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Battlestar Galactica - Season 2.0

Of course it's a bit disingenuous to call this three-disc set "Season 2.0." After all, on this box's release date Season Two's second half (ten more episodes following the ten here) hadn't yet aired and their DVD incarnation is still to come. Call it brilliant strategic marketing or call it cynical fan-yanking, but until the entire second season of the SciFi Channel's Battlestar Galactica gets its complete box set, these ten episodes aren't at all a bad way to spend a rainy weekend. They knit up some serious plot yarn spun in Season One and build up the continuing character arcs and storylines that by now have made sci-fi's sweatiest series one of the few must-see TV shows on the air. Time magazine and the American Film Institute (among others) got it right — this really is TV's most well-crafted and gripping drama right now, at least on this side of the HBO divide. It isn't quite to science fiction what "Deadwood" is to westerns, but it's close. It's smarter, tougher, and more grown-up that its unwatchably awful 1970s forebear. By using science fiction elements (spaceships, robotic enemies, and letting the scientist get the best sex) as a means rather than as an end, Season Two continues to push boundaries and allegorize the tenor of our world with visceral, character-driven realism. And we get those big action sequences, including the best space-fighter battles on any screen. It's a combo for our times.

Picking up on Season One's double-barrel cliffhanger, these episodes dig into the consequences of what the previous stories set up. The last remnants of post-holocaust humanity fight for their existence even as civil war brews between the followers of Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos) and President Roslin (Mary McConnell). As Dr. Baltar's sexy Cylon mind-fuck, Number Six (Tricia Helfer), says: "If there's one thing we know about human beings with certainty, it's that they're masters of self-destruction." Her point is proved as politics, threats internal as well as external, and divided loyalties place figurative and often actual guns to everyone's head. After Colonel Tigh establishes martial law while Adama is on the operating table with bullets in his chest, a rebellion throughout the fleet elevates the possibly dark ambitions of Tom Zarek (Richard Hatch) and makes a martyr figure out of imprisoned President Roslin, whose mental and physical stability appear to deteriorate.

The fleet splits into two factions. One, led by Roslin and Zarek ("a religious fanatic and a terrorist," snarls Adama) heads to Kobol, the legendary cradle of humanity. There, in the two-parter titled "Home," Adama must decide whether as a leader he's a uniter or a divider. Meanwhile the show deepens the mythos of scriptural prophecies, Roslin's possibly delusional messianic fervor, and some mystical discoveries on Kobol. And with a human-Cylon hybrid on the way, we get hints that this clash of civilizations is part of a cosmic plan that the Cylons perceive to be the will of their "one true God," a plan that the humans' polytheism is too arcane and ritualized to grasp. ("We know more about your religion than you do," says the Cylon model previously thought to be the human named Sharon; speaking of which, actress Grace Park deserves a big nod for the good work she puts in throughout the season.) As he says here in his podcast commentary track, series executive producer Ronald D. Moore appealed to network brass to split "Home" into two episodes. As the culmination of seeds planted since Season One, these two eps deliver, as Moore puts it, the completion of the entire first season.

Afterward, a few standalone eps downshift toward another buildup. "Final Cut" brings actress Lucy Lawless to the ship as an embedded news reporter with an agenda no one can imagine. The rare feel-good episode is "Flight of the Phoenix," with Chief Tyrol taking on an act of faith while a Cylon computer virus sabotages the ship's systems, climaxing in some spectacular space-battle payback. When it orignally aired in September 2005, the final title here, "Pegasus," came with a content warning, and earns it. It gut-punches us with the discovery of a second surviving battlestar, and by exploring how ugly and perverted human beings can become when placed in a desperate situation. The zeitgeist-heavy question "Is torture ever justified?" doesn't get any easy answers before the brutal climax cliffhanger. Where all this is leading remains utterly unpredictable, and that's one of the best things about the series, period.

*          *          *

As with the Season One box, this presumably bridging set from Universal Studios Home Entertainment brings home the show's terrific high-def image in anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) with well-mixed wraparound DD 5.1 audio.

The extras include 43 deleted and extended scenes that offer quite a lot more than the typical trims and floor-sweepings. We also get seven podcast commentaries by Moore, sometimes joined by co-producer/writer David Eick. Moore fills in the production background well, allowing himself to be candid when noting how creative choices were fulfilled, altered, or abandoned before an episode's final cut. After a few of these, we have a clearer understanding of the day-to-day rigors behind putting such a non-formulaic series on the air. The podcasts originally appeared at scifi.com; the commentaries for "Flight of the Phoenix" and "Pegasus" are absent from this set, though they're still downloadable at the web site. (Attentive fans are warned that the extended cut of "Pegasus" that Moore previously announced on the ep's podcast did not actually make it to this DVD set. Expect it in the follow-up set that completes the season.)

Disc Three includes a "sneak peek" promo for the upcoming half-season. Before Disc One presents the main menu, we're given a promo blurb for Season Two, then force-fed promos for Seaquest DSV: Season One, Serenity, and The Island. Finally, when the menus arrive, they're poorly designed, including painfully cheesy animated flashies over the eyes of Number Six and CylonSharon. Here's hoping for a redo next time out. It all comes in three slimline cases with a paperboard slipcase.

—Mark Bourne

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