The Miniseries Part One written by Ronald D. Moore & Christopher Eric James and directed by Michael Rymer
Commander-in-Chief: Played with gruff authority by Edward James Olmos, Adama is a character that runs through the entire gamut of human emotions throughout the four season tenure of the show but manages to keep most of those feeling bottled up. That means those moments where he displays flashes of anger or distress really count for something. He is precisely the sort of man that you would want in charge of a fleet on the run; respectful, loyal, smart, brave and pretty much unshakable. That makes the character sound incredibly boring but he is also capable of making terrible mistakes, losing his cool at inappropriate times and letting his pride get the better of him. It makes him a flawed hero but a man to look up to nonetheless because he is always doing what he can for the best of the fleet. Like most of the characters on this show, I love how human Adama is - flawed, multi-faceted and often very surprising. Adama has a soft spot for Starbuck despite her rebellious attitude, in fact he actually seems to admire her for it. She was once in a relationship with his now deceased son and there is always a feeling between these two of a father/daughter relationship. Sometimes even more so than Adama's relationship with his surviving son. The restraint that Adama shows when Lee accuses him of murdering his brother because he pulled strings to get him in the service is to be admired. I think Adama knows if he reacts violently that his relationship with his son will be irrevocably destroyed.
Apollo: Despite his bizarre walk (seriously check it out, Bamber always walks like he needs a crap), Lee Adama is our action hero and beefcake on the show. Introduced as a square jawed, revered pilot who can do no wrong, it quickly becomes clear that this character has baggage of his own. Namely his relationship with his father which has practically deteriorated beyond repair, the pair at odds over the death of Lee's brother. The Ballad of Apollo and Starbuck begins in there first scene together where they remain cordial but clearly want to rip each others clothes off and screw on the floor. It's a complicated relationship which goes through a multitude of ups and down but one thing is for sure, the attraction between these two was there right from the beginning. Possibly the hottest pair in any TV show. Lots of possibilities with the Roslin/Lee relationship, especially with him taking her position over his fathers during a power struggle. They enjoy a sparky, warm chemistry ('Captain Apollo has a nice ring to it, don't you think?') and I look forward to seeing more.
Sixie: How gorgeous is Tricia Helfer? She is practically a walking Barbie doll with a perfect physique and features and yet do not mistake her for some blonde bimbo who has been hired because of her looks. She's a massive talent and securing her as the most recognisable humanoid Cylon was a huge bonus for the series. Seductive and unknowable, curious and exotic, dangerous and glamorous, Six has a distinctive, addictive presence. She mentions there are twelve models and she is number six, an important piece of information as the show charges on and more models are revealed.
Chief Engineer: Aaron Douglas looks so young and fresh faced in the miniseries, a far cry from his worn down appearance in subsequent seasons. Tyrol, like Lee, is a pretty cut and dry character at this point. His the Miles Edward O'Brien of Galactica, the everyday man who keeps the ship in one piece and ensure the vipers are in tip top condition. And like O'Brien the writers find more ingenious ways to torture this character to show every aspect of his humanity stripped away. His quiet, angry reaction to the sacrifice of so many of his men really makes the moment count.
Helo: Didn't really impact (apart from the fact that he was really cute) until he agreed to give up his seat on the raptor for Baltar in Caprica and stay behind with the rest of the victims. A brave decision that would have a profound effect on both his character arc (he would go on to meet Sharon in season one on Caprica) and the rest of humanity (keeping Baltar alive is just about the worst thing he could have chosen to do).
Sparkling Dialogue: 'Humanity's children are returning home today...'
'You cannot play God and then wash your hands of the things you have created.'
'Why can't we use the starboard launch?' 'It's a gift shop now.'
* Immediately the classic series of Battlestar Galactica is alluded to with the original Cylon model appearing on the document held by the human representative at the political meeting point. I'm really pleased that this show hasn't completely forgotten its past, offering little kisses to fans of the original show. I have only watched the odd episode in passing so I can't really comment on how accurate the continuity ties up but I know how I felt when Doctor Who came back for a new generation of children and it honoured its history so stringently (stirrings of the original BSG theme can be heard over a news report). Clearly the population of Caprica have no idea of how advanced the Cylons have become, especially their ability to mimic humans. The new design CGI Cylons are sleeker and far more deadly, with razor sharp hands that can turn into machine guns in an instant. I love that they kept the blood red laser eye that darts back and forth across the visor (and the same effect on their raiders is especially ominous) but it is a shame that their distinctive voices have been excised completely. These are not characters, these are merely foot soldiers. An old fashioned Centurion can be seen proudly displayed in a museum, a relic of the past.
* In precisely the same way that the Dominion were such a fantastic, insidious threat on DS9 (Ron Moore showing his roots), the fact the Cylons have mastered human forms gives this series its central theme of identity and what makes a person who they are. Doral is seen escorting a group of visitors around Galactica right after the credits and Six spends a great deal of time manipulating Baltar on Caprica - these human Cylons have infiltrated the human race without any suspicion. That Invasion of the Body Snatchers sense of 'they are amongst us' is one of the most expertly handled concepts in the series, especially when it is revealed that characters that we already know could be one of the enemy's number.
* 'It's all hands on here...' I really like the idea of the Galactica being looked upon as a ship that is past its prime and ready for retirement. It adds another layer of character to the show that this old, weary battleship becomes humanity's last hope for survival. The ship itself is superbly designed; cramped corridors, a functional but stylish command hub (the CIC), a hangar deck teeming with engineers and viper relics (space craft built to scale within the set - very impressive) ready to be put out to pasture. The lighting is harsh and unrelenting, the details are realistic (Adama uses a phone rather than some outer space communicator) and the whole operation feels entirely plausible. It is this level of grit and realism that marks this show as something a bit different from the wealth of other science fiction shows on the market. It feels only a few steps removed from our military. Michael Rymer's outstanding direction of the early scenes aboard the Galactica cannot be overlooked; there is a tracking shot the follows characters from room to room, down corridors and into the hangar that allows this ship to feel like a bustling operation and its crew a well oiled workforce. It feels as though a lot of money has been poured into the construction of this setting, the Battlestar that we are going to call home through four years of impossibly difficult scenarios. Bravo to all concerned. Caprica City is beautifully realised too, again it manages to keep one foot in the door of reality whilst still being recognisably a science fiction setting. It's a modern cityscape but one which looks a lot like a polished metropolis that we might recognise albeit with functional looking craft screaming through the sky shuttling people to different locations. Battlestar Galactica's skill is that it manages to present a science fiction environment that doesn't alienate people who aren't keen on the genre, whilst satisfying those who are. Not an easy feat to pull off.
* It took Star Trek TNG seven seasons to take us lower decks to see how the lesser ranks relax and socialise but BSG gets in there immediately, allowing the show to work on several class levels. We get to see the Commander and the XO relaxing and drinking in their quarters rubbing shoulders with scenes of the deck hands and pilots gambling, flirting and drinking in the mess. It's a show where everybody is given the same amount of consideration and that is quite rare. We're privy to the pilot briefings too, allowing us to those who protect the fleet in their professional and social surroundings.
* The moment when I realised that this show was going to go to some dark places and take risks that other shows wouldn't wasn't when the population of Caprica was decimated - I've seen mass extinction in science fiction before - but the simple death of a baby whose neck is snapped to prevent it from having to face the coming apocalypse. What is so fascinating about this act is that is clearly abhorrent but ultimately could be seen as an act of kindness in the wake of the Cylon massacre. This is a quick, clean death. The alternative probably would have been agonising. Any show that can present the casual murder of a child as an act of mercy is doing something quite different in my book. Another feature of BSG that I heartily commend is that it regularly features situations where characters have to face some very ugly choices, ones where the audience has to ask themselves if they would have the balls to go through with it themselves. Tigh has to seal off several decks in order to save Galactica but in doing so he is condemning many deck hands to their deaths in the vacuum of space. It's an uncompromising set piece that sees Tigh have the courage of his convictions and forces us to watch as innocent lives are flushed into space. Astonishing.
* Whoever decided to employ such a wealth of hand held camera work should be applauded. As we continue on through the series there will be many moments of experimental realisation on the show and this was the first brave step. At times it feels as though the cameraman is hopping from one foot to the other the way it wobbles precariously as we swing round from one character to another but the massive impact this has on the show, making it feel like documentary rather than a filmed drama and again injects a level of realism that is unusual in science fiction. Even the CGI effects feel as though they are being filmed by a documentary crew at times, with sudden zooms and a lens that scans the area until it finds its target. It can be more like watching the news than a TV series, planting the viewer right in the action and often giving the cameraman the chance to get right up close and personal with the actors and giving them no place to hide behind more glossy, fictionalised camerawork. Don't get me wrong this is heavily stylised but in a way that drives the action in the most riveting, personal way.
* It's bizarre that the attack itself should be so remote (see below) because the aftermath is brilliantly handled. I especially liked the gaggle of survivors that happen upon Helo and Boomer and their downed raptor. Only a handful of these people are going to escape this nuclear wasteland and they have to draw and lottery to see who it will be. What a dreadful game of chance to face. Delightfully for a second it looks like Baltar is so desperate to survive that he is going to steal a blind woman's ticket to freedom. People try and bribe their way onto the ship but its clear that in this apocalyptic circumstance money has suddenly lost its value.
* The episode ends with the lead characters son and the recently sworn in President apparently killed. Television convention tell us that this cannot be the case because it would be foolish for a writer to build up such strong characters and dispose of them so quickly. BSG has already proven in its first hour and a half that it doesn't play by the rules (wiping out most of humanity for starters) so there is a lingering possibility that this could be for real. That's how convincing this feature length episode has been.
The Shallow Bit: Sex is prevalent on this show and it is often portrayed as a savage, ravenous act of lust. It's certainly not a show to watch with your mother. The cast is almost universally attractive so the nudity is a bonus and it is one of those shows that will take the sexual act right up to an explosive climax. So not one to watch when you're horny either.
Moment to Watch Out For: 'Is this a joke?' Adama's reaction to Roslin order for his assistance is a scream. This is definitely going to be a relationship to watch. 'We're in the middle of a war and you're taking orders from school teachers!'
The Miniseries Part Two written by Ronald D. Moore & Christopher Eric James and directed by Michael Rymer
What's it about: Stand and fight or run and survive?
Commander-in-Chief: Adama is smart enough to recognise that Leoben is a Cylon as soon as he meets him but plays along for as long as possible to gather some intelligence on the creatures in their new humanoid form. Adama proves himself physically very capable in a fight although it is not a function that we see him perform too often on this show. He literally beats Leoben to a bloody pulp with his torch, an act that shows just how far the hatred for the Cylons runs deep. It also marks BSG out as a show that isn't afraid to show the raw side violence when the situation calls for it. I like the fact that Adama is man enough to admit when he is wrong, it is something that he does several times over the course of the series and it takes some character to look at yourself and decide that you made the wrong call. Spotting Billy and Dee flirting in the CIC, he can see that there is a real need for the human race to escape the battle zone and get copulating. For an experienced war veteran, a man who hates the Cylons and who has just suffered an operatic defeat at their hands this is a real moment of development to decide to run away and survive rather than stand and fight. Roslin might be a good influence on him yet. Adama's rousing speech to his disheartened crew is like a two finger salute at the Cylons and really pushes the idea that humanity will survive despite their best efforts. This was a necessary, optimistic speech to ensure that they head out into the universe with the right attitude although I do wonder if Adama will come to regret telling his people that he knows where Earth is. He makes a big promise that Earth will become their new home. I hope it is one he can keep.
XO: Tigh doesn't want to accept that the war is over and that they have lost. He wants to turn around a give the Cylons a bloody nose. Tigh offers Starbuck an olive branch but she slaps it away calling him weak and a drunk. Another relationship to watch because I think he might just prove her wrong.
CIC Officer: One of the unsung relationships on BSG is the ever changing but always fascinating bond between Felix Gaeta and Gaius Baltar. During the miniseries Gaeta is in awe of the good Doctor, completely unaware of his part in the destruction of Caprica and the exodus of humanity. They make an excellent team because Gaeta is constantly impressed with his mentor and Baltar enjoys having somebody around to stroke his ego. Their amicable, early relationship takes on a whole new level when we learn later on that Felix is bisexual, adding an extra element of spice to his fascination with Baltar.
Sparkling Dialogue: 'It's about time we caught a break...' - never has that line been more earned.
'Sooner or later the day comes when you can't hide from the things you've done' - although this isn't directed at him, all I could think about was Baltar.
'We need to start having babies' 'Is that an order?'
'It's not enough to just live, you have to have something to live for. Let it be Earth.'
* From the outset loss is one of themes that BSG handles so potently. Given that the main body of humanity is wiped out in the miniseries and all that is left is around 50,000 citizens in a fleet that is unprepared for life on the run, death is a daily occurrence that those remaining have to get a handle on. A quiet moment between Starbuck and Tyrol at the beginning of the second exemplifies how loss has suddenly become a way of life and in a crisis you have to swallow your feelings and get on with your job and save your grief for later. Bodies are laid out in a cargo bay under shrouds as a powerful visual of the sort of losses that have been suffered off planet and that is a mere fraction of those who have been massacred on Caprica. The scale of the slaughter is impossible to get your head around.
* There is some disorienting and deft camerawork when Galactica makes its first FTL jump which captured the rarity and emotion of the moment rather than setting the standard for all similar scenes when the show goes to series. This is a group of survivors turning their back on their loved ones and deciding to move on, that is a massive commitment to make.
* My favourite aspect of the second half of the miniseries was watching the President cohere the survivors into a fleet and dealing with all the supply issues that come with that. Are there enough resources to cope with the 50,000 odd people that will be forming this exodus? Power, food, water, medical supplies...the list in endless and the script takes a realistic approach to pooling resources and trying to ensure that everybody gets their fair share. Again it is BSG taking a realistic approach, looking at the tough decision those in charge would have to make when there are suddenly 50,000 mouths to feed and no way of getting any no supplies. The direction continues to impress, the camera circles around Adama, Roslin, Billy and Doral as they discuss (read: argue about) their next move. Dancing around the actors like this means we get to see all of them as they say their piece whilst being caught up in the giddy whirl of their debate. The script does allow those who make the decision hide away from them either - as the fleet is about to jump away we can hear the plaintive, begging cries of those they are about to leave behind. Once this is all over Roslin and Lee show great character facing those decision head on and will have to assuage their consciences later. Make no mistake, people are being left behind to die (although the shots of the little girl waiting for her parents might have pushed the point too far).
* Can robots have a soul? That's a huge question that I have seen Trek try and examine (and fail to come up with any kind of definitive answers, whilst still having some profound things to say on the subject). Religion plays a massive part in BSG whether you like it or not and it gets more relevant as the series progresses. At this stage of the game it seems like the Cylons are merely mimicking their masters, trying to understand their definition of life. When we come out the series at the other end we have been on such a journey with these creatures that it is the closest I have seen a TV series commit to showing machines with feelings and a belief system of their own.
* It unusually takes me quite a long time to become attached to a group of characters on a television show. If it's a series with troubled beginnings it might take a few seasons (Torchwood) and if it's an exceptional one it may only take a few episodes (Buffy) but rarely have I become as invested in a community of people as quickly as I was with BSG (DS9 might be the exception with many the characters bursting with life in the pilot). Moore and James spend so much time kicking these characters down that the moments of relief really make an impact. We've already seen this cast go through hell and so I really felt moved watching the reunion of Boomer and Tyrol, the kiss between Dee and Billy and Adama holding his son he had presumed dead.
* I haven't mentioned the music by Richard Gibbs which is very remiss of me because it is responsible for creating so much of the atmosphere on this show. I feel as if it is even stronger when Bear McCreary takes over on the main series but admittedly he takes a lot of his cues from Gibbs. What stands out the most is the subtle but threatening theme when Six appears to Baltar and the uplifting harmonies when everybody starts coming together again.
* It's great to see the miniseries thinking about storytelling possibilities for the future, in particular the supplies that the fleet is going to need and the prison ship full of 500 convicts. Roslin has to step in at this point and refuse to allow the Commandant of that ship to start starving his prisoners because supplies are running out. It's a fascinating question - when supplies are low who is denied them first?
* Look out for the terrifying shot of the Cylon mothership that emerges and vomits hundreds of raiders towards Galactica. These are the sorts of numbers that would make anybody run. The battle scenes are slick, fluidic, chaotic...clear enough to see what is going on but messy enough to show that all hell is breaking loose. If the special effects team can keep this up then BSG is going to be at the forefront of cinematic space battle sequences. With shields down and countless missiles screaming towards the ship, Galactica jumps into FTL at the very lat moment. Proof, if it was needed, that Roslin made the right call.
The Bad: I was desperate to know what was going on back on Caprica and so the whole sub plot at the ammunitions depot felt a little superfluous in the wider scheme of things. They could have hit the facility, loaded up and been gone in minutes but instead this sequence takes up a massive chunk of screen time with the help of some random jeopardy (dropping an explosive). Detailing operations is both a strength and a weakness on this show. It would be very Star Trek to show up, load up and move on but BSG takes the time to show that this is a lengthy and difficult operation. It is realistic but it also a little uninteresting. Sometimes we don't have to see how every nut and bolt works. Leaving Doral to fend for himself because they suspect that he is a Cylon is a big gamble - if he isn't that is another member of the ever dwindling human race that has been put out to pasture. In some ways it makes the decision too easy when it turns out that he is a Cylon. Although it does go to show how effectively they have infiltrated humanity unnoticed.
The Shallow Bit: There is no denying that Tricia Helfer looks smoking hot in that red dress. No wonder Baltar is so distracted.
Moment to Watch Out For: Boomer is a Cylon. What a bombshell to drop at the last minute and leave the audience hanging. What if this hadn't gone to series and had never been resolved?
Result: Deftly giving the audience a firm idea of the format of the series ahead, the second half of the miniseries isn't quite as strong as the first half but seen as a whole the three hour TV Movie is a spectacular accomplishment. Vivid, instantly flawed and captivating characters. A gripping scenario. Tough choices. A unique, stylish look. A sexy cast and even sexier production values. And oodles of threads, both character and plot, to build upon. My issue with the second half comes down to it being perhaps half an hour longer than it needed to be, with the scenes on the ammunitions depot too protracted and a little repetition as the same problems are discussed amongst the vast cast. That is more than made up for by the gripping character pairings; Roslin and Adama, Baltar and Six, Lee and Starbuck and the general sense of the series being pushed in a fresh and unknown direction. Heading into a series I wonder how serialised BSG is going to be and if there will be space for standalone episodes? It is such an arresting post apocalyptic scenario that I can't imagine the writers will want to stray too far from the main story that often. Will Baltar ever be discovered? Can Roslin cut it as President of the survivors? Are there any more Cylons amongst the fleet? Will Boomer ever be discovered? I have three times as many questions that I would like answered and the fact that this show has gotten me thinking so much already is a testament to how intelligent and engaging the writing is. If we had to suffer several abortive attempts to bring Battlestar Galactica back to television in order for it to return in this condition then I am pleased it took so long. I have a feeling this is going to be one hell of a ride: 8/10