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So much TV, so little time

I used Saturday evening to enjoy a bottle of the 7 Deadly Zins and to catch up on a few television episodes. Spoilers inside. It is far below zero; pipes have frozen.

BSG: The move from Friday to Sunday evenings for Battlestar Galactica saddens me a bit, perhaps because I used to love the all-star Sci-Fi-Friday lineup of two Stargates and BSG, back-to-back-to-back (and back again). Some critics and fans have found that this season of BSG is not as strong as the previous; I'm not so certain—I still find it must see, perhaps the only (sci-fi) series on any network that deserves that designation. Much of this dislike, however, often comes not from a critique of the performances, scripts, editing, or directing, but from dislike of certain characters or plot threads. I cite (without reference), for example, friends and acquaintances who did not like the beginning of the third season primarily because they saw/read it as a U.S.-Iraq allegory onto which were mapped the resistance as Iraqi freedom fighters / terrorists and the Cylons as the American invaders. To me this was just another example of top-down interpretation, assuming the allegorical meaning as primary and in the process devaluing the internal logic of the show or episodes.

While I love allegory, at the same time I must sympathize with Tolkien's views on the matter—“I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence.”—not because there is anything wrong with allegory but because allegorical interpretations (much like metaphorical and symbolic) are all too often employed in haste by those unwilling to work at and engage in the hermeneutic process.

I do find the current relationship problems experienced by Apollo and Starbuck (and their respective spouses) a bit on the plodding side yet in a broader sense convincing, and so I do not mind it that much. Despite the soap opera aspects of any such conflict BSG does nevertheless play down such moments, at least in last two episodes, and both the script/dialog and acting have been understated rather than melodramatic, relying more on what is not said and glances than on words.

I do not now nor have ever belonged to the group that dislikes Baltar, or rather, the stories that revolve around him and his portrayal by James Callis. There is a deer-in-headlights aspect brought to him by Callis, and like it or not I do not see it as a weakness on the part of the actor, having seen some of Callis's other work (e.g. Menelaus in Helen of Troy [2003]).

Stargate Atlantis: Season three entered its U.S. hiatus with a mid-season cliffhanger—Atlantis taken over by Old World Replicators and the Atlantis team gone rogue—which is resolved in a satisfactory and perfectly reasonable way in episode 11. There is a narrative trick that works well and makes it all hang together and make sense, and it almost makes up for what I call the cowardly solution.

After the Replicators take over Stargate Command decides to 1) destroy (as a last resort) the gate bridge between galaxies they've built and 2) nuke Atlantis to stop/solve the Replicator foothold situation. Our Atlantis regulars go rogue, steal a shuttle, gate back to Atlantis, and leave a bomb, which destroys the control room and part of the main tower. O'Neill and Richard Woolsey are trapped and hiding in Atlantis; the others, in the shuttle, fly to space to pick up a frozen Asuran Replicator, Niam, planning to infect him with a virus to effect and immobilize the other Asurans once they get close enough. That plan fails, O'Neil and Woolsey are captured, and so plan B or C ... or F as O'Neill calls it, is put into place.

The team feeds Woolsey (and O'Neil) some disinformation about their plan—indicating that they plan on placing C4 on all the shield generators so that when Atlantis is attacked and the shields are brought up the city will instead be left defenseless—so that when the prisoners are mind-probed the Replicators will miss the real threat: the anti-Replicator weapons that have been MacGyvered to the shield generators, which, when activated, destroy all the Replicators/Asurans in the city.

This is a fine and dandy solution. There's what we originally “know”—we, like Woolsey, think the plan is to destroy the city—but after the team is captured, we are then shown the real plan, which then goes off without a hitch. As a result the status-quo is reestablished; it was a cliffhanger without consequence. The Replicators rebuild Atlantis (fixing the bomb damage, etc.), the Atlantis expedition picks up a ZPM or two (or three) to use as plot-devices in later episodes, and the team is brought back together after its temporary disbanding the previous episode.

The Season 2 Ford-subplot (supporting character gone rogue) was unsatisfying in a way, though it led to a number of decent stories and introduced Ronon to us, but the main problem was that it never really resolved anything or changed the status-quo, either. The resolution was to write Ford out until they decide to pick up the plot-device again. Here, however, they had the opportunity to radically alter the Stargate Atlantis world by making the main team outlaws without a stable base of operations, the A-Team of the Sci-Fi channel. Give them a shuttle and some gate addresses and off they go to deal with the standard threats—Wraith, Asurans, Genii—but without official sanction or backup. They would have had to deal with the Asurans in Atlantis, but what about losing the city? At least for much the rest of the season. Get those space drives going, send the city into space, and lose it among the stars for a while. Who knows. Leave the Daedalus in the Pegasus Galaxy from time to time, perhaps the official presence.

But it was not to be. In episode 12, “Echoes,” they deal with the aftermath of the previous episode, also reduce the action a bit (good pacing, actually), and make it more of a figure-it-out-before-the-deadline plot. The only problem was that I was able to figure out much of it, including Sheppard's proposed solution, before it was made explicit in the episode itself, and with such shows I do not like to feel that much smarter than the writers.

Episode 13 brings back Lucius Lavin, last seen in episode 3 of the season, and they finally took care of Kolya. I loved the actor—Robert Davi—who plays Koyla (as an actor, not for his obnoxious pro-life position), and the character had potential, but he'd become a repeating, one-note villain, out for revenge, and thus, killing him was, in the end, the best and only solution.

Doctor Who: I loved Christopher Eccleston as The Doctor, though I am happy to see him now in Heroes as the invisible guy (see below), so I was, thus, sad to see him go. I got behind when it came to watching Doctor Who after the first season of the new series. To get back into it I watched The Christmas Invasion, the December 2005 post-season-1 special which introduces the new Doctor (David Tennant, also seen in the 4th Harry Potter movie as Barty Crouch Jr) and provides a mix of comedy and character development along the way. Since the BBC also wanted to introduce the Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood, this special provided a decent occasion, even though that show itself did not air until October of 2006.

We learn little knew about Rose, we merely experience her conflicted feelings regarding The Doctor, but Tennant's Doctor establishes himself as witty and curious—similar to Eccleston's but, at the beginning at least, not as melancholy playing at carefree, so continuity is established—but also, in his words, not one to give second chances, words the alien invaders understand but which the Prime Minister does not, and when she betrays the Doctor's trust, he brings down her government ... with six little words.

Hereos: Here is the one show I'm not behind on; I watch it faithfully Monday evenings. I was sad to see Eccleston leave Doctor Who after just one season, but—do not fear! happy happy joy joy!—he shows up as a dirty, bearded guy who can become invisible (or at least make those around him unable to him). The first several episodes of Heroes were magnificent, a marvelous translation of super-hero comics to the television medium, but once we met all the main characters and were left with plot, with a few plodding strands, such as Mohinder's soap-opera-in-India crapfest (the plot progression was interesting; his former love interest a giant turd), the series seemed to have shifted into cruise control, which makes it easier to observe the scenery as you drive but at the same time removes the joy of driving itself.

But in the most recent episode we had some rather inspired writing and plotting, even if it was just with regard to the little things. Sure, seeing Sulu as Hiro's father was fan-tastic, one might say (I'm waiting for the Star Trek vs. Star Wars crossover, in which we get the combined character Han Sulu), but the handling of Peter's arc toward the end was the part that was actualized the best.

When Peter hugs his brother we, the audience, already know that he's doing so not so as to agree with his brother and demonstrate his submission but rather so as to steal his brother's power of flight, so he can escape. Revealing, once his brother and Mohinder leave, that upon his attempt to flee he is stopped and cloaked by Eccleston's invisible man, is a nice twist. This treated the audience as smart enough to follow the show's logic and details, yet at the same time snuck in something plausible but not necessarily expected so as to keep us on our toes.

—February 3 2007