Saturday, May 10, 2008

Battlestar Galactica, "Faith": All your Basestars are belong to us

"Battlestar Galactica" spoilers coming up just as soon as I subscribe to the podcast version of Baltar's radio show...

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.

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.
Hell of a scene. Hell of an episode.

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...
What did everybody else think?


Mrglass said...

Just, perfect. What an amazing season.

K J Gillenwater said...

Yes, you're right, Alan. I loved this episode...every minute of it. The BSG I've been waiting for is back. The first five minutes was just riveting...and by the end, when the President was having her own vision of crossing the river...they got me. I was bawling.

I loved how they resolved the whole mutiny issue and let Kara do her thing, see the thing she was meant to see.

I have no idea what the hybrid means...but I am leaning towards the idea that most of the humans and cylons will die before they ever get to earth. Either it will be Adam and Eve or very few of them will every make it....that's the feeling I get. And that is why Kara will lead them to their death or whatever the hybrid said.

Cannot wait for next week!

Michael said...

Such a perfect episode. I rewatched the Hybrid's prophecy a few times. Such a perfect scene.

One of the things the first Hybrid said in Razor was "Not an end, but a beginning." As this show often brings up that "all of this has happened before and all of this will happen again," (or at least it did in earlier seasons), I feel like it will just be the end of their journey, and the beginning of their new life on earth. What that will entail, i don't know, but it should be good to watch.

The First Hybrid's prophecy from Razor is much clearer now. I really can't wait to see what happens.

Anonymous said...

Just a fantastic episode. I was riveted start to finish.

Michael Trucco did a really nice job in this episode, especially when he was contemplating putting his hand in the data stream.

That moment when Nana Visitor's character seized up and Roslin jumped up to comfort her being shown in silhouette was simply brilliant.

I just listened to the most recent podcast too, Alan. I don't quite know what to think of Moore's comments re: Balthar's "levitation" either. (By the way, I really enjoy how quick Moore is to admit when things don't quite work in the episodes -- e.g. the Sons of Ares. I love that kind of honesty.)

Anna said...

This episode was pretty amazing. And I'm so glad that Sharon finally got to be an actual character here, especially after they completely dropped the ball on her character last week.

Also, even despite the deaths, with "The baseship's ours", "Then let's go home", and "You made me believe," I think this was the happiest ending to a BSG episode in YEARS.

Anonymous said...

My favorite part was Roslin on the boat seeing her family on the banks.

And Baltar also said, "...shuffle off this mortal coil." I couldn't process anything else on radio show because I was flipping out about the Hamlet.

Chuck said...

"The children of the one reborn shall find their own country" (Kara's kids? Helo and Sharon's?)

I took it to mean the One. As in the One of the remaining Five.

And, looking back at the First Hybrid's comments, the One almost has to be Roslyn.

Anonymous said...

Todd VanDerWerff sounds like he's gonna orgasm with every recap of this show. Yeesh.
Oh yeah, I thought the episode was pretty good.

Anonymous said...

The problem I've had with this season is several storylines are just sitting by themselves and have nothing to do with anything, especially considering the amount of screentime that is being devoted to them, for example Balter storyline has nothing to do with anything it is so irrelevant but yet it has got a ton of screentime especially when compared to storylines that are relevant like the starbuck story and the cylon civil war. they wasted 2 weeks on Tyrol-Callie borefest which did not add anything in moving the story forward, it was arguable just filler. I admit that last night was a great episode but even last night they wasted time on Rosalin. Rosilin storyline to me was like Jack's appendix surgery on Lost... boring. The writers need to dramatically cut down Balter and Roslin's screentime unless they have a storyarc that is relevant to the show and focus on more immediate and relevant things like they did last night with Statbuck's crew.

Anna said...

Umm... Baltar and Roslin aren't relevant to the show? Is that sarcasm?

Nicole said...

I just go with the flow and trust that RDM will lead us to the promised land. Knowing that it's in a serial format, I don't expect instant gratification at the end of every episode. However, this one did provide steps forward in the progression of the plot. I too think that Roslin may end up being the one, but nonetheless, enjoyed her scenes this week. It was nice to see Nana Visitor again, since I probably have not seen her since DS9.

Unknown said...

I was blown away by this episode. I can't remember the last time I cried watching television, but Roslin's scenes made me lose it.

I usually love Baltar and Tyrol, but I was very relieved they did not turn up (besides Baltar's beautiful orations playing in the background). I need a break from them.

I'm sure this was an intentional parallel, but I was struck by how hypocritical Athena was for criticizing the 8s' "mutiny" when she was ready to go against Starbuck from the beginning!

The moment between the 6s was heartbreaking.

JakesAlterEgo said...

Did anyone else think that Laura's mother looked an awful lot like Barbara Bush? It was kind of distracting to me.

Anna said...

michael, I very much disagree. Athena was not ready to go against Starbuck from the very beginning. She was ready to go against her after 58 days of The Crazy and then recklessly planning to jump them all into a possible/likely trap. Also, the situation with the eights was completely different. No one forced them to vote against Cavil. They made a choice and they didn't like the outcome so then they wanted to blame it one someone else.

And while I'm talking about Sharon again (she's my favorite character, by the way), I'm just going to say that I really, really hate Seelix. "Yeah, let the cylon go"? Frak off. She's like the replacement Cally.

Jason said...

Yes, Alan, I'm satisfied. ;-) This was the best episode of the season, for all the reasons you suggested.

K J Gillenwater said...

I think Baltar's recent religious experience and Roslin's possible acceptance of it is vital to the story. In fact, I'm pretty certain it is a huge piece of the final end to this show.

When there are so many mentions of 'the gods' and 'the one true god' plus many Biblical similarities..I don't think it was just for fun that they added this layer to BSG. It is important. It will have meaning.

MikeD said...

his was a really good episode - as I don't get SciFi at home, I watched it on hulu yesterday. Even watching on the laptop, there were a few times, during the scenes between Roslin and Emily, when I had to turn away for a second or two. I haven't seen this directly addressed anywhere, so I'll being it up here. I'm guessing, here, that the hybrids are a development of the early experiments Adama witnessed in his Razor flashback. If this is true, what is the significance? Is this an indication that the Cylons need some qualities, which are only available in humans, to perform functions as basic as controlling their base ships?

Anonymous said...

Did anyone else think that Laura's mother looked an awful lot like Barbara Bush?

No. I thought she looked EXACTLY like Barbara Bush.

Thank God for Tivo, because I had to stop and take a break every few minutes. Just overwhelming. This episode was so much better than the norm, it made me wonder what happened. I looked up Seamus Kevin Fahey, and he's been a writing assistant since last year and this was his first script for the show. The kid's got it.

Nicole said...

For a second I thought Laura's mom was Barbara Bush. I guess we know who she represents on the political spectrum. :-)

Kenrick said...

Wow, so I guess I was one of the few who thought the Roslin scenes were utterly boring and made the episode feel like it dragged on for hours?

There better be some payoff.

But I did enjoy the basestar storyline a lot more than anything else so far this season.

There better be some consequences for Anders shooting Gaeta in the knee. I did like how it was Anders who comforted the dying eight and not Athena.

Anonymous said...

Did the Natalie/Six execution make anyone think "Lawrence of Arabia?"
Except for the number of shots, of course...

Anonymous said...

I'm right here with you, kenrick.

In one word for this episode, I'd go with tedious. The Cylon God vs. Kobol gods has always been the weakest part of this show. Way too much of that here.

Plus, like Starbuck I had way too little patience during the scenes when the hybrid is talking nonsense. Couldn't disagree with Alan more. Worst episode of the season.

qrter said...

"A dying leader will know the truth of the opera house" (Roslin, obviously)

I'm not so sure - it could also be Baltar.

He has had "opera house hallucinations" too, if I remember correctly. He has been a leader on New Caprica and is a new (spiritual) leader at the moment, only gathering more and more power.

It certainly wouldn't surprise me if Baltar is killed/dies before the end of the series (in fact, it would suprise me more if he doesn't die).

Unknown said...

I've loved every minute of this season. As the end credits pop up each week, my husband and I both exclaim aloud, completely surprised that an entire hour has passed.

Anonymous said...

"The children of the one reborn shall find their own country" (Kara's kids? Helo and Sharon's?)

I thought it might refer to Baltar's acolytes following his spiritual "rebirth." Shades of the Israelites in the desert, maybe?

Having the Centurion independently shoot one of the Eights was another reminder of the Pandora's Box that Natalie/Six opened. The Eights were right about the Sixes being out of control, with regard to unleashing the Centurions.

Mo Ryan said...

Great recaps/essays by you and Todd. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Count me in as another person who saw Barbara Bush in Laura's mom.

Then again, Babs is the mother of the president.

Anonymous said...

"...heard of Bob Dylan, but they've also heard of Shakespeare."

My takeaway on this is that Bob Dylan is the last cylon.

Well, it's as plausible as anything else...

Anonymous said...

Nick said...
The problem I've had with this season is several storylines are just sitting by themselves and have nothing to do with anything, especially considering the amount of screentime that is being devoted to them, for example Balter storyline has nothing to do with anything it is so irrelevant but yet it has got a ton of screentime especially when compared to storylines that are relevant like the starbuck story and the cylon civil war. ... The writers need to dramatically cut down Balter and Roslin's screentime unless they have a storyarc that is relevant to the show and focus on more immediate and relevant things like they did last night with Statbuck's crew.

Baltar and Roslin's arcs are not relevant to the show? Baltar and Roslin are two of the most nuanced characters in the show. Baltar sold out humanity by giving Six access to the Colonial defense mainframes, which allowed the Cylons to slaughter most of humanity. Baltar went on to manage to do whatever he needed to do to survive without accepting responsibility for his culpability in the genocide. And then, he not only won the presidency by appealing to the Colonials' desire to get out of the ships and settle on New Caprica, but gave Gina the nuke that not only destroyed Cloud 9 (killing everyone on board), but allowed the Cylons to find New Caprica and collaborated in the occupation. now, Baltar, in either his latest scheme to get by a little longer or in a genuine desire for repentance is becoming a religious leader with a sizable following.

Roslin, as the dying leader, is turning her back on the democratic process in order to try and leave the fleet in the best way that she sees possible-- becoming more of a dictator-- even if her motivations are good. That and coming to terms with her cancer. And Mary McDonnell owns the screen as Roslin.

While Galactica has spent time on stories that go nowhere (the love quadrangle of doom, "The Woman King," "Black Market"), Baltar and Roslin's stories are nothing if not integral. I am confident that as the season goes on, we'll see how all of the various storylines (The Final Four dealing with their newfound Cylon-ness, the identity of the final Cylon, the Cylon civil war, Baltarism, Roslin succumbing to cancer, Lee and Zarek opposing Roslin's authoritarianism, Starbuck leading the human race to its end, Doc Cottle's hydroponic tobacco farming) will converge.

After listening to some of Ron Moore's podcasts from this season along with finishing The Wire season 3 (and listening to David Simon's commentaries and watching The Wire Paley festival panel), it looks like the Battlestar team is working on season 4 as one long story in 20 parts (or one story in two parts of 10 installments each) and that the pace of the story-telling may be more deliberate than in previous seasons of Galactica. Whatever it is, this is the best string of 6 hours since the run in the New Caprica arc from Lay Down Your Burdens to Collaborators.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's what the writers have planned, but I like Kristin's Adam and Eve idea. Starbuck leads the fleet to Earth but almost everyone dies before they reach the planet. Baltar rescues Helo&Athena's daughter and Chief&Callie's son, blasts off to earth in an escape pod, and raises them in the Garden of Eden, thousands of years before our today. The two human/cylon halfbreeds go on to populate the earth...


Anonymous said...

Oh, man. If it's just Baltar who survives the genocide of the Fleet with Hera and Nicky I may have to stab myself in the eye. He has all the luck in the world.