DVD Rack: Buffy Season 4, Live Free or Diehard, Battlestar Galactica: Razor

With November’s Herculean feat of NaNoWrimo creativity behind me, I’ve turned my tired eyes back to the DVD player and the stack of Netflix envelopes that piled up during my self-imposed exile to my third-floor office.

Included in this horde of discs was the first disc of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 4 (in which Buffy and the Scooby Gang go to college), the Bruce Willis action flick Live Free or Diehard (in which technophobe John McClane must save the world from hackers) and the one-shot episode Battlestar Galactica: Razor (which tells the story of the Battlestar Pegasus’s escape from the Cylon’s brutal assault on the 12 Colonies).

Live Free or Diehard

I’ve been a fan of the Diehard series since high school, when I saw the first one.

It’s frightening when I think how long that’s been.

I’ve watched all the sequels, the first three in the theaters and now the fourth at home. I’m happy to say that the latest film, Live Free or Diehard, remains true to its action hero predecessors, with plenty of over-the-top stunts, gun fights, and impossible odds. Oh, and one of the heroes is a geek.

Bruce Willis returns as John McClane, whose people skills have not improved since the last time we saw him alongside Samuel Jackson in Diehard with a Vengeance. He’s still a New York City cop, but he gets commandeered by Homeland Security to pick up a hacker suspect and take him in for questioning. Said hacker  (played by “I’m a Mac” guy Justin Long) unwittingly helped a terrorist organization develop an algorithm they needed to crack government security as part of their plan to destroy the United States’ information economy. Despite a plot that’s tied closely to computer hijinks, there’s plenty of action away from the keyboard as McClane battles to first save his suspect, and then take the fight to the bad guys.

It’s an old-school action flick, and it proves that the formula can still work.

Buffy Season 4, Disc 1

Season 3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer ended in suitably spectacular fashion, with the Scooby Gang graduating from high school, Sunnydale’s mayor ascending to demonhood, and the library where they met to battle so many evils being reduced to splinters and pulp. Following up on the third season was going to be hard, particularly with the gang transitioning to college.

Season 4 starts off weak, with an episode about Buffy questioning herself and her social standing in college. We’ve seen this side of Buffy before; we didn’t need to see it again, even if it did help introduce us to her new surroundings. Further on though, we were treated to a decidedly different kind of roommate and the return of the sadistic Spike, all of which got Season 4 back on stride by the end of the first disc. I’m looking forward to watching the rest of the series.

Battlestar Galactica: Razor

The one-shot episode Battlestar Galactica: Razor came and went this fall without a great deal of fanfare – I knew it was coming, but didn’t catch it when it was on, and then didn’t see any mentions of repeat airings.

First pitched as the untold story of the Pegasus, the episode sounded a lot more compelling than it was, mostly because of the show’s flashback within the flashback setup. To start the entire episode is a flashback to mid-Season 2. A few weeks have passed since the Galactica and her ragtag fleet stumbled across Pegasus and her mad commander Cain. Cain is a brutal leader driven by revenge and slavish devotion to the chain of command, killing an officer who refuses a direct order.

She’s killed by a Cylon infiltrator, and in subsequent episodes Pegasus goes through two more commanders in rapid succession, ultimately forcing Admiral Adama to assign his son Lee to the command of the battlestar. Lee chooses a previously unknown character, Kendra Shaw, one of Cain’s surviving senior officers, as his XO.

Just as we’re getting our heads around this time frame, we jump back to the Cylon’s genocidal attack on the Twelve Colonies: Cain is alive again, and overseeing a refit of the Pegasus’s computer systems.  The Battlestar escapes the genocide, and we watch as the Pegasus struggles to deal with the consequences of the apocalypse. Then we flash back yet again to the First Cylon War, where we see Cain as a child traumatized by the choices of war, and Admiral Adama as a rookie Viper pilot making a grizzly discovery on an old Cylon base.

It’s a lot to pack into two hours, and they do a haphazard job of it. The three timelines don’t quite fit together, and the real meat of the episode – how Cain becomes the tyrannical badass we meet in the regular series – is never adequately explored. There are certain “ah ha” moments, particularly involving the relationship between Cain and the Pegasus’s #6 Cylon skinjob, but for the most part the attempt to shoehorn the story of the Pegasus into that of the Galactica just doesn’t work. It would have been much better if they’d simply focused on the Pegasus, and ended the episode with its discovery of Galactica.

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