Battlestar Galactica: Season 2.5 Review
Picking up after a season finale, where the many story threads within a series tend to be drawn to a close, is one thing but a mid-season break of several months may prove more difficult. When Battlestar Galactica broke in 2005 and returned early this year for the second half of its second season, it did so at an inopportune moment. After many months, if not years, on the run from the Cylons and with a ragtag collection of ships in its wake, the Galactica picked up an unidentified signal in its short-range scans, one that used Colonial identifiers and which would declare itself the Pegasus. A Battlestar-class ship that was thought destroyed in the Cylon attack, the Pegasus pulled alongside the Galactica and by the simple force of numbers, lifted morale and guarded against further attacks. Aided and now commanded by Admiral Helena Cain (Michelle Forbes), Captain Adama (Edward James Olmos) and President Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) believe they can not only survive on their voyage to Earth but also that they can take the fight to the Cylons.
However, the first half of the second season didn't quite end there. Had it, it would have done so in a rousing fashion with the audience beginning its break from Battlestar Galactica on a high. As any fan of this show will tell you, it never quite works like that. In Pegasus, in the shortened version's forty-five-minute running time, that initial high turned to fear, paranoia and mistrust as the militaristic crew of the Pegasus clashed with the crew of the Galactica, who, with their having been infiltrated by Cylons, were much less sure of their position in the war. Again, where another show might have left this tension bubbling under the surface, Battlestar Galactica prepared for war, not only with the Cylons with between the Pegasus and the Galactica, each one's crew standing by their commanding officers and prepared to fight to the death to lead the fleet in their own fashion.
Having already described much of the background to this production of Battlestar Galactica in my review of the DVD release of Season 2.0, the aim of this one is simply to look at how this second half of the season compares to the first and whether the show continues its very high standards. This half-season gets off to a remarkable start with the hour-long Pegasus and the two-part Resurrection Ship, which form a trilogy around the character of Admiral Cain. Thereafter, there is something of a dip in quality with Epiphanies and Black Market but with Scar, there is a clear return to form and one that serves as a perfect example of all that's great about Battlestar Galactica. Bleak, unafraid to question the behaviour of its characters and with some stunning battles within an asteroid field, Scar is an obvious standout episode. However, it is also one that highlights the problems with the breaking-up of this season, with one finding it necessary to go back and review episodes from the Season 2.0 boxset to fully understand Starbuck's actions, what happened to her on Caprica and why she struggles to make a kill.
In addition to the presence of the Pegasus, the main story arc is the keeping of Sharon in prison aboard the Galactica. With few sympathisers within either the military or the fleet and fewer still understanding why he's keeping a Cylon spy alive, Adama is isolated for much of this second half of the season with there being many instances in which he doubts many his own action, including that of keeping Sharon alive. Much is made of the crew's memories of Sharon when they believed she was still human - there's a particularly enjoyable conversation between Kara and Sharon as one remembers the other showing up as a fresh-faced pilot as well as one between Adama and Sharon that's conducted not only through the wire fence of her prison but also via a closed-circuit telephone.
However, ignoring the Admiral Cain trilogy and the best is saved to last. Without giving any of it away, it sets Season Three for some political commentary that will see it tread into waters close by the current situation in Iraq, with a small resistance army fighting against a technologically superior occupying force. In that, Battlestar Galactica shows itself to not only be great sci-fi but simply wonderful television with the space battles and future-chatter being but obstacles that an audience typically phobic of sci-fi must step around in order to appreciate television as good as this is. With a sense of scale, drama and intelligence unmatched by any other mainstream show being produced today, it deserves to be much, much bigger than it is. If there's any justice, it will find that audience on DVD.
Pegasus (58m48s): In this extended mid-season highlight, the Galactica comes upon another Battlestar, the Pegasus, a ship that was long thought destroyed. At first, the fleet are overjoyed to see the arrival of the Pegasus, which is led by the legendary Admiral Helena Cain (Michelle Forbes). As Adama and Cain come into conflict, she begins to assert her authority over the fleet, sending her own interrogator to the Galactica to work on Sharon. But when Helo and Tyrol take action against him in defence of Sharon, Cain prepares for an assault on the Galactica whilst Adama prepares for war.
Resurrection Ship (2x, 43m39s, 43m41s): As the commanders of the Galactica and the Pegasus draw a line between their ships and consider open conflict, Starbuck takes the stealth ship developed by the Chief in Flight of the Phoenix to recon a Cylon Resurrection Ship. With the images that she brings back, Adama and Cain combine the firepower of their two starships to destroy it but even as the battle wages and Apollo floats in space, the two put plans into action that will see the assassination of the other.
Epiphanies (43m44s): President Roslin's death is drawing near and unable to carry on with her duties, passes authority to Dr Gaius Baltar but not before one final order, the abortion of Sharon's unborn child. As operations on the Galactica are threatened by an underground movement that seeks peace with the Cylons - unknown to them, their actions are being guided by Number Six (Tricia Helfer) - Baltar discovers that the child that Sharon carries may be the key to curing the President's cancer.
Black Market (43m41s): When the new commander of the Pegasus is found murdered, his throat cut by a garrote, Adama assigns his son to investigate and to bring the killer to justice. What Apollo finds is that illegal markets are endemic within the fleet but tainted by his relationship with a prostitute, is unsure how to proceed. With President Roslin ordering him to shut it down, Apollo questions his own authority on the matter until he makes a shocking discovery in a container on board the Prometheus.
Scar (43m54s): A lone Cylon Raider waits within an asteroid belt, launching hit-and-run attacks on a crucial mining operation and on the Vipers who are sent in to defend it. As doubts creep into the squadrons of pilots, Kara must not only prepare them for the dogfight but must also fight her own demons, her memories of Caprica and of a love that she left behind there. Meanwhile, the Colonial fleet are losing more pilots to Scar and Apollo orders Kara to skid up for the next shift.
Sacrifice (44m31s): Whilst celebrating on Cloud Nine, Apollo notices something unusual about a few of the guests, watching from the washroom as Sesha Abinell (Dana Delany) produces a firearm and takes those present hostage. As she demands that Adama turn over Sharon, the commander asks her if killing Sharon will be enough to satisfy her need for revenge, knowing that Abinell's husband was killed in the Cylon attack on Caprica. As a rescue mission fails and Apollo lies injured, the initial advantages enjoyed by Adama begin slipping away.
The Captain's Hand (43m44s): When two Raptors go missing on a training flight, the Galactica orders an investigation, which is hindered by the behaviour of the new commander on the Pegasus, Commander Barry Garner (John Heard). Meanwhile, the question of the legality of abortion is raised on the Galactica when a young pregnant stowaway demands the termination of her pregnancy by Dr Cottle (Donnelly Rhodes). With President Roslin, fighting for the rights of the young girl, Comander Adama reminds her that the number on the wall behind her doesn't go up very often and that if they are to save the human race, those on the fleet may have to begin having children.
Downloaded (43m16s): On Caprica, Number Six is asked to assist with the rebirth of another Cylon sleeper agent, one who hasn't come to terms with being a Cylon and who, rather than answering to Number Eight, still refers to herself using her human name of Sharon. As Baltar is guided by the ghost of Number Six, so Six is visited by the spirit of Baltar, who is able to give Six a humanity that she otherwise lacks. But as Six and Eight talk, the resistance on Caprica is closing in. Meanwhile, on Galactica, Sharon's baby is born but President Roslin and Adama are unsure about what to do with it, thinking that anything that the Cylons worked so hard to create must not bode well for mankind.
Lay Down Your Burdens (2x, 43m40s, 67m48s): The future of the Galacticans had never looked in doubt so long as they believed in their journey to Earth. But as President Roslin and Dr Gaius Baltar stand against one another in a presidential election, the discovery of an inhabitable planet cuts Roslin's lead and makes Baltar a likely winner in the contest. But can Adama and Roslin let him assume the role of president when they suspect him of collaboration with the Cylons? Meanwhile, Chief Tyrol suffers from terrifying dreams and seeks help from a priest (Dean Stockwell) whilst Starbuck leads a rescue mission to Caprica but finds the joy of her first few minutes with the resistance turning to horror when they come under attack.
Battlestar Galactica continues to look superb - if anything I was too hard on it in my review of the Season 2.0 boxset - with such a high standard of production that it puts many a theatrical release to shame. Take, for example, the attack on the Cylon fleet by both the Galactica and the Pegasus in Resurrection Ship, Part 2 and it looks and sounds terrific, perhaps not quite a match for the space battle that opens Revenge Of The Sith but amongst the most impressive space action that will be seen on television. Although very grainy and with some shaky camera work that may be used to hide minor cracks in the production, Season 2.5 looks and sounds excellent, once again an obvious choice for a HD release given what I would assume is its being shot on High Definition video. It is also worth saying that Battlestar Galactica sounds as good as it looks with there being clear use of the rear channels and subwoofer, reaching a peak during the brief but very intense space battles. However, it's also worth saying that the dialogue is clear throughout but varies with the action, being muffled when it's necessary and completely inaudible when it better serves the telling of the story. Finally, there are English and Spanish subtitles on all ten episodes.
Podcast Commentaries: These return for Season 2.5 and remain amongst the best extras that have been included on any television boxset, not only for their consistency and for their being available to download online - click on http://www.scifi.com/battlestar/downloads/podcast to listen online or to save them to hard drive - but also the frankness with which producer Ronald D Moore conducts them. Take, for example, the commentary that he's recorded for Black Market in which he has often described as being disappointed by. Another producer might have preferred not to record a commentary at all or to hand over the track to someone else but Moore goes on record with his not liking the episode before using the commentary to make clear what it is about Black Market that doesn't quite live up to his hopes for the series, revealing much about the production process in doing so.
And it's that process that clearly interests Moore with his often-very-interesting chatter dwelling on the making of the series but, as much a fan of the series as its producer, is obviously enthused by the action and by the political twists taken by the plot. It's worth noting that the commentary recorded for the extended version of Pegasus features both Moore and Executive Producer David Eick and as well as the usual behind-the-scenes talk, goes into detail on the differences between the original broadcast cut.
Deleted Scenes: These vary from being only a few minutes long to almost ten minutes and although it's often obvious why some of these scenes were cut, many of them also add to the broadcast versions of each episode. Once again, these are available from the scifi.com website in the Episode Archive section and cover all eleven episodes here except for the first four, Pegasus, Resurrection Ship, Part 2 and Epiphanies.
David Eick's Video Blogs: What these look to have in common with Ronald D Moore's commentaries is that they appear to be sourced from being produced for the official Battlestar Galactica webpage. In them, executive producer Eick attempts to candidly meet the cast, goes behind the scenes on the set and into production meetings. Each Video Blog lasts no more than three or four minutes and though Eick clearly has almost unlimited access behind the scenes, the short length of each entry doesn't compare to a longer and fuller making of.
There is an Easter Egg on the third disc and something called R & D Logos (2m28s), which proves the rule that the more cartoon violence there is in something, the funnier it is. Finally, this set also includes one playing card from the Battlestar Galactica Collectable Card Game. As an incentive to buy some more, it's not a very convincing one.
Once again, the only problem with this set comes from Season 2 being split over the two box sets with the gap of several months. Look past that - I admit, that doesn't sound terribly heartfelt given my complaints about the split-season CSI boxsets in the past - and Season 2.5 of Battlestar Galactica is terrific. Indeed, with Pegasus and the two-part Resurrection Ship, it has produced the best two-and-a-half-hours of television in many, many years. Were this boxset to include only those three episodes, it would be worth buying but with eight others, this is a superb collection.