Well, I don't think anybody can complain about the lack of plot movement and revelations this week, can they?
Lots to digest, and even more to enjoy, in the second half of this two-parter.(*) The rag-tag fleet now has its very own rag-tag Basestar as an uneasy ally. Kara's visions have proven to have more substance than madness behind them, and now she and everyone else have heard the "harbinger of death" prediction that first came up in "Razor." D'Anna is going to be unboxed to finger the Final Five (much to the displeasure of Anders -- and, eventually I'm sure, Tory, Tigh and Tyrol) because the Final Five somehow come from the lost 13th Colony of humanity on Earth, and presumably know how to find the place.(**) And Laura, preparing to enter the undiscovered country(***), starts to realize that Baltar's monotheistic religion shouldn't be dismissed simply because Baltar is the one espousing it.
((*)Though, as the entire season is one long story arc this time, isn't the idea of a two-parter within that somewhat irrelevant?)
((**)And does this lend credence to Mo Ryan's theory that everyone is a Cylon?)
((***) Baltar uses that phrase in one of his radio sermons. So this means that, not only have the Colonies -- or, at least, the 13th Colony -- heard of Bob Dylan, but they've also heard of Shakespeare. That, or they're big "Star Trek VI" fans.)
But though "Faith" moves a number of pieces across the board, it also works as a powerful and frightening meditation on the nature of death -- and what may or may not be awaiting us in that undiscovered country -- in the "Galactica" universe.
The surviving members of the losing side of the Cylon civil war are now without the safety net of their resurrection ship, and have to, for the first time in their existence, deal with the knowledge that a download doesn't await their next death. (When Adama and Cain destroyed the last resurrection ship, the Cylons retreated for a very long time.) And for some of them, maybe that's not a bad thing. In the early goings of the series, the Cylons treated death as a minor inconvenience at best, a mere delay until they downloaded into a new body. During the New Caprica arc, Cavil suggested that each death takes an increasing physical toll on the next resurrection (he kept being reborn with migraines), and after one of the Sixes kills Barolay (one of Anders' old Pyramid teammates, as well as a top lieutenant in the New Caprica resistance), she admits that she never recovered emotionally from the way Barolay tortured and killed her back on that planet. Natalie pulling the trigger was the only way to salvage the proposed Cylon/human treaty, but it was also something of a mercy killing. Her sister couldn't live with the memories of what had been done to her. (And, like all the other Sixes, she was under the delusion that she was doing something good for humanity with the occupation, which in turn made her violent death sting all the more.) It takes a lot to produce a scene where two Sixes lock lips and not have it turn into every fanboy's fantasy, but that kiss was 100 percent tragic, and not erotic in the least.
Meanwhile, as Anders and Athena are trying to reconcile their human and Cylon loyalties (and as Anders gets his first prolonged exposure to his own kind), they're brought together, and then apart, by the random death of another Eight. Sharon, having just told her abandoned sisters that her philosophy is "You pick your side and you stick," can't bring herself to comfort the dying Eight, because she feels it would be a betrayal of her human roots. Anders, wondering who the frak he is, is the one to offer Sharon a bit of human/Cylon contact in her final moments.
We now pause for our weekly appreciation of the "Galactica" cast. Mary McDonnell's going to get her own section -- both because Laura has a separate storyline and because, wonderful as everyone else in the ensemble is, she inevitably leaves them in the dust -- but among the perfectly-acted moments this week: Helo's inner struggle and eventual relief as the clock reaches and then passes zero hour; the kiss of the Sixes; Anders wanting desperately to touch the baseship's controls to see what would happen; Gaeta asking Helo to blow off the mission to save his leg; and every single reaction of every character in the scene with the hybrid. The hybrid's speech patterns lend themselves to chaotic thought and chaotic action, and so of course we get relief and guilt and answers and destruction all in the space of seconds. How would you like to be Kara and be dealing with your harbinger of death destiny only moments after a shootout with an overly protective Centurion? These people don't get paid enough to play scenes like that.
Nor, frankly, do the writers, directors, crew, etc. I was going to prostrate myself in praise of that sequence, but because I was otherwise detained most of today, Todd VanDerWerff beat me to the punch:
The blood drips slowly into the water, spreading out like a work of abstract art, the wailing from the hybrid providing a backdrop for the action. There’s a sudden cut to a shot of the hybrid’s mouth open in the wail, red light and shadow flashing over it, before we cut to Starbuck leaning over the hybrid, demanding it tell her what it knows, the blood still filling its pool. After the hybrid gives up its information, Athena (also Park) cuts the power to it and everything goes dark, followed by another perfect cut, this time to the sick bay on Galactica, where Roslin (Mary McDonnell) and her new best friend Emily (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine vet Nana Visitor) sit talking about the world after this one, their silhouettes framed against the curtain around Emily’s space, the small light inside the only light in the room. For all the world, it feels as if Emily and Roslin are up late at night in the dorm, talking about what it all means, man—or it would, were Roslin not bald from her latest treatment and were Emily not so obviously decrepit.Hell of a scene. Hell of an episode.
It’s the intensely created scenes like this one that set Battlestar apart from most televised SF (from most television, period). The cuts and shots in the sequence are so jarring and then so, seemingly, peaceful that I was able to recall most of it strictly from memory, simply because the assemblage of the scene seemingly branded itself on my mind. Battlestar is great at marrying its big themes and weighty (occasionally ponderous) dialogue to images that specifically underline them. While much of the praise of the show focuses around the political themes of the scripts (and, indeed, that’s one of the best things about the show), the series’ direction, which occasionally reins in some way-too-big idea and brings it back down to Earth, keeps all of this moving and honest.
Though the bulk of the episode is a continuation of the events of "The Road Less Traveled," the death/afterlife theme extends to a new/old subplot, as Laura and new friend Emily (Nana Visitor from Ron Moore's old "Deep Space Nine" stomping grounds, excellent) each try to come to grips with the knowledge that their cancers are winning. Though Laura distrusts Baltar more than any other person in the fleet distrusts him, seeing the light -- or darkness -- at the end of the tunnel coming up fast tends to make one question their belief systems, and Laura finds a way to separate messenger from message. (She's not the only one believing in something new; see Adama's confession at episode's end that his friendship with Laura has made this former atheist believe in something, even if he's not sure what.)
I sometimes run out of superlatives to describe Mary McDonnell's work on this show. So little is usually asked of actors on sci-fi shows -- and often, they're capable of giving only so much -- that, even within the amazing "Galactica" cast, her performance is continually the stand-out. Ordinarily, her flashy moments involve Laura showing her strength, pulling off the velvet glove to show the iron fist beneath it. What made her breakdown by Emily's bedside so shocking, and so moving, was that this was Laura Roslin, Airlocker-in-Chief, absolutely defenseless. Even without her hair, even clutching onto her chemo IV rig, she still seemed somehow regal, somehow in control of her slow, inevitable death. But in that moment when she recalled her mother -- another teacher, and another cancer victim -- she was powerless against her memories, and the knowledge that the same fate awaits her within months, or even weeks. I'd say "give that woman an Emmy," but we all know how that song goes with regards to genre shows, don't we?
Some other thoughts on "Faith":
- Amazing work by Gary Hutzel and his visual FX team this week on the entire sequence in the floating Cylon graveyard. We saw something similar last season during the arc with the Cylon plague, but the wreckage looked worse and more spectacular this time around.
- Once again, we're reminded that Sharon is the first Cylon to go against the rest of her models, and against her entire kind. There can be disadvantages to that: if Boomer hadn't gotten into bed with Cavil, the rest of the Two/Six/Eight batch wouldn't be in such sorry shape.
- I know it's been the show's style in the past -- for aesthetic and budget reasons -- to make the Basestars seem like spartan, relatively empty places, with only a handful of skinjobs present in any one scene. In this case, though, it becomes unclear just how many Cylons of these three lines have survived Cavil's attack. Are the rest of the Sixes elsewhere on the ship, or are we down to Natalie, plus Caprica Six back on Galactica?
- Tiffany Lyndall-Knight, as the hybrid, has always reminded me of someone else, but I couldn't put my finger on it until last night. For some reason, she sounds eerily like Laura Linney.
- Kara and company broke down most of the hybrid's prophecy, but a few danglers: "A dying leader will know the truth of the opera house" (Roslin, obviously); "The children of the one reborn shall find their own country" (Kara's kids? Helo and Sharon's?); and, of course, "You are the harbinger of death, Kara Thrace. You will lead them all to their end." (Putting "end" one sentence after "death" implies they're one and the same, but what if "end" means "end of their journey"?)
- I like that, even in the midst of her recent craziness and Helo's attempted mutiny, when Anders shot Gaeta, Kara immediately got herself together to be the first one to help treat Felix. He, of course, wasn't fond of her before, thanks to the events of "The Circle," and putting him in position to get his leg amputated ain't gonna help that friendship.
- Unrelated to this episode, but I've been listening to the podcasts as quickly as Sci Fi posts them, and yesterday they put up the one for "Escape Velocity," two episodes ago. At the time, I and others got hung up on the sequence where Head Six explicitly picks Baltar up off the floor and makes it look like he's levitating, seeing it as confirmation that the Head characters are more than just illusions. In the podcast, Moore says he hadn't intended for the scene to necessarily look that way (either because he has different designs for the Head characters, or because he didn't want to give away the game so early in the final season), and so future episodes will operate under the idea that Baltar's miraculous rise looked far more ambiguous. Hmm...