We Do the Monster Thrash

The Monster Thrash! / It’s a sci-fi splash!

Battlestar Galactica has one of the coolest monsters on television science-fiction today (though I still rate the new Doctor Who Daleks higher). They also have lots and lots of people toting guns. Television and movie science-fiction doesn’t need much prodding for it to drop its gloves and engage in some shoot-em-ups, and it’s testament to Ron Moore’s careful development of the program that the series has remained largely a psychological thriller, of humans coping with themselves and each other more often than Cylon attacks.

But now that we’re in the second season, screw the psychology. Let’s get shooting!

Valley of Darkness follows directly on from last week’s Scattered. The Battlestar Galactica is back with the rest of the fleet, but they have unwanted passengers. A Cylon boarding vessel that crashed into the starboard launch bay has unleashed its payload: about a half-dozen Cylon Centurions (the Swiss Army Cylons). With the remnants of the Cylon virus reducing the interior lighting of Galactica to near the level of Aliens, the crew has to scramble to prevent the Cylon boarding party from reaching the decompression controls and venting all of the ship’s air out into space. It’s a reversion of format to the claustrophobic thrillers that science fiction does so well. Pass the popcorn.

But true to form, the writers behind this episode exceed our expectations. Despite all of the shooting happening on the Galactica, it’s the scenes on Kobol that bring out the strongest emotional reaction from the audience, as a fatal attempt to retrieve a med-kit from the crash site fails to save the life of the person who so needed it. This is counterpointed with a surprisingly quiet set of scenes with Starbuck and Helo on Caprica wherein we learn, much to our surprise, that Kara is an artist, and her father a musician. Oh, and she has a tripped-up Hummer in the garage. It sounds surprising on paper that the authors would include this segment in the episode, but it counterpoints the action and the horror with a calm that allows the audience to pace themselves, and also adds some unexpected depth to Kara’s character.

Overall, the script sparkles, with the banter between the President and Apollo being a high point (“Remember… run away from the sound of gunfire.”/”what about you”/”Umm… I’ll be running towards the sound of gunfire.”), with the secondary storyline between Billy (the President’s aide) and Dualla also worthy of mention. This is a rich episode, and not an excuse for the writers to just drop plots in favour of lots and lots of gunfire.

Even in all this, it is the CGI Cylon Centurions that is the highlight of Valley of Darkness. They are brilliantly conceived, terrifyingly powerful, and fast. The final shootout elicited shouts from us — which fortunately did not wake up Vivian.

All told, this episode must rate as one of the strongest of the series so far, and more proof — as if we needed it — that Battlestar Galactica has everything. It is truly an embarrassment of riches.

Episode Notes

  • According to TV.com, you can assume that Kara’s father is actually noted soundtrack composer and pianist Philip Glass.
  • The number of survivors is now listed over the opening credits. And, yes, it is adjusted episode by episode.
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