Monday, July 26, 2010

Blogging Battlestar - Bucking Bronco

Tonight's Battlestar Galactica review covers "Pegasus" (the extended version of the episode) and "Resurrection Ship" parts 1 & 2. I've always tended to look at these as one single, long episode rather than 2 or 3 separate ones, since they address a single story arc: the arrival of the Pegasus and the ensuing crisis involving Admiral Cain.

Many of my thoughts about Pegasus, Cain and her crew, and their comparison to Galactica have already been covered in my February 2008 essay on the BSG made-for-TV movie Razor "Distorted Reflections in a Razor", so I'll try not to repeat myself.

In "Pegasus", the fleet encounters the unthinkable: another battlestar that survived the massacre of the Colonies. It's a beginning that harkens back to the original series episode "The Living Legend".

But aside from the name of this other battlestar and its commanding officer, the two series' takes on this encounter couldn't be more different. The original Commander Cain is an older man, in fact an old friend of Adama's, a brilliant tactician, and though reckless in his determination to make war on the Cylons, he is never a direct threat to his fellow humans. He may be something of a pirate captain, but a merry one modeled after Errol Flynn in Captain Blood or The Sea Hawk. The new Admiral Cain, while being equally gifted in battle, is a woman, young - at least reletively young for someone holding the rank of Admiral, holds a higher rank than Adama and wastes no time putting him in his place (where the original Cain was also a Commander and at least initially gave Adama the nod as the person in charge), and is a person who's viciousness cruelty make her an altogether different sort of pirate - a realistic pirate rather than a movie caricature, someone probably more closely akin to Edward Teach - Blackbeard.

It isn't long before Admiral Cain shows her true stripes. She shows a profound lack of respect for the President by refusing to return Roslin's calls. She shares supplies with Galactica but not the other ships of the fleet. She interferes with Adama's command, swapping crew from the ships and demoting Apollo. She berates Adama for his decisions and command style. She unleashes Lieutenant Thorne, her "Cylon expert", to rape and torture Boomer under the guise of intelligence gathering. When Helo and the Chief are arrested and taken to Pegasus after rescuing Boomer, Cain orders their executions without an open trial or allowing them representation. Word gets out of her track record of killing her XO and raiding another civilian survivor fleet, drafting some passengers, murdering others, and leaving the remainder to die in ships that had been stripped of everything including their FTL drives. By the end of "Pegasus", Cain and Adama are seconds away from an all-out shooting war. As "Resurrection Ship" unfolds, Cain sets in motion a plan to murder Adama (although, in all fairness, Adama's working on a similar plan of his own).

At the end of "Resurrection Ship", Cain's been assassinated (not by Adama, but by Gina, the Six who was held captive aboard Pegasus who Baltar helped to escape) and Starbuck gives a speech at her funeral to the effect that humanity would have been much better off if Cain had lived. Really? Sounds like Starbuck's been manipulated pretty effectively by Cain. She sees qualities of relentlessness and tactical talent in Cain that she admires, and Cain says the right things to Starbuck, that she'll make it her business to launch a campaign to retake the Colonies. This all comes as Starbuck is still struggling with her disillusion in Adama as a result of learning that he didn't know the way to Earth prior to Kobol, and as she nurses resentment for Adama and Roslin refusing to allow her to mount a rescue of Anders and the other survivors on Caprica. Starbuck has been drawing a kind of grudging inspiration from Cain as her other idols have let her down, and the loss of this idol contributes to the gradual downward spiral that ensares her. The truth is, Cain was a menace to the fleet and the future of humanity. Her only redeeming action was to call-off the assassination of Adama. Even then, you'd have to be pretty naive to think she wouldn't change her mind eventually and try to either arrest Adama or make another attempt on his life. Never mind what she'd do to the fleet.

Lots of great dramatic moments in the "Pegasus"-"Resurrection Ship" story arc. Hard to watch, in some cases, because of their difficult subject matter, but brilliantly written and performed none-the-less.

Roslin owns one of those moments in the scene aboard Colonial One after the confrontation between Cain and Adama, where she tells Adama he'll have to murder Cain. She delivers her recommendation with such matter-of-factness that the audience and Adama have to take a second to process its utter cold-bloodedness. But you can't find fault with her position. Roslin may be advocating assassination, and it's true that's troubling, but there's no doubt she's saying this in the interests of the fleet and the future of humanity. It's not because she's intimidated by Cain, clearly, in the office show-down she demonstrates that she's not. Roslin's heard the reports about what's happened in the past and what's going down in the present, and she's had a good look in Cain's eyes and seen her for the cruel pirate-queen that she is. Roslin may not like saying that someone needs to be killed, but she knows it is needed, and she doesn't flinch.

As I've mentioned on previous occasions, probably the best dramatic moment in the story, and possibly one of the best dramatic moment an actor has delivered on screen, in any story, for a long time, is a quick second in the scene in Galactica's corridor when Adama gets the call with the news that Helo and the Chief have been convicted and will be executed. For there merest heartbeat, Edward James Olmos' face is a fist desperately trying to keep a grip on an explosion of emotion. With swift subtlety, we see surprise, rage, desperation, fear of getting into a fight he probably can't win and which will not only kill many or all of his crew but endanger the entire fleet and humanity's future, uncertainty about rebelling against the chain of command, and then grim resolution. Everyone who professes to be an actor should be required to study Olmos in this scene. And beyond the acting, just looking at the character and the situation he's in, this reaction is completely believable.

This story arc was important for Apollo as well. There have always been times throughout the series when it was clear that being a viper pilot just wasn't what Lee really wanted to do with his life. But this story marks the real turning point for Lee. Things are now awkward with Starbuck and he's feeling alone, Adama has ordered him to help Starbuck murder someone, he's having to live within a different fighter pilot culture aboard Pegasus that's sucked out whatever joy there had been in the job for him. It culminates with Apollo admitting that he didn't want to survive being stranded in space with a leaky suit after the destruction of the blackbird. It's a shadow of depression that will hang over him for a long time.

Lots of interesting Six (and Gina/Six) and Baltar moments too. Watching the scenes in the cell aboard Pegasus, you really believe that Gina/Six has been brutalized to the point of being broken. As the angel Six, her rage and horror at Gina's treatment are certainly affecting, but what's truly riveting is her hurt when Baltar, in an effort to win-over Gina, steals Six's story about going to watch sports. Here we see how easily Baltar can betray even those he claims to love. And yet, it's also a sad thing to watch. Clearly Baltar is desperate for something like a real relationship. He gets plenty of sex around the fleet as the charming Vice-President, and the "angel" Six in his mind provides more than enough intellectual stimulation, but he lacks a real-life amalgamation of the physical and intellectual/emotional, and when he sees Gina, as damaged as she is, he sees an opportunity to finally have both at once. Unfortunately for Baltar, Gina isn't Caprica Six or the angel Six, and he'll get no real satisfaction or relationship out of this betrayal.

What doesn't work in the Six-Baltar moments is the continuance in lapses by the writers in their presentation of Six's character. By this time, Six has already declared herself to be an angel, not a Cylon. And yet when she sees Gina/Six in the Pegasus brig, her reaction is deeply personal, rather than the more generalized horror that another person would feel. It's a "look what they've done to me" reaction, which doesn't fit for some non-corporeal agent of a deity. The writers also make the mistake of having the angel Six tell the story of buying sports tickets on Caprica and imagining Baltar were with her. No, that would be the Cylon known as Caprica Six. Angel Six wasn't there on Caprica - or, at least, she didn't appear to Baltar then and didn't have a relationship with him. The contradictions in the presentation of the angel Six character continue to grow more obvious to the detriment of the overall series. The only redeeming factor is that if we try to forget the whole angel nonsense, if we for a moment go back to the good old days when we didn't know any better and we believed this Six was a figment of Baltar's imagination or some kind of Cylon implant, then these moments with her in "Pegasus" and "Resurrection Ship" are deeply moving. They would be damn near perfect, but then that annoying feeling starts up in the back of the brain and we remember that none of this works because she's supposedly an angel.

And there are other aspects of the plot that don't quite fit as well as they should. Why would Adama allow Colonel Fisk and members of the Pegasus marine force aboard Galactica during the attack on the Cylon resurrection ship? He's just come within a scrotum-tightening instant of being in a battle against Cain, and the Admiral's made no bones about her lack of respect for his decisions and her resolve to toss him in the brig for taking a stand against her. How could he possibly not think that Fisk & co would be sent over to create mayhem? Sure, this is armchair quarterbacking, but in that situation, there wouldn't even be a debate - most people would just say "no" if Cain phoned up and said she was sending some of her toadies over. Ultimately, the only reason the writers included this was to create tension from the question of who would order the trigger-pull first, which leader would survive the day. Could they have written a different kind of threat to Adama's life? Sure. They could have done something more believable, like having Cain outline a plan to her people to launch a full nuclear salvo against Galactica at the close of the battle against the Cylons. They could have. But that would have lacked the visceral tension generated only when the camera can pan from one face to another in the same room, where one person doesn't know that the other is waiting to kill him. Good drama, even if it makes no sense in terms of how the story has played out so far.

Another scene that was well put together overall but had some problems within it was the confrontation between Cain and Adama in front of Roslin about Colonial One. At one point, Cain snarles at Roslin, telling the President that as Admiral, she has complete authority to dispose of Helo and the Chief. What's strange is that Roslin doesn't cut her off right then and there. Usually, Roslin doesn't hesitate to assert her supreme authority. Watching the scene play out, I was left thinking how out of character it was for Roslin to not stand up and tell Cain that as President, she's Commander-in-Chief and thus has the power to rescind Cain's orders and her position. Roslin could have told Cain that as President, she has the authority to choose a new Chief of Staff, and then demoted or relieved Cain, and appointed Adama as Admiral. Would Cain have accepted Roslin's authority or decision? Knowing Cain, absolutely not. But by making the statement, Roslin could have immediately given Adama the authority to act immediately, rather than waiting, and it would have served Cain with notice that the President has the final word. You might argue that Roslin didn't do this because she didn't want to provoke Cain, but again, I'd point to the fact that historically, Roslin has never shied away from asserting that she's in charge.

Watching this scene, I also wondered why Roslin didn't take her explanation of the obvious outcome of a fight to its logical conclusion. She states that Pegasus could probably beat Galactica, but that it would be left heavily damaged and with many injured and dead crew. To really drive the point home in concrete terms, she should have carried it further and explained that the ships of the fleet, knowing they couldn't trust Cain, would then leave the crippled Pegasus behind for the Cylons to destroy (or even have its defenceless carcass picked over by a vengeful, resource-hungry fleet). Sure, Cain got the point from what Roslin did say, but by putting the end result in no uncertain terms, Roslin might have scored a few more points.

I also have to wonder, again, in keeping with what would be logical for the story, why Roslin didn't order her own security guards to arrest or kill Cain at the end of that meeting. Remember, she wastes little time once Cain has left the room in telling Adama he needs to assassinate the Admiral. And she's no stranger to ordering an execution, as Leoben and Sharon both found out, with Sharon only surviving because she dangled the right kind of carrot in front of the President. Clearly in asking Adama to kill Cain, Roslin feels fairly certain that the other officers of the Pegasus don't have the stomach for a revenge-motivated fight, and that they'd either submit or jump away and go about their own business. That begs the question, why wait? Why ask Adama to formulate and execute a plan at some time in the future, with chances of success in doubt - especially since Adama balks at the idea when she presents it to him, when instead she can get things done quickly and simply on her own. No doubt she had a silent alarm installed in her desk after she returned to Colonial One in the wake of Adama's coup, so she could probably have her guards queued-up and ready to act before Cain even knew what was going on. So why not do it? Because even though it would have made more sense, it wouldn't have allowed for the tension during the battle with the Cylons as we waited to see whether Adama and Cain would follow-through with their individual assassination plans.

The "Pegasus"-"Resurrection Ship" story arc ends with a major victory over the Cylons, the death of Cain, and the gain of a massive new battlestar. And yet, this being BSG, there's still that unsettling feeling that tells us that even though the people of Galactica have survived a ride on this bucking horse, there's another bronco or bull waiting in the pen to throw them and stomp on them later.

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