Saturday, April 18, 2009

So Say We All -- Afterword


When asked what reaction he wanted to the conclusion of his television opus, J. Michael Straczynski said he desired the very same thought one has when putting a good book back up on the shelf: Good story. I’ll read it again sometime down the road.


I’ve always thought that the campfire scenario was a more apt analogy for the ephemeral medium of television. And now that the fire’s burnt down low, the stars and moon are high in the sky above, and Ronald D. Moore is retiring to his cabin in the far-off woods, we, the audience, are left savoring the glow of the embers and the sweet smells of pine and campfire and looking to one another with that most eternal of questions, one that has accompanied every story and storyteller since the first caves in Africa and the earliest amphitheaters in Greece: So, what did you think?


Moore
has, indeed, left a lot for us to chew on. Battlestar Galactica is the first science fiction series in some forty years – since Star Trek: The Original Series went off the air in 1969 – to so directly, immediately, and unflinchingly hold a mirror up to the society that produced it. The legality of a secretive and opaque administration, foreign occupation and the resultant embrace of terrorism, sleeper enemy agents waiting to pounce in the midst of an unknowing populace – there is a reason why Newsweek named the show the most emblematic or representative television series of George W. Bush’s eight-year administration.


While such potent timeliness delivers a highly resonant viewing experience the first time ‘round, it will engender both a classic timelessness and a strong sense of datedness as the story passes from campfire to campfire, generation to generation, just as James T. Kirk simultaneously transcends all epochs while still embodying the cultural milieu of the ‘60s. Whether William Adama will end up having the same vitality – and Battlestar the same vigor as Trek, not only sustaining a level of popularity or relevance but also managing to accrue new spin-off material – is very much up in the air. Even just three months into the Obama era, things are already starting to attain a different hue.


Which doesn’t, of course, touch upon the other half of the equation that constitutes an artwork’s durability: its composition. Here BSG doesn’t fare nearly as well; though spinning some genuinely and superbly gripping, emotional, and, at (many) times, disturbing narrative strands, it spent just as much time pursuing false leads or allowing the threads that constitute its thematic tapestry to fray and, even, split apart. As such, for nearly every “Flesh and Bone” (108), we get a “Hero” (308). The resultant effect across the years is something similar to whiplash.


The show’s struggles with narrative cohesion or coherence can be traced to one fundamental decision, made by Moore himself and affecting every member of the writing staff and every facet of the writing process: the lack of forethought or, even, foresight. The vast majority of the show was flown by the seat of the writers’ pants, without structure or premeditation, without knowledge of where character arcs would extend or what the plot would entail. Indeed, roughly half of the series was written without even an ending in mind – and for the half that was, what constituted the endpoint was such a vague jumble of ideas (finding Colonial Earth, revealing Hera as Mitochondrial Eve, jumping forward to our time period), it could have played any one of several different ways, depending upon the context established by the preceding installments and the shape of the finale itself.


There is, of course, many a writer who defends such an approach to the process. George R.R. Martin has floated a now-classic thesis on the subject: some authors are architects, who plan and design and lay out the entire blueprint before starting to get into the messy business of the writing itself; others are planters, who plant a seed on the first page and let it grow spontaneously as they continue to write every page thereafter. Even Mark Verheiden, one of the staffers on Battlestar, has gotten in on the action – he dedicated a brief and germane, but not entirely accurate, blog post on the subject, proclaiming, essentially, that preplanned shows are boring (to write, if not to watch).


Ultimately, though, as Ron Moore himself points out in his final podcast, as long as the result, by story’s end, is a well-told and -crafted narrative, who gives a frak? He is, obviously and certainly, correct. But this is precisely where his series takes the most damage, where it shows the most cracks and holes and other assorted types of defects; there is a reason why the show’s first and fourth seasons, the only two to have had any type of game plan before the fact, meander the least narratively or thematically, and why years two and three are a clutter, to reemploy an old analogy, of dropped juggling pins.


And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Entire characters or plotlines across stronger and lesser seasons alike were atrophied by the lack of direction or, even worse, purpose that preplanning brings. Lee Adama, who ends up, by series’ end, being one of the most prominent characters of the entire panoply, is the best example of wasted potential: he starts at the rank of captain, quickly is promoted to major, then is even more quickly promoted to commander. His tenure as CO is short-lived, however, and once the Pegasus is KIA, he instantly goes back to major and his old job of CAG aboard the Galactica without even so much as a word of explanation as to how or why. Outranking the good ol’ Colonel, why wouldn’t he take Tigh’s place as XO? Why wouldn’t Adama discuss this very possibility with his son – or why, more to the point, it wouldn’t be a possibility? And, much more importantly, why doesn’t Lee seem to give a frak one way or the other? This could have been a major beat for his character, dramatically impacting his arc – something which the third season in specific could’ve used a dose of. Instead we get silence and a half-hearted apology from Moore on his podcast commentaries. “We didn’t know what else to do with the character,” he sheepishly says.


The situation is thrown into even starker relief when compared to another freeform series, David Chase’s masterpiece, The Sopranos. Each season was viewed, at least initially, as its own separate unit; its plot, character beats, and thematic developments were conceived without much or any thought to future episodes. Still, there is an amazing consistency and unity amongst each and every installment, episode and season alike, that rivals the narrative complexity of an arced show, such as Straczynski’s Babylon 5. The ending Chase ultimately produced, as such, puts the finishing touches (or not – there is a certain, abrupt open-endedness in “Made in America” that Moore directly, but subtly, lifted for “Daybreak, Part II”) on themes first introduced in the pilot eight years earlier, making the entire span of the series resplendent with resonance. Writing methodology, then, is only half the equation; writing responsibly is the other.


Still, the good ship Galactica wasn’t derelict in her most important of duties: whether it was watching characters implode, situations (continually) deteriorate, or witnessing those magical and fleeting moments, such as in the end, when happiness and luck and perseverance manage to outmaneuver the darkness, the show proved to be, much more than just a rejoinder of her times, a vessel through which we, individual people as well as a collective audience, could invest and explore ourselves, within and without. Like the steadfast Enterprise exploring new worlds and civilizations, the Galactica tirelessly prowled the dark and haunted areas between the cracks in our psyches, helping us venture to places that we normally are loathe to go – and to help us emerge on the other side as more complete people, happy for the experience but also, more importantly and poignantly, better for the journey.


So say we all.


* * * * *


Following is a compilation of all my writings and musings, totaling some 28,000 words, on what just may prove to be a seminal moment in television history, Battlestar Galactica:


“Six Degrees of Explanation”

(Miniseries through Razor)


Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Epilogue



“The Face of Things to Come”

(The Face of the Enemy)


Article



“So Say We All”

(Season 4.5)


Introduction

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

Part 7

Part 8

Part 9

Part 10

Afterword

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Dumpster Diving, Once More


All this recent talk of comics has me jumping back into the dumpster that is my repository of old columns. Originally published, once again, on the late SilverBulletComics.com some two years ago, it still holds a frightening amount of relevance to the industry today – perhaps even more so, given Marvel and DC's ever-increasing emphasis on company-wide crossover mega-events. It also traces comics' fatal flaw, an original sin that damns the entire industry even before Comic Shop News adds insult to injury.


ALL GOOD THINGS...

DC, locked in (im)mortal combat with Marvel, announced its next big “summer blockbuster” event just prior to the 2007 New York Comic Con. Proving that it’s not unfamiliar with the term one-trick pony, the company will start publishing Countdown in May, a 51-issue weekly series that just so happens to kick off – are you ready for this? – with the death of a character.

My response: so what?

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m a true-blue, diehard comics junkie just like all the rest of you. Well, maybe not so true-blue: after originally getting into comics in middle school (the sixth grade, I believe, to be more or less exact) and indulging in that most wonderful and expensive of pastimes, I strayed from the faith, leaving the artform behind me for the next several years. It wasn’t until my junior year (or so) in college that I finally got back on the wagon, being mostly lead back in by jms’s migration from television first to Image and then to Marvel. And maybe I’m not so diehard: while I still have a collection of Superman, Batman, Wolverine, and X-Men (Uncanny, Adventures, and normal varieties, thank you very much) comic books that somehow manages to choke several closets, I haven’t read – proudly, I might add – those series since the days of Doomsday, “Knightfall,” and Onslaught. This is partially to do with rifling through some back issues recently – note to self: Scott Lobdell isn’t nearly as brilliant as a 13-year-old, moody, and Kurt Cobain-influenced brain records and enshrines in memory – but overwhelmingly to do with one simple fact:

It doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter that Superman (or Jason Todd or Aunt May or literally anyone else, for that matter) dies. It doesn’t matter that Spider-Man’s identity’s been revealed or that Superman’s crying on Wonder Woman’s superpowered breast. Hell, it doesn’t even matter that a writer, be it jms, Judd Winick, or Joss Whedon, has an x-year (no pun intended) plan for the series, in general, or the characters, in specific. And, thus, it most certainly doesn’t matter that the entirety of the DC universe (sorry, I refuse to add to Warners’ [or to Marvel’s, for that matter] pretensions by capitalizing that “u”) is in the process of being “unified,” “streamlined,” or otherwise “realigned” – temporarily, of course.

It doesn’t matter, quite simply, because there’s no substance. Substance comes from context; context comes from structure. And structure, as any freshman English major can pontificate at length upon, entails, by necessity, a beginning, middle, and end. That modern superhero comics have one out of three is more than just unfortunate – it’s a terminal condition from which the patients can never awaken, like zombies milling aimlessly about for all eternity, bumping into one another and occasionally letting loose with an enthusiastic moan.

Plot points, story beats, and character moments reverberate because, like any sort of echo, they bounce off of the structures around them. What’s the point of foreshadowing if there’s nothing to allude to, or revelations if there’s nothing to reveal? Indeed (and not to get off into a theological tangent of the spiritual underpinnings of my personal beliefs), what’s the point to living if there’s no death? It’s the simplest and most fundamental law of life, one that the Wachowski brothers managed to turn into a neat bit of marketing: everything that lives, dies; everything that begins, ends. It’s what makes our existences poignant, our relationships precious, and our narratives meaningful.

But instead of story points ratcheting us ever more closely to the ending or character beats delving ever more deeply into the emotional heart of the piece, we end up drowning in an ever-changing abyss of shadows. Instead of puzzle pieces actively constructing a tableau, we get an endlessly arranging and rearranging jumble; instead of terra firma, we get wisps of smoke, shifting with the editorial winds. It’s one thing to be stagnant (as many television shows can attest to); it’s another to endlessly tread water.

What we’re left with, in short, is masturbation.

No wonder so many in this industry are blind.

You want to be original, Dan Didio? You really want to get the industry riled up, Joey Q? Announce endings for your books – along with definitive, concrete road maps to realizing said aims. Announce real, substantive changes to your universes that progresses them forward, that makes them organic and dynamic in a way that only real life can achieve. Hell, even have them age with us, develop with our society and world. Anything – just give them a structure, so that the next civil war or crisis will actually mean a damn.

Endings will come, make no bones about it; finality will arrive, whether his brother closure makes an appearance or not. You might as well work that into your grand, franchise-bending plans, much like Brian K. Vaughn has managed to do with his Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina titles – an extremely important reason why these books resound as much as they do and why they appeal (or ultimately will appeal) to a much bigger audience than does the Big Two’s standard fare.

As it is right now, the modern comic book has its place firmly established next to the soap opera in the inevitable museum of curious – and, unfortunately, superfluous – twentieth and twenty-first century pop culture. I hope comics fans like it there; it isn’t going anywhere else anytime soon.

Friday, April 10, 2009

film2comics - or - comics2film

You hear in films today how this or that character or story was originally found in a graphic novel. You have seen in comics a trend towards licensed books, where a comic can sell to a ready made audience with further stories in a particular world or with a particular character. But in film you almost never see a direct to film take, outside of 300 or Sin City, however in comics the direct novelization of a film has often flopped in the comic market. So while film takes liberties and does well, comics take what has been done and places it on paper, to poor sales. Why is this? Well I am sure there are many reasons, such as the desire to sell a comic to people who wouldn’t normally be in the audience, but that is unlikely. I mean, you don’t see Woody Allen novelizing his movies into comics. There is no Sleeper the comic, nor the Further adventures of Sleeper. The comic audience is rather galvanized towards male power fantasy. If a movie doesn’t possess those qualities, it won’t be adapted to comic form. But direct adaptations mean that the work in comic form is already likely a comic character. And a film to develop and adapt a character or story, needs to have creative control over the work. So comics are forced, if they wish to make money, to develop the concept further, whereas in film, they have almost always taken liberties to tell the story they want. It clearly isn’t a two way street.

But I am not unhappy there. The Daredevil movie was in itself fun, but didn’t really get why Daredevil is so awesome a character. The novelization would be telling a story that was wrong by the standards of the comic world. So what is good in terms of adaptations? In both directions I think Sin City and 300 were great. But there is little else I think this of.... except...

M the film by Fritz Lang was interpreted, sequentially and to the panel, directly, by Jon J. Muth. The comic was as beautiful and haunting as the movie was painful and disturbing to watch. I’ve truly never seen a better marriage of concept and page.

You may be able to order it through your comic shop. It is a beautiful book.

Holy Melodramatic Histrionics, Batman!


What. The. Fuck.

That’s the reaction I had – quickly followed by annoyance, disdain, and, finally, depression – when I picked up the latest issue of Comic Shop News (#1138, for those of you playing at home).

I’ve been in and out of the wonderful world of comics for the past several years, coming when I can find a treasure amongst the turgid schlock – most recently Brian K. Vaughn’s refreshing Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina – and going when the wave of corporate crossovers and rehashed storylines stifle and threaten to suffocate me. Invariably, however, the ubiquitous presence of superheroes, the subject of nearly every book on the racks, will ensure that my absences are longer rather than shorter; the monthly melodrama of spandex-clad superheroes slugging it out with equally costumed supervillains can only hold my attention for an infinitesimally small amount of time. If variety is the spice of life, the comics industry is deader than the economy.

But when your friendly neighborhood comic shop calls and tells you that it’s been nigh six months since you’ve last picked up your books, you come a-runnin’. And you get your obligatory copy of CSN. And then you flip open to page three in your vain effort of finding something different and instead land on this description of Action Comics Annual #12:

The new dynamic duo is busy rooting out General Zod’s sleeper agents in the present, but how did they find out about the sleepers in the first place? What exactly is their history with Zod? How did they meet? What is their connection to the original Nightwing and Flamebird? Find out the answers here!

First is annoyance, for nothing has changed. Fifteen years ago, at the tender age of fourteen, when I last breathlessly followed the continuing adventures of Batman, Spawn, and – most importantly of all – Wolverine like a pious Japanese climbing Fuji-san, I would palm through the same ham-handed descriptions (of the same exact titles, incidentally). The same over-the-top wording, the same cheesy repetition of interrogative sentences, the same cookie-cutter premises of the comics so poorly previewed – literally nothing has changed.

This is not an inconsequential observation. While the videogame industry continues to expand and broaden not only its boundaries (fifteen years ago, titles like Grand Theft Auto IV or Wii Sports would never have been imaginable, let alone producible), but also its penetration into society as a whole – more people are playing and speaking of and even rallying against games than ever before – the comics industry… has quite literally stood still. The random copy of Superman is still as irrelevant to the average American today as it was a decade-and-a-half ago. This is where disdain settles in: of all the various media fashioned by man, comics are, arguably, the most unique, a hybrid between prose and image, poetry and visuals, stasis and motion. And they have yet to mature beyond prepubescence.

That comics haven’t maturated or developed with their fanbase is reinforced by their subject matter (superheroes, obviously and as previously mentioned, have the same death grip on the funny book business as the Hollywood genre does on the movie industry) and by its continuously shrinking sales, even before the economy took a nosedive. It’s almost as if the Big Two publishers realize that their playing field is slowly but incessantly shrinking and they have deliberately chosen to become more insular – and more prone to incest – as a result (which, of course, would explain why the artform has failed to advance since the growth spurt of the mid-‘80s).

Free Comic Book Day, comicshoplocator.com, digital copies of print comics – all are nice attempts at out-reach, at extension to the population-at-large, but all are ultimately pointless if there is nothing of substance to keep the average Joe in the comic shop once he’s been lured there. And it’s a shame – now more than ever, with the recent (and surprising) popularity of comic book translations in movieland, it should be much easier to introduce more and more people to the wonders that sequential art contains.

Depression doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Perhaps nausea.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

So Say We All -- Part 10


“Daybreak, Part II” (420)

The ending of Battlestar Galactica was a combination of contrivance and surprise, coalescing by episode’s end to form an epic, fairly odd (there's actually hope sprinkled amidst all the gloom), and genuinely moving resolution. It is, as such, an appropriate end to the show.

It’s particularly fitting given its somewhat uneven narrative; if nothing else, much like the characters it features and the narratives it pushes them through, BSG is a muddled, conflicted, and even ambivalent series. Ronald D. Moore and staff seemingly bent over backwards to ensure the show made just as many wrong turns as it did correct ones, going down as many dead-ends as thoroughfares and employing just as many television contrivances as it deconstructed and made irrelevant along the way.

Fortunately for all, however, the “Daybreak” two-parter featured more in the way of grace notes than flat ones, providing for an elegant denouement to a series that has been on the air, in one form or another, since January 2005.

* * * * *

Specifics first. Generalities later.

Amidst surprise twists and emotional farewells and big-budget, high-octane battle sequences, there was one supremely cheesy and one exceptionally – there’s no other word for it – cool development.

Number One’s escape from his makeshift jailor in CIC, taking Hera hostage, and subsequent talking down from the precipice by Gaius frakkin’ Baltar is among the most cliché of television clichés one can get. It is not only a beat played many, many times before, severely diminishing its luster, it also doesn’t make sense given the characters and characterizations involved; there is no way that a callous, vengeful Cavil can be coaxed into a touchy-feely, we’re-all-here-because-of-God speech. And although getting his hands on resurrection technology is definitely a prime motivator, it still doesn’t (a) pass muster or (b) excuse a scene that is so pedestrian, it could fuel Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s future television and motion picture endeavors. Its only saving grace, of course, is that it backfires, blowing up in One’s face – literally.

And this is precisely what constitutes, for my money, the entire two-hour-and-eleven-minute episode’s coolest moment: Galen Tyrol discovering, all these many months later, that Cally’s death was solely and squarely by the hands of his fellow Final Fiver, Tory – and then taking revenge by brutally crushing her windpipe. The whole scene underscores Tyrol’s fundamental nature – elements of which are so drastically different from the fresh-faced chief we first were introduced to in the miniseries, elements of which are amazingly consistent – while also containing mythic overtones of such classic narratives as the King Arthur lore, all in one fell swoop.

* * * * *

Although each character has a small farewell scene before they all scatter across the brave new world they call Earth (2), the resolution that we get for them… really isn’t a resolution.

Yes, Laura Roslin dies (finally!). Bill Adama buries her body then builds the cabin she wanted to back on New Caprica a year earlier – in other words, he settles into retired life. Lee Adama climbs mountains and becomes a ramblin’ man. Helo, Athena, and Hera manage to obtain, after many long years of constant struggle and turmoil and heartache, a slice of happiness, living as a normal, part human/part machine family.

But these are small snapshots of what is, quite literally, the first day of the rest of their lives. Rather than getting a sense of closure, of seeing endings, we witness beginnings and obtain a sense of what is to come. They are, in other words, parting gifts as they continue on their journeys. (Compare to “Sleeping in Light,” the final installment of Babylon 5: showrunner Joe Michael Straczynski jumps 19 years forward in time, allowing the audience to see how the curvature of character arcs come to a final rest rather than tweaking or warping their angles, extending their trajectories one last time.)

There’s more: by having all the characters, main characters and recurring ones and even the faceless day players that populate the background of the ragtag fleet’s daily life, disperse across an entire planet, it levels individual character threads into one narrative chunk (not unlike credit default swaps), a large story unit that can be arranged and aligned with other units to create the final patterns that serve as the framework for the ending of the series. It is only in this context that one gets a sense of finality that we usually associate with conclusions – and which B5 manages to nail so well and so effectively. This is the last development of the last voyage of the last remnants of two – if not three – different peoples.

That’s not to say that we’re completely bereft of closure, however – it comes, oddly enough, in the form of flashbacks, sprinkled liberally throughout both parts and telling the stories of how our characters became our characters: Adama refuses a cushy post-service job and instead opts for retirement aboard the rickety Galactica; Roslin, coming to terms with her mortality (in more ways than one), decides to leave the sanctuary that her house has become and engage in politics; Boomer becomes indebted to the Old Man and vows, in her heart of hearts, to repay him some distant day.

The biggest, by far, of these sequences, and the one that has the most profound sense of coming full circle, is, of course, Baltar and Caprica Six. Their relationship began in an act of selfless kindness – Caprica finding a simple but elegant solution to the problem that Julius Baltar has become, one that is mutually beneficial to all parties involved – and it ends in one, with the two of them playing negotiator and securing little Hera’s safety from the suddenly weak-kneed Cavil.

And with their grand destinies finally resolved, with their roles in the deity’s celestial plan fully accomplished, Baltar literally ends where he began: as a farmer, a country bumpkin, beyond all the glamour and slickness and decadence that he attempted to barricade himself within.

In the end, all he has is love.

* * * * *

In addition to resolutions of one sort or another, there is another, perhaps much more profound, element to be found in “Daybreak, Part II”: mystery.

The divine being that is quite clearly at the center of the entire series’ mythology, that is directing the repeating cycle of time and has been manipulating our cast of characters since the miniseries, is never explained, revealed, or even described. The only definitive statement is decidedly inconclusive: Baltar tries to sway the atheistic One by telling him that God is not aligned to any one faction or side, that He is a force of nature beyond human – or Cylon – constructs of good or evil, moral or immoral, rational or irrational.

This impenetrable enigma that is the deity, of course, has agents that are likewise fundamentally or ultimately unknowable: the angels that have apparently visited man and machine alike since time immemorial. Their true natures, their ontological composition, their placement within the existential hierarchy – all are unknown. All that is known is their agenda: help promote peaceful coexistence between all of the deity’s creations, even if that means purging or otherwise brutalizing the vast majority of them in the process.

There’s another celestial agent that remains mysterious: Captain Kara Thrace, the girl who died on Cylon Earth and is (unknowingly) resurrected to help all and sundry get to Colonial Earth. Her exit from the series is abrupt, jarring, and, most importantly of all, subtle. By leaving her whole identity wide open, without any type or hint of explanation (again, the only concrete information we get comes from Baltar, in 418: he calls her an angel, just the same as the Number Six who has served as his guardian since the fall of the Colonies), Moore and his cadre of writers leave her inextricably linked to the face of the divine – unknowable, unfathomable, but ultimately interactive; Starbuck and “the gods” both are an experiential phenomenon, not an intellectual one. This non-resolution is, in fact, a resolution, one wholly appropriate and, in its own way, clever, as a pat, on-the-nose summation of God would, more than anything else, break the series from our reality, and do so in a thoroughly ham-handed fashion.

Starbuck serves the overall mythology in one other key fashion. That the deity would choose someone so dysfunctional – emotionally, developmentally, intellectually – and so fundamentally frakked up only underscores the remoteness (or mysteriousness) at which it operates, why it could condone the deaths of literally tens of billions of individuals just so one solitary little girl can be born, protected, and preserved as Mitochondrial Eve.

* * * * *

Which brings us to an interesting question: what was the point? At the end of the day, after six years of episodes, telefilms, miniseries, and webisodes, what is the overriding theme of Battlestar Galactica?

The chief repeating component in a whole cascade of repeating elements is the act of creation itself. The divine creates humanity; humanity creates the Cylons; the Cylons create even more Cylons; humanity creates some more Cylons, for a second time. That is a lot of begetting, and it implies, if not outright dictates, that the deity expects its lifeforms to reproduce not only biologically (that is God’s first commandment, as Six reminds Baltar in the very first episode [“33,” 101]), but also multiply technologically.

Then, of course, these multitudes of beings, flesh or chrome, fight and bicker and destroy one another – and themselves, if left alone long enough. It is the very same divine spark that impels them to create that also compels them to destroy – and there is a lot of bloodshed over the course of BSG’s nearly 155,000-year timeline, from nuclear holocausts (on Cylon Earth, the Twelve Colonies, and, just possibly, present-day Colonial Earth) to single-handed murder (most recently seen by Chief Tyrol bludgeoning an innocent Eight [418], but most [in]famously witnessed in “Fragged” [203], when Baltar is told it is God’s will that he shoot Lt. Crashdown in the back). And this is before we take our own blood-soaked history here on (Colonial) Earth into consideration.

And it is in the here-and-now that we attain some sort of perspective on the slavish chain of violence that connects us to our creator. In Times Square, the angelic manifestations of Baltar and Six, while discussing the society they see around them heading towards the seemingly inevitable construction of artificially intelligent machines and, thus, turning the wheel of fire once more, comment that a closed set of data is being endlessly repeated to see if new, unexpected results will ensue. This, then, is the single, sweeping sentiment – presented this time by Six and not Baltar – of the divine’s intent and the implementation of its will. The conclusions to draw from this, like so much else with 420, are nearly infinite: the deity is bored and this is its only remedy; life is so vast and complicated and nuanced, its results, its offspring, surprise even its designer; the prognosis arises only from the limited perspective of the angels and does not reflect upon the deity’s true intentions or, even, nature.

This, then, is the show’s thematic motif. But what of its plot?

Baltar and Caprica, the chief architects, whether knowingly or inadvertently, of the destruction of the Twelve Colonies of Kobol, are both visited by an angel, which takes the guise of the other’s lover (or, perhaps, not. There is some reason to believe, given Six and Baltar’s leisurely stroll down the streets of New York City well after the deaths of Gaius and Caprica themselves, that they just may be the mysterious man and woman that Tory and Sam saw all those thousands of years back on Cylon Earth – meaning they’ve always been angels. What this entails is, again, entirely unknown). The celestial agents’ plans for their wards seem to be at polar opposites: Six presents herself as part of the Cylon consciousness, wanting to finish what they started – the extermination of humanity and the creation of a new, hybrid subspecies to replace them; Baltar virulently appeals to Caprica’s burgeoning conscience, leading her by the nose to the conclusion that a knowing, loving God could never condone the wholesale slaughter of an entire population of his creations, no matter how sinful they may be.

Caprica, then, becomes a crusader, helping to reform her people’s desire to conquer and destroy their human forbearers into a quest to reeducate and coexist with them. New Caprica, of course, ends up a bloodbath for Colonial and skinjob alike, and it leads to two unexpected but, in hindsight, indispensable outcomes: firstly, it hastens the disintegration of the Cylons’ still-fledging cohesion or unity, ultimately resulting in civil war – and an alliance between the rebel models and the humans; secondly, it reinforces Caprica’s empathy, making her abandon her people and relocate to the Galactica in order to protect infant Hera.

Baltar’s path is a bit more circuitous. In order to fulfill his grand destiny, Six must first, in season one, contort and assuage his ego enough to get him to open up to the possibility of a divine presence, and subsequently, in season two, get him to embrace a foreign concept, one antithetical to his very being: responsibility. Baltar, she says, is to become a father – literally to little baby Hera, soon to be birthed by Athena and Helo; figuratively to all of the myriad hybrid babies to follow. And in order to ensure her safe birth and to consolidate his power in the (doomed) ragtag fleet, Gaius is to allow Roslin’s cancer to take her life – securing the position of president for him – and to use a nuke to unnaturally end Adam’s – snuffing out humanity’s last grand champion and defender. Thus, the sub-species, though racially mixed, would grow up practicing Cylon values and preaching Cylon religion and learning Cylon history; there is no hope for reconciliation or rapprochement, no promise of peace to accompany the arrival of God’s new, favored children.

Baltar, of course, flees in terror from the prospect of such heady commitment, a response very much unlike Caprica’s; she knowingly embraces the path her angel has laid out for her, despite its very unpleasant consequences, both personal and societal. It is only after another two seasons of drifting, of floating from Colonial One to the basestar back to the battlestar again, that enough pain, humility, and, finally, hindsight begin to accrue in Gaius’s psyche, forcing him to, at last, succumb to the responsibility that Six initially demanded of him – and to become, like Caprica, a willing instrument of God.

And God wills him to indeed become, at least temporarily, little Hera’s guardian and protector, just as Six had intoned endless times before – but for an entirely different reason and in an entirely different context. Gone is the dogma of the extinction of mankind; Hera’s presence is now the harbinger of a new beginning, the living embodiment of the deity’s ideal state: a truly mixed and amalgamated people. She is a literal as well as a figurative hybrid.

All of the twists, all of the turns, all of the dire proclamations and fire-and-brimstone prophecies, the failed suicide attempt and the leading of a cult of hapless (but beautiful) followers and the year of wasted time on New Caprica – all of this just so Baltar, with Caprica dutifully at his side, can deliver one final, resounding sermon, a development which first devolves into a bloodbath of epic proportions, incinerating most of the (mainstream) Cylons and their Colony along with them (a nice twist of irony, paralleling the events of the miniseries), then coalescing into a lasting peace and truce and a long-lived subspecies that totals in the billions.

It all seems a bit… convoluted. And dramatically, overwhelmingly simplified: four years of harrowing experiences and emotional strife and rise and falls in political (and religious) power just so that one specific moment can be well met and successfully overcome. It also smacks of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s two-hour finale, “What You Leave Behind…,” wherein Captain Benjamin Sisko is shocked to discover that his entire seven-year stint as CO of DS9 was to prepare him for one final, cataclysmic event: the total and permanent imprisonment of the Prophets’ arch-nemeses, the Pah-wraiths. (And just as the deity, in the form of its emissary, Number Six, frakks with Baltar by leading him to believe he was accomplishing one goal while the entire time preparing for another, the nonlinear Prophets worked a far bigger and more psychologically oriented number on Sisko.)

At least Benjamin got to become a god himself for all his troubles; all Gaius gets is an emotionally damaged cyborg-woman and a homemade plow.

* * * * *

Miscellaneous odds and ends that were left unresolved:
  • We never learned Number Six’s name, although there’s a nice allusion to this fact – a neat little wink at the audience – in 419, when Gaius rather shamelessly tells Caprica that he had forgotten her name. If the Final Five gave a full name along with a designation for each of their other seven progeny, it makes no sense for them to skip completely over Six – although it would go a long way to explain why so many of her copies have had so many different appellations (Shelly Godfrey [107], Gina Inviere [210], Caprica [218], Natalie [402], and Sonja [417]).
  • By the same token, Number Four’s last name was never disclosed, making him the only single-named Cylon model. In fact, we ended up not knowing anything about his entire line save for its proclivities towards the medical field; across four seasons, he only appeared in some ten episodes. Maybe The Plan, Battlestar’s second (and, so far, final), telefilm will have some revelations – or, at the very least, passive disclosures – in this regard.
  • I have a major bone to pick, Mr. Moore: Starbuck is afraid of dying. What else was the point of “Maelstrom” (317)?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Comedy



I believe that both comedy and horror are the most specific genres of any medium to a person's individual taste. So when I post a pic of famous comedy teams, I do not expect you to agree. It is simply to illustrate that we are chatting here about comedy. And frankly, beyond this introduction, what I'd like to know, is what makes YOU laugh.

For me there is a wide gap between what I enjoy in comedy and what I am supposed to enjoy. I laugh hard at the Three Stooges, but was told they were low brow. I like JackAss the movie and the show. It is very lowbrow. And The Young Ones, from the BBC, who showed that humor, even in the UK is not such a dignified affair. I love Laurel and Hardy, and twice I was rescued from sadness by the Lil Rascals/Our Gang. Humor depends upon your mood and experiences, and it depends upon quality. If Curly Howard is poked in the eyes by Moe, it requires some degree of ability to portray it without fully injuring Curly. And more, just because someone is able to make you laugh on a lowbrow level, it does not mean, at all, that they are unintelligent. It means they could see what would be funny, from their perspective as an actor, performer, writer...

But tell me, tell us at Poplitiko, what/who makes you laugh?