Complex TV


One such moment of spectacular storytelling is found in the second- season finale of Battlestar Galactica, “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part 2)”: the narrative of the human survivors of an apocalyptic war trying to outrun their Cylon enemies has portrayed around 300 days of story time over the course of the initial miniseries and two seasons, amounting to more than 27 hours of screen time. At this climactic moment, the Cylon-collaborating human Gaius Baltar has been elected president and has chosen to colonize a planet instead of running from a potential Cylon attack. With Baltar left alone sitting in his presidential office, the camera slowly pulls in for 45 seconds toward an anguished Baltar trying to cope with his guilt and stress, eventually stopping on an extreme close-up of his head down on his desk. After a subtle dissolve through his black hair, designed to be unnoticeable, the camera pulls back to reveal that although Baltar looks mostly the same, his office has changed and the dialogue suggests that he is deep into his presidency; after 30 seconds, a caption appears to orient us: “One Year Later.” This is a remarkable ellipsis, jumping forward a full year in the course of what appears to be a single shot, a moment so shocking and affecting that I needed to pause and rewatch it upon the first viewing and have repeatedly returned to it via DVD as a marvel of storytelling construction in creating a narrative special effect and the operational aesthetic. Its power stems from the program’s manipulation of its own intrinsic norms, or the patterns and expectations that a given series establishes for itself—because the first two seasons of Battlestar had taught us that the story time moved more slowly than the scheduled screen time (with weekly and seasonal gaps not mirrored in story time), viewers came to expect that same pattern of gradual-moving narrative moving forward. This ellipsis works as a narrative special effect by effectively shocking us out of our expected patterns and norms, forcing viewers to think about how the storytelling might proceed, raising questions about what might have occurred during the yearlong ellipsis, and leaving us unsettled for the shocking story turns still to come in the final act of this episode. This moment of spectacular storytelling was memorable for television producers as well, as Parks and Recreation paid homage to Battlestar with its own three-year time jump to conclude season 7. While such moments encourage viewers to think about formal construction, they do not distance us from the emotional pull of the storyworld, as per the operational aesthetic.

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