RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Battlestar Galactica (1978): “Saga of a Star World” (Episode 1) Chapter 2

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[CONTINUED FROM CHAPTER 1, YESTERDAY]

Way far off in space, fleet of 220 civilian ships assembles under the protection of the Galactica. They never expressly say, but given the deliberately Biblical references in these proceedings, I think we’re supposed to believe that there are three million human survivors in the fleet, total. That’s how many Israelites escaped Egypt.

Adama orders each ship to send a representative - Serina is evidently the representative from the Rising Star cruise liner - and he explains his plan: “Our sacred texts tell of a mother world that sent out colonies into the universe. They also tell of a sister world, far away from our home colonies.”
Serina: “This other world - where is it, and what is it called?”
Adama: “I wish that I could tell you precisely where it is, I only know that it lies far beyond our star system, and beyond the reach of the Cylons, and that it is called ‘Earth.’”
Everyone says “Earth” as though they’re trying it out for the first time.

Ok, hold for a sec:

Just for a reality check, let’s put this in cold war terms: The Colonies are obviously the US, and the automatonic Cylons are obviously the Soviets (so obviously so that the Soviet Union issued a formal complaint about the show!), and the Galactica is obviously a Nimitz class carrier (Top of the line in the day). The Cylon sneak attack is obviously an analogue for a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the US. This leaves one aircraft carrier and a couple hundred civilian ships as all that survives of our country. So the civilians go to ask the captain of the ‘Carrier “Hey, what do we do now.”
“Well,” the captain says, “We’re going to try to find the Lost Continent of Atlantis, and live happily ever after there.”

Whaaaaaa….?

In essence, that’s what Adama just told them, and yet they sign off on it. That seems a bit much for me, a bit too easy. It’s also interesting that most of the crowd seems not to have heard of this “Earth” before. I mean, it’s in their freakin’ Bible fer’ gosh sakes!

Anyway, back to the story:

Starbuck barges in on Athena while she’s changing (Again: Yum!) and tries to apologize. Clearly shaken by what’s happened, he tells her he wants to get serious, and they need to build a future for themselves. Athena - clearly still in shock from the busy morning - says “Starbuck, I don’t want to care about anybody, especially you.” Clearly hurt, Starbuck leaves.

The fleet runs, and the situation quickly goes from bad to worse. Starbuck and Boomer are running around making lists of survivors, and they get press ganged by Apollo into helping him check for dangerous chemical leaks on the ships.
Starbuck: “Apollo…”
Apollo: [Scowls]
Starbuck: “Captain, that stuff is dangerous! Half of these tubs shouldn’t even be flying!”
Apollo: “Well there really wasn’t much choice, now was there? How many people did we have to leave behind for lack of ships?” (these scenes appear to have been filmed in the engine rooms of actual large ships. They’re interestingly gritty and realistic looking. Curiously, Galactica never used this fairly practical trick again.)

Below decks on a Container ship, they find hoards of starving people on the edge of panic. They’re screaming for water and food, but mostly water. They say that no one’s checked on them in three days. Several ask frantically if they’ve been left behind. A lot of people are very clearly injured or sick, some of whom speak other languages. They’re just on the edge of rioting. Again: powerful scene. One of them tells Apollo, “It’s a sin to starve us while the beauroticians live in luxury.”
Apollo: “No one is in luxury, I can assure you that.”
Another man: “No, you lie. I’ve seen it. I saw it with my own eyes on the Rising Star, before I was cast out and sent here among the borays of humanity.” (The Borays will turn up later in the series.) Apollo gives his word that he’ll help them out, and people laugh derisively.

Starbuck, meanwhile, has encountered a hooker with a heart of gold and a busted wing. “Cassiopeia” (Laurette Spang) was a high-priced call girl who got her arm broken in the attack. When Starbuck tries to help her, she just brushes him off because there are others in far worse shape than her, and she seems genuinely concerned for an elderly couple who feverish. A woman starts abusively insulting her, and Starbuck decides to get her the heck out of there.

They leave on a shuttle (Full of wounded, some apparently being triaged in the background while they’re flying), and Apollo detours to the Rising Star. He and Boomer get off, and have Starbuck fly the shuttle to Galactica. Apollo sends Boomer to check up this whole “Luxury” rumor, and then heads below decks. Jolly informs him that nearly all of the food they packed was subject to “Pluton Poisoning” because the were in such a hurry there wasn’t time to check for it. Most of the fleet’s food supply is inedible, potentially deadly. “Pluton” obviously is supposed to be “Plutonium,” a reference to fallout and contamination from when the Cylons bombed the planet. They were obviously using nukes. We even saw a mushroom cloud in close proximity to Serina. Speaking of whom…

He heads back up to find Boomer, and is intercepted by Serina. She runs down the hall to speak to him, and evidently she didn’t have time to pack any kind of foundation garments during the evacuation. She’s bouncetacular. Boxey’s dog (“Daggit” in colonialese, which is german for “Dog”) died in the attack, and the only person he’s spoken to in days was back on Caprica when he asked if Apollo would fly him around. He turns out to be good with kids, and Boxey cheers up a bit. Athena thanks him, then finds out he lost a kid brother in the battle.
Apollo: “It’s ok. What’s a warrior to do when he’s lost the big one, but win some of the little ones?”
Athena: [Defensively taken aback] “That’s not a little one in there,” (Refering to boxey)
Apollo: [flat, maybe apologetic:] “No.”

At the club, a rent-a-cop (“Paid for by Intersun”) won’t let Boomer in. Boomer pulls a gun on him just as Apollo gets there. Inside, they find Sire Uri (Ray Milland) and a band of feasting revelers and hookers. Apollo immediately threatens to arrest the man, but Uri rambles on imperiously and threateningly, refusing to share any of his food.
Apollo: “Does your wife share your sentiment?”
Uri: “My wife?”
Apollo: “Yes, your wife. Is she here? I don’t see her.”
Uri: [somewhat flustered] “Unfortunately she was not in time to make the voyage.”
Apollo: “My condolences. Siress Uri was an outstanding woman.” [Looks derisively at the hookers] “I’m sure she’d be moved by your show of grieving.”

Wow! You know, Apollo is a bit stiff, and lacks the instant charisma of Starbuck, but he can be pretty badass when he wants to! They confiscate his food to be distributed amongst the other survivors.

Boomer: “Not to criticize, Captain, but do you think you might have overplayed your hand a little bit back there? Considering Uri’s a member of the newly-elected Council of the Twelve…”
Apollo: “How do you overplay starvation, Boomer?”

Back on Galactica, Athena goes to see her dad, who’s nursing a drink and horribly depressed in his room. She tries to cheer him up, but he’s not having any of it.
“You were on the Galactica. You didn’t see them down there, frightened, injured, desperate to live, crowding around us; [angrily] and I walked through them like…like God, handing out passages like…like they were tickets to a lottery. I was getting on the shuttle, and there was this woman crowding in - a guard pushed her, just pushed he, he didn’t see the baby - I tried to find her afterwards. I don’t know what happened to her. I don’t want to know, but God, I don’t want it anymore. Let it be someone else. Take this burden from me.” Again, this is a pretty powerful scene, made better by Athena (Never the best actress) clearly getting more and more concerned as he raves.

Cassiopeia gets her arm fixed by “Doctor Payne,” (John Fink, who’s listed prominently in the opening credits, and yet this is his only scene. He gets exactly one line, and is never seen again. Weird, but more on him later.) She doesn’t want to go back to the container ship, and Starbuck offers to find her nicer quarters somewhere else.

Cassiopeia: “Would you be doing this if I weren’t a [Callgirl]?”
Starbuck: “No, no, listen, can we just forget my little jokes on the shuttle? I’m just trying to help you out.”
Cassiopeia: “And that’s all it is?”
Starbuck: [lies] “Yeah, nothing personal. I swear.”
Cassiopeia: “Ok! Ok! But I think you’re making a terrible mistake!”
And once again, Starbuck don’t get none.

So the question now becomes: what do they do next? There’s really only two viable destinations: Carillon and Boralis. Boralis has food, water, fuel, and isn’t that far. Carillon, meanwhile, kind of sucks. Adama argues that the Cylons will obviously be waiting for them, but it’ll take them centons (Weeks? Months? Days? Hours? The meaning of the word seems to change continually, even within the same sentence) to get to Carillon. Given the food problems, they’ll never make it, and to reiterate: Carillon kinda’ sucks. Sire Uri attempts to use this to make a power play in the council, but Apollo barges in and suggests his own plan: Instead of taking the normal course, they can shortcut through the “Nova of Madagon,” saving them a lot of time, and as Carillon kinda’ sucks, they’re far less likely to find Cylons waiting for them there. The nova is mined, so they’ll have to clear it out, and the nova is really really bright (Don’t ask), so they’ll have to fly through on instruments, knowing that the fate of the entire fleet, and hence the species, rests entirely on their skill. “Or lack thereof,” Starbuck murmers.

Apollo presents Boxey with a robot dog that Dr. Wilker made for him (Given their dire straits, is this really the best usage of their limited resources?). It looks more like a bear cub than a dog, but whatever. The kid seems to like it, and Apollo and Serina get to nuzzling each other and almost-but-not-quite kissing. “Well that was awfully fast,” my daughter said. I have to agree. Clearly they like each other, but that just kind of comes out of nowhere. “I gave your kid a pet, let’s make out! In front of him!”

Later on, Starbuck is on the flight deck with Cassiopeia.
Starbuck: “I had this whole speech prepared…”
Cassiopeia: “Let me guess: about how it’s a beautiful night, and I’m a beautiful girl, and how you’re going off on a dangerous mission, and there may never be another night like tonight? Something like that?”
Starbuck: “Actually, that one’s a little bit better than mine. Mind if I use it on some future occasion?”

They get to smooching, and Starbuck is uncomfortable with them being so out in the open.
Cassiopeia: “Well, can you think of anything more private?”
Starbuck: “Come to think of it, I can’t think of any place that’s private in the whole damn fleet.” Cassie heads into the launch tube, and beckons him to follower her. Starbuck says a short prayer, “Lord, I’ll do anything you want tomorrow, just please don’t call an alert tonight!”

Up in the control room, Athena sees them making out in the launch tube, and, enraged, “Purges” the whole tube with burning hot steam. Slapstick ensues.

Apollo and Adama argue in his quarters. Adama is furious with Apollo for his hairbrained scheme. Apollo is furious with his dad for being so reticent to take action. Adama, clearly fearing losing any more of his family, says that sometimes it’s prudent to steer clear of the flames when one has been burned. Apollo says his dad needs to take a look around him and get his priorities straight: “You’re mending wounds while we’re still on fire.” He chides his dad for voting for Sire Uri to join the new Council. Uri, we find out, was Adama’s predecessor on the old council - the one that got blown up aboard the Atlantia - and that once upon a time, he was a great man.

The next morning they launch, flying through the nova (Actually a star field) in a lengthy scene that is visually interesting, and kind of tense, and yet somehow still just ends up being tedious. Suffice to say they get through the star field/nova/whatever it is, and the fleet follows to Carillon. This entire concept was recycled in the RDM Galactica in “The Passage,” the one where Kat dies. Remember that one? Originally RDM had said he wanted to diverge from the original series as much as possible, but by then he was stripmining it pretty openly.

Anyway, once they get through the nova/star field/poorly-conceived plot device/whatever the story kind of goes all wonky. It doesn’t go off the rails, mind you, but there’s definitely some wheel-spin going on here. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just that there’s a massive tonal shift. Up to this point, it’s been an unrelentingly grim, desperate story. Suddenly it becomes more traditionally science fictional, and the story - nay, the series - never quite recovers the traumatic energy it had in its first 90 minutes or so.

They send down several teams to survey Carillon on the ground using Landram vehicles (Which are super-cool, but shouldn’t the Galactica in orbit be able to survey the planet better and faster?) The planet is a barren desert in perpetual twilight (And how is that possible? Isn’t it only like eleven miles from the Nova of Madagon, the brightet star field in the history of ever?) Though there’s presumably a bunch of teams, we only follow one consisting of Boomer and Starbuck, and another one consisting of Apollo, Serina, Boxey, Jolly, and that stupid robot bear cub thing. (By the way, the “Robot” is a monkey in a costume. Given what we know about monkeys, how bad must that suit have smelled pretty much all the time? I’d imagine the stink of it’d be really badly affecting the actor’s abilities to concentrate. Maybe not so much here in the beginning of the series, but that thing must’ve been getting pretty mephitically ripe by, say, “Fire in Space.”) The teams are looking for a mine left behind by a Colonial team that surveyed the planet looking for fuel a generation back. Records say they found it, but in insufficient quantities for mining. Since the Galactica’s situation is rather dire, they’re figuring a little of something is better than all of nothing.

Starbuck’s team finds a bright, pretty, kind of spooky light, and when they go to investigate, the meet Randi Oakes (!), who’s a colonial that doesn’t realizes her homeworld has been destroyed. Turns out there’s a casino here on the planet is crowded with humans (And a few aliens), all of whom are oblivious to the apocalypse. Starbuck is curious as to why he’s never heard of this place, and why *Everyone* is winning at the games. Boomer doesn’t want to let on that there’s a Battlestar parked on their doorstep. Both decide to play it cool and figure out what’s going on before they announce themselves, so they just snoop around for a while. Starbuck, typically, does his snooping at the card table.

TO BE CONTINUED (Again) TOMORROW

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