RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Battlestar Galactica: “Experiment in Terra” (Story 15)

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We come to the end of the Terra arc with Blue Squadron tracking that Eastern Alliance destroyer that escaped last week. Adama’s journal informs us that it’s a week later (Apparently, but there’s some squishiness with colonial units of measure yet again. It’s either seven days, seven weeks, or seven months). Suddenly the ship of lights shows up and abducts Apollo.

On the Ship of Lights, his memory is restored - or is it? - and he’s introduced to Devon from Knight Rider. Devon is calling himself “John” this time out, and explains that he’s the Seraph with the job of dealing with primitive races like the Colonials and Terrans. For a guy who’s job is to explain complex things to stupid species, he’s really bad at it: His info-dump to Apollo is distracted, rambling, and basically useless. Bottom line: Apollo will be sent to Terra, where he will be misidentified by the locals as someone they know. This will gain him access to the Western Nationalist capital, where he’ll be in a position that will prevent a disaster so huge it could affect the Seraphs themselves.

Apollo awakes in his Viper assuming it was all a hallucination caused by a malfunction in the air supply, but see that he’s wearing one of those white uniforms, so he lands on the planet he’s orbiting. While wandering around in the desert at night, he’s met by a girl who seems to know him. She’s confused by his confusion, and wants to take him to a hospital. He refuses, and babbles some more.

Apollo: “What was your name again?”
Brenda: [To herself] “Amnesia.”
Apollo: “Amnesia. That’s a pretty name…”

Back at her apartment, Apollo checks himself in the mirror, and realizes he doesn’t look like Sam Beckett from “Quantum Leap” or any random guest star, nor does he look like one of the host bodies from the unfortunately-cancelled “Stargate: Universe.” He’s just plain ol’ Apollo. Brenda changes out of her amry-issued gauchos and into possibly the most ridiculous, least-sexy dress of the entire decade and puts the moves on Apollo, before selling him out to the military.

He’s hauled off to a military hospital for an exam and questioning, then stuck in a cell across the aisle from a General Stone who’s apparently been thrown in there as a security risk by his own people. Meanwhile, the President and his chief advisor hear about the arrest of “Charlie Watts” (Which is who they assume Apollo to be)

Now, John mentioned that Charlie was in a jail cell on Lunar 1, and will escape eventually. Brenda/Amnesia mentions that he’s been gone six weeks. The President seems not at all happy he’s back, and it’s a little unclear, but he may have sold Charlie into that jail in the first place. He sends goons to Brenda’s apartment to arrest her, and finds her father - just back from a secret mission - there as well. All of ‘em are dumped in the same jail cells with Stone and Apollo.

MEANWHILE, Starbuck has seen Apollo’s long range beacon way the heck away in the middle of nowhere and goes to investigate, sending Boomer et al back to the Galactica. He quickly finds Apollo’s viper, where he’s accosted by Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation, but he extricates himself quickly because, hey, he’s Starbuck! He tracks Apollo’s communicator to the jail, where John appears to him and turns his uniform white. Starbuck remembers everything, then goes in and rescues Apollo et al.

Brenda’s dad, the General, informs them that the standoff between East and West is weakening. Apollo decides they need a show of force, so he sends Starbuck and Brenda to get his Viper, contact the Galactica, and have it pull into orbit. The General takes Apollo into the Presidium, where the President is announcing a secret treaty with the Alliance. The Alliance, meanwhile, launches a sneak attack with all their ICBMs (Seriously: ain’t this quaint?) while Starbuck is in orbit.

MEANWHILE, the Galactica has abandoned the fleet (With half their vipers left behind to protect it) and dashed along to Terra investigate. They find the missiles in flight. Starbuck frantically calls them and tells them to intercept the missiles, so the Galactica generates a force field around the *ENTIRE* planet, and all the missiles smack into it and blow up.

Freaked out that they threw everything they had against the Western Nationalists and didn’t make a scratch, they fear their enemies have some kind of super-weapon, and immediately contact the president to discuss “Peace on your terms.”

John confesses that Terra is not earth, and that their journey is not yet at an end.

The End

OBSERVATIONS

At it’s root, Galactica has always been a cautionary tale. That the colonies were the US writ large, and their enemies were mindless automatons wasn’t any too subtle. In fact, the Soviet Embassy actually filed a complaint about it the week after “Saga of a Star World” premiered. This was the age of détente, a point when the US and the USSR were actually getting along fairly well until that fool Carter came in and screwed things up, but to many of us at the time, détente seemed like appeasement. Talk of weapons reductions struck us as naïve, particularly when Carter insisted on unilateral treaties that *we’d* hold to, but they wouldn’t, and massively reduced the size of the military. The Cylon Ambush that starts the series was considered a kind of cautionary tale about these ‘peace at any price’ types. We see that played out again here as well. Arguably it’s the *one* moral Galactica has: Don’t trust the other guy.

But *is* that the only moral? I think not. This is the third time we see the concept enacted in Galactica, and the fifth time we see a civilian government make utterly self-destructive choices based on the idea that the opposition is honorable and trustworthy. The underpinning of all these situations is that politicians can’t really be trusted in crisis situations, and prolonged crises tend to make them even more unreliable. The moral seems to be “Idealists get people killed.” As Apollo later says, “Force is the only way to protect freedom.”

And yet the show is in favor of civilian government. Adama insists on a civilian government, and obeys its dictates, even in a crisis, even when it’s clear they’re being stupid. He openly admitted last week that Martial Law had gone on too long, and was destroying the credibility of the civilian government, and he regretted it. The particulars change from case to case, but the song remains the same:

President Adar was a failed messiah betrayed by Judas/Baltar. Sire Uri was a conniving bastard using people’s longing for peace to his own political advantage. The Nationalist president is a full-on Jimmy Carter-styled fool who seeks appeasement with the bad guys. He’s ceded all the nationalists off world colonies to them secretly already. He’s making secret treaties. He’s imprisoning everyone who speaks out against him. He is the exact embodiment of an “Ugly Democrat,” who believes that he and he alone out of the entire government knows what’s best for everyone. He hasn’t even told his own government that they’re at war already. All the fighting has taken place off world, and he’s suppressing all info, so they simply don’t know.

The cut scenes make this even more apparent when we’re given more details about his ‘secret treaty.’ This would be immediate disarmament, development of new terms for international peace, universal access to all resources and colony worlds, and the formation of a world government. That all sounds pretty 1970s, doesn’t it? It’s every bit as utopian as the United Federation of Planets, but here it’s portrayed as hell waiting to happen. As Apollo says in the longer, cut version of his speech:

“Freedom. Freedom can not be negotiated. It is rarely given, and it is usually won at great cost and suffering. Once lost, the cost of regaining it is immeasurably higher.” He warns against the same mistakes his own people have made twice already.

These scenes were obviously cut because the episode was an undisguised screed against détente, Democrats, president Carter. It was openly political, so, chop, chop, chop.

I haven’t mentioned it before, but I really like the Eastern Alliance Destroyers. They turn up on the Colonial Warrior’s “Warbook” (Kinda’ like Janes Guide to Fighting Ships) in this episode, curiously minus the big wings.

There’s some occasional debate about this having been intended as a two-part episode that got condensed into one hour. I don’t buy it. Granted, the ending is rather rushed, but there just isn’t enough story here - even by Galactica standards - to fill out two hours. I think it was always conceived of as one-hour, and just had a badly written finale. It’s happened before, after all.

They’ve really been yanking our chain on this whole is it or ain’t it earth thing, haven’t they? We’ve got a political situation that was a fairly obvious outgrowth of our own cold war, we’ve got Sarah kneeling at the foot of a cross-shaped tombstone on Paradeen, we’ve got nuclear tensions, and things that look like souped-up UN insignias. When Apollo sees Terra from space for the first time, it *IS* earth. North America is plainly visible, albeit rather brown (It’s the globe they made for Buck Rogers). Ok, I grant that it was good for ratings. My little friends and I were increasingly more and more excited that the show was reaching its goal. I’ve often wondered, given that the show was canned, if the writers and producers kind of wished, in retrospect, that it had been. Giving the show some closure - even an obvious deus ex machina one - would have covered over a multitude of later sins.

Now, as we’ve discussed, “Greetings from Earth” was intended as a back door pilot for Glenn Larson’s “Little House on the Planet” series, and I presume these last two episodes have had us plunging through the backstory for that stillborn series. But assuming Terra isn’t earth, then what are we to make of Sarah at the cross? Coincidence? She’s a member of a purely Terran religion which worships the lower case “t” which happens to look exactly like the Christian cross? We’ve also seen a very stylized cross in the background on the Galactica in one scene, and figuring prominently in a cut scene. Parallel evolution? Or divine intervention? Given that Glenn Larson is a Mormon bishop, and given that Mormons believe Jesus visited the new world prior to its discovery by the Vikings and Columbus, I’m guessing Glenn just figured it wouldn’t be hard to expand that concept into space, with Jesus turning up on other worlds as well. Make of that what you will: it could all have been in service of the month-long fakeout, and with no purpose beyond that. There’s a good deal of Mormon thought - as I understand it (I’m not a Mormon) - in this episode. John describes himself as “A reflection of intelligence.” I’m told that everything the Seraphs do in their appearances is fairly swimming in Mormonism, as was the whole “Kobol” thing.

Mormons or Catholics or radical Sweedenborganists, these "Angels" aren't above cheating and lying to achieve their goals.

“John” mentions that the ramifications of a nuclear apocalypse on Terra would even affect the Seraphs. What are we to make of that? I mean, how could a nuclear war affect an interstellar race with no bodies? It’s never explained, but we’re supposed to believe there are larger forces at play here than just the Cylon/Colonial conflict. Speaking of which: the Cylons aren’t mentioned, but Apollo elliptically refers to them when he says that the Galactica staying at Terra would put them at risk.

It’s finally established that the colonials are in a galaxy apart from the one the colonies were in. We’ve suspected this for a long time, but given the squishy use of terminology in this series, “Star system” and “Galaxy” being used interchangeably in the early episodes, it’s hard to tell. There’s no real debate about it in this episode, though. They’re strangers in a strange sky. (Oooooh! I like that! Somebody write that down, I’m using that for one of my stories…)

That said, none of the stellar information given in this arc makes a lick of sense. We’ve seen that the Destroyers can go between stars in a few months, and that they can’t go faster than light, which suggests the stars are packed way too close together here. I’ve assumed “Star Speed” (The fastest they could go) is the speed of light, but here they make it clear that isn’t the case. So what are we to make of this? Has all of this happened in the same solar system? We’ve seen the Galactica scan solar systems in a matter of minutes. What’s the holdup?

At no point has it ever been said that the Galactica is traveling faster than light. Never. I know it’s fanon to have them zipping around at warp speed or hyperspace, or jumping between episodes, or some hokum like that, but the fact is they never, never, never, never said or inferred anything of the kind in the series. They do mention “Going to light speed” several times, but they never say faster. They repeatedly mention that the Galactica is held to the speed of the slowest ship in the feet. In this episode, Adama says he wants to go to Light Speed, and Tigh expresses concern: the ship hasn’t done that in a loooooong time…

So: slower than light. A few people have invoked relativity to explain the massive number of planets they’re passing in such a short time, but the thing is that time dilation effects really aren’t casually noticeable until you’re at like .7 c, and they don’t become substantial until you’re at like .9 c or above. So let’s just agree that none of this makes any darn sense and move on.

“John’s” performance is straight out of Topper and The Bishop’s Wife. I particularly like when he abruptly says, “It’s a rotten job.”

Do they get their memories back? The Seraphs went to a lot of trouble to cover up their machinations in “War of the Gods.” Here they definitely gave Starbuck back his memories, it’s a little less clear how much they gave back to Apollo. Did they get to keep ‘em afterwards? If so, why now? Why not then? It is interesting to me that Apollo was their agent of choice. He’s the one they’re interested in, not Starbuck or Sheeba. Interestingly, “The Return of Starbuck” episode of Galactica 1980 was originally written with Apollo in mind. Hatch wasn’t available, so they re-wrote it for Starbuck, who was set up in the end to be a recurring “John” type character for that series. I wonder if that’s the kind of thing Apollo was being groomed for here?

Dangling plot thread: John tells Apollo that when his uniform goes back to normal coloring, he’s in danger and no longer protected. This never happens.

The establishing shots of the capital city were all stock shots from Paradeen/Expo 67.

This is the first we hear of the colonial lasers having a “Stun” setting. It’s pretty wide-focus: three shots take down nine guys. Two more shots destroy two parked helicopters. Later, one shot merely destroys a decorative lighting fixture. What the frack, seriously?

Edward Mulhare, “John,” played Devon in Knight Rider, of course, but also was in “The Sixth Finger” of The Outer Limits, opposite David McCallum. Melody Anderson - now a social worker - played “Amnesia” is best known as Dale Arden in the disastrous 1980 version of “Flash Gordon.” (Which was, by the way, my first date. Her name was Kristen Webber. It was that or Xanadu. I really don‘t think either movie would‘ve gotten me a second date, honestly.) John DeLancie (“Q”) has a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role.

No Athena in this episode, none in “Baltar’s Escape.” Prior to that one, she’d had at least a token presence in every episode since “The Young Lords.” There’s only been four episodes thus far she hasn’t been in at all, and two of ‘em are back to back. I’ve heard rumors that she was fired after “Greetings from Earth,” or perhaps she quit, but I don’t know the details. It’s rumored that she was hard to work with, but Hatch and Benedict have nothing but good stuff to say about her. It’s also rumored that she simply wasn’t a very good actress, but in fact she’s really pretty good in the first couple episodes. Another rumor says they just decided to abandon the character. That much I know is wrong: Had the show made it to a second season, Athena would have returned, but the actress wouldn’t have. More on that in a later entry.

I like Apollo and Starbuck actually making records of what they’re doing for the benefit of anyone who might find ‘em later. Nice touch, never seen it done before or since elsewhere. (Yeah, I know about the Captain’s Logs, but this is different. This isn’t narration, this is a character physically making a message for another. It’s a plot point.)

The Viper on the surface scenes are shot at Captain Kirk’s Rock, better known to the non-geek world as “Vasquez Rocks” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasquez_Rocks I’ve never seen it filmed at night before. Frankly, they don’t do the location justice. When Starbuck goes back to his viper, why aren’t there any bodies around? Or wrecked ‘copters? Why is the plane even still there? Shouldn’t the military have hauled it off or something?

This is the first incontrovertible use of force fields in the show. The prison cells have star trek-style force field doors, and the Galactica enshrouds the whole planet in a force field projected from her bow. There’s been mention of such things before - Cain mentions bringing shields to full in his last battle - but it’s never entirely clear what he’s talking about. There’s also the question of what holds the air in the Galactica’s hangar bays, since they clearly don’t have doors. Dialog mentions using the Galactica’s antiaircraft guns to shoot down the missiles, but the effects don’t match the description.

Donald Bellisario, who later created “Quantum Leap.” He was a writer/producer on Galactica, and this is where he got the idea of “Being in someone else’s body” from. Interestingly, “Leap” also borrowed heavily from the (All-but-unused) original concept behind “Galactica 1980.” More on that some other time.

COLONIALISMS:

“Micron” means second this week (For a while this was “Micro-centon”)
“Centar ” means “Hour” this week.
“Felgercarb” makes a return appearance after a loooooong absence. From context it means “Crap.”

DELETED SCENES

In addition to the ones I talked about above:

1) Adama and Tigh discuss why they’re heading to Lunar 7, rather than Terra directly. Adama decides it’s safer to go to a remote outpost for more information, rather than blunder into a war and risk backing the wrong side.

2) The Nationalist doctor discussing Apollo with the president’s chief advisor while in an observation room watching Apollo.

3) Brenda/Amnesia asks “Where’s the real Charlie?” as Starbuck prepares to take off.

4) A lengthy info-dump between Stone and Apollo in the prison cells.

Apart from that, really nothing substantial.

WILL CONSERVATIVES LIKE THIS EPISODE?

Heck yes! A thousand times yes. Let me reiterate: “Freedom can not be negotiated. It is rarely given, and it is usually won at great cost and suffering. Once lost, the cost of regaining it is immeasurably higher.”

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