Sunday, August 29, 2010

Blogging Battlestar: Taking a Bullet, Taking Control, and Taking a Cut

It's been a little while, but the BSG rewatch is back. Tonight's review includes "Sacrifice", "The Captain's Hand", and "Razor".

We've seen terrorist groups in Battlestar Galactica before - the first bunch was bound and determined to force Adama and Roslin to make peace with the Cylons. In "Sacrifice", it's the other end of the spectrum kicking in, with a gang led by a high-strung, determined widow (hats off to Dana Delaney for doing a supremely convincing job in this role as a person who's lost a loved-one and is desparate to find someone to blame because that gives meaning to their life - I've known people like this, though not quite as violent, and with her portrayal, Delaney could have been one of them) taking over the bar aboard Cloud Nine. The terrorists get more than they bargained for though, as Ellen Tigh is among the crowd, along with the tragic love triangle of Apollo, Dee, and Billy. The ransome demand is simple: the hostages get to live if Adama hands over Sharon. The widow wants the Cylon dead, and wants to do the job herself. Things get ugly when Adama sends in Starbuck and the marines, and when he's eventually forced to comply, his solution of sending in the body of Boomer, rather than the live Sharon, forces a shootout that leaves Billy dead.

This is an episode that gives great dramatic moments to the secondary characters as well as the regular leads. Tigh worries over Ellen, Ellen does her usual postering and simpering combo, Starbuck is wracked with guilt over shooting Apollo, Adama has some good quiet moments where he tries to come to terms with his feelings about Sharon and their relation to Boomer's betrayal, and Roslin has a really touching moment when she comes to visit Billy's body, showing us how much he meant to her, like he was a son. I've levelled some tough criticism against Roslin before, but the scene in the morgue shows what a well-rounded character she is, and how, in some circumstances, she's likeable and vulnerable. But the real performances to watch are those of Dee and Billy. In the love triangle, Apollo isn't really that interesting. He's vaguely embarassed when Billy shows up, but apart from that, he's pretty self-absorbed. It's clear that Dee is a pleasant diversion to Apollo, someone who lets him take his mind off of the huge pile of angst he nurses on a regular basis. But Dee is clearly in love with him - or at least, in love with what he represents to him: the wounded hero who she'll bring back to wellness and happiness and in doing so get him to fall in love with her. Or, at least, that's the plan. But there's Billy to contend with. Dee doesn't mean him any harm - you can see she still likes him. It's just that she doesn't love him. And when she looks at him, there's just pity. And you can see that Billy sees that. For him, this is the worst kind of closure you could ask for. Sure, she's already told him it's not going to work out, but this is one hell of a way to drive home the point. And you can tell that Billy knows that because it's Apollo, he's got no chance of winning Dee back. And yet... and yet... as the hostage situation heats up, Billy starts coming up with a plan. Dee knows what Billy's thinking and tries to warn him off, but Billy stays focussed and waits to make his move. Part of it, and this is what Dee's picking up on, is Billy thinking that if he can pull off the toughguy routine and help put down the terrorists, he'll show Dee that he's as macho as Apollo and maybe win her back - 'cause it's toughguys that get the chicks, not the niceguys, right? At least, that's what's going through his hurt mind. But it's also a "well, fuck it." state of mind for Billy. He's lost the girl he loves, been fucked over in a messy kinda way in fact, and he's kind of distantly aware of the danger, but just doesn't care any more. He's a survivor of a genocide, he's had to put up with ten kinds of political shit every day, he does all the backbreaking work for the president and there's no end in sight, and now he's lost his woman to a superhero. Billy is a man who just doesn't give a damn anymore, and he's figuring that he'll take his chances trying to do something to stop the badguys, rather than taking his chances just sitting doing nothing. You know that with these two states of mind possessing him, nothing good can happen. And that's exactly what happens. When the hostage situation comes to its explosive close and Billy gets killed, we see Dee take her first step towards a really dark place. Clearly she's instantly feeling guilty, thinking that if she hadn't dumped him, or at the very least, if she hadn't been caught with Apollo, maybe the nice guy would be alive. She still wouldn't be with him, but maybe he'd be alive. You can see that she'll blame herself for this for the rest of her life. Which is why she clings to Apollo even harder. Sure, she was enfatuated with Apollo before, but now she absolutely needs him with every fibre of her being, because if she doesn't have him, then she'll be alone with only her guilt over Billy's death for company. The tragedy is that if Billy had not died, my bet is that Dee would eventually have gotten over Apollo. I don't think she would have gone back to Billy either. But I do get the sense that she would eventually have snapped out of her crush on Apollo, made the mature realization that her patient love would not be the cure for his angst, and would have realized that there's no way she could compete with his conflicted desire for Starbuck. It would have been painful, but like Martha Jones taking a deep breath and strengthening her resolve and walking away from Doctor Who, Dee would have moved on. But Billy's death prevents that from happening. It puts Dee on a course to be a hanger-on for Apollo for far too long, having way too much crap and way too little genuine love heaped on her shoulders, driving her deeper into depression and contributing significantly to her eventual suicide. Even when this episode originally aired and we didn't know about everything that Dee would have to put up with over the course of the series, we could tell that this evening, where she inadvertantly hurt him before his death - where she thinks she sent him to his grave hurting - would deeply wound Dee in ways that would probably have a profound effect. This is an episode that lets us see how real the lives are of the little people in Battlestar Galactica.

"The Captain's Hand" is about taking control of people's lives. We're introduced to Commander Garner, the former chief engineer aboard the Pegasus who Adama has promoted and given Apollo as second-in-command and Starbuck as CAG. While Garner may be someone who could give Scotty a run for his money in the engine room, he's a terrible commander. Garner is a micro-manager, is resentful of pilots and combat officers, believes in isolating non-Pegasus crew, has no battle command experience, and thinks people ought to behave like machines. It's a combination that chafes Starbuck and Apollo, and puts his ship in danger when he unwisely sets off to rescue a pair of missing raptors. What's significant about the Pegasus end of the plot is that it's the first time Apollo steps into command of an entire battlestar (rather than the air group or only worrying about himself in his own viper) and begins his short career in the captain's chair.

Meanwhile, Roslin's faced with a tough dilemma having to decide who has control over the life of an unborn child - the mother or the state. Roslin's strongly in favour of a woman's right to choose what happens with her own body, but is confronted with mounting political pressure from the Gemenon contingent (people from a devoutly religious colony that backed her for being the leader mentioned in the Pithian prophecies) and the stark reality that the population needs to start increasing in order to prevent the extinction of the human race. It's a hard as hell position to be in, and while I've been tough on Roslin in the past, I really felt for her in this situation. She's clearly putting a lot of thought into what has to be done and the price she'll pay for either decision. In the end, she eliminates a woman's right to choose (not a decision I'd agree with) and is then politically ambushed by Baltar at the press conference announcing her decision. Masterfully played by Baltar, who may or may not believe what he's saying, but is really jamming the knife in her back in retribution for her attempt to squeeze him out of office when she decided she didn't need him anymore, and most especially for her condescending letter she left for him when she was dying. The real question is whether Roslin realizes that this is coming as payback, or if she tries to ascribe some deeper, more sinister ulterior motive to his manouever (given that during her delirium she remembered seeing Baltar with Six at the Caprica market).

This episode is also significant for introducing Tory - Roslin's new hard-as-nails assistant and someone who's eventually revealed to be one of The Final Five. Nothing much to say about her at this point as she's simply presented as a super-efficient, keen, cunning political player. No tortured moping or split personality treachery like previous sleeper Cylons.

And that takes us to "Razor". Nothing really to add at this point - it's a great installment in the series, and my analysis can be read in a piece I wrote a few years ago called Distorted Reflections in a Razor.

More episodes of BSG to come.
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