Home > Reviews > Original GALACTICA thoughts — final 2 episodes and overview

Original GALACTICA thoughts — final 2 episodes and overview

“Take the Celestra”: Please! 😉  This is a filler episode focusing on characters we’ve never seen before.  Adama’s former commander Kronus (Paul Fix, the doctor from the second Star Trek pilot, and just as unimpressive here as there) now commands the repair ship Celestra, and is being promoted to run all the maintenance ships as his own mini-fleet.  (We learn that, as in the revival series, the Colonial anthem is Stu Phillips’s BSG theme.)  Meanwhile, Starbuck discovers that Kronus’s pilot is Aurora (Ana Alicia), a long-lost love that he thought had died in the Cylon invasion.  Apparently he really really cared for her and searched for her the night of the attack, even though that contradicts his behavior in the pilot and everything we’ve learned about him since.  (He was shown to be involved with Athena at the time, but Athena has now been retconned out of existence, it seems.)  But Aurora wants nothing to do with him.  She has other plans, such as staging a mutiny with her new boyfriend Damon, who sports a very ’70s white-guy Afro.  See, they think Kronus is a slavedriver forcing his crew to work in awful conditions, but it’s actually Kronus’s assistant Charka who’s doing that under Kronus’s nose.  When Apollo and Starbuck (who’s coming to talk to Aurora) happen to show up and stop the mutiny (with a bad camera angle exposing the wooden scaffolding within one of the Viper mockups as they taxi to a stop), they take the mutineers and Kronus back to Galactica to press charges.  But Charka somehow knew all this was going to happen and uses it to take command of the Celestra by sending their shuttle on a course to oblivion.  Somehow Apollo and Starbuck, these experienced space pilots, are completely dependent on flight control to tell them their course and are unable to recognize that they’re off-course until it’s too late.  All those stars in the viewports and they don’t know how to navigate by them.  But once they figure out what’s really going on, they team up with Damon and Aurora and make their way back to the Celestra, almost running out of fuel, since of course this universe is innocent of physics and a spaceship that isn’t exerting thrust will just stop dead.  Also, the Celestra obscures itself from sensors by shutting off beacons and extraneous power emissions, yet somehow the intense, white-hot energy of their engines firing is undetectable.  Yeah, okay.

But they get back to the hijacked ship and there’s a big shootout and Kronus saves the ship from… something… by taking the controls (this is the second time BSG has shown a ship in weightless space going into an apparent nosedive when the control stick was released), but has a heart attack and dies (and somehow the controls no longer need someone operating them at this point).  And Starbuck realizes Aurora loves Damon and he loves Cassie, so he convinces Damon not to be a fool and drive her away.  And Cassie’s a liberated woman who doesn’t need commitment anyway and all but gives Starbuck permission to cheat on her, so it’s a happy ending from a guy point of view.

Not much of an episode, particularly the tedious soap-opera stuff in the first half, though the heartfelt talks that resolve the triangle in the second half aren’t bad.  The mutineers’ complaints about the hardships of the lower-class people in the fleet is a promising thread until it turns out to be just one guy’s corruption.  The budget is clearly tight; there are new FX of the Celestra, but they’re fairly limited compared to what we’ve seen in most of this series.

There’s one interesting bit that I think must’ve been an in-joke.  The costume design for the Colonial Warriors includes brown jackets with these four pairs of big shiny buckles on the front, but they’re never seen fastened for some reason.  That’s been bugging me nearly the whole time I’ve been watching this.  There’s a moment in this episode where Apollo chastises Starbuck about his slovenly appearance and tells him to fasten his jacket before seeing Kronus, but they hear shooting before Starbuck can comply.  I think the writers were poking fun at this oddity of the costuming.

“The Hand of God”: Luckily, the final episode is written (and directed) by Donald Bellisario, not Glen Larson.  Apollo, Starbuck, Sheba, and Cassiopeia go on a double date in an outdated, forgotten astronomy dome atop the Galactica, and its equipment picks up an obsolete “Gamma frequency” signal.  We can tell it’s stock footage of an Apollo Lunar Module, but the episode acts as though we wouldn’t recognize it, even though TV viewers in the late ’70s would’ve probably been even more familiar with the sight than the average viewer today.  Either way, the characters don’t know what it is, so they turn to Boomer (who’s suddenly a signal-tech expert filling Dr. Wilker’s expository role), who suggests it could be from nearby or hundreds of err, light-yahrens away (which would put it in another “galaxy,” since BSG-verse galaxies are teeny little things).  There’s one star system in range along that vector, so the gang goes off in Vipers to check it out — only to discover a Cylon base star!  Luckily, the base star doesn’t see them.  Now, since galaxies are so tiny here, having the Cylons occupying a single star system on the edge of this galaxy means the fleet can’t enter it undetected unless they go a very long way around (which is self-contradictory, but what the frak).  But Adama recognizes they have the element of surprise, and he’s tired of running.  They will launch a surprise attack and destroy the base star.

There’s a nice bit where we cut from a scene aboard the base star to an exterior shot of same — only to pull back and see it’s a tabletop model that Tigh is using to give a briefing to the pilots.  (No doubt it’s the actual FX miniature.)  The plan seems sound, but it depends on the Cylons being too distracted by the Viper attack to notice Galactica coming in from behind the sun (again, tiny tiny space distances, except when the plot requires them to be immense as in the previous episode).  Apollo suggests they can even the odds by using Baltar’s captured Raider as a Trojan horse to board the base star and blow out its sensors.  But they don’t know where to find the control center — unless Adama can convince Baltar to help, which he does by offering to release him on an empty, habitable planet.  There’s also the fact that if the Galactica is destroyed, Baltar will be too. Baltar, ever self-serving, agrees to help.

There’s some soul-searching stuff as Cassie and Sheba confront their respective men (since it turns out Sheba’s falling for Apollo) about their insistence of taking every dangerous mission themselves — a nice attempt to rationalize the dramatic conceit of having the same few protagonists do all the work despite there being plenty of others in the crew.  Sheba brings up Serena for the first time since she died, implying that Apollo’s been trying to get himself killed out of grief, which hardly seems to mesh with his personality throughout the season.  She also says Serena was a lovely person, but how would she know if she never met her?  Well, Serena was a noted TV journalist on Caprica, so maybe Sheba saw her broadcasts before the Pegasus was, err, misplaced.

Anyway, Apollo & Starbuck sneak into the base star successfully and get to the central core, which is actually shot in a mockup of the Skylab space station (not the same backup station I walked through at the National Air & Space Museum back in November, but another one that wasn’t flight-ready).  They set off the charges, and the attack goes off on schedule in an orgy of stock footage, largely from the pilot and “The Living Legend” (but accompanied by new music).  The base star is destroyed, but A & S lost the transponder that identifies them as friendlies, so their Raider almost gets blown up before Boomer notices they’re waggling their wings, as Starbuck had suggested doing earlier in Boomer’s hearing.

The episode ends with Apollo checking for signals in the dome again, but Starbuck convinces him to leave — just before a transmission of “The Eagle has landed” comes in undetected.  Are they recording incoming transmissions, or is this opportunity lost forever?  We will never know, since few would count Galactica 1980 as part of this continuity (insofar as it has a continuity).

All in all, this is a fairly effective episode for what it is, with some decent character moments amid the action, and not much that’s stupid aside from the inept astronomy.  Bellisario started out writing some of the worst episodes of the series, but as the season progressed, his work improved substantially, and his competent dialogue writing was a welcome alternative to Larson’s clunky verbiage.

So what’s my verdict for Battlestar Galactica as a whole?  Well, I still think Glen Larson is basically a hack, but this was the one time he really attempted to stretch himself and do something epic, and the result is in keeping with that — awkward, often silly, but occasionally respectable in its ambition and sometimes even good, or at least entertaining.  It was a good idea executed by people who didn’t quite have the talent or experience to make the most of it, but who were inspired enough by it to raise their game, at least some of the time.

I can see why the show failed; aside from the great expense of making it, those weak 1-parters in the first half-season — and the general lack of direction or clear identity after the pilot — probably caused a lot of viewers to tune out.  Yet I can also understand why it has loyal fans.  If you left out those first four 1-parters and maybe “Take the Celestra,” you’d have a relatively strong core narrative that told a relatively coherent space-opera epic.  (To be specific, such a viewing program would consist of “Saga of a Star World,” “Lost Planet of the Gods,” “The Gun on Ice Planet Zero,” “The Living Legend,” “Fire in Space,” “War of the Gods,” “The Man with Nine Lives,” “Murder on the Rising Star,” the Terra arc, and “The Hand of God.”  You could also leave out “Fire in Space” without losing much, but at least its first act works quite well.)  Unfortunately this still leaves in some weak parts, notably the second and fourth hours of the Terra arc.  But they’re necessary to the core storyline.

Galactica was unusual in its heavy use of 2-part and longer stories, perhaps the first prime-time US genre show to have a hint of the kind of serialization and story evolution that’s standard today.  I wouldn’t exactly call that pioneering, since prime-time soaps like Dallas paved the way, and since a lot of the growth and change was due to network interference and retooling; but it’s worthy of recognition.  It’s certainly not in the same league as Star Trek, Stargate, or its own remake, but it does stand out among genre shows of its era.

One more thing I’ll give the show credit for: it had a lot less cheesecake than one would expect for a show from the late ’70s, aka the Jiggle Era.  Certainly the female characters weren’t treated as equally in the scripts as they are today, but it was about typical of its era, even progressive in including female fighter pilots long before the real US military did.  But the female costumes were a lot less skimpy than they’ve been in most genre shows either before or after this.  There was a bit of cheesecake early on — Athena in her skin-toned leotard “underwear” (which actually showed no flesh beyond head and hands) in the pilot, the female Viper trainees in same in “Lost Planet,” Cassiopeia’s fairly skimpy red dress, Audrey Landers’s Viking/Indian getup in “The Young Lords.”  But for the most part, the female characters on the show tended to be as fully clothed as the males, and sometimes substantially more so.  The male triad players in various episodes were rather scantily attired, and the final episode features a scene of Sheba and Cassiopeia ogling Boomer in his underwear.  I’d always remembered this show as relatively sexist, so it’s a bit surprising to realize this.

The highest points: “Saga of a Star World” (at least the first 60 percent or so), “The Living Legend,” “The Man With Nine Lives,” and the first half of “Greetings from Earth.”  The lowest points: “The Lost Warrior,” “The Long Patrol,” “The Magnificent Warriors,” the second half of “Greetings from Earth,” and “Experiment in Terra.”  The show started out strong, quickly lost it and floundered for half a season, finally found its voice and was solid for about a third of the season, but then started to lose it again toward the end.  Somehow, all the worst parts of the series seem to take place on planets instead of in space, even though the show’s portrayal of space physics and astronautics is insanely bad.  Best planet-based material: the destruction of Caprica in “Saga” and the raid on Gamoray in “The Living Legend.”  Honorable mention to the planet in “War of the Gods,” in which they processed the film to make green plants appear red and create an odd, exotic lighting effect.  (The Battlestar Wiki describes this as a red filter, but that would just make plants look gray or brown.  I’m guessing they took the green negative, printed it in monochrome, and rephotographed just it through a red filter, then recombined it with the other color negatives.)

The best cast members: John Colicos, Dirk Benedict, Terry Carter (once he and the writers settled into Tigh’s dry, sardonic wit and sense of quiet exasperation), and Lorne Greene at his high points, though he far too often phoned in his performance.  However, there’s nobody in the regular cast besides Colicos that I’d consider truly excellent.  The worst cast member: Noah Hathaway.  (I’m being generous by not counting Anne Lockhart, who wasn’t so much bad as miscast.)  The most forgettable cast member: Tony Swartz as Jolly.  I’d forgotten he even was a regular for the run of the show.  (Somehow I’d gotten the impression that he was dropped early on and that Ed Begley Jr.’s Greenbean was a regular throughout, and it’s actually the other way around.)  Best recurring players: George Murdock as Dr. Salik, especially in “Greetings from Earth,” and Jonathan Harris as the unbilled voice of Lucifer.  Best guest stars: Jane Seymour, Lloyd Bridges, Patrick Macnee, Brock Peters, Ray Bolger.  Worst non-child guest stars: Charles Bloom (leader of “The Young Lords”), Randolph Mantooth (Michael in “Greetings from Earth”).  Most successful production values: John Dykstra’s visual effects, Stu Phillips’s music, Andrew Probert’s ship designs (not necessarily in that order).  Overall weakest production values: the writing and guest casting.

Biggest unanswered production question: Who did the Cylons’ voices?  Yes, I know the basic tone was produced by a Vocoder, specifically this Vocoder.  Here’s a neat video showing how that works, albeit with a different model:

But still, someone had to be actually speaking the Cylons’ lines into the mike, and I think it was the same person throughout, since most of the Cylons had a certain distinctive cadence to their voices, and that wouldn’t be the Vocoder’s work.  So who was it?  Someone from the show’s sound department?  Glen Larson himself?  Who?

Is it as good as the remake series?  Not by a long shot.  But it’s generally a lot more fun.  Even when it’s bad, it’s at least goofy and light, not wallowing in self-conscious darkness and despair.  It usually wastes the opportunity to explore the darker issues of survival, but no more than the remake wasted the opportunity to explore the more optimistic and hopeful side of human behavior in crisis.  One thing both shows have in common is that their execution often fell short of their ambitions, but at least this show wasn’t as boastful about its ambitions, didn’t demand to be taken as seriously, and thus was easier to forgive for its shortfalls.

So am I going to keep going and watch Galactica 1980?  I quail at the prospect, but it’s only ten episodes (and six distinct stories), and my curiosity is piqued and must be satisfied.  Damn my thoroughness!  However, it’ll have to wait.  Hulu doesn’t have the full 3-part premiere episode, just a chopped-down VHS version combining parts of it with parts of a later episode and some footage from the original series.  So I’ll have to Netflix it.  Just as well; I have other priorities right now anyway.

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  1. David Gian-Cursio
    January 14, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    “But still, someone had to be actually speaking the Cylons’ lines into the mike, and I think it was the same person throughout, since most of the Cylons had a certain distinctive cadence to their voices, and that wouldn’t be the Vocoder’s work. So who was it? Someone from the show’s sound department? Glen Larson himself? Who?”

    For the remake TV-movie “Razor,” they actually tracked down the guy who did the Cylon dialog to record new lines using the original equipment for the retro-Cylons. I’m not sure if anyone ever actually said his name, though, or if he was also the actor who read the lines (I’d assume so, since the Cylon voices in Caprica were entirely different, so the unique Cylon sound wasn’t all in the audio processing).

  2. February 11, 2011 at 10:55 am

    Nice review. I disagree about Long Patrol being bad and the first half of Greetings from Earth being good, but otherwise I think I agreed with everything. I’m not sure if you went into more depth with other episodes, but I’m going to do a search right now.

    Despite my handle, I’m not the type who usually reads this kind of in-depth review, but I wound up here through a google search, and I’m glad I did.

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