A quarter century after it originally premiered on ABC, Battlestar Galactica was still one of the most talked about concepts in TV Land. The short-lived network series about a rag-tag fleet of human survivors in search of the mythical planet Earth had captured the imaginations of many, and it seemed that every year produced a new set of rumors about a return to the Galactica universe. In late 2003, amid quite a bit of fan controversy, the rumors finally became reality and took form in a 3-hour miniseries from the mind of Star Trek alumnus Ronald D. Moore. Not just a simple update, Moore's vision exhibited many significant changes to the story, and while the miniseries was flawed and met with mixed reviews, it showed more than enough promise to green light a 13-episode season to air nearly a year later. With a stellar premiere episode ("33"), the new series hit the ground running, left its skeptics in the dust, and became a bona fide hit in a television landscape almost completely devoid of quality science fiction stories. Quickly capitalizing on this success, an extended 20-episode second season was commissioned, beginning just 6 months after the initial one, and was split into 2 10-episode halves. Universal now presents the first of those halves in "Battlestar Galactica - Season 2.0".
N.B. This review discusses major plot points from the first season of Battlestar Galactica. Proceed with caution.
The second season of Battlestar Galactica begins right where the first one left off. Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos) is in critical condition after taking two shots to the chest from Sharon "Boomer" Valerii (Grace Park). The crew of the Raptor One -- including Chief Tyrol (Aaron Douglas) and Dr. Gaius Baltar (James Callis) -- are stranded on Kobol. Lieutenant Kara "Starbuck" Thrace (Katee Sackhoff) has returned to Caprica to find the Arrow of Apollo and meet up with "Helo" (Tahmoh Penikett) and the other Sharon. And President Roslin (Mary McDonnell) is locked away in the brig after undermining Adama's military mission and sending "Starbuck" on a religious quest. To say that the leadership of the fleet is in disarray is an understatement, and as the season begins, Colonel Tigh (Michael Hogan) reluctantly assumes control of the situation.
Like the first season's premiere episode "33", the second season premiere "Scattered" attempts to do something a bit unique. While Tigh tries to lead the fleet under extraordinary circumstances, we are presented with flashback sequences that cover the genesis of his relationship with Adama. Seeking to answer the questions of why these two men are friends and how they ended up together on this ship, the concept is strong, but the execution is not always crisp, and the season does not start off as strongly as the first. However, this premiere episode and subsequent ones do a lot to further develop Tigh as a character. During the first season, we only saw glimpses of what he could do, but here he takes center stage, with his strengths and weaknesses hanging out for all to see. During an immediate crisis, he is exceptional, making the quick and difficult decisions that save lives; but when the crisis is over, his ability to continue leading is seriously lacking, particularly in the areas of politics and personal relationships. Hogan handles the increased reliance on his character very well, but the scripts hammer home the influence of his wife and his struggle with alcoholism a little too much.
Having Tigh in charge of the fleet is not the only changing dynamic in this second season. President Roslin's incarceration and subsequent response are establishing her as more than just an effective political leader but a religious figure as well. Her quest to find the Arrow of Apollo and take it down to the surface of Kobol is not an isolated one and becomes the shared goal of many within the fleet. Because of this, Captain Lee "Apollo" Adama (Jamie Bamber) is constantly in the middle, having already opposed his father's attempt to remove her from power and now forced to make even more difficult choices as the situation spirals further out of control.
As the first episode's title "Scattered" indicates, much of the action in the early episodes of this season is split between three primary places: the fleet, the surface of Kobol, and the surface of Caprica. While those within the fleet are struggling to keep this fragile alliance from crumbling apart, the crew of the Raptor One have their own problems on Kobol. As is often the case with this series, these people have been thrust into a situation they're not completely prepared to deal with, and the ranking officer "Crashdown" (Sam Witwer) is starting to crack under the pressure. One mistake after another frequently places them in harm's way, and Dr. Baltar's skewed sense of reality just serves to make matters worse.
On Caprica, "Starbuck" has found the Arrow of Apollo as well as her shipmate "Helo", but she also finds herself behind enemy lines with little support on a planet that is currently occupied by a Cylon invasion. The time we spent on Caprica in the first season always felt forced. It was clear that the creators had a purpose for "Helo" and his version of Sharon, so naturally we had to keep revisiting them from time to time, but it distracted from the main plot and often retraced its steps just to keep reminding us they were there. With the introduction of "Starbuck", however, the scenes on Caprica take on much greater meaning, and the relationship between "Helo" and Sharon begins to have purpose. Having such an important character spend so much time away from the primary plot is a bolt choice, but it works very well as we follow "Starbuck" through a series of adventures on Caprica.
Much like the first season, this second season also spends an incredible amount of time inside Dr. Baltar's head, and to steal a line from James Callis, it often strays too far into Baltarstar Galactica territory. His character is certainly interesting, and the idea of using the Number Six character in his head provides some intriguing analysis, but there is so much of it that at times it loses its effect. Increasing chatter about the "baby" that was established in "Kobol's Last Gleaming, Part 2" further bogs down these scenes. While it's clear there is a purpose to all of this in the grand scheme, too much time is devoted to repeating the same information and keeping us away from the strength of the series.
That strength, of course, is the human relationships. What makes Battlestar Galactica such an effective series is how grounded it is in the reality of its situation. The men and women serving aboard the Galactica and throughout the fleet are not trained to be heroes. They are ordinary people facing extraordinary circumstances. Sometimes they make mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes lead to tragic events. With the fate of all humanity resting on their shoulders, though, and under constant pursuit from the Cylons, there is no time to wallow in self pity or point fingers at one another. Everyone must face the consequences of their mistakes and carry on. Key members of the fleet cannot simply be fired and replaced by more effective personnel, because this is all that remains of the human race, and mistakes or not, personality conflicts or not, they have to make the most of what they have in order to survive.
There was so much controversy when this series was announced, particularly casting "Starbuck" as a woman and using humanoid Cylons, but it is interesting to note that these are two of the strongest aspects of this update to the Galactica concept. "Starbuck" is a fantastic character with depth and charm, and Katee Sackhoff could not be more perfect in the role. She carries herself with a detailed mix of strength and beauty, and the character she has crafted stands so well on her own that it is near impossible to compare against Dirk Benedict. As for the Cylons being humanoid, this too adds something to the new series that was lacking before. The Cylons were created by Man and are therefore fascinated by us. Their creation of 12 humanoid models allows the series to ask numerous complex questions and investigate the nature of humanity itself. What separates man from machine? What defines our humanity? And why do we really deserve to survive?
Along with questions of our humanity, spirituality and prophecy have been the hallmarks of Ron Moore's work in television. From Star Trek: Deep Space Nine to Carnivāle, the search for greater meaning, often with the guiding force of prophecy, is something he handles very well, and working with writer/producer David Eick, he has infused the Galactica universe with these themes. This second season includes even more prophecy than the first, and most of it is effective. Having seen only half of this season, though, it is difficult to assess whether the destination is going to be worth the journey. At present, everything still holds together, but it is hard to escape the feeling that things are being dragged out more than is necessary. The interactions between the humanoid Cylons are frustratingly vague, when it is abundantly clear there is purpose behind their actions, and over time, the repetitive scenes with Baltar and Number Six border on annoying. As the series is still in its infancy, and the second season is not even complete, I will reserve my criticism in this area until it becomes more clear where they are taking the story. I wish for the best, though, and episodes from this season like "Home (Part 2)" and "Flight of the Phoenix" give me hope that compelling resolutions are on the horizon.
In the end, the series works best when it is at its simplest. While the questions of prophecy and the Cylon motivations are certainly interesting, it is the human relationships under extraordinary circumstances that make the series so enjoyable and stand apart from much of what is on television, and there many episodes in this second season that succeed in that goal. Humanity is on the run from the relentless pursuit of a superior force determined to wipe them from existence. Such a set of circumstances creates some very unique story possibilities, and Battlestar Galactica takes advantage of those opportunities. Even with a huge cast of characters, no one gets lost in the shuffle, and the way these differing individuals with their own unique skills and personalities handle the staggeringly difficult task before them is what drives the series. As Moore says in his "Bible" for the show, "The series is about a chase. Let the chase begin."
This first half of the second season of Battlestar Galactica is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen with anamorphic enhancement. The previous release had some quality issues both with the audio and the video, but none of that is present here. From the muted colors of the spacecraft to the radioactive surface of Caprica to the remarkable battles in space, everything looks pretty good on this release. There is a significant amount of grain throughout there series, but that is simply the style of the show. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is effective, and unlike the previous release, the action sequences and dialogue are balanced properly.
The 10 episodes are spread across 3 discs, each stored in a slim thinpak-style case. The 3 cases slide into the side of a glossy cardboard enclosure that gives off a red "glowing" effect when light hits the eyes of the Cylons. The main menu on the DVD features a static screen with the series theme playing in the background. It isn't anything special, but it is effective, and navigation is simple, with options for "Scene Selection" and "Play All" features.
WHISTLES & BELLS:
The first 9 episodes each contain Deleted Scenes, some more than others. Most notably, the premiere episode "Scattered" features almost 17 minutes of deleted material that shows how the episode was originally scripted. Before it was edited down, a significant amount of time was spent establishing the relationship between Adama and Tigh. Some of these scenes work better than others, so it's understandable that they would cut them out, but the final product loses a lot in the translation as well. Seeing these pieces here certainly helps the viewer understand what they were attempting to achieve.
For 7 of the 10 episodes, there are Audio Commentaries taken from Ron Moore's online "podcasts" (definition). While the term is certainly a big buzzword, in most cases, it is just an audio file you download over the Internet, and during the show's run, the series creator recorded these audio commentaries for the fans. 7 of those are included here, with a hole for "Fragged" because he was on vacation at the time. Sadly, though, "Flight of the Phoenix" and "Pegasus", the last two episodes in the set, are without commentary as well. As they were recorded and are downloadable from the official site, I can only guess that the DVDs went into production too quickly to have them included or that they are being held for an inevitable re-release of the entire season.
If you are keeping track, that means no commentary or deleted scenes for the season's biggest episode to date, "Pegasus". Also, rumors that there would be an extended version of this episode on this DVD are not true. With the credits, it runs just over 45 minutes. TV Shows on DVD reports that this extended version will be on the next set, but at press time, there was no official announcement. All things considered, it is disappointing that this episode just sits there all alone on the set.
While listening to the same man discuss his television show for almost 7 hours can get tiresome at times, these commentaries are nonetheless very interesting listens. As the head writer/producer on the series, Moore knows just about everything there is to know about it, so he is not lacking when it comes to information. There are times when he is a bit too self-congratulatory, erroneously declaring that certain things have never been done on television before, but other times, he is very humble about his work and willing to point out why certain dramatically flawed decisions had to be made to appease those who pay the bills. Recorded at his house, often with traffic heard in the background, these are raw and candid commentaries that are definitely worth a listen if you enjoy the series and have not already heard them on the Internet.
There is also a "Battlestar Galactica Sneak Peak" that promotes the airing of the rest of the season. There really isn't much here other than promotional fluff. Also there are brief advertisements for 3 Universal DVD releases at the beginning of the first disc: Serenity, The Island, and SeaQuest DSV.
Battlestar Galactica is a refreshingly dark and realistic television series. It is relentless in its goal and does not pull any punches when it comes to the consequences of the story being presented. With clever plots, strong performances, and some of the best special effects ever on television, this beginning to the second season is even more enjoyable than the first, building on the characters and situations it established in that inaugural effort. While some of the prophecy and interactions between the Cylons can get tedious, this is largely a very entertaining show and one of a precious few quality science fiction series currently on television. As this is only the first half of a season that will likely be repackaged at a later date, and it includes very little in the way of previously unavailable special features at a hefty MSRP, I'm not sure you should rush out and immediately purchase this for your collection, but the episodes are very solid, and their presentation on the DVD is high quality. Recommended.