Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Islanded In a Stream of Reviews

Reviews for Islanded in A Stream of Stars.

Maureen Ryan, Chicago Tribune:

"Islanded," however, felt like an elegiac farewell -- to Galactica herself, to Laura Roslin, to the very idea of new possibilities. It felt like the beginning of the end of everything -- as indeed, it is. Next week brings the first hour of the show's three-hour finale.

I fear that finale. I fear it. The main reason is this: I am sure we'll see more scenes like the "Islanded" hospital scene between Adama and Roslin. And I'm not sure I'll be able to frakkin' take it.

It was the emotional heart of "Islanded." And it was a beautiful callback to "UB." We had the lovely image of Roslin and Adama, once again pulling out the wacky tobacky and enjoying the easy intimacy that they share.

After the March 20 finale, we won't see Roslin and Adama any more. And we won't see Mary McDonnell and Edward James Olmos working together any more. I can't wrap my head around that.

With one simple sentence, McDonnell, as Roslin, began the process of shredding my heart, a process that I'm sure will continue in the next episodes.

"I don't think I've ever felt truly at home, until these last few months here with you," she said.

Observe the work. Observe the frakkin' work for a moment. Talk about range: Remember when she said, in "Blood on the Scales," "I'm coming for all of you!" Her forcefulness in that scene still raises the hair on the back of my neck.

In "Islanded," however, she played the hospital scene with warmth, but it was clear-eyed and rational warmth. It was restrained without being cold. There was no overt pulling of heartstrings or working of our tear ducts. And that's what was so powerful. Roslin has accepted everything -- that she'll die, that she'll lose Adama, that she'll lose this last, completely unexpected happiness she's had with Adama.

And she's OK with that. The final gift she can give Adama is to help him be OK with it too. He won't be, they both know that. But she's being the strong one. She's going to get him to accept what's really happening.

And that's what the gracefully mournful "Islanded" is really about, in my view -- acceptance. The characters have worked their way through the stages of grief, and this had to happen. They had to just accept what's in front of them. Circumstances are so dire -- listen to that terrible, terrible creaking -- that honesty is the only possible policy.

Also, read Mo's detailed interview with writers Michael Taylor and Michael Angeli.

Todd VanDerWerff, The House Next Door:
One of the smarter things I heard about the film Rachel Getting Married, my favorite of last year, is that in a lot of cases, most of the things that people who strongly disliked the film disliked about it are the sorts of things those who really liked the film liked about it. It’s the sort of thing where the exact same element can rub two people in very different ways for very different reasons. It’s not even about rejecting, say, a specific story element (as with the many who just lost it over the final third of No Country for Old Men); it’s about rejecting something that lies deep within what the film itself and the creative voices behind it were trying to do. And, in a way, that’s increasingly how I feel about the back half of the fourth season of Battlestar Galactica, which had its final non-finale hour tonight in “Islanded in a Stream of Stars,” written by Michael Taylor and directed by series star Edward James Olmos. There are going to be a lot of fans of the show who rail against everything it did in this episode, which is basically a long throat clearing before the big, three-hour ending, and I’m going to be hard pressed to disagree with them. But, as with so many prior hours this half-season, I liked a lot of what it was doing, even if it wasn’t an all-time classic episode of the series. So when you say, “But it was slow-moving and there were no ANSWERS and where is this all GOING?!” I guess I’ll just have to agree and say that those were some of the things I LIKED about it. And a lot of this gets to some fundamental issues with how we watch and criticize television.

To a real degree, I’m willing to give Battlestar a lot of slack because it’s a story still in search of an ending. If we get to the ending two weeks from now and it’s terrible, then a lot of hours that I was willing to go with in the process of watching the series (like this one) will seem that much more pointless and meandering in retrospect. On the other hand, if the finale ties up the story in a mostly satisfying way or does something that throws the rest of the series into a new relief (a la the daring Sopranos finale), then hours like this will feel like vital puzzle pieces, even if they weren’t. All that remains for Battlestar at this point is to stick the landing, and what I’ve seen of the series so far gives me confidence that the series will be able to do that. Perhaps you don’t share a similar confidence. Perhaps you’re a pessimist. To me, though, Ron Moore and his staff have earned that kind of faith.

Richard Vine, The Guardian:
So it's come to this. Two middle-aged men, broken, drunk. Sitting on a sofa toasting the one thing they love more than the women in their lives, their children or even each other – the ship. It's a beautiful scene – one of those moments where you can tell the writers thought they'd indulge themselves just for a second, and let Saul Tigh and Bill Adama toast their past together – and also toast the show itself. With only two episodes left, maybe this is the last quiet moment they'll be getting.

More importantly, maybe it's the last quiet moment anyone will be getting on board the good ship Galactica. If even Bill Adama is prepared to break up the ship's parts and move everything over to the friendly Cylon's Basestar, then this really is the end of the line. You've got to love the elegant parallels between Bill's love of the ship and how ingrained it is in his mental makeup...

"So say we all!" The powerful funeral montage, with orations from Adama, Ellen and Baltar seemed to suggest that there's room for a three-way religious detente in the BSG universe now – is that the first time TV's ever played out such a complex theological debate? Boomer's shared projection with Hera also echoed the way that Roslin brought up the dream of a cabin she'd shared with Adama – Cylons and humans dream of electric sheep, apparently. And are we finally going to get to the bottom of the shared Opera House dream before everything wraps up?

Mike Murphy, Press Democrat:
Do the writers of "Battlestar Galactica" realize there are only two episodes left? We want resolution! Not a plodding, meandering collage of scenes that leave you pretty much where you started off. Nothing really happened in last night's episode ("Islanded in a Stream of Stars" -- it even sounds overly contemplative), and that bugs me. What did we get? Starbuck on the can, Adama drunk and distraught, and Anders plugged into the ship. What did we learn this week that we didn't know last week? Not a whole lot. I was hoping for more of a dramatic buildup to the finale, and more answers to the million lingering questions. The three-hour finale (which is split into two parts) better blow me away. I love this show and I really want to see it go out strong. Don't leave us fans hanging out to dry.

A slow-moving episode light on new plot developments is fine foe mid-season. But with only two episodes remaining, I was left wanting more. The previous episode ended with a double bang, and instead of building on that, Friday's episode petered out and became too contemplative. It's time for action.

Alan Sepinwall:
When Ron Moore said the state of things would actually get bleaker from what we saw in "Sometimes a Great Notion," he wasn't kidding. And while a dark, apocalyptic ending feels tonally appropriate to everything that's come before, I'm not sure how well I'm going to deal with all the deaths (of people and ships) that I suspect are coming in the two-week, three-hour finale.

"Islanded in a Stream of Stars," written by Michael Taylor and directed by Edward James Olmos, never let up on the sense of impending doom. Every scene on Galactica is punctuated by flickering lights and the sounds of creaking, protesting metal. Even the bathroom stall doors won't close (and Starbuck doesn't much care if Baltar sees her on the throne.) Every establishing shot of the fleet inevitably leads to a close-up of the gaping hole that Boomer left in the ship's hull. The Hera/Boomer story is bookended by scenes of little Hera wailing for a lost maternal figure (first Athena, then Boomer herself). There's no relief, no let-up.

Battlestar Galactica Review Blog:
With only a handful of episodes left, and so many loose ends to resolve, time is of the essence. So it’s hard not to feel like this prelude to the series finale wasn’t a wasted opportunity. There were some vague hints as to the resolution of the series as a whole, but most of the time was spent on lingering character vignettes. As satisfying as they can be, and as in keeping with the style of the series it might be, it’s still hard to temper the disappointment.

This episode was essentially the combination of character reactions to the Galactica situation, the abduction of Hera, and Kara’s odd status quo. The net effect is a laundry list of the implications of the past few episodes and what the writers will need to tackle at the breaking of the day. As already mentioned, this almost works at cross-purposes. It’s good to know that the writers have a grasp on the loose ends, but it’s a also a reminder of just how much they’ll need to cram into the finale.

...Unfortunately, all of these plot and character threads, right down to Boomer’s wavering faith in her actions and Baltar’s little speech about Kara, could have been compressed into a lot less time. It feels like this episode was a bit too methodical for its own good. It’s hard to tell, however, because it all comes down to the finale. If three hours of finale is enough to cover all the bases sufficiently, then this episode will be vindicated.

Tim Goodman, San Francisco Chronicle:
By now pretty much every fan of "Battlestar Galactica" knows that it is a dark and dreary kind of show. They do bleak well on this series. As it rushes to the end, I'm beginning to re-examine exactly what I want from the conclusion. Granted, answers would be wonderful. I would even go for - and forgive me the exception, since I've wanted all of my other favorite series to end as incomplete and realistically unhappy as ever - some semblance of happiness. I really would. There's a part of me looking for a Humans Live With Cylons Happily Ever After escape clause. I think fans have earned that. Black is my favorite color, but four seasons of "BSG" makes you pine for some splash of brightness. You know - it doesn't have to be spelled out entirely. Maybe just the sense - and I'm certainly getting that sense from the last three or four episodes - that some kind of peaceful coexistence and appreciation of differences is at hand. That maybe it doesn't close perfectly, that it leaves us with the suggestion there will be some hashing out of issues.

Unless there's a flurry of answers and activity coming up, perhaps the call to ratchet down expectations should continue. And yet, this could be an episode many people groaned over for its lack of real forward motion - but I liked it. I liked that there was sense of accepting the limitations of what would be the best outcome for each individual. Accepting that life has shortcomings and that maybe that's where your life is truly defined - the not looking any further, but the living. Roslin's dream cabin will never be built (by her, at least) and yet it gives her some happiness. She also accepts that her late-stage life with Adama has been her most enjoyable. Adama, too, accepts that it's the end for The Old Girl - as in the ship, not Roslin. He agitates himself in paint, then just gets to the task of making it look as good as it can for now. He makes do with a fresh coat right before telling Tigh it's time to strip Galactica for parts. Others shared this sense that coming up short of perfect is, in the end, perfectly acceptable.

Starbuck may not know exactly who she is or what her purpose is, but she embraces the dead part of herself - pinning her picture to the wall. You could even say that the Humans vs. Cylons thing amongst those restoring the ship hit a healing patch when Cylon chose Human over itself and to close the damn lock, already. The funeral, clash of cultures that it was, in some way continued the bonding.... That life-saving gesture may go a long way toward peace. Word gets around - or at least a scene like that is meant to suggest it does without having to show it (not enough time). Tigh, too, came to accept who he was, telling Ellen that this was his true family (despite fathering millions of others). And yet, perhaps the biggest breakthrough might have been Boomer. Not only did Boomer go back to her own personal cabin in the imagination, taking solace there, but also finding a new kind of connection there - to Hera. Hard to hate the Humans totally when you feel for half of one when you least expect it.

Time Out Chicago:
Next week brings with it the first part of the series of finale of Battlestar Galactica and so, last night brought us an episode that felt very much like it was waiting for the end to begin. There wasn’t a great amount of cohesiveness between the various plot threads. Mostly, we were just seeing the pieces slowly move into place for the endgame as it so quickly draws nears.

There was a lot of wreckage to pick up from last week’s episode and, with the exception of Tyrol, who is wholly absent from the episode, we see a little bit from everyone who was affected.

...The biggest emotional wreckage from last week’s episode is left with Helo and Athena, who only get two scenes in the entire episode (the latter only one), but they are absolutely gut-wrenching and you really get to see Tahmoh Penikett show his stuff. Clearly, the relationship between the two of them is broken. Helo can’t even get Athena to look at him or talk to him, even to tell him that she hates him. She’s sharing the visions of the opera house with Roslin and Caprica again and mostly, just weeping for the loss of her daughter. Helo, drunk and disheveled, begs Adama for a raptor to go out looking for a Hera. Adama says no, they’ve already sent out a Cylon heavy raider to the location they presumed Cavil to be (called The Colony) and nothing was there. Helo persists, but Adama says that, as someone who has lost a child, he understands the pain, but he has to let it go. This is where Helo, always the good soldier, loses it, just a moment. He screams at the old man that he’s the one that he needs to let go, referring, of course, to the obviously broken Battlestar. This scene is just an incredible one for Helo, who’s always been a remarkably steadfast character, defined by the qualities of being a good soldier and a good father. At this moment, he’s forced to make a choice between the two, and you can see that it’s absolutely tearing him apart.

Also check out a very in-depth review from Galactica Science. (If you want to get really deep into the weeds of science, check out their report on the stellar constellations seen in Islanded. I would posit however, that the stars seen in the background of BSG episodes, are not usually thought out in advance, and probably are not some kind of set of hidden clues, in most cases.)

Other recaps and reviews from Entertainment Weekly, CinemaBlend, TV Squad, Galactica Variants, (Plus, Variants also offers predictions and a pessimistic analysis for the overall ending of BSG), BSG Cast, Examiner, Paste Magazine, North by Northwestern, Zap2It, The Los Angeles Times, Screen Junkies, Canwest News Service, Windsor Star, Groundlings Review and check out Sam J. Miller's 25 Word Review.

And Ellen Gray wonders how Battlestar Galactica is going to end.

Next week on BSG: Adama calls for room service on Daybreak, Part One.


Chiaroscuro said...

"I would posit however, that the stars seen in the background of BSG episodes, are not usually thought out in advance, and probably are not some kind of set of hidden clues, in most cases."

I've been following the debate on Galactica Science regarding the constellations that are visible only from our Earth and its vicinity -- e.g., Orion -- and why they've been showing up all over the place this season.

The scientists are very precise about how and why these sightings must be impossible, or mistakes, or whatever. Many explanations have been advanced.

I believe that the production team is deliberately showing very recognizable constellations to telegraph that the fleet is somewhere near or in our solar system. However, they're not trying to duplicate exact astronomical configurations. They're giving hints to the general audience, people who would probably recognize Orion but not have the expertise to cavil over fudging the data for dramatic effect.

But hey, in less than two weeks we'll have some answers (hopefully).

Steven said...

Seeing as the internets are abuzz with speculation about the ending, I put together a survey of how people think it will all wrap up. It's on Google Spreadsheets open for anyone to fill it out or see the results. I'm curious to see what other people think.

So, share and enjoy:

And no, this is not a stealth viral, I'm just another fan with too much time on their hands ;).

chavyrocks said...

I'm feeling much like VanDerWerff; I haven't loved much of season 4, yet I'm willing to suspend my final judgment until all the eps have been broadcast. If there is some underlying reason that adequately explains why they have destroyed just about every character, I'll be happy.

Logan Gawain said...

Yeah, VanDerWerff is one of my favorite reviewers. I also think Mo Ryan and Tim Goodman captured how I felt about the episode as well.

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