One Year Later

March 16, 2006
A thought by James Berardinelli

With those three words, placed on screen 70 minutes into the 90-minute season finale of TV's Battlestar Galactica, everything changed. A schism developed amidst the series' fan base: those who loved what the show's producers did and those who hated it. It was either a daring act or a case of another TV program jumping the shark. Fence-sitters were few and far between. To make my position clear, I'm one of those who applaud what Ron Moore and his crew did. It's another gutsy move for a show that has never shied from controversy or doing things that might alienate potential viewers. What a mind frak!

Effectively, the second season curtain call concluded the series we have been following for one mini-series and 33 episodes, and started something new - a "sequel series" featuring many of the same characters and ideas, but time-shifted from where we're used to them being. The disadvantages of the approach are obvious: a sudden, disorienting disconnect; confusion about unresolved issues; and a sense of being cheated out of seeing the characters develop over the missing year.

The advantages are compelling. By skipping over the dull material that would comprise the etablishment of the New Caprica colony, we are allowed to dive into the deep end and immediately immerse ourselves in new dramatic possibilities. Relationships may have changed, but the characters are all still there - it will just take an episode or two to re-connect with them and figure out what changes have occurred over the passage of time. Most imporatantly, it shakes things up. Too many TV series die an uninspired death because they fail to embrace change or embrace it unwillingly. If Ron Moore had listened to his nay-sayers, this version of Battlestar Galactica would never have been born. (Even Richard Hatch, the most outspoken of Moore's early critics, has been brought into the fold with a recurring role that's more interesting than his original Apollo. If only Dirk Benedict would follow suit... But I digress.)

We accept movie sequels; why is it so difficult to accept the same concept when it comes to a TV series? An unspecified, but significant, period of time passed between the end of Star Wars and the begining of The Empire Strikes Back. During that period, situations and character relationships changed. But no one complained about the leap forward. Yet when Battlestar Galactica does this, it sets off a firestorm of controversy. Would it have been better for Moore and company to make the "one year later" break between seasons? I don't think so. This way, we have been offered a glimpse of where things are going and can speculate about a variety of tantalzing possibilities. Consider the final 20 minutes of the season finale an extended "Next on Battlestar Galactica preview.

My hope is that the temporal discontinuity will re-invigorate a show that had begun to lose energy. Over the last five or six episodes, Battlestar Galactica had shown signs of storyline lethargy. Now, with a human colony under Cylon occupation, the possibilities multiply. My guess is that before the third season is over, we'll be back to the basic premise of a ragtag fleet searching for Earth. "One year later" doesn't mean that the path has been lost, just that a detour has been taken.

One thing I hope they don't do, though: flashbacks. I would hate to see the first few episodes of season three turn into an outer space version of Lost. Keep things moving forward; don't look back. A flashback or two highlighting key events (such as what drove the rift between Apollo and Starbuck) is okay, but don't belabor the point. If there's a lot of stuff in the missing year that needs to be accounted for, then it shouldn't have been skipped in the first place. And, no, I don't think it's a dream. Moore would never insult his audience like that.

The only problem with this is that we now must wait seven months instead of four to see the next episode. Some have speculated this means that Galactica is headed for NBC, but I think it's an experiment on the part of the Sci-Fi channel to see if their flagship series can compete with the big boys. Until then, there's Doctor Who, and that's not a bad consolation prize.