‘La La Land’: Review

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La La Land works well enough because it operates within every preconceived notion and cliche of what you would be perceive this movie to be. It’s quirky, sends up Hollywood pictures of yesteryear and has a couple who meet then dislike each then like each other then date then have the best time of their lives then something UNEXPECTEDLY splits them apart then they become a “better” person from that relationship.

Now none of this is particularly bad per se, and La La Land has enough to distract from its formulaic misgivings, but still in doing so the film seems unoriginal in spite of what it’s trying to project on the screen. It so badly wants to rise from the ashes of all these old time Hollywood movies and become something different and masterful, but it’s still tied down by its trite machinations. I mean, sure, it’s not like the two main characters end up together happily ever after or anything like that, it’s not that formulaic, but it does the next best thing by having its cake and eating it too by saying, “Hey, we’re not gonna put them together, but see they’re better off for that and, awww, heck, fine, we’ll show you them together in some alternative world dream sequence.” Because the film is never content on straying TOO far from that happy Hollywood medium, less it get pulled out of its preordained rut. It’s a fine enough device, giving you the sad and happy by showing you both sides of how following your dreams or staying with a lover can work out either way and letting you choose what applies, but it still rings too cheap and easy.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are both exceptional in there roles, although I’m quite less enamoured with Stone even when while I still see the good stuff she’s putting out there. The writing and performances do a pretty good job in letting these characters be fun and eccentric without it veering too far into camp and seeming like these are just movie characters spouting these writer-speak words that nobody in real-life would ever say. In other words this movie wasn’t written by Diablo Cody. On the other hand, I couldn’t help but thinking that Gosling and Stone’s characters suffer from Gilmore Girls syndrome, where it’s all fun and charming to see them crack wise at each other and make funny little quips and have all these cutesy sayings, but imagine actually running into these people in real life and you won’t be able to find a razor blade fast enough to get away from these unbearable people.

I enjoyed all the musical aspects, ie breaking into song, but I honestly couldn’t help but thinking that the film didn’t really need any of it and at the end of things it just became more gimmicky than anything. There’s not a single song that stands out (good or bad) and it’s not like the film is worse off for any of it, or that it provides a disruption, it just seems like the musical aspect was force-fed into this movie that didn’t really need that to operate at a high level.

Believe it or not after the first four paragraphs that I wrote, but I actually liked this film. While I hated that it had to rely on so many cliches to get where it was going, it operates so well inside these cliches that it puts itself head and shoulders above what most do with them. Damien Chazelle is a good director and writer who crafts this film on such a grandiose stage thanks to his assured eye and vision that it’s hard to believe it’s only his third film. Everyone behind and in front of the camera delivers this whole package with such passion that it’s hard not to be moved by its emotion and the final grace notes from each character. La La Land is a film that loves old Hollywood musicals a bit too much, it has its own heart, but it just can’t resist the bright lights.

‘Moonlight’: Review

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Moonlight is a film about many things. It’s about childhood, growing up, sexuality (repressed and expressive), race, love and a myriad of other constant filmic themes, but Moonlight takes them all into its melting plot and lets them simmer in concert with each other, feeding into the story of one young man.

Moonlight follows Chiron through three stages of his life, firstly as a young child who gets pseudo-mentored by a crack dealer, secondly as an often-bullied teenager and lastly as a full grown adult now working on the block and running drugs. Many through lines exist throughout the three sections including his fractured relationship with his crack-addicted mother, his discovering of his (homo)sexuality and his friend Kevin who is the first person he first becomes intimate with and eventually shapes a lot of who he becomes and subsequently who he never became.

The film works because it takes all these large themes and plays them out on the small scale and focuses them on one character as he progresses through his “boyhood.” It allows us to relate on certain levels (ie. growing up, sexuality, first love, bullying), but it also creates further layers in presenting it through ways that one may not be familiar with directly. It uses the presence of drugs, living in the ghetto, homosexuality, black lives and uses it to inform and play against certain stereotypes and what we generally think are associated with these ideas and making it clear that that’s not always the case.

It’s wonderfully acted by all three of Alex Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes who all display the quiet stillness of Chiron and are all remarkably skilled at showcasing every emotion that runs through his brain by portraying it on their face. While Chiron never says much verbally, it’s usually always painted directly on his face. The film’s cinematography is wonderfully done with a lot of dark muted blues that help suspend the film in this depressed dreamscape for a lot of what’s representing Chiron and his current head space.

Ultimately, Moonlight is about a lot of various things, but at the base of things it’s about those small personal moments that we hold near and dear to us for years, and something that can provide a life-changing effect for oneself, that might never even register on someone else’s radar. That’s the thing about growing up, love or whatever, it’s never the big, grandiose moments that have the biggest effect on our lives and relationships, it’s the the small personal moments that act as connective tissue to the different stages of your life, for good and bad, and something that continues to trace throughout your life and helps make you the person who you were twenty ago, who you are now, and the person who you’ll be after the next twenty years.

Harry Potter: Wherein I Finally Read The Entire Series After A 14 Year Break

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Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone kicks off with a bang and it really doesn’t let up until the end. I forgot how much they packed into this short book and how well it moves along, never coming up for air, and just marches to the end full of confidence. It’s funny reading this book now where it’s so short, whereas when I first read it when it first came out I thought it was the longest book ever.

“The Chamber Of Secrets” takes a while to get going, which is unfortunate because one of the biggest positives of the first novel was its quick pace. It ends up being fine and unspectacular and my least favourite of the series along with “Order Of The Phoenix.”

“The Prisoner Of Azkaban” takes a nice step-up from the lacklustre “Chamber Of Secrets,” where this one actually delivers a storyline that makes sense within the Harry Potter world and doesn’t just seem like a one-off story that isn’t informed by the overall arc of the books, as the second novel kind of did. It pushes forth the mythos and the mystery surrounding Potter, his upbringing and parents, as well as setting up interesting things story-wise for the future, things that the second book didn’t seem too concerned with doing.

“The Goblet Of Fire” was my favourite of the series as a kid (and the last one I stopped reading until I decided I should probably finish out the series almost 15 years later). It’s not quite as flawless and perfect as I remembered as a child, but it’s still very good and definitely one of my favourites in the series. I love the Triwizard tournament as a framing device for all the Voldemort stuff and it’s a fun way to continue the overarching story and insert some action and new dimensions to the Hogwarts world. Also, as a weird aside, since I hadn’t read or watched any of the Harry Potter books or movies since this book in 2002 or whatever, I would hear random Harry Potter tidbits and stuff, but largely remained unspoiled. One of the things that I heard, and thought was 100% true, was that Harry ended up with Cho Chang at the end of the series. Now, in this book you could totally see it coming and everything made sense to how they could end up there in a few books. But, the next few books painted a different picture and I kept thinking, “man, how are they gonna get Harry and Cho together, it just doesn’t make sense within the story anymore and it would totally make sense for him to get with Ginny.” So, of course, he ends up with Ginny and Cho is nowhere to be found, which makes all the sense in the world, but it was bizarre for me reading these next couple books and just waiting for the Harry/Cho reconciliation that just would never happen…

“The Order Of The Phoenix” was my first big disappointment because I was expecting big things with these last stretch of books as it drives towards a conclusion. The story momentum from the fourth book was pretty much squandered here. This is the longest book of the series and basically nothing happens for the first 90% of it and then the last 10% they throw everything at you with some tiny revelations, but nothing amazing that makes any of this long trudge worth it. Harry comes out on top over Voldemort once again, learns some more about his past, rinse and repeat.

“The Half-Blood Prince” is a nice step up from the previous book. They finally get Malfoy actually involved in things (i.e. the main plot of the books) but, unfortunately, it kind of fizzles out. This one definitely had a ton towards finally opening up everything about Harry’s past and connections to Voldemort, so even in the less busy first half of the book there was a lot going on that set up for the end, something that “The Order Of The Phoenix” never quite felt like doing. It does a nice job getting its ducks in a row and pushing everything into plain sight for the conclusion.

“The Deathly Hallows” does really well in wrapping up the story by introducing new elements, but most importantly stays true to its world from the first book and gives you all the answers to the questions you were hoping would be answered. It hits some nice emotional beats that the series has always been really good at, especially when everything has been building for so long with these characters.

“The Cursed Child” was a fun enough little story that gives fans what they want by checking in with Harry Potter and co. and also delves into that world a little more through the eyes of his kid to add a new dimension. It works well in going back to the “Goblet Of Fire” plot, since in my eyes that is the best/most fun one. Where this book/play suffers majorly is the cringe-inducing overarching theme of how Harry finds it so tough to be a father and the trials and tribulations of raising a kid. It’s a bit much where they beat over the head this obvious theme of how he’s this great wizard and celebrated person, but even those people have trouble raising kids!!! Also, I have no clue why J.K. Rowling didn’t just write this as a novella or full out novel or something like that instead of making it a play, as it never really seems all that suited for this format.

A quick closing note on the movies, they were all fine! I mean, I was kind of disappointed because I was expecting a lot more and kind of feel weird speaking down on them because in and of themselves they are really good movies, but none of them ever really felt “great.” The las two “Deathly Hallows” movies are definitely the best ones, even though I heard that “Prisoner Of Azkaban” was great, but again that just seemed fine to me, good but not amazing. The special effects were obviously a highlight and it is super cool to track Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint throughout the movies and see how they age and grow, which exponentially increases your connection with the movies and characters as you do the same. Ultimately, I really enjoyed the series, and although the books and movies didn’t quite reach the heights I thought it might, it was a lot of fun and I’m glad I can cross off this pop culture blind spot I’ve had for so many years.

‘A Song Of Ice And Fire’: A Series Of Wonder And Blood

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Like many I’m a big Game Of Thrones fan, and previously like many I was a big Game Of Thrones fan who had never read the books. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, because HBO shows are great on their own, but I’d always wanted to read the books to get the full picture of the series. It’s kinda weird for me because I’m totally not a big fantasy fan at all and never really pictured myself reading five massive books about swords and dragons. As the HBO show attests, though, this book is more than just fantastical knights and battles waged in the names of kings with magic and dragons lurking on the outskirts. No, it often has much more in common with political and family dramas with all its scheming and backdoor dealings that affect things even bigger than anything on a battlefield could accomplish.

A Game Of Thrones lived up to the hype and made me want to keep reading it, even though I knew how it ended since I’ve seen all of the TV show. My main fear coming into these books is that it would be a tough slog going through, because normally these types of fantasy books to me are always wordy and bogged down in minutiae of the times that make it hard for you to read, but this book had none of that. It was easy to understand everything and had a very modern tone of writing, even though it’s about a distant and fantastical time period (yes, I know these books were written in the 90s and 00s, so it makes sense they SOUND modern).

I love the device of having each chapter as a POV of a different characters as it really helps to focalize the story, separate all the characters from one another and really makes it easy for you to follow along with this sprawling story with countless characters. I’m on one hand kind of grateful I saw the show first because it made it so much easier to follow along and keep track of all these characters with being able to put a face to a name, because I don’t know if I could’ve kept everything on track and together if I didn’t have that kind of reference point for a book this dense with characters. When it all comes down to it, nothing really all that big happens in the first novel and really it’s all just about setting the pieces in place and setting the scenery for the coming novels, but Martin does it wonderfully.

A Clash Of Kings is for all intents and purposes as good as the first. The first 3/4 felt a lot like it was spinning its wheels, as it didn’t have the newness and introductory drive of the first novel. It picks up near the end with the big battle and opens things up to explore new areas as it kind of seemed like the end of the first phase.

All the storylines in A Storm Of Swords really click and make it a breeze to get through. The big set pieces like the Red Wedding and certain other big happenings that this book is known for work equally as fun as they do in shock value. But, what really makes the book work is the smaller moments between characters, like the ones between Arya/Hound, Jon/Sam and Jaime/Brienne. The book ends in a sort of lull, with not too much happening in a broad sense, whereas the second novel felt like it was swelling to what eventually happened in this novel (to great effect).

I really enjoyed A Feast For Crows, and in a lot of ways I liked it just as much as the others, but its repetitive nature and spinning of its wheels that go absolutely nowhere over the course of the book started to make it a chore more than anything. The book largely flips between Cersei, Jaime and Brienne (who are all great and interesting characters, I’m not one to be crying that Jon, Tyrion and Daenerys weren’t in the book) which is great, but that Martin never pushes them forward into much of a storyline or gives them anymore character depth that we previously weren’t already introduced to is a major detriment to what the heck the existence of this book even is in the first place. All that aside I love Martin’s writing and how he strings words together, and in that sense it was as much as a pleasure to read this as the others. Even after his ending coda of why he split these books up, I’m not entirely sure why he did it as I don’t know why he didn’t just make two normal books with all the characters like he’s been doing instead of splitting them up like this. It’s not like these books are all that self-contained where it’s really just one long story we’re reading over installments instead of multiple different stories that absolutely NEEDED to be segregated.

A Dance With Dragons I found to be about on par with A Feast For Crows, while I felt it differed in that it exceeded and fell in different parts than the previous novel. Whereas the fourth book felt like a lot of it was just spinning its wheels, A Dance With Dragons is intent on pushing the plot forth on all ends of the spectrum, which re-instills some vigour and drive in the series, but even still it all just feels like build up and build up and build up until who knows what? I also felt that this book might have been a little too broad covering so many characters and POVs that it became hard to really follow or even care about what some of the smaller people are doing, especially when it had little story repercussions at the time or after within the book. Again, I love the writing a lot and I’m looking forward to what’s next, but this is the second time I’ve been anticipating what’s to come in the next book only to get another anticipatory book that seems to have blown all its story in the first three books and is just biding time until Martin can figure out something that stands up to the level of the first novels.

All in all the A Song Of Ice And Fire was exactly what I expected it to be in the best way possible. Having seen every Game Of Thrones episode up to this point it had no effect in my enjoyment of reading the series, even though I knew of various character deaths and where it was going, if anything it helped me along. It’s such a fun world to be in that works equally as well when its spouting about the supernatural, politicking behind the scenes, waging war on a battlefield or getting philosophical. Now I get to be one of those awful people who gets to complain about George R. R. Martin not writing the The Winds Of Winter fast enough and write angry comments like “WHERE’S THE NEXT DAMN BOOK, GEORGE!!!” In actuality I don’t know why everybody is complaining about the long wait time in between books, because the past three have always been separated by at least five years, but I guess it’s because he constantly talks about writing the book, yet we’ve seen nothing from it. Anyways, I don’t really care when it comes, it’ll come eventually, I think… but as of now I’m content with the wonderful world and writing that George R. R. Martin has delivered with these five novels.

‘Battlestar Galactica’: Season 4 Review

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Season four and the series ends with a drive towards the finish line from the start of the episodes and never lets up until all is revealed, for better or worse. I’m happy to say that what I hoped this season would be, in that it was a season of television focused on wrapping up and explaining what it had been building to this point with few distractions, was exactly what I got. Unlike in previous seasons there was less of the one-off episodes that just seemed to fill a hole or expound upon the ideals of a certain character, with this season focusing on the overall narrative of the series and attempting to wrap it up. Not that makes things particularly easier or anything, as this show had seemingly more storylines and mythology than I can easily recall at a glance, not limited to what the heck is ever up with Starbuck and her returning from the dead, the final five mystery Cylons, whatever is ongoing with Number Six and Baltar, Adama/Roslin, and then of course the whole thing about finding an “Earth” to settle on and whatever “force” is driving them to find it.

Ultimately, I kind of didn’t realize until they were on the downwind of things that the show indeed had a ton of mysteries and plot all going at once and driving headwards into a conclusion at the same time, which felt kind of clustered with a lot of reveals or explanations just thrown to the side or explained away in the most base way possible. I mean, like it or not you got explanations to overall mysteries, but the payoffs with how the Kara Strace character was revealed and the prominence of the Final Five did not seem to be equated to how they were built up or brandished to how important we were supposed to perceive them as. In the end the show bit off a bit more than it could chew, and like I’ve mentioned before, a more toned back and focused show (in both episodes and narrative content) would’ve made things work a lot better and allowed their main ideas to breathe and be developed more.

In the end it’s not like I was totally offended by how things ended so abruptly or without too much concern to being faithful to its buildup. As well, I was only committed to this show for a few weeks, compared with people who watched over years and had realtime commitment and expectations in a show that carried them this long with these mysteries only to underwhelm in explaining what largely the whole point of the show was. The majority of these endings being explained with some religious connotation whether some characters were “angels” or the entire fleet was being directed and influenced by some kind of god didn’t really alienate me or feel cheap to me because it still felt very much like a key tenant that this show believes in. The show from day one was always more interested in ideas of religion or spirituality in driving characters, being a framework for human civilization in whatever format (ie. on Caprica, Battlestar, new earth or whatever), and just largely being something that hung over the machinations of plot and any of the science fiction devices. It goes back to knowing that the show was far more interested in doing something beyond prototypical “science fiction” means, and sure near the end they compounded things too much, but it still remained faithful to what the show was, just that it seemingly came out of nowhere and became the forefront of answering away many of the show’s mysteries.

Coming away from the show I definitely have a greater appreciate for not only the show itself, but what can be done not only within the science fiction genre and within any genre where you take the basic tenants of it and either build something new off of it or use its typical framework against it. It managed to not only be a good science fiction show, but also a show that would’ve been just as good with the sci-fi elements devoid and removed from its fantasy metaphor and put in a real-world situation. I can’t say that I completely fell in love with the show or anything like that, but it was consistently good throughout its run where I can’t pick out a stretch or season that was particularly bad, but indeed it was quality from the outset. Battlestar Galactica was a show with a sci-fi backdrop that never intended to settle with being just that, and in doing so pushed it to become something that took elements from shows previous to it and morphed it into genre faire that was more about seeking answers and trying to understand what it means to be “human” and the relationships that falter or strive from this pursuit.

‘Battlestar Galactica’: Season 3 Review

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Season 3 of Battlestar Galactica sees the show in unfamiliar territory with the main action not taking place on the Battlestar, but instead shows the imprisonment on New Caprica and the efforts to escape. I enjoyed this little mini-arc that served as a nice breather as the show used to do more frequently in the beginning with placing the characters off the ship, so it was a nice change of pace to see the characters having to deal and interact with this new space. I would’ve even liked to see them stretch out this time on New Caprica and parse it a little more, but I understand them not wanting to dwell too much on this and get back to their status quo with adventures on the ship. Really, the whole idea of putting them on New Caprica was just a nice cliffhanger for the second season finale and something they easily remedied early in the third season, and not an actual game changer in the landscape of the show like I thought it would be, but one does wonder how it could’ve played out more largely to the overall end game of the show and not just a quick roadblock for an easy cliffhanger.

The rest of the season falls into a similar pattern from the second season. There’s a mix of bottle-esque episodes where a story will be largely self-contained within one episode mixed in with the episodes that push the series long storylines forward with their pursuit of earth, they mysteries behind Starbucks and what she possibly possesses in their quest for freedom and the quelling on inside and outside Cylon threats. Immediate Cylon attacks and confrontation seem to be a bit mellowed in this season where there is less one-on-one battle and meetings with them in their physical form, yet the show still manages to portray their threat in the continually wracked nerves and sanity of the crew, who seemingly keep getting stressed piled on top of them until it breaks. Thus, the show further explores the relationships between Starbuck/Apollo, Adama/Roslin along with Baltar/Number Six, which all work fine enough, but the way the show handles its relationships all seems very “high school” and immature at times with me. As a matter of fact the show feels like some teen drama at a high school at times with its petty dealings between the populous and dalliances between the crew.

While I enjoyed the switch between stand-alone episodes and series storyline pushing episodes, it felt very stop and start and by the end of the season there wasn’t all THAT much accomplished in the 20 episodes that really felt getting any closer to unlocking the what the show is supposedly driving toward. Really it was only the last couple of episodes that really pushed things along, with the Baltar trial (which was really good and my favourite stuff from the season possibly) and Starbuck’s disappearance. Its that sometimes the feels a lot more of a hangout-type of show with the stand-alone episodes seeming rather pointless and often feel just-like stop gaps or episodes the show had to fill until they could get back to the ones that pushed the plot forward. In that aspect I would’ve love to have seen the season episode orders shortened to 10-13, so the show could focus on moving the story along at a nice clip, without having to add in these filler episodes that stunted the momentum of the season.

I’m looking forward to season four, though, because they’ve done a pretty good job so far in teasing all these mysteries and secrecies behind finding earth and possible special forces living in certain characters pushing them to these certain places (BSG loves its religion analogies) and I’m sure we’ve still got more things to learn about the Cylons. I’m really hoping for a mad dash to the finish line with the show perfectly set up to wrap things up, especially with them not having been on for so long that they’ve worn out their welcome or haven’t compounded their mystery and complicated it by putting it through the wringer so many times that it doesn’t make sense anymore *ahem*Lost*ahem*, so basically don’t screw up this ending is what I’m saying.

‘Battlestar Galactica’: Season 2 Review

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Battlestar Galactica is the exact same show as The Office. I’m serious. Alright, not completely, but I couldn’t help but think of similarities between the two as I made my way through the second season of Battlestar. I knew coming in and from what the first season laid out that it was less going to be a “science fiction” show in the classic sense you might expect of them visiting new planets each episode, battling aliens (Cylons in this case) in epic battles all the time and just generally combating with various fantastical concepts and beings. Yes, there is a portion of that in the show, but largely a lot of this season concerns just the goings on on the Battlestar ship and all the drama, tension, fights and so on that would just naturally occur from these people basically creating a new world on this lone fleet that are constantly in danger, heightening all the emotions.

Where The Office gives you a comedic take on the slice of life and inter-office happenings of a local paper company, Battlestar Galactica gives you a dramatic (and sometimes comedic) slice of life and inter-office happenings of the last remaining humans on a spaceship trying to find refuge and avoiding the cyborg beings that eliminated the majority of their race. Both take on the same concept, just in slightly different ways. Battlestar doesn’t need to be visiting a new planet each week and encountering new races and having epic dog fight battle each week, they do have them, but it’s connection and building of these characters, their values and relationships actually make these moments when they are in peril from Cylon attacks or encounter something new and revolutionary to their cause mean that much more because of how well all the character and inter-relationship ties are woven together. I mean, sure, this show was on Sci-Fi after all, so it’s not like they had the budget to be going all out on epic science-fiction-y thing each episode, but even still the show’s not really about that.

It’s no secret and is largely what this show was founded on, but the science fiction backdrop of the show is really superfluous when you really get down to it, with all the themes and storylines the show develops so easily able to be lifted and placed onto any other real world dramatic show. Sometimes I feel the show hits it a little too on the head, largely with the whole analogy of the Cylons being some kind of invading sect like “foreigners” from another country and the danger they pose, like being compared as terror threat. The science fiction aspect on the other hand gives it a good dimension to explore societal topics like abortion, which doesn’t seem too shoehorned in just to give them an excuse to debate the sides of the issue. The world of the show that has been set-up allows this abortion debate to actually mean something within the show with the deepening debate of whether they should keep a baby alive because it’s a live being, going against the fact that it’s a Cylon (the things out to kill them). A lot of the societal parallels are very blatant and on the nose, and I mean it’s hard not to be because if you just subtract the presence of the Cylons and the establishing shots to show this is in space, the show just looks like any government drama you see dealing with real world problems, because these are all real world problems, they just sometimes have to deal with cyborgs. Also, the show makes no qualms that it’s a lot more interested in telling stories of power struggles, political dealings and how the human condition reacts in extended periods of peril over the constant shoot ‘em up alien fights you might expect from some a show like this without knowing much about it.

Season two works well because it balances all of its elements quite well. There’s a lot of episodes just concerning the inner-goings on of the ship and the dueling powers, that largely just develops the people and their motives, which sometimes comes close to spinning its wheels, but then they’ll throw in some episodes that push the plot along, or begin to unravel or reveal things that’ll play out in full later. The ending of the season does well to highlight this and also assure that they’re not content with keeping the status quo that was maintained throughout the season of being removed from a huge Cylon threat. As soon as we think the people have found a worthy planet capable of habitation the Cylons are right on their track, taking over the planet and imprisoning all of our characters as the season ends. That’s something I continually love about this show, how it constantly gives the characters a brief moment of happiness or satisfaction and then the rug just gets pulled right out from under them. It does well to establish and further the condition of these people and how much of a constant threat the Cylons are even when they think they are free and clear. It’s just like any normal life really, just a series of highs and lows and learning to enjoy when you’re on top because the bottom could just be around the corner, and who knows what it will hold.