Some cynical individual, at some time, blurted out that "there's always room for improvement" about an accomplishment or achievement that was fine in its own right. In the spectrum of film and television, it's true that all material can be tightened, focused, and made even more compelling with practice; but oftentimes creative teams fall back into comfort zones and neglect to spit-shine where improvement is needed. Ronald Moore and David Eick, the creators of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica series, understand this concept. They accomplished something intriguing, thrilling, and dramatically magnetic with their initial 2003 miniseries and, later, a full subsequent season that grappled the structure of the three-hour introduction -- characters, mythos, and stunning production merits through striking photography and convincing computer effects -- and ran with it. However, there's always room for improvement, and Battlestar Galactica's second season finds a deeper focus and more thrill-inducing pace that fully ratchets the series into the stratosphere of superb science-fiction creations.
The first season constructs a "reboot" of the highest accord, taking the original content from the 1978 television series and shaping it into an edgy and modern production in the vein of "West Wing ... in space". Grecian mythology, military-heavy hierarchal bickering, and the relationships between people on the space ship Galactica -- both tender and volatile -- are all sparked into action when the Cylons, humanity's slave-like machines evolved into enlightened yet vengeful beings, attack their creators after 40 years of recoiled hibernation. These attacks, which left around 50,000 humans alive, wiped out sixteen of the individuals in-line for the presidency over the "colonies", which left Secretary of Education Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell, Dances With Wolves) as the next in line. Somehow, this all gyrates around the weasel-like scheming of Dr. Gaius Baltar (James Callis, Bridget Jones' Diary), who inadvertently fell for the whims of a blonde-haired Cylon (Tricia Helfer) and revealed humanity's defense secrets -- and, now, follows orders from the sultry "machine" in the confines of his own mind, with her as little more than an illusion reminding him of his "importance" as one of God's pawns. Monotheistic God, not polytheistic, but that'll become important later on.
After its thrilling two-part miniseries and a handful of tense cat-and-mouse episodes at the start, the first season (which should be viewed before continuing this review, as the context here relies on the fact that you've seen the first season) coasts along a stream of dynamic back-and-forths between Galactica's Commander Bill Adama (Edward James Olmos, Blade Runner) and President Roslin -- leading to a point where Adama is stretched out on the ship's command center deck, bleeding from gunshot wounds incurred by an assassination attempt. Season Two picks up directly after the shooting, showing how the military hierarchy moves its pieces around Adama's incapacitation. His XO (second in command) Saul Tigh (Michael Hogan) wrestles with his alcohol addiction as he tries to juggle an unwanted leadership position, shrug off his wife Ellen's (Kate Vernon) passenger-seat manipulation of the Galactica's workings, and make the colonies understand why President Roslin has been arrested for subordination. On top of that, we're also watching the way Adama's ailment affects his son, Captain Lee Adama (Jamie Bamber), as his allegiance to the Colonial fleet sways between loyalty to his father and his belief in what the theologically-focused President Roslin is trying to accomplish.
But, as Battlestar Galactica veterans know, that core quarrel really only scoops up the top layer of the conflicts that lie underneath the Colonial fleet's hunt for a safe, habitable planet -- whether it be the fabled planet Earth, the newly-discovered planet of Kobol, or beyond. Season Two also finds a deeper focus on Kara Thrace (Katee Sackhoff, "Nip/Tuck"), aka Starbuck, as more than a novel imitation of the classic series' character, concentrating on the depth of her belief in the gods, her bull-headedness giving way to a need for deeper connections with others, and a particular point where she's, dare I say it, made hopelessly vulnerable in the episode "The Farm". This happens on Cylon-occupied Caprica, the colonies' once-thriving central metropolis, where she and Lieutenant 'Helo' Agathon (Tahmoh Penikett, "Dollhouse") are attempting to locate a way off the planet and back to Galactica with the "Arrow of Apollo" in their possession. There, they interact with a second version of the "Sharon" model of Cylon (Grace Park), pregnant with Helo's child and rebellious against her kind. Along those same lines, we also see how the cluster of Colonial soldiers stranded on Kobol -- deck chief Galen Tyrol (Aaron Douglas) and his "knuckledragger" subordinates, as well as Vice President Baltar -- find a way to survive until they're able to make an escape attempt.
Though the introductory season of Battlestar Galactica triumphs for establishing the storyline's intricacies, a broad spectrum of characters, and suspenseful density, Ron Moore and David Eick still had a handful of creaks in the series' bow that needed repair -- such as tighter concentration on the political banter and more focused balancing between space warfare and non-CIC dramatics. Though intriguing to some, including myself, those elements also tended to bog down the pacing to a degree that could deter some from its deliberate concentration on policy. It's important, and necessary, for a lengthy story to grow beyond its limitations, and the Moore / Eick team hone the introductory season's successes into a poised, pulsating blend of drama and thrills that bolsters its initial successes forward two-fold. Everything that underscores the series' quality -- superb, straight-faced acting, slickly detailed cinematography ranging from cold and dark to acidic and overblown, and some of the best music on television, period -- persists into the second season, now attached to a sense of obvious plot refinement.
How does it differ? Well, this season knows when and how to play its cards, where the initial season struggles in knowing exactly what to do with the substantially impressive content that it's generating. The thematic density that it crams into this season is staggering; the complications of martial law (military control of the government), delicateness around following an idealist (dying) leader with religion as their driving force, technology's advancement and control over our everyday activity, the necessity of black market trade, and, eventually, the power of government-mandated control over population control. All of these elements are timely and meaningful, even allegorical to conflicts present in modern society, and they're handled with a specific panache in this second season that remains vigilant throughout. But they're not overtly heavy-handed; sly incorporation allows us to view these elements merely on the surface for service of the story or as deeper insights -- whichever suits the viewer.
On top of that, Moore and Eick have set sights on how to tie these heady elements in with the bustling activity of operatic space battles, and they've succeeded in a way that maintains the series' accessibility. The hyper-elaborate technobabble prevalent in other series -- such as bits and pieces about a ship that "made the Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs" and about "trionic initiators in the warp coil" -- gets tossed aside to allow for a direct focus on human interactions, such as ebbs and flows between father and son in authoritative positions, the fear and fatigue within a crew that's never given much of a chance to relax, and an affinity with Laura Roslin as she succumbs to terminal breast cancer. Emotion-heavy episodes, such as the excellent "Flight of the Phoenix" where Chief Tyrol finds distraction and a sense of hope in building a new fighter ship from scraps, are there solely for that purpose. They even work in cliché taglines like, "They can run, but they can't hide", and hokey plot points like a bona-fide love triangle to convincing degrees -- well, with their own spins on the material. In that, the creators rope us into the emotional fabric as if we're members of the crew, sharing their plights. We're not forced to try and comprehend scientific jargon, aside from a few scattered discussions about firewalls, viruses, and FTL drives, but instead asked to unswervingly, and powerlessly, hold our focus on the shifts in power aboard the Galactica.
Then, with a flick of the writers' wrists, they change the way that we perceive just about everything in the series with the episode "Pegasus". Out of nowhere, another one of the colonial fighter bases, the Battlestar Pegasus, arrives unexpectedly within the proximity of Galactica's location. Once both have confirmed that they're friendly ships, we're introduced to Admiral Helena Cain (Michelle Forbes) -- a strong, bloodthirsty woman with a very tight, dictatorial grip on her ship. Unlike the Galactica, the Pegasus is competitive, hardened, chauvinistic and far more stringent on policy, which creates a world of conflict once the two commanders begin comparing notes on Galactica's personnel issues, power rankings, and the lenience in handling a Cylon prisoner. More importantly, Admiral Cain is Adama's superior officer, and her iron-fist reclaim of power decidedly tears the fleet apart. In a matter of forty-some-odd minutes, the entire power structure of Battlestar Galactica is rearranged and tossed into volatile disarray, left for our characters to plot around and sort out. And it makes for thoroughly gut-swelling television because of it, stretching over an impressive three-episode arc ("Pegasus", "Resurrection Ship" Parts One and Two).
It's at this point, once the dust clears from the Pegasus incidents, that Battlestar Galactica begins to really claim a place in the annals of science-fiction as one of its finest creations -- even with a few stumbling blocks that it still fights against. Ellen Tigh's manipulation of Saul while he's in command of the Galactica borders on the unbelievable, though one can certainly understand the swaying power of a significant other. A few character moments feel shoehorned into the mix, such as Lee's character history revelations in "Black Market", where the desire to beef up each and every character overreaches their bounds. And, quite simply, one or two of the episodes still fall a tad flat, whether they're because of an unattractive character coming into focus, such as the hot-rod stem junkie pilot Kat in the ho-hum filler ep "Scar", or the show simply attempting to do things that it can't pull off, like the meandering MTV reality show style footage in "Final Cut". Each of these faults are minor blemishes on otherwise successful, and thought-provoking, installments into the story arc, proving that even weak Battlestar Galactica episodes can be compelling to a middling degree.
With its continual and newly-sprung ideas bubbling at the cusp, Moore and Eick reach a conclusion to the second season, the masterful two-parter "Lay Down Your Burdens", that focuses on the much-anticipated presidential race alluded to in the first season. Restoration of complete democracy and humanization become the weighty element at play, as the candidates -- surprises aplenty -- duke it out with the fleet's concerns of safe planetary habitat and population boom as key driving forces. The interplay between all of the individuals is brilliant; however, it's the outcome, and the legitimately shocking twist at the end of the finale, that'll likely send one on a contemplative tailspin. With no less than three cliffhanger episodes in this season, it's only expected that the finale in itself would be a weighty one, and Syfy's heavy-hitting series doesn't disappoint in that regard. It's a brilliant way to swirl the entire season together, even if everything is turned upside down once again. That's part of Ron Moore and David Eick's game, a sci-fi neo-political chessgame that's well worth playing.
Valley of Darkness
Home, Part 1
Home, Part 2
Flight of the Phoenix
Resurrection Ship, Parts 1 and 2
The Captain's Hand
Lay Down Your Burdens, Parts 1 and 2
Let's be clear: Battlestar Galactica has been released in a Complete Series set -- both in limited edition packaging (pictured above) and in a streamlined, smaller boxset -- that's phenomenal, one that rightly earns DVDTalk's Collector's Series marker. Therefore, the max that this Season Two set will crowbar out of me is a Highly Recommended label, mainly because ponying up for the entire collection is a far wiser use of one's money. If the entire series hadn't been offered beforehand, then the marks would likely be higher for this very nice set that contains all of the episodes from the second season (none of that 2.0 and 2.5 junk), splayed out in five-disc foldout packaging with headshot photos underneath the clear hubs. Pound for pound, in terms of audiovisual specs and the supplements, we're working with the exact same discs as the complete series set.
Video and Audio:
Framed at 1.78:1 and taken from the original HD tapes, as told by Ronald Moore in his introduction, Battlestar Galactica is one of the more difficult Blu-ray sources to critique. Most moments throughout the series are offered in sublimely detailed, pristine high-definition imagery that preserves the sheen against the Viper pilots' uniforms, the textural elements in the costume design, dense details within interior shots and a highly natural film palette with pitch-perfect tonality. The computer-generated elements all look fantastic, preserving the motion and clarity of ship movement just right. There are a handful of razor-sharp sequences at play here that are very pleasing, from simple elements like clothing and skin textures to the explosions that take place in firefights.
However, there are many other sequences that are more difficult to gauge; several shots in darkness showcase high levels of grain and fluttering, not-so-solid contrast, while the sequences on Cylon-occupied Caprica are overblown, acidic in color palette, and carrying a contrast boost that's almost blinding to the eyes. These moments aren't the pinnacle of what Blu-ray technology can accomplish, but they are preserved accurately in high-definition -- and with a fine precision that's intended to match the broadcast source. Flowing at 24fps, similar to the way that the HD tapes would look from the native source, they're highly pleasing. No, many sequences aren't quite glorious demo-worthy scenes to show off one's system, but the tightness and accuracy of the rendering easily justify the Blu-ray upgrade.
Every episode comes equipped with a DTS HD Master Audio track, carrying a flurry of pulse-pounding music, gunfire, and powerful vocal posturing that ranges from screams and yells to light whispers. To say the least, these are all active tracks (even the "quieter", music/dialogue heavy episodes), and each and every one offer a potently crisp, outstanding experience. The gunfire from the Viper planes aren't the zings and pops that you're accustomed to in other series, instead very quiet and fluttering along a soft middle-range bass, and their resonance against the flawless musical cues and other roars and explosions during the dogfights are splendid. All of Edward James Olmos' gruff vocals scrape against the right buoyant levels of the track, while Mary McDonnell and Katee Sackhoff's middle-high dialogue preserve ample audibility. Aside from a few explosions that don't carry quite the punch that would be expected, all of these furiously active tracks are right up there with the best of them. Optional subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish, and French.
First and foremost, the Blu-ray presentation of Battlestar Galactica's second season again offers the Extended Cut of Pegasus (58:54) on Disc Three. This cut gets us to the same location, just by way of a more character-rich route with breathing room to reveal more of what's generally just assumed about the events on-screen. Added material is spliced back in and, though not necessary, is very welcome for fans and enthusiasts for that particular episode -- myself included. To indulge in that satisfaction with the episode, a Commentary with Ronald Moore and David Eick discusses why the cuts were made and what was added. It's a great listen. Along with that, the Blu-rays themselves carry a few exclusives different from the DVDs -- including BD-Live functionality with the Battlestar Galactica Trivia Challenge and Ultimate Battle Card Game, and The U-Control: The Oracle feature that -- like other Universal U-Control pieces -- offers textual, rudimentary pictorial, information about the ships and characters on-screen.
Each disc in the series carries their own supplements, all of which include commentaries and deleted scenes from the episodes included. Each commentary replicates the content from Ronald D. Moore's Podcast Commentaries, many of which are very dense in revelation from the viewpoint of one of the two brilliant minds behind the reboot -- you know, as long as you're "tough enough" to struggle through the "background noise" in each. They're the same podcast commentaries available on Syfy.com. Each disc also comes with a slate of Deleted Scenes (SD) for each episode available on their individual discs. Also, Disc Two carries a Sizzle Reel: A Sneak Peek at Episode 11 (SD, 3:27) that incorporates cast interviews in with footage from the first half of the second season.
Disc Five contains a few extra supplements, though they don't amount to much more than fans have had the pleasure to enjoy. David Eick's Video Blogs (SD, 27:37 total) have been included, which cover the following topics: Episode 205, Episode 207, On the Set of the "New" Pegasus, The "Magic" of Battlestar Galactica, Never Let the Inmates Run the Asylum, Scenes from the Video Blog Floor, and Sex, Lies, and a Video Blog. As added bits of fun, Universal have also included a Battlestar Career Assignment Quiz that determines what job the user would have on Galactica (reminds me a bit of the Fallout G.O.A.T. quiz), and the compiled R&D Logos (2:27, SD) that accompany the end of each episode.
I remember the experience I had in watching the first season of Battlestar Galactica, on HD-DVD no less, becoming entranced in a new-fangled sci-fi storyline that pulsed with thrills, hearty drama and a political vein that impresses to stringent degrees. It was a great discovery; however, it's only once I plugged through its second season that Ronald Moore and David Eick's creation truly claimed a space in my mind as a holistically grand achievement in the science-fiction genre. The pairing have taken their admirable successes from the first season -- excellent performances, striking cinematography, evocative music and an allegorical edge -- and done nothing but tighten and expound through plot revelation and thematic construction. This is a series that pulls no punches at this point, existing as high-class, no holds barred television of the highest accord by cramming importance in every installment and staying timely with its focal issues. Universal have begun slowly releasing the individual seasons in standard Blu-ray packages, though the entire series is available now in a Complete Collection. As a fan, I'll steer you towards that set, since you're only this far in; however, if single-releases are the way you're handling it, then this Second Season of Battlestar Galactica is a Highly Recommended slate of sci-fi material that's not to be missed.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site