Thursday, June 19, 2008
I went to the Los Angeles Times-sponsored Battlestar Galactica Emmy preview screening at the ArcLight last week. They showed the mid-season finale, “Revelations”, in which President Apollo was unexpectedly awesome, Colonel Tigh was unexpectedly heartbreaking, Admiral Adama reached bold new levels of ineffectuality, and Earth turned out to be somewhat less lush and verdant than advertised. Good stuff. The screening was followed by a Q&A panel with creator Ronald D. Moore and actors Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck), Mary McDonnell (Roslin), and Tricia Helfer (Six), all of whom were good sports about answering the same questions they’ve probably been asked a thousand times before.
Through no fault of anyone -- panelists, moderator, audience members -- the Q&A was pretty dry, actually, as these things tend to be. In order to have a rip-roaring panel, you either need to be insightful and informative, or you need to be funny and raunchy. What with the rabid level of secrecy cloaking the remainder of this final season, the panel guests, ever vigilant against letting any genuine information slip out, were pretty much prohibited from being either insightful or informative. As for being funny and raunchy, while it’s clear the BSG cast is teeming with snarky, hyperactive loose cannons (Jamie Bamber, James Callis, Aaron Douglas, Alessandro Juliani, Grace Park, and Tahmoh Penikett are all awesome in interviews), it’s equally clear that Sackhoff, McDonnell, and Helfer, while lovely and gracious, do not belong to the snarky, hyperactive loose cannon club. Hence, it was sort of a dull evening.
(Mystery of the universe: why does my spell-check program recognize “Tahmoh Penikett”?)
Now, with the mid-season finale behind us, we’ve entered the six-to-eight month hiatus before the season resumes in early 2009. Online, the interim will probably be filled with fervent guesses as to the identity of the as-yet-unrevealed Final Cylon. Speculation is already rampant: the Final Cylon is Hera! It’s Boxey! It’s Starbuck’s dead mom! It’s Apollo’s dead mom! It’s Apollo’s dead grandfather! It’s Apollo’s dead brother!
Anything’s possible, of course, and my guesses aren’t any more valid than anyone else’s, but strictly from a storytelling perspective, I’m going to have to say no, it’s not going to be any of the above. The revelation of the last Cylon is not, or should not be, the television equivalent of a sudoku puzzle or a parlor game; the need to tell a good story trumps the need to have a fun gimmick. If they do this right -- and Battlestar Galactica tends to handle dramatic revelations very, very well -- the shock won’t come from the identity of the last Cylon, but from the method of the revelation and the ensuing emotional impact on the rest of the characters.
So I’m not going to bother puzzling out the identity of the Final Cylon. I’m not spending my time poring over the infamous Last Supper publicity photo for clues or looking for hidden meaning in D’anna’s words, or in the lyrics to Gaeta’s Lament, or in the Hybrid’s prophecy in the stand-alone movie Razor. I’ve got more important questions to occupy me.
Chiefly: Is there some point to what they’ve been doing to poor Gaeta, or have the last couple of seasons just been some prolonged exercise in gratuitous sadism?
Ah, Felix Gaeta, Galactica’s much-beleaguered tactical officer, Gaeta of the beautiful eyes and the beautiful singing voice and the unrequited crush on Baltar and the freakish string of misfortune. As of “Revelations”, four episodes after getting his leg blown to pulp by a fellow officer (thank you, Anders), three episodes after getting his leg hacked off at the knee sans general anesthesia, Gaeta is back on duty in the CIC, though he’s still desperately ill, miserable, in horrible pain, hobbling about on crutches, and, one hopes, drugged to the gills. Such is life for unlucky Felix.
It started out so well for him, too. Gaeta spent the first couple of seasons being well-liked and super-efficient and quietly brainy, in stark contrast to the rest of the crew (see: Tigh, Starbuck, Adama). Oh, sure, there was that time he misplaced the entire fleet, but he found them again by the end of the episode, so that worked out fine. No harm, no foul.
And then things started to go horribly, horribly wrong.
We can pinpoint the exact moment things went egg-shaped for poor, pretty Felix: at the end of Season Two, when he noticed the fraudulent ballots in the Roslin/Baltar presidential election, and when, precisely as any dutiful officer should, he quietly reported this fact to Adama.
(Note to Laura Roslin: whatever your motivations, rigging an open democratic election to ensure your own re-election automatically moves you into the Bad President column. It’s the sort of thing History will judge you harshly for.)
By ensuring Gaius Baltar’s transition from Betrayer of the Human Race to President of the Colonial Fleet, Felix brought a shitload of bad karma down upon himself. Because, naturally, Baltar turned out to be the Worst. President. Ever. This is noteworthy on a show with no shortage of bad presidents: there’s Roslin, who made major policy decisions based upon her drug-induced religious visions, there’s Tom Zarek, who, during his brief, bloody reign, ordered dozens of suspected Cylon collaborators tossed out of airlocks without the benefit of due process, and there’s Apollo, who… okay, actually, Apollo was a pretty awesome president, which is all the more surprising, since he’s often a pretty sub-par human being.
Some key moments in Gaeta’s downward spiral:
--Gaeta quits the service and becomes President Baltar’s Chief of Staff on New Caprica. Not his best move ever, but love makes people do crazy things. It dawns on him, albeit belatedly, that Baltar does not have the best interests of the colonists, or of Gaeta, or of anyone other than Gauis Baltar in mind. The Cylons invade and take over New Caprica, with Baltar as their puppet. Gaeta maintains his position in the occupied government, which is presumably no cakewalk for him (at one point, we see him doodling violent scrawls while sitting in on a Cylon meeting. This is our first indication that Gaeta is on the brink of losing his mind). All the while, he secretly passes crucial information to the Resistance, which directly leads to their rescue by the Galactica.
(Sidebar: Have you ever noticed how Gaeta’s mental state at any given time can be assessed just by glancing at his hair? For the first half of the series, he’s always impeccably coiffed, with every curl lacquered into place.
By the time New Caprica rolls around, he’s fighting a losing battle against frizz. Since then, it’s fluctuated from episode to episode, depending upon his level of angst: neat, frizzy, neat, frizzy.
When Gaeta’s stressed, he can’t be bothered with conditioner.)
--Post-exodus from New Caprica, Starbuck, Tigh, and Tyrol join a president-sanctioned gang of vigilantes who start murdering suspected Cylon collaborators. They hold a top-secret meeting, wherein they all agree that they really like Gaeta, that he’s kind of like family, and that there’s no concrete evidence to suggest he collaborated with the Cylons down on New Caprica. Then they unanimously vote to toss him out the airlock. At around the same time, it dawns on Gaeta that the Galactica is crewed almost entirely by assholes. (Starbuck kicks him and mocks him when he’s bound on his knees awaiting execution, which is swell of her. Hey, remember when Starbuck was dumb and reckless and exuberant instead of dumb and cruel and sullen? I miss those days.) There’s the obligatory eleventh-hour rescue, when it finally occurs to Tyrol that Gaeta was their anonymous inside mole, but if any apologies are forthcoming, we don’t see them. Even after his crucial part in the Resistance is revealed, Gaeta is still largely persona non grata aboard the Galactica.
--Through a freakish turn of events, Baltar, who had sought sanctuary with the Cylons post-New Caprica, returns to the Galactica. Adama’s and Roslin’s attempts to extract information from him via torture prove fruitless (guys, seriously, don’t torture people. I know Baltar’s annoying, but, in the interest of preserving what’s left of your souls, don’t do it. Don’t torture people, don’t condone suicide bombings, don’t rig elections, don’t chuck people out of airlocks. It makes it tricky to claim the moral high ground when you do crap like this). As a backup plan, they send in Gaeta to sweet-talk the information out of him. Baltar, predictably, gets nasty and threatens to expose a damaging secret about Gaeta (I can’t be the only one hoping this secret turns out to be less “involvement in political intrigue and double-dealing on New Caprica” and more “involvement in hot Cylon threesome”, can I?). So Gaeta stabs Baltar through the neck with a pen. I mentioned that Gaeta’s losing his mind, right?
--As if the pen incident weren’t enough, there’s more evidence that Gaeta becomes a vicious bitch when you cross him: he commits perjury at Baltar’s trial in the hopes of seeing him convicted and executed.
--Gaeta gets stuck on a hopeless mission to find Earth under the command of a loonier-than-usual Starbuck, whom he still hasn’t forgiven for almost tossing him out the airlock. The mission goes poorly: during an attempted mutiny led by Helo, Gaeta gets his leg shot to pieces by Anders, then waits for fifteen hours with a mangled leg and a life-threatening infection before receiving proper medical attention. He loses the leg. On the plus side, his beautiful singing voice is revealed when he sings to distract himself from the mind-blowingly awful pain.
So… what’s the point of all this? As far as I can figure it, there are four possibilities:
Possibility #1: There’s no point to any of this. If we’ve learned anything from three and a half seasons of BSG, it’s that people suffer and die, often without purpose or redemption. Just look at Cally, Kat, Billy, Jammer, Duck, and the entire population of the twelve colonies nuked by the Cylons. Gaeta could be just another name on a long, long list.
Possibility #2: Gaeta will find some vindication by the end of the series. Granted, there’s no shortage of horror stories among the crew of the Galactica. Look at Starbuck: the Cylons stole one of her ovaries, then creepy Leoben kept her prisoner on New Caprica, then she died and (somehow) resurrected. Grueling stuff, but she’s had ample support to help her through the aftermath: she’s got a husband in Anders, a lover/best friend in Apollo, and a surrogate father in Adama. With Gaeta, though, there’s an added element of cruel isolation to his trials, and it’s hard to believe that’s accidental. His experience has been notable for what we haven’t seen: no apologies from his attackers after the attempted airlocking, no visitors in the infirmary after the amputation, no connection with anyone, save for the occasional kind word from Dualla. It seems significant, and it seems to be building to something. There’s an informative recent interview with Alessandro Juliani over at IGN (could be considered spoilery, depending upon how you interpret it), which gives some indication that, at the very least, his open issues with Baltar will be resolved. Let’s hope so.
Possibility #3: Gaeta gets a happy ending. It seems unlikely anyone’s getting out of this alive, much less surviving to see a bright future, but if anyone should, it’s Gaeta. Look, here’s a list of the various Galactica love connections over the past three and a half seasons: Adama and Roslin, Apollo and Starbuck, Apollo and Dualla, Starbuck and Anders, Baltar and Caprica Six, Baltar and Starbuck, Baltar and Gina, Baltar and D’anna, Baltar and Tory, Boomer and Tyrol, Boomer and Cavil, Athena and Helo, Tigh and Ellen, Tigh and Caprica Six, Tyrol and Cally, Dualla and Billy, Tory and Anders… Wait. Who’s missing from this list? At the very least, some possibility of romance, somewhere, with someone, should emerge for poor, lonely, extremely cute Gaeta. Baltar? Hoshi? Dualla? Racetrack? Hotdog? I’m not feeling particular.
Possibility #4: Gaeta is the Final Cylon. Well, yeah. In many ways, he’s the most obvious candidate. Either he’s it, or he’s been deliberately established as a red herring. He’s been a popular choice for a potential Cylon right from the beginning (speculative articles about why Gaeta is totally a Cylon are almost as prevalent as speculative articles about why Gaeta is totally gay). His competence has made him seem suspicious from the onset: the Galactica was established way back in the original miniseries as the dumping ground for screwups, attitude problems, and people with the last name Adama, so what was someone like Gaeta doing there in the first place? Like sleeper Cylons Tyrol, Tigh, and Anders, he was a key member of the Resistance on New Caprica. He’s never had a significant solo plotline, but he’s been a crucial part of major events. He has no established background. Easiest thing in the world to make him a Cylon, no retconning necessary.
As I implied earlier, piecing together all the clues is something of a sucker’s game. Still, here goes: Gaeta fits the Hybrid’s prophecy better than anyone else at this point: “And the fifth, still in shadow, will claw toward the light, hungering for redemption that will only come in the howl of terrible suffering.” “Suffering” and “redemption” are recurring buzzwords when it comes to Gaeta. I’m not convinced the Last Supper photo is as significant as it’s been made out to be, but for what it’s worth, apart from Dualla, Gaeta’s the only key cast member not pictured in it, and he’s the most likely candidate to fill the empty Judas seat.
My opinion? He’s a red herring. Still, if he turns out to be the last Cylon, it’d be pretty awesome, whether he ends up devoting himself to seeking redemption, or wreaking terrible vengeance. It’s wrong of me, but I get kind of a warm glow at the thought of seeing the airlock slowly opening, with Gaeta standing at the controls, while Starbuck, Adama and Roslin claw at the glass: “Gaeta, for the love of the Gods, let us in!” There could be worse ways to end the series.
Sunday, June 8, 2008
(You know who updates her blog even less frequently than I do? Petty Officer Dualla, that’s who.)
My sister was in town from New York last month for a good, long visit. As is our habit, we picked one morning to take a leisurely walk to the beach. It’s about nine miles from my apartment to Santa Monica, which is a nice distance for stretching the legs and having a good chat.
Upon reaching Santa Monica, we strolled the length of the Third Street Promenade to the mall on Broadway, just as we always do. After a nine-mile walk, finding a bathroom is generally a good first move.
Imagine our surprise to find a gigantic construction site where the mall used to be.
It wasn’t a panic situation. We just used the sketchy bathrooms on the pier instead (the ones right by the trapeze school. Trapeze school! Is there anything more glorious than a trapeze school?). But it got me thinking: for someone who professes to hate malls, I sure have become dependent upon them.
Two reasons for this. The first and most important is the bathroom issue. I walk a tremendous amount, and it’s crucial to plan long walks around guaranteed bathrooms (around here, it’s not a given that fast food places or gas stations or, hell, even Starbucks will have restrooms for public use). The other is a matter of exposure: when you’re a chronic pedestrian, you discover that Los Angeles is both hotter and brighter than most people think it is. After spending several hours wandering under that bright, hazy, dirty sky, it’s a good idea to take cover for a while and quietly refuel. Hence the subtle allure of the food court.
From the perspective of a habitual walker, here’s a quick overview of the major malls in Greater Los Angeles. There are notable omissions: both Crenshaw and Fox Hills have significant shopping centers, but I don’t walk much to either place, so I’m not in a position to judge the bathrooms. Universal CityWalk should probably rate a mention, but I prefer to pretend it doesn’t exist.
Location: West Hollywood/Fairfax District
Overview: I spend too much of my life at The Grove and at the adjoining Farmers Market. Since opening in 2002, The Grove has established itself as a central part of the Los Angeles landscape. An open-air sprawl of shops and restaurants, the Grove is designed to look like a European village by way of Las Vegas. Still, it’s nice. It’s pretty. It’s clean. There’s a dancing fountain. There’s a green-and-brass trolley that runs the length of the mall. During the holiday season, The Grove goes all out: there’s an enormous Christmas tree, a Santa’s Village, and fake chemical snow that billows down from the top of shops every night.
The Good: $2.50 for sixteen ounces of fresh-squeezed orange juice at the Nordstrom café. The shirtless eye candy flanking the doors at the flagship Abercrombie & Fitch. The clean, spacious movie theater, where the seats don’t smell like urine.
The Bad: There are a cluster of sit-down restaurants (the Whisper Lounge is a nice place to grab a pre-movie cocktail), but nothing in the way of fast food, probably because the quick-eats options at the Farmers Market are so vast and varied. Still, more than once I’ve provided frustrated visitors with directions to the KFC down the street. The nonstop piped-in Frank Sinatra music gets old very fast. I like Frank as much as the next girl, but variety is the spice of life.
The Grove is popular stop for many tour buses. I like tourists, as a rule – it’s nice to see people who actually want to be in Los Angeles – but the space isn’t big enough to support the huge influx of people. That doesn’t stop The Grove, which is perpetually hosting events (concerts, car shows) that overwhelm the small area. If you have claustrophobic tendencies, it’s a good idea to get the hell out of The Grove whenever you see the platform stage set up in front of the theater. Enormous crowds are sure to follow.
The Bizarre: Celebrities are inexplicably drawn to The Grove. The hobbits purportedly lurk at the Apple store. I’ve spotted David Spade at The Cheesecake Factory twice. In the Barnes & Noble alone, I’ve run into Colin Farrell, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Michael Chiklis; a friend stood in line behind Orlando Bloom as he ordered his soy chai latte at the café there. I have yet to figure out why celebrities spend so much time there, but then again, I have yet to figure out why I spend so much time there.
The Bathrooms: Very nice (and attended!), but not nearly large enough to support the droves of visitors. There’s often lines at the ones in Nordstrom and Barnes & Noble, too. Save yourself some hassle and use the ones at the Farmers Market.
The Beverly Center
Location: Beverly Hills/West Hollywood
Overview: The Beverly Center is housed in the ugliest building in Los Angeles. A monolithic concrete structure, it gets repainted and redecorated every few years in a sad, futile attempt to make it look something other than hideous. The mall itself takes up the top three floors; the lower levels are all parking, which means, if you enter the Beverly Center from the street, you have to go up eight billion escalators to reach the shops. The décor inside is better – it still looks a little aggressively eighties (the mall opened in 1982), what with the white marble floors and chrome railings – but it’s roomy and well-lit by skylights. Its popularity has taken a hit in recent years, thanks to the nearby Grove, though it still packs in crowds on weekends and during the holiday season.
The Good: Cute doggies and bunnies at the pet store. Also, perhaps suspecting that the Beverly Center would be easier to tolerate after a martini, some smart person opened a bar right smack in the courtyard on the first level of shops.
The Bad: On a hot day, avoid the east-facing escalators in the early afternoon: the floor-to-ceiling windows, which provide a gorgeous panoramic view of the city, will fry you like an ant under a magnifying glass.
There is no bookstore anywhere in the Beverly Center.
The Bizarre: You know the entire west end of the mall, the end bordered by San Vicente, where there are no windows and no escalators and no shops, and which looks weird and industrial and scary, like the Jawa headquarters on Tatooine in Star Wars? Yeah. It’s an oil well. They built the mall around an active oil well.
The Bathrooms: There are two – one on the second level of shops and one on the top floor. Both are sizeable and well-maintained.
Westfield Century City Shopping Center
Location: Century City
Overview: Right out of college, I had a Very Bad Job in Century City, answering phones for $6.25 an hour, and it’s kind of soured me on the area ever since. I’d bring my bag lunch and sit in the mall and sing Air Supply songs softly to myself. In my experience, Century City is a pretty good place to go if you want to feel desperately unhappy about your life.
The Good: The mall has been recently and extensively redesigned, with improvements for the better. There’s a brand-new second floor, which houses the new food court. The food court is aggressively tasteful, designed in hammered metal, glass, and natural wood. I’m not sure why, but it makes me giggle.
The Bad: It’s a spacious, open-air mall made of white concrete with low buildings, very little landscaping, and no shade. On a hot, sunny day, prepare to be blinded.
The Bizarre: Vending machines that sell ProActiv, for your on-the-go acne-fighting needs.
The Bathrooms: They used to be pretty terrible – small and hard to locate. The new upstairs bathrooms are now as aggressively tasteful and giggle-worthy as the food court.
Location: West L.A.
Overview: When I was working at America’s Funniest Home Videos, which had their production offices out on Olympic at the border between West L.A. and Santa Monica, I used to stop at the Westside Pavilion for a quick layover on the seven-mile walk to work every morning. The Westside Pavilion is located on an odd stretch of Pico: to the east, there’s the Fox lot; to the west, there’s nothing in particular, until you hit the ocean. If you’re walking along Pico to the beach, the Westside Pavilion is your last, best chance for coffee and a bathroom. (Actually, if you’re walking to the beach, don’t take Pico. Take Wilshire. It’s more scenic.)
The Good: There’s a great view from the skywalk over Westwood Boulevard connecting the main building to the new Landmark Theaters.
The Bad: A fairly traditional mall (three levels, anchored by a Nordstrom on one end and a Macy’s on the other), the Westside Pavilion is geared towards the hordes of young, upwardly-mobile parents in West L.A., which explains all the strange child-development shops. This is probably awesome if you are a parent of small children. It’s less awesome if you don’t want your path constantly blocked by strollers.
The Bizarre: Talking garbage cans in the food court. Why???
The Bathrooms: On the top floor in the food court. Serviceable.
Hollywood & Highland
Overview: Hollywood is not an ideal destination for a pedestrian. It seems like every scary and quasi-dangerous encounter I’ve ever had has taken place in Hollywood. Even with the extensive recent rehabilitation of the area (the Hollywood & Highland complex being a key example), it’s still run-down and teeming with the mentally unstable. There’s something inherently melancholy about Hollywood Boulevard, what with the run-down storefronts selling movie memorabilia, the various Scientology buildings, the costumed characters (Superman, Chewbacca et al) hustling tourists for money, the handprints of celebrities immortalized in cement outside the Chinese Theater, the pink stars on the sidewalk. It all telegraphs this message: Famous people once liked it here.
The Good: The layout is kind of neat – half open-air, half indoor – with some pretty architectural flourishes. Hollywood & Highland connects to the Kodak Theater, new home of the Academy Awards.
The Bad: It’s in Hollywood. You don’t really want to be in Hollywood, do you? Hollywood is a layover, not a destination: use the bathrooms, grab an excellent cream puff at Beard Papa, then hop on the subway to somewhere that isn’t Hollywood. Or go to Famima!! to load up on sushi and steamed dumplings, then walk up to the Hollywood Bowl to take in a cheap open-air summer concert.
The Bizarre: The kiosk selling flavored oxygen.
The Bathrooms: The one on the first floor is tiny and crowded. Use the hidden one by the pretzel shop on the second level, which nobody ever uses, probably because they can’t find it.
Overview: Midway between the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport and my parents’ home in southern Minnesota, there’s a town called Burnsville, which features a good-sized shopping mall. The Glendale Galleria is indistinguishable from the Burnsville Center, down to the Gloria Jean’s coffee shop. Not much of Los Angeles bears any resemblance to southern Minnesota.
For being so close to the heart of the city, Glendale never really seems much like a part of Los Angeles. Glendale is where people live when they don’t want to live in L.A. (Compare Glendale to Century City: in Century City, there’s the Fox building, which blew up in Die Hard, and the towering MGM building, and the brand-new gorgeous CAA headquarters… You can probably sense a trend here. Take a look at the businesses in downtown Glendale: banks and title insurance). The Glendale Galleria is the perfect mall for the area.
The Good: Hopelessly uncool, and I mean that in the best possible way.
The Bad: Windowless and dark and strangely claustrophobic.
The Bizarre: The floor plan makes no sense. The layout of the Galleria, with its strange, random corridors and half-levels, flummoxes me.
The Bathrooms: Hidden. I had to consult the directory to find them, and even then it seemed like I was heading in the wrong direction.
The Americana at Brand
Overview: Located right across the street from the Galleria, the brand-new Americana exists just to thumb its nose at the older, less hip mall. The Americana is designed by the same folks who brought us The Grove. You can tell: it’s a clone of The Grove, albeit on a much larger scale.
The Good: The Beard Papa kiosk. Cream puffs make the world a better place.
The Bad: Refer to my below notes on the bathroom situation.
The Bizarre: It’s hard to shake the impression that The Americana is the evil parallel universe version of The Grove. It looks like The Grove. It’s got the same shops as The Grove. It’s got the same trolley. It’s got the same Pacific Theatres multiplex. It’s just bigger, and just different enough to provide an odd feeling of déjà vu and displacement: every time I’m at The Americana, it feels like I’m dreaming about The Grove, only my subconscious keeps distorting the particulars.
The Bathrooms: I’m relatively certain The Americana has bathrooms, and the fact that I couldn’t find them is probably more a reflection of my own personal failings. The bathrooms are supposedly located in the concierge office, which doubles as the lobby for the luxury apartments surrounding the mall. I reconnoitered the lobby several times and found no sign of a bathroom. What I did find were a couple of official-looking large men with jackets and ties and thick necks who were there to offer directions and assistance. I’m quite sure they could have steered me the right way (up the escalator? down the escalator?). Here’s the thing, though: I don’t like needing to ask large men for help when I need to pee. I used the bathrooms in Barnes & Noble instead. So while I’m pretty sure the bathrooms are located somewhere in or around the concierge office, I really don’t think it would kill The Americana to make them easier to find.
Labels: Nobody walks in L.A.