"No reason to get excited
The thief, he kindly spoke
There are many here among us
Who feel that life is but a joke"
"But you and I, we've been through that
And this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now
The hour is getting late"
The lyrics to "All Along the Watchtower" will likely trigger one of two thoughts for most readers, either that of Bob Dylan's original composition or the riff-heavy cover from The Jimi Hendrix Experience. It's a song about the futility of war and, even more so, about the immediacy of mortality, two elements that have become paramount in Ronald Moore and David Eick's reimagining of Battlestar Galactica. As the science-fiction series traverses through this third season, its content becomes even more enduring, even more brooding than before; false talk between both allies and foes, the hour of humanity's extermination getting late, and the almost nightmare-like fabric of a Cylon invasion. Once Battlestar Galactica's third installment really kicks into gear, it places clear emphasis on all these elements, while also delving deeper into the existential musings and moral ambiguity entrenched in this series focused on humanity's run for its life. And, as it begins to shed light on the Cylons as fallible entities instead of unshakable villains, it once again aggressively remodels itself into something undeniably entrancing.
When we left season two (which should be viewed before continuing this review, as the context here relies on the fact that you've seen the second season), Battlestar Galactica offered one of the grandest "what the hell?" moments in television history. It wasn't enough that Gaius Baltar (James Callis, Bridget Jones' Diary), a manipulative supra-genius with a Cylon angel (Tricia Helfer) shaping his every move within the confines of his mind, was set to defeat President Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell, Dances with Wolves) in a firmly-forced election for the presidency -- even after a failed attempt for Roslin to tailor the votes to her favor. As with everything else in the show, the blurred morality of the situation made Roslin's motives for buying the presidency justified, as Baltar's leadership would steer the Colonial Fleet towards settlement on a barely-habitable, meagerly-hidden planet entitled "New Caprica". But no, it didn't stop there; the last moments of season two catapulted us a year in advance, showing the sickly, desolate aftereffects of Baltar's rule over "New Caprica" -- and a surprise arrival of the Cylons to claim military control.
Though not nearly to the same caliber of shock value as that twist ending in the previous season, Season Three begins by thrusting us forward another four months to show what the Cylon occupation has done to the citizens on "New Caprica". The results are, of course, not good; people disappear left and right, Saul Tigh (Micheal Hogan) sits in a Cylon detention cell with one eye missing, Kara "Starbuck" Thrace (Katee Sackhoff) has been in "domestic prison" under the watchful eye of Leoben (Callum Keith Rennie), and a resistance movement -- comprised of Laura Roslin (who's now a children's teacher), Chief Galen Tyrol (Aaron Douglas), Kara's husband Samuel Anders (Michael Trucco), and an "unknown source" embedded within the Baltar administration -- orchestrates guerrilla tactics and, at times, suicide bombings to fight back against the Cylons. And where, you might ask, are the crews of Bill Adama's (Edward James Olmos, Blade Runner) Galactica and Lee Adama's (Jamie Bamber) Pegasus? They're many jumps away from the planet, in hiding since they couldn't combat the massive Cylon onslaught upon their arrival at "New Caprica".
Saying that the Battlestar Galactica universe has fallen into a state of upheaval would be an understatement, leaving Moore, Eick, and their team of writers/producers with both an opportunity to dig humanity out of another dire situation and, in essence, a way to revamp the series into almost a start-over point. That's what the first five or so episodes of this third season are all about: how Adama and crew can scoop up the remains of humanity and return things to the status quo. Following the aftermath of the breathtaking one-two punch of "Exodus: One" and "Two", where the Galactica orchestrates an elaborate rescue mission, it's clear that things won't simply spring back into place this time. And they rightfully shouldn't, as the souls who underwent the more dismal of conditions on "New Caprica" hold more permanent scarring, which makes for a compelling rearrangement of dynamics between some of the show's more prominent characters.
Out of the four seasons Battlestar Galactica aired on the Syfy network, the knee-jerk reaction when labeling the best of the lot will likely fall on the second season. But, in terms of thought-provocation, this season goes quite a few steps beyond, which is likely the reason why it's a personal favorite -- for its sheer abstract nature. Within all that grief and internal turmoil on "New Caprica", Ron Moore and David Eick also find a way for the Cylon occupation to eerily mirror contemporary wartime issues, from public executions and torture to occupational futility -- and how they haunt those who partake in their activity. Some of the images scattered throughout the early episodes might remind someone of present-day Middle Eastern combat, with a backdrop of mountainous desert-like locales and night-vision shots of raids in tents. More daunting concepts find their way into the mix once the story rockets away from "New Caprica", including the treatment of a soldier, Lt. Helo Agathon's (Tahmoh Penikett, Riverworld) Cylon wife, who looks exactly like a traitor, as well as the repercussions of genocide on the human conscience and the "grandfathering" of jobs by class as an archaic practice.
Eventually, the workings aboard the Galactica do return to a sense of normalcy, even if the demons of the characters' pasts still linger. After some of these demons are purged in the episode "Collaborators", a pointed entry that deals with a make-shift solution to the problem of traitors in a post-"New Caprica" environment, focus falls on the Cylons. It's here that Battlestar Galactica as a series takes a pensive and existentially demanding turn, as the once-powerful villains of the series begin to show chinks in their armor through their remorse over what they've done to the human population. Within that, the "machines" become unstable, some like the D'Anna (Lucy Lawless) model pondering whether their perception of "one, true God" is accurate. This undercurrent of doubt quickly festers into something of a Cylon Civil War between many of the models, which orchestrates a drastic shift in our perception of them. This also becomes the point when we learn that only seven of the Cylon models have been seen, and that five others , the Final Five, exist elsewhere -- likely on Galactica.
Then, there's the state of Gaius Baltar, the fallen, manipulated president of "New Caprica". I've had issues with Gaius, as a whole, mostly because I feel like his sycophantic personality shouldn't be as readily manipulative as it's made out to be -- an issue that made his surge in popularity disproportionate at the end of the previous season's presidential election. Moreover, the lack of repercussions for his actions has always irked me, point blank. Therefore, it comes as a bit of a sadistic pleasure to see him endure a healthy dose of karmic backlash in this third season, while also dragging him back down to a normal eye-level with the rest of the human characters. Though he undergoes quite a bit of mental turmoil before this point amid conversations with his captors, bathed in maddening red lighting within a Cylon holding cell, it's only once he's tortured for information that a satisfying sense of retribution can be felt -- and a bridge gapped where I start to empathize with Baltar again. That utterly gripping torture scene also offers a clever usage of our perception of pain, as well, as his "imaginary" Cylon angel attempts to distract him from his physical ailments enough so that his verbalized thoughts might sway the torturers.
Moore, Eick and Co. slowly begin to control the momentum at this point near the middle of this third season, which can be both a blessing and a curse for the episodes. Several entries are exceptionally well-handled and provide great character exposition, especially the "New Caprica"-focused "Unfinished Business"; in it, amid a phenomenally-photographed boxing event set up in the deck hangar for the fleet to blow off some steam, we witness the culmination of Lee and Kara's mounting romantic connection by way of flashbacks -- and how it ended in a chaotic rift between the two. It's a tightly-executed hybrid of character catch-up and melodrama between the star-crossed pilots, while their significant others, Anders and Officer Dualla (Kandyse McClure), offer biting dialogue and well-telegraphed glances of scorn in the backdrop. "Hero" draws in a faint, dark memory of Adama's past that could potentially have some bearing on the start of the Cylon war, while "A Measure of Salvation" cooks up a probable strategic endgame for the entire Cylon race amid a soul-searching episode.
Other installments, however, aren't quite as sharply handled as we'd expect from the Battlestar creators, not for plot contrivances but more for the slight, secondary nature of their content and their watered-down potency. One episode, "The Woman King", holds a moral dilemma in its hands revolving around medical treatment as Helo receives healthy face-time, but the meandering nature of the episode's exploration of the Sagittaron-colony population as it stirs in the underbelly of the Galactica isn't terribly gripping. Conversely, an episode that focuses on Bill Adama's failed marriage, "A Day in the Life", plays up the Adama family melodrama in a not-so-lustrous light. The problems with these episodes, along with a handful of others at the center, aren't the same sort of issues from the second season, which mostly hinge on a few crinkles in character development that needed ironing out. These are simply lower-denominator installments, and they play out as such -- merely decent blurbs in an above-par show.
The elements that don't falter, at all, throughout this third season of Battlestar Galactica are both the stellar performances and the production design, which continue the same level of polish as carried over from the previous seasons. A stringent focus keeps the mix of operatic space battles and CIC (command center)-laden banter accessible, leaving out the streams of techno-babble that populate the likes of Star Wars and Star Trek and instead keeping conversations intimate, coherent, and most importantly realistic. Adama and Roslin begin to show buds of a romantic flare as their interactions grow more relaxed and frequent, and both Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell handle that somewhat obvious connection with sincere dramatic aplomb. Katee Sackhoff receives quite a bit of thematic material to chew on, from her time imprisoned with Leoben to her "rebirth" on the Galactica and her struggles with Anders. But what's likely the biggest surprise this time around, from an acting standpoint, is the versatility of both Tricia Helfer and Grace Park as the Sixes and Eights, who deftly render at least four or five variants of their Cylon "models" to villainous and valiant levels, and several points in between.
All of these tightly-constructed elements make this somewhat slinkier stride towards the season's close easier to appreciate, but, in the tradition of its first two seasons, the storyline picks up extreme energy within the last four or five episodes. I'd hate to divulge any details that would ruin the rampant pace that Ron Moore and David Eick strike with this cluster of five episodes near the end, but here's a very scoop-off-the-top overview: a trial is held to determine Gaius Baltar's crimes against humanity, a pivotal character dies, and the identities of four of the Final Five Cylon models are revealed to us. It's a whirlwind, to be sure, one that hits adrenaline-spiked high after high following "Maelstrom", a Kara-centered episode that posits her destiny into the storyline. As it twists and turns around plot kink after plot kink, you'll almost wish that the tightly-crafted thrust powering the narrative would slow down just so everything can be absorbed at a more evenly-spread rate. And, while it barrels towards an odd theological twist worth its weight in mind-racking, with the lyrics to "All Along the Watchtower" flowing along with the revelations, Moore proves that there's more to Battlestar's chess game than just the politics and military stratagems.
Exodus: Part One and Two
A Measure of Salvation
Unfinished Business: Editor's Cut
The Eye of Jupiter
Taking a Break From All Your Worries
The Woman King
A Day in the Life
The Son Also Rises
Crossroads, Part One
Crossroads, Part Two
From hereon out, if you've read my previous write-up on the Battlestar Galactica: Season Two Blu-ray, the content revolving around this Season Three set will sound familiar. Again, the most that this Season Three set will crowbar out of me is a Highly Recommended marker, mostly because the already-released Complete Series set (click here for our review) should be the path to take in regards to obtaining the show's stellar run. Just like the second season, we've got all twenty (20) episodes of the third season tossed onto five (5) discs in foldout packaging. 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:
As Ronald Moore emphasizes in his introduction at the front of each season of Battlestar Galactica, these Blu-ray visualizations arrive via the original HD tapes in 1.78:1 framing. Episodes oftentimes exhibit a healthy amount of grain, but that's simply the gritty style intended for this series. A handful of sequences exhibit some rather stunning moments of gawk-worthy high-definition content, which juxtapose against the grain oftentimes in consecutive shots. It's just the way the show's meant to look, and the Blu-ray sets translate this visualization -- the way the show's supposed to appear -- with sophistication as they flow at 24fps.
This third season, however, exhibits a few differences from the previous packages. Instead of having moments on Cylon-occupied Caprica, which were coated with acid-level yellows and oranges in a heavily-contrasted veneer, they're replaced with extremely cold, slate-colored sequences on "New Caprica". Colors are washed out in a straightforward attempt to convey a brooding and emotionally taxed atmosphere, which are replicated well here with muted skin tones and sad exhibitions of granite coloring. Also, a few sequences grapple some extremely pleasing levels of high-definition crispness that overshadow many of the others across the series, such as the moments where Baltar transports himself to a beach during the Cylon torture. Most everything else, from the sterile Galactica mess hall and Adama's somewhat warm living quarters to the dark confines of the gadget-heavy CIC, look about the same as they have before -- off-and-on attractive and gritty.
Unswervingly excellent, however, the slate of DTS HD Master Audio tracks accompanying each episode are knockouts of the highest accord. Battlestar Galactica runs the gamut of sound effects, from gunfire and explosions to teetering levels of verbal clarity against the powerful scoring. Everything here sounds ravishing, from the subtle fire from the Viper fighter planes to the pulsing of a heartbeat in a few choice sequence. The repetitious piano scoring that echoes through the hallways of the Cylon base ship gracefully touches against all the notes, while the rhythmic "battle" cues thunder thunder through with potency. Explosions pounce to the lower-frequency channels, while Olmos' gruff verbal delivery finds a grating medium in the mid-to-lower channels. Again, even the least audibly aggressive of episodes are, on average, quite active when it comes to dynamism, and all the channels are supremely handled in each episode.
It seems as if each of these sets comes equipped with an extended version of one of the better episodes from the season, with this season's extended episode being an Editor's Cut of Unfinished Business (1:10:11, HD) -- a good twenty-some-odd minutes longer than its televised run. Naturally I don't have to convince Battlestar fans to watch the extended episode, but this lengthier version lets the editing and character interactions breathe with some added content involving Saul's conversation with Kara "the morning after", extra bits involving Adama and Roslin's relationship, and others. An explanatory Commentary with Ronald D. Moore and Editor Micheal O'Halloran explains the differences between the cut, and why this is the version of Unfinished Business that Moore thinks of when he imagines the episode.
Each disc arrives with content specifically geared towards episode, most paramount of course being the Ronald D. Moore Podcast Commentaries and the Deleted Scenes (SD) attached to most episodes. These are, again, the Ronald Moore tracks available on Syfy.com, which mostly contain Moore riffing about the episodes but also contain input from actors and other crew sporadically. Discs Two, Three, and Five all come adorned with David E. Eick's Video Blogs (15:37; 20:52; 39:42; SD) (which are also up on Syfy.com) that follow behind-the-scenes on assorted topics, comical and serious alike. 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 and rudimentary pictorial information about the ships and characters on-screen.
Some of the discs also contain a few different special features than the standard fare this time around. Disc Two comes with a Producer's Commentary with David Eick for the episode "Hero", where he talks a bit about his collaboration as a writer in this particular installment. This disc also contains all ten of The Resistance Webisodes (26:24, SD), a glimpse into the lives of Tyrol, Tigh, and the rest on "New Caprica". Disc Five, on the other hand, also comes with a Colonial Military Assessment Quiz that unlocks an Easter Egg on the disc. Some of the questions can be a little tough, but shouldn't be too difficult in unlocking the material.
Season Two of Battlestar Galactica marked the point when I realized that Ronald D. Moore's revamping of the classic science-fiction series should flat-out be considered as one of the strongest entries in the genre, essentially existing as a massive, cohesive piece of work that accessibly welds together political intrigue, potent drama, and thrilling space warfare. However, it's Season Three that made me realize that I was absorbing what would become a personal favorite piece of science-fiction work, period. Attention pulls away from politics and battle a bit this season to allow for a deeper focus on its more intrinsic potency, drawing parallels to modern-era concerns with warfare and a few dashes of theological contemplation. As the production values continue their streak of impressiveness and the performances remain sturdy throughout, the series again rearranges its pieces into something different -- and gripping in a compelling new fashion. You know the drill: the season comes with a High Recommendation, but the entire series comes with a far bigger stamp of approval.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site