Battlestar Galactica: Season 3 Review
It is possible to get carried away while watching Battlestar: Galactica. There are so many thrilling moments, so many times when it can appear to be amongst the very best television shows ever produced that one has a tendency to overlook the mundane and see greatness in every step. Watching Exodus - episodes three and four in this twenty-episode set - there comes a feeling that Battlestar: Galactica, after thirty-nine superb episodes, has actually gotten better. Having hidden from the Cylons through a mini-series and two seasons, the last of the humans had made something of a home for themselves on New Caprica and though it was not an ideal home - the dusty, unpleasant planet was very far from the lush landscapes of Caprica - many of those who settled there were at least grateful to be walking on solid earth and to be breathing in fresh air.
Then, one year after their first settlement, the Cylons arrived, with the sight of Centurions marching trough New Caprica a memorable one. The plain intention of writer/creator Ronald D Moore was to draw a parallel between the events of the universe he had created and what is currently happening in Iraq and Afghanistan with, in a typical Moore touch, his casting of the Humans in the role of the Iraqis. Described as terrorists by the Cylon occupying force, who had retained Gaius Baltar as an Iyad Allawi-figure in provisional government, the lines are clearly drawn between the Cylons and those who collaborate with them and those who fight back as an insurgency. Without Adama, father or son - they fled via a jump on the Galactica and Pegasus - to lead those on New Caprica, the insurgents, led by Sam Andrews, Saul Tigh and Chief Tyrol, take to hit-and-run strikes, shootings and, in a desperate last step, suicide bombings. Rounding up humans in the dead of night and dragging them hooded and shackled into prison and, much later, into the woods to face death squads, the Cylons and the human police force turn on the New Capricans, covering up those going missing by death warrants signed by Baltar.
Elsewhere, Starbuck is held prisoner by Leoben Conoy, who she murder six times during their stay. Being a Cylon, he simply downloads himself to a new body and reappears, often while the corpse of his previous self still lying by the kitchen table with a knife in its gut. Later, he brings a young girl home and tells Starbuck that she is her daughter, born in a Cylon community after Starbuck's reproductive organs were harvested before the attack on Caprica. Meanwhile, on the Battlestars Galactica and Pegasus and in the two-part episode Exodus, Lee and William Adama plan a rescue. What they depend on is getting a message to those on the ground and the Cylon Sharon/Boomer leading a ground crew off the Galactica and onto the surface of New Caprica. This rescue, when it comes, is as exciting as anything produced for television, including the sight of a Battlestar falling through New Caprica's atmosphere and, in the middle of the heat and dust in its descent, suddenly jumping back into orbit. The sight and sound of such a thing - imagine an aircraft carrier plummeting through the air towards you only to disappear seconds before impact - as one of the most incredible things seen on television made it so very easy to get carried away with Battlestar: Galactica.
Time, though, can let most moments of such silliness pass. Though it is never the case that this third season of Battlestar: Galactica is disappointing, the second half of it is certainly not on a par with what has gone before. Four episodes in and with the humans off New Caprica and back on the Galactica, life returns to normal. In this case, normal means a series of storylines that would have been filler in Seasons 1 and 2. There are still a number of story-arcs, including what will happen to those who collaborated with the Cylons. A jury of Tigh, Seelix, Helo, Chief and Sam Andrews sift through the evidence and decide who will be jettisoned through the airlocks. There is also the fate of Hera Agathon, the first human-Cylon child, who was thought by her parents, Helo and Sharon, to be dead but adopted in secret and then found amidst the rubble on New Caprica by the Cylons. And, being Battlestar: Galactica, there are flashbacks to events on Caprica and New Caprica, including some unfinished business between Bill Adama and Chief Tyrol - a boxing match puts paid to that! - and a love affair between Apollo and Starbuck. The matter of their being married, to Dee and Sam respectively, cause feelings of guilt.
Then, of course, there's Gaius Baltar, who is a Cylon stooge for the first four episodes, remains in Cylon custody for half the season, actually thinks he might be a Cylon and, finally, stands trial on charges of genocide, on which he is assisted in his defence by Lee Adama. This matter of who might be a Cylon and who is not was dealt with in previous seasons but returns in Season 3 with Baltar asking Six why it is that he only sees the same seven Cylons, why no others? As he asks, are there not twelve? The identity of these final five is what sustains the second half of the season with Cylon D'Anna having something of a messianic complex as she not only goes in search of the Final Five, something that the existing sevens are warned from doing, but has a Centurion assassinate her just to allow her to experience her resurrection. A growing discontentment amongst the rest of the Cylons presents the viewer with justice Cylon-style.
Unfortunately, these stories come and go during the second half of this season, which dallies as much in the love affairs between Apollo and Starbuck and Admiral Adama and President Roslin as it does in the kind of long-running stories that Battlestar: Galactica has, until now, reveled in. However, what plots we have are often of the kind that would have been rejected in earlier seasons. Unfinished Business is set around a boxing ring erected by the pilots in their quarters while Taking A Break From All Your Worries sees a bar open in Galactica, this coming after Adama had warned both Starbuck and Tigh about their excessive drinking causing problems amongst the crew. Chief and Calley find that parenthood is more of a struggle than they had expected, Seelix tries to join the flight corps. and Helo deals with a doctor who has a touch of Shipman about him. Finally, there's a touch of early Brookside as Chief deals with labour relations and a trade union on a service vessel. Perhaps this is evident of an attempt to show real life and the ordinary side of politics aboard the Galactica but it's a long way down from the highs of Season 2 and this season's Exodus. After all, disputes and crises are usually settled in a unique fashion, with Chief and Calley finding a parenting touch when they're forced out of an airlock and caught by a Raptor. Not a typical solution to the problem of fretful parents but perhaps one that shows the limitations of the show attempting to deal with everyday matters in an extraordinary place.
Eventually, to the strain of All Along The Watchtower, four of the Final Five Cylons are drawn together as the Galactica comes under attack. An example of the collective unconsciousness or the hearing of a radio signal from an Earth very much nearer than first suspected? Much is promised by the finale of Season 3. Ronald D Moore has said that Season 4 will be the show's final run and that all of the various plot strands will be drawn to a close. Much, then, lies ahead for Battlestar: Galactica, which drew Moore to say, "...they [the fans] should brace themselves for a wild ride getting there. We're going out with a bang!" That he's saying this after delivering a fair number of wild rides in this season - although maybe not enough - suggests the very best is yet to come.
By any margin, this is an impressive release. Shot on High Definition video, this looks marvellous from the very beginning. Personally, I can't wait for Battlestar: Galactica to appear on a HD format - Battlestar: Galactica is one of the reasons that HD-DVD will get my support later in the year, albeit in the cheapest way possible by a purchase of the XBox 360 HD-DVD drive - largely because this is a show that already makes the most of the format and having it look even better than it does here is a mouthwatering prospect. However, for now, Battlestar: Galactica is a stunning-looking release, better even than it was on the R1 Season 2 and 2.5 releases. Colour, or what there is of it, is faithful to the look of the show, but it's the clarity of the image that most impresses. Watching this on a large television, the picture was pin-sharp on DVD, particularly the opening episodes on New Caprica. That this is only going to get better on a HD release is something that I am, quite frankly, excited about.
Similarly, the Dolby Digital 5.1 (or choice of DD2.0) sounds better than it has done before on previous episodes, particularly the rattles that accompany the Galactica falling like a rock through the atmosphere or the sense of isolation that comes in the near-silent scenes in space. could be better when comparing this to a major action film but for a television show, it's consistently good, particularly in its use of the rear channels for ambience in the scenes of space battle. Again, though, it's the clarity of the soundtrack that most impresses with every line, ambient sound and audio effect all having its place and sounding very good indeed. Finally, there are English subtitles throughout.
The only bonus material appears on the sixth disc, an episode titled The Story So Far (41m54s), which is a summary of the series to date using clips from previous seasons and narrated by Mary McDonnell. Unlike previous sets, there are no commentaries and contrary to the rumours, none of the ten Webisodes from Battlestar: Galactica: The Resistance, an Internet-only show that covered events between the second and third seasons. Given the legal complications involved in the rights to the Webisodes - NBC Universal refused to pay or credit the writers then filed a suit against the Writers Guild of America, after which Moore was told not to produce any further Webisodes - these were never likely to appear but it's still something of a disappointment to see Season 3 released in largely a bare bones set.
All that said, there are still some marvellous moments in Season 3 of Battlestar: Galactica, not least the numerous times Starbuck kills Leoben Conoy, the near-deserted Cylon ship struck down by a virus from Earth and - it's worth saying this again - seeing Galactica dropping through the atmosphere, launching a squadron of Vipers and immediately jumping away. Although, the moment when Apollo rams a Cylon battleship comes very close to the pick of moments in this season. Perhaps it is let down by the second half of the season but it leaves its audience immediately wanting to see more so much does it promise. No matter what happens in a little under half the episodes here, Season 4 promises to be a memorable one. As was this one at times.