TV EYE: Battlestar Galactica, Being Human

More televisual talk – and this time I’m not happy. Fear the spoilers…

A really weird thing has happenned in Battlestar Galactica – and it’s possibly the first example I can think of where a series that is largely arc-driven, and giving every appearence of telling a big, consistent story, has instead stuck its fingers in its ears and gone “La la la” and pretended a certain gigantic chunk of plot in the first couple of seasons simply never happenned. S4 E17 (or E19, if you’re going by the official codings), ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’ was definitely the one point where it became completely impossible to ignore the fact that the Galactica writing team has turned the story of Boomer – the original version of Sharon Valeri from the miniseries – into a complete cluster-fuck. Last week’s episode essentially revolved around Boomer essentially playing a long con in order to steal back Cylon hybrid child Hera from Galactica, and proving what an evil, duplicitous Cylon minx she truly is. Yes, all very shocking, all very ‘dark’ – but has nobody on the writing team actually watched S1 recently? ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’ essentially states that what was said about Boomer all along – that she was an evil manipulative bitch just waiting for the appropriate moment to unload two rounds into Adama’s chest – has now become established fact, when anyone who watched S1 knows that Boomer was actually a sympathetic and tragic character. She didn’t actually know she was a Cylon sleeper agent until it was too late, and that’s what made the fact that everybody thought she was an evil schemer even more disturbing. Right up until the beginning of S3, this was the case (even in the Cylon-centric ‘Downloaded’, which certainly doesn’t hint in any way that Boomer is soon to go “Hey – why don’t we do a Nazi-style occupation of the humans’ new colony? That’s bound to make them love us!”)– only after that, things started to get odd, with the writers doing things with her that didn’t make sense, and essentially boiling it down to Athena=Good! Boomer=Bad! I did, for a little while, suspect that ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’ was finally going to go some way towards redeeming Boomer, as if the writers had actually realised the cock-up they’d made and were at least trying to retro-fit something that made sense. But, of course, it all turned out to be a con, and Laura Roslin (doing yet another one of her hard-nosed and incredibly unsympathetic moments) was proved to be absolutely right about Boomer. And I just don’t understand how any of this happenned – because there’s no progression there. There’s no logic. There’s no character journey that makes a lick of sense for Boomer, and it only makes sense if you essentially pretend that her sections of the first 17 episodes of the show never actually happenned.

I’ve never seen a show do this to this kind of extent, and it’s a bizarre kind of disrespect for the audience – as well as being proof that Galactica’s ‘let’s have it all about the characters’ ethos doesn’t always seem to work unless the characters are bent to fit. There’s certainly something downright adolescent about the decision to show Boomer having sex with Helo while Athena is tied-up in a nearby toilet – there’s no actual reason for her to do that, she could have put Helo off easily, it’s simply there to go “Look at us, we’re being DARK!!!’ and make it absolutely clear that Boomer is really, really, really evil. It’s shallow writing, lazy pulp cliches of the worst kind – the cliched sexy manipulator who plays emotional games to get what she wants, boiling it down to a simplistic good vs bad, and giving us a version of Boomer that is betraying her friends – lest we forget – so she can run off and have more sex with Dean Stockwell? If they can’t be bothered to make the characterisation of someone who was, let’s face it, a pretty integral part of the show’s opening leg believable and empathetic, why exactly should we be thinking that Galactica is the ‘best show on TV’ it frequently gets described as? Well, the simple answer to that is that it isn’t. Galactica S4 has had its impressive moments, but the final run of episodes is currently running at 3 largely outstanding episodes vs 4 overwritten, downbeat and frankly rather dull outings. And the revelation that Kara’s dad may have been a Jimi Hendrix fan? Colour me unimpressed. While the oncoming destruction of Galactica and the series finale will hopefully feature enough to entertain me (and hell, I’ve stuck with the show this long), the jumble of storytelling has just got a little tangled, and I’m not sure I want to be a fan of a show that doesn’t credit me with the intelligence to go back to my S1 box set and go “Hmmm… Boomer’s characterisation doesn’t quite add up, does it?” Galactica had some awesome moments, but it’s been a very long way from consistent, and – at least, since the halfway point of S2 – a very long way from being classic.

Elsewhere, I’ve also ended up with egg on my face thanks to my declaration of actually quite enjoying Being Human after episode 1, followed by a quality nosedive (briefly arrested in episode 3) that left me watching the show thinking “Maybe it’ll get better, maybe it’ll… or maybe it won’t.” Let’s be clear – Being Human has not in any way been Torchwood levels of bad, but it has been monstrously inconsistent, to the extent that it’ll deliver a classy line and then an absolute clunker within thirty seconds of each other. And while I’ve had words here about the logic problems inherent in the vampre setup, I wouldn’t really give two hoots about plot holes if the whole thing hung together or if the dialogue was better, but it’s been a torrent of angst combined with some truly, truly dreadful dialogue. Charming leads only get you so far – and anyhow, Russel Tovey’s geeky werewolf schtick was absolutely wearing out its welcome by the end of the season – and we ended up with storytelling that was either boringly predictable (Hmm, is it possible George is going to lie to Herrick about the location for the smackdown?) or out-of-nowhere, what-the-hell-just-happenned barmy (such as Annie’s abrupt and perplexing raid on the Vampire Undertakers, sending Vamps flying unconvincingly on Kirby Wires and bearing a worrying resemblence to Bonnie Tyler in the video of Eighties trash classic ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’. And don’t even get me started on the Country Bumpkin Vampire Queen…). And then we got the ‘dramatic climax’, featuring one of the most boringly protracted werewolf transformation scenes I’ve ever seen in my life (I never thought Russel Tovey was going to stop screaming), and a ‘powerful showdown’ that essentially boils down to all the characters locked in a room and monologuing at each other. Combine that with a abysmally flat end-of-season cliffhanger, and you’ve got a show that was, at least for me, largely a disappointment, falling prey to bad writing decisions and poor execution. Result? Critical acclaim, lots of people on Facebook declaring it ‘the best show of 2009’, and a commission for a second season. And who says irony is dead?

2 thoughts on “TV EYE: Battlestar Galactica, Being Human

  1. Far be it from me to defend Battlestar Galactica, but I do think Boomer’s characterization was intended to be a little more subtle than your reading. I think what we’re meant to see is that Boomer feels robbed. She had a life, friends, a lover, and then they all (including her own body and volition) turned on her and she lost everything. Now she has nothing and no one but Cavil, which would turn anyone bitter and vindictive.
    The problem, of course, is that hardly any of this is built up in the show. As you say, we don’t know how Boomer goes from ‘maybe destroying humanity was wrong?’ at the end of “Downloaded” to ‘occupation! yay!’ in the second season finale, and following the escape from New Caprica all we see are her actions – nearly killing Hera when she’s in her care, siding with Cavil, betraying her model and the other rebels, kidnapping Hera – but not the emotions that built up to them, and seeing as she disappears for half seasons at a time her resulting character development is nothing of the sort. We basically have to fill in everything I’ve written above.
    I actually didn’t end up hating Boomer at the end of last week’s episode because for once I felt that I could understand the reasons – the envy and bitterness – that lead to her actions (and this week’s episode was obviously calculated to make us pity as much as hate her). So I don’t think the writers are trying to make us think that Boomer is evil, but as usual they’ve done a poor enough job with her that this isn’t an unreasonable reaction.

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    • (I just spent half an hour writing a very lengthy reply to this, only for the damn thing to vanish thanks to a page error. Curses!)
      The short answer is that there’s a healthy dose of overreaction in the above post, I will admit. I will also admit that they are trying to do something logical and character-based with Boomer (there were various sequences lost from Season 3 which supposedly added some details there), but it’s very rarely coming across, and what is there can easily be interpreted as ‘Gosh, isn’t she evil?’ This week’s episode did, thankfully, balance that out a bit, but too much of Boomer’s storyline has been happening offscreen. I think they’ve been very bad all the way through the series with losing chunks of story and mishandling aspects of the main arc. Can’t believe we’ve gotten to the two-part finale and there’s hardly any real dramatic energy left in the show.
      I read and completely agree with your piece on the mutiny episodes, by the way – and I can’t help feeling the mutiny aftermath has been heavily played down and all but ignored (especially with the ‘blending’ of the human/cylon crews basically happening anyway). And yes, the show only seems to completely work now when people are shooting at each other.

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