Battlestar Galactica: Season 4.0

Battlestar Galactica is a show that isn’t afraid to change. Producer Ron Moore made that painfully clear before the series even began to air, by issuing gender changes and other alterations to several of the classic characters, even though he maintained the basic story of the original series. Over three seasons, BSG has continually changed its dynamic, as the survivors of the twelve colonies have evaded Cylons, met up with another Battlestar, settled on a new planet, encountered the Cylons again, and continued their quest to find Earth. Through all of it, the overall theme of the show tends to have been, “things are seldom what they seem.” Never has this been more true than in the first half of season four, otherwise known as Season 4.0. When we last left the survivors of the colonies, key members of Battlestar Galactica had discovered that they were actually four of the remaining five hidden Cylon models. Ironically, the very characters who had been strongest in the human rebellion on the settled New Caprica were proven to actually be the enemy - a move few fans saw coming for the series. Meanwhile, the worst offender of the remaining humans, Gaius Baltar, finally received his trial for crimes against humanity and was found innocent, while one of the key heroes, Kara “Starbuck” Thrace, returned from the dead with the promise to lead the remaining fleet to Earth. No, things never get dull on BSG.

Season four continues the storyline of the previous three seasons with the central focus on finding Earth, although the show never suffers from a Gilligan’s Island, “will they or won’t they find Earth” premise. The leading salvation from that fate is the strong character work on the series, and season four finds that characterization at its strongest as some of the strongest characters find themselves questioning their very existence. What does it mean to have survived the Cylon onslaught several times over when one finds out that they too are a Cylon. Brilliant performances are put in by series regulars Michael Hogan, Aaron Douglas, and Michael Trucco, although previous bit-player Rekha Sharma is the one who really finds a new life with her Cylon identity revealed. The meek president’s aid suddenly becomes intoxicated by the potential of her own existence - a fascinating transformation to behold.

Previous seasons have focused primarily on the human plight - a fight for survival against their own creation. Season four changes the dynamic by showing the mechanical Cylons aren’t above human grievances either. At odds over how to proceed against the humans and with their own search for Earth, the Cylons find themselves embroiled in their own civil war, settling their differences over a fight that truly ups the stakes of the Cylon existence, because the machines suddenly find themselves unable to resurrect themselves. Death becomes a permanent thing, and, with their feuding proven to be just as petty as what we’ve watched the humans go through over the course of the series, the line between the humans and Cylons blurs even more.

Central to the series is the quest to find the safe haven of Earth - a quest reignited by Kara’s return from the fallen in a brand-spanking new ship. With other Cylons exposed, the ability to trust Kara and her desire to find Earth becomes understandably weakened, and it isn’t long before the character is separated from the fleet again. Much like Lee’s storyline, Kara’s is almost too much setup followed by too little payoff, at least in this half of the season. The final moments of the season promise so much more, however, that it’s an easily forgivable element of the story.

As I’ve said throughout, Battlestar Galactica is a series that isn’t afraid to change. While I’m not about to go into spoiler territory and openly admit how this half of the season ends, it’s sufficient enough to say that it’s a paradigm shift that overshadows the revelation of the hidden Cylons, the brewing civil war, the founding and destruction of New Caprica, and all other dynamic changes the series has undergone. Where the last half of the season (which closes the book on BSG entirely) will go based on the final fifteen minutes of this season is a mystery, but Ron Moore hasn’t led viewers astray so far, and I have complete faith that the payoff of the final episodes will be worth the journey we’ve all made - characters and viewers - through the series as a whole. When season two of Battlestar Galactica was split in two, resulting in two DVD sets (2.0 and 2.5), I took issue with it. After all, the price of the DVD sets weren’t dropping. We were simply getting less entertainment for our dollar. Now, thanks to the writer’s strike, we see the same thing happen with the final season of BSG, with season 4.0 coming out on DVD as the second half of the season gets ready to air (starting back on January 16th).

Unlike the two season two releases, Universal does make some effort to balance out the lack of episodes by including Razor, the telefilm that plays like an extended episode of BSG but gives the series a chance to go back and explore the past of the mythos. I find it an interesting inclusion for a season that focuses so much on the blurring lines between the Cylons and humans, since it looks at the legacy of the Pegasus, and its commander, Admiral Cain, who was one of the first major characters to cross that line and look more horrific than the robots. I’d like to think that theme is the reason for including the feature length movie, although it’s probably just a matter of padding out the set so fans don’t feel like they’re being ripped off.

The problem with including Razor is that most fans of the series probably already have it, and the version included here is exactly what was released before - the unrated extended cut of the movie. Even the bonus material matches what we’ve seen before, including a season four sneak peek - real useful to include that in the set for season four. The only thing different from the previous release is that it’s in a slim case to match the rest of the discs and fit in the season box.

Razor also reminded me of one of the issues I’ve had consistently from season to season with BSG, and that’s the quality of the video. Every season of the series is plagued by a grain in the picture during particularly dark scenes. Since the show is a dark series by nature, it’s a problem that presents itself far too frequently. It shows up a lot in Razor - a problem carried over from the previous release that really needs to be fixed before I’ll consider picking up BSG in a high definition format. Not that high def is an option right now (season one was released in HD DVD, but no Blu-ray releases have been announced as of yet), but even in the lower resolution of DVD this is a problem we shouldn’t be seeing.

As for the ten episodes of season four, they include everything we’ve come to expect over the previous four DVD sets. Each episode has deleted scenes and a commentary track - although most of the commentaries have been released before as a podcast during the series’ initial run. Also previously released online are Executive Producer David Eick’s Video Blogs. Not that I’m against online content becoming part of a DVD release - after all, it then makes everything easy to find in one location. I’m just recognizing this is content that had previously been seen. It’s a shame the bridging webisodes “Face of the Enemy” couldn’t have been included as well, but the online series of shorts isn’t done yet, so putting it on the DVDs would have proven difficult.

Although there are other featurettes looking at the Cylons, and the journey both actors and characters have made, the main draw of the set for fans are going to be the sneak previews for season 4.5 and the spin-off prequel miniseries Caprica. If that’s the only thing you hope to get out of this, don’t waste your money. “Season 4.5: The Untold Story - Untold” is as “untold” as the title leaves you to believe. Other than some B-roll type shots shown completely out of context, there is nothing to see here. Moore and company obviously don’t want to spoil anything. The teaser for Caprica is a bit more revealing, but I have to say I wouldn’t watch it based on this trailer if I didn’t know it was linked to such an excellent series.

The only other featurette included worth mentioning is “The Music of Battlestar Galactica,” which focuses on Bear McCreary and his incredible score for the series. Actually, it might be a good featurette if it spent most of its time on the music or the musician, but instead it plays out as an extended gag where nobody knows who McCreary is. It gets tiresome quickly, and plays for far too long. Sure, watching McCreary deal with James Callis (Gaius Baltar) is entertaining, but then the narrative shifts to Callis, who has thrown McCreary out, taking over the featurette and doing the exact same gag with the cast not knowing who McCreary is. Five minutes would have been fine, but four times that length is weary.

Let’s be honest - if you’re a fan of Battlestar Galactica who has already picked up the previous four sets, this season is a no-brainer. You won’t be disappointed. If you haven’t seen an episode of the show, however, this set is going to be a horrible place to start. Go back to season one and start from the beginning. Season 4.0 will still be just as excellent by the time you get to it.