Home > Reviews, Uncategorized > Original GALACTICA thoughts, Eps. 17-18

Original GALACTICA thoughts, Eps. 17-18

“The Man with Nine Lives”: It’s downtime in the ragtag, fugitive fleet, with no Cylons in sight and the people feeling hopeful in the wake of recent events.  The legendary Fred Astaire guest stars as Chameleon (pronounced with a “sh” sound at the start for some reason), an elderly con man on the run from Borellians, a Klingonish warrior culture within the survivor population.  To get away from their “blood hunt” squad, he takes advantage of some things he learned about Starbuck from a TV talk show to con the orphaned Starbuck into thinking Chameleon might be his father, so he can be taken back to the Galactica with a warrior escort.  It brings out a side of Starbuck we’ve never seen before as he bonds with the old man and considers resigning his commission to reconnect with family.  But the Borellians are still determined to hunt the old man down to keep him from revealing what he knows about their private stockpiling.

This is another side story by Donald Bellisario with no connection to the core narrative, but unlike his disastrous planet-of-the-week stories, it’s actually quite strong.  It’s an effective character-driven story with some real emotion, particularly at the end when (spoiler alert) Chameleon learns he actually is Starbuck’s father, but refuses to tell him in order to protect him from giving up his life and loved ones.  And it’s a rare look at life in the fleet beyond the military.  We get a glimpse of the fleet’s broadcasting system, the civilian travel and commerce among ships, etc.  We see Omega narrating a “We want you” recruitment video for new Viper pilots.  There’s only lip service paid to the hardships of the refugees, since the focus is on the recreations of the wealthy and important people aboard the luxury liner Rising Star.  But it is a nice change of pace from previous episodes, and by developing the culture and characters within the fleet rather than going off to some random planet, Bellisario finds a far more successful way to tell a side story.   (One nice subtle touch is that Sheba is the one most invested in believing that Chameleon is Starbuck’s father, implicitly reflecting her own hope to be reunited with her father Cain.  It’s nice that the script respected the audience’s intelligence enough not to spell out her motives explicitly in dialogue.)

The Borellian Nomen, though, are a bit odd.  They’re said to be humans from a forbidding region, and there’s a bit of a Bedouin look to their attire (“Noman” is probably meant to suggest “nomad”), but the actors are wearing Neanderthalesque prosthetic brow ridges.  It’s an odd decision.  And why make up a name like “Borellian?”  Why not use one of the zodiac-based planet names?  The idea of twelve colonies has been pretty much forgotten by this point, with only Caprica getting mentioned anymore.

Of course, a guest star of Fred Astaire’s magnitude is a real high point, though I found his performance a bit unfocused.  And there’s a sadly missed opportunity.  According to the Battlestar Wiki,  Chameleon’s brief dance with his romantic interest Siress Blassie in the Rising Star‘s disco is the last time Astaire ever danced onscreen — yet it’s way in the back of the crowd and you can barely see him.  Maybe that was intentional, since Astaire was reportedly reluctant to dance onscreen at that point, perhaps aware that he couldn’t live up to his past brilliance and not wanting to let his fans down.  Still, it’s kind of sad.

But the real standout here is Dirk Benedict, who’s called on to take Starbuck in directions he’s never been before, and who rises to the occasion.  I understand now why Starbuck was such a popular character.  Benedict is one of the strongest actors on this show, though admittedly he has very little competition.

My one gripe is that I’m getting sick of all the corny space terminology, which is getting increasingly lazy as they just stick “-on” at the end of everything.  It was one thing to have Cylons and centons and microns, but now a furlough for soldiers is called a “furlon” and weapon power is measured in “voltons.”  Although I guess it could’ve been worse.  “Fleeing from the Cylon tyrannon, the laston battlestaron Galacticon leads a ragton, fugiton fleeton-on-on-on-on…”

Is this thing -on?  In the BSG universe, yes, it probably is.

“Murder on the Rising Star”: For the second week in a row, we open with Adama recording a log about their ongoing search for Earth, including the discovery of multiple planets showing signs of the Thirteenth Tribe.  And for the second week in a row, it has nothing to do with the actual plot.  Again, Apollo and Starbuck are playing triad (and the costumes are extremely skimpy, the kind of abbreviated halter-and-briefs getup you’d expect to see as an exploitative costume for female characters in a ’70s genre show, but instead worn by the males), but this time they’re up against a team including Ortega, a hitherto-unknown longtime rival of Starbuck.  Naturally, Ortega gets killed after a public fight with Starbuck, and everyone’s favorite rogue is arrested for the crime — and prosecuted by Brock Peters!  There’s a nice bit of futuristic forensics to determine that Starbuck’s laser is the “termination weapon,” although again the clunky “alien” terminology gets in the way (energy is measured, predictably, in “ergons”).  Apollo turns out to have studied law (or “the codes”) in the Academy, allowing him to serve as Starbuck’s “protector” (defense attorney) — a bit of characterization that the revival series picked up on and ran with.

Except Apollo never sets foot in the courtroom, since that’s not action-heroey enough.  He’s out investigating another lead — Ortega’s wingman says the deceased once boasted that no one but Karibdis would dare kill him.  Karibdis, as Adama reveals, was a hitherto-unknown ally of Baltar’s who sabotaged the Caprican defense computers on the night of the Cylon attack (again a bit of new-series foreshadowing, since that’s what Gaius Baltar himself inadvertently let the Cylons do in the revival miniseries).  So what seemed like a standalone murder-mystery episode takes a twist that connects to the core mythology of the series, flashing back to the destruction of Caprica (though mostly through stock footage and narration) to reveal that three men had bribed Ortega to escape Caprica under false names, and he was blackmailing them all.  Apollo realizes that one is Karibdis, and uses Baltar himself, the only other man who can identify him, as the bait to draw him out.  (Why did Karibdis wait this long to kill Ortega, though?)

Now, the logical thing to do here would be for Apollo to go to the courtroom where he belongs and send Boomer to draw out Karibdis, but of course, this is ’70s TV and you can’t have the second banana stealing the hero’s glory.  So Boomer vamps awkwardly in court until he can turn on the radio channel allowing everyone in the courtroom to hear Karibdis’s convenient confession (although no one questions the authenticity or admissibility of this highly irregular evidence).  Before Karibdis can shoot them both, Baltar fights back to save himself and inadvertently saves Apollo in the process.

This is another standalone that actually more or less works because it derives from the characters and concepts of the series premise rather than random planet-of-the-week ideas.  Maybe a budget crunch was also a factor; both this and “The Man with Nine Lives” are clearly money-saving bottle shows shot on standing sets and keeping action and new FX footage to a minimum.  That kind of episode forces the writers to depend more on characters and ideas, and that leads to stronger storytelling.  (Cf. ST:TNG’s “The Drumhead” or ST:DS9’s “Duet.”)  This episode, however, does feature some evidently new FX footage of the Rising Star and some original scoring (which, alas, is not included on the soundtrack CDs I have).

Baltar’s imprisonment turns out to be a good development in that it allows Colicos to play off other regulars instead of being stuck talking to guys in robot suits all the time.   Otherwise, Starbuck’s still getting the bulk of the attention, and while he showed a softer side last time, here he’s angry and embittered, even staging a prison break and almost going on the run until Apollo talks him out of it.  On the other hand, he seems to be getting more domesticated romantically, even telling Cassiopeia that he loves her.  While Athena seems to have accepted that she’s been sidelined in Starbuck’s love life, now seeming to be more a friend to Cassie than a rival.  Which is part and parcel of how she’s been sidelined overall.

Next begins a new, 4-episode arc which I’ll cover in one post, which is why I only included these two standalones here.

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