which does much to set up the insurrection storyline) of the final ten episodes to tell this particular story.

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Reality, as always, has primacy. Given the struggles and travails and sacrifices and atrocities of the past three years on the run, how would the Colonial populace react to enjoining an indefinite, perhaps even permanent, alliance with a people that have incessantly cried jihad and attempted to slaughter them all? This realist throughline was started right away in 411, with Lt. Dualla, among others, offing herself, was fed and expanded in 412, and then has its ultimate manifestation in 413/414.

That so much time has been spent on playing up the reality of the situation is actually perfectly congruent with the rest of Battlestar's narrative: from the very beginning, the writers have been asking that most magical question in the writing lexicon, what would? What would happen if there were no water (102), no fuel (110), or no food (310)? What would happen if certain emerging elements of Cylon society began questioning the moral wisdom in their overall worldview (218)? What would happen if a harried, heartbroken Colonial officer loses his leg in the course of questionable duties (407)?

Indeed, there is every reason to believe that the final, two-hour installment will have less to do with wrapping up loose story threads – Number Six's celestial nature, say, or the convoluted history of the original Cylon race – and more to do with showing what does happen to a people that have endured almost four years' worth of unending, incomprehensible sorrow.

And as The Sopranos has shown us, this can be not only the most rewarding story, but also the most engaging ending, as well.

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Know your genre. That's what Bob McKee drills into his readers' minds in Story. Play to those expectations and narrative archetypes, whether for familiar or surprising results. Use the craft to your advantage.

Despite their occasional (and substantive) missteps along the way, this is exactly what Moore and his staff have done. Television science fiction has a very specific and precisely defined series of genres and sub-genres: the first two Star Treks are open-ended starship-based narratives; Crusade is an objective-driven starship-based story; Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5 are space station-based shows. The list, actually, is nearly endless.

Battlestar Galactica fits within the (story-driven) lost-in-space sub-genre, populated with the questionable ranks of Lost in Space and Star Trek: Voyager. Most of the subdivision-specific narrative archetypes that populate this classification have already been tackled by BSG – temporarily giving up the search for a home (whether it be the crew’s original home or a new one) for colonizing a new planet or finding a sister ship that has somehow made its way out into the same nether region of uncharted space are just two examples. The mutiny of the wayward crew is another, and it is, essentially, the last story type left to tell.

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No one will oppose Admiral Adama and President Roslin now.

Though they have consistently and systematically stonewalled the efforts of all dissenters or naysayers to question the status quo over the past three years, and though this has generated an enormous amount of ill-will on the part of Colonial society (like I’ve mentioned before, this is an excellent parallel of the Bush Administration’s opaque and headstrong ways), there is simply no chance that anyone will think to ever attempt to call the two strong-armed leaders to task again in any meaningful way – not after an attempted coup, the massacre of the Quorum, and the execution of a high-ranking military officer and political leader.

While this is an ontological bad, and stands to be a death knell for democracy, it is good for one other existential category: survival. The Galactica needs all the help it can get, especially since the loss of the Pegasus nearly a-year-and-a-half ago and the recent bloodletting of the failed insurrection, and the rebel Cylons need the protection the Colonial fleet provides, however meager it may be, even more desperately. Together, they stand a far better chance of surviving the war against the Ones, Fours, and Fives than they ever would apart.

And, now, Roslin and Adama stand a better chance of making that alliance happen, no matter the personal and moral sacrifices that may entail.

* * * * *

The last, and perhaps the most simplistic and straightforward, reason, put equally simply and straightforwardly: it’s a convenient way to set shit up.

Anders’s bullet to the back of the head, Tyrol’s discovery of a rent (if that is exactly what it is) in the Galactica’s engine room, the motivation of a shameless Baltar to question his never-failing ability to retreat – these are all easily accomplished in a remarkably short period of time by having the battlestar suffer a mutiny. While we, obviously, have no idea what these seeds will sprout, we do know that Moore has very deliberately planted them for a reason.

Here’s looking forward to the next cycle of episodes.

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