I've found that even the weakest episodes of Battlestar still meet a basic level of competence that makes them watchable, and that they still contain moments that are valuable. "A Day in the Life" is one of the weakest episodes of BSG to date, and yet it still has solid performances and the story still contains wistful moments of humanity. I guess that's a credit to the cast and crew; they've made a pedestrian script into a watchable hour.
Not watchable enough, mind you. At this point, I think the question isn't whether the story is competently told; I think the question is whether the story is compelling or necessary. "A Day in the Life" is an episode of Battlestar that's utterly unnecessary to the tapestry of the series. It held my attention while it was on, but once it reached its destination my thought was, "What was the point of that?" It's an earnest but ineffective character study that ultimately comes across as disposable filler.
I'm not saying every episode has to feature big sweeping plot developments (particularly an episode with a title like "A Day in the Life," where we learn it's been 49 days since the last Cylon encounter), but there at least has to be a sense that something relevant is going on that informs story or character. (Last week's "Woman King" managed that, despite having little to do with the series' larger arc.) If you're going to do a "day in the life" episode, there should be more focus on more characters' lives. This episode suffers in part because so many characters are omitted from the proceedings.
The episode is primarily an Adama piece. Today is his wedding anniversary — a day when Adama observes a personal annual ritual of pulling a wedding photo from the corner of a drawer and reflecting upon his lost ex-wife, Carolanne (Lucinda Jenney). At the end of the day, he'll put the picture back in the drawer, not to be reflected upon until next year. Carolanne presumably died in the attack on the Colonies, and even before the attack she and Bill had long been divorced, but on this day, Adama remembers what they had and what he's lost.
Meanwhile, in an attempt to give the episode a more tangible, meaty "plot," Tyrol and Cally find themselves inadvertently locked in a damaged airlock where the atmosphere is slowly leaking into space. If they can't find a way out soon, they'll suffocate. The structure of the episode is that it sets up Adama's character storyline at the beginning, addresses the Tyrol/Cally crisis in the middle, and then gets back to the character core well before the end. That's actually not a bad structure for this sort of episode, but the problem is that neither the crisis nor the character core has much resonance.
The jeopardy premise is uninspired, to say the least. A true "day in the life" episode, had it been able to give everybody solid character material, would not have needed such a device. I suppose we should instead be thankful that this plot is handled with a minimum of tech and a maximum of straightforward plausibility. With time running out, the only solution available is a dangerous scenario in which the airlock hatch must be blown, and Tyrol and Cally must be vented into space and pulled into a Raptor waiting just outside the hatch. Can they survive a few seconds' exposure to space without suits, or will they freeze to death or die of decompression effects? (What do you think happens? Here's a hint: They don't die.)
This is competently handled, but there's nothing compelling about it. The premise does have a basis in characterization, specifically that Tyrol scheduled himself and Cally to work together as a way of spending time with her without their baby in tow. He's maybe trying to recapture the past as it was before New Caprica. Of course, the problem with having two parents working together is exactly what happens here: A work-related accident could instantly orphan the child. That's a legitimate issue to deal with aboard a battlestar, I guess. But as storylines go on this series, this was not anywhere on my list of Top 50 things I needed to see.
Nor was the Adama story, where he rehashes his marriage in his head in the form of a running commentary between himself and Carolanne. I find it alarming that the writers seem to think Adama-themed episodes must venture back into his past via a flashback structure. First we got "Hero," and now we get this, in which insipid flashbacks try (but fail) to inform the present. The flashbacks take the form of a conversation in the present. It doesn't work. We already get enough scenes of imagined conversations between Baltar and Six. We certainly don't need such scenes between Adama and his dead ex-wife. (It also doesn't help that the setting is reminiscent of Baltar's house.)
In terms of character insight, there's nothing new to be found. The episode falls apart in one particularly cringe-inducing scene where Carolanne accuses Adama of putting his career ahead of his family, she yells and screams, she knocks all the contents of a table to the floor, etc., etc. This is a typically overwrought depiction of a typical broken marriage of the typical military man who cannot fix his typical problems at home. How many cliches can you get in one scene?
Meanwhile, I keep waiting for the new breakthrough between Adama and his son, if such a thing is possible. Their relationship has obviously improved a lot since the miniseries, but you could also say it has long since reached a subdued plateau. There's a conversation where Adama tries to discuss the divorce with Lee and the results are ... forgettable. The navel-gazing merely rehashes themes we've seen many times before, and doesn't tell us anything new or insightful about the characters.
Most other characters go unseen or barely seen. Kara, Helo, Sharon, and Dualla are glimpsed but barely on the periphery. Why not see more of what their days are like with the war on standby? Baltar and Six aren't in the episode at all — although there's more talk about Baltar's upcoming trial; Lee is assigned as chairman of the legal body that will oversee the trial's procedures. This suggests that Baltar's trial will be dragged out for most or all of the rest of the season. That might be fine if, in the meantime, there were real drama surrounding it, but we've now had two episodes where Baltar has gone completely unseen, while the story here offers up only tedious issues of legal wrangling.
Still, they say the truth is in the details, and there are some details here that I enjoyed. Roslin's friendliness toward Adama pushes into the realm of flirting. At one point she gives him a book, staying true to Adama's notion of books as gifts rather than loans. They discuss the lost what-ifs of New Caprica, and there's chemistry in the air. Adama does his best to resist it ("She's president of the Colonies," he notes, as if to put the idea off-limits), but the Adama/Roslin scenes are the best thing about the show. Coming in second place is the idea of Lee's legal interests, which stem from his past and also from Adama's father (a nice touch of continuity).
In the end, however, it's not enough. "A Day in the Life" feels like a lot of derivative themes and rehashed characterization. Carolanne and the flashbacks ultimately prove deadly to the show, and I yearned for storytelling that looked forward instead of back. BSG was just renewed for a fourth season, which reportedly could be limited to 13 episodes instead of 20. That might not be a bad thing if it allows the producers to tighten up the storytelling into something that moves along more efficiently and spends less time pining over the past.