A Bad Episode in a Great Show:Battlestar Galactica

Here at the Red Room we rarely write negative articles about shows.  We like to praise good television.  But when good television goes south, I always find it fascinating.  We have talked a lot about how much we love and respect Battlestar Galactica.  In fact, in 2011 it topped our list of the best shows of all time.  We are in the midst of rewatching it on our “TV nights” with the wives.  We just watched the season 3 episode ‘The Woman King’.  This episode is a great example of how a great show can have an awful episode.  For those of you who have never seen the show, I will try to keep the plot discussion brief.  Basically BSG is a continued storyline that starts in the pilot and continues to the final episode.  The basic overarching plot: the humans are trying to find Earth to settle on and keep the Cylons at bay.  The Cylons, their enemy, are also trying to find Earth.  There are also a limited amount of humans remaining.  In this episode, they introduce a new doctor, a group of people that we have really never heard of and an entirely new prejudice that our characters have "secretly" had the entire time.  I say secretly because it was kept from the viewer.  When you create a show that has a strong narrative, you are punished greatly when you stray from it.              Lost had a similar idea.  The overall question in Lost is how do the survivors get off the island and how did The Others get on the island.  Episodes about Paola and Niki are examples of what can happen when you just start talking about characters you have never seen before.  It was fine to introduce Desmond because there was a reason we had never seen him before the characters found the Hatch.  When you let your story dictate episodes, you will never go wrong.   The X-Files set up an overall story arch as well: who took Mulder’s sister and what was the government's level of involvement?  Chris Carter made a great choice because he let the overall enemy be the US Government.  This meant that any story involving the government would at least appear to be moving the arch forward.   BSG doesn't have that advantage.  When BSG introduces someone new, it is unbelievable.  3 years into the show, you want me to care about some doctor killing a group of people I never met before?  This episode made 3 huge mistakes.

 

  1. The writers put scenes in the "last time on Battlestar" that never aired.  To me, this is the most unacceptable thing a show can do.  If you cut the scenes from the last episode, why would you think we care now?  Even they know it wasn’t interesting or they wouldn’t have cut it.  Hey writers, you can’t catch us up to your story by putting stuff in the previously. Not to mention that many people skip watching the previously when watching the DVDs.
  2. The writers also had lines of dialogue justify the entire show.  For 3 years, Dr. Cottle has been the only doctor on the ship and everyone has respected him.  In one line of the episode, Dualla says, “I’d never go to Dr. Cottle” and everyone accepts it.  This was a writer’s hand that was trying to explain later in the episode when Dualla wasn’t feeling good why she went to the bad doctor who tries to kill her.
  3. Don’t introduce a new character then have that character be the bad guy in the same episode.  I hate when a show casts an actor that always plays a bad guy then has the front of the episode be about how one person thinks the character is bad, no one else sees this character as bad and even defends the character and then in the end the character is bad.  I should never feel the hand of the writer.

The problem with creating a great show with a high standard of writing and an innovative plot, is that when it fails, it fails big.  This BSG episode had no point, no character growth and had no reason to exist.   I don’t mean to pick on Ronald D. Moore (and I am sure he doesn’t care if I do) but I really did think this episode was a great example of how a show can really jump off the path.   As I stated above, it isn't just BSG that does this.  The thing that I think a lot of producers of Sci-Fi shows don’t get is that we really are more interested in our main characters than we are a new story.  It would be better to put the characters we know and love in a closed room and interact with each other than bring in the obscure.  If you want to save money on the budget of the show, lock them in a room and pit the characters against each other.  It will be a good character study and will please fans.  But don't introduce a one off bad character episode.  BSG does this quite a bit in the final season and a half.  Luckily Ronald Moore ended the show instead of dragging it out like Lost did.  I don't pick on these shows, they are the hardest ones to write and have the biggest pay off when they hit.  It is just another example of why television should run short seasons and not continue on forever. Follow us on Facebook or twitter @redroompodcast Subscribe to our Weekly Podcast on Television at iTunes