Even In Laughter The Heart May Ache, And Joy May End In Grief

bs2.jpg[As always, discussions of TV shows currently airing are likely to contain, you know, spoilers. If you're not quite smart enough to figure that out, this is your warning. If this warning doesn't work, please have your home health care provider turn off your computer and take you out for ice cream.] I've been writing about the wonder that is "Battlestar Galactica" for a while now, and this season I've become more convinced than ever that it's one of the greatest shows on TV. And it's not just the show's willingness to explore the dark side of humanity that keeps me riveted, but how the stories manage to marry that darkness with a sense of honor, and hope, and unrelenting struggle against impossible odds. In only the first 11 episodes of its third season, "Battlestar Galactica" has gone through more upheaval and turmoil than other shows would dare pack into an entire year. The seires could have spent the entire season focused on the New Caprica settlement established at the end of Season 2, which was accomplished with a one-year jump forward in the show's chronology. But no; after four episodes, the settlers had been rescued from the Cylon invasion, Baltar had cast his lot with the Cylons, the men all changed their facial hair and then changed it back, and Tigh lost an eye before assassinating his own wife for betraying the cause. So, things have been eventful. Yet I find myself moved again to praise the show, despite the fact that my repeated mentions of the show probably bore some people1, because it continues to bravely explore such relevant issues as the role of military in the government and the place of religion in public society, and it does it with flair and grace and downright beautiful storytelling. After the fleet was restored and had fled New Caprica, the show dealt with the treacherous nature of insurgency fighters and vigilante justice by having a cabal of crew members dispense private retribution for war crimes. And then there was Starbuck and Tigh's personal quest to sow discord among the ranks just for the hell of it. And who could forget Apollo's argument in favor of genocide? But it was the ninth episode, "Unfinished Business," that again raised the series' bar for pure sweep. Tying together most of the major characters' stories in an episode that relied purely on backstory and relational history to drive the plot, it ostensibly revolved around a boxing match for the officers. The structure of the episode is moving, as repeated images and scenes become expanded until the full plot is revealed. The episode takes place during the year of action the viewer never saw, between the discovery of New Caprica and the later retreat from the planet. It built on the festering Apollo-Starbuck relationship and showed in greater detail just why he hated her so much, and letting them beat each other up in the ring was a sadness only matched by Apollo's look of heartbreak when he discovered Starbuck had literally abandoned him at dawn. And while "Unfinished Business" featured the show at the peak of its character-driven melodramatic power, the latest episode, "The Eye of Jupiter," was another great marriage of the show's tangled relationships with its increasingly complex mythology. Having the humans and Cylons clash over the latest signpost on the way to Earth is inevitable, but the series keeps the conflict fresh by making it a political standoff and an observation of the power of religion. It's infinitely more unsettling when, instead of simply engaging in a firefight with the enemy or running away, the Galactica hosts Cylon representatives for an uneasy discussion of a possible temporary truce. Seeing the opposing sides come to an impasse over the newly discovered holy temple has an odd grounding effect on the conflict, and instead of casting one group as inherently good while the other is irredeemably evil, the humans and Cylons are simply portrayed as having two different approaches to survival. It's a nice move to make the "bad guys" so fascinating and relatable, and it's one of the many things that helps the show transcend its narrow genre and become a beautiful, compelling drama. 1. Deal.