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February 12, 2008

BSG: Razor

Sigh.

I know I'm being heavily critical of things right now. I'm acting out. But still, BSG: Razor just wasn't that great, and my hope for season 4 is starting to fade.

I just watched it on DVD, and it made a lot of the mistakes I hated so much on season 3--the exact opposite of the things I loved in the first two seasons.

First of all, I loved the storytelling in the first two seasons which was basically a show OR tell tactic. Show the consequences of earlier decisions, or how a character behaves in a situation. This is fairly common in good filmmaking/tv drama. But less common is the tactic used if you need to give backstory without a flashback: have a character tell the story in a way that gives you maximum subtextual impact. A great example of this is how they tell the story of the Pegasus in season 2: the ship's XO gets drunk with Tigh and tells him about how Cain shot the original XO for insubordination ... then plays it off as a joke. The mechanics gossip with Pegasus mechanics, and then report the story of the civilian ships being stripped and civilian families shot to punish/prevent resistance.

This tactic is really effective because the characters aren't just as-you-know-bob-ing, but also reacting to the storytelling. The manner of the storytelling itself tells a story. And no scene showing what happened could possibly be as horrific as the varieties we've imagined in our heads.

What they did to fuck it up in season 3 was to go back and fill in scenes they'd already told us about or hinted at, by giving us unnecessary flashbacks. In season 2, when Kara has been captured by Cylons and is being fooled by them into thinking she's in a human hospital, the "doctor" tells her that he's seen how all the fingers on one of her hands were broken in the same place. That detail is all we need to know that Kara was abused as a child ... and our overactive imaginations can fill in the rest. That's really all we need. But in season 3 we get shown--in flashback--the scene where the finger-breaking happens. Her mother slams her hand in a door. Naturally the scene is high drama, but somehow not as bad as the things I had half-imagined. And we get showed it four or five times so we're desensitized to it anyway.

Razor did this as well, by taking us back to those two horrible scenes where the XO is shot and where civilians are shot, and showing it to us. And guess what? It's not that bad. I grew up on made-for-tv movies about the holocaust and 80s Vietnam flicks. These cheap-ass BSG scenes where we see a bad dramatization of a story we've already heard are nothing. Nothing. You'd have to go pretty damn bad to top the horror of the head-shaving scene in Playing For Time, or the basic training suicide scene or the teenage girl sniper scene in Full Metal Jacket.

BSG doesn't have the leeway to go truly horrific. It's achieved its darkness by expertly playing on our sick imaginations. The moment it stops giving our imagination enough rope, it stops being a good show.

What's also horrible about this is that Starbuck's entire wonderful, brave, destructive personality is reduced to that of an abuse victim. We could have been left a little breathing room to imagine that she is simply like that. But instead, she's nailed down to a stereotype. She's explained, and excused from any real responsibility for the shit she pulls, and in the process, also divested of much of her power.

They do this to Admiral Cain, too. She's evil and scary, but also really powerful and attractive, because she believes so completely that her brutality is right. And then in Razor her brutality is "explained" through a childhood trauma in which she is forced to choose between saving her own life and trying to save that of her little sister ... from Cylons, natch, during the first Cylon war. Also, her brutality towards Number Six is "explained" by making that Six her lover, and her nastiness come from her feelings of betrayal. Basically, all of Cain's agency is stripped away and we're left with a character that's just a pychological machine: input trauma and output monstrosity.

And finally they did their stupid morality play thing that they started doing in earnest in season 3. Here, we see a new character, Shaw, a young woman bullied and mentored by Cain into her daughter and protege. Like Starbuck. And like Starbuck, she was raised by a military mother who recently died. The terrific suggestion of an attraction between Starbuck and Cain that never got fulfilled in season 2 is drawn off here in the service of Shaw's story. Shaw basically stands by while Cain shoots her XO, laps up Cain's justification, and then commits an atrocity of her own. At the end of the episode SPOILER she sacrifices herself and gets a Cylon god to redeem her. Yak.

They were such insanely good storytellers the first two seasons, and it was exactly because they didn't use cheap narrative devices like all of the above.

god, I hope they remembered this for season 4. And yes, I still do hope there IS a season 4.

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Comments

I feel your pain. The really annoying thing is that the first two seasons were so good that now I have to watch the final season to see how they're paying all of this off. Damn them for that. If you're going to suck, suck early, so I can move on.

Cain was so much better when she was mysteriously brutal rather than logically brutal. I hate backstory psychology. Not only does it suck as storytelling, it in no way reflects the beautiful randomness of people.

i know. is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?

No. Better to have never loved. Definitely. Less agita.

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