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Thursday, August 27, 2015

Battlestar Galactica: The Man with Nine Lives – Review

Television shows, and which actors appear on them, has changed quite a bit over the years. There is no longer the stigma attached to it as there was back in the Seventies and Eighties. Today big time movie stars are regularly appearing on such shows as America Horror Story, True Detective, and Game of Thrones without giving it a second thought, but that was certainly not the case in the Seventies when the only time you saw a major movie star on the small screen was when “an aged and retired” movie star was making a guest appearance on an episode of The Love Boat or Fantasy Island.  I believe Angela Lansbury single-handedly emptied out the Hollywood Hills Retirement Home by getting her old friends work on Murder She Wrote. Which brings us to tonight’s episode “The Man with Nine Lives” which guest stars the legendary Fred Astaire. Long after putting up his dancing shoes Astaire stepped onto the Universal lot because his grandchildren were huge fans of Battlestar Galactica. Thus one of the Hollywood giants brings just a little more class to our space adventure.


This episode begins aboard a shuttle craft heading for the Rising Star, the one luxury liner in and amongst this ragtag group of ships. One of the passengers is Chameleon (Fred Astaire) who is literally charming the pants off Siress Blassie (Anne Jeffreys) while trying to avoid paying the shuttle porter the required fare. You see, Chameleon is a con man, and he’s broke. This is almost exactly the same character he played in Irwin Allen’s The Towering Inferno; an aging con man with a heart of gold.


Just looking at the picture and I want to hand over my money to him.

Meanwhile on a military shuttle from the Galactica Starbuck (Dirk Benedict), Apollo (Richard Hatch), Boomer (Hebert Jefferson Jr.) and Jolly (Tony Swartz) are also heading over to the Rising Star to spend some of their hard earned money at the casinos and lounge acts. Once again I question how an economy can function when your home worlds have been destroyed, and all that is left is a few thousand people cramped aboard a bunch of spaceships. Apollo complains that Starbuck’s new gambling system is going to cost him another weeks pay, but who exactly is paying the Colonial pilots? That we’ve seen ships overloaded with starving survivors of the Cylon invasion and overstocked pleasure ships like the Rising Star makes one surprised that they haven’t had uprising that would make the French Revolution pale in comparison.  Hell, this could have led into a cool steerage versus first class battle years before Snowpiercer.


Sure people are starving, but look at those awesome dancers.

A pall is thrown over the festivities when three Borellian Nomen walk into the main lounge. Boomer is shocked by this as this race is not known to socialize with other humans. Of course the real reason they are aboard the Rising Star is not to party but because they are on a Blood Hunt, a ritualistic vendetta they perform against an enemy. In this case their prey is the lovely rogue Chameleon, but because Nomen stick out in a crowd like a turd in a punch bowl Chameleon spots them quickly and slips out of the room. The youngest of the three Nomen spots their fleeing prey and recklessly draws his laser bola. This is bad because once activated they cannot be turned off and will eventually go critical and explode. Boomer intercedes and orders the young Nomen to throw the bola at a support pillar so that it can discharge harmlessly. The Nomen claim is was an accident and promise to leave on the next shuttle.


Borellian Nomen, great hunters but not so good on the whole stealth aspect.

Realizing the great danger he is in Chameleon immediately slides into self-preservation con mode. While flying over on the shuttle he had watched an inflight broadcast of an interview with Starbuck where he learned that as a child Starbuck was an orphan found wandering in the thorn forests on Caprica, near an agro community called Umbra, after a Cylon attack. Chameleon tracks down Starbuck and begins the Big Con. He tells Starbuck and Apollo that he works as a genetic tracer, someone who can reunite orphans with their relatives using genetic tests. He casually mentions he got into this business when his wife was killed during a Cylon raid on Caprica and how his son went missing. When Starbuck learns that Chameleon is also from Umbra he immediately leaps to the conclusion that Chameleon is his dad. His puppy like enthusiasm is quite endearing.


We need to go back to the Galactica, I’ve got twenty-four Father’s Day cards waiting for you.

So they all head to the shuttle bay to get back to the Galactica where they can run tests. On the way out they pass the three Nomen who have been waiting in the departure lounge. Boomer, angered that they didn’t leave after they promised to, has the young Nomen arrested. Maga (Lance LeGault), the head Nomen, realizes their trail now leads to the Galactica and that the only way onboard is to sign up to join the Colonial Viper service.  Somehow this works.


You’d think a ship at war would have a tad more security.

Later on the Galactica Cassiopeia (Laurette Sprang) runs the first stage of tests and tells Starbuck and Chameleon that, “Well, you’re both from the same planet, and from the same tribe, and you’re at least related within ten generations.” Now she adds that at least a hundred other people in the fleet match this genetic criteria, but still that is one bloody awesome coincidence. Chameleon needed Colonial protection and just so happens to pick a pilot that came from the exact same neighbourhood he did, which is downright astronomically insane considering this is from a society of multiple worlds. Both Apollo and Boomer suspect that Chameleon was using Starbuck to escape the Nomen, but when Chameleon pushes to have the further testing done right away it makes them pause. When Starbuck hears that Apollo had a security background check done on Chameleon he completely flips out and dissolves their friendship.


  “You may have saved my life countless times, and are like a brother to me, but because you have no faith in my dad our friendship is over!”  Starbuck, Drama Queen.

Starbuck and Chameleon have a nice heart to heart in a Viper launch tube where Starbuck informs his “dad” that he is going to resign from the fleet so he can make up for lost time. This seems like rash action, but before Chameleon can dissuade from this career path they are attacked by the two Nomen. Starbuck and the Nomen exchange laser gun and laser bola fire, but just as things look bad for Starbuck, Chameleon fires the Viper’s guns down the launch tube, knocking both Nomen unconscious.


Turns out the laser bolas just aren’t that effective of a weapon.

This is when we find out that Chameleon, during one of his many occupations, discovered that the Nomen were hoarding supplies in the hopes of building a Viper of their own. Chameleon posed as Captain Dmitri of a livestock ship, and the Nomen paid him to smuggle enough livestock to live on for yahrens. Eventually the Nomen discovered they were being conned and went on a Blood Hunt. While all this is being settled Cassiopeia reveals to Chameleon that he really is Starbuck’s father. Holy felgercarb, but that is some immense bullshit. This no longer a case of astronomical coincidences, but must be the machinations of the gods. Chameleon begs Cassiopeia to not tell Starbuck because than the fleet would lose a great pilot, and so Chameleon leaves promising Starbuck that he will stay in touch.


Never to be seen again.

The Nomen are interesting villains, and their dark skin and ridged foreheads pre-date the bumpy headed Klingons in Star Trek: The Motion Picture by a year, but what makes this episode thoroughly enjoyable is down to how awesome Fred Astaire is. The chemistry between Astaire and Dirk Benedict is simply fantastic, and if they’d somehow managed to work in a plot that wasn't so ridiculously contrived it could have been one of the better episodes of the series. As it stands its only entertaining on the merits of Astaire and Benedict, and not the script.

Note: For some reason Fred Astaire's character's name is Chameleon but is pronounced Sha-ME-lee-on, as opposed to Ka-ME-lee-on.

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