Monday, March 13, 2006

Battlestar Galactica, Season 2

Spoilers within for season 2, but you probably knew that.

Is it just me, or are TV producers getting, for lack of a better word, ballsier?

Many shows kill off regular characters (on 24 and Lost it seems to happen regularly). Sitcoms push the limits of what sorts of jokes are acceptable or not (My Name Is Earl routinely slips dirty jokes into the background of pretty straight scenes -- and it's ostensibly a family show!). And serialized shows are taking almost film-like risks with how they tell their stories.

The idea of a time jump was pretty much invented (in its modern sense) by 24. However, that show used its time jumps almost exclusively at the ends of seasons (after season 1, season 2 picked up a year-and-a-half later). Many other shows jumped on this bandwagon, as summarized by the link above.

As far as I know, however, Battlestar Galactica is the first show to make a big jump like that in the middle of an episode. In the season finale, after Baltar has been elected president (and he seems pretty much assured to be the worst president ever, what with his complicity with the enemy), the camera pushes in on him as he lowers his head on his desk, realizing the enormity of his task.

Then the lighting subtly shifts. And we cut to another shot. And the text onscreen reads "One year later."

I mean. . .holy crap!

In film or in a novel, it's almost greatly accepted that you can make huge jumps of time in a single cut or a single chapter. But in TV, time is supposed to pass rather incrementally (one season of their time generally equals one season of our time, roughly). Battlestar doing this is quite simply unprecedented.

But it does something even bigger.

It throws the status quo out the window.

In American television, the idea of the status quo is what keeps the story engines humming. This is also the most frequently criticized aspect of television. Marshal Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke wasn't going to get addicted to alcohol and have to battle that. A bad guy was going to come to town. Dillon was going to stop the bad guy. Everything would be back to normal at the end of the episode.

This, of course, is changing. But even in shows with arcs or soap operas, once an arc or a major storyline in the soap is over, everyone's going to be pretty much the same. Felicity Huffman will still be harried on Desperate Housewives. George Clooney will still be a womanizer on ER.

Of course there are exceptions. The Sopranos have all grown and changed. The characters on Buffy all went evolutions as the series went along. Lost does some of this.

But the Battlestar changes fundamentally alter the basic underpinnings of the show. It's almost as though all of the Sopranos became FBI agents or something.

To summarize: A habitable planet was found. Baltar settled the human race on the planet, saying the search for Earth was over. The new planet proved to be a lot crappier than what everyone was used to. Main characters shifted and changed, got married, got pregnant, got pudgier, grew mustaches. And then the main enemy came back. And Baltar surrendered, setting up an occupation scenario for season three.

Don't get me wrong. I'm sure that there will be a way to get back to the spaceships somewhere in season three. But there's no way they can unwrite ALL of these changes. They're going to matter.

But what about season two in general?

In general, season two was very good. It took the stakes set in season two and subtly raised them throughout, increasing the tension. It kicked off with an AMAZING seven episode arc that pushed the search for Earth a bit farther along, then settled in for a few solid stand-alones before introducing the idea of the Pegasus, another battleship that survived the apocalyptic attack of the miniseries. The Pegasus had abandoned democracy for something approaching fascism, and it set up a stunning confrontation between the two visions of what humanity can be that reverberated through the first three episodes of the second half of the season.

Then the show hit a curious dead spot. Black Market was the first episode of the show that didn't really work on any level. It just didn't know what it wanted to be. The next three episodes were straight character pieces that aimed to deepen the characters but introduced a few storylines that came out of nowhere to do so.

The last three episodes, however, were sterling, through and through. It heartens me to hear that there will be a concurrent arc among the Cylons in season three, as it's obvious the writers long for somewhere to "cut to" when they run out of gas. Now, they'll have somewhere to go.

All in all, though, season two was a complete success. It reached that point by making its characters twistier, its situations thornier. It twisted and turned and nearly broke several times, but it never completely lost it.

I look forward to season three.

And seriously. Major balls.

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