Saturday, November 24, 2007

Battlestar Galactica: All of this has happened before, and now we'll see it again

Spoilers for "Battlestar Galactica: Razor" coming up just as soon as I get on the treadmill...

In my column, I talked about how, while I really enjoyed a lot of the individual pieces of "Razor," the film as a whole frustrated me because the Fisk/Tigh scenes from "Pegasus" and "Resurrection Ship" spelled out virtually everything that happened in the Cain portion of the movie, while the Kara/Kendra Shaw suicide mission was undercut by the knowledge that Starbuck would live and Shaw would almost certainly die.

Your mileage may vary on both of those points. I think I would be more willing to go with the familiarity of the Cain story if it gave me a deeper understanding of the woman and why these terrible things happened on her watch, but again, I feel as if those earlier episodes did such a strong job of spelling out the why in addition to the what that there was very little for "Razor" to add. The revelation that Cain was having an affair with the Gina version of Number Six offers some new color to some of her actions -- it makes the institutionalized rape of Gina even sicker than before, and I didn't think such a thing was possible -- but she had already gone around the bend when she insisted on carrying out the attack on the staging ground over her XO's very rational objections, before she knew about Gina. Every bad decision after that was a matter of degree, not kind. (If she hadn't walked into that trap, for instance, she might have protected the civilian fleet instead of scavenging it.)

Still, I enjoyed the hell out of Michelle Forbes' performance, especially in those early moments before the Cylon attack, when you see a slightly softer side of Cain. The treadmill conversation with the XO established a strong rapport between the two (I laughed when the XO refused to leave and Cain had to say "Think about it" again to shut down the vacation talk), and even the hazing of Shaw suggested a woman who, under different circumstances, might not have become a walking atrocity.

The "present-day" scenes (if we can refer to a story that takes place more than a year ago in "Galactica" time) expanded on some things we didn't really know about the non-fat Lee's tenure on the Pegasus -- how he adjusted to the challenges of command, why Kara was assigned to Pegasus in "The Captain's Hand" and then not in the next episode -- but mostly it was an excuse for some incredibly kewl action: Kara getting into a shoot-out with the retro Raider in the middle of the Pegasus hangar deck, or the Raptor crew bailing out and flying the rest of the way using just their suit-thrusters. Stephanie Jacobsen did a solid enough job as Kendra, but I never felt invested in her redemption arc (or lack thereof) the way I did in the events involving characters I already knew. I kept wishing that Fisk hadn't been murdered by the black marketeers, but had just been humiliated and demoted; building this story around Graham Beckel might have given it more gravity, though it would have eliminated the more obvious parallels between Kara and Kendra.

(And speaking of which, whatever happened to the plot thread of Kara having been converted to Cain's way of thinking by the end of the Resurrection Ship story? Never came up again, and could have been really useful here, perhaps with Kara trying to bond with Kendra over their mutual respect of Cain and Kendra dismissing her as a poseur who knew Cain for all of five seconds. Maybe it's on the DVD for all I know.)

If the purpose of the parallel structure was to show how Lee was a very different commander for that ship, or for Lee and Bill to develop a greater understanding of how and why Cain did what she did, I don't think it came through. When Bill essentially excused Cain because she didn't have Roslin screaming in her ear the whole time, it seemed like he and the writers were letting Cain off easy. Yes, Adama wanted to keep fighting and had to be talked out of it by Roslin's speech about hiding and making babies, but I just don't see Adama under any circumstances shooting Tigh in the head for questioning the wisdom of walking into an obvious trap, or ordering the rape of a treasonous ex-lover, or the murders of innocent civilians. I understand the motives behind Cain's actions (and will probably understand them even more after seeing the flashback scenes on the DVD), but that last scene felt like the script in some way trying to justify the film's central character.

The Lee/Kara/Kendra story did offer up one huge hint -- or is it a red herring? -- about the direction of the final season, with The Hybrid warning Kendra that Kara will lead humanity to its own destruction. I don't want to spend too much time analyzing that now, simply because we don't know exactly who or what that person in the Viper cockpit was at the end of season three, nor about the nature of Kara's "death," nor the motives of The Hybrid, both in general and in terms of what he told Kendra. I really hope, though, that Ron Moore has an amazing idea to explain the series' running "All this has happened before, and it will happen again" theme, because it's come up so often that I'm expecting something very cool.

If it seems like I'm being a harsh critic, it's because I hold "Galactica," like "Friday Night Lights" and "The Wire" and a handful of other great series, to a higher standard. Did I enjoy "Razor"? Absolutely. Was I grateful to get a taste of the series during the long hiatus? You bet. But was it as great as it could have been, given the personnel involved and their track record? I don't think so.

Some other thoughts on "Razor":

-I got a review copy of the extended cut DVD yesterday but haven't had time to watch it yet. Hopefully, I can see it before the Dec. 4 release date and do a short supplemental post on the additional scenes.

-I have, however, seen all the Young Adama scenes that aired as interstitials on Sci Fi. As cool as Kara's hangar deck aerial combat was, it's not a patch on man vs. Cylon in freefall. What an incredible bit of action/FX. (The FX team throughout did an amazing job. The destruction of the Scorpion shipyards looked stunning.)

-Who else here had a kind of fanboy (or fangirl) seizure at the sight of a vintage three-man Cylon configuration from the old series? I don't even like the '70s "Galactica" and I whooped and cheered when the action cut to that scene. Sometimes, I'm easily amused.

-Have we seen Laird (the engineer whose family was massacred on the Scylla) in the present-day action since "Resurrection Ship, Pt. II"? I think it would have been really interesting to see some kind of interaction between Shaw and Laird, even if it was simply them passing each other in a corridor and simultaneously cringing. This movie put us inside the head of a Cain loyalist, but what must those months have been like for a poor conscripted bastard like Laird?

-So not only do the humans of the 12 colonies know "All Along the Watchtower," but they have their own version of "99 Bottles of Beer," as suggested (but not sung) by Starbuck and Showboat. Will we eventually meet the colonial equivalent of the Wiggles?

-I don't want to be reductive and suggest that any strong bond between women implies romantic feelings (I know Tigh and Adama don't want to have sex, at least outside of any "Battlestar" slash fiction). But I can't decide whether Kendra's uneasy initial reaction to seeing Gina and Cain kiss was just, as she told Gina, surprise that her fearless leader needed any romantic companionship, or if there was a twinge of jealousy in there. There were no other clues to Kendra's personal life, so that's probably a reach.

-Anyone want to analyze the thinking behind Young Adama's call sign being Husker?

-One thing I didn't quite grasp from the flashback to the first Cylon war: it appeared that the human prisoners were being kept in the building that Adama walked out of just as the base ship was taking off, which means the surviving prisoners could be freed later. Was that just some clumsy editing at the end, and we're meant to think that Adama was on the base ship and then wound up exiting through the concrete bunker?

-Was Starbuck's "Ain't it grand when a plan comes together?" supposed to be a tribute to Dirk Benedict's other old show? On "The A-Team," Hannibal's catchphrase was "I love it when a plan comes together." Also, it's hard to hear the phrase "We've all got it coming" in this context without thinking of the scene where Clint Eastwood says it in "Unforgiven."

What did everybody else think?


velvetcannibal said...

I loved it. I found the whole movie worked for me after the first 10 minutes or so, probably due to the Oedipal nature of storytelling. Knowing what was going to happen only made it more horrible. There is no hope. It's all been foretold. The Gina/Cain backstory added a whole new dimension and made me want to rewatch those episodes. Her speech to Shaw about personal sacrifice and showing the enemy how far you'd go was completely chilling.

I'm sold. Also, "HARBINGER OF DEATH."

Anonymous said...

Hang on. When you leave someone behind to explode something in space because the remote on the nuke doesn't work, shouldn't it always be Bruce Willis?

Shawn Anderson said...

I too cheered when I saw the triangle of old Cylons and really wanted to share the moment... but alas, my wife was already asleep -- and was only five years old when the original series aired -- so I couldn't share my geek love :(

Thank Gods for the internet.

Shawn Anderson said...

I'm also now a bit obsessed with the whole Starbuck as the one to lead them to Earth/Doom. She's the real razor here. One side can cut the human race down, the other side can guide it to it's deliverance... and that's probably not an either/or proposition.

Mac said...

I was going to ask the same question re: Starbuck channelling Hannibal Smith. I'd have to guess it was intentional.

Anonymous said...

I came late to the BSG party, and have watched Seasons 1 & 2 via Netflix.
Outside of the pre-Season 3 webisodes on the Sci-Fi site & and I few spoiler hints here and there, I don't know anything about what happened on Season 3.
Does anyone know if there is anything on this DVD that could potentialy ruin any Season 3 surprises for me? I'm interested in checking this out soon to get a BSG fix since Season 3 probably won't be released for a while, but was hoping not to find out too much about what I haven't seen.

Alan Sepinwall said...

All the events in "Razor" take place before the end of season two, so you should be okay.

Anonymous said...

Alan, Husker (just to keep the older Adama and younger Adama separate) had to leave the bunker or wherever the hell he was because it was falling apart. There was a earthquake or some other destructive force that was about to bring the place down around his ears. The captive man wanted Husker to survive so he could tell everyone what had happened there.

Maybe I was the only one, but having had such a long break between seasons, I was totally confused as to where this fit in to the storyline. I don't have the perfect memory everyone else seems to have of each episode and what happened when. So, for me, that was very confusing. Trying to remember what had happened prior to this event, but not in last season. It gave me a headache!

However, it was GREAT to have this show back on the air. The flashbacks were a tad confusing...but I managed to follow the story. I really think the point of this movie was solely to advance the idea that there is another kind of Cylon out there perhaps and the reveal about Starbuck possibly leading everyone in the wrong direction.

The clips for next season were killing me! Do I really have to wait until March???!!!

Anonymous said...

I wonder if Lee decided to give Shaw that posthumous honor....

Anonymous said...

So there's an American colony, a Canadian colony, a British colony, and now an Australian colony. No French colony? After all, they've spent the whole time running...

Anonymous said...

IF we are to believe the season 3 finale and the fact that Tigh is a Cylon...then how can the timeline put forth by Boomer regarding the hybrids be true? If Tigh was a cylon then it would seem that the "humanoid" cylons were created during the first cylon war since Tigh was established to have been around then. Yet according to Razor, the hybrids were developed during and after the first cylon war and were"precursers" to the "humanoid" cylons. Unless Tigh's memories of being around during the first cylon war are implants...then the math doesn't seem to compute. Am i reading this correctly?

Anonymous said...

Well, isn't he one of the 'final five' Cylons? And if Tigh is, isn't he also "different" than the other humanoid Cylons? That was the impression I had gotten.

But it does add a degree of complexity to this whole story...

Anonymous said...

Yeah, even the Cylons don't know who the Final Five are. That's what Deanna was so obsessed with before they boxed her up. So it would make sense that they'd be outside the normal chain of, um, Cylonness.

Anonymous said...

This is one of the rare moments in televised storytelling where the "show, don't tell" isn't an improvement. The scene in Pegasus (or Resurrection Ship) where Fisk tells Tigh about Cain shooting Pegasus's previous XO and civilians is a perfectly played bit and more chilling than the narrative arc. I

And it's not that this was a bad bit of television-- on the contrary it was a very well executed reminder of why BSG can be so great. Unfortunately, the motivation for the story seemed to be to find something to put in Sci-Fi's order for a 2-hour standalone TV movie rather than to tell a compelling story that constitutes an integral part of the show's narrative arc. The revelations about the hybrid and the splinter group of old-school Cylons are interesting, as well as bringing back "all this has happened before and all this will happen again."

The other disappointing part of Razor was the lack of any substantial part for Roslin (and any part for Baltar.) Now, I love me some BSG, but even more, I love me some Mary McDonnell in the show.

I'm very interested to hear the 4-part podcast about the writers breaking the structure of Razor, which can't have been easy.

R.A. Porter said...

I definitely thought Kara was channeling Hannibal with the plan coming together line as well.

One thing I picked up was a subtlety in the soundtrack. As the raptor closed in on the hybrid, I'm sure I heard some echoes of Bear McCreary's "Crossroads" theme (and we know where that leads.) To get a bit extra-geeky, there's still a lot of doubt about what exactly triggered the final four-of-five Cylons to wake up - proximity to the temple, proximity to the supernova, or something else. I'd suggest that it was a two-part trigger, the nuke destroying the hybrid being the first part. This has, after all, all happened before.

Bear McCreary's blog has some of his really interesting notes on the score of Razor, including the great use of Stu Phillips' old BSG theme in the big space battle that ended up in the webisodes (and on the DVD.)

TL said...

I had pretty much the same praises/reservations as everyone else. Did love the way they played Cain's "let's-go-get-those-motherfuckers" speech as the bizzaro version of the speech Adama gave at the end of the mini.

One question/observation: the two humans that Husker saw behind the door - was that Leoban & Six (or at the actors who played them)?

Unknown said...

Alan et al,
here's a link to my post about BSG and Razor:
It has the Youtube clips lined up in order.
I agree, I liked Razor just because it is BSG, but felt there was a lot missing. I didn't see the leap from joshing CO to executioner/rapist-by-proxy.

Anonymous said...

I was OK watching the aired version and not bothering with the DVD, but now that I hear that the original BSG theme is somewhere in the scoring for a battle scene that didn't make it to SciFi, I'm going to put the "Razor" DVD at the top of my Netflix list! Thanks, R.A. Porter!

Unknown said...

Andrew said...
This is one of the rare moments in televised storytelling where the "show, don't tell" isn't an improvement. "

Totally agree. Much scarier offscreen.
I'm still in denial about Chief and Tigh being cylons. I thought of the timeline, too, but Adama says he's known Tigh for 30 years, but wasn't the Cylon war 40 years ago?
Plus, if the Cylons based the "skinjobs" on real human templates, then it works too.
I'm hoping Chief and Tigh turn out to have screwy fillings and are human after all.

Jen said...

Re: Husker flashback...

It was my understanding that Husker was not on the ship. He was in a bunker that was falling apart not because of an earthquake but because the Cylon Basestar taking off that was bringing the building down. I would have liked to think that they would have rescued everyone when they picked up Husker...and would have assumed they would have investigated what the Cylons were doing there, but it doesn't seem like that happened.

I really enjoyed Razor despite it not really adding much to the current (and final) arch.

Loved the old school Cylons! "By your command!"

Unknown said...

Alan -

Think you're thinking too much about "Husker". The call sign came from the miniseries viper presented to him by the deck crew, and I doubt Ron Moore was thinking that far ahead.