In Praise of Season 3
This is supposed to be a movie blog, but nothing's really happening in the film world, and this is too big to pass up.
It may not have the best line of dialogue -- Starbuck's "Bitch took my ride" from Season Two's "Scattered" -- or the best episode -- still for my money Season One's "33" -- but Season Three of Battlestar Galactica still holds up as the best of the show's four seasons. It gives us an entirely new perspective on the universe we have been watching for two seasons. It opens with one of the series best plot arcs, and it concludes with a pair of revelations that put major parts of the series in a whole new perspective. In between these we finally get to see how the other half lives. This was a season to expand the universe we knew, and at the same time it gave us some of the show's most memorable moments.
Admittedly, Season Three has two definite clunkers -- "Hero" and "The Woman King" -- but even those have something to offer the series. "Hero" reminds us of some of Admiral Adama's worst moments, foreshadowing Lee's impassioned speech in defense of Gaius Baltar in the season finale "Crossroads: Part 2". "The Woman King" reminds us that these people come from twelve separate planets and that these people still discriminate. Throughout the series, we have been given brief glimpses into the sort of people from each planet -- people from Geminon are more inherently religious, people from Saggitaron refuse normal medication. "The Woman King" reminds us that the world outside of the major characters features the same sort of discrimination that still exists in our own world. This theme is revisited in "Dirty Hands," when Baltar reveals that he changed his accent to hide the fact that he was from Aerelon. There has always been overt hostility to the Cylons, as best represented by the mutiny arc of Season Two, but the discrimination between people from different colonies is rarely represented. This part of the fleet could only emerge in Season Three.
Season Three also seems to know what to do with Baltar better than any other season. Baltar began the series as a womanizing self-centered bastard, something which essentially continued until he was elected President at the end of the fleet. The first half of Season Three sees him as a prisoner of the Cylons, while the second half keeps him as a prisoner, but this time of Humans. The first half of the season allows Baltar to serve as a filter, allowing the audience access to the Cylons and their way of life. Baltar is not a character who does anything but observe. During the second half of the season, Baltar's storyline returns its focus to the all-important Baltar. As a prisoner, Baltar begins to get sympathy from various people in the fleet. He begins to become some sort of combination of Karl Marx and Adolf Hitler (or Martin Luther King Jr, if you want your prison writings in a less controversial style). He begins to change. It's almost as if all the bizarre and terrible things forced upon him over the course of Season Three forced him to better himself. Of course, this all comes crashing down in Season Four, but we can still dream in Season Three.
Season Three is the season that fills out the characters that we thought we knew so well. Some characters, like Karl "Helo" Agathon, will never change, and some, like Caprica Six, change so far in the background that we don't notice until their arc is almost through. Caprica Six, in particular, seems to have little purpose recently except to show how much Baltar hasn't grown. However, the major characters of a television series traditionally go through changes, especially on a show about the end of humanity. Episodes like "Unfinished Business" give us a way of actually seeing important moments that create these changes. The will-they-or-won't-they romance between Lee Adama and Kara Thrace was finally consummated in a flashback. In a later flashback, Kara has married Samuel Anders, giving us an actual reason to care that he is a Cylon (what kind of relationship happens between a secret Cylon and a woman who just came back from the dead?) as well as giving us a deep look into the character of Kara Thrace. These sorts of major character moments appear throughout the show, but in Season Three, these moments come to the forefront, giving the feeling of a much expanded universe.
The New Caprica arc is often cited as the series at its best; it features the unparalleled special effects work of "Exodus: Part 2", and it allows the viewer to draw easy comparisons with modern day issues. It was the show at its most relevant, before it burrowed back into its own mythology. Battlestar Galactica has always been more than a simple sci-fi show. The miniseries features a monologue by Admiral Adama questioning whether or not the human race deserves to go on living. Of course, this is quickly put to the test, and the show continues probing difficult philosophical and practical questions. The arrival of the Battlestar Pegasus in Season Two provides a stark contrast with Galactica's humanitarian view of the universe; Pegasus stripped civilian ships of their usable parts so that Pegasus was better equipped to fight the Cylons. Season Three gave the most prevalent relevance to modern society, but it also featured the end to the relevance.
Season Three of Battlestar Galactica presented the biggest step forward in the overarching plot up to that point. The discovery of New Caprica led to an interesting arc, but it ended at the same place it started. The revelation of four previously unknown Cylons placed things in a different light. The beginning of Season Two featured Colonel Tigh taking over the fleet, which looks very weird with the knowledge that he is a Cylon. The vast majority of the show consisted of events that never had a permanent effect on the fleet. Pegasus came and was destroyed in "Exodus: Part 2". Helo was abandoned on Caprica until someone came to rescue him. Chief Tyrol got married and had a kid, but then his wife died and it turned out the kid wasn't his. Nothing became permanent until the revelation of the Final Four Cylons. This is the sort of change that came about in Season Three. Before Season Three, this was a show without a direction; things would happen, but this was a show that could go on for years. In Season Three, it became a show with drive and a direction.
Labels: Battlestar Galactica