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Battlestar Galactica – Season 3

“There must be some way out of here,” said the joker to the thief,
“There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief.”

– The “Mysterious” Song, Crossroads, Part II

The series continues to be one of the most interesting television phenomenon of the last decade as it enters what is, technically at least, it’s penultimate season. This is the point where mythology-based shows typically come apart, crushed under their own weight – the point where they have to start answering at least some of their own questions, rather than simply posing them to the audience. The problem is, as many shows have found out, answering questions isn’t nearly as fun as posing them. Battlestar Galactica, seemingly afraid of the potential comfort that giving those answers would offer, instead opts to delve even deeper into the rabbit hole – picking answers to questions suggested by earlier events and then using that to move the show forward in a fascinating momentum. Because of this weird combination of answers and deeper questions, the show somehow manages to increase its complexity and its fascination year-after-year.

Full of nebulous concepts...

It’s no coincidence that the phrase “on the outside looking in” and its variations are used multiple times throughout the season – Zarek doesn’t want to be outside Roslin’s new government, Helo enjoys being outside, Caprica Six is afraid of being left out by Baltar and Three – too often to simply be a coincidence. And it doesn’t appear to be. While last year was defined by internal threats, this year is more ambiguous – internal division.

Humanity finds itself divided and broken up into groups several times over the year. Most obviously there’s the split between those who remained on the fleet and those who were abandoned on new Caprica – a division that lasts even beyond the occupation, as evidenced by Torn. The survivors share a mutual bond which stays with them. Similarly, Dirty Hands deals with the emerging class divisions within the culture. You could even – God forbid – make a case that The Woman King deals with the issue of racial separation, albeit in a ham-fisted and sledge-hammer sort of way. It’s worth noting that none of these divisions are intentional on the part of the people. It’s a fact of life. In the same way, Roslin, Caprica Six and Sharon find themselves tied by the vision of Hera. Tigh, Tyrol, Anders and Foster are united by the strange melody that they keep hearing. Humanity subdivides and subdivides and subdivides. We may not be as clearly delineated as the Cylon models, but we can be divided and classified and linked to one another.

The New Caprica arc is nothing short of fantastic. The four episodes – Occupation, Precipice, Exodus, Part I and Exodus, Part II – must tie together as one of the most cohesive in the show’s run. All the threads – the resistance, Kara and Leoben, Baltar – all tie together so well that they count as some of the best drama on television. They also serve as a focal point. We’ve seen recurrence as a theme before on this show, particularly with regard to humanity – we kill, we destroy, we endure, we survive – but these episodes firmly articulate that the concept doesn’t exclusively apply to humanity. The Cylon occupation of New Caprica mirrors the initial slavery of the Cylons by humanity, the adoption of suicide bombings by the resistance echoes earlier Cylon methods of attack upon the fleet. The real power of the third season is that it represents the point at which the show ceases to be the saga of the human race, but an epic cosmic waltz. And it takes two to tango. Leoben and Kara represent just a microcosm of the cyclic, abusive relationship the two races find themselves in.

For the first time the show teases us with the possibility that the spiral might be possible to escape from. The attempted genocide of the Cylons in A Measure of Salvation echoes the sneak attack on the colonies and would just have been another note in the grand symphony of violence that has been on the boil for eons. Helo singlehandedly stops that atrocity from occurring, a suggestion that human nobility – albeit weak and occasionally isolated – may be enough to overcome the brutal nature which makes our destruction and rebirth seemingly inevitable. Of course, the series cheats us on the possibility of Kara escaping her own preordained role in this saga – despite her effective suicide in Maelstrom she still arrives with Earth’s location at the end of Crossroads, Part II – so all bets are off on whether we really can escape what fate has in store for us. of course, fate (or God) has a history of intervening where humanity makes a conscious decision to avoid past mistakes – be it the execution of Admiral Cain after Adama made the decision not to kill her or Kara’s resurrection, it’s really up for debate what impact free will has in the show’s universe.

Baltar’s time on the Baseship gives us a fantastic insight into Cylon culture – a closer examination of the way that the enemy lives, feels and thinks. The show makes it clear that they have evolved beyond being mere machines – if evolve is the right word. They are as irrational and illogical as humanity. It’s only a few moments after we hear about the first Cylon-on-Cylon violence in history that Doral puts a bullet through Caprica Six’s head during Precipice. They learn fast. There are other hints of the same inconsistency and hypocrisy throughout the season – from Doral’s ironic condemnation of suicide bombing (a tactic his own model used) through to Caprica Six’s complex and distorted love for Baltar – despite everything he’s done. It’s no wonder that at least four of the final five are revealed as living among humanity – at this stage the Cylons are becoming increasingly similar to humanity anyway.

Galactica's on fire this year...

The show excellently deals with not only the New Caprica arc, but the fallout from the arc – the consequences of what happened, because events always have consequences. In effect, we’ve been simply witnessing consequences throughout the show. In fact, Hero suggests that it’s effectively impossible to reduce the current situation down to a simple cause. It might be easier to do that – or more comfortable – but it isn’t necessarily true. Just as sometimes our recollections aren’t necessarily true – they just give us comfort – like Bill Adama’s illusion of the home that his ex-wife gave his kids in A Day in the Life. These memories and perceptions often differ from the objective truth, but they function as a nice security blanket – they allow us the diiscover reason in the randomness of the universe. A nebula becomes a horse’s head, and so on. However, not all such stories are necessarily good things.

I’ve always believed that the entire saga was been a gigantic metaphor for the power of stories – think of the imagery of the opera house ‘of the gods’ and the fact that it is the story of Earth that sustains this voyage of discovery, no matter whether it is true or false. This year we get a hint that words can be more than what sustain us and guide us through our darkest days. Words can contaminate and infect. An idea is a virus which can’t be killed. The Cylon virus in Torn is juxtaposed against the damage that Starbuck and Tigh can cause just by talking. It is Three’s discovery of the final five (the culmination of her quest for knowledge, another timeless story) which leads her to be cut off and quarantined, much like those infected Cylon ships. Knowledge and stories can be dangerous. Even our own convenient lies – those that Adama tells himself about his ex-wife or his responsibility for the genocide – can harm and hurt us, dragging us down into spirals of depression.

The season picks up the continuing theme of what happens to civilisation after the fall by turning its focus to other areas. The second season used the angle of democratic rule, but this season looks at the notion of “justice” – how important justice must be to a free a functioning society. The technical functioning of democracy – after all – would leave the working-class of the fleet in their jobs, creating a caste system where jobs are inherited. Democracy would give the people what they want – the execution of the traitor Baltar, for example. There must be a cherry on top.  There must be something more.

We see a twisted reflection of justice in Collaborators. A cabal looking to extract a pound of flesh for the atrocities on New Caprica, airlocking those who worked with the occupying forces without a hint of due process. No trial. No witnesses. No appeal. As we approach the finale and the spectre of Baltar’s trial – a trial he only gets, Roslin assures us, because he’s “one of us” – looms large, we see justice take a different form. Though mocked and derided by the mob and by Adama himself, it represents an attempt to create a structured and rational system to dispense justice. Much as the civilian government represented some move towards humanity becoming more than just “a gang”, this system of justice is another milestone.

Lampkin is a fantastic creation, particularly brough to life by Mark Sheppard. His articulation of his perception of a legal system is fascinating:

Everybody has demons. Them, Baltar, you, me. Even the machines. The law is just a way of exorcising them. That’s what your father’s father told me. You want to know why I hated him? Because he was right.

So you hated him because he was right, and I hated the law because it was wrong. Because of what— of what it put him through. I mean, he defended the worst of the worst. I remember reading about him. The outrage, helping murderers go free. What I don’t understand is why he put himself through all that abuse—

You think he gave a flying frak? Joe Adama cared about o­ne thing: understanding why people do what they do. Why we cheat our friends, why we reward our enemies. Why we go to war, sacrificing our lives for lost causes. Why we build machines in the hope of correcting our flaws and our shortcomings. Why we forgive, defying logic and the laws of nature with o­ne stupid little act of compassion. We’re flawed, all of us. I wanted to know why, so I did what he did: I spent my life with the fallen, the corrupt, the damaged.

– William Lampkin and Lee Adama, The Son Also Rises

That sounds like more than just an analysis of the law. In fact, I think Lampkin plays a much bigger role in this drama than simply the lawyer. His defense of the legal system reads equally well as a justification for storytelling – for writing. The legal system is a tool for driving out those demons, but so is fiction. In a way, so is this whole saga. It’s a wonderful metafictional moment, clarified even further when it becomes perfectly clear what Lampkin’s demon is. He steals (“borrows” to use his euphamism). Just as a writer steals. Not only from other writers, but also from life itself. You pick up little bits and pieces of people and then use them later on.

But that’s enough of a tangent.

We also get a much more human drama concerning identity. Take Three’s discovery of her own purpose, for example (and then the subsequent ‘boxing’ of her personality for pursuit of that knowledge) or Kara’s fears about visiting her mother’s abuse upon her own children serves as a reflection of the show’s cyclic nature. Despite the revelation at the end of the final episode, Tigh refuses to allow his own identity to be taken from by a simply twist of fate. He is still Saul Tigh, no matter what else the universe may have to say. He isn’t dancing to anyone’s music but his own – even if All Along The Watchtower is wonderfully appropriate.  On the other end of the spectrum, Baltar hopes that an act of God will fundamentally alter his own identity – were he to discover he was a Cylon, he could be forgiven. He doesn’t seem to realise that the concept of identity is not so fluid as that. Tigh is still Tigh and Baltar would still be Baltar, even if he was a Cylon. Still, you can’t seem to fight fate – as Kara learns in Maelstrom – if you go against it, the universe will literally crush you like a bug. Well, the universe or your own inadequacies. Don’t worry – if you’re important enough, you’ll be back, albeit singing from the universe’s hymn sheet. Even death won’t cheat fate out of what it thinks you owe it.

The series is utterly fascinating. Both as human drama – check out Unfinished Business – and as food for philosophical thought – see A Measure of Salvation. Though the series does contain a number of standalone stories, they seem more evenly distributed than the previous year. The fact that Baltar’s trial provides a thread tying them together doesn’t exactly hurt either. There are a few minor bumps – The Passage and especially The Woman King come to mind – most of the standalones work in context, exploring themes and ideas that tie into the flow of the general storyline.

I’ve stated in the reviews of previous seasons that the acting is uniformally excellent, so it seems redundant to add that here. I will state that the most interestingly developed character over this run of episodes was Felix Gaeta – who goes from mole to collaborator to attempted murderer to perjurer. It’s a massive journey for a member of the cast who was more or less confined to the background in earlier seasons. Alessandro Juliani proves himself more than capable of handling the meat of the role and his arc provides one of the great unanswered character-based questions of the series – when Baltar sets him off by remarking that “there are worse things than being a collaborator”, what exactly was he referring to? Will we ever know or is this one of those ‘better in my head’ things?

Also of note this season is a the love quadrangle with Kara-Lee-Anders-Dualla, which is a surprisingly complex and honest look at love and relationships. We do finally get a pay-off on years of sexual tension, but the series makes good drama of it by looking the “two tragedies” that Wilde spoke of. For those unaware, the first is not getting what you want. You can guess what the other one is. It’s messy and it’s complicated – it’s never clear-cut – but it’s well-performed and sold by all involved. God bless Jamie Bamber, who has to sell all the really strange character development on this show – be it black-market-infiltrating Lee, death-wish Lee, racist Lee or even just fat Lee (the only new Caprica thread which I didn’t buy – substituting “chubby” for soft felt a little heavy-handed for me (geddit?)). Lee is the most inconsistently-written character on the show, but Bamber manages to tie it all together. And he generally manages to put a bow on it (check out his monologue at the end of Crossroads, Part II).

The music this year isn’t quite as strong as the previous year, but I do love Bear McCreary’s wonderful Cylon theme (from Baltar’s stay on the Basestar). The design this year is phenomenal – both in terms of graphics (the rescue sequence in Exodus, Part II is incredible, as is the Nebula in Crossroads, Part II) and in set design (again, check out the Basestar or the New Caprica sets). The picture quality appears to have improved over previous seasons. The grain is still present, but appears significantly reduced.

All in all, another fantastic year from a fantastic show. I can’t wait to begin the final season.

Interested in Battlestar Galactica? Check out our complete archive of reviews and discussions of the relaunched show:

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3 Responses

  1. Hi Darren! I know this review is almost 10 years old. I love all your stuff and only recently found out you also wrote about BSG, one of my fave shows ever. I just want to add that what Gaius says to Gaeta is answered in the (great) webseries “The Face of The Enemy”. It provides some superb plot that links those Gaeta new caprica plots to the mutiny stuff in season 4.

    The other BSG webseries are just okish extras but this one actually provides a important link. Cheers!

  2. Hi Darren! I know this review is almost 10 years old. I love all your stuff and only recently found out you also wrote about BSG, one of my fave shows ever. I just want to add that what Gaius says to Gaeta is answered in the (great) webseries “The Face of The Enemy”. It provides some superb plot that links those Gaeta new caprica plots to the mutiny stuff in season 4.

    The other BSG webseries are just okish extras but this one actually provides a important link. Cheers!

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