Battlestar Galactica #2: Lost Planet of the Gods, Part I

SO SAY WE ALL: The Galactica has to train lady pilots after its Viper jockeys succumb to a mysterious disease.

REVIEW: That title's not gonna make sense until Part II, but you have to remember this was going to be a second TV movie before they decided to go to series and split it up into episodes 2 and 3. That will help make Battlestar more serialized in the short term, not only because of the edit, but because movies were meant to move important events more quickly. Case in point, Apollo has asked Serina to marry him. Meanwhile, Baltar has been given his own base ship, which he shares with a thinker Cylon called Lucifer who looks a little silly (I don't know if it's the pointy head or smiley mouth), but with the Centurions being relegated to cannon fodder, I guess he makes sense.

Because of the edit, we get the sense that beyond the void, a "magnetic sea" discovered by Apollo and Starbuck, is Kobol, the ancestral home of humanity from which the 13 tribes sprang (including our own). Adama is following his faith, but it's too soon to discuss it much. Most of the episode is instead taken up by a second threat, a virus contracted by Jolly and Boomer, and passed on to most of the Viper squadron. They catch it on an asteroid that has a Cylon listening outpost (pretty cool), spread it at Apollo's would-be bachelor party, and a medical team must return if there's any hope of curing it. But without Vipers? So our heroes are forced to train shuttle pilot cadets to do the job, and it becomes a bit of a punch-the-air, underdog story, as Apollo and Starbuck are slow to trust in their abilities. Unfortunately, it's all quite sexist.

How do I know it's sexist? Because all the cadets are women. Not a single man in the whole fleet wanted to train to pilot a shuttle, just as not a single already established non-Viper pilot (not even those older warriors mentioned) are part of the group. Even though the fleet is obviously manned by pilots. Can't spare them? So of course we get the obligatory scene where Apollo tries to block Serina from flying (and it was just a shuttle at that point!), and the men continually reminding the women to stay back and not engage. They do anyway, because this is the kind of "feminism" television audiences were meant to understand. But this is also an episode where Serina does all the cooking and Starbuck runs away from Athena because he fears she'll be talking about marriage next. Quite the comedy. I love that the new pilots get their licks in, but it doesn't do Apollo and Starbuck any favors. It's really too bad the idea is strapped to dated gender politics because the point that skills must be made redundant if humanity is to survive is a good one. Serina SHOULD be getting her pilot's license, and we spy Cassie out of her socialator dress and in uniform working in the medbay.

There are other, smaller problems. Starbuck's jealousy of Serina is cheesy. Apollo isn't very smart when his radio starts to go out in the void. And asteroids with atmospheres are one of my science fiction pet peeves. At least there's little Boxey and Muffit, though what there is of the former gives us a weird line about some people being slow that's meant to be a joke about Apollo telling his dad about his engagement, but just sounds like he learned about mentally challenged people in school that day. Squirm-worthy.

SPACE DISCO: Just the way Ed Bagley Jr. says "mannnn" feels very 70s. It's the sexism that really dates it.

ALL THIS HAS HAPPENED BEFORE AND IT WILL HAPPEN AGAIN: Introduction of the expletive "frak" which would retain its edginess through the modern series.

HUMAN DEATH TOLL: All the Viper pilots fall ill, but none die as yet.

VERSIONS: As mentioned earlier, episodes 2 and 3 were meant to be a full-length TV movie. The novelization uses an earlier title, "The Tombs of Kobol". A deleted scene would have explained Cassie's move to the role of Med Tech.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - It's a fair adventure with danger and action, but its politics are from another time, and it's hard to watch it with modern eyes.


Anonymous said...

About the sexism, I interpret it like it was intended at the time (and yes I saw it in the original run): women CAN step up and do the things a man can, so don't be so quick to judge. Of course, in an era where woman can even pilot TARDISes better than the Doctor (who himself has switched teams recently), it's hard to see the message as a step forward, but in 1978 it was.

It's like watching Roddenberry's pro-woman "Star Trek" original series, which is horribly dated -- but Roddenberry was doing his level best to depict women in the best light he understood possible. Or it's like watching "Have Gun - Will Travel" reruns (Roddenberry's only major writing gig before "Star Trek"): you always know it's a Roddenberry episode when you just watched the most sexist thing you've ever seen. Mrs. Anonymous knows that, whenever I mutter "god damn Roddenberry", it's a sure sign that I just saw a really offensive portrayal of a woman; it happens a lot. Nevertheless, Roddenberry was trying to do women a favor, and by the standards of the time, he was probably doing pretty well.

Here, watch this episode and mutter "god damn Roddenberry" along with me, over and over:

Brendoon said...

My ongoing memory of BSG was the promo shot of Mara Jensen in the Viper pilot uniform... why that should be lodged in there as one of life's highlights I don't know, but it is regardless.

If you're fascinated by time and place, the things which make a series dated are part of its fascination. I remember in the eighties we pretended the 70's didn't happen, and in the 2000's it was the 80's which seemed cheesy. Now the 80's are interesting again: Interesting to see how things have changed and how they're the same.

Has right and wrong changed? Or are the principles the same but the scope adjusted?

LiamKav said...

Some things do have to be adjusted for time, that's true. Others though are just used as an excuse by people to act shitty. If you were still uttering racist terms in the 80s, for instance, you really had no excuse.

Star Trek is often interesting in that regard. Do we praise it for having a multiracial crew? Or condemn it for keeping that multiracial crew firmly in the background whilst the attention stays on the 3 white guys? Nichelle Nichols story about MLK makes me lean toward the former, but hindsight it always 20/20.

LiamKav said...

It reminds me a bit about the current controversy of Apu on The Simpsons. Interestingly, Groening's original script notes for the first appearance of "Kwik-e-Mart clerk" were "do NOT make him a stereotype." But then Azaria did a comedy Indian accent and, well, here we are.

Brendoon said...

It IS a very interesting thing.
I haven't seen The Simpsons since the early days and I've no idea to what extent Aku was portrayed... but I wonder if he STARTED not as a stereotype but based on a specific shopkeeper Azaria had met. Stereotypes are based on observations... my web guy is in Mombai and is a VERY tenacious upseller. It DOES come from the national character, if you've ever met a street vendor in an Indian Metrop. Aside from him I still get one call a day from a variety of different Indian voices. I know instantly they want to offer me a new website or search engine optimisation. Not a hurtful lampoon, just an repeatedly proven experience.

The problem is when something genuinely amusing passes on to being hurtful: Accents ARE genuinely funny. Like using predictive text there can be SO many misunderstandings and barriers to communication.
Less than a century ago in England an "ethnic group" often involved bagpipes, showing how even Scotsmen were seen as unusual and foreign. My favourite recent TV Wodehouse comedy "Blandings" had a gardener with a very broad, unintelligible accent. He was proud as only a Scotsman could be when facing off an English Lord who wanted to pick his flowers. This Scotsman was genuinely funny. His accent was genuinely funny. I haven't heard anyone upset at the portrayal but the denizens of the UK are long accustomed to self lampooning and being lampooned. (Hmm, but David Tennant faked an English accent on Doctor WHO when he was in fact NOT English and had no right to the accent. Why don't the English get upset about that?)
Here in New Zealand on one of my toony historical poster portrayals I've had to remove a proud Maori Warrior because he had a big nose (ie a Bugs bunny toon style person). I replaced him with a buffoonish English Judge with a much bigger nose tangled in fishing gear and it was deemed acceptable. Admittedly, NOTHING is as funny as an Englishman, by a thousand country miles, and they welcome the laughter. (As a Colonial I consider myself more English than todays real Englishmen, though I don't have right to the label)

LiamKav said...

There tend to be two rules with accent impressions.

1. Punch up, not down (as with all comedy)
2. Don't do an accent of a people that have had recent oppression and racism in your country.

In Tennant's case, Scotland to England is (arguably) punching up, and more importantly there isn't real racial tension between the Scots and the English. When I walk around Glasgow I'm not worried that I'm going to be randomly attacked because of my accent. I might get in to a heated debate about Scottish Independence, but that's another matter. :)

With Apu, it's made worse because he is the only notable Indian on that show, and so by default he becomes "how those people act" to a lot of viewers. Whether he is accurate or not is almost besides the point, because he only represents a handful of Indian people. Groundskeeper Willie is also a horrendous stereotype, but a pretty harmless one as Scottish people are generally not oppressed and abused by mainstream white American culture.

Basically, if you're Indian and living in America it doesn't matter if you're a lawyer, doctor, or any other extremely successful job, you can still be reduced to nothing but your skin colour by someone putting on a funny voice and saying "thank you, come again."

(It's notable that not all American Indians - to use the term correctly - necessarily agree. Some don't mind Apu. But I do agree it's probably a conversation worth having.)

I should point out that my opinion on this matter was changed somewhat by this very blog. There was a line in Babylon 5 where Ivonava, talking about some aliens, said "they can understand our language, they just don't wanna talk to us in it", and the sort-of English Marcus responds "who knew they were French?" I thought the line was funny and didn't think anything more of it, but Siskoid said that comments like that can be quite nasty in the French-speaking parts of Canada, so I bowed to his experience.

Brendoon said...

A good reply!

Interestingly the recently purchased DVD set of "Justice League Action" came with "Parisian" as a language option, not French.

Brendoon said...

Also interesting is Theresa May's pamphlet to English folk wanting to migrate: the recommendation is given to drop the English Accent and take on the local one because the locals "may not appreciate your accent."
Here in New Zealand the UK accents are treated with romantic reverence, however.

LiamKav said...

Wait, what pamphlet? That's bizarre advice... Most people can't just "drop" their accent, and why would May be giving out advice to people who want to emigrate?

Brendoon said...

Burgered if I know...
...but it was somewhere in the news when folks were being deported to Jamaica. The leaflet was specifically aimed at them but May said it was generally good advice to anyone moving overseas.

Brendoon said...

Another funny thing with accents is when you make a point of trying to keep your accent it still changes! My Brother moved to Sydney, about the thickest accent in Aussie you can imagine and he resisted it. The locals thought he sounded English... and in his effort to "stay kiwi" he ended up sounding like a mock toff from London! He had no reference to what he was "supposed" to sound like.

LiamKav said...

It varies from person to person, and is hugely dependent on what age they moved. I came to Liverpool from London when I was 19, and in nearly two decades my accent hasn't budged one bit. I still say "gr-arse" rather than "gr-ass" and so on.

Brendoon said...

I don't think I'd pick up Liverpool either, but I might morph to London.
'Once tried to narrate a chapter of Robin Hood with a Lincolnshire accent and could NOT do it! I've NEVER seen Robin portrayed as coming from Nott'nam.

Anonymous said...

"Star Trek is often interesting in that regard. Do we praise it for having a multiracial crew? Or condemn it for keeping that multiracial crew firmly in the background whilst the attention stays on the 3 white guys? Nichelle Nichols story about MLK makes me lean toward the former, but hindsight it always 20/20."

Oh that's an easy one, we praise it lavishly. We celebrate the steps forward, even if they were only a step and not the whole journey. The people who look back and their first instinct is to complain that the steps forward weren't big enough, are more often than not failing to take the context of the times into account; if those steps weren't bigger there was probably a reason.

And I say this as someone who says "please don't let this be a Roddenberry episode" every time "Have Gun - Will Travel" comes on. I respect what Roddenberry was trying to do, and I do see it as a step in the right direction -- just painfully backwards to watch from where I sit.

Here's another one: "Modern Family" is not going to age well. When it came out, the very human portrayals of a committed gay couple were a big step forward, but these days they look stereotypical as hell. But it still helped people understand gay couples better; just putting the image in people's minds is a start. Likewise, Gloria as the hot-blooded Latina is pretty stereotypical, but it also gives her a layer of humanity that probably helped some people see how Spanish-speaking immigrants were still good neighbors. So hooray for shows that lead to their own obsolescence. Even the title "Modern Family" is going to be a sick joke within a decade.

LiamKav said...

Yeah, I think I agree. We are all guilty of the Nirvana fallacy... if something is only 40% of what we want rather than 100% then it becomes useless. It reminds me of what Labour did with Equal Marriage here in the UK. There was a call for it, but equally there was a lot of resistance. So they introduced "Civil Partnerships". These were 90% marriage in everything but name. It allowed gay people to get almost married, but it also meant they could say to homophobes "no, it's okay, marriage itself hasn't been touched, so you're fine."

All you then have to do it wait ten years and then introduce equal marriage (interestingly under a Conservative government, but I will give them full credit for it). You say "well, gay people have basically been allowed to be married for years now, this is just changing the name".

Granted, you can argue that it was ten years of limbo, or that they should have had equal marriage years ago, but by walking half way there, waiting a bit, then walking the rest, the resistance to when it was actually introduced was vanishingly small. Certainly much smaller than if they'd gone straight from zero to "marriage for everyone!"

Brendoon said...

But I have naughty thoughts, as you'll agree after this:

Mightn't "homophobe" be a derogatory label for someone who thinks differently from oneself?

Evolution and revolutions... are they always as good as we hope?
Kick out the Tsar and hope for the best... Stalin was, unfortunately, not the quality replacement hoped for.

I'm not into duality or yin and yang, but it does seem everything costs something: every good thing comes as the expense of the loss of something else desirable to the same person.
I spent 12 years as a manual labourer in order to pay for rent and food.
I would REALLY rather have developed a music career, but food and rent were pretty important at the time. Now I have NO music career but am alive.

In order to get what we want, what are we losing with the other hand?

Anonymous said...

"We are all guilty of the Nirvana fallacy... if something is only 40% of what we want rather than 100% then it becomes useless."

I tell ya whut, when you've seen where that attitude gets us in politics, it cures a person pretty damn quick. Or at least it ought to.

LiamKav said...

Oh, it should. But I still have online arguments about politics where people would rather vote for an ideal candidate who has zero chance of winning than someone who had a chance but doesn't 100% align with their views.

Mightn't "homophobe" be a derogatory label for someone who thinks differently from oneself?

No. It means someone who irrationally hates gay people. Cute word play isn't really appropriate in situations where people are discriminated, bullied, attacked and killed.

LiamKav said...

"I'm not into duality or yin and yang, but it does seem everything costs something: every good thing comes as the expense of the loss of something else desirable to the same person."

I don't think that's always true. Women being allowed to vote or join the army doesn't hurt me. Likewise two mem being allowed to get married doesn't hurt me. Those people have gained rights and opportunities, but I haven't lost anything.

Anonymous said...

"Oh, it should. But I still have online arguments about politics where people would rather vote for an ideal candidate who has zero chance of winning than someone who had a chance but doesn't 100% align with their views."

Man, I feel ya there. If you (not you "you", the rhetorical "you") are willing to see monsters elected because you're not getting your way, you clearly don't have any regard for the people who are going to be hurt. Makes you a pretty crappy person, frankly -- probably slightly worse than the people who actively support the monsters (who might be able to claim some flicker of ignorance about what they're supporting or where it will lead).

Brendoon said...

Liam, yes, my apologies, I stared into the bleakness of reality for a moment and gave up. Just for a moment. Feeling better now.

However, to stare at the bleakness again, respect of women is a perfect example to how we're failing to evolve as a species. On the one hand half of the population are starting to get the respect they should have ( I speak of the larger half, those with two X chromosomes) and yet we still have pornography in this SAME WORLD where representatives of the same people are being treated even worse than EVER before, respected even less, not as "the weaker sex who should be protected" (the Victorian view) but "this thing is an object with no rights except to fulfil my desire."(the thing some of us in the world are saying by our actions)
So we've gained and lost also.
The same species, (Humanity) is simultaneously moving in BOTH directions. We haven't just evolved, we're also gettin' worse.

Aside from wordplay there may be correct usage to consider: a phobia is a fear, not a hatred. So a homophobe is someone who is afraid of... er,whatever it is they imagine a person of a certain persuasion might do TO them, certainly ain't rational.

If someone genuinely has irrational fear they need to be treated specially.
Hatred, in a different way, needs to be treated specially as well, but not the same way as a phobia. It's not so useful to take the label belonging to the first and give it to the second.

However in today's age, Bryson points out in ""The Mother Tongue,"that the VERY special thing about English is that it's governed by popular usage rather than "correct usage". I therefore don't have an argument to hold onto.

I DO have a point though, that in ANY "us and them" situation there's conflict (marvel vs DC... why???? We love them both) when in fact there's only an US.
Any problem that has to be overcome in humanity is only OUR problem, never THEIR problem.

Anyhow, I apologise, I'm off topic. This is a blog about geekery, a particularly inclusive subject, not philosophy... a subject full of divisions.
I think you should reply with the last word after this and I'll leave it at that.

LiamKav said...

A phobia is specifically an irrational fear, not a fear in general. A fear of heights is a healthy thing to have. It's only a phobia if it happens in places that are perfectly safe. It is true though that common usage of many phobias (xenophobia, homophobia) does lean more towards "irrational hatred" rather than "irrational fear".

I also don't quite get the "woman" example. Those aren't really two points on the same scale. It's perfectly possible to allow women to vote whilst at the same time give more protection to female porn stars. And I don't think things really are worse in those cases anyway. The Victorian idea of "a woman is something to be protected" is just words. There was plenty of abuse of women, underage sex, rape, sex workers being violently attacked and beaten, and more back in Victorian times. I don't see any evidence that women are being treated worse than before. We're just hearing about it more.

I do like the sentiment of "there is only us". Focusing on our differences as a point of division is ultimatly damaging to us all.


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