Saturday, April 5, 2008

"This is a lie..."

That title's a reference to the Cure, if anybody cares.

Katie--this one's for you. Mostly.

Okay, I want to take a moment and talk about narrative structure. Partly because the thing fascinates me so, and also because it came to mind the other day when thinking on older "Battlestar Galactica" episodes, and what they mean to teach us about this season.

This post will have nothing to do with grad school, I assure you, though it will talk about art in a way and so I'm going to scrape by posting it here on that justification. And furthermore, it will fulfill a dream of mine and one GreedyGreen's desire to discuss narrative structure over blog. We had hopped for video blogging, but that shit is just too frakking expensive. (And yes: I will be using "frak" to excess over the next few months. And no, I will not apologize.) So here's a poor man's version of what could be, of what may have been. You may not understand the example I give and the ponderings thereafter if you don't watch the show. Suck it up and start renting the DVDs.

Recently, a former high school cohort who is also a BSG fan reminded me of an episode where Leoben, a known Cylon, pulls Laura Roslin to him and whispers, "Adama's a Cylon," right before he's thrown out an airlock. This happened some time ago, and I had forgotten about it. But now, with a season geared towards the revealing of the final Cylon, the question lingers. Could Admiral William Adama, commander of the remaining Colonial Fleet and guardian of the human race as we know it on this show actually be Cylon? OR: did Leoben really mean Bill Adama at all? There are two known living Adamas: the admiral, and his son Lee (or as I refer to him, "The-hottest-of-the hot"). What if Lee Adama was the Adama Leoben was referring to? What would happen then? (For those not familiar with the series, I hope those links were useful.)

But both of these questions are based around the idea that Leoben was in fact stating a truth. The question remains: was it a Cylon trick, and a lie, or will some Adama eventually endanger the lifespan of the human race on the show? The problem with telling a lie in performance--the portrayal of lying, I should say, not bad acting which is occasionally referred to as "lying"--is that the audience usually needs to be in on it for it to be of any use as a plot device. You need that sense of dramatic irony to create tension that will help propel the play. Theatre is all about the relationship the piece has with the audience. Since we understand theatre can't exist without an audience (trust me on this one) we must appreciate the dependency therein, and even if we're trying to deeply offend our audience in some kind of theatre of cruelty situation, we must acknowledge that our efforts are useless without someone to subject that kind of cruelty on.

So: here we are with our audience. They're already in a state of suspended disbelief because they've come to watch something they know to be a play/movie/whathaveyou. They have to take what the performers give at face value. It's part of the agreement they make when they take their seat. Much drama centers around watching characters functioning in both public and private settings, the contradictions between the two being what is offered to the audience as the truth of those characters, and this is so often done that it is expected. We watch human drama because we want to know what's real, what it is to actually experience something like that, whatever the circumstances. We want all the nitty gritty shit shown to us, no excuses. So when a lie is introduced, it needs to eventually be verified for being one. The great part about Othello and Richard III is that the antagonists let the audience in on the joke; both Iago and Richard turn to the audience and pointblank tell them, "I'm going to really fuck things up for these people, just watch." The audience is allowed in, and so the lying is okay because the viewers are allowed to recognize it as a device. But when that access is denied, it's almost an act of bad faith on the part of the writer/performer. Remember that episode of "Dallas" where Patrick Duffy was discovered in the shower, still alive when he was supposed to have been dead, and the entire season that had taken place turned out to be a dream? I don't, I was too young--but I've heard tell of it. Such an action on a writer's part basically undercuts the entire journey they've taken the audience on. Unless the play was somehow a large discussion about deception, and that choice was made to show the audience that even they were vulnerable to it happening to them, it's just an asshole move. Period.

So I guess basically, getting back to BSG, I want Leoben to once and for all say that Adama, whichever one, is not a Cylon. Or see more examples of Cylons lying--which there have been many, but none recent enough to remind me what they're capable of (save the day-to-day existence on the Galactica of the four known of the Final Five...I guess there's a lot of deception there, too). If it is a lie. (And I venture to guess that it is.) And generally I'd like to see a good, solid piece of drama that may trick the audience into thinking they knew the answers, but then discovered they did not. Which is great drama, truly.

When am I getting a job with SciFi?

(Note: I did find an almost completely naked picture of Lee Adama on the web, but restrained myself from posting it here. This is a blog, not a smut show. I don't know if that's a good thing or not, but the epic hotness of Jamie Bamber was bound to be just too frakking distracting for the likes of me, and I couldn't do it. Sorry guys.)


greedygreen said...

Further thoughts about BSG narrative structure (Imagine this is video-ed and I'm wearing a flightsuit. Yessss.)

Do you remember in season 2 where Adama talks about Leoben to Kara when they find another of his model aboard and she's tasked with interrogating him? This is after Leoben kicks the shit out of Adama on Ragnar while they're replenishing weapons stores in Season 1. The Admiral makes all these proclamations about how the Leoben model can't be trusted because he mixes lies with truth. Where the FRAK does this info come from? I've never been able to figure this out and it's always pissed me off. Nothing is more annoying than using narration/seemingly omniscient monologue from a character to give the audience information that should be revealed through plot. It's lazy.

But back to the lying issue if we take this little pearl of Adama wisdom for granted: We know Leoben was right about Starbuck's destiny, yes? He wasn't bullshitting that. We know he lied about the nuke on Galactica because he didn't want to die so far from the resurrection ship. Now the big Q is whether the "Adama is a Cylon" thing was fact or lie.

I think it's a lie. It's one last jab at the people who will be executing him. Aren't we told that none of the known models know who the final five are? They're programmed not the think about it. Dyana got boxed for that shit. Also: Baltar's cylon detector DID work, he just hid the fact the Boomer was one. Adama passed the test.

I have to say I'm fearful about this season. Thank CHRIST someone mentioned the fact that Kara's ship, when it re-emerged, was all shiny and new. I look forward to how they'll dig themselves out of such a big hole where people blow up and then return from death through a ripple in the space time continuum where 6 hours = 2 months. I have huge questions; questions I can't come up with answers too, which floors me and excites me...

...but also makes me worry that they'll stop short, pull a Dallas, jump the shark, and make things into a dream sequence. Or include the supernatural too much to make quick fixes irrefutable (i'm with you with the God(s) stuff for a while, but I'll only go so far. If this becomes an, "it's all in God's plan" thing, I'll vomit.)

One of the things I find so fascinating about BSG in terms of structure is the fact that it draws from bits and pieces of dialogue or events from three seasons ago. And frequently. It doesn't create a problem, resolve it and move on. My biggest pet peeve about TV is the tendency to make each episode it's own little entity, so that people can jump in anywhere, get the gist, enjoy it, and then jump out without losing much. (Law and Order, any Soap Opera, Reality TV) These type of shows have their place (Sex and the City was like this, but it was also a concept show more than anything else, and worked on that superficial level. Tune in. Have a laugh. Tune out. Buy some shoes.)

BSG makes us think about the past and try to tie things together. Lea, you and I have had hours of conversation about this. I love that! That's what I want drama to do for me. And I'm in awe of anyone who can craft such a tale.

Christina said...

I will respond to your blog with far more careful thought when I've gotten some sleep. For now, I leave you with two thoughts:

1. Jamie Barber is British, Lea. Feel free to look him up when you're across the pond.

2. Making the huge assumption that Leoben was telling the truth when he said "Adama's a cylon," could he possibly have meant Zack Adama? After years of his character not being mentioned, he was brought up in Friday's episode.

I love this frakkin' show.

More to come...

Lea Maria said...


A couple things:

1) Jamie Bamber IS British, but he is also married with three children (the nurse that cuts open Adama's chest in early season two after he's been shot and they're waiting for Doc Cottle to show up--that's his wife). So since he's taken, AND since I've recently been informed that James MacAvoy is married, I have no reason to hope that England has any men to offer me. Though Ralph Fiennes did break up with his long term girlfriend about a year ago...hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm...

But could one, in good conscience, date Voldemort? I'll have to think about this more carefully.

2. I really don't think Leoben was telling the truth. Out of all the Cylons, he was the one that played the most mind games--convincing Kara that they'd made a child from the ovary they took from her (God, I always forget just how frakked up that character's life has been...special destiny indeed...) was pretty crazy. And Adama's speech must be referencing the mini-series where he meets the first Leoben, supposedly a gun runner, who tells Adama all that crazy stuff. And anyway, it is within the skinjob's nature to deceive--they're already trying to pass for human, so, you know: come on.

And Katie: it's D'Anna.

I wish I knew more about the human's mythology, because I feel like that would help in terms of deciphering the journey we'll be going on this season. I want a copy of the scrolls.

And a 50 minute postmortem conversation with Abby, I am laying money down: The final Cylon in Dualla. Reasons upon request.