Home > Reviews > Original GALACTICA thoughts, Eps. 19-22

Original GALACTICA thoughts, Eps. 19-22

“Greetings from Earth”: Adama’s now-traditional log entry is essentially indistinguishable from last week’s, but this time it actually connects to the story.  We cut to Apollo and Starbuck, oddly, asleep in their patrolling Vipers.  I guess that isn’t so dangerous in the emptiness of space, but it’s odd that they don’t nap in shifts.  Anyway, the sleepy ships discover a sleeper ship: an unfamiliar sublight craft with six human life signs in suspended animation.  They’ve moved past the region where Colonial offshoots can be found, so they get excited at what might be their first contact with Earth.  They bring the ship back to Galactica — somehow (Vipers don’t have tractor beams as far as I know).  Study of the ship’s databanks reveals a name, Terra, which Adama recognizes as Gemonese for Earth!

The events that follow read in outline almost like a plot from the revival series, though of course the execution is very different.  The first hour of this 2-parter is driven by the conflicting reactions within the fleet to this ambiguous discovery and the tensions that result.  Dr. McCoy Salik is reluctant to risk the safety of the six sleepers (four of which are children) by tampering with their unfamiliar technology, but the overconfident Dr. Wilker (the fleet’s resident expert-in-everything scientist — every sci-fi franchise has one) is determined to proceed.  Apollo, acting more like his revival counterpart than ever, expresses concern over the rightness of hijacking the Terrans’ ship and risking their lives trying to awaken them, but others argue that the survival of the fleet is more important and the risk must be taken; the argument almost comes to blows, but it’s Apollo, not the hotheaded Starbuck, who nearly starts it.   Adama is caught in the middle as his son and Salik urge caution and the Council, led by Sire Geller (Murray Matheson), bows to the voice of the mob and pushes him to awaken the sleepers.  (No, don’t do it!  They might be eugenic supermen out to seduce your historian, take over your ship, and kill your best friend fifteen years later!)  The ongoing debate over the prickly ethical question of whether the needs of the fleet’s thousands outweigh the needs of a few children who can’t speak for themselves is the most intelligent writing in the series to date, if not in Glen Larson’s entire career.  The focus on ethics and philosophy makes this feel almost like a Star Trek episode.  And as in ST, the military characters are portrayed as more sympathetic and reasonable than the imperious bureaucrats giving them their marching orders.

One of the show’s finest moments comes when the Council orders Dr. Salik to awaken the sleepers and Salik tells them they’ll need to find another doctor.  After he storms out, Adama declaims, “Something magnificent has happened here.  Dr. Salik has just reaffirmed that we are a race worth saving.”

Of course, this isn’t the revival series, so the quandary is rendered somewhat moot when the adult sleepers (Michael and Sarah) awaken on their own.  But we’re not completely out of the woods, for they’re acclimated to a fifth of the fleet’s air pressure and can’t survive long aboard its ships.  They’d be imprisoned for life in decompression tubes.  So Apollo finally convinces his father to clandestinely free the Terrans and let them resume their original course.  The tone shifts more to humor as Apollo and Starbuck sneak the Terrans back aboard their ship under the noses of civilian security and jettison it as a contamination hazard.  Cassiopeia is also aboard to monitor the Terrans’ condition, and Apollo and Starbuck follow in their Vipers.

Unfortunately, the second half of this originally 2-hour episode (which I’m counting as two episodes because that’s how it’s presented on Hulu) doesn’t nearly live up to the sophistication of the first.  Somehow, almost every time this show goes to a planet, its quality plummets.  The planet here is Paradeen (perhaps derived from “paradise” and “Eden?”), an abandoned colony of the Terrans.  Michael and Sarah finally explain their situation.  Terra has two major factions, East and West, whose ongoing war has spread into space.  They’re refugees from a lunar colony (whose low pressure they’re acclimated to) conquered by the Eastern Alliance, who are almost literally Space Nazis, complete with German names and accents.  (They’re led by Commandant Leiter, played by Lloyd Bochner, future voice of Gotham City’s mayor in Batman: The Animated Series.)  They seek refuge at Sarah’s late father’s home on Paradeen, tended by two silly-looking comic-relief androids, Vector and his “son” Hector.  Which would be completely embarrassing if not for the fact that Vector is played by Ray Bolger, the Scarecrow from the 1939 The Wizard of Oz, and he brings an effective comic charm to the role.  (The androids have the exact same electronic vocal treatment as Peepo on Filmation’s Space Academy.)  Anyway, there’s some tedious stuff about Sarah hating technology and falling instantly in love with Apollo and sabotaging their Vipers so they’ll have to stay, while Starbuck gets lost in the tunnels of an abandoned city, and then the Space Nazis track them down and act mean while the kids run for help, and blah blah blah, oh, and the androids do a funny dance.  The most impressive part is the tour of the dead city, which makes very effective use of location shooting at the abandoned Expo ’67 site in Montreal.

Anyway, our heroes defeat the Space Nazis and take their captured kitbash model, err, starship, back to the Galactica, grinning as Space Nazi Leiter’s boasts of being the most advanced force in the universe are deflated when he sees how huge the battlestar is.

So is Terra Earth?  Michael says at one point that he’s heard Terra called Earth, but that conversation is interrupted by something more trivial.  The Terrans have Earthly names (unlike the Colonials, who have names like Apollo and Sheba and… err… Ortega and Carmichael and Reese and… never mind).  They use minutes and days instead of centons and sectons and whatnot.  Their East-West conflict certainly appears to be an extrapolation of the Cold War that still existed when this episode was made.  And oh, Space Nazis.

Even the strong first half has some of the usual flaws, like weak acting.  Randolph Mantooth in particular is painfully bad as Michael.  There are some pointless cutaways to a schoolroom being taught by Athena for some reason (aren’t there any actual teachers among the refugees?  Maybe even a secretary of education?).  These bits of unadulterated padding are noteworthy only as the final appearance of Maren Jensen (Athena) and Noah Hathaway (Boxey) in the series.  The latter departure is welcome, but the former is a shame.  Jensen may not have been a great actress, but it’s not like Laurette Spang and Anne Lockhart were much better.  And she was really hot, and her role as daughter and sister to two of the leads had a lot of untapped potential.

There are conceptual problems; at first, Salik and Wilker have no idea how to read the completely alien controls and markings of the Terran ship, but later we see both species write in English, just in different fonts (and of course they speak the same language despite being separated by millennia).  And the attempt to replace the Cylons with the Eastern Alliance as the big new threat is odd, given how technologically inferior the EA is.  Generally if you introduce a new Big Bad, you make it bigger than the old one, as Count Iblis was.  But these guys were overconfident pushovers, easily captured.  Which leads us into:

“Baltar’s Escape”: Adama interviews the imprisoned Commandant Leiter, who boasts of the natural order dictating that the strong, namely the Eastern Alliance, are destined to rule the weak, namely everyone else in the universe.  Ambiguous villains are not a feature of this show.  But the Quorum (or as they’re called here, the Council) disagrees, convinced that the Alliance can be negotiated with and the military has been on the defensive too long to see it.  So, after offering Adama the sop of a prestigious award, they inform him that martial law has been rescinded and Adama must now answer to civilian control of the fleet.  Apollo and Starbuck are outraged, but Adama sternly intones that if they’ve forgotten their duty to obey civil authority, maybe martial law has lasted too long.  It’s the first of a number of strong lines in this Donald Bellisario script.

Back on the prison barge, Baltar conspires with the Borellian Nomen from “The Man with Nine Lives,” convincing them that the impending transfer of the Space Nazis to meet with the Council is their opportunity to escape.  The Borellians agree, which is odd.  If they’re members of the refugee population, then that means the Cylons destroyed their homeworld as well as everyone else’s.  Given their Klingon-like culture, you’d think they’d be taking blood vengeance on Baltar, not collaborating with him.  But political nuance is ignored; they’re all Bad Guys, and thus they’re automatically on the same side.

A more ambiguous figure is Siress Tinia (Ina Balin), the Quorum/Council member appointed as Adama’s liaison/watchdog.  Although she supports the (oh, I give up) Quouncil’s goal of extending diplomacy to the Alliance and sees Adama as unduly paranoid, she proves more reasonable and approachable than the rest of the Quouncil (which is now led by John Hoyt in a bad toupee; Sire Geller has inexplicably vanished).

The Nomen have another good line while plotting with Baltar: When the time comes to move, they say, “we will momentarily die.”  “Die?” a confused Baltar replies.  “We will do anything to survive.  Even die.”  When the time comes, they somehow suspend their pulses, feigning death, then awake and take the guards by surprise, spring the other plot-relevant prisoners, and capture the shuttle piloted by Boomer and Sheba.  Baltar recognizes Boomer as an old rival and says he wishes Apollo and Starbuck were here too so he could settle all his scores at once.  This is odd, since I don’t think Baltar has ever met Boomer before, or has any reason to hold a greater grudge against the big three than against any other Viper pilots.  Then again, those three are responsible for most of the victories the fleet has achieved over the Cylons, so maybe Cylon intelligence efforts revealed their names to him.  (Could it be that Karibdis from “Murder…” was still funnelling intelligence back to the Cylons?)

Anyway, Omega notes that the prison barge has gone silent, making Adama suspicious, but Tinia resists sending warriors.  Tigh says he needs to go for a walk, and the canny Tinia warns him not to take it in the landing bay.  So he goes to the officers’ club and casually clues in Apollo and Starbuck so that they’ll go on their own initiative.  It’s a fun moment for Terry Carter as Tigh, one of several fun bits of understated comedy he’s had lately.

Anyway, the Bad Guys take the Quouncil hostage and Baltar demands that his Cylon pilots be freed so he can fly away in his Raider (or “fighter,” or — no, I’m not using that gag again), but Dr. Wilker has the Cylons in pieces and the best he can do in reassembling them is a clumsy Cylon who bashes equipment to pieces when trying to operate it. Which gives Apollo an idea.  Adama has a plan of his own, and is pleasantly surprised when Tinia admits her former error and is now firmly on his side.  And when Adama turns himself in as a hostage to buy Wilker more time, Tinia insists on going along to help.  However, Apollo’s plan requires cancelling Adama’s plan, forcing Tigh to pull rank on his own commander.  Turns out that Baltar’s pilot is our old friend Bashy, who goes to town on the Raider’s controls.  Leiter and his Space Nazis get away (allowing them to be tracked back to their base), but Baltar is recaptured.  The chastened Quouncil restores Adama’s emergency powers.  And Adama and Tinia seem to have a bit of a thing going, much to Tigh’s dismay.

Despite some conceptual weaknesses, this is a strong episode, with much better dialogue writing than anything Larson was capable of.  Tinia is a good character, though the rest of the Quouncil is unfortunately caricatured.  And I’m not very comfortable with this show’s persistent mindset that only the military is reasonable and responsible while civilians, especially aspiring peacemakers, are a bunch of self-destructive fools.  Although that attitude is somewhat ameliorated by Adama’s reasoned acceptance and defense of the right of civilians to  hold authority over the military, even if the military disagrees with their decisions.  It’s a damn sight better than his revival-series counterpart’s policy, which is to pay lip service to civilian authority but then stage a military coup the moment things don’t go his way.

Conversely, Baltar here is written in a way that finally makes me understand the roots of Gaius Baltar’s characterization in the revival series.  Here, Baltar is a rather comic figure: manipulative and self-serving, but cowardly, somewhat naive, and easily flustered.  He’s blindly convinced that his plan to use the hostages to stage a safe escape will work, and is surprised when the Nomen inform him that Adama will surely launch an attack at their vulnerable moment.  And, unexpectedly, he seems quite sincere when he tells his co-conspirators that he has every intention of keeping his word to free the hostages once he’s safe.  An odd departure from the Baltar of “Saga of a Star World,” who ruthlessly demanded that the Cylons carry out their directive to slaughter all survivors without mercy.  I wonder if it was decided to tone down his character, make him more sympathetic for some reason.  Anyway, his namesake Gaius is much closer to this episode’s Baltar than any prior depiction of the character.

“Experiment in Terra”:  While Apollo is leading a squad of Vipers to track the escaped Space Nazis to their base, he is overtaken by the Ship of Lights from “War of the Gods.”  The noise of their approach induces an attack of Awkward Exposition Tourette’s in Apollo.  (“What’s that sound?  Too loud!  I can’t –“)  Yes, it’s another Glen Larson script.  Anyway, Apollo awakens in the SoL with his costume and gear spray-painted white, and is greeted by Devon from Knight Rider — err, John (Edward Mulhare), a Being of Light who tells him he’s been recruited to go to Terra and help stave off a war.  Like most all-powerful superbeings in sci-fi, the BoL are forbidden to interfere directly in mortal affairs but can only advise, or in this case, recruit rather clueless agents and drop them in without adequate briefing.  A confused Apollo finds himself on Terra, where he’s seen by others as a missing pilot named Charlie, who’s found by Charlie’s ex-girlfriend (in an amusing bit, Apollo first thinks her name is Amnesia — “That’s a pretty name” — but it’s actually Brenda).  John pops in to give cryptic advice but only Apollo can see him, making Brenda think “Charlie” is nuts.  Hey, John isn’t Devon from Knight Rider, he’s Al from Quantum Leap!  I do wonder if this is where Bellisario got the idea for that show.  Invisible Devon tells Apollo to “let your uniform be your guide” — as long as it’s white, he’s “protected,” but when it returns to normal hue, he’ll be vulnerable.  This never pays off in any way.

Anyway, Brenda sics security on Apollo/Charlie (for his own good) and he’s taken away.  Even though this Nationalist faction is nominally the good guys, their authorities are not to be trusted.  Here’s where Larson’s hawkish politics reassert themselves more blatantly and heavy-handedly than ever before.  In the past, both in the pilot and in “Baltar’s Escape,” he’s painted those who seek peace as clueless dupes.  But here, the Nationalist president is so determined to sign a peace treaty with the Eastern Alliance that he’s knowingly covering up evidence that they’ve conquered all the Nationalists’ satellite colonies.  So he knows full well that the Space Nazis are actively at war with his nation — and winning — and yet he deceptively pushes for a treaty anyway, and imprisons anyone who protests.  It’s rather bizarre, really.  What could possibly be motivating him?  He doesn’t seem to actively want the Space Nazis to destroy his nation, but he has no reason to believe they’d honor a treaty.  He’s a complete straw man whose actions make no sense.

Anyway, Starbuck has followed Apollo to Terra, landing in Vasquez Rocks at night, where he’s confronted by Nationalist troops commanded by Q.  Yep, it’s a young John DeLancie — his face concealed by a motocross, err, soldier’s helmet, but his voice unmistakeable.  Starbuck stuns Q’s troops with his superior zapgun and tracks down Apollo’s comm signal.  He’s intercepted by Angel Devon, who whitewashes his uniform and fills him in on the situation.  Starbuck saves Apollo, along with Brenda and her general father, who’ve also been arrested to keep them from telling the Presidium (or the Preseedyum, as they pronounce it) about the Space Nazis’ conquests.  Deciding they need a demonstration to prove Apollo’s evidence, Starbuck and Brenda drive off to find his Viper.  Apollo vamps before the Preseedyum, telling them the story of the series and becoming a mouthpiece for Larson’s right-wing, peace-through-superior-firepower rhetoric.

But it’s all rendered moot when Alliance leader Nehemiah Persoff decides to launch all-out nuclear armageddon, not only crushing the Nationalists but solving their world’s population crisis by wiping out their own surplus population and leaving only the loyalists protected in bunkers.  Luckily, the Galactica has caught up with the lost Vipers by travelling at “lightspeed” for the first time in many sectars or sectons or whatever, which means that the ragtag, fugitive fleet has come from “another galaxy” and passed through dozens of star systems in less than a year while travelling slower than light.  Yeah, okay.  It also means that Adama’s changed his policy about leaving the fleet behind and largely undefended, perhaps because the Cylons haven’t been seen in some time and the Space Nazis are pushovers.

Anyway, the Galactica folks see the missile launches, get filled in by Starbuck, and deploy a hitherto-unmentioned green ray that somehow covers the whole planet with a glowing shield that blows up all the missiles in flight. (Oh, and apparently Colonials don’t consider the ionosphere to be part of the atmosphere.)  Terra is saved, and the Space Nazis, convinced that the Nationalists have a superior missile shield, meekly sue for peace on the Nationalists’ terms.  It’s rather startling to remember that this was made before Ronald Reagan took office, because it feels like propaganda for his Strategic Defense Initiative boondoggle.  That was nicknamed “Star Wars” by the press, but maybe they picked the wrong franchise.

Apollo slips away with John, who reveals that, despite all evidence to the contrary, Terra is not Earth.  Which further implies that it was intended to be a colony of Earth.  It’s hard to believe that all the similarities of names, units, technology, etc. could be coincidence (although that didn’t stop Ron Moore).

Yes, the sequel series had Galactica reach Earth in 1980, but that was mandated by network bean-counters to save money.  These episodes certainly suggest that the original intent was for the series to be set in Earth’s future.

Well, it seems the peak of this series’ quality has passed.  This is the weakest episode in quite a while.  It’s conceptually awkward, it’s a feeble and somewhat non sequitur ending to the Terra arc, and it’s a profoundly heavyhanded political tract.  Don’t get me wrong, the problem isn’t just that Larson’s politics differ from mine.  It’s a valid thing for a writer to express one’s views in one’s writing, but it’s something very different to paint one’s opposition as fools or traitors.  And it’s just not good writing to paint the bad guys in a story as incoherently as the straw-man president was portrayed here.

Additionally, it’s hard to see why the Beings of Light would intervene to save Terra from annihilation after permitting the Twelve Colonies to suffer the same fate.  It’s harder to see why they’d recruit some guy from Galactica to save Terra and only give him two minutes of preparation.  Also, Apollo is uncharacteristically awkward and slow to catch up here, no doubt because the script was originally written to focus on Starbuck.  Richard Hatch pushed for the change because Starbuck had gotten too many focus episodes, and apparently Larson simply swapped the names “Apollo” and “Starbuck” in the script without changing the actual lines.  So Apollo is playing Starbuck, Starbuck is playing Apollo, and thus they’re both out of character.  That’s just inept.

But it’s interesting to note the presence of the John character — a messenger of a higher, seemingly divine race, using a human as an agent, making himself visible and audible only to his chosen agents so that they seem to be talking to thin air as far as others are concerned.  It’s a striking parallel to “Head Six” and the other “Messengers” from the revival series and Caprica.  I always thought that concept was original to the remake, but perhaps it was based on this episode.

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  1. January 12, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    I would just like to say that I am really enjoying these reviews of the old BSG. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) I think the only one of these I’ve seen is part two of “Greetings from Earth”.

  2. joshtk76
    February 13, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    Good review. The whole Terra cycle encapsulates everything that is bad about the original BSG. Just when we are about to make some major headway into the Battlestar’s journey to find earth, we get jarring emotional shifts and inept comic relief (Sarah mourns her father’s death and let’s cut to those godawful androids) and another messed-up planet that needs Apollo and Starbuck to fix everything up. The hints that Terra is earth is just a cheap way to get the viewer more wrapped up in the episodes, only to have the rug pulled from under us. And then there’s Apollo’s cringeworthy line that the opposite of war is slavery!

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