Tuesday, October 26, 2010

By Your Command -- Part 11

"Things We Lock Away" (112)

The entire narrative conceit of Battlestar Galactica was divine intervention in the form of a race of incorporeal beings called “angels.” A sparse number of strategically important individuals stretched throughout a good chunk of humanity’s millennia of evolution were consistently visited – and, in some cases, haunted – by these enigmatic apparitions, who goaded, prodded, and sweet-talked their subjects into doing the Creator’s bidding (which usually consisted of procreating, both biologically and technologically, and which would seed the same base desires for and start the same endless cycles of violence and death anew). To say that it was a chord that was struck again and again throughout the show’s six-year run is an understatement: Gaius Baltar in the miniseries; Caprica Six in season two; Kara Thrace in season three; Sam Anders and Tory Foster in season four.

And now there’s another echo to add to the cacophony. That Zoe Graystone saw an “angel” periodically throughout her life is, obviously, not a new thematic development; that her angelic messenger is a version of herself (Baltar saw himself just once in BSG [“Six of One,” 402]) and that she appears to the digital Zoe just as easily and readily as to the flesh-and-bone one (Starbuck, even when herself a disembodied entity, was blessed with visions and visitations [“Someone to Watch over Me,” 417]) are also retreads. And just what the angel Zoe has her corporeal counterpart do is similarly expected: creating artificial life in a game of brinkmanship with her too-smart-for-his-own-good father, which is to be housed in a chassis that she has – of course – been drawing and designing since an early age (there are even more reverberations here – Starbuck had been obsessively sketching celestially relevant material since childhood, as well [“Rapture,” 312]).

All of this (really) familiar territory is, on the one hand, to be expected. If there truly is some sort of deity that really is directing its grand experiment called life, and if it played a (very) heavy hand in at least two other time periods, then of course it is going to do the same at this critically important epoch, as well. On the other hand, however, there is a certain amount of skepticism that is summoned in the face of such a big turn of events. After four seasons with the previous series, and with one character already who might be the anchor of yet another guardian angel (“The Imperfections of Memory,” 107), are the writers really going to play up this particular story thread again? They had run out of directions to take and gags to play with the Baltar-Six runner halfway through the last show, and they still conceivably have three more years, Nielson willing, for this one.

And, of course, there is one final question that not only begs, but demands to be asked: if this angel Zoe is so important to the big picture and Zoe’s personal life both, then why haven’t we seen – or even heard of – her before?

* * * * *

Philomon (109), Keon and Barnabas (111), and now Tomas Vergis (112) – Caprica is on quite the roll.

That the writers are so willing to kill off so many recurring characters so early in the series’s run is intriguing, to say the least. It may alternately be a sign of strength – the tale that they are cooking up is so solid, so compelling, that they can easily afford to dispense with those elements that have already been invested with a certain degree of narrative or audience energy – or a sign of weakness, of overcompensating for a general lack of direction or drama or purpose. The jury, of course and obviously, is still out.

There is a third possibility, however, one that seems particularly promising, given Ronald D. Moore’s penchant for seat-of-his-pants scripting: the Caprica writing staff simply wants to pepper its episodes with as many surprises as possible. Amanda Graystone very publicly proclaiming her daughter’s secret life of terrorism (“Rebirth,” 102) is one such example, as is Daniel disavowing the profits of his most lucrative product, the holoband (“Gravedancing,” 104), in front of a live studio audience. But there are few surprises as impactful as death, and, indeed, both Philomon’s and Vergis’s sudden exits served to shock the other characters and awe the audience.

If this is, indeed, true, then the writers have their work cut out for them. A similar improvisation in Battlestar Galactica resulted in the sudden killing off of Boomer (“Resistance,” 204), which, while ultimately still providing an involved and complete character arc for the wayward Cylon, resulted in an entire season’s worth of missteps with the character, most notably in the form of insufficient motivation or explanation (which was partially the fault of another perennial BSG condition, long dry times). It is a slippery slope, albeit an enjoyable one, and it can easily lead to a messy death.

All of this has happened before…

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