GALACTICA 1980 thoughts — Eps. 7-9
“The Night the Cylons Landed”: A lone Viper encounters a new type of Cylon fighter and rams it, damaging both ships so they fall to Earth. For once, Glen Larson gets something right that most sci-fi gets wrong; when the new designated military guy Col. Briggs (Peter Mark Richman) suggests covering it up, his underling reports that every observatory is already tracking it. You’d be amazed how many sci-fi shows and movies think the government can hide something happening up in space, even though all you have to do to see it is look up. But here, the military is able to track the bogie right to landing. They may have gotten it right here because it wasn’t long after the July 1979 re-entry and crash of the Skylab space station, which is repeatedly referenced in the episode.
But Galactica is tracking them too, and Troy & Dillon are ordered to head to the landing zone, thinking they’re going to retrieve the Viper. Naturally, like most random arrivals on Earth in TV and movies, the crashing ship will come down right outside New York City. (We also would have accepted Los Angeles, Tokyo, London, or any major landmark such as the Pyramids.) But Jamie warns that the Air Force keeps detecting their Vipers, so they can’t get there that way. (The Battlestar Wiki asks why they don’t just make their Vipers invisible. But then, given what a power hog the invisibility field is, maybe it wouldn’t be practical to use it in flight for any length of time, so I can give them a pass on this one.) So they have to go by commercial air to stay inconspicuous. But a couple of disguised bad guys hijack the plane and order that it be flown to Cuba (since this show can rarely resist a cliche), and Troy & Dillon stun them and are observed doing so, so the FBI wants to talk to them when they land. They go invisible in the restrooms and sneak out.
Note I’m not calling them “Trillon” here, because for once they aren’t entirely interchangeable. This is the first time they’ve only had each other to play off of for any length of time, as opposed to reacting as a pair to Earthly characters and events, so for once they manifest some distinct personalities, if only because Larson is writing Troy & Dillon as if they were Apollo & Starbuck. But hand-me-down personalities are better than no personalities, I guess. Of course, Barry Van Dyke is more of a square and less of a rogue than Dirk Benedict (in performance, that is — I don’t know anything about their personal lives), so Dillon still isn’t that distinct from Troy. But at least there’s a sense of command hierarchy between them for once.
And what of Jamie and the super scouts? The kids are featured in the first act, initially laughing at This Island Earth and then visiting the Griffith Observatory for an Obligatory Science Content scene or two, before Jamie offers to dump them at the baseball camp for a while. The one good thing about ABC’s demands for this show is that the requirement for educational content makes it a lot more scientifically literate than its predecessor, though that’s damning with faint praise. But the periodic lectures are kind of boring.
Galactica recovers the Viper and learns from its scans that the Cylons have evolved into a new form — and a Dr. Zee/Adama discussion of Cylon progress from “The Super Scouts” is quite literally replayed here, the same footage cut into two separate episodes. Zee is still clearly the monarch of the fleet, holding court in his TV gallery, with Adama reduced to his nervous, obsequious majordomo. When the Viper pilot reports to them, he even addresses Zee before Adama. I’d say it’s a major step down for Adama, but even in the original series, he spent half his time cowering in fear of discovery by the Cylons and willing to abandon his own son or Starbuck if necessary to stay hidden from danger, when he wasn’t lying sick or injured in bed. But his occasional moments of authority and assertiveness in episodes like “Saga of a Star World,” “The Living Legend,” and “War of the Gods” are long gone. He probably can’t even order breakfast without asking Zee for instructions.
So how have the Cylons evolved? They’ve created skin jobs! That’s right — the concept of Cylons in human form, the trademark of the Ron Moore revival series, actually originated in this episode of the much-reviled Galactica 1980. But unfortunately these skin jobs don’t resemble Tricia Helfer or Grace Park. They’re male androids wearing ridiculous pointy helmets (are they Cylons or Coneheads?). Only one android, Andromus (Roger Davis), survives the crash, along with one Centurion, Centuri. Gotta love these imaginative names. (Luckily, the Conehead helmets don’t survive the crash either.) After reminding Centuri of his prime directive to protect the superior skin jobs, Andromus sets the self-destruct and warns that they have only moments to get out before the blast. So once they get out, they stand right alongside the ship for several minutes while discussing their plans. Hu-whah? The self-destruct is so delayed, in fact, that Troy & Dillon have time to show up and discover the existence of skin job Cylons and then dramatically escape just in time to survive the explosion. (That’s why the self-destruct was delayed! The laws of TV physics wouldn’t allow the explosion to go off until a pair of action heroes was running from it! Gee, thank goodness they didn’t walk away in slow motion without looking back, or it would’ve been huge.)
The cops arrive, and seeing these two totally unharmed guys standing in the general vicinity of the crash, they instantly assume for some reason that they escaped from the crashing plane rather than being bystanders, and suspect them of being drugrunners. Which is totally inexplicable; it just seems to be obligatory that Troy & Dillon be constantly in trouble with the law, like a pair of intergalactic Duke boys. (Someday the Cylons might git ’em, but the law never will.) So naturally, they stun the cops and steal their car to drive back to the city, tracking the Cylons’ distress signal.
See, Andromus picked up Earth transmissions on the way down, so he’s looking for a broadcasting center to amplify the distress signal and let the Cylon fleet know he’s found Earth. By a staggering coincidence, it happens to be Halloween, and by an even more staggering coincidence, he and Centuri are mistaken for hitchhikers and picked up by a radio-station manager and his wife — respectively, William Daniels in clown makeup and Lara Parker as a more demure Vampira (evidently gag casting, since she was a regular in Dark Shadows). While T&D are running from the cops and getting sidetracked by various things (including a weird stage show with Hanna-Barbera characters singing a Disney song and an attempted mugging by the cast of a high-school performance of West Side Story), the Cylons are taken to a costume party whose guest of honor is none other than Wolfman Jack, a prominent DJ of the era, known for his raucous, gravelly-voiced persona (imagine a voice halfway between an irate Popeye and the Shredder from the original Ninja Turtles cartoon, but cooler). That’s right, the whole plotline about a Cylon scout discovering Earth and placing the entire planet in danger of annihilation was done solely as a vehicle for a celebrity guest star, as the Cylons take Wolfman Jack captive and force him to take them to his closed-for-the-night radio station so they can call the evil cavalry. But first, Centuri is almost downed by a microwave oven (must be badly shielded) which Andromus blows up by firing a ray from his fingertips (gee, Number Six never did that), setting the apartment on fire and escaping with Wolfman in the confusion. Troy arrives just in time to save a kid and his dog from the fire, pausing for a lecture about fire safety. This is in between Wolfman Jack’s lectures about radio astronomy, solar flares, automated radio stations, and the Emergency Broadcast System. Galactica 1980 has been brought to you today by the letters W and J.
Meanwhile, Col. Briggs has hooked up with a Grizzled Manhattan Police Chief and they’re investigating the fire. Briggs is surprised to learn that neither of his suspects was the firestarter, but that one of them saved a boy’s life. Briggs also mentions the fate of Col. Sydell — he’s in a hospital in shock, and “his brain is somewhere else.” Much like most of the people making this show. (Sometimes you just have to go for the obvious cheap shot…)
The radio station is atop the 70-story “International Trade Center,” and it takes a key to get to the top floors. For some reason, the Cylons and Wolfman take an elevator that goes up to floor 60 before needing a key, while Troy & Dillon’s elevator stops at floor 30, forcing them to super-jump up one floor at a time. Well, they had to pad this out to two hours somehow. Finally there’s a laser fight on the rooftop while Wolfman hides. Andromus is hit and orders Centuri to orient the satellite dish to signal the fleet. But Centuri rather touchingly intones “I will protect you,” picks up his injured master, and tries to get him to safety. Awww. Unfortunately for them, he tries to escape by jumping off the side of a 70-story building. Either his cognitive processor took some damage in the crash and the fight, or else the problem with that side-sweeping red eye is that it can’t look down. The Cylons land in a dumpster and their remains get taken away with the trash.
So once again the day is saved, and T&D go invisible until the cops give up and leave. Troy wants to leave right away, but Dillon wants to stick around, visit Central Park, take in a show, the whole New York experience. Too bad he’s just the lieutenant.
This is a slow episode getting started, and it’s often slow later on. Like so many of G80’s episodes, it had a lot of padding to get it to full length. But it’s mercifully light on the moppets, and though Jamie’s presence is missed, it’s the first time that the nominal male leads of the show have gotten sufficient attention to manifest something resembling personalities. And there’s some marginally fun stuff about the New Yorkers reacting to the Cylons and Colonials, and some mildly amusing comedy beats with the deadpan Centurion reacting to people. We’ve never seen a Cylon played for comedy before, and it kinda works. All in all, it’s perhaps the show’s most effective execution of its bread-and-butter “Earthlings and aliens react to each other and comedy ensues” trope. Also, the Cylon presence makes it perhaps the most effective episode at creating a sense of danger. But neither of those is saying much. Pretty much any praise this show can be given is damningly faint.
“Space Croppers”: We begin with a stock-footage Imperious Leader (voiced by Dennis Haysbert, but doing a Patrick Macnee-style nasal English accent that sounds more like a cross between Maxwell Smart and Toucan Sam) ordering a stock-footage Cylon Centurion to launch a stock-footage attack on the fleet’s stock-footage Agro ships — which are doubly stock footage since the battle scenes recycled here from “The Magnificent Warriors” include ship footage originally from Silent Running. The battle destroys two of the fleet’s three Agro ships — even though the battle from “The Magnificent Warriors” 30 years earlier also destroyed two of the fleet’s three Agro ships. Okay, maybe they built two more in the interim. Maybe Dr. Zee assembled them out of the slats of his crib. Somehow, even though Adama’s been through this exact same battle before, he’s so dependent on Dr. Zee that he needs the kid to explain the obvious to him, that the Cylons targeted the food supply deliberately rather than by chance.
This is all to set up a story about Troy & Dillon helping a downtrodden farmer, Hector (Ned Romero, who was a Klingon in “A Private Little War”), save his dying farm. Since they seem to be the Duke boys now, they need their own Boss Hogg, in the person of Steadman (MacGyver‘s Dana Elcar), a corrupt, racist landowner who’s screwing Hector over because he’s Hispanic. T&D use their fancy space tech to outwit Steadman’s ploys to screw them over, for instance, winning a bucking bronco from him by calming the mistreated horse with alpha waves from Dillon’s wristlojackimator. The super-scouts are brought in to use their superpowers to plant the field that T&D plow with their lasers (which have somehow morphed into Cylon pistols), and Dr. Zee uses the Magic Zee Saucer from episode 5 to seed the clouds and produce rain enriched with patented Zee-tastic growth accelerators to make the crops grow overnight, as well as delivering the fleet’s agriculture
extras experts to found a permanent farming colony. Steadman witnesses all this weirdness and blabs to the farm council and the cops about it, making him look like a fool, so that his stranglehold on the valley’s water supply is broken and they all live happily ever after. Somehow, it doesn’t occur to anyone to be surprised or suspicious that Hector’s formerly barren soil has miraculously grown a lush, ready-to-harvest crop in mere hours.
While “Space Croppers” is a silly episode in a lot of ways, I think it deserves credit for actually trying to be about something, confronting anti-Hispanic prejudices that are still sadly topical today. It kind of reminded me of an episode of Filmation’s Shazam! or Isis, with the heroes using their powers to help a guest-of-the-week with his problems in a nonviolent way and making a socially responsible statement in the process.
Also, this is effectively the last episode in the story of Galactica‘s discovery of Earth, the last time we ever see Troy, Dillon, Jamie, and the super-scouts. And in a way it actually provides an element of closure to that 9-week mini-saga, in that it ends with the successful establishment of a new Earthly home for the Colonials and the scouts. Despite the complete abandonment of the chasing-Xaviar-through-time premise set up in the pilot, these nine episodes have had a surprising degree of continuity among them, feeling like an ongoing serial rather than a bunch of isolated episodes, and this installment gives that serial a sense of resolution. It’s actually a decent note to go out on. Though maybe I’m just being generous because it means I’ll never have to see those damn super-scouts again. And because they finally had the good sense to put Robyn Douglass in pants again, though her farm overalls weren’t quite as charmingly tight as her pilot uniform in the, err, pilot.
But there’s one episode left! Next, “The Return of Starbuck” and some final thoughts.