An Analysis of Season 2.5 of Battlestar Galactica
Written on 2006-11-05
BSG began with quite a high and retained it clear up until season 2's midseason finale. The miniseries was spectacular and received immense amounts of critical acclaim, as did season one, and most of season 2. But following the Pegasus trilogy, there was a marked decline in quality of the writing in the back end of season 2, or the so called "season 2.5."
The Pegasus trilogy was, of course, absolutely fantastic. But even with the following episode, Epiphanies, issues with the writing began to crop up. While Epiphanies was a beautifully acted and directed episode that was emotionally moving, many fans rightly complained of the deus ex machina that was curing Roslin's cancer so quickly and so completely. The episode effectively dodged the issue of Roslin's cancer and apparently contradicted the idea that Roslin was the "dying leader" that would lead humanity to their salvation. After all that buildup, Epiphanies seemed to signify an anticlimactic end to the comings true of the Pythian prophecy. RDM maintained that these issues would be revisited later, but as a reviewer I cannot grade a season worth of material based on promises of what may or may not come later. Epiphanies was an episode with a great deal of potential whose ending was anticlimactic in a way uncharacteristic with the style of BSG.
Directly after Epiphanies was perhaps the biggest dropped ball of the entire show so far, Black Market. Just about nobody liked Black Market, not even RDM. While I think some of the criticism shot at the episode is unfair, ultimately RDM was right when he said that the episode failed to make the point he was trying to make with it. It comes across as a jumbled mess of plot and introspection centered around Apollo instead of what I would see as the well defined counterpart to this sort of narrative that was the episode Bastille Day. Bastille Day said something profound about Apollo. Black Market was just confusing and far too conventional.
The following episode, Scar, was one of the back end of season 2's better offerings, but as I complained about in my review, the directing of the episode was quite jarring. There was far too much flashback storytelling in Scar which somewhat ruins the experience of watching such a great episode. Following that is the next biggest dropped ball of the series, Sacrifice. An episode written solely to get rid of the character Billy, featuring no worthwhile plot other than his death and the accidental shooting of Apollo by Starbuck. The episode is among my least favorite to rewatch, as it's fairly boring. Hostage plots have been done to death. Again, this was better done in Bastille Day.
The Captain's Hand does much to make up for the relatively lackluster showing of the prior four episodes, so I don't have much to say about that. However, following that is Downloaded which is an extremely fun but somewhat carelessly written episode, as it complicates an already brewing technical problem concerning the Six in Baltar's head. Finally, the season finale is unusual in that it fails to be an epic narrative, capturing the running plot threads in a tightly woven, captivating way. It compares quite unfavorably to Pegasus (which served as a midseason finale) and Kobol's Last Gleaming. It even compares unfavorably to the miniseries. All three productions had marvelous cliffhangers making you want to see more, to see what happens next. The finale of season two, however, does not have you asking what will happen next. You know exactly what will happen next. The question left in your mind is "why did all of this happen?" You should never leave your audience with that question.
So season 2.5 was a disappointment. Still quite good compared to the ridiculousness of Stargate or Doctor Who which served as BSG's only direct competition on TV, but when compared to prior incredible BSG, it falls short.
What should have been done?
I preface this hypothetical scenario by acknowledging that 1. it is too late now and 2. it probably wouldn't have been possible anyway for pesky logistical reasons, but here goes. Pegasus and Resurrection Ship parts 1 and 2 were among the finest three episodes BSG has ever done because of what Admiral Cain brought to the table. She added a gritty dynamic to the show that I just adored, and I even more fell in love with her character just after the battle of the Resurrection Ship because she demonstrated that she's not really a monster by being unable to murder Commander Adama.
Bear with me a moment and take a minute to imagine a season 2.5 in which Gina (the abused Six) does not kill Admiral Cain, but merely escapes the Pegasus. In the episodes following, Cain meets with Roslin as planned and eventually Helo and Tyrol are freed. Then, Roslin dies. Yes folks, it's hard to hear, but Roslin should have died. I hate saying it, because she's among my favorite characters on the show and I think Mary McDonnel is a marvelous actress, but BSG is a progressive show and Roslin is a stagnant character by the end of season 2. She has to die or change in a significant way for the show to make progress. She hasn't been relevant since Epiphanies completely mishandled her cancer.
Roslin's death would leave Baltar as president. The show for a few episodes could concentrate on the drama that ensues as Adama despises Baltar as president and Cain adores him. Imagine a stretch of episodes where suddenly Admiral Cain is the main character of the show instead of Adama, much like how during the sixth season of Star Trek DS9, the key figures of the Dominion usurped the Federation characters as the main characters of the show during the occupation of the station. Cain, with her ambiguous moral center, would continue to exert a destabilizing influence on the fleet, though less so as the season went on. Episodes like Scar, and Downloaded could of course still happen, with episodes like Black Market and Sacrifice being replaced by better ones. Epiphanies would be essentially the same, except with more Admiral Cain drama with Roslin, ending with Roslin's death. The Captain's Hand would of course not happen, but could be replaced by something else.
The finale would have to be reworked somewhat, as far too much happens in it. I would keep the mission to Caprica, but they would not return from it until season 3. I would keep the election campaign, though of course Baltar would have to be reelected instead of elected for the first time. I'd also keep the discovery of New Caprica, but instead of showing the result of the election, the settling of New Caprica, and the one year later, I'd simply have the final scene depict Gina suicide bombing the Pegasus CIC, killing at least herself, Cain, and Fisk. This would also mitigate the need to show an extended season finale, making the episode less verbose, more concise, like Kobol's Last Gleaming. The dramatic death of the officers aboard the Pegasus merged with scenes of Starbuck's glee upon finding Anders alive would deliberately and disturbingly parallel the ending of Kobol's Last Gleaming, which depicted Adama being shot while Baltar and Six share a moment of profundity. In Adama's place is Cain, and in Baltar's and Six's place are Starbuck and Anders.
The first episode of season 3 could instead focus on the direct fallout of the finale, like Scattered did with Kobol's Last Gleaming, as there will have been many dangling plot threads left over deliberately. The mission from Caprica would return successfully, Baltar would win the election, and he would order New Caprica settled. Baltar would promote Adama to admiral, an honor Adama would accept with some major mixed feelings given his distaste for Baltar as president. Adama would then promote Apollo to command the Pegasus, and the fallout of that promotion would be explored in greater detail than the nonexistent detail we got in the actual episodes. The settling of New Caprica would be shown, then we'd see the D'Anna Cylon (you know, the one the writers forgot was still in the fleet?) model sending a covert radio signal attempting to contact the Cylons, to alert them to the fleet's location. Time would jump one year later, as it would take that long for the Cylons to stumble across a radio signal traveling at the speed of light, and the Cylons would find New Caprica with exactly the same method at exactly the same time as in the actual episode Lay Down Your Burdens Part 2, except without the apparent complete incompetence on the part of the Colonials. We'd then get almost exactly the "one year later" scenes we saw in the actual Lay Down Your Burdens Part 2 episode, then the episode would end simply with Baltar's line "I surrender." The Centurion march and Starbuck's "fight'em until we can't" line are not necessary. There's something chilling about ending with Baltar simply saying "I surrender." The second episode of season 3 would then be Occupation, the third Precipice, and so on.
Why didn't it go down this way?
I suspect actors played a big role. I doubt Edward James Olmos (Adama) would much like taking a backseat to Cain as the main character for half a season. I also doubt very much that Michelle Forbes (Cain) wanted to commit to a semi permanent role on the show anyway, given her history of rejecting lead roles in television shows. As I said, I acknowledge that it's too late now, and I also acknowledge that even if this is exactly what RDM wanted to do with the second half of season 2, it may not have been logistically possible. However, season 2.5 did not turn out quite well. And I do all this navel gazing to serve as a reminder that while BSG is a damn good show, it is not perfect. There is still room for improvement, and I would certainly hope that the BSG powers that be have learned a lesson from how the back end of season 2 went down. So say we all.