For Battlestar Galactica, the season begins before the season really begins with "The Resistance," 10 original "webisodes" released at SciFi.com as a promotional teaser for the third season's premiere on the Sci Fi Channel.
The web series' plot goes something like this: Tigh and Tyrol are planning a resistance movement (still in its brewing stages) on Cylon-occupied New Caprica, and they're trying to recruit members while playing a shell game with the Cylons as to the whereabouts of their weapons cache. Former Galactica crew member Jammer (Dominic Zamprogna) attempts to feel out former pilot Duck (Christian Tessier) to see if he's interested in joining the resistance — and perhaps also to see if Duck is a potential Cylon collaborator. In one of the webisodes, Duck's girlfriend is shot and killed while attending temple, because the Cylon Centurions open fire after learning that weapons are being illegally hidden there. In another installment, Jammer is scooped up by the Cylons and interrogated by Doral, who invites him to keep tabs on the resistance in order to avoid more unfortunate incidents like the temple massacre.
The problem with each of these installments is essentially the same — they are so short that they can't build any kind of narrative momentum. BSG executive producer Ronald D. Moore wrote in his blog at SciFi.com, "It's important to know that these Webisodes weren't done haphazardly or on the fly in between takes of the regular show. They had to be written, produced, shot and edited by a very specific group of people."
That may be true, but it doesn't change the fact that "The Resistance," above all things, feels like one of those subplots that gets excised from an overlong rough cut of an episode and ends up banished to the special features of a DVD set. Scenes can barely get off the ground before the screen goes black and we're invited to tune in for the next webisode and then given a preview of season three.
The best scene in the web series is the one where Tigh goes on a savage rant about the ugliness of war and accuses Jammer of being a "crybaby." The most choppy narrative quirk is where Jammer is suddenly in a Cylon holding cell, making me think I'd missed an installment. The series does not flow like individual three-minute episodes, nor does it flow like a single episode if you were to string the scenes together.
I apologize for what is now going to become a review of the format even more than the webisodes themselves, but the format is probably the most urgent topic of discussion on my mind in this case (since the truncated narrative is not).
From a marketing standpoint, and as a forward-thinking and proactive use of "new media" (i.e., the Internet, as opposed to "old media," i.e., the television set and all its traditional revenue models), "The Resistance" is a clever approach to the teaser mentality. It gets exactly the audience it's targeting, which is to say the die-hard fans who are going to invest the time to go online and watch streaming video. I work in electronic media, and we're always talking about page views and revenue models and target audiences and so forth, and I have to admit that this webisodes model could be a successful one if the economic numbers for producing it are right, because it's exclusive and compelling online content that no doubt has generated interest. (I'd also better point out that it's hardly unprecedented. NBC attempted a similar web-exclusive episode format with Homicide: Second Shift nearly a full decade ago. Like with these BSG webisodes, those episodes also tied in with the main TV series but were separately produced.)
Still, while these webisodes may be exclusive and compelling online content, that doesn't make them a compelling BSG experience. The problem with "The Resistance" is that it's so completely inconclusive as to be unsatisfying. Since it's expected that a large chunk — and probably a majority — of the regular BSG television audience will not see "The Resistance" online, it by definition must be inconsequential to the overall story. Of course, by this point, we're used to playing catch-up: The big leap forward in "Lay Down Your Burdens, Part 2" skips over an entire year of events, and the third-season premiere is said to take place still four months after that. If we can skip almost 16 months of what's going on, then what happens in "The Resistance" is by definition inconsequential, because it could just as easily be a part of everything else we've missed with the big time gaps.
Naturally, the webisodes also suffer from the limitations of the medium itself. I, for one, want the best theatrical presentation of my TV viewing: a big screen, stereo surround sound, video that doesn't drop frames, and sitting on a couch rather than at a desk. Online downloads are simply not up to my aesthetic standards yet, and until they are, I'm not going to understand why one would want to download episodes of TV shows from iTunes for 99 cents. Maybe that sounds like me being locked into my old-media ways, but I don't think it's about resistance to change. It's about the fact that new media is not ready for prime time; it's not the place yet for the one-hour dramatic form that television still rules.
"The Resistance" is a nice effort for new media, but it's not an episode of Battlestar Galactica. It's a piece of marketing that also provides some useful content. It is what it is, and it do what it do.