RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Battlestar Galactica (1978): “War of the Gods” (Story 10)

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With this episode, Galactica suddenly figures out what it is, and what it wants to be. Up to this point, the show has been scrambling to make deadlines, and just throwing crap on the air without much thought. Suddenly they start planning ahead, settling in for a long haul, which never materialized. Suddenly they’re taking major chances, stepping away from things that have been over done, and exploring the unique potential of the series in ways that even the RDM Galactica series never did. We are now fifteen hours and ten stories into this series - about two thirds of the way through its one and only season - which is a bit late for a watershed of this kind. I’d say it was too late, but really this series was doomed before it ever hit the air.

PLAY BY PLAY

Silver Spar Squadron (Including Bojay and Jolly) are exploring way ahead of the fleet when they’re intercepted by quick-moving light balls that run circles around them. A loud noise and a big ship of lights comes up behind them and they black out.

Of course an opening that neat can’t be left unpunished, and so back on the Galactica, we’re subjected to several minutes of sweaty homoeroticism: Starbuck, Apollo, Boomer, and some guest beefcake we never see before or again are playing “Triad,” a sort of combination of volleyball, racketball, Greco-roman touchey-feelery and Pockatock ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mesoamerican_ballgame ) Seriously, it’s all kinds of gay. Cringingly awful. I remember being ten and watching this whe first broadcast, and just going beet red with embarrassment. My dad said something like “This show ain’t gonna’ make it,” and left the room. Whenever people talk about how embarrassing and cheezy the original Galactica was, I’m pretty sure they’re referring only to this horribly conceived scene:

Seriously, how embarrassing is that? I mean, that’s the kind of thing that gay people would find over-gay. (“Oh, honey, that outfit, no! At least butch it up with a nice feathered boa or something…“)

Apollo and Starbuck win. (If you can ever call filming a sequence like that ’winning’) Word comes in that Silver Spar has gone missing, and at roughly the same moment, the ships’ sensors detected a big explosion like something hit a planet. Sheeba - Who‘s chestier than I realized - Starbuck, and Apollo are dispatched to investigate, and they come to an unnamed world I will call “The Tinted Planet.”

Everything on this planet is oddly color-corrected in post production to give in a strange look. It’s a cheap trick, but kind of clever, and I totally applaud them trying to introduce some exoticism in the series, rather than endless visits to “Planet SoCal.” They quickly find a huge crater with the burned out wreckage of a ship in the bottom of it. As they’re investigating, a man calling himself “Count Iblis” appears and warns them not to go down there because of radiation levels. Iblis (pronounced “Ib-lee”) isn’t forthcoming with terribly useful information, but he does allow as how he was on that ship, that it was destroyed by “The Great Powers,” and claims he doesn’t know how he survived. The light balls appear, and Iblis isn’t affected by their noise, but he does seem scared. Apollo calls for a shuttle, and they take him back to the fleet.

Once there, Iblis appears to have some strange influence over Sheba, and uses her to tour the high security areas of the ship, and pointedly avoids going to the medical center. Debriefed by Adama, Iblis once again gives little useful information, and claims that things are ‘too complicated’ for the Commander to understand. The light balls show up again, and Red squadron (Greenbean and Bree) are launched as protection, but that goes missing as well. The lights also buzz Baltar’s base star. Baltar suspects it’s some new thing Adama’s scientists have come up with:

Lucifer: “I hope so.”
Baltar: “Why would you hope the humans would have a new weapon like this?”
Lucifer: “Because the alternative is that there is some new force in the universe more powerful than us.”

Iblis tells Adama that he’ll take control of the fleet if the people want it, and offers to prove his messianic credentials by three tests of their devising. With Sheeba, he tours the fleet, and rabble-rouses with the poor refugees. The people clamber for a miracle, and Iblis performs a variation on the Feeding of the Five Thousand. The people - on short rations for months - clamber for him to lead. He has some strange power over the female characters: Sheba is enthralled, and he makes Cassie the Hooker’s heart flutter. No, really! This is much to the annoyance of the guys, who are obviously jealous.

The Council if Twelve agrees to the tests: the first among them is to deliver the fleet from the Cylons. At that moment, back on the Base Ship, Baltar realizes these light balls are way more dangerous than either the Cylons or the Humans can handle alone, so he decides to go to the Galactica under a flag of truce to warn them. Lucifer tries to talk him out of it, but he refuses to listen.

…And that’s the end of Lucifer, ladies and gentlemen! We never see, nor hear of his character again, sadly. He brought a lot to the series. How about a big hand for Bobby Porter and Jonathan Harris, ladies and gentlemen! Thank you, goodnight! The Devil has left the building…

Baltar comes to the fleet, and is promptly arrested.

End Part I

News of Baltar’s not-quite-surrender “Spreads through the fleet like sunbursts,” and everyone rejoices. We’re told that this is the first real hope the people have had “In a quarter yahren.”

Hold one: A quarter year? Really? All this stuff we’ve seen up until now has taken place in just ninety days? Wow. So if that’s the case, that means these episodes take place on an average of nine days apart. The Pegasus incident took place just 18 days before? Boxey is that close to his adoptive dad, and got over his mom’s death in just three months? That’s weird and strangely compelling at the same time. It smacks of a retcon, of course: there are bits of dialog here and there that imply weeks or months between episodes, but nothing that can’t really be resolved if we squint a bit.

Back to the story:

Baltar is given life, and Iblis visits him in the prison barge, where Baltar tells him he remembers Iblis voice as that of the Imperious Leader. (Me as a 10-year-old boy: “Whoa!“) Iblis says that if that’s the case, he must be more than 1000 years old, and Baltar is a bit shocked by that. “All is not lost, my friend” Iblis says to Baltar, then disappears.

The Council move to grant Iblis the presidency, but Adama begs their forbearance for just a day to consider matters. They agree. Meanwhile, in an out-of-nowhere subplot, Apollo refuses to play in the next Triad tournament. Boxey’s friends tell him his dad is a coward because if Boomer’s team wins, it’ll prove Iblis is smarter than grandpa. (I’m sorry, what?) Adama tells Apollo to play, so he does. The men don their knee and elbow pads and their brightly-colored combat panties, and Sheba delivers probably the worst line of her entire career: “you are good!” to Boomer. That doesn’t sound like much, I know, but you have to hear the delivery to fully appreciate its awfulness. “You. Are. Good, (Pause) exclamation mark.” Each word has the wrong emphasis, it’s just so terrible, and Anne Lockhart looks so chipper and happy when she says it, it’s just heartbreaking. Wow. Boomer kind of randomly sells his soul to Iblis, and wins the game.

Everybody is way too happy about the Baltar thing, and commence to getting their Epicurean orgy (And possibly the other kind, too) In the fleet disco on the Rising Star, everyone is staying up way too late, and drinking way too much, and dancing with ropes, which, as you know, is a sign of drug addiction in most societies. Iblis pushes Sheeba off on Apollo.

Starbuck: “I thought you had designs on her yourself.”
Iblis: “Why should you or I limit ourselves to any one woman?”
Starbuck: “I think I might like this”

Creepy old English swingers hanging out in discos notwithstanding, Apollo blows it. He picks a fight with Sheba, and she storms off. The next morning the lights show up again. The Galactica sounds the alarm, but no pilots respond, they’re all too drunk and/or hung over. Iblis is very upset by this, and yells at them. Blue Squadron launches, and Boomer - clearly a bit off his game - disappears.

At this point, we find out that Adama is a telekinetic. Apollo walks in on him moving a paperweight around with his mind. Apollo is flummoxed, and Adama explains that the Caprican Military Institute had a Men Who Stare At Goats program for a lot of years. Adama was involved in it, but his wife made him quit because she got sick of him getting all Uri Gellar and ruining the silverware. He speculates that Iblis is perhaps a more evolved form of human, who can use more of their mind powers, and dispatches Apollo to The Tinted Planet to check out the wreckage for clues.

Apollo takes Starbuck along, and Adama tries to crowd his mind with other thoughts so Iblis wont’ get wind of it (“Don’t think of the tinted planet, don’t think of the tinted planet, Sophia Loren was hot, man I wish we could have gotten her as a guest star on this show, she was supposed to play my wife, man, I could have really gone for some macking on that, she had such a firm, round bottom, round like a planet, oh damn. Don’t think about the tinted planet, don’t think about the tinted planet”). Despite all the precautions laid for this, it predictably lasts about 11 seconds before Iblis senses something is up. He ditches Sheba in their prime make-out spot on the Agro Ship, and storms off to confront Adama. Realizing what the old man has done, he tells him he’s going to kill Apollo.

Sheba, for no readily-explained reason, decides to go back to The Tinted Planet, and meets Starbuck and Apollo there. They realize the wreckage wasn’t radioactive at all, and head in. Apollo sees something in the wreckage that scares him. At first he doesn’t want Sheba to see it, but then Starbuck says she needs to. Before she can look, however, Iblis appears.

Apollo confronts him, saying he’s figured out who he really is: “Mephistopheles, Diaboles, The prince of darkness.” He shoots Iblis, who briefly transforms into a blue creature with red eyes, then back again. He decides, somewhat randomly, to kill Sheba, but hits Apollo instead. Apollo dies. Sheba’s stunned, and Starbuck shoots Iblis several times to no effect. Before Iblis can kill all of them, however, the light balls re-appear, and Iblis again looks rather scared.

“We will meet again,” he says, and disappears.

Taking Apollo’s body back to the fleet, Sheba and Starbuck are intercepted by the Ship of Lights, and they awake in a very white , vaguely-defined large chamber full of cloaked white figures that look human, but your hand’ll pass right through them. Also, the Colonial Warrior’s uniforms have turned white for some reason. (Actually, it don’t look bad. Kinda’ like Navy dress whites). Sheba suspects they’re all dead, and Starbuck asks if these aliens are angels.

“Oddly enough, there is some truth to your speculation.”

They visit Apollo’s body, and Sheba offers to give her life to bring him back from the dead. Starbuck had already done so. Apollo resurrects. The Ship of Lights folks let them go, along with the missing pilots, “With plausible explanations” for where they’ve been all this time.

Back on the fleet, everyone is suffering from varying degrees of memory wipe. Apollo only remembers confronting Iblis, Starbuck remembers Apollo dying. None of them remember the Ship of Lights. Spontaneously, the three of them recite the coordinates and course to Earth.

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

I liked it. I genuinely liked it. It had a lot of problems - the beefcake, for instance - but it tried really, really hard, and it mostly succeeded. You really, really, really have to hand it to the people behind the scenes for deciding to re-invent themselves two thirds of the way through the season. Sensing that the Cylons and the endless canned fighter battles were getting old, they’ve basically abandoned all that, and they’re getting more into the mysteries and alikeness of space. They’re taking their premise seriously, they’re exploring larger, heady themes that even TOS-Trek would have probably avoided. This is a bold experiment, and basically counts as a second pilot for the show. In fact, the focus is so different from this point on that many of my friends assumed this was the start of the second season. (In fact, there was no second season).

That said: I hated this when it first aired, and so did all my sixth-grade friends (With one exception). What we were tuning in to see was guys killing cool robots, not sweaty guys playing ball in their underwear and philosophical explorations as to the nature of Satan. It seems we were not unique: the main target audience for the show appears to have been eleven-year-old boys like myself, and most of us started to drift away after this point. I didn’t, and eventually I got interested in the “Terra” arc that’s upcoming, but I definitely felt cheated that they more-or-less dropped the Cylons at this point. Later, Glenn Larson evidently felt this was a mistake as well, since his proposal for season 2 would have brought them back to the front-and-center, with a few alterations.

Still and all, in retrospect I really like it.

Man, this episode is almost like continuity porn! We get more internal ties in this episode than we have in the entire series up until now. It’s also like the march of the also-rans: Rigel gets a walking scene and some dialog, Bojay - who I never expected to see again after “The Living Legend” turns up, Greenbean gets lines, Jolly gets lines, Athena gets lines, Omega gets lines, the farmer dude from “The Magnificent Warriors” returns and gets lines, Doctor Wilker shows up - last seen in the first episode! Doctor Salik shows up - last seen in “Lost planet of the gods, part II,” the second story in the series. The Council of the Twelve shows up, not seen nor heard of since the first episode. The internal sets of the Gemini Freighter - unseen since the first episode - return. Lots of scenes on the Agro Ship. Freakin’ Bree shows up! Bree! Remember her? No, there’s no reason you should: She’s one of the women warriors (Sadly, not the pretty black one) introduced in “Lost Planet of the Gods,” and she’s still around! Amazing, just amazing! Doctor Payne even gets a namecheck! Doctor Payne! He’s the guy who fixed Cassie’s arm back in the first episode. He had ONE scene and ONE line, but they made a point of mentioning he’s still alive and on board ship!

Between this and Corporal Comma’s surprise reappearance in the previous episode, it seems like the show is making a concerted effort to give the feel of a big ship with a big crew; lots of people running around doing things that we generally don’t see. Presumably there’s also a “Wedge Antilles” aspect to this: If they lose a major cast member it’d be easy to bump one of these minor guys up into the absent space. If John Dullaghan left the show over a contract dispute, I could see Jeff McKay taking his part. It’s a good move all ‘round.

The “Ship of Lights” folk are referred to as “Seraphs” in the script, though this name is never used on screen. A “Seraph” is one kind of several species of angels in the Bible. They have six wings, two for flying, two which bend forward to cover their eyes so they don’t attempt to behold God’s Glory directly, and two which bend down and cover their feet so they don’t accidentally tread on holy ground. More properly the plural form of Seraph should be “Seraphim,” but that doesn’t sound as spacey.

The Galactica Mythos gets a major new angle at this point: Up until now it’s been a strictly natural conflict between humans and machines, with some ancient astronaut hoo-hah thrown in towards the beginning. Now we find that there are vastly more powerful beings, indistinguishable from angels and devils, running around, beside which the thousand year war is as insignificant as a soccer brawl. We’re also told that the Organic Cylons were done in by their own machines at the start of the 1000 year war, and that Iblis had some role in that. This is obviously not common knowledge since Baltar is shocked to learn it. In fact, the destruction of the original Cylons by their creations is probably not known to anyone apart from Baltar (Who knows more about them than anyone else for obvious reasons) since Apollo explained at the start of the series that they just sorta’ died out and their machines kept going.

Curiously as well, up to this point we’ve been told that Kobol was the mother world, where life began. It’s implied in this episode that may not have been the case. Adama says “The Lords who first settled Kobol” at one point. This is nebulous: Does that mean Kobol was settled from somewhere else? Or that Humans arose on Kobol, and then “The Lords” (Seraphs) showed up? I’m leaning towards the former, since the Seraphs say “As you are, we once were, and as we are you may someday become.” This seems to imply they *were* human, but evolved past it at some point. If that wasn’t the case, then who did they evolve from, and where? This is a bit of a retcon either way: Up until now the Lords of Kobol were said to have been normal humans, and “Lord” was implied as a title. A “Lord Temporal” if you will.

So are the Seraphs and Iblis natural or supernatural? Neither: They’re preternatural. They’re natural things we can’t understand as yet, but eventually will. The Seraphs strongly imply this, and they also strongly imply that they gave rise to the concept of angels. So technically, despite all the smoke and mirrors and hoo-hah in this episode, nothing supernatural happens.

Regardless of that, Iblis *is* supposed to be the actual real devil, however. At one point he mentions he’s been to earth. Well, of course he has, he gave Eve the apple, right? “Iblis” is the devil in Islam, by the way. Presumably this is an additional reason for saying goodbye to Lucifer at this point: Why have a devil impersonator on hand when the real one is hanging around?

Some of you are gonna’ balk at the 90-day thing. “Well, a yahren isn’t a year,” you’ll say. Well, yes, yes it is. “Year” and “Yahren” were used interchangeably in the pilot movie, and while that was clearly a case of sloppy script editing, it *does* show that the writer(s) had the equivalence of “Year” and “Yahren” in mind. Furthermore, the writers were told to just substitute “Centon” for minute and “Micron” for second and “Centares” for hour, and so on. Hence, Boomer says “24 centares a day” in one episode. The colonies were twelve earths. The writers and producers weren’t clever enough to vary that.

We’re told that human-looking Androids were a science the Colonies were well-advanced in, back in the day. We actually see Wilker working on one. It looks to be a prop left over from Westworld/Futureworld. This is yet another example of the Colonials having no particular Cyberphobia. Interesting!

There’s a concerted effort to make Apollo more assertive in this episode. Intended as the main character, he quickly ended up as second banana to his own sidekick. He’s much more central to the action, and Starbuck’s role is toned down quite a bit. Sadly, this doesn’t work out terribly well for either of them. It’s not either actor’s fault, they give the best they’ve got, but the script isn’t quite there. Apollo’s various moments of moral outrage seem artificial and stagey. Starbuck is best when he’s playing happy-go-lucky devil-may-care guy who’s obviously overcompensating for a lot of doubt and emotional turmoil. Straight-ahead emotion with no character filtration is too raw, it doesn’t work.

There’s an attempt to bring Adama in as more of a leader as well. He’s less the kindly General Hammond this time out, and is much more involved in the action. He catches on to Iblis quickly, and we’re given glimpses into the character’s depth that weren’t there before. This works out pretty well, and once again we see that Tigh is a great administrator, but not really an effective leader. And he’s very bad at lying.

One could argue that the portrayal of women in this ep is sexist, and one would certainly be right, but wasn’t that pretty much true of the ‘70s as a whole? Also, it’s made pretty clear that the devil likes chicks, and he’s messing with their minds. Liberals - if any reading this - should let their moral indignation slide a bit, since Iblis is a bad guy doing a bad thing. It’s no real reflection on the women themselves. If Iblis were gay, presumably he could have done that with the dudes as well.

This episode marks the first real attempt to depict life in the fleet in the run of the series. We saw a lot of squalor and fear in the first episode, but now we see how people have settled in. It’s refreshing, oddly. Food is in short supply, people aren’t starving, but they’re plenty hungry, the barges are cold. There are curfews in place for people with vital jobs. There’s nothing much to do apart from watch TV. Life isn’t much different than being in a minimum-security prison. It pretty much sucks all around. In a deleted scene, Boomer tells Starbuck, “You and I get to leave the ship regularly, and it lets us keep our sanity. Most of the people in those ships never get to. They *need* things like Triad just to keep them going.”

We also get a sensible window into how the fighters work: There’s a lot of shuffling of pilots around, presumably as billets open up. This makes sense, as the Galactica was losing a lot of pilots prior to the Pegasus, and you’d probably want to transfer your more experienced pilots to the more under-strength squadrons to keep them reasonably effective. Hence Jolly and Greenbean were transferred to Red Squadron (Who’s job, by the way, appears to be flying CAP over the fleet), then when they were reinforced by the Pegasus, the squadrons were integrated somewhat, and Jolly was Xfered to Silver Spar. Red Squadron appears to be less headed by Greenbean, and appears to be less experience pilots, like Bree.

Remember Cadet Cree from “Gun on Ice Planet Zero?” For all the fuss made over him, we never see him again. I think since we haven’t seen Giles or Deitra in a long time, we can safely assume they’re dead. Pitty, I liked Sheila DeWindt a lot. Anyway - this is just an aside - I think if I were remaking Galactica, I’d have the downed pilot from “Gun” be Bree rather than Cree. It just tightens things up, and gives us more of a reason to care about her, while still having her be crazily inexperienced. Ok, getting back to the real show:

For any newbs who only know the RDM Galactica: if “Triad” sounds like a gayer version of “Pyramid,” That’s because it is. They’re the same game. In Old Galactica, “Pyramid” was a card game, and “Triad” was a sport. RDM has since admitted that he forgot that, and wrote the game into the new show under the wrong name. ABC was actively trying to kill the show at this point, so I’m assuming the dress code was an attempt to ‘get more chicks to watch the show’ or something. All the actors have admitted to great humiliation from these scenes.

We see several sets we haven’t seen in a while - Adama’s dining room, for instance - and several new sets: The Triad court, Wilker’s lab, the Disco on the Rising Star. These, along with the Rejuvination Center from “Fire In Space” are very brightly colored, and don’t match the art design of the rest of the show. I’m assuming a different production designer is involved here. They’re more Buck Rogersy and less Galactican. We get some lengthy walking-and-talking scenes in the Galactica corridors, which are more sprawling than we’ve ever seen before, and most of the ship is much better lit than we’ve previously seen. It was always a bit shadowy and moody, but now it’s not. Again: a change in art direction.

If you’ve got to do a deus ex machina story, this is really the way to go about it: the gods solve the problem in the end, however this is set up so far in advance that it doesn’t feel like a cheat, and this whole episode feels like the first part in a much larger arc to come. What did Iblis have in mind for Baltar? What role did Iblis play in the creation of the Cylons, and why the war with Man? The Seraphs clearly have big things in store for Apollo (They also seem rather impressed with Starbuck, not so much with Sheba), and yet they’re not willing to resurrect him until AFTER Starbuck and Sheba pledge their lives to him. Clearly, whatever is coming requires a dedicated support team. It's also interesting that the Seraphs are evasive about whether the Galactica will make it to earth, and only "After you've seeded and nurtured new civilizations." Saaaaaay! Now that's something! The show isn't actually about what we thought it was about after all: It's not about finding earth, it's not about the Cylons, it's about diaspora! Neato!

The Seraphs and Iblis don’t appear to be omnipotent, and there are fairly clearly circumscribed limits to their powers.

Here’s what appears to have happened, though they never spell it out: The Seraphs appear to have been fighting the devils. The devil ship gets damaged and crashes into The Tinted Planet, and Iblis - the leader - survives. He says he doesn’t know how he survived, and he says it so oddly that it might be true. At about the same exact moment, Silver Spar Squadron disappears. (Why are the Seraphs grabbing the Vipers anyway? Possibly to keep them from straying into the battle?) Iblis needs off the planet badly because “They’re looking for me.” He cops a ride with our heroes, and the rest you know.

If the Seraphs are grabbing pilots to protect them, then what are they protecting them from? The first group makes sense, but the others don’t. Granted, the real reason is ‘because the script says so,’ but one likes to try and make subjective sense of these things. By the way, there’s some confusion as to how many people are missing: In both Silver Spar and Red squadrons, we see five vipers on patrol, and all of them are snatched, but they only mention eight fighters missing. After Boomer is snatched, they still only mention eight.

A deleted scene mentions that the Triad game is the championship one for the season, which is why everyone is so worked up about Apollo blowing it off. The subplot still comes out of nowhere, but that explains it a little bit.

The scene where Adama asks the forbearance of the Council goes on a LOT longer in the deleted version. There’s a lot more give and take, more discussion leading up to the decision to adjourn. Interestingly, Adama openly states that he believes a lot of his decisions have been guided by God, and he asks leave to read the scriptures and pray. Obviously, that’s why it got cut down: not secular enough. It’s interesting to me that the network was uncomfortable with both extremes: any mention of Cassie’s whorish past get cut, and any mention of Adama’s strong religious beliefs get cut, too.

Interestingly, Adama knows or suspects that the “Angels” are just more evolved beings, their lights are just advanced ships, but it doesn’t seem to shake his faith in God any.

There’s a deleted scene where Starbuck, Sheba and Apollo get back to the Galactica, and are met by Adama and Boomer, who explain that the missing pilots were all found stranded on The Tinted Planet, as an act of sabotage. (Really? By who?) No one has any memory of the truth.

What did Apollo see in the wreckage? As kids there was a lot of debate about it, with a lot of us concluding it was the wreckage of the Pegasus (“Whatever hit here must have been as big as a battlestar!”) and Iblis’ mention that Sheba would see her father again. We assumed that Apollo saw Cain’s corpse. But Sheba didn’t actually look, which left it nebulous. So what did he see? Turns out it was to be a shot of a demonic leg with a cloven hoof, but the censors felt that would be disturbing, so they never filmed it.

There’s a lengthy deleted scene where Apollo, Starbuck, and Sheba quickly survey the Tinted Planet solar system. This is pretty neat, pretty jaunty, and even scored, but the episode was running long so the entire sequence was cut. It was eventually stuck into “The Hand of God” episode in one chunk.

It’s been long implied that Colonials live a lot longer than we do, but they actually spell it out here: their average life span is 200 years.

In conclusion, I was very pleasantly surprised by an episode I'd been dreading, and I kinda' can't wait to watch what comes next.

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