Television

BSG: Lost Planet of the Gods. Part 1

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Delayed, but finally, here, my re-watch of Battlestar Galactica, after many years of it living fondly only in memory, continues with Lost Planet of the Gods. Part 1.

Overly Long Synopsis

I’m trying to remember how common it was for shows to have what amounted to a brief clip scene instead of a teaser. This tells me that they had to save on the budget somewhere, so why not make each show a minute or so shorter and just flash a couple hints of the best bits at the audience and go straight into the opening credits? And those credits are still on the long side for a TV show.

We open, for real, for another episode of “Dinner with the Adamas”. Well, for the first time, really. Learning Serina an awesome cook, we kick off a round of everyone making fun of Apollo (including Boxey) with Adama wishing he were far, far younger so he might pursue Serina himself. Finally, Apollo bows to pressure and announces that he and Serina are getting married. Congratulations are in order, and when Athena looks pointedly at Starbuck, he leaves quickly, letting us know there will be a bachelor party. Adama provides Blessings of the Lords of Cobol, leaving us to wonder where Cobol is and who its Lords are. Maybe we’re going to get hints about the Colonial religion.

But first, two patrols leave, Boomer and Jolly on one, Apollo and Starbuck on another, and Starbuck is sad that Apollo getting married. It won’t be the same anymore.

Transition to a shot of Cylon base stars and a recap of Baltar getting his command. No mention of a truce this time. I wonder if we’re supposed to forget that part?

Starbuck and Apollo find a void, a “magnetic sea”. Apollo goes a little too far in and Starbuck rescues him with some great flying – we see the limitations of Colonial radio and instrument technology here, but our heroes are safe and well as Flight Sergeant Greenbean and other pilots hide some booze (ale and ambrosia) from security (in black uniforms). Greenbean and crew are rescued by Colonel Tigh, who’s going to keep a tight grip on the party, but there will be a party. They deserve it after all. At the same time, Boomer and Jolly find a Cylon listening post, land and scan before leaving to warn the Galactica

Baltar spends time getting used to his new chair high above the floor, though I have to think it must be pretty dull when he’s not hatching an evil plot. What is there to do up there except stare at the walls? Without chewing the scenery too much, Baltar schools Lucifer in the art of sneakiness and lets us know that they’ll follow the Galactica from a safe distance and watch for the opportunity he’s looking for.

Boomer and Jolly return, but Jolly is really not feeling well, dizzy and sweating, and almost crashes his Viper. By videocall, Boomer reports the Cylon outpost then heads for the party. But now he’s not feeling well, drops to his knees, then collapses before getting a chance to enjoy his drink. Jolly is already in sick bay, or whatever it’s called on the Galactica, where Cassiopeia now works. Apparently, Jolly and Boomer skipped decontamination because they were eager to get to the party. Jolly is deteriorating quickly and they stick his hairy carcass in an iron lung.

Apollo and Starbuck, on the other hand, follow the rules and don’t go into the deep dark forest, er, don’t skip decontam and get to the party just in time to be refused entry because of the quarantine.

Later, more and more pilots get moved into iron lungs (actually called cryotubes or support chambers) while Apollo reports the magnetic sea and Adama gets mystical (so does the music), ordering them to head straight for the void.

To distract him from all of his sick squadron mates, Apollo and Serina have a quick fight. She’s just finished shuttle pilot training and he’s not thrilled. Sexism rears its ugly head and for a minute or so, he’s kind of a jerk, but he’s just worried about her and the danger cuts both ways. She’s worried about him every time he leaves the ship.

“Are you any good?”

“Top of the class.”

He comes around fast and they kiss and make up.

But it’s time to ratchet up the tension again so we return to the medical bay to find Jolly and Boomer both in cryogenic suspension and all but two of the viper pilots, plus half the bridge officers are sick.

What? We’re going to train girls as pilots?

Apollo comes to see his father, finding him doing research. When Adama passes him a list of cadets to train as viper pilots, Apollo puts up a bit of a fight, but bows to necessity, leaving as he tells dad to read the whole list. By Adama’s reaction, he didn’t know Serina was on it. In fact, there were twelve female pilots selected and Apollo and Starbuck get to train them all.

While Doctor Salik keeps pestering Adama to go back to where Jolly and Boomer caught the virus or they’ll all die, Adama keeps saying hell no, but gets slowly warn down because finding something out about the virus is really their only hope. In an accelerated training program, the new pilots of Blue Squadron are still in simulators and Athena shoots down both a cylon and Starbuck.

When Adama finally gives in, he calls Apollo to the bridge for a status update, oh and can you escort Dr. Selik to the asteroid? We could lose the whole squadron. None of them are qualified. Adama understands, but they’re going.

The launch is a bit nervous and rough looking, but more or less successful and the bridge crew, what’s left of it, cheers.

Baltar’s ship has overtaken the Galactica, but they don’t understand why the fleet is heading into the magnetic abyss. He reiterates previous orders to capture a patrol pilot. What’s taking you so long?

Finding the asteroid, Apolloa goes in on his own, but there are Cylons about and a battle ensues. Pew, pew. The squadron disobeys orders to blow up more cylons and save Apollo’s butt. Pew, pew. Blow up the base. Apollo over his sexism issues, and congratulates the pilots

The mission a success, Adama orders the fleet into the void, keeps rubbing his amulet, confusing the crap out of Baltar while Lucifer notes that the viper pilots were erratic, so we’re not quite done with the sexism yet.

To Be Continued.

Story

I’ve got some issues with both the story and the storytelling in this episode.

First, the truce disappeared. The first time we saw Baltar get his command, at the end of Saga of a Star World, it was a new imperious leader giving it, and Baltar was going to give the Galactica a truce offering when he finally tracked it down. Noting that BSG was originally supposed to be a series of three TV movies, all on the scale of the giant pilot, I’ll forgive a little extra retconning (like when Baltar didn’t die last time), but it’s hard. When ABC changed its mind and ordered a series instead of the extra two movies, there had to be some story adjustments to make it fit the series mold. Rumour has it the writing suffered for a few episodes to get things moving fast enough through the Hollywood pipeline. That fits my viewing of this episode, but I’ll reserve judgement on the series as a whole for now.

There are other issues here, too.

  • Cassiopeia suddenly working in the medical centre instead of in her previously noted (but not defined) career as a Socialator, whatever that is.
  • The sudden notification that everyone has been picking up other duties and training so the fleet can survive, which makes sense but is out of the blue, er, black.
  • Why the pressure suits worn by the female pilots (which we’ve never seen or been told that the male pilots wear) are tailored to look like there are bikinis on the outside (knowing that Glen Larson was a Mormon and claimed inspiration from Mormon theology, I wonder if this was an allusion to the Mormon temple garments).
  • Women can be warriors. Why, the very idea. Even the Cylons notice something odd and ridiculous.
  • What the heck is a magnetic sea, or magnetic abyss, or whatever else they want to call it? It’s not enough that it’s a big void with nothing in it?

From a storytelling perspective, there are way too many short, choppy scenes in this episode, cutting back and forth almost every few seconds and packing way too much stuff into the dialogue. I don’t know if it’s a symptom of cutting things out of a planned movie script, but this storyline should have been pulled out to three episodes like the first was, giving it room to breathe and grow instead of crushing it all together like this. The pilots getting sick and the women training to be warriors happens way too quickly. It almost seems like it’s happening in a few minutes instead of days or weeks like it should be.

If we call the first two episodes of the pilot good, and I’d argue really good in places, then the wind-up chunk of the pilot might have staggered a little but is still watchable. Lost Planet of the Gods, Part 1 is a tougher watch and probably not worth half a secton’s pay.

Acting

There is some good acting in this episode. Terry Carter and Lorne Greene are worth watching in every scene they’re in, while Jane Seymour comes across a little too helpless and girly at times when she’s otherwise a very strong actress as Serina. Richard Hatch is a bit melodramatic standing up to Lorne Greene about the female pilots not being ready for combat.

But I think the scene stealer is Lucifer, voiced by Jonathan Harris, whom some may know better as Dr. Smith from the original Lost in Space. “Isn’t he wonderfully devious? We can learn much from him.”

Dirk Benedict has a knack for delivering bizarre or off the wall lines and making them seem natural. We have him to thank for Frack and Felgarcarb rolling off the tongue, but also for the big takeaway line in this episode. “For Sagan’s sake, don’t shoot me.” I wonder if Dr. Sagan was flattered or amused. But there’s a bit of sexism built into Starbuck’s dialogue here, too. Even when they’re about to go into combat, he’s still calling them girls.

The female pilots are mostly background, with two exceptions other than Athena, a previously speaking role. Brie, played by Janet Julian, seemed mostly designed as comedic relief, a female Jolly, though designed to catch the attention of the younger male section of the audience. Deitra, on the other hand, was written as a strong, competent woman, which was refreshing, and played well by Sheila Wills, who sadly appears to have left the acting business sometime in the late 1990s.

Brie in the cockpit.
Deitra defines competence in this episode.

Language

We further develop Colonial terminology, discovering such terms as yahrens (years), millicentons (a seemingly variable unit of time), fumerillos, crawlons, and hectars (probably distance). All of these are basically undefined, but the viewer can take a basic meaning from context of use.

In between making fun of women pilots, we do get one step for equality, even though it was clearly meant as humour. Girls are allowed to say felgercarb too, and it seems reasonably natural from Brie, even if we aren’t supposed to take her seriously.

An interesting note on one difference between the Cylons and the Colonials, and one that shows a fundamental difference in mindset. The phrase, “By your command” is well associated with the series, a Cylon (usually a centurion) acknowledging an order or dismissal. Not so recognizable, a Colonial warrior might say, “By your leave” to a superior officer when looking for permission to go about her or his duties. Not a big thing, but politeness counts in Colonial society, what’s left of it.

Technology

There’s not a lot of new tech in this episode or much in the way of new FX, but we do get to see some great detail on the full size Viper parked on the hangar deck for the first time.

There is the hand-held telescope used by Jolly and Boomer on the asteroid (that has real gravity and a breathable atmosphere), which were really tough to get a good capture of, sorry.

Let’s not forget Cassiopeia’s hand terminal in the medical bay, a big clunky TV remote control that probably didn’t look all that high tech even to a 1978 viewer.

And are the cryotubes worth mentioning?

Wrap Up

Tune in next week to the not very well cliffhangered or creatively named sequel episode, Lost Planet of the Gods, Part 2. Will we find out if there is a lost planet? Or who the gods were? Is there a cure for the disease striking down most of the warriors in the fleet? With many of their friends dying, will Apollo and Serina continue planning their wedding? Why isn’t Baltar chewing the scenery more?

Be well, everyone.

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