Saturday, February 21, 2009


Some quick comments:

I don't have a lot of time to watch television nowadays, but one show I always make sure to keep up with regularly is Battlestar Galactica.  Yes, me and everyone else in the country, I'm sure.  I've really enjoyed the show, and it's going to be sad to see it end.

However, it's not to say that the show is without problems.  One such problem was last night's episode (hint: I'm going to spoil parts of it below).

Now, generally, I give the BSG people credit when they do things that defy logic for me.  The suicide bombing portions of the third season, especially upon rereading the interviews with the show's main writers, may have been interesting at the time, but now they reek of attempting to bring in controversial material rather than to fully explore a storyline.  Also, as much as I applaud cinema that refuses to overexplain for the sake of its audience, at the same time, BSG underexplains to the point that I believe I understand certain plot points more from interviews with cast and crew rather than from the show proper.  Furthermore, I continue to think about all the bizarre decision-makings forced on the Adama father-son pair in particular over the past few seasons that seem to fly in the face of normal logic, almost as if purposefully placed to veer the show off into some tangential direction.  Such issues have been documented elsewhere, but now, in the tail end of the final season of the show, they appear to allude to the fact that unless they approve the show for another season (overlooking the prequel sequel Caprica that is in the works), this series finale may be one of the most unsatisfying ones yet.

But last night's episode, "Deadlock," got me down for more transparent, yet more crucial reasons.  I really feel that, when juxtaposed to the previous week's episode, "No Exit," and the past continuity of the series, this episode was a direct indication of the type of schizophrenia that haunts the production of Battlestar Galactica as a whole.

Jane Espenson is one of my favorite writers.  I find her funny, witty and intelligent, both when she's writing other people's words and when she's writing her own.  I think that she is one of the few writers that can balance both comedy and drama very well in her writing.  One of the blessings or curses for her is that she's strongly associated with Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly and the currently-running but possibly soon-to-be-cancelled Dollhouse (sigh).  I think that, as a result, one very Whedon-esque characteristic that she picks up is a certain type of pacing in situations that can be classified as reminiscent of "comedy writing," but is more specifically "Whedon writing."  Two such moments in last night's episode come to mind: the first is when Baltar is giving out rations, and his joyous exaltations that there is no one around attempting to violently take rations from him are cut short when, well, violent people who want his rations appear.  The second moment is in the Cylon scene in sickbay where the Six and Eight are attempting to convince the Final Five to go to the baseship and jump away, all while Ellen is trying to overcome her anger at Tigh for having sex with and impregnating Caprica Six.  I find the interweaving of serious issues with a personal issue to be a very Joss Whedon trait, and actually, it's something that I'm glad Espenson brings to the table.

I say that, because I think if I were to point fingers and say where this episode went wrong, I think the blame falls not on Espenson, or even the actors, but in the director and the producers in particular.  This episode was directed by Robert M. Young, who, if I recall correctly, directed "Unfinished Business," a third season episode where the crew of Galactica decide to hold boxing matches against each other to relieve stress.  I don't think that the plot was Young's idea at all, but perhaps the nature of that episode, which had a much darker subcurrent running underneath the overt plot, was more appropriate to Young's direction.  I can't say definitively that all the blame lies with Young, though.

If presented with the script for "Deadlock" on its own, I think that any reader would find it a lighter episode in tone (if, indeed, any episodes of BSG at this point can be "lighter"), and in particular those moments that I pointed to earlier would read like touches of light comedy, attempts to lighten the mood.  In essence, "Deadlock" might even read like an episode of a show like Angel, which was dark but at the same time had certain moments which saved the show from the brooding cesspool of self-flagellation that it fell into on occasion.  Instead, on the screen, this episode feels inconsistent, unable to know what its role is within the larger scope of the season, and on the smaller scope of not what the story is, but how the story is being told.  Both of the moments that I mentioned above are glossed over: the scene with Baltar turns into a moment of despondent stupidity on Baltar's part (and not even the funny kind of stupidity), and the sickbay scene devolves into the worst case of directing I've seen in, well, ever.  Ellen's mumbling is barely coherent, and the reaction shots of the others off Ellen make it clear that someone interpreted this scene to add a serious contemplation of whether Ellen has just gone nuts-psycho, rather than the humorous play-off that it should have been in the original script (great examples of this can be seen in Angel and Firefly.  "You think I'm fat?").  Now that I think about it, any scene with Ellen and Tigh in sickbay in this episode was played similarly.  It's as if someone in the production line was unable to interpret any scene in this show with more that a sense of dire inevitability.

One of the reasons that I feel like I can't blame the actors is just because of how hard I've seen them work in the past.  Ellen Tigh was definitely one of those characters, like Callie, that I was happy to have gone and didn't really care to see again.  However, "No Exit" really changed my mind and showed me how incredible Kate Vernon's acting chops are.  If there's anything that I should blame Espenson for (and I'm not even sure she's deserving of this blame), it's that I was hoping that Ellen would continue her rational philosophic viewpoint from "No Exit"; here, it seems like she has just returned to the person she always was before, just slightly more lucid.  Perhaps it's a reflection of how, to the Cylons, she is like a god, whereas among humans, she's just another one of them.  I hope in future episodes, she continues to be more tranquil; it seems unfair that she wouldn't have learned something from, you know, getting all her memories back.

Since what I've been talking about is my interpretation of what I view as an interpretation gone wrong, I wonder about a few matters.  I think it goes without saying that my interpretation of last night's episode is based on Espenson and my knowledge of her past working on other shows.  Others may view this episode from the point of view of the show itself, or the backgrounds of the directors, producers, even the SciFi channel.  There are many different ways that we approach the show.  However, in light of my own viewpoint, I wonder if my depictions of certain scenes as being driven by a sense of "dire inevitability," in the eyes of the staff of the show, can be an indication of my exclusion from a certain mode of reading within which other people are imbricated?

I guess my question is, is there such a thing as a Battlestar Galactica mode of reading? To me, that would make a lot of sense.  It's possible that people who watched the show last night saw those scenes that I felt were deficient and laughed, or howled.  When everything is grim, does that mean that the "grim" recalibrates itself on a new scale, so now moments that do not seem funny because of the atmosphere of the show seem extremely funny because people have gotten used to learning how to view the show?  If anything, I hope that's the case, because if not, I have some real concerns about Caprica, which Espenson is supposed to be running.  While it's important to maintain a certain "voice" for the show that remains consistent throughout its run, at the same time, it's also important to realize that even within the limits of that voice, it's possible to have light moments, happy moments, and all the stuff in between.  I only hope that, at the times when those moments emerge, they aren't smothered by the pressure of that fervent attempt to maintain a voice.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Book Bind.

Everyone has to make sacrifices in light of the financial crisis.  Even me.

Instead of resorting to borrowing leisurely reading from the library, which would be the logical and practical option, I've been using the next best thing: Amazon Marketplace.  Rather than pay full price for a book that's delivered to me shrinkwrapped in such a way that the book is inevitably damaged (will Amazon ever ship me a paperback that doesn't have corner damage? I'm not anal-retentive, I promise!), I pay a significantly lower price for a book that often defies the multi-tiered evaluation system that the marketplace lists.

When I say "defies," it definitely goes both ways.  My most recent two purchases are examples of this problem.  They both came today.  One was a hardcover book that I paid $20.00 for (around $8.00 below Amazon's price).  The other was another hardcover that put me out around $5.00 ($30.00 below price).  The $20.00 book was listed as "Used--Like New."  The $5.00 book was listed as "Used--Fair."

Well, my $25.00 total bought me a $20.00 book with rips all over the dust jacket and highlighting insde, as well as $5.00 hardcover in pristine condition.  I double-checked the orders just to make sure.  It was as if I had entered a Twilight Zone of book purchasing.  How is that even possible? I think that the worst thing is that with Amazon, a feedback system doesn't do a whole lot, especially with books.  I suppose if a CD or a DVD is damaged, the seller can offer to send you a replacement case.  But even that rarely works out: I remember being bribed by a DVD seller with a replacement case that never came for a DVD that came without half a case, all for a positive review (Of course I gave the review, though.  I know, I know, I'm part of the problem.).  Literally.  With a book, though, it's almost as if there's no recourse available.

I wish that there was a better way to measure book quality on Amazon Marketplace, but I guess that such a practice would discourage sellers from listing their books, and the whole system would suffer as a whole, dwindling to almost eBay levels.  I guess that the two cliched lessons to learn from these experiences are "one man's trash is another man's treasure."

Also, caveat emptor.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


So apparently I'm totally sucking at this blog things.  I know it's probably a more common occurrence than one might imagine; there are probably hundreds of blogs out there that last no longer than one entry.  Hey, I made it to two!

It's been about a month since work started again.  This year I've felt haunted by the feeling that last year never ended, and instead it's continued to follow me around.  If I remember, isn't this the kind of sentiment that was expressed at the end of Jibjab's 2008 Year in Review?  Essentially, for me it means that the work that I was unable to deal with last year ended up continuing into this year.  Now a month has passed, and it seems like my work will finally be finished by the end of this weekend.

I find the last sentence interesting.  Perhaps this is the result of being overloaded by work: I seem to have taken a step back and distanced myself from the situation.  I used to have a mantra when it came to work: no matter what, the work always gets done.  I've been trying to change it after a friend pointed out that "I" is totally absent from that phrase.  The work always gets done, but at the same time, because I am not actively involved in the work getting done, the mantra begins to act as an excuse for me to put work off until later.  As a result, I find it interesting that after all this "hard work" to change my outlook, I am once again trusting that somehow all the work I need to finish will get finished by some work of magic.

I guess that I take a bit of solace from the fact that I am not the only person that feels these emotions.  I hear from friends that they are just as much under the stress of the new year that I feel.  It's reassuring, but at the same time, I wonder why the new year continues to feel disturbingly like the old.