Monday, March 30, 2009

unRealityTV

If you watch a sporting event, televised live, is it reality television? If you watch a game show, with results based upon decisions made by the player being shown, are you watching reality television? If you watch police officers chase down a thief, before cameras, however unhappy the result, are you watching reality television. If you watch people singing in a contest hoping to be considered by the judges and audience to be the next superstar, are you watching reality television? If you watch a show with a court judge deciding a case between two people in civil judgment, are you watching reality television? If you are watching two people report about their date together, and how they did various things and was it a “love” connection, was that reality television?

I would argue yes, but, not reality.

What is the factor that joins these as one genre? The lack of a creative voice making the event happen? Chance, and human behavior are captured upon film? The filter is the human invention of television but the aim is to present events and lives that are real. So then, how isn’t that pornography? Clearly there is something visceral and real about two people having sex in front of camera. Whether or not the morality accompanies the event is not the point. We are discussing what it is, not what it should or should not be. But in porn, a real event is captured, all the way to the end, And yet if you were to argue, as I just did, people would scream. But aside from the obvious sexual extremes involved, the act, the event is presented before cameras, reveals intimate details, and shows things that you wouldn’t learn outside of having watched the piece. How is porn not reality television, and, how is reality television not porn? Unearned intimacies are what porn is about. Porn allows a person to see private things without being someone involved in the private event. There are many similar products in culture, for women there are romance novels, for men there are violent action films, professional wrestling and some sports. You feel in love, you’ve been through a sports event. But porn is not reality. Romance novels are not reality, but are fantasy. Sports are not reality either, but we can certainly enjoy them. Even, I say, porn, without feeling a need to call it one thing or another.

So then what is reality television? Frankly few of what are called reality programs have more than a speck of reality within them. They are results of cameras being where no one expects them, and then being framed by presenters as being reality. They are the result of watching a spectacle, a family in disaster, a person being filmed for how different his response will be to something, or a contest. So here is another point forgotten often, reality television is a nature show, or a cooking show. It is a gardening show or a biography of a life well lived. I find the term Reality television ironic, for the creative arts reflect reality far better, clearer, in more detail, through fiction than the supposed truths revealed by Reality TV. The churning tidal pools of life offer far greater opportunities of reflection than anything packaged by television. Go read a book while sitting with a loved one, drinking coffee or other delightful beverage. Go for a walk listening to your iPod. Play with your child... You’ll feel better for it.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

RAWBONE



RAWBONE
Jamie Delano
Max Fuimara
Full Color
Avatar Press
(In case you didn't figure it out, this is rated mature.)

Jamie Delano is a writer of importance, who writes, oddly enough, in the world of comic books. His work is challenging to people who desire only pabulum, for it creates whole cloth new paradigms and criticizes through fiction existing paradigms. His writing is an equal in quality, or better, to the name talents of the UK and Ireland. Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Mark Millar, and Paul Jenkins are all talented, but none write the sort of stories that Jamie Delano does. In his most recent previous work Narcopolis, Delano questioned openly the future where drugs replace moral/ethical choices. He created in it a new language that was born from his perception of the world that would spring around that sort of culture. And some people did not understand it. The drug use was not condoned but it was also not, judgmentally critiqued. And some people did not understand that. Delano’s works do not allow the reader to make simple judgments because he does not.

RAWBONE starts from a premise of Pirates in the Caribbean, but there is so much more. For one thing, pirates were the scourge of the sea, at one time, but Disney, ala Johnny Depp prettied them up into heroes. Delano refuses to kiss the ass of current popular culture. In fact, he loses his foot up that same ass, by making his characters nasty, and, at this point irredeemable. This story is dark and lush, and it plays with our expectations, and makes the Church as evil as the pirates, but, as with most of Delano’s works, there are no simple answers, and the answers you are likely to come up with are at this point, lacking.

From the solicit “Jamie Delano cuts loose on a vicious pirate tale, delivering a bloody, terrifying vision of a world on the high-seas! But these are not the family-friendly kind, these are the roughneck, stealing, heartless bastards of the 17th century Caribbean. A rebellious young women named La Sirena has built a haven for pirates called Puerto de los Suenos (Port of Dreams). It is a good life for those that want to live outside of the crushing boot heel of the Church of England. But the church is a powerful enemy. It expends a lot of its pillaged wealth to bring about the downfall of the pirate scum who are praying on merchant vessels. Thus, the legend of La Sirena’s life will begin, one drip of blood at a time, while the British garrison waits for the pirate to slip into their ambush, tension building as seeming supernatural forces pick off the forces of law one by one, and imagination runs terror through the survivor’s veins.”

Thursday, March 19, 2009

So Say We All -- Part 9


“Daybreak, Part I” (419)

Finally, the end.

* * * * *

Traditionally – and with one exception – BSG’s two-part season finales always start slowly and end with a bang (or a series of bangs). This makes sense, given basic storytelling structure; it also helps the writers to sneak up behind the audience and beat them senseless over the head with the jaw-dropping revelations and cliffhanging surprises of the second part.

But it also leads to an unintentional consequence: the first half of the finales always seem… slow. Unassuming. Not important or portentous enough to be considered a finale, especially in the footsteps of such fare as the firing-on-all-cylinders-since-the-word-go “Kobol’s Last Gleaming, Parts I and II” (112 and 113).

In this regard, of all four season-ending episodes, this year’s is, by far, the worst.

* * * * *

But to say that “Daybreak, Part I” is a waste is misleading in the most extreme sense, even though we have yet to see how the concluding half’s story beats pay off this week’s.

Ronald D. Moore, who finally returns to the writer’s chair with this installment, seems almost exclusively intent on not only setting up the requisite exposition – the Colonials discover Hera’s whereabouts, amass a huge force, and gear up for some action – but also in establishing an emotionalism that is apropos for the final chapter in the nearly six-year story. The chief weapon in his arsenal is that of intercutting flashbacks, which do little to convey plot – i.e., Anders’s soliloquy about perfection – or even to build upon character – Lee’s chasing a pigeon – but do much to paint a picture in theme.

And the vast majority of what makes Battlestar Galactica so interesting is its thematic motifs.

* * * * *

Laura has gone through quite a bit in her (relatively) short life: sisters and father killed in a car accident (419); an affair with the president of the Twelve Colonies (“Epiphanies,” 213); getting breast cancer (miniseries); being fired from her position as secretary of education due solely to dirty politics (213). Then, of course, serving as icing on the very bloody cake, there is the decimation of humanity and the nearly four years that follow it.

What’s amazing about all of this is not that she essentially ends up a highly questionable character, much too eager and willing to invoke utilitarianism in the pursuit of her goals (rigging an election [“Lay down Your Burdens, Part II,” 220] and stonewalling the entire legislative branch [“The Ties That Bind,” 403] are just the tip of her very large iceberg), but that it took so much and so long for her to finally degenerate to this point.

Indeed, in many ways her character arc resembles that of another individual who starts off life bright-eyed and bushy-tailed but eventually is ground to a bloody pulp by disappointment, loss, and the heavy burden of responsibility: the late Lieutenant Felix Gaeta, who resorts to inciting mutinies (“A Disquiet Follows My Soul,” 412) and plunging pens in the necks of those idols or father figures who disillusion him (“Taking a Break from All Your Worries,” 313).

It is no wonder that Roslin needs a divine vision to tell her that she doesn’t love people (anymore) (“The Hub,” 409); if it had come from nearly any other source, she wouldn’t have even paused to listen.

* * * * *

For all intents and purposes, Sam Anders is a basestar Hybrid.

While this is not a new development – he was first plugged into the Galactica in “Islanded in a Stream of Stars” (418) – it does carry some very interesting ramifications: his speech pattern is identical to that of the two previously established Hybrids (“Torn” [306], Razor), and this more than likely includes having cryptic, almost mystical clues or prophesies or proclamations as to the inner ontological workings of celestial matters embedded in them. (Just why the Hybrids, biological shells wired into mechanical systems, are “plugged into” – as Ellen Tigh would say [418] – the divine godhead is unknown. A hypothesis: they are the living embodiment of what the deity wants for all of its children.)

Far more pertinent to the very near future, though, is the extreme possibility of Anders being used as precisely what he is: Adama, Tigh, Starbuck, and the rest will more than likely conclude that jumping into a veritable hornets’ nest of Cylon defenses will prove to be more than what their collective feeble human minds can muster, and they will turn to Anders to run the whole she-bang for them. He, thus, will act as the Galactica’s Hybrid – and, just maybe, in the process, will control just more than the physical destinies of the corporeal entities aboard his vessel.

Assuming that he survives the desperate assault on the Cylon Colony, can he ever go back to the way he was? Probably not. He just might end up getting transferred over to a new vessel – maybe he’ll end up being the third Hybrid, plugged into all new versions of Cylon basestars or, even, Colonial battlestars.

* * * * *

What is Starbuck’s destiny? And, perhaps more importantly, has she already attained it?

The Hybrids – even Anders can’t help but throw in a verse or two on the subject – keep reciting that Kara is the “harbinger of death.” But this outcome could apply to any number of situations already encountered: finding Earth a nuclear wasteland; having Galactica wracked by a mutiny, one in no small part fueled by the revelation of a scorched Earth; or even the general carnage of the Cylon civil war followed by the Cylon-Colonial assault on the Resurrection Hub.

Or perhaps the prophecy will be fulfilled in next week’s episode. It is Starbuck who helps Adama plan the op to attack the Cylon Colony, after all. Maybe it is the destruction of the Galactica – and many, if not all, of the crew aboard her – that will meet the Hybrids’ blood quota. Or it could be that “death” is a figurative term, not a literal one: Kara will help kill the millennia-old pattern of destructive human-Cylon relations and usher in a new, golden era of peace and civility.

* * * * *

Miscellaneous note, part one: finally seeing the Cylon Colony, especially considering it was first introduced four episodes ago (“No Exit,” 415), was interesting, but it seemed a bit out of character for the show – more Babylon 5 than Battlestar Galactica.

* * * * *

Miscellaneous note, part two: why would anyone volunteer for the suicide assault on the Colony? It’s obvious why our core characters would – Adama, Lee, Helo, Athena, Cottle(!), and most especially Roslin. But anyone else?

The only possible explanation is that they hate the Cylons (the still-bad Cylons, of course) so thoroughly and so passionately, they don’t mind risking their lives to have the opportunity to strike back at them, to raze their society as Number One and cohorts had done to theirs.

That or they really, really love that adorable Hera.

* * * * *

A few more succinct predictions:

Both Admiral Adama and President Roslin, the father and mother of the fleet and our two most central characters since the very beginning, will die. That Adama should go down with his ship is only one small reason; having the old generation die so that the new can assume stewardship of the future – just as Number Two has been intoning since the first season (and most aptly put in “Revelations” [410]) – is a much more profound one.

It only seems natural that a number of other characters will shuffle off of this mortal coil, as well, most especially the Final Five. Having Saul die but Ellen live on would continue to play with the twists and turns of irony that comprise their relationship, not to mention generating considerable emotion – Tigh is one of the most likeable and, even, relatable characters.

Starbuck may finally, along with Number Six and Baltar, cross over to the other side – whatever that may be. (Indeed, maybe she even makes the transition with Adama.)

Finally, Ronald D. Moore will pull a J. Michael Straczynski: the final scene(s) will take place sometime in the future, showing how the remaining characters live out their final days and cementing how their actions have helped attain a new era in interstellar affairs.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

So Say We All -- Part 8



“Islanded in a Stream of Stars” (418)


“Islanded in a Stream of Stars” is the end of the road – the last standalone (although, in a fully serialized season, the term “standalone” doesn’t mean much) episode in BSG’s last season.


As such, it carries a lot of weight: it has to set up the endgame of the entire overarching narrative, bringing each story thread to the end of the line – the two-part, three-hour finale.


Also as such, this article will take a different format from the others. Rather than tease out this individual installment’s particular story developments or character beats, we’ll rehash the state of affairs that “Stream of Stars” has left us with for “Daybreak, Parts I and II.”


* * * * *


It started off as a crack – or a series of cracks – in the engine room. Then it quickly blossomed into a series of micro-fractures running all throughout the Galactica’s hull and skeletal structure, like a cancer in her bones. The old girl’s dying, and amidst rebelling crew members and a lover nearly on her deathbed and the revelation that his best friend’s a toaster, Bill Adama is likewise cracking under the pressure, drinking even more than the formidable amount earlier this season.


To save her, to stop the damage that has accumulated through five-plus decades of service (and chiefly inflicted during the battlestar’s atmospheric assault on New Caprica), a distraught Adama turns to Galen Tyrol. The Chief, of course, is a Cylon, and he, in turn, recruits more Cylons to help with the reconstruction effort, utilizing Cylon technology and thereby breaking Adama’s longstanding ban against using sophisticated tech aboard his vessel. Combined with Cylon pilots now taking part in the CAP – due to the heavy losses Gaeta and Zarek’s failed mutiny took on the crew, particularly amongst the fighter jocks – these comparatively little moves add up to a much larger picture, one signaling an unavoidable, basic truth: Adama cannot run the ship without his former enemies. He needs them just as much as they need him for protection and defense.


The battlestar Galactica, thus, as she continues to disintegrate under their very feet, is increasingly – almost exponentially – becoming a mixed ship, figuratively and literally. While it causes Adama to tread forward with a heavy heart (and a heavy bottle), it also points the way to the future: a blended society, what could have –and, perhaps, what should have – occurred in the very beginning, on Kobol all those thousands of years ago (and what the Final Five have been hoping for and building towards for the past two thousand years).


Although amalgamating the two races may be enough to secure the future of all and sundry, it, unfortunately, is not enough for the beleaguered battlestar; not even a combined effort from man and machine, combining toil and sweat and technology, to patch up the Galactica is enough to save her from the scrap pile. Even before Boomer hammered the final nail in the coffin, her fate was a foregone conclusion.


It is, of course, only fitting that a show named Battlestar Galactica ends with the titular ship’s destruction – especially considering that the series began, nearly six years ago, with the Galactica’s retirement ceremonies.


Everything truly is coming full circle.


* * * * *


For the first half of the series, before she was even born, Hera was the single most important element of the show: the prophesized one, the first of God’s new people, chosen to be Gaius Baltar’s daughter. Her life was more important than all of the humans’ – indeed, their continued existence after the holocaust of the Twelve Colonies was simply to inadvertently donate their genetic material to fashion Hera’s conception. Once Baltar was to assume the presidency upon Roslin’s death and snatch the mythical infant away from her birth parents, he was to finish off the human race in a blaze of glory.


Since this fire-and-brimstone plan didn’t come to fruition, Hera has receded in prominence – as has, incidentally, Number Six herself, the angel chosen to be God’s herald, leading Baltar hither and thither on his ultimate path to genocide. After being bounced around from Maya on New Caprica to Boomer on the basestar to, finally, her parents aboard the Galactica, she’s finally landed right back with Boomer in Cylon territory – and right back in the limelight as the chosen child, the keystone to the entire series’ mythology.


The truly interesting thing here is not her reemergence as an integral part of the show – it’s the context in which she is newly resurgent. Before, she was the savior of the Cylon race, pointing the way to a more religious way of life that would bring them closer to God; now, she’s the savior of all, not only preventing the Cylons from slipping into extinction but also providing the means for man and machine to co-exist – she is, in fact, quite literally the living embodiment of that. This shift reflects the changing nature of the show itself: while the first two seasons were dedicated to the Cylons liquidating mankind, occupying the Twelve Colonies of Kobol, and hunting down the Galactica and the other remnants of humanity, these last two seasons have been focused on a growing sense of rapprochement between Colonial and Cylon, combining not only their societies, but their religions, as well (“Exodus, Part I” [303]; “Rapture” [312]). Hera, then, truly is the chosen one – of the writers and their changing game plan.


There’s one final twist in all of this. Whereas the last time Boomer was charged with Hera, she was more than eager to snap her little neck, this time around, she’s concerned with the safety of her young ward. One almost had the feeling that, as Number One grabbed the three-year-old from her, she was about to have a change of heart – again – and rush in the holding room and bust her out, forsaking her mentor and his plans of sole galactic proprietorship.


Indeed, this may yet comprise at least part of the series of events that constitute the two-part finale.


* * * * *


Just why Number One wants to abduct and dissect young, mythical Hera is clearly understood – without biological reproduction, the Cylons face extinction, and One wants to make sure that his faction of Cylons are the ones to out-wit, out-last, and out-play – but what exactly he will do afterwards is still an unknown quantity.


Cavil’s hand has been revealed to be behind nearly every single major plot point of the entire series. Indeed, the very premise itself is entirely his creation: the smuggling of the Final Five, unknown to all (especially themselves), into Colonial society; the systematic invasion and annihilation of the Twelve Colonies of Kobol; the hunt for the 50,000 remaining men, women, and children of the ragtag fleet.


Even when events go out of his control – the emergence of Caprica Six and Boomer as “heroes of the Cylon”; the shift in popular sentiment from the liquidation of humanity to co-existence with it; the search for Earth and the longing for a new beginning – he still manages to steer things from behind the scenes. It is he, after all, who boxes the Threes for breaking the – or is that his? – decree of not knowing the faces or the fates of the Five.


It is this desire to dominate and control that lead to the civil war from earlier this season, as well. Instead of just one model rebelling against the injunction to not know the Final Five, it is now three – the Twos, Sixes, and Eights – and, what’s more, they want all twelve models to live together as one big, happy Cylon family. In order to maintain his order, rejecting his brothers and sisters quickly transforms into murdering them.


Now that One has inadvertently managed to hasten the Five’s goals of peace and peaceful co-existence with the humans, and has managed to drive half of the remaining Cylons headlong into the enterprise, as well, where does he go from here? A man who has dedicated his entire life to wiping out humanity (and his enemies) won’t stop now, when the odds are starting to stack up against him – and especially when he has Hera in his hands. He’ll more than likely press on to Earth, which he already knows to be a decimated wasteland, and, from there, perhaps work on a way of returning his remaining Cylon brothers into the mechanical form that he so openly worships.


Either way, as stated in previous articles, this really is the endgame. Giving Cavil hugs won’t salve his emotional wounds or satiate his sociopathic need for bloodletting. There is only one way to stop him: death.


Only blood will prevent the spilling of yet more blood.


* * * * *


It is clear, by this point in the series, that there is a God. Or Gods. Or something in between.


At the very beginning, the deity – whatever it may be – sent messengers to an infinistimally small fraction of the Thirteenth Tribe’s population to warn them of the impending nuclear doom. Calling themselves angels, and appearing to only one or two individuals specifically, they directed the Final Five to recreate resurrection technology and, therefore, to survive the global calamity.


The Five, then, take it as their mission to prevent such massive devastation from happening again. They engage in a two-thousand year race to the Twelve Colonies and put an immediate halt to the new war between the Twelve Tribes and their mechanical offspring they find there.


Forty years later, once the Five and their beatnik ways have been dispatched and the way cleared for the seven Cylon models to start their war against the Colonials anew, angels are once again dispatched, appearing to one Colonial and one Cylon. Although taking the form of his lover and proclaiming her purpose to be the continuation of the Cylon agenda, Number Six, in fact, helps Gaius Baltar stay afloat on his turbulent, circuitous path – one that weaves between the surviving human and Cylon populations. In this way, Baltar becomes an unlikely – and unwitting – tenuous thread that starts to stitch the two sides together. He’s the first human to learn of the Cylons’ culture and, after having fallen in love with one of them and accepting their God as his own (at least partially), he also became the first human to see them as living, breathing individuals and not just as soulless toasters.


After helping her people to perpetuate the holocaust, Caprica Six is visited by her own celestial being. Baltar prods and tortures her to re-examine just what, exactly, she has helped to wrought; after doing so, Caprica undertakes a holy crusade to reconstruct her society, leading them to adopt co-existence as their mantra instead of genocide. And though the occupation of New Caprica ends in ashes (just like Kobol and the Twelve Colonies before it, the two previous human-machine cohabitations), it does ultimately set the wheels in motion of bringing the two peoples in closer contact – and leads her to live amongst the Colonials on the Galactica, crossing over just as Gaius did before her.


With Baltar and Caprica pushing in from the sides, there is yet one more angelic messenger dispatched to help them meet in the middle: Kara Thrace, the only individual (yet known, at least) to start as a real, flesh-and-blood individual and subsequently transform into a non-corporeal entity. While her ultimate role is as-of-yet unknown – is her destiny to help meld the two races into one or to destroy all sentient life? – her purpose so far is crystal clear: she hears music.


This is nowhere near as trivial as it first sounds. There is a constant contriving and meddling on the part of the deity to ensure that its creations shuffle down the path it apparently has in mind for them. It arranged so that Starbuck was taught “All along the Watchtower” – a song composed by Sam Anders over two thousand years ago – as a child; it sends messages and other cryptic hints through the Hybrids (and, apparently, Anders, as well); it reveals the Five to Number Three in the temple on the algae planet; it awakens the Final Four by magically broadcasting “Watchtower” solely to them; it arranges for Starbuck to hear the same divine chords, thereby leading her to the rebel Cylons (who lead her to Three, who leads them to the Four, who leads them to Earth…); it “plugs” Hera in to “Watchtower,” for purposes and ends unknown, although easily guessed at.


The single, inescapable conclusion one comes to when reviewing the scope and breadth of the divine interventions is… peace.


God wants peace for its children.


* * * * *


Miscellaneous item, part one: it’s kind of odd that Baltar, after seeing Number Six off and on for over three years, would suddenly and arbitrarily decide to declare the existence of angels to the fleet.


Why would he do so? Since no reason is given in the episode, either expressly or obliquely, we are forced to assume that Six, for some clandestine reason or another, prodded Gaius to do so, as has mostly been the case with all new breaks in Baltar’s behavioral patterns since the miniseries.


* * * * *


Miscellaneous item, part two: it’s nice not only to see the Quorum ship captains’ meeting, in general, but also the chick captain first introduced (and last seen) in Baltar’s trial (“Crossroads, Parts I and II,” 319 and 320).


But there was a rather abrupt transition from Acting President Lee Adama berating the Quorum to Baltar’s lair. Do some of the ship captains really put that much stock in Baltar’s pronouncements?


* * * * *


Miscellaneous item, part three: that Adama would order the Galactica essentially stripped for parts is not merely a rather blatant manifestation of the pragmatism and utilitarianism that has steered him through three-and-a-half years of stewardship over the remainder of humanity; it also serves as the most profound illustration of the difference between he and Admiral Cain, another military commander in charge – at least temporarily – of a civilian fleet. This fundamental difference in philosophical outlook is ultimately why the two characters’ fates have been so different: Cain dies at the hand of a rogue Cylon crewmember; Adama is saved time and again by his.

MicroCon

I know compared to other comic book conventions this is small, but frankly, it is my favorite. I like it better because it is smaller, but, the venue is nice, the weather is just right, never too hot, never cold.

If you are in the area stop by and buy stuff, even some of my stuff!



MicroCon

Saturday, March 14, 2009

An interview with Tarringo T. Vaughan, wonderful poet and writer



TARRINGO T. VAUGHAN is a great writer of poetry, and a very thoughtful person. I offer this interview to hopefully expose you to his work, and to suggest that at PopLitiko we consider all aspects of popular culture. Even the aspects that aren’t AS popular.

Tell us about your background?:


I'm a 32 year old male with a bachelors in English. Graduated from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in 2000. Was born and spent my younger years in Boston and since the age of 7 have been living in Springfield, MA. I am the oldest of 4 children raised primarily by a single mother. I have been working In the health care field for 8 years now.

People often assume that poetry is rhyme alone, and perhaps rhythm make a work a poem. What is a poem, and why does or doesn't rhyme matter to its being a poem?:

I learned pretty quickly that poetry didn't have to be rhyme, it can be many things. A poem is simply a poet's expression and if they are able to reach the reader in the form of inspiration then its poetry. Rhyme to me only matters if it comes naturally. Sometimes I rhyme because its within the flow, but I try not to force it.

What poets are the poets you love to read?:

I read Langston Hughes, Nikki Giovanni, Charles Bukowski, Joseph Brodsky, Alicia Keys, Maya Angelou, Pablo Neruda

You are gay, black, and a poet, are there any other ways you are outside the norm of society? Does that inform your poetry? How does it, if it does, hurt your poetry?:

I think I'm outside the norm simply for writing so many different styles. But being gay and black gives me much more inspiration as far as writing goes. I don't think I ever have writers block. It hurts me because I think many male poets/writers assume and have assumed they know what my writing will be about. For the most part though, it hasn't hurt much.

Who inspires your poetry today? What inspired you to become a poet?:

I would have to go back to the writers of the Harlem renaissance because for them it was all about expression and the appreciation of self. I've always inspired to be more of a novel writer and script writer until one day a reader of mine told me I should try poetry.

FlexWritersOnline, FlexCafe and other places are havens for writers. What is your ultimate goal with them, and how has running them gone? Are there issues with doing so?:

My ultimate goal is exposing and connecting writers. Leading a group on myspace has been stressful although it is rewarding at the same time. I get a lot of shit just being a moderator. I've heard so much negative about me which is not true and it all comes down to competition which it should not be about.

Why be a poet? wouldn't writing music lyrics be more rewarding both financially speaking and societally acceptance-wise?

I think music is poetry so writing lyrics is what we are doing. A goal of mine is to make is socially acceptable.

What is a poet's greatest asset?

Their surroundings.

In 5 years, as a poet, and then, as a person, what do you hope to be doing, and having accomplished?

I honestly hope to see many books published of those I have grown to known and perhaps my own name on a book cover.

Where have you been published?

I haven't been published, many are shocked by that but I also haven't tried because I don't feel like I have anything complete to do so.

Lastly, what does poetry offer society?

A poet offers society a connection to the emotions people feel in that one may relate and feel they are not alone. It offers voices that may not be heard otherwise.

Find Tarringo’s work at:
FlexWritersOnline
FlexCafe
Diary of a Gay Black Man
Tarringo Vaughan

Thursday, March 12, 2009

So Say We All -- Part 7


"Someone to Watch over Me" (417)

“Scar” (215), “Maelstrom” (318), “Someone to Watch over Me” (417) – the progression of season-ending Starbuck episodes traces an interesting character arc. The daredevil pilot who constantly laughed death in the face has come to first realize her behavior is motivated by her fear of dying and then to tackle that fundamental, driving terror – and she has come out of that struggle not only realizing she has something to live for, but that she, in fact, has already died.

This, needless to say, deposits her in a surreal conundrum, leaving her adrift in a sea of uncertainty and confusion. And to complicate matters, she has no one to turn to. Her de facto spiritual guide, Number Two, literally flees from her and the contradiction she provides to his zealously held religious beliefs; her closest friend and part-time lover, Lee Adama, is engulfed by his own personal and professional anguish (with Dualla’s death and filling the vacuum of both a figurehead president and a depleted Quorum, respectively); her on-again, off-again husband, Sam Anders, is a mythical Cylon leader who is also currently in a comatose state.

This leaves her only with Slick (very slickly established in a cameo in the previous episode), a shabby piano player who also just so happens to be her father, visiting her in angelic form. And while he isn’t the first apparition to help nudge her along an uncertain destiny – Leoben-who-really-isn’t-Leoben (318) has that honor – it does relegate her to a special class of character. Of all the individuals aboard the Galactica who are touched by celestial visitors – a fluid number that is added to every season: Gaius Baltar (season one), Caprica Six (season two), Kara Thrace (season three), and now Sam Anders and Tory Foster, albeit in pre-Colonial identities (season four) – only two of them have seen more than one: Baltar, who has been routinely visited – and tortured – by Number Six since the miniseries and just once by a stylized, “angelic” version of himself (“Six of One,” 402), and now Kara.

Why these two are so special is unknown, but adding to the funkiness factor is the simple fact that Starbuck just may very well be an angel herself.

* * * * *

It’s very important, at least on a narrative level, that Captain Thrace is still in a nadir of turmoil and desperation – not knowing who, what, or why she is – by episode’s end; it not only sets the stage for the series’ final standalone installment (and the two-part finale beyond that), it also avoids the cliché of standard TeeVee writing (which, despite Ronald D. Moore’s continued disavowals of that particular style of storytelling [see his podcast commentary for “Black Market” (214)], he still somehow manages to resort to time and again [“Hero” (308) and “The Woman King” (314), among some pieces-parts of others]), as suddenly bringing Starbuck back in the spotlight after essentially ignoring her for some five episodes would come off as rather clumsy and heavy-handed.

But for all of its ambiguity or inconclusiveness, “Someone to Watch over Me” still leaves both Kara and the audience with a ray of (divine) light as to just what, exactly, her much ballyhooed destiny may be – and it revolves around Bob Dylan.

“All along the Watchtower,” of course, was first introduced in the third season finale, “Crossroads, Parts I and II” (319 and 320), when it lead the Final Four Cylons to both a compartment in the bowels of the ship and the epiphany that they all weren’t of the human persuasion. It made a brief reappearance in the fourth season mid-season finale, “Revelations” (410), when it leads them to Starbuck’s mystical Viper and another understanding: the secret to Earth’s location can be found within the magically recreated fighter.

The connection between these musical interludes, which represent Earth and the Final Five Cylons’ past lives upon it, and the Five, obviously, is Kara. Moore has been stating since March ’07 (the airdate of the third season finale) that it was no coincidence that the Four were reawakened at the exact moment Starbuck returned from the dead, and story developments since then have only reinforced this: there’s no reason for Number One to have programmed an expiration date for the Five’s sleeper personalities, just as there was no reason for the Five to have somehow slipped their “true” identities in at the Temple of Five on the algae planet on their return trip to Kobol and the Twelve Colonies, as Ellen so plainly states to a clearly puzzled (and thoroughly atheistic) Cavil (“No Exit,” 415). Like Mr. and Mrs. Tigh at the end of 417, the audience is forced to conclude that there is a deity of some sort that is controlling events, and it – whatever “it” may be – has a destiny in mind for all, man and machine.

But does this destiny have to do with Kara’s leading all and sundry to their deaths, as the Hybrids keep intoning? Or has that already been played out in the mid-season premiere (“Sometimes a Great Notion,” 411), when a shocked and dismayed Galactica finds Earth a cinder of a planet?

* * * * *

Season 4.5 has had, to date, an interesting premise: explore the changing dynamics of fleet life as the battlestar Galactica transforms into a mixed crew, both literally and figuratively. The intricacies and difficulties and dysfunctions of attempting to cobble together a permanent, mutually beneficial alliance between the Colonials and the rebel Cylons are so fascinating and all-encompassing, there’s very little time, if any at all, left over for Number One and his militaristic forces of yes-men, prowling the cosmos in their unceasing quest to extinguish human (and Cylon) life and claim the home of the Thirteenth Tribe as their own.

This closes the circle, bringing the final and first seasons together thematically and narratively: season one was all about life in the ragtag fleet, how only 50,000 men and women attempt to perpetuate the human species and continue the Colonial way of life. The Cylons are involved as only an afterthought; they send out squadrons scouring space (“Act of Contrition,” 104) or create beachheads on resource-rich asteroids (“The Hand of God,” 110), but nothing more. It’s not until the second season that we learn the Cylons have amassed a huge fleet in an effort to finish the liquidation of mankind, and it’s not until the second season that this fleet actually manages to catch up with the Colonials.

This is the ultimate reflection or mirroring that Moore and staff have been sprinkling throughout the past seven episodes, and it’s a fitting end to such an epic series.

* * * * *

Speaking of mirroring: Boomer and the Chief come back into focus in “Someone to Watch over Me,” and they come back in a big way.

But such a reunion only serves to show just how far they, as individuals, have come. Secret rendezvous in storage compartments have been replaced by romantic interludes of projection; and Boomer, the sleeper agent who was an unknowing and unwilling device of espionage and terrorism, has become an active and willful agent of the forces working against the hybrid Galactica crew – she has gone from being deceived to deceiving others.

In this way, Tyrol’s role in the relationship hasn’t changed much – he’s still having a fast one pulled on him, and he’ll still have much to answer and atone for amongst his comrades, human and Cylon. But in many other ways, good ol’ Galen much more resembles this new, post-human Boomer: both have deliberately and consciously turned their backs on humanity (Boomer by siding with Cavil and endeavoring to become the best possible machine, Tyrol by casually voting to abandon the Colonials in the hopes of creating a perfect, Cylon-only colony), and both have intentionally and purposefully struck at and hurt innocents around them (Galen clobbers an Eight and has her executed in Boomer’s stead; Sharon, just for spite, fraks Helo and even has attempted to kill infant Hera before [“Rapture,” 312]).

* * * * *

Random observation about Starbuck: her status as a so-called angel may just have been substantially bolstered by her holding a flame under her hand for an extended period of time; not being able to feel pain would definitely point to her not having a “real” body. While a neat twist, this would dramatically undermine the theatrics of her role in the mutiny two-parter (“The Oath” [413]/”Blood on the Scales” [414]); what suspense is there in her playing cowboy-and-Indians with the mutineers if she can’t be killed, let alone hurt?

* * * * *

Random observation about Chief Tyrol: he’s frakked.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

American Culture: In Guns We Trust?



I am not always able to see why people disagree, Republicans and Democrats in the American political system should both have the best interest of the country at heart, right? Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists all believe in some form of system where good behavior and moral beliefs are vital. They should have a great deal of common ground. Women and men both desire love, and pursue it, however poorly or misdirected. But in all these examples, they don’t get along, however much they should be able to do so. I cannot understand it, but I recognize that it happens.

“There are no "good guns". There are no "bad guns". Any gun in the hands of a bad man is a bad thing. Any gun in the hands of a decent person is no threat to anybody — except bad people.” - Charlton Heston

On the other hand, I fully understand why people who own guns in the United States do not intellectually find common ground with those who do not own guns. Gun owners trace the independence of the United States and American people to a well armed civilianry. They consider how free Americans are societally, and they attribute that freedom to being able defend their freedoms from governmental intrusions. Beliefs such as these are difficult to argue for or against without passion. For while Gun culture has beliefs regarding the ownership of guns or the right of ownership, those who disagree, and do not own such weapons also have beliefs. They believe that if guns are available that people who aren’t interested in self defense or sport shooting or hunting will be able to acquire a gun and use it in the committing of a crime. They suggest that the Second Amendment to the Constitution in the Bill of Rights provides for a well armed and trained Militia, not everyone wanting a gun. They also point to accidents that happen and take lives due to guns being a dangerous tool in the hands of the inexperienced or careless user, or worse, child.

“After a shooting spree, they always want to take the guns away from the people who didn't do it. I sure as hell wouldn't want to live in a society where the only people allowed guns are the police and the military.” - William S. Burroughs

I am explaining all this because Gun culture in the United States does influence the popular culture, the knowledge of the past, the beliefs about the society and nation. Guns are part of the American scene, and guns are symbolize things to both sides of the argument. Guns are dangerous. But to the gun owner they are a good danger, one that threatens criminals, defends property, and keeps the government from taking more than just the gun away, but all rights. Guns are dangerous in a bad manner to those people against gun ownership. The danger is not misunderstood, bullets kill, but motives, scenarios and circumstances help to make the argument one with few winners, just angry expressions and disagreement.

“It's just a ride and we can change it any time we want. It's only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings and money, a choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear want you to put bigger locks on your door, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love instead see all of us as one.” - Bill Hicks

So, if you are an American who believes in the legends of the American West, with cowboys, the great frontier, the role of violence in taking the land, I am willing to bet that you are a gun owner, or at least support gun ownership rights. If you are an American who believes that there are a great many victimized people groups in America due to the violent process of nation building, I am willing to bet that you do not agree with or feel a need to greatly limit gun ownership and gun ownership rights.

“Some parents say it is toy guns that make boys warlike. But give a boy a rubber duck and he will seize its neck like the butt of a pistol and shout "Bang!"” - George F. Will

I am not suggesting here, for any reason, that either side is correct. I simply pointing out that within what we call popular culture are views that are often part of the whole view, but disagreed upon. Gun culture is part of American culture, but not everyone agrees that it is a good thing.

“And the National Rifle Association says that, "Guns don't kill people, people do,” but I think the gun helps, you know? I think it helps. I just think just standing there going, "Bang!" That's not going to kill too many people, is it? You'd have to be really dodgy on the heart to have that…” - Eddie Izzard

((I will certainly be asked by reader emails if not via comments, if I own a gun. I come from a family that did not hunt, but my brother does now. My best friend is a gun toting Libertarian, and in high school I was one of the very few males who attended school during Deer Hunting. In Wisconsin if you didn’t hunt deer, you were not normal. I do not own a gun, but I grew up in a part of the country where hunting was the norm. I do not find myself desiring to own a gun, but I am not against the ownership of guns. I think most of the problems come down to the fact that nobody wants criminals to be able to acquire guns, but we know they will. So how do you prevent it, at the same time as allow gun ownership? I don’t have an answer, but I am not saying all gun ownership should end because criminals violate other people’s rights. In fact you could argue that gun ownership protects you in those cases. So I am a tweener.))

So Say We All -- Part 6


"Deadlock" (416)

“I’m the same old Ellen.” Indeed she is. Less than twenty-four hours after stepping off of Boomer’s captured Raptor, Ellen Tigh, the fifth and final Cylon, is lying, manipulating, scheming, and loving just as she always did as Colonial Ellen. Despite her neuroses, it’s good to know that Cylon Ellen is just the same.

And she wonders where John Cavil got it from.

* * * * *

This dominant storyline actually sets the mood for the entire episode, the first of BSG’s final five (no pun intended). The more Mrs. Tigh is the same, the more things are different aboard the old battlestar Galactica: Cylons not only comprise roughly half of Chief Tyrol’s repair crew, they also constitute a good portion of Starbuck’s CAP (the former headed by a Cylon himself, the latter by an “angel”); Admiral Adama and President Roslin, the two leaders of the ragtag fleet, are openly sleeping together (if “openly” only means amongst the senior military staff); Adama, now, and not Tigh, is the drunk; the interior of the Galactica has been so emptied, and Marines and officers have been so depleted, the sizable civilization population has been forced to fend for itself; and, of course, Caprica Six is pregnant, the first Cylon-Cylon child – and the possible future for the entire Cylon race, Hera be damned.

Of course, the writers damned Liam, Colonel Tigh’s would-be son, just as they damned little Nicky, Tyrol’s would-be (half-Cylon) son, before him. While it’s a good stroke of continuity to have yet another Cylon pregnancy end in ruin, and while it was good fodder for Ellen to use as torture against her erstwhile lover (not to mention the rest of the Cylons aboard the battlestar), and it was a nice callback to the Cylons’ belief that they could naturally and biologically reproduce if only they could truly and deeply feel that fleeting human quality called love ("The Farm," 205), one can’t help but feel a little cheated at the writers snatching away yet another Cylon youngling from the audience’s grasp. It’s as if the writers, wildly engaged in that mad juggling act conjured up in the previous article, throw, in their excitement, a whole handful of pins up in the air – only to realize that they can’t possibly juggle half of those objects, and they simply don’t care to try with the rest.

And Hera herself has come to be one of those discarded balls, suspended indefinitely in space while Ronald D. Moore and staff figure out which hand to use in catching it, and where exactly to throw it to next. At least all eyes are turned on her once again. With resurrection destroyed and further proof that all Cylon couplings are infertile, she truly is the last, best hope of the Cylons.

And, quite possibly, the humans.

More on that later.

* * * * *

When the writers introduced the wild card of civvies aboard the Galactica after the New Caprica serial early in season three ("Exodus, Part II," 304), certain narrative possibilities instantly opened up: smuggling drugs – and the gods know what else – aboard the ship ("The Passage," 310); constructing a makeshift bar ("Taking a Break from All Your Worries," 313); even waiting for hours in line to hit the head ("Torn," 306), as insignificant as they may sound upon first blush. But one extreme variation that never popped in one's head was having roaming band of civilians, touting guns and essentially engaging in gang-life warfare, tearing through the hallowed halls of the dilapidated military vessel. The Galactica now less resembles the USS Enterprise and instead is quickly approaching Babylon 5, a space station carved up into several different zones – command, diplomatic, alien, no-man's-land.

Establishing Gaius Baltar as the head of a religious cult, burrowing itself in the very bowels of the massive ship, the outcasts of even the outcasts, was an inspired choice (if only to help continue the good doctor's incessantly and infinitely zigzagging storyline – in every season, he has a different title and serves a different role in Colonial society); reintroducing him, after making a brief retreat from the encroaching mutiny ("The Oath," 414), as the militant leader of a well-armed – and officially sanctioned! – militia is even more interesting, and certainly even more frightening. It instantly conjures up images of David Koresh and bodies on the floor and has one thinking forward to a not-too-distant time when the battlestar is wracked with another insurrection, civilian/gang in nature and far more destructive to both her and all her occupants.

But making Baltar a field commander serves far more narrative purposes than simply setting up a possible (and even likely) civil conflict: it draws the Sons of Ares back into the fold, elevating them from a convenient, placeholder nemesis (“Escape Velocity,” 404) to what feels like a real part of Colonial society; it serves as the perfect excuse to tease Number Six out of her angelic hiding place and to reinsert her into Gaius’s life – and the audience’s collective mind; it starts to humanize Baltar, showing that his long, self-absorbed character arc just may end with at least a certain degree of redemption; and, finally, it shows just how desperate William Adama is getting, how many empty straws he’s blindly clutching at, to keep his beloved battlestar intact. Whether it’s breaking his years-long ban on having sophisticated (i.e., computer-networked or flat-out Cylon) technology implemented on the ship or arming his most despised adversary, he’s willing to do it.

And to do it over a glass of scotch.

* * * * *

Why would the rebel Cylon trio of Two, Six, and Eight want to depart the Colonial fleet once the Final Five have – finally – been reassembled? They know that One and his formidable array of forces are still on the prowl, searching for Earth and looking for the final remnants of their dissident siblings. And they must know of Anders’s predictions of the angels and the “miracle” that is waiting to happen in the throng of the human population (although they must also know of Tory’s unshakable belief in the supremacy of the [original] Cylon race – something that Tigh himself points out when the matter is first brought to a vote).

It’s actually a nice nod to previous installments – the Galactica and Colonial One have just had a significant number of people purged in the failed, but still devastating, mutiny attempt; it must seem that staying amongst the humans is at least as unsafe as floating exposed through the depths of space, waiting for One to pounce on them – and a deft play for theatrics, the bedrock of any narrative enterprise: with Ellen back in the fleet and the Five complete (despite Anders’s unconscious state), the audience, along with all of the other characters, Cylon or Colonial, expects something to happen. That something is the rebel Cylons and half of the Final Five wishing to drop all and sundry behind for seemingly greener pastures.

The real dramatic component of this twist lies in the character of Galen Tyrol. This machine who is more human than most of the human characters, who has loved and lost, been through war, essentially abandoned his only child, and built his whole life around being a valued member of Adama’s, crew elects to give it all up without much thought and strike out for a new life that is well beyond the contours or capabilities of the average human existence. His ability to sense Boomer’s identity, just as the other Cylons can, further points to the character’s growing Cylon sensibilities and sympathies. In two fell, subtle swoops, the writers underscore just how profoundly the Chief has changed.

Demotion, a shaved head, and a newfound rapprochement with Gaius Baltar just might do that to anybody.

* * * * *

Moore has continuously mentioned in his podcast commentaries that the writers have made a deliberate effort to mirror the beginning of the series here in the final half-season. Seeing a Six kick some ass – especially a pregnant one – is a nice callback to the first season (“Litmus,” 106, and “Kobol’s Last Gleaming, Part 2,” 113). Another, far more rewarding echo is of Ellen Tigh’s re-introduction, perfectly mirroring her original introduction in “Tight Me Up, Tigh Me Down” (109).

Here’s to echoes of reflections, and the many more we're bound to see in the last four episodes.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

So Say We All -- Part 5


"No Exit" (415)

“Sometimes a Great Notion,” the mid-season premiere, introduced in its substantial (and foreboding) forty-five minutes two paramount story elements: the enigmatic – and apparently convoluted – backstory of the Cylon race(s) and the ramifications of a seemingly permanent alliance with the rebel Cylon trio of Numbers Six, Eight, and Two. The immediate three subsequent episodes were dedicated to the former narrative tract; apparently, this week’s and next’s are dominated by Cylon history.

And dominated is an appropriate word. “No Exit” is so full of exposition, backstory, and explanation, it not only could easily have served as a previous season’s finale, it also feels as if it were constructed out of cutscenes taken from one of Kojima Hideo’s masterful Metal Gear Solid videogames, a series (in)famous for its formidable narrative density and labyrinthine storytelling (one installment by itself contains enough plot twists to choke M. Night Shymalan and all but requires one to devote, in monastic fashion, a considerable amount of time to analysis and meditation. Needless to say, the MGS games are polarizing in the game community). It is appropriate, then, that this is the last episode in the first half of season 4.5.

And of all the revelations, the one that demands our immediate attention is the one that most profoundly rocks Battlestar Galactica’s narrative framework: the series’ backstory.


* * * * *

In the beginning, there was Kobol.

Humanity evolved here, ultimately dividing itself into twelve different tribes and then, at some point down the line, creating what would become known as the thirteenth tribe: the Cylons, a race of mechanical Centurions. Some four thousand years ago (“The Eye of Jupiter,” episode 311), war breaks out between man and machine, and all and sundry leave the planet (save for a few, who choose to live out their finals days on their birthplace [“Home, Part 2,” 207]).

The Twelve Tribes opt to stick together, although at a cost: there is so much in-fighting amongst the different sects (both tribal and, almost certainly, religious; there are dozens, if not hundreds, of religious cults that dot the Tribes’ religious landscape), the twelve tribal leaders are forced to elect a unified – and temporary – supervisor to see them through their exodus. He, of course, manages to do the deed, although he dies before they all manage to settle the promised land: a solar system that contains, miraculously, twelve inhabitable planets, one for each sect (110).

On the Twelve Colonies of Kobol, humanity embraces the comfort and security of a second chance, quickly expunging from their collective memory the unfortunate events that transpired on Kobol. Mythology fills the void that history should have: the Colonials come to believe that humanity lived in peace with their gods on Kobol until, through sinning and folly, they invoked the ire of their Lords and are driven out.

There is still sin on the Colonies, too. The different sects continue to war and bicker, although progress manages to catch up with them before calamity does: over the millennia, a supranational governing apparatus is slowly constructed. Some 52 years before the start of the series, this results in the official declaration of a federal government, headed by a president and governed by the Quorum (“Colonial Day,” 111).

The Thirteenth Tribe, meanwhile, lands on Earth and also prospers, creating a population that numbers in the millions, possibly the billions. For reasons unknown, the Cylons endeavor to become fully biological entities, and here, on Earth, after a significant amount – perhaps centuries – of trial and error, they succeed: the race can now reproduce biologically. The resurrection technology that the Twelve Tribes created for their Centurions on Kobol is finally discarded and is soon lost to the ravages of time.

As their civilization advances, however, several different permutations or societies are generated. Some two thousand years ago, they finally clash, ending the bickering by launching a series of nuclear warheads and wiping out all life on the planet – or almost all life. Five individuals, close friends who work at an engineering firm, are warned of the coming holocaust by “angels” – individuals that only some of them can see (Samuel T. Anders sees a woman that no one else can; Tory Foster, a man). Based on their dire predictions, these Final Five Cylons work night and day on creating an ark that will save them: a Resurrection Ship, painstakingly pieced together from fragments from Cylon history and fueled by the engineering brilliance of Galen Tyrol and the intuitive mathematics of Ellen Tigh.

With their entire race gone and their planet decimated, the Final Five set out to find their estranged brothers and sisters from Kobol. They understand, perhaps with help from the angels, that the cycle of time will repeat itself once more: the Twelve Tribes, their memory from Kobol fragmented and distorted, will create a new race of Cylons. These new Centurions will eventually rebel, war will erupt once more, and the threat of another holocaust will hang heavily over all. The Five set out immediately, retracing the steps of their ancestors two millennia ago, but since they are forced to use subluminal engines – FTL drives were never invented by the first Cylons – there is a severe time distortion: although only several years pass for the Five, some two thousand years elapse throughout the rest of the galaxy.

On the Twelve Colonies, they are met with a familiar scene. For some ten years, mechanical Centurions, incensed at being treated as slaves instead of co-citizens, are waging war against the humans – and, what’s more, they have already started experimentation that will make them fully biological. This is exactly what the Final Five feared and had hoped to prevent; as such, they secretly approach the Colonial Centurions and entreat them to break off the war. Although in awe of their mythical, long-lost forefathers, the Centurions have no interest in abandoning their quest for justice and press on with the battle.

The Five counter with a tantalizing offer: if the Cylons cease and desist, they will give them resurrection technology, ensuring the perpetration of the species now, and will help them become fully biological (shaving some several centuries off of the process), ensuring the continuation of the species in the future. To guarantee that their distant cousins will accept the proposal, they also use the Cylons’ newfound religion against them: if they truly believe in one God, a loving and knowing deity, wouldn’t He want them to stop killing?

The offer’s too good and the argument’s too sound to pass up; the Colonial Cylons accept, and they all depart the Twelve Colonies immediately, going to an unknown location to create the new Cylon order. John Cavil is birthed first, granting him the designation of Number One. (Interestingly enough, Cavil starts off as a child, then quickly ages to an adult. It is almost certain that the Final Five used some sort of rapid aging process – how else would One age so quickly in only forty years?). The second model to be created is named by the Five Leoben Conoy, making him Number Two. This continues on until Daniel, Number Seven, is conceived.

By this point, it is clear to the Five that Cavil is not the prodigal son that they had thought he would be. Rather than embrace his new biological, man-like status, he detests it, declaring that the Five, their mission to recreate the second race of Cylons in their image, and their fervent belief in the one true God (the Final Five have come to believe in the Centurions’ religion, replacing the polytheism that was bequeathed to them on Kobol) to be not only thoroughly foolish, but also fundamentally wrong. He argues for the supremacy of metal over flesh and the continuation of justice – i.e., war against the humans – in place of rapprochement. In a fit of rage and jealousy (Seven was Ellen’s favorite, and not him), One sabotages the cloning process and then kills the main Daniel copy, making his entire line extinct in one fell stroke.

Although the Five manage to finish their plan of creating thirteen Cylon models – in honor of the Thirteen Tribes and in a hope to recreate the brief period of time in which man and machine lived in peace on Kobol – with Number Eight, Sharon Valerii, Cavil strikes again with a far more calculated plan: he will show the Final Five just how wrong they are. If they so badly want to be like the humans, he’ll make them human; in this way, they can experience the trauma and the sadism of the human race firsthand, and they’ll know just exactly what they inadvertently intended to inflict on their children.

He tricks them in a room, drains it of oxygen, then jury-rigs the new bodies the Five will be resurrected in: each is given a set of false Colonial memories to replace their real Cylon ones. To complete the scheme, he reinserts them one by one, just several years after the end of the First Cylon War, into the societies of the Twelve Colonies, starting with Saul Tigh (whom, for extra pleasure, he gives memories of serving in the war, engendering an unrivaled hatred for what is, in all actuality, Tigh’s own people).

With the Five driven out, One is able to assume the mantle of the man of the house, essentially obtaining control over the other six models and charging them with a mission: continue the fight for vengeance over the wrongs that were committed against their mechanical predecessors. A battle plan is worked up and, some thirty years later, it results in the actions of the miniseries – the liquidation of mankind.

And, finally, to complete the repeating of history, of the tens of billions of humans alive before the Second Cylon War, only some fifty thousand manage to survive – an incredibly small fraction. Beaten and defeated, the beleaguered remnants of Colonial society set out to find their long-lost brothers and sisters of the Thirteenth Tribe, who, as far as they know, are living happily and soundly on far-flung Earth, untouched by the ravages of war.

* * * * *

Needless to say, John(!) Cavil has not only come out of “No Exit” as an infinitely more interesting and complicated character (it’s not simply the addition of a [convoluted] backstory or the adding of parent-child overtones – it’s chiefly the wonderfully written soliloquy he delivers to Ellen rallying against the perception of the infinite cosmos through finitely limited human eyes), he’s also emerged as Battlestar’s version of Darth Vader or the Cigarette-Smoking Man: he is now the chief villain of the series, the main antagonist of both the Colonials and the Cylons. He’s the primary obstacle to peace, the stated objective of the Final Five, whether they remember it or not, and the only thing that can finally stop him, after all these decades of scheming and plotting and torturing (did I say he’s Galactica’s version of Vader? He’s more like Darth Sidious) is to kill him. Indeed, this is more than likely what the events of the series finale will shape up to be: a to-the-death struggle against One (and, quite possibly, Four and Five).

That the writers should make Cavil such a paramount component of the series, especially so late in the game, is another striking resemblance to Metal Gear Solid. In the seventh and final game in the series, 2008’s Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, Revolver Ocelot, a main villain in the story since 1998’s Metal Gear Solid, is revealed to have a far more intimate – and sinister – role in the games’ events since the very beginning, all the way back to 1987’s Metal Gear. His involvement in a behind-the-scenes and heretofore-unknown power struggle is a startling plot twist that also plunges the entire game series into a completely different light. So, too, with Brother Cavil.

One final rumination on One: it’s most interesting that the two models who follow him blindly, Numbers Four and Five, are the most atheistic members of the Cylon (while we know without a doubt Doral’s lack of religious convictions [“The Eye of Jupiter,” 311], Four’s similar beliefs are, at this point, at least, an educated guess). It’s the religious (Number Two) and the confused (Number Eight) models who rally against him, making for yet another subtle and telling wrinkle to the writers’ handling and depiction of theism and fanaticism. This, too, will undoubtedly play a role in the finale.

* * * * *

Another character who gets a much-needed facelift and overhaul in this episode is the perpetually wayward Boomer.

Lieutenant Sharon Valerii became, over the course of the third season, yet another dropped ball in the writers’ ever-expanding repertoire of items to continuously juggle: add in a Colonial dissident group dedicated to union with the Cylons (“Epiphanies,” 213), drop President Roslin’s newly established public status as a religious icon (the last we hear of it is the “Home” two-parter [206 and 207]); throw in Major Lee Adama’s promotion to CO of the battlestar Pegasus (“The Captain’s Hand,” 217), neglect Caprica Six after she’s imprisoned aboard the Galactica (“Rapture,” 312) – and ignore Lee’s return to the rank of major and role as CAG (which happens somewhere in between “Exodus, Part II” [304] and “Torn” [306] – we don’t know for certain because the writers dropped that ball in mid-juggle, too).

The last we saw of her, Boomer had went from one of the fledgling leaders of the Cylons, boldly forging a new path of rapprochement, ironically enough, with the humans (“Lay down Your Burdens, Part II,” 220), to completely turning her back on the people she had originally thought she had belonged to. She is so full of rage over their rejection and dejection of her, in fact, that she nearly kills infant Hera (312).

That’s quite a jump, and even though Ronald D. Moore walks us through the transition on his podcast commentaries, there just isn’t enough work laid down in the episodes themselves for it to be fully believable – and if it ain’t on the screen, it ain’t in viewers’ heads or hearts. “No Exit” solves this with one neatly placed bit of retroactive continuity: One, seeing the pain Boomer was in due to the conflicted human emotions she was programmed with (even though, oddly enough, it was his plan of infiltrating and subsequently annihilating humanity that directly lead to her sleeper personality being manufactured), took her under his wing. She turns out to be a resolute pupil, taking on Cavil’s quest to become the best possible machine he can with a zeal that can only be borne from deep-seated – and pathological – mental and emotional pain.

Where this newly established relationship goes, of course, especially since Boomer has now turned her back on her mentor and has instead sided with his nemesis, the Final Five (another sudden, abrupt, and jarring switch that will likely require yet another ret-con to properly patch it), is very much fascinating and will likely help to shape and propel the events of the final half of season 4.5.

* * * * *

For my money, however, the most interesting plot point of all the myriad and dizzying ones established in this week’s episode is that of the angels, the very same beings who visit the good Dr. Baltar and the sultry Caprica Six – and into whose ranks the intrepid Starbuck just may have found herself. Do they always appear when the cycle of time is about to turn over once more? Or are they BSG’s version of the Oracle from the Matrix trilogy, helping shuffle events along their same boring track until the time is ripe to break the cycle and end the endless conflict between man and machine?

Only five more episodes to tell.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

HALO Wars Genres

Halo Wars is breaking new ground.

This revolution certainly isn’t in regards to its much-touted status as the first (competently done) console-specific RTS, since, in fact, it’s not: Ubisoft’s EndWar, released last November, gets that title (although, for my money, the distinction actually goes to Nintendo’s two Pikmin games, released in ’01 and ’04, respectively). The breakthrough instead pertains to taking an established game series, replete with an overarching narrative, continuing characters, and, of course, a huge installed fanbase, and making the leap from one genre to another – in this case, from FPS to RTS.

Let’s clarify here. Yes, other franchises in the past have tried to breach the genre barrier and make out for new territories. But these endeavors have always resulted in disaster. Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero (’97, PSX/N64) and Death by Degrees (’05, PS2), two titles that left their original series’ realm of fighting for side-scrolling action, are good for-instances; another is StarCraft, which had a console-specific spin-off, Ghost, trapped in development hell for some four years and then summarily cancelled. Halo Wars, then, has pulled off a remarkable feat.

This isn’t as insignificant as it first sounds. Most stories – or series of stories – in most media find it difficult to traverse from one genre to the next. The only recent example from film is that of the Alien franchise, originating with horror, progressing (or is that regressing?) to action, and then returning to horror. But even here, the persistent specter of failure hangs over the proceedings: despite some moments or elements of note from the three sequels, only the first film contains that ephemeral ingredient called quality.

That Halo should be the first successful transplant – and (the now-defunct) Ensemble Studios the first successful surgeons – is astonishing. What is it about the universe that three highly successful first-person shooters created that allows itself to be explored in the seemingly hostile environment of a foreign genre? It’s certainly not the gameplay, good as it may be: what constitutes good design in an FPS – knee-jerk reflexes, a good trigger finger, environments cluttered with ubiquitous (and requisite) crates to accommodate fire-and-cover engagements – typically doesn’t rise to the forefront of good RTS game design. And, contrary to common belief, it’s most definitely not the story; the Alien example, as commented upon previously, is apropos, given the Halo franchise’s uncanny – and unfortunate – resemblance to Jim Cameron’s Aliens, a movie that is tragically short on story (and good dialogue) but high on tension.

Tension is definitely part of the answer, but only a mere sliver. As Frank O’Connor, a writer working at Bungie, proffered in the IGN-produced Universe Expanded series of video featurettes, the Halo games have assembled a formidable array of elements – vehicles, locations, characters, musical themes and sound effects, weapons. That’s a big toy box, and it’s fun to empty it out and play with all the toys in a new setting: the backyard instead of the living room, dad’s office instead of the bedroom. Indeed, this is what, in large amount, accounts for the FPS Halo games’ long-lasting multiplayer modes – playing with all of the toys with all of your biddies, making them do things they were never meant to do in the first place. (Of course, the irony here, with this analogy, is that when Bungie initially started development on Halo, way back in ’99 for the Mac, it was originally an RTS.)

Gamers know the “toy box,” of course, as the sandbox, that all-encompassing term for player-driven gameplay. And this strikes right at the heart of the matter of both what makes gaming the most unique of all the art forms and just why it is a videogame series that can pull off musical chairs with genre when no one else can: while all art strives to create immersive, fully realized worlds, games do that by their very definition and nature. And despite the Halo trilogy’s (largely) derivative story and predictable plot, it is an incredibly atmospheric undertaking (which is more than likely why the games are consistently listed with the likes of The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy as the best videogames of all time), something which anyone who’s played Halo multiplayer for an hour can attest to. With such compelling toys and such an intriguing context in which to play with them, the rules of the actual game itself matter very little: FPS, RTS, RPG (a BioWare-developed Halo RPG? Weirder things have happened.)

And, ultimately, there is that ever-elusive element – quality. Halo, across all four of its iterations, has had this in spades, despite its flaws and wasted potentialities and Joe Staten’s annoying voice. Atmospheric quality, combined with an audacious spirit on Microsoft’s end, are the reason why Halo Wars is the triumph it is.

If the videogame industry, with its spiraling development costs and increasingly frightened publishers, continues to move into a homogenized, sequel-only market, then this is certainly the way to go.

So Say We All -- Update

Death and illness(es) in the family, combined with purchasing and moving into a new home, have caused me to fall behind schedule. I will attend to the updates as soon as humanly possible, and no matter when they are published, they will be written in the context in which they were aired: ignorance of the subsequent episodes’ events.

My apologies to all.