Monday, July 07, 2008

Battlestar Galactica - What on Earth?

At this point, I’ve been outta the loop for so long that I’m probably the only person who hasn’t weighed-in on the mid-season cliffhanger or whatever you want to call it (Mid-season? They’re not gonna air any more shows until 2009 and this is still mid-season? Let’s call a spade a spade here, folks, this was a season finale, and because we have to wait so damn long, whatever comes in 2009 is a new season as far as I’m concerned!) where Galactica and the fleet finally reach Earth. I’m gonna speak my peace anyway.

Overall it was a good episode. But it felt rushed. Sure they had a lot to squeeze into a single episode, and yeah they key at this point is to keep the pacing quick, but one of the hallmarks of this series’ success has been its willingness to let some moments play out in their own time. It’s had a little something called patience. That’s been a major factor in keeping the level of realism in the plot so high. Not this time though. It was like the writers wanted to throw a fan’s wishlist at us full of the things we wanted to see and the type of hints we love to be teased with so that we’d be sated and wouldn’t realize we’re being cheated at having to wait so long for the show to resume or that there aren’t quite enough episodes to play itself out. I felt we were being hurried through Adama’s mental breakdown. This is a significant event within this character and the plot, and yet it was settled so quickly it was like being at a banquet where the main course arrives, you take two delicious bites and when you turn your head for a second the waiter whisks your plate away and moves on to the dessert course (this happened to me a little over 2 months ago). Adama’s suffering and recovery needed way more time, not only to be believable, but to make the audience really care that it happened. Remember the entire episode of “Babylon 5” dedicated to Sheridan’s interrogation at the hands of Clarke’s inquisitors? That was character and plot development that was given due diligence. The Adama experience? Not so much.

Then there was the odd little statement when Lee told Rosalin how happy the Quorum would be that she was back, as though he was hinting they were unsatisfied with his administration. Really? Seems to me when she went galavanting off aboard the basestar the Quorum was on the verge of a revolution, with all off the members grinding their teeth at Rosalin’s (again, let’s call a spade a spade) growing dictatorial behavior. More time could have better explained their joy at her return.

How about seeing a little more of the imprisoned 6 who’s pregnant with Colonel Tigh’s child? They gave us a quick shot of her at the end, but the character’s been absent for the past little while.

What we needed to see more of was the behind-the-scenes Cylon politics. D’Anna took them to the brink of a shoot-out, risking the loss of the final Cylons, and the others basically went along with it. Sure, 6 fussed a bit, but mostly just stood there and looked worried and the 8’s/Boomers looked like they were focusing like it was another day at the office. These are Cylons that rebelled against their peers and went to the extreme of destroying the resurrection hub, and they’re not going to at least verbally take D’Anna to task for risking a shooting war that they probably can’t win and would possibly cost the lives of the Final 5? Sure, they’re cautious around D’Anna because she knows who the 5 are and they don’t, but that doesn’t imply that they’d give her free reign. You’d think the strong, silent type centurions who are so protective of the hybrid might also object to the prospect of a pissing match that could injure or destroy they’re precious hybrid (never mind their own newly self-determining lives).

That being said, there was a lot I did really enjoy about the episode, especially the riveting scenes with Saul Tigh putting his life on the line for a fleet that now hates him for a traitor, because he’s decided that Colonel Tigh is who he wants to be. I also enjoyed the final act where the fleet jumps to Earth, with beautiful shots of the ships in orbit, a wonderful musical score and then the bitter disappointment of the travelers standing amidst the ruins. It was a good ending to the episode. And ya know something, it could have been a good ending to the series.

But there’s more to come. And as we wait, there are two big questions to wrestle with:

When in Earth’s history did they arrive and what happened to the 13th colony? (okay, that’s really two questions)

And

Who is the 5th Cylon?

With respect to the first question(s), I’ve been toying with a couple of possibilities...

At first I was highly suspicious and wondered if they’d even landed on Earth at all. Sure it was a blue planet with clouds and a yellow sun. But we didn’t see out great big moon anywhere in the background, and there was no large view through the clouds to identify the shapes of continents below. Could this have been another colony world left behind along the way? But no, the constellations verified that this was the right location. I wondered briefly if this could be a very ancient Mars, as some scientists have suggested it may have been wet and more Earth-like in its deep past. But this Earth-like? And no big volcanoes rearing up to the edge of space? Probably not. Occam’s razor cut in and I figured that with so little time left in the series, the writers would probably not be jerking around with other worlds – they’ve got to keep the pace up and cut to the chase, so it’s obviously Earth. But when?

For a while, I was hopeful that it might be something really cool and off the wall - a time in the distant future where (as some on other boards have said they’d like to see) our civilization has progressed to a post-human state, leaving the old cities and possibly our physical bodies and perhaps even the planet behind in favour of electronic existence in the information space between machines. The cities would, in time, then decay under the force of the elements, leaving only mystery to the new arrivals who have not yet been contacted by the post-humans (who, immersed in their own quantum-computed concerns, may not even care about the arrival of this gaggle of interstellar refugees) and may never be. Or, having evolved, might be able to teach the Colonials and Cylons a little wisdom. But I doubt it. I suspect the writers of this very gritty series would want to give the audience something more tangible.

If it’s the future, that raises the question of whether the 13th colony eventually destroyed itself, whether it was destroyed by its own creations (all of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again), or perhaps even by that which this series has avoided so far like the plague - some kind of alien force. Perhaps they packed up and left for greener pastures for some other reason. I think the most likely of these scenarios would be either self-destruction or destruction by their own creations.

But I think the most likely reason for the discovery of the ruins is this: I suspect the writers are going to make a big nod to the old series idea that these spacemen were the ancestors of one of Earth’s ancient civilizations (real or mythical). My bet is that the fleet has arrived in the ancient past. Bronze Age at the earliest. I’m guessing that we’ll be told that sometime even earlier in prehistory the 13th colony arrived, founded a civilization among the savages and less advanced societies (maybe they’ll go for broke and call it Atlantis), then collapsed as all civilizations eventually do. The Colonials, tired of running, will hunker down and try to rebuild and eventually blend in with the locals.

Then there’s the equally hotly-debated question of the identity of the 5th Cylon. At various times, I’ve subscribed to three theories:

In my more cynical moments, I’ve entertained the idea that it might be Tom Zerick. Consider that all of the other four are strong, outspoken personalities who are, or have been leaders and thus have influenced (and you may want to read “influenced” as “controlled”) human beings (and generally more effectively than the ham-fisted brutal ways of their Cylon brethren). Saul Tigh has served as a Colonel in the Colonial fleet, handling significant responsibilities and authority as second in command (and on two occasions, the command itself) of Galactica. He also led the rebellion against the Cylons on New Caprica and was a chief rabble-rouser among the disgruntled crew after the return to space who believed that only those who had lived under the occupation had known hardship. Galen Tyrrol was chief of the flight deck aboard Galactica, a union leader on New Caprica, a senior leader of the resistance on New Caprica and once again a union organizer during the fleet-wide general strike. Tory was one of President Rosalin’s senior staff members and also served as her aide in the resistance movement on New Caprica (in which she seemed to hold some organizational authority, as evidenced in her coordination of block groups during the evacuation). Anders was a guerilla leader on Caprica and reprised this role with the resistance on New Caprica. For his part, Zerick was a terrorist leader on Saggitaron, the leader of the prisoner uprising aboard the Astral Queen, a presidential candidate and leader of an apparently neo-marxist party, and current Vice President (and two occasions interim President) of the Colonies. Certainly he’s been agitating people on a large scale in one way or another for the entire series. In fact, as the Cylons claim they want to change the relationship with humanity, Zerick has claimed to be trying to redefine humanity’s relationship with itself with proposed neo-marxist reconceptualizations of society, politics and economy. Aside from his terrorist and political activities, nothing else has been mentioned of Zerick’s past, making him a reasonable candidate to be the 5th Cylon.

In my more paranoid moments, I’ve wondered if the audience might be the 5th Cylon. While I didn’t watch “The Sopranos”, I recall friends who were fans discussing that series end, with the screen that went abruptly black, tossing around the theory that this was the audience – the unacknowledged character – finally getting whacked as so many others in the show had been – the audience was finally made part of the experience. Or so the theory went. I’ve chewed on the idea of whether we’ll get a reveal of this nature (though a similar treatment and fate would be doubtful) at the finale of BSG. And yet this one doesn’t feel quite right either.

At this point, I’ve got the notion that the 5th Cylon might be Felix Gaeta. It seems that so far, all of the 4 have lived lives that seem designed to give them a sense of the big human experiences: Tigh is a fleet officer, a drunk, a rebel leader and was a husband in a tempestuous marriage; Anders is the sports hero with the on-again off-again marriage; Tory maneuvers treacherous political waters and flirts with cult leader Baltar; Tyrrol was in love with a traitor and struggled in his marriage. But Gaeta, Gaeta on the other hand, has none of that. Sure he was the senior aide in the Baltar administration and secretly fed information to the resistance, but he certainly wasn’t living on the edge. Gaeta has led a quiet life in a go-nowhere job where he’s liked by most of his colleagues but ultimately taken for granted. And isn’t that a fundamentally human experience too? The others have all struggled with their identity and times (most especially during their Cylon-coming-out). Gaeta voiced this as far back as D’Anna’s documentary on Galactica’s crew back in season 1 (or was that season2?) where he said all he’d ever wanted was to work on a battlestar, and now, here he was, and he didn’t really know what he wanted anymore. All of the 4 have lost something: Tigh his wife, Tyrrol his wife and Boomer before that, Anders his wife, Tory her sense of place and sense of self. Gaeta lost his faith in the system when the election was rigged, he lost his faith in Baltar on New Caprica, he lost his faith (to some degree) in his shipmates after the rescue when he was branded a traitor and nearly executed, and he lost his leg during Starbuck’s mad quest for Earth. During his recovery in hospital, Gaeta sang sad songs endlessly to cope with the pain. Immersing onself in art as a means of self expression and a way to deal with feelings/emotion/pain is so very fundamentally human and something the Cylons would dream of if they wanted to grow in the direction of humanity. Gaeta: adrift in the middle, crippled and emotionally lost. So human. And so, possibly, very, very Cylon.

That’s my two bits, for what little they’re worth. Something we should all bear in mind though is that it has been said a few times by various people associated with BSG that not every question will be answered when the series ends. Not every situation will be resolved. How do we know we won’t be left hanging on these issues?

But for now, it’s fun to guess. So what do you think? What’s the deal with Earth, and who’s the 5th Cylon?
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