RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Battlestar Galactica: “The Young Lords” (Episode 9, or possibly 11)

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“The Young Lords” is always a bit of a surprise to me. You hear a lot of people yammer on about how stupid The Original Galactica (“TOG”) was with the disco haircuts and the Egyptian stuff and the weird costuming and how gay it all was and blah blah blah blah blah, and yet you very seldom hear any of these people say anything about specific episodes. If they *do* complain about something specifically, they usually talk (deservedly) about the humiliatingly awful “Triad” scenes late in the season, or that crappy “Shane in Space” episode, or maybe some crap they misremembered from “Galactica: 1980,” and not this series at all.

My theory has long been that most of the people complaining about TOG either have never seen it and are complaining because of their fanatical devotion to the RDM Galactica which - for some reason I can’t understand - must besmirch the very stuff the new show is based on; OR they haven’t seen it since they were ten, and are relying on very foggy memories. As evidence, I cite this episode, which is pretty darn bad, and should be on a shortlist of anyone’s least favorite episodes, and yet, oddly, it never gets mentioned.

I presume this is because it never gets watched, which is really a shame because although this is a powerfully stupid episode - and it appears to kind of know it - it’s ambitiously and beautifully shot, and it really *deserves* to be watched.

PLAY BY PLAY

Starbuck and Boomer (No Apollo!) are on patrol off in BFE, and Starbuck is feeling morose, “I’ve been thinking of my old flight instructor, Boomer. He said ‘A pilot only flies three Vipers: the one he trains in, the one he escapes from, and the one he dies in.” Predictably they get attacked by Cylons, and while the bad guys are defeated, Starbuck’s viper is badly shot up, proving his morosity was justified.

Boomer flies to get help while Starbuck crashes on a planet called “Attila.” (Yeah, I don’t get it either. Worst. Planet. Name. Ever.) The crash site is gorgeous! It’s in a boggy, lightly-foggy, marshy lakeside, the full-scale viper prop is missing a wing, and half-burried in the sand, and kinda‘ tilted to one side, there’s crap all over the place, the canopy came loose and is laying in the sand, there’s a nice tracking shot to establish all this. Seriously, kids, this is movie-quality work here!

Starbuck goofed up his leg in the crash, and in a lot of pain, and panicked, seeing a Cylon patrol coming, he stumbles/crawls across the sand into the pretty-but-scummy-looking water, which is probably not the most sanitary thing, since he’s got a gaping wound in his leg. He staggers through the fairly deep water, looking genuinely panicked and screwed and twitchy - Benedict is really good at this - and tries to get away in the reeds. The Cylons - about six of ‘em - pass the fighter and without even stopping to think about it, they wade into the water themselves and follow him.

Yes! I totally love that this show had a budget large enough that they didn’t think twice about throwing away a half dozen of their expensive Cylon costumes - and an expensive tailored uniform besides - in service of the scene. Again, this is pretty cinematic, and it adds a kind of odd realism to the scene. As realistic as any show about robots chasing a guy through a swamp can be, anyway. Now, the traditional way to play this in TV would be to shoot it at night, so as to hide the scope and scale of things, maybe get away with doing the closeups in the studio, maybe only use two Cylons, shoot the location stuff with a double. Nope, not here: It’s well-lit daytime, it’s all on location, and Benedict is in shot the whole time.

There’s even a great scene where Starbuck takes a bad step and ends up entirely underwater. He manages to make it to the other side of the lake or creek or whatever before basically keeling over, and he’s captured by the robots. As he’s being hauled off, some kids - yeah, kids - attack and kill the Cylons and rescue him. They take him back to their fake cave (In the treacherous Soundstage Mountains, no doubt) and we meet this week’s guest stars: An over-earnest Neil Patrick Harris-type teen named Kyle, an innocent-yet-scantily-clad Audrey Landers (In a rare non-twin appearance), two other boys named Robus and Niles, and a girl named Ariadne. These last three are kinda’ young. Turns out they’ve been fighting a heroic commando war on the Cylons on this planet, and they’ve been really effective, and they’re kids, and, yeah, I’m just not getting over that last bit.

So after the cool chase sequence, we’re suddenly back to “Cylons are incompetent goofuses” again. Ah well. We had a good four minutes, right?

So the kids say their dad started the whole ‘raiding the Cylons’ thing after the invasion, and he got killed by the Cylons more recently, and the rest of ‘em have been carrying on under the leadership of Doogie Howser, MD, who’s instantly pretty spectacularly incompetent. Audrey Landers, meanwhile, patches up Starbucks’ leg.

A quick aside about the costumes here: They’re going for a sort of idealized medieval. Kyle - the Neil Patrick Harris-wannabe - struts around with a goony looking bewinged helmet. Now, when I say it’s got wings on it, I don’t mean artistically speaking, they’re worked into the basic design of it. No, I mean he’s got an entire wing of a bird tied to either side. The boys are both wearing these oddly ornate helmets that look pilfered from some abandoned 70s attempt to film “Lord of the Rings.” Audrey Landers struts around in nothing more than a ridiculous-looking naugahyde bra for the whole hour (Not that I’m complaining, mind you) Everyone rides around white unicorns through a sylvan glen that’s just foggy enough to appear magical, but not so foggy as to appear spooky. No, I am *not* kidding at all. It’s like they’re all refugees from the touring company of Tannhauser.

Short story long - much like the episode itself - their dad isn’t dead, the Cylons are keeping him alive hoping they can use him to stop the attacks. The kids intend to trade Starbuck to the “Tin Cans” for father. Specter - the local Cylon head of the planet - agrees to go along with this if he can have “Fathers'” word that he’ll stop the attacks once Specter lets him go. The guy agrees.

Starbuck figures all this out in about eleven seconds or so - it’s all pretty dumb - and takes command of the kids. He plans a ludicrously dangerous cartoon-style attack on the Cylon castle (Yeah, they live in a castle), which is carried out while the kids chant a singsongy nursery-rhyme-styled battle plan. (“First to go are Starbuck and Miri/Who light torches to keep things cheery//the twins swim the moat to the petro dump, and blow it up with a great big whump” and so on). This they then do, it goes off without a hitch, they free father.

While this is all going on, there’s a fairly irrelevant “Meanwhile Back At The Ranch” story going on with the Galactica: Adama’s got a cold or something, he’s on sick leave, Cassiopeia won’t let him out of bed, but as she’s a nurse now and no longer a prostitute, that’s perfectly OK. Boomer reports in, Starbuck and Apollo head out to rescue him, and Boxey sneaks in to tell his grandpa the story of the “Bright and Shining Planet Called ’Mushyland.'” It’s all pretty pointless stuff that we would have just assumed happened even if they didn’t show it, but this series has a LARGE cast, and I guess you want to feel like they’re not all just sitting around at Craft Services eating fried chicken and being lazy on your dime.

Meanwhile, intercut with all this, there’s a much more interesting B-story involving Baltar and the Cylons. Specter - an I.L. Series Cylon, just like Lucifer - reports in to Baltar that he’s captured a Colonial Warrior alive, and Baltar is overjoyed. Sensing a chance for advancement - because what Robot really wants to be stuck in a swamp with stupid kids attacking him? - Specter claims to already have the pilot in custody. When the kids rescue Starbuck, he’s screwed. It turns out that he’s been lying about wiping out all the humans on this planet, and the kids attacks have been pretty effective, but he can’t call for reinforcements because that’ll expose his lie. This has been going on for at least a couple years. On top of this, since Starbuck *isn’t* in custody, Specter has to concoct ever-more-involved lies to account for it. (“The human was wounded in the crash. We are attempting to repair him, but we are programmed to kill them, not save them. Our knowledge of their anatomy is so inadequate.” and “In another five or six centares he should have recovered enough to torture.”) He also appeals to Baltar’s surprisingly obvious vanity, laying it on thick with a trowel.

During the kids attack on the castle, he basically claims all the explosions in the background are demolition duty, and begs Baltar to reassign him to some other post. Baltar all-too-readily agrees. The Cylons on the planet basically say “Screw it” and leave en mass.

Boomer and Apollo arrive to find Starbuck has liberated an entire planet from the Cylons with the help of only a few kids, *AND* he’s smooching around with a hot 22-year-old Identical Twin. I mean, they just got there, right? They don’t know that she just goes around dressed like that all the time, they probably assume Starbuck just got her shirt off moments before they arrived.

Boomer: [Stunned] “I don’t know how he does it!”
Apollo: [Annoyed] “Neither do I.”

They offer to bring the Teutonic Family back to the Galactica, but they refuse to go.

The End

OBSERVATIONS

There’s no getting around how dumb this episode is, it’s just eight kinds of stupid. There are some eye-popping scenes, however: the chase sequence, for instance. There’s a great scene where we follow Specter down the stairs in the castle into a large room with about twenty Cylons wandering around, or sitting at large wooden tables, cleaning their guns. There’s a daytime courtyard scene where about twenty or thirty Cylons are milling about, carrying boxes, reporting in to Specter, and so on. It feels all abustle with energy and purpose.

We get a lot of Cylon worldbuilding in this episode. We’ve seen that Lucifer is conniving, manipulative, and untrustworthy, and how he totally intends to use Baltar to his own advantage. In this episode, we see the same basic behavior from Specter, though for somewhat different reasons. Evidently this is an attribute of all IL series. Why? Well, we know that the Imperious Leader is selected from their ranks. Perhaps it’s a form of machine evolution? The IL are continually in non-violent conflict with each other, the most flexible and duplicitous rise to the top, the less capable liars sink. When an opening for a Leader comes along (Not very often, it seems), the most blessed of the damned is chosen.

We know from “The Gun on Ice Planet Zero” that Cylons consider themselves to be alive, or more to the point they consider humans to be simply “Machines of another sort.” We’ve been told that the raider pilots grumble over fatal orders, and that they value their existence. We’re told that they had “Civlian Mining Operations,” and we’ve even seen that the IL series have some emotions and a sense of humor, if a grim one. In one early scene tonight we see a Cylon attempting to make small talk with another Cylon, though Starbuck interrupts.

Baltar is behaving somewhat differently, as of this episode. Initially his plan seemed to be to rope Galactica into helping him take over the Cylon empire. After this failed, he seems to have been chasing them with an intent to capture the ship, rather than trick it, though admittedly this is nebulous. His motivations have been pretty murky since “Lost Planet of the Gods,” but somehow they seem even muddier here. What is he up to? Do the writers have a clue? I’m assuming not. His scenes are all pretty good, and I love the bit where he laughs at Lucifer’s jealousy.

As of this episode, they’ve ditched the Cylon Throne Room set, and switched to a more modest control room. We’ll never see the full thing again.

We see a Gold Cylon tonight! Second one ever!

We’re told that these kids are all one family, and it’s strongly implied that they’re the only ones on the planet. It’s impossible not to see lines like Kyle saying “He smiles, and you choose him” to his sister (She has an obvious crush on Starbuck) as all kinds of creepy, made worse by the hammy delivery. Likewise, their desire to stay behind on the planet is all manner of icky.
Frankly, Starbuck, Apollo, and Boomer should have just klonked ‘em on the head and dragged them back to the fleet. Really, all it would have taken was one more line to take the curse off that, “Yeah, there’s other survivors in the hills,” or whatever, but nooooo, it’s “Disturbing Genepool Planet” forever now.

Boomer has more lines than Apollo tonight! I think Cassiopeia has more lines than Apollo, frankly.

Adama’s ailment is odd. It feels as if we missed an episode where his disease was a major plot element, and this is the follow-up. It’s well done and all, but oddly distracting. By the way, we get a good look at Adama’s quarters this time out, and it’s a two-room set, the office in one, the bedroom connected through a doorway. There’s a dining room, too, but I think that was probably a redress, and we haven’t seen it since “Lost Planet of the Gods.”

There’s a nice mix of “Futuristic” and “Medieval” in this ep. By the way, I think the kids were some kinds of nobles. They never overtly mention this, but they say “Our castle,” and of course the title is “The Young Lords.”

The little one-man R/C boat that the Cylons use appears to be one of those six-wheel ATVs that were popular in the ‘70s. Though allegedly amphibious, they didn’t work at all in the water. This one’s been given a Cylon makeover, and it’s clearly being pulled through along by a cable. Also, curiously, it’s got two great big fake guns on the front.

So when did this invasion happen, anyway? Clearly it couldn't have been too long ago, since the younger kids are, well, pretty young.

Specter gives a big speech to “Father” about honoring his word, stopping the attacks, and agreeing to the trade for Starbuck. This goes on for quite a while. Then, in pretty much the next scene, Specter deliberately screws over “Father.” If he’d never intended to go through with the trade, then what the heck was the point of the whole jail room scene, apart from illogically padding out the story?

The inhabitants of Attila were originally from the colonies, they say.

Man, this episode must have been a nightmare to shoot! Those Cylon costumes were notoriously topheavy and next-to-impossible to see out of, making it really easy to fall over even on level ground. This whole episode is on location, out in nature and in a castle set and stuff. The outtakes show a LOT of people falling down, and it looks painful.

Rust is evidently a problem for Cylons.

Cylons use profanity in this episode. Lucifer says “Felgercarb” several times, and refers to Specter’s brownnosing as “Daggit Drivel.” Specter exclaims “Skly” in once scene in a context that would imply it’s the feces.

Direction is brisk and energetic and generally pretty clever. Donald P. Bellisario was at the helm for this one. The final battle scene - which could easily have been very dull and plodding - but the voiceover - though goofy as heck - gives it a nice jaunty feel.

You wouldn’t expect it, but Benedict plays “Reflexive” pretty well. I’ve said it before, but how did I not realize how great Herbert Jefferson Jr. is as Boomer?

The Galactica loses another Viper.

So, bottom line, there’s some really good stuff in here, but it’s a shame it’s saddled in such a dumb episode.

COLONIALISMS

“Centar, Centares” clearly means “hour, hours.”

“Petro” = Petroleum? Some kind of fuel? It explodes just like gas when it’s hit, that’s for sure.

NEW SPECIAL EFFECTS:

- A neat shot from below of a Cylon Raider
- A less-neat shot from below of a shot-up viper
- An earth-like planet from space.

DIFFERENT VERSIONS

The outtakes don’t materially change much. There’s a scene where Adama suggests Apollo and Boomer take Cassiopeia along, but they refuse. There’s a scene where Boomer is talking about how Starbuck has decided to swear off gambling and women. I’d like to know what the deal was with that!

This episode was edited together with “Murder on the Rising Star” to form the “Murder in Space” movie, syndicated in the early ‘80s, and released theatrically overseas. After Starbuck escapes from his cell in “Murder,” he goes to the hangar bay to steal a fighter, but Apollo talks him out of it, and he goes back to his cell. In “Murder in Space,” he *doesn’t* go back to his cell, but rather steals the fighter, and this entire episode takes place after that, and before he comes back to the ship to face trial.

Yeah, the movies were stupid like that.

In the novelization, they go a long way towards taking the creepy out of it. The Cylons are organic in the book continuity, there's no Baltar, the kids aren’t all from the same family, and the ‘child warriors’ are basically fifty-or-so war orphans of various ages who managed to escape the cities before they fell, and have informally come together, lord-of-the-flies fashion. “Father” was the only adult left, prior to his capture. In the book version, the whole “Sing the battle plan” thing was something Starbuck came up with to spare the kids the appalling nature of war. He realized what he was getting the kids into, he felt really bad about it, he didn’t want to mess them up psychologically. The “Singing” thing was supposed to make it more like a game, less frightening.

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