‘Battlestar Galactica’ review: Adama, Starbuck finally wake up

Posted in Battlestar Galactica, Fantasy/sci-fi, TV shows with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 7, 2009 by Dawn Raftery

It’s comforting to know that even when the end is near—the end of a journey, the end of a battlestar, the end of the best frakkin’ TV show out there—alcohol will be available. Adama (Edward James Olmos) basically opens and concludes this third-to-last episode of “Battlestar Galactica” with a drink in his hand. “Islanded in a Stream of Stars,” although not as powerful as “Sometimes a Great Notion,” action-packed as “Blood on the Scales” or illuminating as “No Exit,” delivers in that it actually moves the story along. And we need the pacing to pick up, because only two episodes remain before this four-season series goes off—hopefully none too gently—into that starry night.

A quick recap: Hera, the only Cylon child, is gone, taken by the duplicitous Boomer (Grace Park). Liam, the son of Tigh (Michael Hogan) and Caprica Six (Tricia Helfer), died in the womb. Ellen, the last member of the Final Five to be revealed, was resurrected and has rejoined the fleet. Anders (Michael Trucco), shot in the head during the uprising attempted by Gaeta (Alessandro Juliani) and Tom Zarek (Richard Hatch), remains catatonic. Oh, and in addition to earth turning out to be an inhabitable wasteland—and the graveyard for Starbuck’s body—Galactica is falling apart.

“Islanded in a Stream of Stars”—really, what a gorgeously poetic name—starts off with an impromptu gathering: Tigh, Ellen (Kate Vernon), Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) and Tory (Rekha Sharma) trying to convince Adama and Lee (Jamie Bamber) to go after Hera. But this would mean a confrontation with Cavil (Dean Stockwell), and Adama has had enough of destiny and prophecy. He’s seen the bitter disappointment it’s created in his lover, President Roslin (Mary McDonnell).

Much like his ship, Adama is exhausted and beat-up. He still hasn’t recovered from the shock of seeing Boomer again—the Eight who shot him twice in the chest and nearly killed him. He would rather smoke weed in the hospital ward while visiting Roslin (who at least does it for medicinal purposes) than think of ways to solve the problems before him.

At least Roslin has her head on straight. Or maybe it’s the pot’s influence. She doesn’t come across as much of an authority figure lying in the hospital bed—who can forget Laura “I’m coming for all of you” Roslin?—but her words still carry weight with Adama. “I know you love this ship—you probably love her more than you love me—but Bill, if you don’t get us off of this ship, you may lose both of us at the same time. Why don’t you give us a chance?”

Cylon sacrifice

While working on repairing the ship’s hull, two people get into a verbal altercation: a male human and one of the Sixes. Ironically enough, it’s an Eight who puts a halts their bickering. But seconds later, such squabbles become meaningless as a hole in the hull rips wide open and people literally have to hold on for their lives. It’s a Cylon—the very one insulted by the male human—who saves his life and offers up her own in exchange for the salvation of everyone else. That’s an important act of bravery here, as well as a sign of hope for better race relations, but Adama doesn’t single it out for recognition during the funeral for the 61 dead crew members. Maybe he’s not ready to look too kindly upon his new allies. Or maybe he’s unaware of what happened. Maybe the show’s writers want to make the point that great deeds often go unrecorded and unrewarded.

We’re left to wonder: Does the Cylon give up her life because her race is accustomed to working for the greater good of their species and not taking into account individual choices or desires? Or is it simple as she forgot she can no longer resurrect?

Throw him out of the airlock already

I might be in the minority, but I wish someone would toss Gaius Baltar (James Callis) into space. I’m tired of his limpid, weepy eyes and the spiritual drivel he spews nightly on his wireless communicator to his flock and whoever else is willing—and weak enough—to listen. His attempts to reach out to Caprica Six, who apparently has no home after the return of Ellen and the loss of Liam, are construed by her as him trying to resume their previous relationship. But Caprica Six has come a long way—does anyone else remember when she murdered that baby in the market during one of the early episodes?—and she rebuffs his advances, not wishing to join his “harem.” This coming from Six, the Cylon model most associated with sexual manipulation? I almost jumped to my feet and applauded.

But I’ll admit Gaius has a useful function in this episode. It’s easy to forget amid all his rambling excuses and pathetic yet successful schemes for self-preservation that he is a very intelligent, talented scientist. When Kara tells Gaius in the bathroom that she saw her own dead body on earth—for reasons that don’t make sense other than the fact she must have been bursting to let the news out—there is both annoyance and relief. Annoyance she chooses as her confidante the man who betrayed his whole race for a few good romps in bed; relief that she finally shares her secret with someone other than Leoben, who witnessed the eerie scene and then ran off. (Where is this particular Cylon, by the way? We haven’t seen much of him since then.)

During the funeral services for the workers, Gaius announces you don’t have to be a Cylon to come back to life and points to Kara Thrace. We now know Gaius tests the blood on the dog tags Kara gives him and discovers that while the DNA is indeed her blood, it comes from a dead body. While Adama yells at everyone to disband and threatens to throw Baltar in the brig, Kara marches up to Gaius and slaps him—an unusual reaction from the Never Miss Dainty Starbuck. We expect Kara to stick a knife in his ribs, or at the very least slug him. But a slap? I guess you have to improvise when there isn’t a martini glass nearby. Kara should have stood closer to Adama; she could have flung the contents of his flask in Baltar’s face.

See? Boomer’s got a heart

I wondered when Boomer would start showing her true self. I wondered when we’d catch a glimpse into her soul. I wondered if she made up the dream house with Chief (Aaron Douglas) just to trick him into helping her to complete her mission, or if she had always used that fantasy landscape as an escape. Tonight, I got some answers.

In the beginning Boomer is cold and callous to Hera. She threatens to drug her again to stop her sniveling; Hera keeps tearfully repeating she wants her mommy. But just as Boomer is about to stick the needle in her, she decides to tell her about this place where she goes to make herself happy. She learns that Hera can follow her into this alternate reality, that she can project. She softens, and for the first time ever, she seems to look upon Hera as the daughter that could have been hers, the daughter that she wanted with Chief. And, for the first time ever, we learn that, in addition to having strange curly hair and abnormally rosy cheeks, Hera possesses powers similar to the full-blooded Cylons. This aspect of the show hasn’t been explored before; it’s only been hinted at, with Roslin, Caprica Six and Athena sharing the visions of Hera running around in an opera house. The show will undoubtedly culminate in such a setting (and it’s going to sound like a rock concert if “All Along the Watchtower” is the background music).

I had hoped Boomer would turn the raptor around and return Hera to her parents, but that was maudlin thinking on my part. Boomer can’t go back; she can only go forward to Cavil (Dean Stockwell) and aid him in his vile plans. If she flew the raptor back to the fleet, this time the Adama-Roslin administration really would execute her, and she’s not courageous enough to walk to her own death. We saw that in the first season, when she knew something was wrong with her but she didn’t tell anyone.

Burning question: Will Boomer be to Hera what Wormtail was to Harry Potter? J.K. Rowling was able to show us that a moment’s hesitation can make a big difference in which side wins the war. Boomer hands Hera over to Cavil, but she doesn’t want to.

Creepy factor: Since his tirades against humanity and his own human form in “No Exit,” Cavil has left an indelible impression on audiences. Stockwell plays the part well; he’s no longer that helpful hologram I remember from “Quantum Leap.” The sight of him holding Hera makes me shudder. What exactly does Cavil mean when he tells Hera she’ll have all sorts of playmates soon? Will he clone her? Or is he talking specifically about resurrection technology? Do any of his machinations involve killing her? And I can’t help but remember Ellen’s taunt to a pregnant Caprica Six that Simon would love to get his hands on her baby. Simon sided with Cavil and must be aboard the ship. Those two men should never be allowed to be around children. Ever.

This is the end

Two people awaken from their self-induced comas tonight: Starbuck and Aadama. Starbuck, because her secret coming to light frees her in a sense to do what she needs to do. Adama, because he always knows what is the right thing to do, even if it’s not his first instinct to do it. The point is, these characters, who in the past have excelled in emergency situations, are both doing something instead of walking around in a drunken daze, as they have throughout most of the second half of the fourth season.

Lee comes over to Starbuck as she stands by the wall covered with photos of dead people—the casualties of this war with the Cylons. He gives his support to her, as he’s always done, and she smiles—she smiles in such a heartbreakingly sweet way that you’d think Lee would now know enough to be suspicious. His wife, Dee (Kandyse McClure), smiled at him like that, even kissed him, before going into the locker room and shooting herself in the head. If he doesn’t remember that, the show’s writers want to make sure we do. After Lee walks away, Kara pins a photo of herself on the wall next to Dee.

Starbuck has no intention of killing herself, though. She’s first and foremost a fighter. What she wants to do, though, may risk the fleet. She visits Sam, who aboard Galactica has been hooked up to the main power grid of the ship like they do with hybrids. She reconnects him to the main power grid, not caring that Tigh ordered him unplugged so he wouldn’t jump the ship, as the hybrids are prone to do when sensing danger. She wants to solve the mystery of “All Along the Watchtower”—the song Sam supposedly wrote, that her father taught her to play in her childhood, whose notes Hera drew on a piece of paper that otherwise looks like a string of stars. Kara doesn’t always do the smart thing, but she doesn’t shy away from action. We want the mystery solved too. We want to know who Kara is and what her role is in the greater scheme of things. We’ve been waiting for answers ever since Kara rejoined the fleet.

Adama has his own epiphany of sorts, an emotional upheaval that leaves him clear of thought and sure of purpose. He has a breakdown, where he starts flinging white paint on the walls and himself and eventually slides down to the floor crying. It’s a weird scene, perhaps unnecessary, but briefly giving up control provides a much-needed release for the tightly coiled Adama.

After his emotional hailstorm, Adama washes his face in his bathroom and when he looks up, his second-in-command is there: Adama briskly informs Tigh he’s made some decisions. He doesn’t reveal them all—some are implied—but he states he’s stopping all the repairs on the ship. They’re abandoning ship, he says. Tigh, who earlier argued with Ellen over where his true loyalties lie, doesn’t want to give up on Galactica, but he bows to Adama’s wishes. After all, Adama has just called him the finest friend and officer he’s ever known. The words probably made Tigh tingle in a place we don’t want to know about.

When Adama pours them drinks and says they are going to send her off in style, Tigh knows exactly what he’s talking about. And the previews for next week’s episode hint that Adama will fight Cavil over Hera and the fate of humans and Cylons alike.

“She was a grand old lady,” Tigh remininisces.

“To Galactica, the best ship in the fleet,” Adama replies.

Hear, hear.


Women’s History Month: Good time to catch up on good reads

Posted in Books, Fantasy/sci-fi with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 5, 2009 by Dawn Raftery

There’s something immensely satisfying about knowing the most popular book series of all time—I’m talking about Harry Potter, of course—was penned by a woman. Oh, I can already hear the naysayers deploring that “these are only children’s books, so who cares?”—they’re not—or that “accomplishments shouldn’t be categorized by gender.” Well, they shouldn’t, but they are.

We don’t live in a genderless society, here in America and, well, most of the world. We live in a male-dominated one, and many achievements are considered such because they can be attributed to a man. Why? Because for centuries, men were the only citizens with power.

I celebrate Women’s History Month because it’s a noble attempt, however limited in scope, to promote awareness and recognition of female contributions, at least for the duration of March. One of the most powerful vehicles any individual can have is a voice, and that’s why I prefer to show my support for my fellow women by investing in their work. In other words, I buy books written by women. I buy books written by men as well, but I make a concerted effort to seek out female authors year-round. I especially pay attention to fantasy and sci-fi, as female characters play a prominent role in these worlds (just think of Starbuck and President Roslin in “Battlestar Galactica”).

So here’s my list of my top fantasy/sci-fi books, written by women but hopefully not exclusively for female enjoyment. I like to think good literature can be appreciated by both sexes. I have not ranked these books, since the job would prove extremely difficult for a bibliophile such as myself.

Mary Doria Russell
“The “Sparrow” and “The Children of God”

Despite the recognizable premise—first contact with an alien civilization—this two-part series set in the future resonates on an anthropological scale level besides making a worthy contribution to the sci-fi genre. One of the main themes is how cultural misunderstandings between well-intentioned people can result in tragedy, which makes even the idea of an ethnography study sound too perilous to ever pull off. The central character, Father Emilio Sandoz of the Jesuit order, is the only one from the original crew to return to earth, although he is greatly damaged in body and spirit. The first book alternates between the story of the expedition and Sandoz’s interrogation by the Jesuit order’s inquest. The second book gives even more insight into what really happened on the planet Rakhat and further underscores Russell’s central theme. Russell is obviously a brilliant woman with extensive knowledge of music and mathematics, and she writes with clarity and understated elegance. But here’s a warning: These books are emotionally wrenching. When I gave it to a former boss years ago for Christmas, she told me she would have to take a break before tackling the sequel.

Mary Piercy
“He, She and It”

Fellow feminist Marcy Piercy is a poet, novelist and social activist. Be prepared to be challenged by her provocative thinking. “He, She and It”—quite possibly one of my favorite books, along with Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”—examines gender roles, human identity and artificial intelligence, environmentalism and the economy, through a love story between a human woman and the cyborg created to protect her hometown from corporate raiders, all of which takes place against a backdrop of post-apocalyptic America. Yes, it’s that deep and compelling. In contrast to this futuristic vision of the world and the role the Internet plays in it are interwoven elements of Jewish mysticism and the legend of the Golem. I think that’s what I like best: a conformity-oriented, corporate-driven society juxtaposed with a rich cultural history steeped in ethnic tradition and mythology. It’s a road we’ve already started on, with the emphasis we’ve given to the business world. Perhaps the only thing keeping us human in the future will be an ancestry that corporate America will be continually trying to obliterate. 

Rosemary Kirstein
“The Steerwoman’s Road”

If you ask, she will answer. If she asks, you must reply—or face a lifelong ban from her and her sisters. What a wonderful concept. I love the idea of these Steerswomen—and some Steersmen—traveling the world in search of knowledge, with the goal of sharing information with anyone for free. Now that’s democracy. “The Steerswoman’s Road,” which includes the first two volumes of the series, follows the highly intelligent, inquisitive Rowan on her journey as she seeks to discover the truth behind a small blue gem. Her curiosity about this geological oddity lands her in life-threatening trouble quite a few times, as well as gains her the loyalty and companionship of Bel, a warrior poet from a barbarian land known as the Outskirts. These women are strong and courageous in different ways, and they will easily find a place in your heart.

Patricia McKillip and Robin McKinley
Whatever they pen (that’s not the title of a book, it’s just a statement of fact)

Whenever one of these women comes out with a book, I buy it regardless of what any reviewer writes. In fact, I’ve stopped reading reviews for them. They’re that good. From a writer’s perspective, McKillip is simply the most astonishing author I’ve ever read. Her writing is so gorgeous and graceful, I feel like every sentence is a lyrical gem. I love all of her books, but my favorites include “Alphabet of Thorn,” “Od Magic,” “Ombria in Shadow, “Winter Rose” and “Cygnet.” This woman could probably make a laundry list or bowel movement sound captivating and poetic. As for McKinley, I’ve followed McKinley’s her career since devouring within days “The Hero and the Crown” and then “The Blue Sword.” Much like McKillip, McKinley’s books have fairy tale elements. “Deerskin”—an unflinching tale of incest and rape, survival and recovery—in particular comes to mind

Kathleen Duey
“Skin Hunger”

Harry Potter, this is not. There’s plenty of danger and excitement in the Harry Potter world, but there’s also hope and love. In Duey’s darkly atmospheric, morbid novel, the first in a planned trilogy called A Resurrection of Magic, there is no hope and there is hardly any love. The children forced to attend this school of wizardry are starved to death if they can’t conjure up food or learn their lessons properly. The book centers on two characters told from different time periods: Sadima, a young woman grappling with her powers and her yearning to be loved and accepted, and Hahp, an unwanted son of nobility born generations later. You’ll find “Skin Hunger” in the young adult section, but it seems more appropriate for a funereal section, given the amount of death and despair between its pages. That said, I’m eagerly awaiting the next installment, “Sacred Scars,” which is expected to come out in August (one month after the next Harry Potter movie is released—it’s going to be a good summer!).

J.V. Jones
“The Barbed Coil”

A magical ring known as the barbed coil transports shy, troubled Tessa McCamfrey from her present-day life here on earth to an alternate reality filled with magic and peril. With the help of Lord Ravis, she navigates the Kingdom of Raize, meets Cameron of Thorn and becomes involved with the other two in a mission to save the land from the armies of Garizon. What really makes this book stand out is the use of art—specifically magical illuminations like those of medieval manuscripts—to cast spells. The descriptions of these illuminations are fascinating and make you wish the book was illustrated. I also highly recommend The Book of Words trilogy by Jones.

Nina Kiriki Hoffman
“A Fistful of Sky”

Set the story around a frumpy young woman overshadowed by her siblings, throw in some magic in an otherwise conventional reality, and you have an enchanting formula in this offering from the prosaic Nina Kiriki Hoffman. The Lazelle family of southern California can do magic. In their teen years, they undergo a process ominously dubbed The Transition: a severe illness that will either kill you or leave you with magical powers. If you’re lucky, you gain a talent like shape-changing or wish-granting. If you’re not lucky, you die. Unlike her brothers and sisters, Gypsum Lazelle hasn’t undergone The Transition yet. She resigns herself to a boring, magic-bereft existence as a college student—one day she becomes gravely ill while her family is away. It’s a delightful coming-of-age story for those of us who want our adolescent angst made even more complicated by the presence of magic.

Sharon Shinn
Samaria series

Picture a world where angels abuse their power, swear and have sex. If that’s not an interesting premise, I don’t know what it is. Sharon Shinn has created a land where angels not only live beside humans, they cohabitate with them. Contrary to what some believe, angels are mortals—just genetically enhanced ones. They live on Samaria, a planet settled by colonists from a different planet some time ago. The colonists journeyed to Samaria on a spaceship named Jehovah, which possesses artificial intelligence and can modify weather patterns, send medicinal drugs or rain down death, giving the illusion of an omnipotent god. Eventually Jehovah is worshipped as a deity, with only a select few knowing and discovering the truth. In this religion, angels are considered superior beings because they can fly close to the heavens and sing the populace’s needs to Jehovah. From the very first couple—Gabriel and Rachel—to the last—Obadiah and Rebekah—I found myself fascinated by the romantic entanglements between angel and human. Shinn has a nice way with words and is particularly skilled at creating intriguing and endearing characters.

Edith Pattou

Edith Pattou’s “East,” set in Norway,” is a charming retelling of “East of the Sun and West of the Moon,” combined with elements from “Beauty and the Beast.” I love a well-told fairy tale, especially reimagined ones. Told from multiple viewpoints, “East” focuses on the adventures of Nymah Rose, the last daughter of eight children born to a poor mapmaker and his superstitious wife, as she leaves home on a dangerous quest to learn love, lose it and rediscover it through perseverance and resourcefulness. Pattou, whose works include “Hero’s Song” and its sequel, “Fire Arrow,” shows a new maturity and richness in her writing here.

Cecilia Dart-Thornton
The Bitterbynde trilogy

This is a phenomenonal series reminiscent of the Lord of the Rings trilogy—I can picture LOTR purists groaning, but Dart-Thornton’s creation is that epic, if not that originalset in the world of Erith, where an unnamed and unknown character falls into a thicket of paradox ivy and becomes horribly deformed. Rescued by an old and bitter woman, the foundling is then raised as a slave in the Isse Tower. But in this world, where faerie reigns supreme, nothing is as it seems, and as the ill-made mute discovers its real identity—and gender, for that matter—the story deepens in complexity and richness. Dart-Thornton has a vivid imagination as most fantasists do, and although I haven’t liked her subsequent books as much as I have “The Ill-Made Mute,” “The Lady of Our Sorrows’ and “The Battle of Evernight,” I will forever own this trilogy

‘Battlestar Galactica’ review: Too many Sharons on board?

Posted in Battlestar Galactica, Fantasy/sci-fi, TV shows with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 28, 2009 by Dawn Raftery

I tuned into tonight’s “Battlestar Galactica” with trepidation, still disappointed in last week’s raging Ellen fest and worried that with only four episodes left everything won’t be brought to a satisfying end. And although the pacing hasn’t worked itself out yet—the first 40 minutes were snoozeworthy—I enjoyed it because it focused on two of my favorite and more complicated female characters: Boomer and Starbuck.

My suspicion that Cavil (Dean Stockwell)—or should we call him John like Ellen does?—sent Boomer (Grace Park) to Galactica on a nefarious mission was proven true, but it didn’t make me happy to watch her break Chief’s heart once again. In the early episodes, Boomer is compelling because she was in such turmoil over her dual identity. Her only memories were of being human, yet she could sense this other identity trying to take control of her body—and she was scared.

Well, apparently Boomer is no longer confused about who she wants to pay allegiance to. “Personal feelings are what Sharon Valeri preys upon,” President Roslin (Mary McDonnell) tells Chief. Harsh words, but after Boomer escapes the brig with Chief’s help, it’s revealed to be an accurate assessment. Because even as she’s kissing Chief (Aaron Douglas) and telling him she loves him, she’s already played him for a fool.

The plotline involving Kara “Starbuck” Thrace (Katee Sackhoff) remains as muddled as ever. I was hoping to find out who or what Starbuck is. Unfortunately, those answers weren’t given. We learn instead about her childhood, about the father who taught her to play piano but left her behind with that crazy, abusive mother to go on the road. Uh-huh. So what? We’re no closer to discovering whether she’s human, Cylon or some kind of hybrid. That’s what I care about.

Of brigs and betrayals

The intensity and emotion between Chief and Boomer are palpable. He drinks in the sight of her like a starving man, and although Boomer’s motives are a mystery—really, what kind of hold does the decrepit Cavil have over her? The swirl???—I’m going to continue to believe that she has feeling for Chief, despite her betrayal.

The other Sharons aren’t faring so well. One No. 8 is knocked out by Chief and placed in the brig so Boomer can run amok on the ship. And Athena is having a really bad day. We haven’t seen Athena in weeks, and when we do, she gets beaten up and tossed in a locker, where she is forced to witness the torrid love scene between her husband, Helo (Tahmoh Penikett), and Boomer. Their writhing around on the floor and Boomer’s moans of pleasure make up one of the most passionate sexual encounters I’ve ever seen on “Battlestar”—let’s all try to forget Ellen and Tigh on a table last week—and it’s ironic that it occurs between Helo and a No. 8. I’m reminded of another Roslin verbal gem, her rebuke to Helo in an earlier episode: “You’re not married to the entire line.”

One of the trickier elements of this episode—tricky because it’s easy to appear mawkish—is the fantasy landscape Boomer has created for herself and Chief, a dream house where they live and raise Hera, the little girl that could have been theirs. Boomer is able to convey this fantasy to Chief using the powers of Cylon projection. As cynical as I am, I began to believe they could have a future together. In retrospect, though, you have to reevaluate every word she says to Chief, including, “The most important thing is we both know who we are now. Let’s make the most with the time we have left.”

A Cylon pick-up line: “I’ve thought about you every day since that moment I died in your arms,” Boomer says to Chief.

Starbuck’s serenade

OK, so in the last few minutes of the show it’s obvious why Starbuck’s past has been dredged up: She needs to have the musical skill to play a special song on the piano. But getting to that point is a painful journey. The episode feels slow and dreamlike from the start. It’s told, at least in the opening sequence, from Starbuck’s perspective. Her days are ordered and monotonous and boring, perhaps to illustrate how disconnected she feels from everyone and everything around her. The montage of banal scenes is in contrast to the many times we’ve witnessed her being emotional and messy. I can picture the screaming going on inside Starbuck’s head as she gives flight orders from the dais. I wonder if she could hear the screaming in my head as I tried to stay awake.

The musician she meets in a bar, the man who becomes her friend and confidante, ends up being a figment of her imagination and an overhanded substitute for her father, but he serves his purpose. With his guidance, Kara overcomes her reluctance to play the piano again and realizes that a drawing given to her by Hera is in fact musical notes. When she plays the notes in the bar, the song—”All Along the Watchtower”—immediately resonates with Col. Saul Tigh (the wonderful Michael Hogan), Ellen (Kate Vernon) and Tory (Rekha Sharma), who, by the way, seem to have mistaken the bottom of a liquor bottle as the solution for how to save humanity.

The priceless moment in that scene: The camera zooming in on Tigh’s one eye as it widens and him uttering, “What the frak?”

Burning questions: What is the name of Starbuck’s father? Could it be Daniel? What are the show’s creators up to by making Anders (Michael Trucco) the writer of “All Along the Watchtower,” which in this reality was written and recorded by Bob Dylan? Are Dylan and—gulp—Anders the same person in parallel universes? Is Anders going to in a coma from now on, or will he wake up again and spout more critical information in a nonsensical way like the hybrids do? And why is the little girl who plays Hera so strange looking, with curly hair that looks like a wig and abnormally rosy cheeks? How does she at all resemble either one of her parents?

The vicious circle of vendettas

The one bright note in tonight’s episode—the one sign that humans and Cylons may be able to coexist peacefully—comes from an unusual source: Lee Adama. Lee (Jamie Bamber), who has been vocal in his hatred and distrust of Cylons, overcomes his prejudice enough to give one of the Sixes a seat on the Quorum.

If only those around him demonstrated such leadership and integrity. Roslin and Adama need to step down. Now. Once such insightful, inspiring and effective leaders, they are dangerously out of touch with the citizens and circumstances they are supposed to govern. Didn’t they see how desperate Chief was? Didn’t it occur to them, especially after the mutiny recently carried out by Gaeta (Alessandro Juliani), that their word is no longer considered law by people? That Chief would do what he felt he had to do to save the woman he loves? (Actually, since tonight’s show concluded with Roslin on the floor, maybe she has stepped down—permanently.)

Roslin is too complacent, Adama too bitter. But whereas Roslin is aware of her growing disinterest, Adama doesn’t recognizes his shortcomings or that he can’t think straight when it comes to Boomer, who as we all know shot him twice in the chest and nearly killed him. He’s too concerned with payback.

But that one bright note in tonight’s episode is also the darkest, because it’s another example of revenge gone wrong. The first Cylon government official in the fleet makes the request to have Boomer released so she can be tried for treason for siding with Cavil—an act that sets all the other tragic events in motion. Without this thirst for retribution from the Cylons, who show themselves to be all too human time and time again, Chief would have not made the poor decisions he did and Hera would be home safe with her parents.

So what’s the lesson today, boys and girls? Vengeance is not the key to survival, especially when your numbers are very limited.

Best quote of the night: “The last thing we need is you jerking our chains with a lot of quack ideas. So why don’t you take them somewhere else?” Ahhhh, the wonderful Dr. Cottle (Donnelly Rhodes), telling it like it is.

Barbie at 50: Still looking good and causing debate

Posted in Fashion, Favorite stores, Shopping, Toys with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 27, 2009 by Dawn Raftery

Barbie—she of the glossy blonde locks and bullet breasts atop an impossibly tiny waist—is half a century old, and damned if she doesn’t look just as good as ever. Little girls everywhere emulate the Mattel doll, and even big girls—I’m referring to age here, not necessarily size—delight in the Barbie-verse, complete with a closet full of couture, a “dream house,” sporty cars, a plethora of impressive careers and an adoring metrosexual boyfriend.

I’m going against the feminist grain when I proclaim my love for Barbie dolls. It wasn’t until I minored in Women’s Studies at Northern Illinois University in the mid-’90s that I realized not all females were so enamored of the golden girl. There is plenty of venom aimed at the doll in certain academic circles and class discussions.

I’ll admit the arguments against Barbie have some validity. At 39-21-33, her measurements are not only unattainable, they’re absurd, and I certainly won’t refute the research that she would lack the requisite body fat for menstruation. But it’s silly to extrapolate from that information that Barbie, once such a close friend in childhood, becomes the enemy in adulthood, turning healthy young women into anorexics and bulimics.

Back in the ’80s, when Cabbage Patch Kids were the big toy trend and I had two of them, I never thought that they were setting the mold for what real babies should look like. In fact, I would have been appalled to discover that someone’s newly born baby could have passed for a Cabbage Patch Kid.

Barbie is a beautiful doll, but she’s a toy nonetheless, and I did not delude myself into thinking I could or should resemble her when I grew up. I also come from the unique perspective of being a minority—I’m Korean—so a busty, leggy doll with platinum blonde hair and wide blue eyes was never going to be a possibility for me.

I’ve read that dolls like Barbie have an adverse effect on minority children—the heart-wrenching story of Pecola in Toni Morrison’s 1970 novel, “The Bluest Eye,” comes to mind as a literary example—because they perpetuate the belief that beauty is best defined in white terms. I don’t want to discount those whose experiences run counter to my own, but I don’t consider Barbie to be the cause of prejudice in the world. That would be the territory of man, not plastic toy.

Without hating myself or having low self-esteem, I happily played with Barbie until junior high, sending her out on dates with Ken (and G.I. Joe when she desired variety), changing her outfit multiple times in an hour and sliding her—yes her, not Ken—behind the steering wheel of her camper van. Did she inspire eating disorders or depression in me? No. Did she lead to unrealistic expectations about womanhood? Well, maybe I hoped to one day have a wardrobe as great as hers, and that’s obviously not happened.

Not all girls treated their dainty dolls as kindly as I did. I’ve heard horror stories—at least they fill me with horror—from friends who flushed their heads down the toilet, cut off their hair, tossed them around in the dirt and drew on their faces with marker or pen. That to me was sacrilege, although I’m guessing many a feminist is snickering at the notion. (I, however, would point out that abuse against any woman, real or imagined, is reprehensible.)

Much like the maidens and princesses in fairy tales, Barbie almost always has blonde hair and blue eyes. But I had dolls from the international collection; they came from different countries and were designed accordingly. I had one from Scotland, Ireland, France and Korea. These were actually my favorite dolls, especially the Parisian one with copper-colored hair and a beauty mark who came clad in a slinky can-can dress.

Barbie didn’t impede my development into an intelligent, assertive young woman. If anything, she helped me push the boundaries of my imagination about how I’d interact in the adult world. I never looked at any of them as a substitute for my grown-up self. Rather, she was a heroine in a soap opera or epic miniseries with an exciting social life I could only dream about at that age. I enjoyed Barbie much like I enjoyed—and still enjoy—fairy tales.

The promise of transformation is a heady thing, and that’s the allure of both Barbie and fairy tales. They make you believe change is possible. Fairy tales have been reinvented and retold in recent years, spurring a wonderful book series edited by Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow (or maybe it’s the other way around). Barbie’s appeal is enduring; every second at least three of the dolls are sold. She’s the ultimate siren, and I find it surprising she isn’t mentioned in Laren Stover’s “The Bombshell Manual of Style.”

Just last Christmas I succumbed to her powers of seduction once again. While shopping at Target’s toy department for my niece and nephew, I saw a Hello Kitty Barbie. It took me only a second’s delay before I scooped her up and rushed over to the cash register. She’s still in her box, resting comfortably on a shelf in my second bedroom.

Cheers to Barbie on her birthday. This dame is 50—and she still doesn’t need Botox. Lucky cougar.

The Snuggie pub crawl? A walking nightmare

Posted in Commercials, Shopping with tags , , , on February 26, 2009 by Dawn Raftery

America has enough image problems. Do we really need a crowd of drunks staggering through the streets, looking like a band of medieval monks in their Snuggies?

Yep, that’s right. Your worst fear—or maybe it’s only mine—has been confirmed. The evil influence of the Snuggie has invaded the haven of those who need a place to relax after a long, grueling day at work. There are Snuggie pub crawls being planned in big cities all over the country. The Chicago one will take place Saturday, April 18. (Mark that date on your calendar if, like me, you plan to stay away from bars to avoid the fashion eyesore otherwise known as the Snuggie.)

I hope the event organizers have taken into account the perils of such an evening. Besides the inherent risk of tripping over the hem of your robe and cracking your head against the concrete, fights could break out among the alcohol-swilling Snuggie wearers and the rest of the alcohol-swilling population who can’t get over having in their midst people who resemble a Ku Klux Klan member or a “Star Wars” character. Among the inebriated, fights have broken out for far less. Let the Snuggie SmackDown begin.

You won’t ever see me sporting a Snuggie. A $20 oversized fleece blanket with sleeves that you wear like a robe? No thanks. I already have a very nice, thick robe, and if so inclined I can wear it backward while I lounge on my couch. Or I could even cut holes in one of my blankets.

So how has the Snuggie managed to accumulate more than 4 million sales under its sleeve? Blame it on the tough economy. Thanks to the recession, direct-response advertising, the preferred industry term for commercials that feature a toll-free 800 number for placing orders, has become more prevalent on cable television. Such “as-seen-on-TV” companies are purchasing more TV slots for less money. Plus, people are looking for ways to lower their heating bills, and bundling up is just as convenient a way as any.

But I still can’t believe how successful the over-the-top Snuggie infomercial is or how gullible its fans are. They’ve been convinced that regular blankets just don’t make the fold anymore. Regular blankets slip and slide. And when you want to reach for something, your hands are trapped—trapped!—inside. And here I thought all this time my hands were just resting comfortably under my blanket.

The Snuggie’s bizarre cut following is frightening in its intensity—another example of this blanket/robe’s evil influence. Type in Snuggie on Facebook and more than 500 results come up. Snuggie is on YouTube, with more than 700 videos posted, many of them parodies, including one titled “Cult of the Snuggie” with 381,711 views as of today.

The Snuggie is not the first of its kind. Before the Snuggie, there was the Slanket (the same exact product, albeit with a less snuggly name and at more than double the cost). And after the Snuggie, who knows? Maybe an oversized fleece blanket with sleeves and a hood? I can picture the ad now: A group of guys and girls in the new Snuggies grind and gyrate—maybe flop around would be a more accurate description, given their getup—to club music under strobe lights, while a female voice-over coos, “You know how to stay Snuggie-licious this winter.”

Ellen’s return no cause for celebration on ‘Battlestar Galactica’

Posted in Battlestar Galactica, Fantasy/sci-fi, TV shows with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 21, 2009 by Dawn Raftery

With only four episodes left—four!—“Battlestar Galactica” continues to catapult toward its supernova finale with ample intrigue and thrills. But when it’s over, I wonder how much will seem squeezed in or slapped on because the show’s writers have a limited time frame in which to conclude this harrowing story of humanity’s survival. Tonight’s episode, while watchable enough, is an example of uneven pacing and disappointing plot development.

Since we learned last week that Ellen (Kate Vernon) was resurrected months ago, it’s no surprise when she and Boomer (Grace Park) catch up with the fleet in the first couple of minutes. However, it might have been better for both human and Cylon alike if Ellen had been lost in space for a few more months, because her conduct becomes insidious and appalling once she learns her husband, Tigh (Michael Hogan), has slept with and impregnated Caprica Six (Tricia Helfer). Visiting Caprica in the chamber she shares with Tigh, Ellen oh-so-casually drops into the stilted conversation that she had sex with him upon her arrival. Ellen’s jealousy and anger ultimately lead to a terrible tragedy that can’t be undone.

Now, I’m not entirely without sympathy. Most women would kick into cat-fight mode if they found out their husband was having a baby with someone else, but in Tigh’s defense, he, along with everyone else, believed Ellen was dead. And, even more importantly, Ellen is no ordinary woman. She’s the mother of humanity and Cylons; we expect higher ethics and morals from her. If this is the kind of behavior she exhibits when hurt, is she any better than Cavil (Dean Stockwell), whom I’d like to permanently box after discovering his role in the downfall of civilization?

Cylon Threesome?

One of the highlights of this bittersweet reunion is watching Hogan show off his character’s more tender side as he proclaims he has enough love for Ellen, Caprica Six and future baby Liam (short for William, but more on that later). Despite all his flaws, Tigh’s fierce loyalty to the people and things he cares about is nothing short of remarkable. He also seems to possess the most common sense on the fleet when he points out that humans and Cylons need each other. “Pure human doesn’t work. Pure Cylon doesn’t work. It’s too weak,” he snarls. Wow. When Tigh starts dispensing pearls of wisdom, you know you’re near the end.

My question: Why is Tigh so sought after by hot blondes? Is it the missing eye? The ease with which he says frak? Or maybe it’s his ability to frak well??? Will Katee Sackhoff’s Starbuck—whose origins remain a mystery—turn out to be a Cylon and fall for him next? Then again, if Ellen’s mockery has any basis in truth, the one Tigh really wants is his best bud, the stoic Adama (Edward James Olmos). In an intimate scene that borders on absurd—yes, I’m cynical—Adama is the one Tigh goes to with a broken heart, and the two comfort each other in a prolonged embrace with while tears stream from their eyes. (Well, in Tigh’s case, it’s just the one eye.)

Sobriety check

In one scene Adama and Tigh are throwing back drinks like they don’t have to fight for humanity’s survival the next day. In the next scene, Adama is walking around examining his ship, keeping a close eye on the repairs being made by Tyrol (Aaron Douglas) and his Cylon crew. Either some time has passed without any obvious indication to the viewer, or the tradeoff in the future is less humans in exchange for a quick recovery time after a heavy bout of drinking.

Priceless moment: The look on Roslin’s (Mary McDonnell) face when Ellen asks for a drink and the only one to accommodate her—Adama—pulls a flask out of his pants pocket. Apparently the admiral has learned to keep his friends close, his enemies closer and his liquor closest.

Boomer and Chief, sitting on a ship …

In last week’s episode, when Ellen is talking about love to Boomer and the next scene shifts to Tyrol—that’s when I began to hope that Boomer and Tyrol could finally achieve happiness together as a couple. Tonight the two are finally reunited. “Nice to see you again,” he says, before addressing the others assembled in the bay, “This is Boomer.” He and Boomer share an intense glance before she is led away to—where else?—the brig.

Obviously despite the tale of he and Tory (Rekha Sharma) being lovers in the past, Tyrol is more interested in resurrecting his love affair with Boomer. It looks like the two have a private moment on next week’s episode, but it may be cut short by the Cylon demand that this particular Eight be put on trial for treason. Of course, the almost smug smile on Boomer’s face could mean one of two things: She wants Tyrol back, or she’s a trap sent by Cavil to lure the Final Five away.

Gaius and his female flock

Am I the only one who wishes that Gaius (James Callis) was also killed when Gaeta (Alessandro Juliani) and Tom Zarek (Richard Hatch) were executed a few episodes ago? Do we really care about Gaius losing control of his worshipers? Doesn’t anyone in his cult recognize that his initial desire to feed starving children in the fleet is fueled by his desire to woo one of the children’s attractive young mothers?

For such a genius, Gaius doesn’t show much intelligence in some of his choices, yet he demonstrates he still has persuasive skills in Adama’s office when he convinced the admiral to arm his followers with the firepower needed to beat off the bullies.

Best line: “Ladies, show these men you are armed.” Gaius has no qualms admitting he is not the one with the muscle in his group.

The mourning after

“If it works, she’ll still be the Galactica on the outside, but she won’t know what she is anymore.” So says an inebriated Adama to Tigh.

We’re used to seeing a lot of Cylons on a base ship, but seeing them on Galactica, all dressed in uniform as they patch up the ship’s cracks using their technology, is disconcerting at first. It’s especially odd to see them so hard at work when you realize the Cylons have another plan: They want to band together with the Final Five and jump away. Tyrol and Tory vote to go—hardly a shock for Tory, given her conscience has been eroding ever since she discovered her true heritage. A hostile Ellen casts the sway vote to abandon ship. Anders is still unconscious, and Tigh, well, he can’t even conceive of the thought of leaving Bill or the fleet.

Still, the last scene shows promise for a more integrated future. Adama and Roslin are strolling around the ship watching the Cylons, when they witness a Six stopping at a wall covered with pictures. The pictures are of Cylons who have died since joining the fleet. Roslin looks surprised, Adama grim and thoughtful. What are pain and grief, if not the province of humanity at its most basic form?

Addictions to love and shopping: A stale cinematic formula

Posted in Fashion, Movies, Shopping with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 18, 2009 by Dawn Raftery

Give me “Moonstruck.” Give me “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” I’d even take “The Cutting Edge” (hey, it’s got the Pamchenko going for it).

But as far as romantic comedies go, “Confessions of a Shopaholic”—based on the series of best-selling books by Sophie Kinsella—is an excruciatingly painful exercise in female fantasy. Isla Fisher’s Rebecca Bloomwood will resonate with women like myself who crave high-fashion clothing and accessories. Poor Becky’s full-time hobby is so out of control she has run up nearly $20,000 in credit-card bills. And yes, I can relate to reaching for the plastic instead of cutting up the cards, bringing them to the local junkyard and watching as they’re crushed into oblivion. An extreme measure? Not for shopaholics.

But I found my willingness to suspend my belief gravely tested when Becky is so obsessed with shopping that she risks missing an interview for her dream job at the fashion magazine Alette. I found it further tested when she finagles a job at Successful Saving and writes a hugely popular column on frugality using—what else?—fashion metaphors. Why do I consider Becky’s career trajectory so absurd? Because I’m in a job search mode myself, and penning winning propositions while drunk to land a second interview after the first one failed abysmally just doesn’t happen. To anyone outside of Hollywood’s play pen, that is.

The real romance in “Confessions of a Shopaholic” is not between Becky and her boss, the dashing British editor Luke Brandon (Hugh Dancy). It’s between Becky and her newest acquisition. Her ever-burgeoning relationship quickly hits a snag: The Evil Debt Collector, played by a properly unctuous Robert Stanton. The silly cat-and-mouse game between Becky and Stanton’s Derek Smeath reminds me of the battle between Ferris Bueller and Principal Rooney, but you grow tired of her preposterous yet nearly always successful machinations to avoid him and accept responsibility for her actions.

I prefer my romantic comedies to be witty and charming, with some sort of metamorphosis, whether physical, mental or emotional, at the heart of the story. “Confessions of a Shopaholic” falls woefully short on all counts, and it’s not even really fun to watch. Its glossy veneer eventually cracks under the strain of Becky’s frequently garish wardrobe. Label lust doesn’t automatically translate into style.

I’ve read many reviews extolling the comedic talent and physical virtues of Fisher, who’s beguiling to a degree with her oh-so-earnest, wide-eyed pouts, but I am oddly disturbed by the sight of such a childlike face atop such a curvy body. I guess that’s why she appeals to the male set. The same phenomenon must happen a lot with Scarlett Johansson, who plays Anna in “He’s Just Not That Into You.”

But whereas Becky doesn’t mean to hurt anyone—really, wouldn’t any fashion addict pick buying a new outfit for a TV show appearance over buying a bridesmaid’s dress for your best friend’s wedding??—Scarlett’s Anna is, well, yearning to be a scarlet woman. (It’s interesting how even in the reviews that pan “He’s Just Not That Into You” for its supposedly misogynist portrayal of women, no one condemns Anna for actively pursuing a married man.)

“He’s Just Not That Into You,” a better page-to-screen adaptation in the romantic comedy genre—I won’t call it a chick flick, because I consider the term derogatory—is based on a book by two “Sex and the City” writers, Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo. I was mildly surprised by how much I enjoyed this movie, from the opening sequence where Ginnifer Goodwin narrates that women’s acceptance of cruelty in boyfriends and husbands stems from a childhood incident. A little boy insults a little girl on a playground, and the girl runs crying to her mother, who tells her the boy was mean because he likes her. Flash forward to the present, where in various scenarios a woman’s girlfriends explain a man’s bad behavior by saying essentially the same thing.

There’s truth in those vignettes. Not that men who treat women poorly are masking their true feelings of love and adoration—if that were truly the message of this movie, I would call it misogynistic—but that women tend to look at their significant other as a long-term investment and are therefore often reluctant to let go when the relationship starts sinking or has been seriously problematic from the beginning. That women are especially guilty of coddling their heartbroken friends with bonbon-like compliments when they should be serving up cold slices of reality. That women like to believe in the exception rather than the rule.

Goodwin’s character, Gigi, is a Carrie Bradshaw on steroids in terms of being an emotional basket case and treating every man like he’s Mr. Big. She doesn’t know how to censor her thoughts or emotions, she jumps years ahead in a relationship after half a date gone OK, and she stalks men who express minimal interest in her. You can feel all the women in the audience wince when she once again demonstrates her lack of pride and tries to wrest an honest response from a man. And when Gigi finally succeeds, when she finally gets her man and she is recounting the moment when everything clicked for them, you see how easily perception redefines our histories as a couple.

The women in “He’s Just Not That Into You” aren’t farcical like Becky Bloomwood. They’re flawed and messy, yes, but they’re real. They spend more time on finding love and working on their relationships than I like to see in a movie theater or real life, but society is greatly responsible for female absorption in the ultimate commitment.

Another “He’s Just Not That Into You” character, Jennifer Aniston’s Beth, wants to be married and breaks up with her boyfriend of seven years because he won’t marry her. One agonizing scene is during a speech at the dinner party the night before her younger sister’s wedding, when a cousin refers to Beth as the older model still available. The humiliation Beth experiences as a single woman past her 20s is very relevant—it’s what made “Sex and the City” so relevant and successful with women of all ages.

Still, I’m not the biggest romantic comedy fan (I would have never watched Sarah Jessica Parker’s TV series if it had been named “Dating and the City” or “Looking for Love in the City”). The cinematic fare I enjoy most doesn’t go by names like “Serendipity,” “Sweet Home Alabama” or, my all-time nonfavorite, “You’ve Got Mail.” I plan to see “Coraline” this weekend and it wouldn’t shock me if the richest roles for actresses are in a stop-motion animated movie aimed at young girls, long before society warps our self-esteem and informs us our life should revolve around the Next Man or the Next Big Purchase or the Next Mr. Right.