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Battlestar Galactica (#110 of 54)

Review: Leilani Nishime’s Undercover Asian: Multiracial Asian Americans in Visual Culture

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Review: Leilani Nishime’s Undercover Asian: Multiracial Asian Americans in Visual Culture
Review: Leilani Nishime’s Undercover Asian: Multiracial Asian Americans in Visual Culture

In 2003, The New York Times published an article entitled “Generation E.A.” which discussed the emergent role of multiracial people in advertising campaigns and concluded by suggesting that they’re an emerging racial category and a stepping-stone key to a race-free future. According to Leilani Nishime, such a notion has become dominant among popular media outlets, which awaits an “inevitable end to race.” For Nishime, these inclinations aren’t only misguided, but a constituent for racial oppression, since “color blindness is not the opposite of racial hierarchies; it is its enabling fiction.” These concerns form the bulk of Nishime’s focus in Undercover Asian: Multiracial Asian Americans in Visual Culture, an exciting new addition to the canon of critical race studies, which marks the first book-length examination of media images of multiracial Asian Americans.

Nishime’s scope extends across cinema, reality TV, episodic TV drama, advertising campaigns, sports figures, and art installations to offer a comprehensive sense of the representational landscape. Thus, she devotes two chapters to Keanu Reeves, both as a celebrity persona in the 1990s and for his role as Neo in The Matrix trilogy. Within media discussions of both Reeves’s ethnicity and sexuality, Nishime finds that “writers often revert to the queer rhetoric of closeting instead of summoning the racially inflected language of passing to describe Reeves racially.” Nishime overlaps her inquiry with the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which took effect in 1994. As such, pressure from media outlets put on Reeves to answer questions concerning both his sexuality and ethnicity became a site of confusion, since underlying institutional norms encourage mixed-race people to “pass” as white, while insisting, with DADT, that sexuality be kept closeted. Nishime does a fantastic job of dethreading the rhetorical complexities inherent to these issues, while concluding with a different, and more important, set of concerns: “Instead of asking whether [Reeves] is embracing or rejecting Asian-ness or queerness or femininity, we can ask what we mean by accommodation and what we can understand as resistance when we are limited by the binary choice either to claim or reject these identities.”

Review: Firefly: Still Flying, A Celebration of Joss Whedon’s Acclaimed TV Series

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Review: Firefly: Still Flying, A Celebration of Joss Whedon’s Acclaimed TV Series
Review: Firefly: Still Flying, A Celebration of Joss Whedon’s Acclaimed TV Series

I like a lot of things these days. I like the Best for Babes Foundation. I like Rachel Ford’s status. I like the photo my husband posted of our two-and-a-half-year-old daughter scratching her ass in front of some student artwork—and I am duly pleased when four other people indicate that they like it too.

It’s so easy to like things nowadays that I can forget how hard being a fan of a TV series used to be. Pre-Internet me had to bid high on dubbed “complete series” VHS tapes off of eBay, subscribe by mail to fan-produced, photocopied, and stapled zines, and pore over ancient issues of Starlog otherwise gathering dust in my parents’ attic just to feed my obsession with the shows that consumed me.

I loved the world of TV fandom so much that back in 1996 I registered a domain name—tvgen.com—in the hopes of starting some kind of web-based clearing house for TV fans to meet other fans. I think I harbored secret hopes of financing a trip to Portmeiron, Wales, where Number Six from The Prisoner would magically come to life and whisk me off for a life of nonconformity and awesome scarves. Instead, I caved under my first offer and sold my future dreams for the ability to pay off my credit cards.

Ironically, as TV shows become more accessible, thanks to cable repeats, Netflix, streaming video, and TiVO, my ability to go nuts over a TV series seems to have decreased. It’s so easy to watch every episode that it’s even easier to give up when a show loses its footing. I’ll just go searching for something more exciting, or have a tawdry one-night stand with a couple of Real Housewives.

The Long Arc: The Challenge of TV Series Endings

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The Long Arc: The Challenge of TV Series Endings
The Long Arc: The Challenge of TV Series Endings

I’ve spent quite a bit of time watching and recapping the CW series Gossip Girl; especially early on, the show had a surprising amount of hidden depth. However, while watching the past few episodes of the series, two thoughts were on my mind. The first was that after two-and-a-half seasons, any critical insight the show had to offer and that I could glean from in-depth recapping had probably come to an end. The second thought was about the reason for the first.

The intractable problem facing Gossip Girl is the same problem that plagued showrunner Josh Schwartz’s first series, The O.C., and is the same problem that any long-running television series confronts. A show survives the dreaded culling of pilot season and makes it onto the air. From there, it finds some combination of audience penetration and critical acclaim that justifies its existence to the networks, and it gets picked up for another season…and another…and another. At this point, dozens of hours of the show have been created, with each episode using up a plot avenue and closing off potential choices for the show’s direction. Will the show embark upon radical changes which may be so disorienting to an audience already used to the show’s pattern and template that it drives them away? Or will it rehash plots and tread water, creating new narratives from flimsier and flimsier premises, with the hope that the audience doesn’t realize or care that they’ve seen this stuff before? The correct choice lies somewhere in-between alienation and stagnation, and many series founder when making that choice.

Caprica Recap: Season 1, Episode 1, "Rebirth"

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<em>Caprica</em> Recap: Season 1, Episode 1, “Rebirth”
<em>Caprica</em> Recap: Season 1, Episode 1, “Rebirth”

Last week’s Caprica pilot has been available to watch in one form or another for over a year, so its TV premiere felt a bit anticlimactic. The episode which most of us have really been anticipating is “Rebirth,” the first one-hour series entry and one in which the writers and producers had sufficient enough lead-up time to allow for any tweaking of the series premise. Fortunately, the pilot introduced us to a fully realized world that didn’t require much retooling. And though the series still hasn’t quite found the unique quality that could make for compelling television, this hour is still a vast improvement on an already solid pilot, despite the major misstep that causes it to fall apart at the end.

“Rebirth” breaks down into a typical A-B storyline, the primary story focusing on Zoe-A (avatar) and her predicament as she finds herself trapped in the Cylon U-87 prototype’s body. As the episode begins, we are privy to the U-87/Zoe-A’s dreams, a jumble between the downloaded memories of the actual Zoe, the virtual Zoe-A, and the U-87’s battle tests. We soon learn Zoe-A’s Cylon is the only one showing signs of creative thinking in field tests. Daniel Graystone acknowledges this robot is the same one he was working on in the lab in the previous episode. But on a conscious level at least, he fails to acknowledge what the cause for this behavior could be.

He has the U-87 moved to his home lab for further testing, where we meet two of his techs, one named Philo (Alex Arsenault) who is gentle with the machine, and another (whose name escapes me) who treats it roughly and reductively as a “tool.” His colleague finally gets his comeuppance for being so dismissive. Zoe-A reacts violently, slicing his fingertip off, sending Philo scrambling for the severed digit and allowing Arsenault to give one of the show’s funnier line readings, “Found it!” Needless to say, Philo makes an impression and looks like a character that will be recurring.

Caprica: "Pilot"

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<em>Caprica</em>: “Pilot”
<em>Caprica</em>: “Pilot”

While some felt that Battlestar Galactica’s finale repudiated much that came before it, both thematically and in its execution, others (like myself) felt the story had come to an emotionally satisfying conclusion. Either way, disgruntled or devoted fans of the show—and even those who’ve never seen it—will find its new soapy spinoff, Caprica, of interest. Like its predecessor, which was couched in Bush-era “War on Terror” parallels, the show alludes to present day tensions stemming from Obama’s promise of change, something I discussed at length in a piece I wrote back in April after watching an early DVD release of the pilot.

“Caprica: 58 Years Before the Fall” reads the opening title card to the two-hour debut. The Fall refers to humanity’s near extinction at the hands of their robotic Cylon creations in BSG’s premiere. This prequel explores the fateful forces which led to their creation and rise to prominence. It begins with two young girls perishing in a terrorist attack orchestrated by a monotheistic cult known as the Soldiers of the One (the seed for the Cylon belief in one God; contrarian in the polytheistic society of Caprica). The girls’ respective fathers—Daniel Graystone (Eric Stoltz), a Bill Gates/Steve Jobs-like billionaire genius looking for the missing link in his robotics research, and Joseph Adams (Esai Morales), a Michael Corleone-type attorney reluctant to join the family (as in Family) business—are our portals into this show’s world.

Graystone and Adams also serve as doubles tied together by their very different reactions to the possibility that their daughters can be resurrected. Graystone sees it as a matter of science and intellect. If he can bring his daughter Zoe (Alessandra Torresani) back to life by imprinting her personality into a machine prototype he’s created, then why not? Ironically, it is his overwhelming emotional regret that blinds this intellectual to the unpredictable repercussions that shall ultimately play out. The earthier and more instinctual Adams comes to grasp the moral implications of trying to revive his own dead daughter. Paradoxically, it is his pragmatism that allows him to step back and view the situation dispassionately.

The Conversations: Star Trek

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The Conversations: Star Trek
The Conversations: Star Trek

JASON BELLAMY: America’s relationship with Star Trek began before man ever set foot on the moon. Gene Roddenberry’s creation was born in 1966 and lasted three seasons on TV before dying of low ratings in 1969. Forty years, endless reruns, four live-action TV series and 10 feature films later, Star Trek is alive and well in the pop culture. In just a few days, on May 8, the crew of the starship Enterprise—Kirk, Spock, Bones, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu and Chekov—will hit the big screen yet again in an origin story directed by J.J. Abrams. Star Trek, as the film is simply called, is perhaps the most anticipated movie of the spring. And though its arrival is hardly a surprise in this era of remakes and retreads, the brand’s longevity is nonetheless impressive.

From 1987-2005, there was some form of modern Star Trek on TV. The Next Generation (1987-94) begat Deep Space Nine (1993-99), which begat Voyager (1995-2001), which begat Enterprise (2001-05). All of these series can be traced back to the 1966 pilot that started it all, but it’s safe to say that none of these series would have been possible without the varied yet undeniable success of Star Trek at the cinema. From 1979-91, six Star Trek films were released featuring the recognizable cast and characters of the original TV series. Almost two decades later, these films are cherished by some (“Trekkies” or “Trekkers”), mocked by others and seemingly ignored by everyone else.

Caprica Pilot: A New Chapter for a New Era

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Caprica Pilot: A New Chapter for a New Era
Caprica Pilot: A New Chapter for a New Era

With the recent demise of the much beloved Battlestar Galactica, this avid TV watcher found himself mourning the loss of its wonderful characters in a way he seldom has before. Perhaps it was because the series reached what is generally rare for television: a satisfying conclusion. I actually found myself wanting to follow the new adventures these characters had set out on in the final minutes of the show. It is fitting that the science fiction series, an allegory for Bush’s “War on Terror” era, would wrap up as America enters a new, hopeful, but more opaque era of economic uncertainty. The new prequel spinoff, Caprica, is a chapter in the Galactica saga that captures the feeling, characteristic of the Obama era, of American life at a crossroads.

Battlestar Galactica Recap, Season 4, Episode 20, "Daybreak, Part 2"

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<em>Battlestar Galactica</em> Recap, Season 4, Episode 20, “Daybreak, Part 2”
<em>Battlestar Galactica</em> Recap, Season 4, Episode 20, “Daybreak, Part 2”

“Daybreak, Part 2,” the series finale of Battlestar Galactica, is about as audacious and ambitious a piece of television as I’ve ever seen. There’s basically no way the episode doesn’t end up being deeply polarizing (and, indeed, it already is), but outside of a few small moments, I found it pretty tremendous, first a fittingly epic action ending and then a sweet and enigmatic series of character endings. I suspect, as seems to often be the case with this show, that what I liked about the episode will end up driving the rage of those who hated it, but, as always, it really does come down to whether you’re more interested in watching the show for the characters or for the mythology. If you’ve been spending the last few weeks trying to figure out how discontinued Cylon model Daniel fits into things, you were probably sorely disappointed. If you’ve been spending the last few weeks, however, trying to figure out how the writers were going to close off the problematic Baltar (James Callis) character arc, then you were probably deeply satisfied. “I know about farming,” indeed.

(And I know we say it every week, but we really, really mean it this week. I’m going to spoil the hell out of this below the jump, so abandon this review unless you’ve seen the thing.)

Battlestar Galactica: Frakking Feminist—So Say We All!

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<em>Battlestar Galactica</em>: Frakking Feminist—So Say We All!
<em>Battlestar Galactica</em>: Frakking Feminist—So Say We All!

Over at Slate a couple weeks ago, Juliet Lapidos wrote a column entitled “Chauvinist Pigs in Space: Why Battlestar Galactica Is Not So Frakking Feminist After All,” in which she explores the widely-lauded feminism ostensibly on display in the show. Lapidos calls it “conventional wisdom ... that the show takes a strong stand against misogyny,” citing Elle, Wired, and a scholarly collection of essays on Battlestar called Cylons in Americaa. Allowing for some advances, especially over previous depictions of women in science fiction, she ultimately identifies any perceived advances as “attention-grabbing,” with “plenty [remaining] to make a feminist squirm.” She devotes the rest of the column to exploring the ways in which Battlestar—particularly as belonging to the peculiarly misogynistic genre of science fiction—fails the feminism test.

To an extent, of course, Lapidos is right. The show rarely focuses on the naked or hypersexualized (much less gooed-up and reborn) bodies of the male Cylons; the show is made largely by males and for males, and it follows that the attractive women of Battlestar have their sexuality explored, visualized and, yes, exploited. In no way excusing this facet of the show, it is somewhat difficult to hold this against the show insofar as every other contemporary form of visual media, including those made by and for women, engages in this very same practice. That is, the hypersexualization may not be okay—much less something that honors women—but for television in 2009, it is simply par for the course. Regardless: point taken, and noted.

The rest of Lapidos’ points may be grouped into five categories, all of which are highly flawed criticisms. I will engage them case by case.