Friday, March 20, 2009

That's a Wrap! TAWp Nine Ten

Welcome to the That's A Wrap! TAWp Nine Ten, where your faithful That's A Wrap! editors pick their top three five favorite titles in a selected category. Together the picks combine to create VOLTRON! Well, ok, not quite as cool as robotic kitties of doom, but it's close. We combine the lists to form one super cool list of nine ten things that we really like.

As we wind into the home stretch for our Battlestar Galactica Week, it's time to break out a countdown of our favorite episodes to date. Just a reminder its best you only proceed if you've seen the series up until the finale or beware the spoilers.

5. Billy - The Oath (Season 4, Episode 13)

Jim and I are on opposite sides of the fence regarding which of the two episodes in this group is the better, "The Oath" or "Blood On The Scales." For my money I say "The Oath" is the better episode. The sense of mounting tension that Gaeta and Zarek's scheming creates is simply superb. Admiral Adama is easily my favorite character and it's a difficult episode to watch as he is stripped away from the command of his beloved vessel. The crazy part of the episode is that you, as a viewer, might agree with Gaeta's grievances. I mean, really, installing Cylon tech on every ship in the fleet despite being bitter enemies with them just months ago? It's understandable at least, reprehensible, but understandable. It's sad to watch these people on the ropes after finding Earth (Cylon Earth, no less!) decimated and acting out in ways to cope with the tragedy. They literally have nothing to look forward to any longer. It's this sense of hopelessness that permeates the episode and facilitates the dread accompanying the mutiny.

But enough about the philosophical reasons why the episode is great, how about the purely bad ass ones. I can think of few defining moments in the series that I smile at as much as Admiral Adama breaking free of his guards with his trusty buddy Colonel Tigh at his side (Tigh standing with a gun in each hand moments after they take down the guards is a highlight as well). Then there is the kiss. I'm an ardent Roslin-Adama shipper and found this small gesture of pure love in the middle of this desperation touching on many levels. The ending is pitch perfect as well, with Adama and Tigh side by side facing probable doom but never backing down. Brilliant episode.

5. Jim - Blood on the Scales (Season 4, Episode 14)

Without a doubt the highlight of season 4.5 so far has been the insurrection led by Gaeta and Zarek. And if "The Oath" was this show at maximum volume, this is one of many episodes that cranked it up to 11. As Zarek sinks to a new low (having the Quorum assassinated for not going along with his coup), the tide turns with kick ass moments all around for Roslin, Lampkin, Lee and Kara and the superior pair of Adama and Tigh. Hell, even the rarely used Captain Kelly shines.

Nothing can touch Adama's march to the bridge, pulling others to his side by a sheer force of will in the ass kicking deparment. But its ultimately the shining performance of Alessandro Juliani as Gaeta that stands out. One of many strong actors on the show, his game stepped up considerably, unleashing an acting clinic in the second half of season four. It is his performance during the resolution that gives this episode a haunting denouement that stays with you long past the credits.

4. Billy - Downloaded (Season 2, Episode 18)

There are many reasons why I love this episode but the biggest one has to be Tricia Helfer. Six had always been a character that I didn't really care about. She was responsible for the attacks on the colonies succeeding and the only other exposure that we got to Six (aside from other Sixes like Gina and Shelley Godfrey) was Head Six. Cryptic messages and romps in the mind-sack with Balter did not really endear me to the character. But if you go back to the miniseries and watch when Six kills that baby, she did it out of compassion. Sure, it's disgusting that she murdered a baby, but she KNEW what horrors would face that child in the universe post-attack. You can see that it affected her when she rushes off. She took no pleasure in the murder. So "Downloaded" is fantastic because we get to see a little bit more of that Six, now known as Caprica Six. We see that she has morals, she is clearly wracked with guilt over her hand in the attacks. This episode is a watershed moment in the series, it's the point at which we get to see the Cylons as more than just amoral robots, but rather they are people who struggle and suffer just like the humans in the fleet. Except these guys can revive in tubs of goop when they die.

Seeing Caprica Six become a well rounded character would have been enough to make this episode a classic, but that wasn't all. We also got a huge glimpse at Cylon society AND we got to pal around with Anders' resistance down on Caprica. It was nice to take a break from the fleet and this episode takes full advantage of that time.

4. Jim - Flight of the Phoenix (Season 2, Episode 9)

Something to admire in this show is how the truly happy moments are so few and far between and because of this feel so utterly deserved. With the crew of Galactica feeling especially morose as the desperate finality of their new situation sinks in, there just aren't too many other times when they could really use a win. Preferably one that isn't tainted in even more death and loses. This episode brought two big wins. Chief Tyrol (Aaron Douglas does an exceptionally fine job this week) and his deck crew lead an effort to create a new stealth Viper from spare parts. While the effort uniformly mocked, it can't help but drag in everyone from Dualla and Starbuck to cranky, old Tigh. The writers, David Weddle and Bradley Thompson, do an excellent job establishing simultaneously the crew's desperation, determination and above all the need to hope.

While that story takes up a bulk of the time, the biggest win comes when Athena begins to earn her place on the ship, by interfacing with a Cylon computer virus that was crippling the ship and turning the tide in a massive space battle. Between the elation experienced here and in "Hand of God," Weddle and Thompson seem to have a monopoly on happy in the BSG universe, while cranking out an amazing five of the episodes on this list.

3. Billy - 33 (Season 1, Episode 1)

"33" is a brilliant concept episode because it is so atypical of many of the series episodes. Considering that this was the first episode following almost a year gap after the miniseries, it was quite a gamble to make the audience jump back into the fray in the middle of this terrible event. For some reason the Cylons find the colonial fleet every 33 minutes and because the FTL jumps necessary to escape for those precious 33 minutes are incredibly painful, no one can sleep. The entire fleet has only been able to grab small naps between the jumps and the sleeplessness is building up. Everyone is scared, frazzled and about to collapse. But they don't, they keep on moving because not doing so would mean the end of the human race.

"33" may be peculiar in the pantheon of BSG storytelling, but it would set the tone that the series would keep for the entire run. It's important for the very fact that it is the first episode, but also because it's one of the very best.

3. Jim - You Can't Go Home Again (Season 1, Episode 5)

Even if the show had a remarkable advantage to establish the characters in a substantive mini-series, its nice to see them and their relationship explored a little more in the early goings. And no episode did a finer job of establishing the new status quo between the critical trio of Commander Adama, Lee and Kara than this one. In this episode, Kara has been stranded on a deserted planet and Adama and Lee risk the safety of the fleet to recover her.

From a fanboy perspective, it's cool that we get our first look inside a Cylon raider as Kara tries to juryrig one to get back to Galactica by herself. While all three of the main characters do a fine job, it's Edward James Olmos that fully comes into his own as Adama, exploring the conflict between duty and devotion to his children (both literal and symbolic). And of course his once adversarial relationship with Lee is changed forever when he utters the words, "If it was you... we'd never leave." There's reasons that Adama's the best character on the show and most of it is Olmos performances like this.

2. Billy - Lay Down Your Burdens: Part 2 (Season 2, Episode 20)

This episode is filled to the brim with story and drama, it's actually a few minutes longer because of this and it doesn't waste a single moment of that time. Let's count the things going on here: Kara rescues Anders and returns to Galactica, Brother Cavil is outed as a Cylon when Kara inadvertently brings a second Cavil on board, Roslin attempts to rig the presidential elections to beat Baltar, she's caught by Adama who convinces her to not risk losing her dignity by keeping the stolen office, Baltar assumes the presidency, the fleet lands on New Caprica to make a go at living on a planet, Cloud 9 is destroyed by Gina (thus depriving our fleet of ANY pleasure for the rest of the series) and...oh yeah, the Cylons show up insisting on peace through a domineering Cylon-run government.

I'm sure I'm missing a wealth of events that occur in the episode, but there is one defining moment that makes me love this episode and was responsible for me actually watching the series: the one year time jump. Other TV shows have tried this gimmick(coughAliascough) and most have failed. BSG did not. It actually made sense to have this leap in time, the show had been on for two years and in show time only a few months had passed. The time jump didn't harm the series, it reinvented it. Sharon Agathon, became likable (and loved by Adama) and a great character. Kara and Anders were married, as were Callie and Tyrol. The status quo was changed and it worked fabulously.

I can say no more greater praise of the episode than thanking the producers for creating a twist smart and interesting enough to spur my interest in the series. Thank you for that BSG producers!

2. Jim - Crossroads: Part 2 (Season 3, Episode 20)

I'll admit that I actually abandoned this show for a little while. The final four episodes of season three sat on my DVR for about five months. All the while Billy was cursing at me that I had to take the time to catch up and the final episode would knock my socks off like nothing this side of an Atmo-Jump. As usual, he was right. Once I watched these episodes I was locked in the rest of the way. I even tried convincing myself to no avail that is was a good thing I waited so there was less time to kill until season four debuted.

I love this episode enough to forgive them not using the Dylan version of the Song That Changes the Universe. The revelation of not one, not two, not three, but four of the Final Five Cylons, was a significant enough event that I didn't even gripe about the cliffhanger ending that completely caught me off guard and left off in the middle of a massive battle. That one of these revealed Cylon characters just happened to be my third favorite on the show was the icing on the cake. But it was such a wonderfully rare perfect blend of camera work, music, writing and performance that facilitated the reveal throughout the episode that made it even better and increased the re-watchability factor substantively.

1. Billy - The Hand of God (Season 1, Episode 10)

This one is easy for me: I like this episode because it is one of the very, very few episodes in the series that can be considered "happy." No foolin', people actually smile and there is some cheering and there is an awesome space battle and did I mention that people smile? I'm going to sound like such a little bitch here since I sing the praises of the show's dark atmosphere everywhere else and yet name a happy episode as my favorite, but I really don't care. Everything about this episode makes ME smile. In particular the raid on the tylium factory, I just love Starbuck's crazy juke maneuver that they pull on the Cylons by hiding the Vipers inside the cargo containers. This also happens to be the episode where Baltar finally buys into Head Six's notion of one true Cylon God.

Given that the series is built upon a solid foundation of doom and gloom, it's refreshing to break from that tradition now and again. It doesn't happen often (I'm crossing my fingers that "Daybreak Part 2" ends with a happy note, but I'm not holding my breath) making the occasions when it does happen so invigorating.

1. Jim - Rapture (Season 3, Episode 12)

Just how is my favorite episode one rife with the emotional baggage of the personally-reviled Kara/Lee pseudo-affair? Add a massive standoff over the mythical Eye to Jupiter and the competing goals of a path to Earth for the Colonials and the identity of the Final Five for the Cylons.

And it just doesn't get any better than Helo and Athena deciding to murder her on the off-chance she will download and save their baby from the Cylon Basestar. Tahmoh Penikett became my second favorite performer on the show in this scene, holding his wife's body and weeping to the Gods. A wonderfully rare example of an episode where every character has some deeper at stake than just survival, Weddle and Thompson once again mine every role for something deeper. The life and death of loved ones, the need to compromise their safety and multiple searches for meaning in a character's life (specifically D'Anna) all make this about something more important than a physical goal to be accomplished. Even the plot device used to set a time limit on the standoff (a supernova), is used to further develop characterization and motivation for Cavil over two years later in season four's "No Exit."

And that's really what Galactica has done best. It's served as a pitch-perfect example of the powers of serial storytelling as opposed to an adventure of the week. Everybody has something personal and desparate on the line and the massive goals of a society and personified through individual characters.

Bonus - Exodus: Part 2 (Season 3, Episode 4)

Billy - I could simply write Atmo-Jump over and over again to explain why I love this episode. Atmo-Jump, Atmo-Jump, Atmo-Jump. Ok, ok, that's enough. Atmo-Jump. For reals this time. I dearly love this episode because of the aforementioned (and aforementioned) Atmo-Jump, but really it's more to it than that, this episode marks the culmination of the New Caprica occupation storyline and it's huge. Exciting space battles (rest in peace Pegasus), spine tingling drama (you too, Ellen Tigh) and awesome ground action make this an episode to remember. Even without the Atmo-Jump this would be one of the greats, but with it? Well, it's so good that Jim and I couldn't pick who would get the privilege of honoring it. We couldn't fight over it, so we both took a shot at it. Besides, no one wants to see a fight over this episode it would end up looking like a fat guy rendition of the Spock/Kirk fight from "Amok Time" only there totally wouldn't be an awesome soundtrack to accompany the battle. Ok, maybe someone would want to see it, but comedy that great doesn't come free.

Jim - Since Billy and I would have come to blows over this one, the episode with the single coolest, most jaw-dropping sequence in television in years gets a bonus double-take. Ironically, the lowest rated episode ever at the time, this was the most powerful episode of the series to date. The action sequences both on the ground in New Caprica and in space above are as intense as anything else Ron Moore and company ever offered up. Michael Hogan goes to a very special place more than once in his performance as Tigh. Even if everyone has a personal stake on the line, he's the emotional linchpin of the episode between his interaction with his wife, Ellen, and reunion with hetero-life mate, Bill Adama. The series is never as powerful as when these two men share the screen be it in the miniseries, here, in "The Oath" or "Blood on the Scales" or anywhere else.

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