Home > Reviews > Original GALACTICA thoughts, Eps. 10-13

Original GALACTICA thoughts, Eps. 10-13

“The Magnificent Warriors”: This episode is another illustration of the fatal mismatch behind Glen A. Larson’s proclivities as a storyteller and the nature of the series premise he came up with for Battlestar Galactica.  The setup for this episode is quite grave: a Cylon raid manages to destroy two of the fleet’s three “Agro ships” (represented by stock footage from Douglas Trumbull’s film Silent Running) and destroy the crop in the third, leaving the populace of the fleet in imminent danger of starvation.  And yet this is nothing more than a pretense for a lame comedy episode that’s also the show’s second lame Western-movie knockoff, this time a blatant pastiche of The Magnificent Seven.  Lorne Greene gives a distracted, fumbling performance as Adama fends off the allegedly comical romantic advances of spinster Siress Belloby, played by Brett Somers, whom I knew at the time as a fixture of the game show Match Game.  This is part of a tedious and rather incoherent hour in which the cast fumblingly tries to get fresh seed from the Convenient Human Colony of the Week and is stymied by its corrupt boss (played by an enormous toupee resting atop the head of Barry Nelson, who was once the first actor to play a version of James Bond), who cons Starbuck into becoming the new constable, a de facto sacrifice to the raiding Borays (a term previously used as an unexplained derogatory epithet, now revealed to be a race of pig-ape aliens with a herd mentality).  And yet Nelson and his hairpiece suddenly become all nice and respectful once he figures out from their bravery that our heroes must be Colonial Warriors (and for some reason there’s no worrying that this lying manipulator might sell them out to the Cylons — though again there’s the bizarre conceit that Colonials are the only humans who actually have to worry about being exterminated).  Oh, and Boxey and Muffit are brought along just for the hell of it,  which comes in handy because somehow the only sophisticated tracking sensor this advanced civilization has is built into an experimental robot dog.  (Every time I see Muffit, I can’t help feeling sorry for the poor baby chimp stuck in that costume.)

The episode does have a mildly amusing twist at its resolution, though a somewhat disturbing one if you consider the ramifications.  And it’s mildly of note for introducing the Silent Running agro-ships to the Fleet complement, and for introducing the first non-Cylon aliens we’ve seen since the pilot.  Overall, though, it’s a waste of an episode.

“The Young Lords”: Another “Starbuck gets shot down and has a solo adventure while the others try to find him” episode, this time with Starbuck crashing on a Cylon garrison planet and rescued by a band of preteen-to-young-adult survivors dressed as some sort of Ren Faire/Native-American hybrids and engaged in an ongoing guerrilla war against the Cylons who hold their father captive.  At first they plan to trade Starbuck for their father, but Starbuck convinces them to meet the Cylons’ inevitable double-cross with one of their own and then stage a raid to liberate daddy (all while engaging in borderline-creepy flirtation with the local jailbait, played by the then-22-year-old Audrey Landers but implicitly not quite an adult).

This is the first one-part episode that hasn’t been a complete waste of film, though it’s mediocre at best.  The guest acting (especially by the leader of the kids) is pretty bad, there’s a pointless and maudlin subplot about Adama being sick in bed and getting comforted by Boxey, and the climax is built around Starbuck teaching the cute kids an annoying doggerel verse to help them remember the strategy for their violent, lethal assault on the Cylons, an off-putting tonal mismatch that kind of sums up the entire series’ fatal weakness.

The most entertaining part of the story is the subplot revolving around the Cylon garrison commander Spectre (voice of Murray Matheson), a member of the same pointy-headed, English-accented Cylon caste as Baltar’s advisor Lucifer.  Spectre lies about his setbacks and flatters Baltar outrageously to curry favor, and while a jealous Lucifer sees right through his felgercarb, Baltar falls for it completely.  But amusing though it is, it makes Baltar look like an idiot.  Also, oddly, Baltar’s throne room set has been replaced with a much less impressive computer-center set including a narrow computer room that’s identical to Galactica‘s, only darker.

And the episode has the same overarching conceptual flaws as the other Convenient Human Colony of the Week episodes.  I can’t put it better than the Battlestar Wiki did in its entry for this episode: “Why do the Cylons so ruthlessly pursue the Galactica as the ‘last remnants of humanity’ when, in reality, humans clearly exist in abundance everywhere they go? Nearly every episode has them encountering some forgotten “fringe colony” teeming with humanity, yet the Cylons turn a blind eye toward them and myopically follow the Galactica.”  Not to mention the continued failure of the fleet to consider settling these worlds or at least evacuating their populace.  Moreover, even though the fleet supposedly passed into uncharted territory some time ago, here they’re already aware of the indigenous name of the planet that Starbuck crashed on (which is Attila for some reason).

“The Living Legend”: Possibly the most famous storyline of the original series other than the pilot, in part because it’s the only storyline other than the pilot to be remade in the 2004 series.  The legendary Commander Cain (Lloyd Bridges), a gung-ho Pattonesque military genius thought to be a casualty of war, turns up alive along with his battlestar Pegasus.  He and Adama clash over strategy, with Cain’s desire to go on the offensive against the Cylons conflicting with Adama’s responsibility to protect the unarmed civilian fleet.  Meanwhile, Cain turns out to be Cassiopeia’s old flame, creating a triangle with Starbuck, and a different kind of triangle with Cain’s daughter Sheba, who resents Cassiopeia (presumably for taking her mother’s place in Cain’s affections while being barely older than she is — and the long-ignored fact that Cassie was a professional sex worker at the time is probably an implicit factor as well).

To my surprise, this 2-part episode is actually good, despite being scripted by Larson (from a story by Ken Pettus and Larson).  It’s a strongly character-driven story; the introduction of the new characters and their clashes with the established cast give a lot of nice dramatic moments to a lot of characters.  This Cain is actually a more nuanced and textured character than his namesake in the revival series, who was simply a straw-woman psychopathic bully in command of a crew of psychopathic bullies.  (Pardon the digression, but that was one of the most implausible and ill-conceived things about the allegedly more realistic revival series.  The original premise of that show was that Galactica‘s crew was the dregs of the fleet, surviving in part because they were an unimportant crew on an obsolete ship.  The Pegasus was supposed to be the best and the brightest.  But the Pegasus crew turned out to be so exaggeratedly corrupt and cruel that they made Galactica‘s dysfunctional bunch seem like paragons.  And any hope of rationalizing that as the result of long, traumatic months battling the Cylons was scuttled by the movie Razor, which established that Cain and her crew were just as malevolent from day one, and never bothered to explain why.  I found that every bit as cartoony as anything from “The Magnificent Warriors” or “The Long Patrol.”  Just being dark doesn’t automatically make a story smart or sophisticated.)

Uhh, where was I?  Oh yeah, the original Cain.  He’s a piece of work, to be sure — arrogant, domineering, too quick to believe his own press.  He’s so determined to attack the Cylons that he sabotages Adama’s more defensive plan, wilfully destroying two Cylon fuel tankers so that Adama will be forced to agree to Cain’s plan to conquer a Cylon planet for its fuel supplies.  But when his deception is uncovered and he’s relieved of command by Adama (his superior officer here, the inverse of the rank relationship in the remake), this supremely arrogant man actually has the maturity to admit that he was wrong.  Far from being a one-note caricature, he’s a multifaceted figure, flawed but redeemable.

Lloyd Bridges’s charisma certainly helps make Cain sympathetic.  In fact, Adama rather suffers by comparison.  Supposedly Adama is the voice of wisdom and Cain the dangerous renegade, but Lorne Greene just doesn’t seem to be all that invested in the role anymore, and so Adama comes off as meek and hesitant in comparison to Bridges’s confident, compelling Cain.  And after weeks of seeing Adama wring his hands, passively worry, and give orders to leave family and friends to die rather than risk jeopardizing his grand “run and hide” initiative, it’s kind of refreshing to see a commander who’s willing to take bold action.  On the one hand, Greene’s weakness opposite Bridges is one of the few things that undermines the episode.  But on the other hand, it helps enhance the sense of ambiguity, the lack of a clear-cut right and wrong.  Both Adama and Cain are well-intentioned and both have valid arguments; they’re just approaching the problem from different perspectives.  That’s my favorite kind of conflict in fiction, the kind where both sides are in the right and there’s no easy answer.  (Too often in the revival series, the ambiguity came down to both sides being in the wrong, which isn’t as satisfying.  It’s lazy to generate conflict from characters being too screwed-up or mutually hostile to cope with an easily-solved or easily-avoided problem.  Better to devise a really challenging problem that even well-adjusted, highly competent characters can’t easily resolve.)  And it’s a level of nuance I’m surprised to see on this show.

The Cain-Cassiopeia subplot is effective too, because it has so many facets — not just those two, but the added interactions with Starbuck and Sheba.  It’s profoundly contrived that one of the series’ female leads (arguably the main female lead at this point, since the gorgeous Athena has unfortunately been marginalized for some reason) should happen to be Cain’s old flame, but it opens the door to a lot of character-oriented writing, and that enhances the episode.  Even Starbuck does a little soul-baring, explaining that he resists close attachments because he lacked a family like Apollo’s and is afraid of getting hurt (though he doesn’t admit that part aloud).  The downside is Sheba.  She’s supposed to be this tough, hotshot warrior, a chip off the old block, but Anne Lockhart comes off as more simpering and overemotional than anything else.  Maybe that’s more the fault of 1978 expectations about female behavior than Lockhart’s fault, but I can’t help thinking that the part could’ve been better cast.  But Sheba is a regular from this point on, so we’ll have to see if she improves.

Another significant flaw is in the pacing; the cliffhanger at the end of part 1 is in entirely the wrong place.  It should’ve come a moment earlier when the Cylon fighters were bearing down on the Galactica and Baltar was crowing about it being doomed.  Instead, we saw the Pegasus arriving to save the day and the freezeframe came on Baltar’s expression of panic as the battlestar came right for his ship.  A cliffhanger should come at a moment when the heroes are in danger, not when the villain is in danger.  It makes me wonder if this 2-parter was intended to be aired as a 2-hour episode and got hastily edited at the last minute.

But part of why the story works is that it lacks a lot of the usual flaws.  There’s no Convenient Human Colony of the Week, none of the prickly questions they raise, none of the pointless side stories and inappropriate comedy.  The tone is serious, tense, and dramatic, the dangers facing the fleet treated with due solemnity.  (What understated humor there is comes mainly from Baltar’s arrogance, vanity, and cowardice and the Cylons’ reactions thereto.)  Inept attempts at high-concept sci-fi are avoided in favor of a story that arises organically from the core premise and characters of the series.  There’s a wider range of action than the usual recycled dogfight footage, including a parachute drop to the Cylon planet and a climatic confrontation with two base stars.

We even learn more about the Cylons, seeing a Cylon city complete with “civilians” for the first time.  In addition to the three known types of Cylon — the Centurions, the Lucifer-type IL series, and the Imperious Leader — we glimpse a fourth type, presumably the aforementioned civilians, represented by extras in hooded gold cloaks and metallic face masks with blinking white eye lights (rather than the trademark sweeping red lights).  A rather cheap way of creating a new type of Cylon in large numbers, and we apparently never see this model again, but it’s interesting to discover that there’s more diversity among the Cylons than we’d known.  (Indeed, we arguably see a fifth type as well, the golden Command Centurion.  So this episode, and only this episode, features every type of Cylon established in the original series — unless you count the budget-saving, human-appearing “evolved” Cylons from Galactica 1980, a coincidental forerunner of the revival’s “skin jobs.”)

We’re halfway through the series now, and it took this long to get a story that fired on nearly all cylinders (with the main disappointment being the acting rather than the writing or concepts).   It continues the pattern of the multipart stories being the only ones worth a damn, but it’s not as uneven as the prior multiparters.  I’m hoping the episodes that follow are more like this than like what came before.

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  1. February 11, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    I can’t stand the Baltar character in Living Legend, not that I was a big fan of him in any episode. He always seemed to be way too cartoony, especially in this episode. I don’t know if that’s Colicos or just the character, but he’s much better when understated, like in War of the Gods. Living Legend is one of the best episodes, which I absolutely loved as a kid, because of the action. But when I rewatched it as an adult twenty years later, I was kind of disappointed that one of the core story elements was about getting fuel for the fleet, and that Earth was never even mentioned. Not once. I think the big argument between Adama and Cain should have been about whether or not they should go to Earth, and the continuation of the human race, not about some temporary fuel.

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