Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Blogging Battlestar: Giving and Taking & Longshots

In this Battlestar Galactica rewatch we're closing out season 2 with "Downloaded" and "Lay Down Your Burdens" parts 1&2.

In "Downloaded", Caprica Six (the model who seduced Baltar back in the Colonies to gain access to the defence systems, and who fell in love with him in the process) is resurrected and promptly enlisted by D'Anna Biers (who appears to be in a position of leadership among the Cylons) to reach out to Boomer, who has isolated herself since her own resurrection as she struggles to reconcile her cover human life with her true nature. When Anders and his guerillas bomb the building the three Cylon women are in, they're trapped in an underground parkade with him. That's when the truth comes out, that Caprica and Boomer share a desire to make peace with humanity, and that D'Anna's been planning to scrap both of them all along because of their sympathies, and the possibility that these feelings have made them less-Cylon, but mostly because their status as heroes among their race gives them more influence than she has.

It's a fascinating study of not only the human natures of these ostensibly inhuman people, but of their awareness of this and honesty about it. None of them behaves like the dispassionate machines they're descended from and are supposed to be. Boomer, who has refused to reintegrate with Cylon society, for all her raging about identity, seems to have most successfully integrated her new human emotions into her Cylon personality. In fact, her rant in her apartment about what part of her is real shows that she is the most honest of them - she acknowledges that her human feelings are real, even if they were originally only a programmed cover, and that they are a meaningful part of her. Caprica has human feelings as well, but has a tougher time with them. She yearns for Baltar, but knows that a good Cylon shouldn't. Because of this, she's very careful about hiding them from the prying D'Anna, only admitting to having a little difficulty getting used to her new body. But Caprica eventually embraces this new development in her personality when she bludgeons D'Anna and proposes that Boomer join her in convincing the other Cylons to start down a new path of peace. For her part, D'Anna never admits to being anything but Cylon, even as she displays some of the worst aspects of humanity: she displays brutality and cruelty as she toys with Anders, she's manipulative and power-hungry when dealing with her fellow Cylons, and is envious of the influence that Caprica and Boomer have the potential to wield, and schemes to "box" them forever, no matter how much they might commit to the Cylon cause.

During his imprisonment in the garage, Anders experiences not so much a revelation as a slowly dawning suspicion that there might be more to the Cylons than anyone has previously suspected, and that they might not be the souless, absolute enemies that he'd believed them to be. It's almost a pity that he wasn't trapped down there alone with Caprica and Boomer longer. I have to wonder if they'd have been able to have enough of a dialogue to come to the understanding that it would be better if the Cylons just left the humans the hell alone, rather than attempt some sort of reconcilliation and life of moving forward together - which is exactly the course of action the Six and the Eight convince the other Cylons to take; one that ends in disaster.

Meanwhile, back in the fleet, something inhuman is afoot - and it's not Sharon's birth of Hera. It's Roslin's decision to take the baby away from her mother, and Adama going along with it. I've said it before and I'll say it again, there's a blind, unreasoning viciousness to Roslin's ongoing determination to seperate Sharon from her baby. If the President would have ordered that the Cylon be tossed out an airlock immediately after discovering she was pregnant, it would have been a hard-hearted but possibly defensible position. But in the months since, despite all of the help Sharon has given the fleet, Roslin is still out for blood, ordering the abortion of the baby and only backing off because the child's blood could save the President's own life, and now ordering not only that the child be taken from Sharon, but that the mother be told the baby had died. And all out of some unsubstantiated fear of what unknown horrors a next-generation human-Cylon hybrid might or might not be responsible for. Right. It's vengeance, pure and simple. In Roslin's mind, there can never be enough Cylon blood, a Cylon like Sharon will never be able to do enough good, to atone for the genocide of the Colonial people. There is no foregiveness or forethought in Roslin's heart. Even when it comes to the boundless potentials of a baby. Pretty scary attitude and narrowmindedness to have for a leader of humanity, and an aweful responsibility to foist upon the tiny shoulders of an infant when that leader is also a teacher - someone who is supposed to be able to see the inifinite potentials that children represent. And her excuse for the deception and kidnapping ('cause that's what it is, folks) is that the baby is important to the Cylons, so it can't be allowed to stay with Sharon because the Cylons might make a play for it. Yeah. Right. We're supposed to believe that with the fleet's success to date in eluding the Cylons and fending off their attacks, and with Sharon and her baby being kept in a highly secured cell aboard Galactica with Pegasus offering cover nearby that the Cylons are actually going to be able to successfully infiltrate and steal the kid without getting it killed? Sure. And we're supposed to believe Sharon's going to suddenly change sides again after causing the deaths of other Cylons, colluding with the fleet, and even falling in love with a human? Doesn't hold a lot of water.

But I wonder if there's something else terrible at work here... I wonder if Roslin's jealous of Sharon. Roslin is human, but she hasn't had a successful relationship (except for the one that has only newly formed with Adama), she doesn't have any children, and she had terminal cancer. Sharon, on the other hand, is a machine in human form, yet has someone who loves her dearly, strengh, youth, and beauty, and now a child. Sharon's got everything that Roslin doesn't, and with the destruction of the Colonies as her excuse, the President is determined to deprive Sharon of happiness.

It's also pretty aweful to see Adama go along with all this. He's a father, and one who's lost a child at that. You'd think the last thing he'd want to do would be to put Helo through the agony he's had to deal with. And while he may still be uneasy around Sharon because of Boomer's attempt to assassinate him, but even if he wasn't able to ignore his desire for revenge, you'd think the Admiral would bear in mind the old piece of advice about keeping your friends close and your enemies closer. If the child's a potential threat, it makes more sense to keep it locked away securely in a cell with its mother - especially if doing this means he could keep using Sharon as a tactical asset - than it does to send the kid out to be with a civilian in an unarmed ship out among the fleet where it would be more vulnerable to accident or attack than aboard the battlestar. And speaking of assets, you'd think Adama would also be mindful of the potential for the child to be valuable to the fleet's military efforts at some point, since the Cylons seem to put so much stock in the baby's future. In going along with this plan, Adama's being cold-hearted and vengeful, and unforgiveably dumb.

Baltar's got quite the moment in this episode as well, when he's at the conference where Roslin decides that Sharon can't keep her baby. There's genuine worry on his face when he thinks the baby will be killed. And unlike the usual Baltar behaviour, this doesn't seem like self-interest. He actually seems to be concerned for the child. Maybe it's because he's been indoctrinated enough by Angel Six's ramblings about the baby having a grand destiny, or maybe it's simply because Baltar's human enough to appreciate that something terrible is going on.

Great performance by Tamoh Penikett as a father grieving for his (supposedly) dead child while trying to stay strong enough to support his devastated wife and keep up with his duties aboard the ship. And Grace Park does a fantastic job as well as a woman who's devastated at the loss of her child and who can't help but suspect betrayal at the hands of the humans she's tried to help. She paints the perfect picture of rage and righteous indignation that lashes out at everyone, including her husband.

And from taking shots at people, we move on to a story about longshots: "Lay Down Your Burdens" parts 1&2. It's actually a story with three parts though: the rescue and discovery of New Caprica, the election, and the settlement.

I've always been a little curious about the rescue end of the story. Starbuck's been agitating for a bailout of the survivors back in the Colonies ever since Sharon brought her and Helo back from Caprica, and she goes as far as to make the request in the episode "Pegasus". Adama and Roslin turn her down - for very good reasons. What's curious is how LDYB starts off more or less with Starbuck proceeding with the Search And Rescue mission plan, without the audience being told why the higher-ups finally changed their minds. Sure, they've got the Cylon heavy raider's nav computer to guide them - with Sharon's help - but that's a technical advantage, it isn't a reason for Adama & Roslin to change their minds. Why now?

At any rate, Starbuck's got the go-ahead, so, with a band of volunteers and a squadron of raptors, she goes haring off across the galaxy for home. Along the way, one of the ships gets lost and inadvertantly discovers New Caprica, a rainy world that supports plant and animal life and is enshrouded in a nebula that could hide the fleet from prying Cylon eyes. But Starbuck and co manage to reach Colonial space, get to the surface of Caprica and find Anders and his merry men (and women) in the forest. There's a short slugfest with the Cylons before the toasters mysteriously withdraw, and the SAR team and survivors return home to Galactica, with Starbuck reporting there were no other survivors.

Huh?!

She's pinned-down on Caprica for 2 days and she says there are no other survivors on the entire planet or the 11 other Colonial worlds (not counting whatever assorted other settlements there might have been on asteroids, moons, comets our outworlds in neighbouring systems)?! What the frak?! How did she come to that conclusion? She obviously didn't do flyby's of the other Colonies, never mind 11 other detailed searches that would have been required to make a ruling like that - especially since any survivors on the other worlds would, like Anders & co, have been smart enough to dig-in and hide themselves in order to avoid detection by the Cylons. Was she using her "angelic" powers of perception? Is this the Caprican racism that's touched on in the prequel series Caprica? What if you were a survivor on Aerlon or Canceron? Sucks to be you! Then again, who knows? Maybe enough people crawled out of the woodwork on Virgon or Picon to reform their society, and maybe while the people of the fleet decided to go primitive when they called it quits on Earth.2, the survivors back on the Colonies managed to rebuild their societies with the use of their advanced technology without making the mistakes of the past. Who knows? Certainly not Starbuck.

Meanwhile, back aboard the fleet, news of the discovery of New Caprica nearly overshadows the presidential election. While Baltar continues to make small inroads by charging Roslin with being a religeous fanatic, Roslin continues to dominate the polls and thinks she's got the election in the bag. Until, prompted by Angel Six, Baltar and his campaign manager Tom Zarek get a revelation for the winning strategy: play the settlement card. While Roslin sticks with the push to find Earth, Baltar quite wisely capitalizes on the weariness of the people of the fleet - their desire to finally settle down on a habitable planet and make a new life for themselves. And despite Roslin's harping on the threat of Cylons, it's not a bad idea. After all, regardless of what the two Cavils say about peace before being flushed out the airlock, the Cylons have been relentless about hounding the fleet so far, and there's no evidence that they won't continue to do so all the way to Earth. There's no reason to think that Earth will be a haven at all. New Caprica, on the other hand, is hidden within a nebula. Looking at the way the story plays out, if it wasn't for Gina setting off the nuke aboard Cloud Nine (a really dumb move on Baltar's part handing that thing over - how did he think that wouldn't amount to serious trouble? Giving her a bomb wasn't going to get him some kind of revenge against Roslin - it doesn't take a genius, which he is, to see that!) the Cylons might never have found them, and all of the things that had happened before would be free to happen again, and again, and again - this time on New Caprica instead of Earth.2. Does Baltar really care about settling down on this cloudy little planet (it's like a huge version of British Columbia!)? No. It's purely a political tool to gain power. But the difference between the tools used by Baltar and the tactics employed by Roslin is that it's entirely legitimate to play the settlement card. Roslin, on the other hand, has no scruples at all about cheating. Say what you want about Baltar being a bad choice for high office because he's quirky or because he may have been sleeping with the enemy, but we've seen enough of Roslin's character in the past to know that fixing the election isn't just about doing right by the people, or staying on the right path which leads to Earth. Bottom line is that Roslin refuses to give up power. She simply can't see anyone else shepherding humanity to a successful future, and she'll hold onto her rule any way she can. If there's anything redeeming in her character at all, it's that she backs off when Adama confronts her. Even though he appears to make it clear that he's not prepared to unseat her if she allows the fake results to stand, she steps down, apparently, because she doesn't want to lose his respect. That's something at least.

That takes us to part three: life in the new colonial era. Things suck. Humanity's new home is dreary and wet, supplies are running low, there are labour disputes, Galactica is undermanned and in ill repair, and Baltar is a drugged-out, self-absorbed failure as a ruler. But if we step back and take a fair look at the situation on New Caprica before the arrival of the Cylons, it's actually hard to say the attempt to settle there has been a complete failure. Really, how is this any worse than things would have been on Earth.2 after the fleet was deliberately destroyed and the Colonials scattered across it to try their hands at a stoneage life? Baltar's a bad leader? Without a doubt, but don't think for a minute that the various groups of Colonials on Earth.2 didn't have self-absorbed idiots in charge, and more likely a few had bullies and psychos take power before their groups turned on each other or started preying on other bands of Colonials. And they wouldn't have had the benefit of technology to make their settlements a little more liveable like they did on New Caprica.

But amidst the hardship of the settlers' lives, it's interesting to see how everyone has adapted - or tried to adapt. Starbuck as the put-upon wife with the irresponsible, incorrible boy-husband. The Chief as union boss with pregnant little Cali as his enforcer. Apollo as an overweight bureaucrat aboard Pegasus, who's settled for Dee. It all begs the question, are these people no longer who they really are? Or is this what they're really like, because their existence for the past couple of years on the run from the Cylons was such a huge departure from their normal lives?

And then the Cylons show up, the fleet flees, and the Colonials go from being hunted but free, to being ground under the rule of invaders. As the Cylons board Colonial One, it's great to see the looks on the faces of the key players, especially Caprica and Baltar. She's finally got what she wants, but he's highly unnerved at seeing her again, especially after Gina's suicide. I get the sense that during his time on New Caprica he hadn't seen Angel Six at all. Now the Cylon he loves arrives - and he can't be sure which version of her it is - while her companions insist on his surrender under threat of death.

And that takes us, more or less, to the end of season 2.
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