Previously on Max Discusses Battlestar Galactica: I don't like BSG. I generally find it painful to watch, but I've often watched it out of a feeling that I need to watch it because I am supposed to.
I recently rediscovered Psych, which is actually fun to watch, rather than teetering somewhere on the edge between painful make-work and dull, lackluster mediocrity. So I've skipped over the last few episodes. In reading analysis of the "rebellion episodes" I didn't feel like I missed much. After some goading by this weeks analysis it seemed that I might actually be interested in seeing Friday's episode. So I took a trip to the neighborhood Hulu and spooled up "No Exit"...
I have to admit that I actually enjoyed the episode. John Hodgeman had an interesting, brief cameo, and Dean Stockwell had some awesome, wonderful moments. I want to hear X-Rays, as well, my friend. I think it might even be classifiable as my favorite episode of the series, but that isn't saying much about the episode's quality so much as what I think about the rest of the series. In fact, this episode was a single bottled hour of so many of the flaws that I disparage in the show's pacing and storytelling. In fact, the episode is good in spite of the series as a whole, because it finally wrapped around to the point of having enough flaws with enough interesting performances in a single episode to qualify it, in my eyes, for B-grade, interesting schlock (so bad that it is good). It's only taken 4+ years to deliver an episode I could see myself watching a second time, although probably with a finger on the fast-forward button for some of it.
I feel like a jerk bashing on the poor show, but, at least in this instance, I only hurt the things that I try to love. I wouldn't even be writing this if I hadn't spent time trying to respect the show. Let "No Exit" stand as an example: this episode is entirely a recap episode, told in flashback and in the half-mad ramblings of a dying man, but paced like a bad expository episode from a worse season 1 of some entirely different series. None of the episode came as a surprise to me, and I believe a lot of it has already been mentioned, whizzed by in previous episodes, and I'm the guy that has struggled to pay attention to the show. It might be great planning/foreshadowing, if they only had any conviction to sell their mythology, much less their individual season through-lines, and a better hand at pacing things more evenly. Ideas in this episode might have been an amazing arc two, three, or four seasons back, and here seem oddly misplaced and misshapen. If it had been done well, all that might have been needed would be a line or two and an "ah-ha!" as the pieces fell into to place. But it wasn't and so instead we get a giant chunk of nearly revisionist history of "this show's background mythology 101".
A comparison was made to B5 season 3 finale "Z'ha'dum" (caveat: detailed synopsis, major spoilers), in terms of exposition dump, but I think it does serve as a (far) better example than BSG. The episode locks some pieces into place, moves the story forward and leaves good, unanswered questions waiting for the next few puzzle pieces. Sure it was dialog heavy, but some of that was to blame on the question of a fourth season (BSG has never seen the season-to-season pickup uncertainty that B5 saw, and even set its own season finale deadline, which B5 wanted to do but was never able). But a direct comparison of the "show, don't tell" rule clearly delineates the two episodes: "Z'ha'dum" entirely takes place in the show's present, with CG "flashbacks" that are literally flashes, to a war entirely outside of human history. Certainly no flashbacks to people talking about stuff that should have been an actual flashback to the stuff everyone is talking about. The conversation is important to the character building of the next development in a major character and flows naturally from previous events into future events. There isn't any dramatic twist or melodrama that doesn't need to be there.
"No Exit" clearly violates the "Show, Don't Tell" rule in such a number of fronts. I don't quite understand the flashback to people talking about the stuff rather than flashback to the stuff actually happening thing, it's like a bad joke. Those things that were flashbacks should probably have been embedded in the show in chronological order rather than withheld to drag out the goofy "fifth lost cylon" thing (which it makes it seem all the more likely that individual "twists" are written on the seat of someone's pants and not well thought ahead), and they should have included actual flashbacks to say, the interesting stuff as it happenened.
I finally realized that the show as a whole seems like a novel that was accidentally gutted and spilled onto the floor. This collection was then picked up and parts were rearranged in the wrong order in the process. Then they filmed just about word for word script dialog to show dialogue leaving behind all the good juicy bits of inner dialog and narrative. They dialog flowing in such a way in the book that the show spends four episodes on all the dialog in a boring chapter here, while an interesting chapter has only a small bit of dialog and sees only a small bit of screen-time. Maybe this BSG should have been a radio play and maybe in that case I might have imagined the show to be better than it is.