Ronald D Moore’s re imagining of the 1970’s sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica set a gold standard, both for sci-fi and TV reboots. The darker, grittier re imagining, that saw a fleet of human ships fleeing the dreaded Cylons in search of Earth, won a whole host of awards and critical acclaims over its seven-year run. With the series looking to go through another quasi-reboot under show runner Michael Lesslie, we look back at the first reboot that defined the early days of twenty-first century television. Next up, we revisit one of the show’s lowest-rated episodes, Black Market…
It’s inevitable than any long running show is going to have its high and lows. Given that season two has given us the excellent civil war and Pegasus arcs, it stands to reason that Battlestar Galactica might slip along the way. Black Market is that temporary fall from grace, an episode that attempts to deal with Apollo’s PTSD following the events of Resurrection Ship Part 2 while also exploring the seedy underbelly of the fleet. Unfortunately, while both topics are ripe for exploration, the biggest failing with Black Market is that it is unnecessarily violent and at the same time, all rather dull.
The use of Media in res is something Battlestar Galactica likes to use – in fact it did it two episodes ago. Here it is created to generate some tension; opening with the usually noble Apollo holding a gun to crime boss Phelan’s head in a seedy bar. The trouble is, the build up to this event throughout the episode doesn’t warrant this dramatic tease. The preceding thirty minutes are a jumbles mess of flashbacks and Apollo struggling to handle the assignment he has been given by his father to unravel the black market running within the fleet. The sudden flashback appearances of a blond woman back home comes out of nowhere and as far as I remember, is never mentioned again. Similarly, the prostitute Shevon, with which Apollo is trying to recreate that relationship, is quickly forgotten after the episode ends.
Black Market is an episode that seems to paint its characters in broad strokes. The idea that Apollo has been seeing Shevon for months is pulled out of thin air and despite the best attempts by Jamie Bamber to do something with the material given, Apollo’s struggles don’t land emotionally or engagingly. Similarly, Graham Beckel’s Commander Jack Fisk, Cain’s former second, now commander of Pegasus, is quickly dispatched before the opening credits. While there was certainly an acknowledgement that he was complicit in following Cain’s orders, the Pegasus trilogy hinted that he was a decent man in a bad situation. Suddenly, Black Market reveals he was neck deep in corruption with a criminal organisation, ordering the smuggling of goods under Admiral Adama’s nose and paying for his crimes. It doesn’t ring true to everything we have seen of Fisk previously. Tigh trading for black market luxuries for his wife feels more true, given everything we know about that twisted relationship.
There are some interesting ideas here; Apollo trying to save Shevon and her daughter speaks to how innocent people are not necessarily safe in Roslin’s fleet. Similarly, the need for a black market to function – the idea that Roslin’s purist ideal of a democracy can never truly function, offers some meaty material to explore; the fact that Apollo saw reason in dealing with Zarek in season one’s Bastille Day, suggest this could be a good follow up of that narrative. But the resulting storyline is dull, grim and even bordering on cliché.
It doesn’t help that all the bad guys are stereotypical bad guys. They look and act like criminals and Bill Duke’s Phelan looks like a mob boss without ever adding any depth to that persona. Sure these are guest characters, but given the quality of the performances and storytelling Battlestar Galactica puts in, Black Market falls far short. It reminded me of the criminal gangs controlling the down below in Babylon 5, another sci-fi show that suggested a seedy underbelly will survive and function in any future society. Those bad guys were dripping with cliché and the criminals working under Phelan are not far off that. Zarek, also seems to lurk in the shadows all menacingly this episode, without ever doing anything other than being AN OBVIOUS BAD GUY.
Perhaps there was a small sense of fatigue in the writing room after the bold drama that preceded it. The next two episodes, while not at the level of Black Market, were also never…