Battlestar Galactica: A Newbie's Guide to Season Two
So- that was an experience. Season two of Battlestar Galactica upped the game considerably from this newbie's perspective, with much darker storylines, the addition of fascinating characters, and an insanely clever cliffhanger at the end that makes me completely excited for season three. But, since the show got more ambitious, it also allowed more room for error, and there are far more glaring flaws in this season than there were in season one. Here are the highlights (and lowlights) of season one, according to an extremely late newbie to this amazing show:
Best Arc: Pegasus
I honestly couldn't pick just one favorite episode, because everything in the Pegasus arc was brilliant. This show is at its best, in my opinion, when it's exploring the nature of leadership, and these three episodes beautifully established the contrast between Roslin, Adama, and Cain. The three of them are on a spectrum, in which Roslin is the most humanistic and idealistic, Adama is a little more willing to play hardball, and Cain is the ultimate Darwinian survivalist, literally cannibalizing her own people for the sake of survival. But it's not nearly that cut-and-dry, of course, because Roslin is the one who decides that Cain needs to die, while Adama and Cain both call off their plots to kill each other. This ensures that the characters are not only ciphers that are representative of certain ideas, but also human.
Cain is fascinating (and perfectly played by Michelle Forbes) because she's not simply a contrast to Adama, but a nightmarish version of him. His admission that he could have ended up the same way- and would have, were it not for Roslin- may be his most self-aware moment of the entire show so far. Cain is Adama's own personal worst-case scenario, and her presence actually humanizes him as he tries to distance himself from her, as evidenced by him calling Sharon "her" rather than "it" and showing her some compassion. This all leads to his ultimate realization that they need to "not just survive, but be worthy of surviving," which is the closest thing Battlestar has to an outright thesis statement.
But possibly the best part about this arc was the revelation that Cain has been allowing her soldiers to rape Cylons as a method of torture. Their insistence that raping Sharon and Gina is okay because they're "not human" is tragic on several levels; first, it forces us to question what being "human" means. If the Cylons have thoughts and feelings and existential crises, then they have everything a human needs to be considered worthy of civil rights and dignity. This is not a particularly difficult leap in logic, and the fact that very few characters on Battlestar have been able to make it demonstrates how easy it is to commit horrible acts as a result of "othering." The Cylons are "other," and therefore it's okay to rape them, torture them, take away their reproductive rights. This is how every prejudice starts, and how most horrible human rights violations occur. People who consider themselves to be "good" people do terrible, dehumanizing things all the time, simply because society encourages to see the "other" as something less than human.
This theme is reinforced by the fact that all of the significant Cylons thus far are female. There are presumably as many male Cylons as female, but we are only emotionally attached to Sharon and Six. As women, their experience is more relevant to the parallel the writers are attempting to draw with real-life society. All bodies are commodified, but our relationship with women's bodies is far more fraught, as is shown in the abortion storyline (which, trust me, we'll get to that). Gina is raped, Sharon is nearly raped and put through an abortion against her will, and Kara is almost turned into a human babymaking machine, because women's bodies are considered to be communal property far more than men's.
Worst Episode: Black Market
This is a predictable choice, as this episode is undoubtedly the most reviled episode of the entire series. And it is the worst episode so far, but I thought it had its moments. At first I thought it was out of character for Lee to sleep with a prostitute, but if he were to sleep with a prostitute, he would 100% convince himself that they were in an actual relationship and think it was even mildly appropriate to give a gift to her daughter. That latter moment was a spot-on indictment of a man who wants to think of himself as a "nice guy" even when he's doing something completely shady. I'm not condemning Lee, he's still one of my favorite characters, but this particular lapse in judgment was a completely realistic flaw for him to have.
Unfortunately, almost every other part of this episode is a mess. The black market storyline is a great idea, as money and goods would have a very different meaning in this world BSG is depicting, but the execution is terrible. There's no context for the black market's operation as a whole, and although the child abuse storyline is harrowing, it's very unlikely that there would be that many pedophiles openly purchasing children on the black market in a population of 50,000 people. But the worst part of the episode has to be Lee's backstory, which is not only delivered in the most embarrassingly, painfully heavy-handed exposition I've ever heard on this show, but also makes no sense. In a season and a half, Lee doesn't mention that he lost his girlfriend and unborn child in the Cylon attack? He didn't act like he had lost someone when the attack first occurred, and he hasn't seemed like he's in mourning since then. He had an existential crisis that led to this episode (a plotline which also seems strangely shoehorned in), but there was never any indication that he was mourning anyone besides his brother.
Best/Worst Episode: The Captain's Hand
Taken alone, "The Captain's Hand" is a great episode. There are amazing moments throughout; first, there's Dr. Cottle's awesomeness about respecting women's reproductive rights: "I don't ask many questions." Then, there's the argument between Lee and Starbuck, when he throws her shooting him back in her face. This would have been a weird character moment, as Lee wouldn't usually hold a grudge about something that was so clearly an accident. But Jamie Bamber's facial expressions save the day once again, as Lee's face immediately shows regret, so much so that he doesn't even need to express it out loud. And speaking of great facial expressions, Roslin's face when the self-serving Baltar uses abortion rights issues to announce his candidacy for president is priceless. She looks like a cross between "Oh, you silly child," and "I'm 100% going to murder you."
Even the infuriating moments are entirely well-written. For example, when Adama presents the idea This is the height of Adama's hypocrisy. He's pretending to be all objective and concerned with the greater good over petty "politics," when he's clearly motivated (at least in part) by his own discomfort with abortion. This is such a dick thing to say, but it's so realistic. It's so something that someone like Adama would say, the guy who's all about humanity "not just surviving, but being worthy of surviving," the guy who's all about respecting civil rights until it makes him uncomfortable. (I'm not a big fan of Adama, or couldn't you tell?) And it's perfect because the show has already established that, on the whole, it doesn't agree with Adama that women's right to control their bodies is a trivial thing. By juxtaposing this episode with the Farm plotline, and showing how conflicted Roslin feels about banning abortion, Battlestar shows that it's not anti-feminist, Adama is.
This might have been my favorite episode of the season, as tackling abortion, possibly more than anything else, shows that Battlestar isn't pulling its punches. But unfortunately, the storyline is unceremoniously dropped after this episode to a ludicrous extent. It's not only weird on a political level, but on a story level it makes no sense. Two episodes later Baltar is trying to figure out a way to distinguish himself from Roslin's platform and get everyone on his side, but the entire (ostensible) reason he created a platform separate from Roslin isn't even mentioned. I hope this comes up again in seasons three and four, but for now I'm disappointed.
Most Improved Character: Six
In my newbie's guide to season one of Battlestar Galactica, Six was my least favorite character. And I suppose the character to which I was referring- Head Six- hasn't actually changed very much, but the addition of Gina makes the character less problematic as a whole if Six is taken as one entity. You can tell that Gina is more humanized than Head Six just by the way she looks; as in she actually looks like a real person rather than a fantasy. And her horrific treatment at the hands of the men on Pegasus reminds the audience that sexual objectification may seem harmless, but it's decidedly not.
That being said, I'm only saying that she's improved, not that her characterization is no longer problematic. So far, Head Six's objectification has not been problematized nearly as much as I'd like. Baltar is still positioned as someone who genuinely loves her; when he interacts with Gina, we're supposed to see him as a contrast to the other men, rather than as part of the systematic problem that allowed those men to think it was acceptable to rape her. I'm glad that Head Six was afforded a little more agency this season, especially when she was shown to have a Head Baltar, but I'm still not completely on board.
Least Improved Character
Dualla was pretty much a non-entity in season one, and she became actively annoying this season. She wasn't well-developed enough to sell her conflicted feelings about Billy and Lee, so she just seemed thoughtless and inconsiderate of Billy's feelings. Then, when Billy essentially sacrifices himself for her after she treated him like dirt for months, she's never shown to feel guilty about it, and instead just begins a relationship with Lee. I enjoy when TV shows depict complicated relationships, and it's completely conceivable that a sympathetic character could string Billy along for a while because she feels conflicted. But whether it was the writing or the acting, the emotional conflict never came across, and she just seemed selfish.
The Major Missteps
Aside from dropping the abortion plotline and the entire Black Market episode, the biggest misstep of the season is the Dualla and Lee relationship. I'm honestly not saying this because I'm a Kara and Lee shipper. I'm completely fine with Anders as an alternative love interest for Kara, because it makes sense. They're both competitive, they're both intense, they're both passionate, and he looks like a less boyish version of Lee. Plus, the actors actually have chemistry. Dualla and Lee have no chemistry, and the writing barely even makes an effort to establish a relationship between them, let alone a rationale for why they would have feelings for each other. When Dualla says, "What's going on here? We've been working out together, but that's not all this is," the viewer can tell that we're supposed to have picked up on this smoldering attraction between them, but it just wasn't there. We saw them work out together once or twice, and there was an awkward moment where they almost kissed. There was no budding attraction to be seen, just a collection of moments where it seemed like Dualla was coming onto Lee. They really should have nipped this entire relationship in the bud, or at least acknowledge that Lee is using Dualla because she's beautiful and he's lonely, because that's the only way this makes sense.
Honorable mention- They almost had a misstep when they scripted Gina kissing Baltar right before he releases her to kill Cain, but they were saved by Tricia Helfer, who rightly informed them that a serial rape victim would not likely be comfortable with physical intimacy so quickly.
Best Shipper Moment: Roslin and Adama, Resurrection Ship
Roslin and Adama shared their first kiss in a way that was both predictable and completely out of nowhere. Predictable in the sense that we had all known they would end up together eventually, but out of nowhere in the sense that there was almost no direct build-up. I was unsurprised to find out that the kiss was unscripted, which could have made it a mistake but instead just made it seem more spontaneous and real (not to mention adorable).
My sister's reaction to me telling her it was unscripted: "He probably just wanted to kiss Mary McDonnell. Her hair is so luxurious." Very true, although personally, I could talk about the luxuriousness of Sharon's hair all day.
Runner-up: Lee and Starbuck had lots of great moments this season, but I think my favorite was after their disastrous attempt to sleep together in "Scar." Lee had every reason to be mad at Starbuck, but the next time he sees her and she's having issues with Kat, he just asks, "Are you okay?" Lee and Starbuck are such a well-written relationship because you root for their friendship as much as for their romance.
Worst Shipper Moment: Lee and Starbuck, Scar
"Scar" was obviously an exciting episode for Apollo/Starbuck shippers, but it wasn't exactly encouraging. When they're finished fighting, we're left with the impression that she's far more in love with Anders at the moment, and is just using Lee for comfort. (When Lee said, "I may be an easy lay, but I'm also your friend," he broke my little heart.) But, just like my "worst shipper moment" from last season, it's well-written and great character work. I still think that these two should be together eventually, but it makes sense that Kara wouldn't be able to make it work with Lee at this point. When Lee says, "You're fine with dead guys. It's the living ones you can't deal with," he's bitter but also 100% on point.
Most Exciting Guest Star
My reactions to Lucy Lawless showing up, in order:
Wait, Xena's a Cylon?
Wait, Xena's from New Zealand in real life?
How did I not know this before?!
See you after season three!