NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica’s Miniseries – “Part Two”

Kicking in the burn

Air Date: 09/12/2003

Director: Michael Rymer

Writer: Ronald D. Moore, Glen A. Larson

Synopsis: Pressed by President Roslin, Commander Adama is faced with a stern choice: to continue the war with the Cylon enemy, or cut and run in order to guarantee the survival of humanity.

Review

“Part Two” benefits hugely from having much of the heavy lifting done in “Part One“, leaving it free to have a more streamlined structure. It’s got a fairly clear three act structure – Arriving at Ragnar, getting trapped at Ragnar, breaking out of Ragnar – while retaining the relationship and character drama that summed up “Part One”. Moreover, it’s able to be a continuation of “Part One” on that score: where they were previously breaking down, relationships are now being built back up.

You can see this primarily in the reunion and reconciliation of Adama and Apollo, which is limited enough in terms of screen-time but matches the emotional power of their discussion in “Part One” (that hug, it means a lot). You can see it in the awkward, but impactful, reunion of Apollo and Starbuck, where it isn’t really clear what Starbuck’s feelings are. We see it in the finale scene of Tigh and Starbuck, trying to make the best of it in a situation where their squabbling is no longer appropriate. We see it in the reunion of Boomer and Tyrol, which is going to cause heartache down the line. And we see it in the arrival of “Head Six” as a character, having some of the series’ most fascinating interactions with Baltar. It isn’t all doom and gloom in BSG: it’s possible for things to be built, as well as to be torn down. You can’t have effective drama if everyone always hates each other.

The Six and Baltar stuff is really special though. In the course of “Part Two” Baltar goes from being completely freaked out about the vision that he is seeing, to being almost accepting of her by the end, using her help to implicate Doral as a Cylon agent, and to forward his own position on the ship. Six as this manipulative voice in Baltar’s ear is great enough, but the way she uses her sexuality here adds an additional layer of comedy and complexity to the whole thing, that works better than the more, ahem, naked titillation of “Part One”. Baltar as a purely self-interested party in the human/Cylon conflict – “I am not on anybody’s side” he says towards the end of “Part Two”, to the crushed disappointment of Six – and Six as the woman trying to seduce him sexually and spiritually, is a already a fascinating dynamic. In a show where the question is asked directly if humanity is actually worth saving, Baltar is the most obvious “No” answer.

Starbuck too becomes more of a fully formed character in “Part Two”. I always felt that she didn’t have a huge impact in “Part One”, especially after her punch-up with Tigh. Here she gets much more time, to expand upon her feelings for Apollo, to be a leader in a combat situation, and to resolve that situation with Tigh. She also leaves the dangling hook of the part she inadvertently played in the death of Zak Adama, which is sure to come up again. Katee Sackoff is great in “Part Two”, which was especially needed given the vocal minority who screamed bloody murder about her casting. Her performance in the Viper seat for the finale is amazing, the sight of a person who loves her job and is at her most truly alive when doing things that should get her killed.

Other than that, “Part Two” is about hard choices. The choice to leave behind thousands of people on ships with no FTL drives, knowing you are leaving them to their imminent deaths. The choice to either fight a war you can’t win, or flee from an enemy who will never stop pursuing you. The choice to doom an “innocent” man to a virtual death sentence in order to save your own skin. The choice to confess to a terrible sin, knowing that you may not have many chances left to do so. If “Part One” was at least partially about rising to the occasion of conflict, then “Part Two” is about more outwardly demonstrating that capability, in circumstances where the moral choice can still be viewed as monstrous.

As with “Part One”, “Part Two” also benefits from an effective use of what I called “little crises”, to break up the lengthy running time and keep things tense. There are the aforementioned FTL jumps, Adama’s sojourn with Leobon onboard the Anchorage, Baltar’s dobbing in of Doral and a few more besides related to character conflict. This kind of stuff is under-estimated sometimes I think: as with “Part One”, it works in terms of entertainment, but also enhances the feel that we have a wide variety of characters, all with something to do. The universe building continues apace here as well, whether it is the prophetic opening lines of the Sacred Scrolls, or the nature of how spaceship conflict works in this kind of environment.

Also like “Part One”, “Part Two” is an action-lite affair. Adama’s bloody fistfight with Leobon is one action scene, and the other is the finale, which really doesn’t amount to a huge deal, lasting only a few minutes and having some not-so-great CGI moments by 2021 standards. But that’s OK. BSG is never going to be an action-heavy show, not really, and the Miniseries establishes this. The traditional sci-fi carnage of spaceships firing missiles at each other will be a factor, but if you want something that is just that, there are other options out there you should consider. Here, Adama and Roslin arguing the toss about whether the priority should be the war or humanity’s reproduction is the selling point.

BSG ends the Miniseries with a number of tantalising hooks, to whet the audiences appetite for more (and maybe convince some executives to give idea a shot as a serialised show. Earth is the big one of course, introducing a debate over whether false hope is better than no hope. But there’s also the question as to who left that note in Adama’s quarters, what will happen between Adama and Starbuck when the truth about Zak comes out, how military-civil relations are going to go in the Fleet and, most importantly, the issue of the cliffhanger-revealed Cylon agent Boomer. The last promises some really extensive drama, and some unexpected stuff back in the colonies as well (Helo being absent from “Part Two” entirely: he was apparently supposed to be never seen again). The world has been turned upside down, now to live with it. BSG is off to more than a firm start, it’s off to a great one: everything has been laid out for a successful series of television to continue this story.

Start making babies

Notes

-We start almost directly where we ended, with Adama mourning his seemingly dead son. An interesting choice, which leads me to believe that the edit point between parts may not have been fully thought out.

-After being told by Apollo that his EMP plan always failed when tested before, Roslin responds “The lesson here is not to ask follow-up questions”. She has a sense of humour.

-They make out like Boxey might be a significant enough character here, as he sort of was in the original series, but he’s dropped soon enough. Just as well: he’d be doomed to be a Wesley Crusher character if he had been a major part of the series.

-I do love the initial FTL jump sequence, where they make out what a big deal it is, with cheers and handshakes when they pull it off. Ten minutes into the series proper it will be totally routine,

-A great montage at this point, as Galactica moves into the Anchorage, contrasted with Captain Kelly standing guard over the dead, and Starbuck praying for Apollo, with an excellent bit of swelling music from McCreary.

-Baltar is told that he’s on the same ship as the new President, Laura Roslin. “Who?” Perfect.

-I like how the first look at what we will come to know as “the Fleet” is one where all the ships look very disorganised: strung out, facing different directions, and a far cry from the uniform precision of their lay-out later in the show.

-Oh, that little girl that Roslin meets on the glasshouse ship. The moment you meet her you know that she’s for it. At least it’s executed a bit better here than the similar infanticide scene in “Part One”.

-The 360 degree pan around Roslin, Doral, Apollo and the Colonial One captain is one of the few times such a technique will be used in the show, and I did find it oddly distracting this time around.

-The subsequent jump sequence, where Colonial One has to listen to the pleas, insults and fear of those being left behind, is another masterfully executed montage. Roslin’s silence is a perfect summation of the “Hard Choices” theme.

-The repeating motif that comes to encapsulate Baltar and Six is one that seems to divide opinion, but I always loved it. It captures something both emotional and mechanical.

-They say it a few times in the course of the show, but it is a powerful bit of dialogue the first time Roslin delivers it: “The war is over. We lost.”

BSG needs to have lighter moments to make sure it doesn’t turn into misery porn, and the montage of Starbuck meeting Apollo again, Boomer and Tyrol embracing, and Dee kissing Billy is such a great way of doing it, all to the backing of a very soft song, the Hindi lyriced “To Kiss Or Not To Kiss”.

-That Starbuck/Lee scene is something else for unspoken sexual tension.

-It always rankled a little bit with me how Adama figures out that Leoben is a Cylon. Such things should be entirely outside of his experience, yet the guy looks a bit ill and suddenly Adama is totally confident that he’s dealing with a humanoid Cylon.

-The resulting fight scene is a brutal inclusion though, especially with the blood spatter Olmos has on his face. It serves well as a demonstration of how tough the Cylon models actually are, and enlivens an episode that was starting to drag ever so slightly.

-Baltar’s dilemma, whereby he’s informed that a Cylon device is on the DRADIS console but he can’t just go and point it out, is a well-orchestrated little drama to fill in the episode. It does lead to one of the most awkward cuts though, where Baltar goes from sitting in a seat to suddenly standing next to the console, which was clearly meant to accommodate an ad break.

-Sum up Baltar and Six in two words, and it has to be their exchange on the possible complications to ratting Doral out as a Cylon: “Morally?” asks Six. “Practically” replies an annoyed looking Baltar.

-It doesn’t come up much, but of course Apollo loses his mother in the attacks, which is nodded to briefly here as he looks at a picture of her in Adama’s quarters.

-“It’s the end of the world Lee. I thought I should confess my sins.” What a line.

-I like Baltar’s use of technobabble as a weapon, bamboozling Tigh with scientific terms until the XO just gives up and takes his word for it.

-Mention of the prison ship, the Astral Queen, here, which of course would be the focus of a first season episode.

-Roslin’s like “We need to start having babies” is one of the most memorable of the series, as is Adama’s slightly more comedic repetition when observing Dee and Billy flirting. It’s a great blending of the need to save the species with the relationship drama endemic to the species.

-“Is that an order?” Tigh has a sense of humour too.

-An interesting lament from Doral when he is locked up in the Anchorage: “What kind of people are you?” Makes one think of Adama’s speech from “Part One”. Indeed, there’s a few lines like that throughout, not least Six at the end: “They’ll come back and seek revenge. It’s their nature”.

-I love the repeat of the “Nothing but the rain” line, as Starbuck’s Viper is showered with debris from the space battle.

-“So say we all” as this universe’s “Amen” is a nice touch, as is the use of the phrase during Adama’s final speech: as a rallying cry and morale booster. Olmos apparently ad-libbed that whole interaction.

-“Life here, began out there” is a cool line, and a nice nod to the original series.

-Earth as a military secret is an interesting idea alright, but the holes in Adama’s plan become pretty immediately apparent, like for how long he really expects everyone else to buy his plan without further details.

-The Starbuck/Tigh scene at the end always felt a bit weird, since the expected reconciliation, or at least understanding, never comes. It’s an example, rare as it is, of the show not fully knowing what it wants to do.

-The Fleet’s ability to draw a line between the civil and military may seem like a set-up for some dull procedural points, but will actually be one of the most fascinating aspects of Season One, and early Season Two. Important to note Adama’s use of “Madame President” after earlier referring to Roslin as a mere “schoolteacher”.

-The closing montage is a nice sequence, mirroring the earlier one in its similar music, but I did appreciate the sudden turn when Adama discovers the note in his quarters.

-“By your command” might be the most glaring and out of place reference to the original series, but I’ll give them at least one.

Overall Verdict: Another excellent 90 minutes of television, that again emphasises the importance of character drama and digestible thematic expression over shallow spectacle. Roll on Season One.

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14 Responses to NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica’s Miniseries – “Part Two”

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