Saturday Afternoon Sci Fi
What is it with TV scheduling? It was bad enough that something like half of the shows I follow air new episodes on Monday, but now Friday's become a hot spot as well. On the other hand, maybe it was a good idea to suddenly supersize the quantity of shows I watch on this night, because quality-wise nobody brought their A-game this week.
- Battlestar Galactica, "No Exit": This episode was trying to be one part "Downloaded" and one part "quick! There's only six episodes left in the series and we still haven't tied our wildly self-contradictory backstory in a satisfying bow!" It's kind of a dud on both counts. I liked seeing Ellen again, and liked even more that in her present incarnation she has both a spine and self-respect, since in the past it's seemed like she could only muster up one at a time. I also liked that the episode made some vague gestures towards some of the issues I raised in my most recent Galactica post, including the question of ultimate guilt in the ongoing Cylon/human dispute, and one possible reason for the most recent chapter--by which I mean not Cavil's moaning about how horrible it is to be human or how horrible humans are in general, but confirmation, if any was needed, that he's a raging psycho. Sometimes, 'the guy in charge is a raging psycho' is the most satisfying explanation you can give for atrocious acts.
On the other hand, it was an absurdly talky episode in both its halves--Ellen trying to justify herself to Cavil and Sam recalling his and the other four Earth Cylons' history. Like the architect scene in The Matrix Reloaded, it smacked of the writers' inability to organically set up their backstory in the body of their ongoing plot, and not a little bit of desperation--of their realization that they had too little time to pay off too many debts of their audience's indulgence, while hastily laying the groundwork for the next chapter in the story. I was too concerned with the very real possibility that Sam is going to be killed off to make way for a Kara/Lee finale (especially given the rather blatant scene-setting for a Boomer/Tyrol reunion) to pay too much attention to the potted history he was spewing, but what I caught had none of the sizzle of genuinely clever writing. It was convoluted and obviously straining to tie together too many disparate elements for me to expend much energy trying to follow it. I'm mostly annoyed by the revelation that there's yet another final Cylon (he's Starbuck's father. The timeline doesn't work at all but he's Starbuck's father, and for the record we were saying it right after "Maelstrom" aired) though thankfully the number of episodes the writers can draw out the mystery of his identity is severely limited.
- The Sarah Connor Chronicles, "The Good Wound": Once again, the show goes for contemplative and moody rather than plotty, and we're long past the point where it can skate by on strong performances and appealing guest characters (especially considering that this episode's empowered-woman-of-the-week was quite flat). There's constantly a sense on this series that something huge is about to go down--Sarah (or John, or Derek) will find out about Riley and Jesse, Jesse will make an overt move against Cameron, Weaver will tip her hand to either Sarah or Ellison--but every week turns out to be just more buildup. I sort of liked the use of head!Kyle, and most especially the irony of him being Sarah's voice of reason and compassion when the real Kyle was a violent, damaged fighting machine who made Derek seem well-adjusted in comparison. It was a nice way of drawing attention to the kind of person Sarah was when she met Kyle and acted as his voice of reason, and how much she's changed (though once again we got this point ten or fifteen episodes ago and it is seriously time to move on to new things).
On the other hand, I'm not sure how I feel about the episode's deliberate (and rather ham-fisted, since Sarah's never called either Kyle or Derek 'Reese') attempts to merge Kyle and Derek into a single person. If the point was to get to the final scene where the doctor spills the beans about Kyle being John's father, then it was sadly misjudged, since Derek's known about John for months and we've known that he knows since the end of the first season (in fact until this week I had assumed that Sarah knew that he knew). What I'm really afraid of, though, is that Derek is being groomed to take Kyle's place emotionally and perhaps even romantically, especially once Jesse is out of the way as she surely will be by the end of the season. One of the things I've most liked about his character is that there's been zero romantic tension between him and Sarah, and I would hate for that to change.
- Dollhouse, "Ghost": As Niall points out, what's most notable about this episode is its tone, and that tone's departure from the more punchy, more funny kind of writing we've been used to seeing from Joss Whedon. Unlike Niall, though, I find the tone less successful. Though "Ghost" is effectively creepy in certain scenes, most of the time it just feels slack. None of Whedon's series have had especially good pilots, but all of them have been more distinctive than this episode. I'm hoping that we're seeing another "Train Job" scenario, where a more interesting, better written pilot episode was yanked in exchange for something the network felt would have a better chance of pulling in viewers. If that's the case then it was, once again, a really stupid move, and also highlights what seems to me like Dollhouse's core conceptual problem (besides, as Niall says, having a main character with no consistent personality).
"Ghost" is a pilot episode for an adventure of the week series about a person who becomes something new and exciting every week, but the creepiness of its premise demands that there be more to the series than that, and I don't doubt that the story Whedon is interested in is more complicated. The question is, which show will dominate--is Dollhouse a formula series with an overarching mystery storyline, in which case I probably won't bother watching (for one thing, because it'll mean that for all the blatant negative commentary about what's going on in the dollhouse, the chief appeal of the series will be the very thing it sanctimoniously shakes its head at), or is it a creepy, novelistic mystery/thriller that rewards audience loyalty and patience, in which case it'll quickly shed just those viewers this pilot was trying to capture and die a quick death? Either way, it's frankly a relief to get past the hysteria that's surrounded this series since its announcement--it's misogynistic! It's being screwed over by Fox! Let's start a letter-writing campaign before the pilot's even aired!--and talk about the actual series, for however long it lasts.