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Watching the season two finale of Battlestar Galactica today, I couldn't help thinking of a scene from Angel's second season. It's the one in 'Epiphany' where Angel, full of guilt and remorse and not knowing what to do next, has a sit-down chat with Lorne in Caritas. "I don't know how to get back," says Angel, and Lorne replies, "Well, that's the thing--you don't. You go on to the new place. Wherever that is." Actually, what I was really thinking of was not that scene, but what David Hines said about it:
*Exactly* right.

Dramatic television characters are like chess pieces. If you want to continuously develop one's position, you have to keep moving him to new places. If you just shuffle him back and forth between the same two squares, he's not actually going anywhere ... and you're wasting turn after turn.
(As an aside, I miss David Hines. He regularly and then semi-regularly posted reviews of Buffy and Angel to Usenet from about mid-s2 of the former to mid-s3 of the latter, and is still one of the sharpest and most entertaining tv critics I've read--even when I think he's being completely crackers. His take on the first half of Angel's second season, for instance, is definitive, and he was good on Buffy when it was good and when it wasn't. Sadly I haven't seen him review anything for several years.)

Anyway, I think Hines is spot-on about character-shuffling as a trap that so many long-running tv shows fall into; one of the reasons I like Angel so much, despite its faults, is that it avoided that trap, more or less. But watching 'Lay Down Your Burdens', the observation came back to me, because Galactica's writers seem to have gone a bit too far in the opposite direction.

You can see why they did it. Minor highlights such as 'Scar' and 'Downloaded' aside, the show has been average-to-suck since the two-parter 'Home', way back in the autumn. (If you want detailed reasons why, see Abigail Nussbaum's blog, and also the comment by coffeeandink in this post about Ron Moore's worldbuilding.) There has been a sense that the writers have said what they wanted to say with Galactica as it was, or at least had lost the ability to say things effectively using the format they'd established. The solution they went for is an obvious and time-honoured one: reboot the format. That's not wasting their turns; that's burning through their stories as fast as possible, to come out the other side that much sooner.

And for the whole of 'Lay Down Your Burdens I' and the first half of 'Lay Down Your Burdens II', I had no problem with that. In fact, the first half of part two is a continuity-lover's dream--they pick up on just about every dangling plot thread and either tie it up with a neat bow or render it irrelevant. One of the things that's so fascinating about tv as a storytelling medium is how messy it is; while an author can go off and work in seclusion to produce a final, shaped story, a tv writer has to contend with umpteen real-world issues, from the popularity of the show to the availability of actors, and juggle them all as the story evolves. So I can be quite forgiving of episodes where the hand of the writer is a bit too clear (up to and including Angel's 'Inside Out'), as long as I can see what they're trying to do. In 'Lay Down Your Burdens II', I could see what Ron Moore was trying to do, and I was right there with him. The detonation of the nuke was a perfect ending: again, you could see it coming, but it was in service of clearing the air and setting up the new version of the show.

Unfortunately, the writers carried on beyond that ending. 'Lay Down Your Burdens' has the same problem as A.I.--that film should have ended with Halley Joel Osment under the ice, reaching out for eternity, and would have been a dozen times more powerful if it had, but there was that unwise far-future coda. It's as though when writing 'Home', Tim Minear had decided to tack on a cut-down version of the first two episodes of the following season as well. It's giving the audience too much. In a sense, it's a failure of trust. In their desire to re-energise the show's viewers, and make it clear that they were Moving On, rather than ending on an action that demonstrated their intent unambiguously, the Galactica writing team decided to tell us how things pan out One Year Later, when everyone has bad hair and a new plot.

hernewshoes makes an interesting point here about the relative strengths of prose and television when portraying lapses of time, and to an extent I agree with it, but in the case of Galactica's story I think the jump was a good idea. I think the whole shakeup is a good idea, in fact; as vonnie_k puts it, Moore has adamantium testicles for going through with it, but in principle there's nothing bad about bringing Galactica down to land. (Presumably it's for a while, rather than forever.) But the execution of it in this episode was horribly botched. I find that time passing off-screen can reinforce the sense of a tv show's internal reality, so what I would have liked them to do is end on that nuke blast and then pick up seven months later. That's long enough to start storytelling fresh, and leaves enough time between our re-entry into the story and the cylon detection of the blast to establish the new setting before upsetting its applecart.

Instead, they've given us what should have been half of season three in half an hour. Possibly the worst-served relationship is that between the Chief and Cally--I agree with coffeeandink when she says that the Chief's meltdown isn't in and of itself an impediment to a developing relationship, but as presented it looks like they skipped straight from grievous bodily harm to pregnancy, which is just unnerving. But everyone gets shortchanged, from Starbuck and Apollo to Baltar and Roslin--and how much more impact would the return of the cylons have had if we'd had six or eight episodes without them? Instead, the writers have burned through too much story; moved on to the new place, but not bothered to join the dots. As I said, I actually like the basic premise (the community-building has always been one of the aspects that most interests me about the show), so I'll be watching in the autumn. It won't be with too much hope, though, because the writers have just demonstrated that while they're aware they weren't doing too well with the old format, they're not entirely certain what they're doing with the new one, either.

David's been AFK for quite a while now, but recently returned to the fold-- his LJ is at hradzka.

(Just passing by on friendsfriends-- your journal layout is very pretty, btw. One of the nicest uses of this style I've seen.)
David's been AFK for quite a while now, but recently returned to the fold-- his LJ is at hradzka.

This right here is everything I love about livejournal in one go. :)

your journal layout is very pretty, btw.

Thanks--it's completely default, though, apart from the choice of colours.
Moore has adamantium testicles for going through with it

I can't actually agree with this. What they did, the way they did it, was not a show of strength or a triumph of nerve, it was an admission of weakness, a last-ditch attempt to save a show that clearly had little idea what it was doing or where it was going. Having balls would be to admit as much and quit before things get any worse..

Which is not to say that jumping forward in time or changing the format of the show are bad things per se, but the fact is that it just doesn't make any sense on it's own terms; there is no plausible way for the fleet and the characters to have reached the state we see it in a year later and the show doesn't even try to convince us that there is.

For example, last season Adama performed a coup d'etat against Roslin over an issue much less important than this. I can buy his stance over the election, just about, but I can't accept that he just stood by and let things get to that state. I also can't accept that he let his crew fall apart like that or that he didn't start building defences for the planet the moment they set foot on it. Etc. etc.

No doubt all this can and will be fanwanked away, but for me it just destroys any residual hope that the writers might have the slightest clue what they're doing. I'm not at all sure I'll be able to watch any more..
I know what you mean, but I don't think we saw enough of New Caprica. The detail is just not sufficient to criticise on the grounds of plausibility. There's a clear defensive fleet in place, but gradual entropy appears to have sapped its effectiveness - the specific decisions that let this happen could be many and complex, but I can see the general path from point A to point B.

As for the idea that the writers have a clue, I'm divided. It's clear that there's no grand plan; they're making it up as they go along, with all the freedom but also maddening inconsistency which that implies. On the other hand there's a clear vision of what the show is on a week-to-week level. The tone, the style, the visuals, the issues and themes are consistent. It's the storytelling that fails, both on an episodic level and on a longer-term level. That badly damages the believability.

However I would definitely stop well short of dropping the show. I'm still enjoying it. For every stupid misstep there's a moment of brilliance. If it were something like Andromeda it would be easy to abandon because there was nothing there to admire in the first place. Battlestar Galactica is better than that. It has more ambition in its opening credits than in the entirety of either Stargate show. What's frustrating is how often it fails to live up to its potential.
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((blink)) Oh, I got linkage! Hey!

That happens when you say interesting things. :)

I'd forgotten about that JMS quote but yeah, it absolutely applies. (See also: some of Tim Minear's reported comments here about not going back on canon.) Like you, I hadn't heard an inkling about BSG being shown to a wider network audience before that comment, but even with the reboot I wonder how accessible the show will be.
I'm just praying it's not all a dream in Baltar's head, personally...

Or rather, I was praying. Now I'm fairly convinced that this isn't the case, because reasonable rules of storyelling dictate that we would have had the big reveal this season. The real problem for me is that whenever a show jumps as much time as this episode, with as many ramifications for the status quo, I don't trust the reality. I suspect that at any second the rug will be pulled. By the time I realise that my footing is secure, it's too late for me to engage with what's happening. In this show it was even money which way they chose to go - of all TV SF this is the series to pull off something so audacious, but it could easily have been rationalised as a vision sent to Baltar by Six.

I broadly agree with you that the new direction is in fact a great idea, and a great "second pilot" premise, but that the execution was far too rushed. A real pilot episode would have taken a great deal more time to establish its new world and the character relationships, whereas this episode was forced to simply sketch them. even that would have been okay if they were going to build on that soon and add more depth, but they immediately pull another major reversal before the first has been given the opportunity to settle in. Ultimately we're left with more plot progression than the last six months put together, but without any of the impact that it would have had as a prolonged story arc.

Putting the execution to one side I do think the new direction is a promising one. I agree that they've floundered in the second half of this season, and it's wise to break from that. The patchy quality has been all the more frustrating because the show hasn't been a million miles away from where it should be. For all that some of the plots-of-the-week have been superficial and hackneyed, that was true in season 1 as well. What we had in S1 was a better ratio of great to mediocre episodes, and significantly a much more cohesive feel. The show works when it feels internally consistent and planned. If recent episodes had bothered to set storylines in motion and then keep them ticking over on a week by week basis, I could have forgiven a great deal else. Instead the feeling is of a production team under too much time pressure to make the show hang together.

That's a real shame, because even with all its faults it's still the best SF show on TV by a long margin.
Good points all ... but after missing most of S2, but catching the season finale, it's a little hard for me to make any meaningful comment.
I'm still sorting out my thoughts about the episode (and trying to decide if I'm going to write a summary piece about the winter season), but I had less trouble than you did with the giant leap forward. I definitely see what you're saying about the A.I. endings - I kept expecting the episode to end and it just kept going - but I'm actually rather pleased with the massive advance. I'm not particularly interested in seeing Kara and Anders' wedding, or Cally and the Chief getting together, or Helo's promotion, and I don't think I'd like six or eight episodes without the Cylons, especially considering that the show is always at its worst when it tries to deal intelligently with civilian life. If (and this is a very big if, given the way that the writers have been treating the characters' relationships) the writers take off from this new starting point with believable and continuous relationships and character arcs, then I see no problem with skipping over the last year. If, on the other hand, they continue to hop and skip as they did for most of the winter season, we're going to have a problem - but one that is largely unrelated to the decision to move forward a year.
It's the "bittiness" of the show which makes it seem worse than it actually is, in my opinion. Instead of smooth and steady pacing in the vein of a soap or a serialised arc, the story lurches suddenly forwards then stalls for several weeks. Issues and characters are dropped entirely for long stretches and then suddenly come back to prominence without warning. Major events happen between episodes, and the episodes themselves are less interesting than the time we skipped over.

The most obvious example is Kara's obsession with Anders, which leaps out of nowhere months after the event simply because it becomes relevant. There are many more minor examples though. Take Lee's promotion - instead of building him up gradually through the ranks over a number of weeks he's promoted at the start of an episode, gets his first taste of command, and is promoted again by the end of the same episode. Then we see almost nothing of his reaction to this, his struggles and failures, or of the obvious backlash that would attach to Adama promoting his own son above Pegasus crew. This is good, interesting stuff, but instead we get Lee aimlessly floating about in crisis-of-the-week stories, a sudden promotion, then nothing.

Perhaps related to this is the fact that most of the episodes seem to come in over-length and be chopped down. We're seeing deleted scenes as part of the previouslies (something I've only ever seen once before, in Farscape) and on the website. Gina apparently had a sub-plot in Downloaded to keep her in play, which was cut for time, and that's the issue. Whereas the writers may know that Gina is still part of the story and that they really meant to tell us this, honest, the audience doesn't. It's as if instead of juggling many balls at once, the show's creators keep putting some balls down and picking others up. (Yes, it's all a load of balls in other words...)
I recently followed a link to the blog of Javier Grillo-Marxuach, a writer on Lost, who comments on the BSG finale here (http://chaodai.livejournal.com/45517.html).

Yeah, I just stumbled across that as well. He's right about how important it is for stories to feel inevitable (see also one of Abigail's posts). You could characterise my problems with the finale as being due to the fact that everything up to the nuke felt inevitable, and everything after it felt slapdash.

(Sorry about the lack of html recognition for your comment; lj does it as an anti-spam measure, and I don't think there's any way for me to switch it on.)
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Just dropping in to say thanks for the kind words.

(Not watching BSG, and avoiding spoilers until I catch up, so can't comment there.)
You're welcome.

I debated whether or not to ask this, and I realise you're busy so it's a long shot, but: I happen to be reviews editor for an online magazine called Strange Horizons. I'd love to commission something by you. Could be comics, film, tv, whatever, although the first thought that came to mind was a group review of the Hugo shortlist for Best Dramatic Presentation: Short Form, when that's announced in a few weeks. Pay's not great, but let me know if you'd be interested. (My @livejournal address works.)