Thursday, July 22, 2010

Blogging Battlestar - Family Reunions and Family Portraits

Tonight's Battlestar Galactica rewatch included "Home" (parts 1 & 2) and "Final Cut".

"Home" brings to a close the chapter of BSG where the fleet's engaged in more-or-less aimless wandering and starts everyone down a clear path to Earth. Roslin & co, guided by Sharon, and later joined by Adama et al (after he decides that the fleet needs to be reunited), navigate their way through tough terrain, fight through a Cylon ambush, and eventually find the Tomb of Athena where a holograph is activated giving them a view of the night sky from Earth, with the constellations (which match the ancient flags of the various colonies) and a nebula provide a very clear roadmap as to where the lost 13th Colony can be found.

Not much is really made about Kobol aside from its usefulness as a roadmap and that it's apparently cursed. The Colonials seem pretty focussed on getting in, getting directions, and getting out. Somewhat understandable, since the Cylons know where the planet it is and what its significance is, and probably know (since they haven't heard from their local basestar since its destruction) that Galactica's cruising in the area looking for a fight. So there's a need for speed before a buttload of toastermobiles shows up looking for trouble. And yet Adama and his crew have always been practical people, and that's why there's something missing (minor though it may be) from this episode. When Adama leaves to track down Roslin and the TOA, he knows it'll take hours or days before they reach their goal. But only one raptor heads down to the planet. Why, when the fleet has to watch its supplies carefully, does he not send ships down to do a quick harvest of whatever is useful from Kobol? Couldn't the fleet scan for surface deposits of useful ores and send mining ships down to do some quick stripmining? For the miners especially, by now they've got to be used to get-in, get-out missions when the fleet has a couple of minutes in whatever star system they're hunkered down in. What about asking around to see if any ships are equipped to do some clear-cut logging? The fleet is still using paper (for printouts and toilet paper, among other things), and even with recycling, there's no harm in increasing the supply. It was mentioned in an earlier episode that there are birds singing in the forest... that means life is thriving (several thousand years after whatever nameless disaster beset the planet) and they'd be irresponsible not to send a raptor and a transport out to look for open grassland, find whatever herd beasts are running around, gun them down by the thousand, and take them back up to the freezer ships so the refugees of the fleet might actually have something to eat down the road. Sure, it would mean spreading the ships out, which might make them more vulnerable to Cylon attack, but that's what raptors and vipers and emergency jump coordinates with spooled-up FTL drives are for. The fleet's either gonna be vulnerable just drifting in orbit, or vulnerable gathering much-needed provisions. It would have been a small thing for Adama on his way out the door to tell Gaeta to organize a quick harvest, but the writers dropped the ball on that one.

But they did keep up their high standard of writing great character moments. Adama having to talk about the difficulty of feeling anything other than rage was interesting to watch. He's a man who has to keep tight control of himself in order to maintain control of his ship, and his words and careful painting of his model show just how much effort he's putting into it. That control issue erupts on Kobol when he sees Sharon, and he loses it, but in the end, in the showdown outside the TOA, it's back in place - if barely - and that shows his capacity for growth. He may still hate Sharon, but he's able to overcome his rage enough to realize that it would be wrong to kill her.

It's also notable that Adama chooses D as his confessor. Apollo and Starbuck aren't there, but he doesn't choose Tigh, his oldest friend, who supposedly is there for him to confide in. So why D? Maybe she's right when she says he might have picked her because she doesn't say much. Maybe it's because she's of such a lower rank that he never sees her outside of the CIC (and inside she's just one of the crowd fulfilling tasks much like the computers and other equipment), and so there's an element of anonymity or forgetability to her - he can say what he wants and not really have to look her in the eye again. But good on D for holding him to account, for saying what needed to be said to kick Adama into taking responsibility for his part in the split and spurring him towards fixing things.

The real tragedy, of course, is that this is a moment that sets an unfortunate tone for D for the rest of the series - she becomes someone who others confide in (Adama now, Apollo later) but for whatever reason, she doesn't feel that she has anyone to talk to. We never see D unburdening herself to anyone, and it's likely this is a contributing factor in her eventual suicide. She carries the weight of everyone else's problems on top of her own, and feels alone. Isolation, even amidst the crowded refugee conditions, is a major theme across the entire BSG series.

For Tom Zarek, the trip to Kobol was telling in that it revealed that while he's ambitious and untrustworthy, he's not stupid. As much as he dislikes Roslin, he knows killing her would be a mistake. And he knows that once Adama shows up, the game's over - at least for now. He may have given up on the idea of becomming the new commander, of being the real power behind the throne, but we've already got the sense from his actions in other episodes that Zarek knows how to play a long game, and just like a fleet-wide case of IBS, he'll be back. Gotta wonder too about the final goodbye with his henchman. It was very intimate. Makes me wonder if they were more than just friends. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but if it's true, then it certainly shows another side to him, one that may be capable of relationships (if only relationships where he's the acknowledged boss).

Roslin, for the most part, remains pretty consistent. She's still always thinking about how to manipulate people to get what she wants (note that she'll talk about her goals until she's blue in the face, and pull every resource around her into getting them, but she won't even give consideration to Starbuck's request to rescue the survivors on Caprica), and she's still utterly untrustworthy. Promising that Sharon would be safe if everyone would put their guns down, then promptly ordering her flushed out the airlock shows that. Roslin doesn't even take a minute to think that maybe, having been around Sharon for months, Helo might be on to something - or that Helo's opinion of Sharon might be corroborated by Starbuck. She makes a promise of convenience and then dumps it as quickly as she would a Cylon prisoner. I will give her a huge amount of credit on one account though... when she and Adama are having their heart-to-heart, Roslin does some series self-reflecting and wonders if it was a mistake to leave the Colonies, if they ought to have stayed and fought. Quite a refreshing change for a person who's normally so determined to get her way and move forward with her agenda. Call it self-doubt or second-guessing, but there's a respectable amount of self-reflection going on there, and it's a sign of a bit of growth as a person.

For Sharon, this episode is (these episodes are) a real demonstration of how genuine her love for Helo is. She's willing to help the Colonials, even though Roslin has already tried to throw her out of an airlock and threatened the lives of her lover and her child, and even though Adama tries to choke her to death. At any point on Kobol, she could have left the Colonials to fend for themselves. She certainly didn't have to help them defeat the Cylons in the ambush, nor did she have to set-up and take-down Zarek's buddy, thwarting his assassinatin plan. She could have snagged Helo and disappeared into the wild woods of Kobol to live a-la Tarzan, rather than sticking around for an uncertain future of imprisonment and possibly death. Considering what happens to her over the rest of season 2, it might have made more sense to slip away and remain behind. And even if we put aside the fact that she becomes a respected member of the fleet family later in the series, if we just stick to what we know based on seasons 1 and 2, it's clear that she's not sticking around as part of a Cylon espionage plan because there isn't much intelligence to be gathered or mayhem to wreak in a brig, especially with the very real possibility of execution, given Roslin's penchant for lying.

In the end, having the road to Earth laid out for them, the Colonials leave their (most recent) mother planet behind them, and in doing so, the writers leave the audience with a lot of unanswered questions about the mysteries of Kobol and what happened to its civilization.

"Final Cut" puts BSG in the position of following some other long-running series, in that at some point it hits the magic, indeterminant threshhold where the writers, in an attempt to shake things up, do a documentary/media POV episode. The earliest example I can think of was MASH, but certainly in the world of SF, Babylon 5 did it (a couple of times, in fact) and I suspect there have been others. At any rate, it makes for a very tightly-focussed episode that gives us deep, if quick, looks at what's going on in the hearts of a number of Galactica's crew members. It was also a nice way to reveal another Cylon model, D'Anna Beers, played with zest by Lucy Lawless (why are all the female Cylons hot? I'm not complaining, I'm just saying. In fact, I seem to remember Kandyse McClure, who plays D, making a joke to that effect in an interview once). Ultimately, all the revelations that occur are entirely beside the point, the entire exercise is just a cover for the real intent of D'Anna, to gain intelligence on Sharon's condition and report back to the Cylons. She's running a deep-cover operation, which is what the Cylons do well. What a sneaky, yet satisfying way to end the episode.

The flaw in this episode, or, more to the point, with the writing of the overall series, is that "Final Cut" is where Six comes out of the closet as an angel. On one hand, it finally puts to bed (pun only partially intended) the whole question of the mind-frak she's been pulling on Baltar all along. The Vice-President isn't mad, and he doesn't have a Cylon chip in his head. He's being visited by some sort of non-corporeal servant of some mysterious entity that's allegedly a deity. But on the other hand, this revelation contradicts many of the things imaginary Six has said to Baltar - statements as have been noted in previous postings very clearly label her as some sort of Cylon or Cylon product - some of which she came out with just a couple of episodes ago. A really dumb shift in direction on the part of the writers and producers in what has otherwise been a superbly crafted series.

Onward to Earth.
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