Battlestar Galactica #19: Experiment in Terra

"At least you have a sense of humor." "In my job, dealing with primitive cultures, it's an absolute necessity."
SO SAY WE ALL: The Beings of Light send Apollo to Terra to stop nuclear Armageddon.

REVIEW: Oh so Terra ISN'T Earth in some unspecified future? It was just a red herring? Then why do all the names, animals and units of measure match American conventions? Why do all the continents look the same as ours??! I mean, sure, Terra is said to have several satellites (though that could mean colonies), but somebody somewhere didn't get the memo. It's probably a case of reusing an old effect of Earth to save money, frankly. This episode tries its best to reuse everything it can as budget blues set in for the show. The Beings of Light are back, the white uniforms, and the Montreal Expo locations too. And there's nothing wrong with that, so long as things are thought through properly. It's unfortunate that we never really get answers about the Beings of Light, who interfere with Terran destiny, but didn't try to save the Colonies in the same way (or did they and failed?). Sometimes ambiguity is good, sometimes it's just frustrating.

Another question: Oh so this ISN'T the inspiration for Quantum Leap? Donald P. Bellisario didn't write this one, but he WAS on staff. And the idea of having Apollo take the place of a Terran, and everyone seeing him as that Terran, and John of the Lights acting as a hologram only Sam can see and hear... well, that's odd for a Galactica episode (and since Apollo immediately tells everyone the truth, it's not even necessary as a conceit), but it's hard to believe Bellisario would deny the link (he does). Obviously, you don't always know where you got an idea, years later. But yeah, other than make people think Apollo is crazy (and us thinking he's a little dense), it doesn't have much of a purpose to having him impersonate a lost Terran colonel. And then to have that known personage address the government AS Apollo? It doesn't really make sense.

And that address. Sheesh. Galactica is about compassionate military characters, and their conflict with politicians has usually been on the order of Star Trek's "useless commodore" trope. But here, meddling in another world's politics, it straight up makes pro-military, anti-civilian government arguments. The president is a fool to sign a secret treaty with the Eastern Alliance. The military authority, the Presidium, in any other show, would be sinister, but here turns out to be the voice of reason that's being squelched by the president. And Apollo talks about peace as a bad thing! What he means is that you have to fight for your rights and your very existence. Sure. But his call to war is a little horrifying without the proper context. And we don't get that context. If the president (or his advisers - and there's a lot of the naturally villainous Logan Ramsey brooding in the background, but nothing comes of it) were a traitor, trying to save his own hide by selling out his people, then maybe. If the Terrans were painted as sheeple whose pacifism is a weakness, then maybe. None of that is properly set up, so you have Apollo giving very strange advice, and almost advocating a military coup.

Even Adama is acting out of character, throwing caution to the winds (which is NOT his character) and leaving the fleet behind to rescue Apollo on Terra. Once there, the Galactica is able to create a shield around the planet that destroys all the nuclear missiles launched by the Eastern Alliance. Where was this technology when the Cylons attacked the Colonies? Good thing there's a line about the planet's overpopulation problem or else we might question why the Colonials don't just pitch their tents here. Their new home doesn't have to BE Earth. Of course, it's only 6000 people, that's not gonna make a whole lot of difference.

Now, I've been pretty down on the episode, but the writing really does feel rushed at this point. It's not that bad as a science fiction adventure story. Jeopardy, high stakes, tension, nice sets, and lots of recognizable guest stars. In addition to Ramsey mentioned above (he was the Roman in Star Trek's Bread and Circuses), we have Melody Anderson from Flash Gordon, Edward Mulhare from Knight Rider, and in a very early role, John "Q" de Lancie as a helmeted soldier (that voice is too recognizable). So on that basis alone, it holds some interest.

SPACE DISCO: Is the President's weakness meant to be a Carter-era malaise? One might say, this has been in the background all along, in the way the Colonial Council has been portrayed.

ALL THIS HAS HAPPENED BEFORE AND IT WILL HAPPEN AGAIN: The new series also features an Earth that turns out not to be Earth.

HUMAN DEATH TOLL: The Eastern Alliance launches all nuclear missiles, but no one gets hurt.

VERSIONS: Deleted scenes make the stakes and Terran history clearer, as are the terms of the treaty, but an episode can only stand so much exposition. The original script had Starbuck in Apollo's role, but Richard Hatch expressed concerns that his character was being side-lined; writer/producer reversed the roles without asking Dirk Benedict, to Hatch's embarrassment. An extended version of the episode was aired as a TV movie and includes a lot of the cut material and a lot of the material from the Galactica 1980 episode "The Return of Starbuck". It also includes new material of an astronaut finding the Galactica logs from which the story plays (as well as a montage of scenes from the series), and a picture of the reptilian Cylons who built the machine race.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - As an adventure, it zips along, but it's riddled with plot holes and odd sentiments.

1 comments:

Anonymous said...

"The military authority, the Presidium, in any other show, would be sinister, but here turns out to be the voice of reason that's being squelched by the president. And Apollo talks about peace as a bad thing!"

That's pretty much the pilot episode of BSG, innit? The civilians are dumb enough to think that the Cylons are suddenly going to play nice for no reason at all, and of course get completely suckered by a sneak attack.

But that was how American conservatives saw liberals in the late 1970s: their desire to work out some sort of peace with the Soviet Union was equivalent to surrendering and dooming us all.

 

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