Monday, July 21, 2014

Battlestar Galactica 1.23: “Take the Celestra”

Airdate: 4/1/79

At an awards ceremony for Kronus, the commander of a fleet spacecraft called the Celestra, Starbuck recognizes an old flame – Aurora, a beautiful Celestea crew member who now appears to be part of a mutiny. It seems she and a few others are a bit resentful of Kronus’s overly authoritarian ways. Starbuck turns her and her cohorts in, escorting them on a shuttle along with Kronus (who needs to be there for their hearing), but now the empty ship is a prime target for another disgruntled crew member, Charka. This dude has far more treasonous motives in mind, and now Starbuck, Apollo and Kronus need to get aboard the hijacked ship and take out the garbage. With help from Aurora’s gang (in exchamge for a fair trial), they seize the ship and overcome its captors, but not before Kronus is mortally wounded – and now his awards ceremony is succeeded by his funeral.

Meh episode really phones everything in – even the Starbuck/Aurora plotline is awfully soapy (though she sure looks good). Kronus is a hard-nosed Phillip Baker-Hall type character that has the potential for furnishing of a Caine Mutiny updating, but that goes pretty much nowhere once the good mutineers are captured and the bad are on the Celestra most of the time. Overall pretty lifeliess, so much so that it’s hard to write any more.

Rating:  **

Friday, July 18, 2014

Battlestar Galactica 1.22: “Experiment In Terra”

Airdate: 3/18/79

Apollo gets abducted by the shiny bright spacecraft from the “War of the Gods”episode; his presence there is explained by a old man in white – he needs the young pilot to go to Terra under an assumed name (and body), where he can lend some invaluable assistance to a rebel faction fighting oppression by the Eastern Alliance. His ID: Charlie Watts (Rolling Stones fan on the writing staff?), a man whose checkered past includes a troubled relationship with a girl named Brenda. Of course Brenda shows up, and Apollo is understandably confused by her ire. But getting back to business, he discovers, after an imprisonment by Terra’s government, that the planet’s president is a corrupt bureaucrat trying to stifle the voices warning of an EE assault. With Starbuck’s assistance, he gets the Galactica to shoot down all the nuclear missiles fired by both warring sides, prompting the EE to consider negotiations.

Interesting, moderately successful drama is a hodgepodge of different ideas. Apollo’s story on Terra is a pretty direct copy of Heaven Ca Wait, a huge hit movie from the previous year – producer Donald Belisario would later use the different-body inhabitation concept for his 80s’ series Quantum Leap. And the notion of an unwinnable nuclear war was of course the salient conundrum of the Cold War, but give the show major props for forecasting the Reagan-era Star-Wars technology as the Galactica manages to (improbably) shoot down all the missiles fired between Terra and the EE. All in all it does hold one’s attention, and I give it an extra half-star for the performance of Melody (Flash Gordon) Anderson. Gotta love her.

Rating:  ***

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Battlestar Galactica 1.21: “Baltar’s Escape”

Airdate: 3/11/79

The Council, overruling Adama’s admonitions, decides to offer the olive branch to the Eastern Alliance prisoners (from the previous episode), and propose a peace treaty. In fact, they strip Adama of his command by removing the state of emergency; not good when Baltar uses the opportunity to hijack the prison shuttle, taking the EE Commandants and the Nomen (from episode 1.17) with him, along with shuttle pilots Boomer and Sheba as hostages. It quickly turns into a game of strategy and brinksmanship, culminating in Apollo’s successful plan of thwarting Baltar’s escape using defective Cylons, and making sure all prisoners are back, or will be back, in the brig where they belong.

All the baddies from the series thus far are here except the Cylons (only two are featured, and they’re incapacitated). Guess what? I hardly missed them – just going to show that the producers are finally realizing, as I did from the very beginning, that a bunch of chrome plated robots doth not a villain make. Too bad – had they figured this out from the get go we might have had Season 2. In fact, the most frightening do-badders here are probably the Nomen: their brutish faces are perfectly matched by tough-as-nails demeanor. In some scenes, they hardly have any dialogue, making them all the more nefarious.

And there appear to be some hawkish sub-themes going on. The “council” blindly welcomes peace negotiations with enemies clearly thirsting for blood, with Adama and the Galactica crew the only ones realizing it. Of course, the council’s appeasement policy backfires, guns start blazing pretty soon. Hard to believe Vietnam-weary audiences were on board with this. Well, we were only a year away from Reagan.

Rating:  **1/2

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Battlestar Galactica 1.19 and 1.20: “Greetings From Earth”

Airdate: 2/25/79

A drifting spacecraft is brought aboard the Galactica, where Apollo and the others discover its occupants to be a family of humans asleep in suspended animation. Suspecting that their ship may be programmed in a course toward Earth, Adama considers waking them, but the doctor warns that such an action could kill such life forms unused to a different environment. All agree to let sleeping humans lie, but the impatient council decides to risk their lives by opening their tubes. All this bickering is for naught; the male human, Michael, wakes up by himself, and when he approaches some nasty Galactica security officers, he is greeted with hostility. Apollo, outraged at the treatment and curious as to the visitors’ planned destination, arranges a “military action” whereby he, Starbuck and Cassiopeia escort Michael and the others toward their planned course of action – to the chagrin of the war mongers ready for a fight.

They follow the humans to their home planet, Paradeem; Apollo is more than a bit perturbed that Michael has destroyed their homing beacon, and sort of wonders why. All is answered when it is revealed that these humans are actually from the planet Terra, and are at war with an oppressive empire known as the Eastern Alliance, which had destroyed most of Paradeem. An EE commandant is hot on the trail of our heroes, and they have a face-off amid the ruins of an abandoned city. Michael’s companion, Sarah, is held hostage (she, incidentally, is not Michael’s wife, and in fact hates anyone having to do with the “science” that killed her dad; she sort of has the hots for Apollo, but of course it’s unrequited), but that doesn’t deter our Galactican heroes from TCBing, and bringing those Alliance guys to justice.

Double-length episode need only be single, as the first half of this bloated story is just the bickering back and forth on whether or not to remove the humans from hibernation, and then what to do with them after they awaken. Second half isn’t much better: the “Eastern Alliance” is just a group of black-clad, German-accented overactors that are clearly supposed to be Nazis (even their name suggests it), and there’s some political allegory toward the end that makes subtle references to the Eastern-bloc Communism.

If I only had a brain...
Quite frankly, there’s only one real reason to see this – wait, make that two. It’s two wisecracking androids that caretake Michael’s home – Hector and Vector, played by Ray Bolger and Bobby Van, respectively, As you can well imagine, they play the robots as if they were a vaudevillian act, and they do it well, too. It’s clearly a nod (or rip-off, depending) to R2-D2 and C-3PO from Star Wars, but here it’s just crazy to see old-time movie stars doing their shtick in a sci-fi series. Maybe surreal is a better word. Well, kids, that’s what the 70s were all about.

And speaking of, this episode got a bit of a ratings boost when it first aired. ABC put it on an hour earlier, at 7:00 PM (Sunday night prime time started an hour earlier; and ABC’s slot, with no Disney or 60 Minutes, was pretty much empty realty). But immediately following, at 9, was the conclusion (part 7) of Roots: The Next Generations, and leading in to this was a Neilson gold mine. But the series was already cancelled by this time.

Rating:  **1/2

Friday, July 11, 2014

Battlestar Galactica 1.18: “Murder on the Rising Star”

Airdate: 2/18/79

Starbuck gets into a squabble with a Triad opponent named Ortega, but when the latter is found dead the chief suspect is, of course, Starbuck. The “opposer” (prosecutor) urges the accused to plead self-defense to get a lighter sentence, but Starbuck refuses to accept any guilt for something he didn’t do. Apollo, acting as his defense, must do some quick research to get his friend off the hook, and that involves getting the skinny on potential Ortega-hating murderers. One of them is a dude named Karibdis, and vis a vis a casino dealer he learns that the man had bribed officers to get off the ill-fated planet of Caprica (which the Cylons destroyed), and has reason to be the murderer of Ortega, who’s blackmailing Karibdis with the knowledge of his true identity. Apollo lures him into a trap, involving the nefarious but integral Baltar, and gets him to confess everything over a radio transmission that Starbuck’s tribunal can hear – and use to exonerate the damned-lucky lieutenant.

The Wrong Man gets updated, and Galactica continues its winning streak with another suspenseful variation on a classic plotline (even though you'll easily realize who the real killer is as soon as you see him). Script is artfully designed to build everything up last minute to its relief-inducing climax, and even former baddie Baltar gets something else to do besides sit in the brig twiddling his thumbs. We’re finally free (it seems) of those endless, and boring, dogfights with the Cylons, and for that matter, the Cylons themselves, who I always thought were pretty weak villains.

Triad has definitely got to be the gayest game invented – say I’m wrong after you see that dance the men do before the ball gets lobbed into play. For that matter, does anyone else notice how strikingly similar this is to Rollerball? Somebody copied.

Rating:  ***

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