Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Blogging Battlestar - Resistance Is Futile

At times, it felt like I was watching Red Dawn again during tonight's Battlestar Galactica rewatch. Sure, there was an absence of pre-Dirty Dancing Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in this dance with bullets, but the whole notion of a sports team mounting a guerilla offensive against an overwhelming force of invaders was just too close to be a coincidence. Not that I have a problem with it - one of the many enjoyable aspects of the writing of this series is the unabashed willingness to make allusions to pop culture - love-letters, if you will, to Hollywood fare of the past couple of decades. But on the reviews...

In "Resistance", Helo and Starbuck link up with Anders and his teammates from the Caprica Buccaneers and it isn't too long before the undercover angel and the amnesiac Cylon have stars in their eyes when they look at each other. It's a relationship that you just know is going to be trouble, and over the life of the series, I think the writers did a great job of playing out how much trouble Anders and Starbuck will be for each other, and yet in spite of this, maintaining their love from one another (even though Starbuck also loves Apollo). In their own way, they're as messed-up as Tigh and Ellen, and as fated for tragedy and regret. But at this point, it's the rapid development of attraction between two people who live fast and recognize this in one-another, and both actors do a convincing job of pulling this off.

Aboard Galactica, Tigh's control continues to unravel as ships of the fleet begin to refuse to resupply the military, Roslin plans - and eventually executes - an escape (with the help of Tom Zarek, no less!), and Ellen bullies him for not being strong enough. There may be a small part of Tigh that does actually want to be in charge - the part that makes rash, hard-ass decisions when fuelled by alcohol and pushed by Ellen. But for the most part, the Colonel knows he's not cut out for absolute command and he isn't happy holding it. Because of this, he's constantly afraid of making mistakes, and it's when he's running scared that he's most likely to frak up.

And speaking of frakked up, Cali is another character on the edge these days. There have always been glimpses that she's got what appears to be a crush on the Chief, but now she shows herself to be ferociously in love with him, to the point where she'll do anything to protect and avenge him. I've said before that I have a tough time understanding why she'd blackmail Baltar, threaten to expose the fact that he killed Crashdown on Kobol. Yeah, she's willing to leverage anything at hand to save the Chief from being imprisoned in the brig and suspected of being a Cylon (even though, unbeknownst to everyone -probably, at this point, even the writers - he IS a toaster!), but you think she'd see how obvious it is that it would be tough to get Baltar into any real kind of trouble. As Baltar himself pointed out, he saved her life. And Cali isn't stupid. That's what makes her blackmail threat a bit of a stretch as far as the writing of the episode goes. But I guess the writers could rest on the crutches of love having the ability to make people blind, in this case, making Cali blind to everything except getting the Chief out. She's so single-minded that even when the Chief is cleared, Cali is still driven to kill Boomer. Is this youth? Is it the pressure of everything that's happened since the holocaust getting to her? Maybe some of both, but probably also an overdose of the protectiveness that goes with love - supercharged to the point where she'd do anything to avenge the hurt and injustice that the man she loves has gone through because of Boomer, even if Cali has never really had the Chief for herself.

During Cali and Baltar's conversation, we're privy to another piece of dialogue from Six that undermines the later efforts of the writers to make her into an angel rather than some sort of Cylon program or manifestation of mental illness. Here we see Six get quite upset about the racist term "toaster" that Cali uses, even to the point where she insists Baltar admonish Cali for using it. Would an angel, representing a deity that allegedly doesn't take sides, really care about vocabulary tossed around under pressure? I doubt it. This bit also reminded me of a scene in tghe previous episode, "Fragged", where Six talks about humanity's capacity for murder, and Baltar responds that the Cylons have done a good job of killing as well, and Six responds to the effect of "you taught us well". Us? So she is a Cylon. Same as above, an angel wouldn't take sides to the point of using "us", meaning herself included among the Cylons. Admittedly, this is nitpicking. But it's the growing number of these little inconsistencies - not even inconsistencies at this point in the story, because it's all quite consistent until the massive shift in direction for this character in the later seasons - that really makes the later efforts to rebrand the imaginary Six as an angel look dumb.

This is an episode where we see another example of how brutal Baltar can be when pursuing his own ends - and an example that again involves Boomer. That's quite a coincidence. It's one of those scenes that reminds us, just when we're tempted to pity Baltar because he doesn't get any respect from Galactica's crew (except for Gaeta, who one friend of mine rightly pointed out has been crushing on Baltar since day 1) just as he doesn't get any from the President, that there's a very vicious side of him that can come out and do a lot of harm, without remorse, if he feels it suits his purposes.

But in this scene, we also see that whatever her Cylon programming, Boomer really does love the Chief. She's willing to expose how many other Cylons are in the fleet (eight - another interesting coincidence, considering her model number) to save him from Baltar's lethal injection. Then again... knowing what we know from the end of the series, that the Chief is one of the revered Final Five Cylons, I'm now wondering if maybe she saved him because there was some ultra-deeply buried part of her program that would do anything to ensure no harm would come to one of the Final Five, even if neither her Boomer cover personality, or her real, hidden Cylon persona, conciously recognized him as such. Hmmmm...

Then there's the return of Adama at the end of the episode. There's still a sense that things are going to get worse before they get better, but at least now there's hope that things have the possibility of getting better.

"The Farm" switches the focus back to Caprica for the most part, where Starbuck has been injured in a Cylon ambush, and initially unbeknownst to her, captured and taken to a Cylon "farm". As she'll eventually discover, this is a facility where Cylons conduct breeding experiments with captured human women. Experiments that keep the women confined and wired to machines. Experiments that, for all the suffering they inflict on the captured women, fail to produce a next generation of Cylons. The site of the bed-ridden women whose sole purpose was to breed experimental offspring reminded me of a description of the "tanks" used by the Tleilaxu to create clones and other biological products, as described in one of the Dune books. Again, this could be a simple coincidence, but the BSG writers seem saavy enough that I don't think so. I think this is a much a nod to Dune as the Anders gang is to Red Dawn.

What's really important about this episode though is the insite we're given into Starbuck's character. Granted, all this is questionable considering she's revealed at the end of the series to be an angel, which could mean that most of her past, including her childhood, is just a fictional memory to pad her personality (much like Rachel in Blade Runner). None the less, real or implanted, the memories of the abuse she suffered as a child are shocking to behold, but also go a long way to explaining her frequently nihilistic, self-destructive personality. You may feel nervous for Starbuck as a captive, but you know that because she's Starbuck, she'll probably escape one way or another. Knowing that she was physically abused as a child though, and seeing her having to be reminded of that, is the real torture at work in the hospital. And it takes only one scene to paint that grim picture.

The episode also introduces us to another Cylon model, the doctor. While this character plays a reletively minor role throughout the series, he's important in that he provides another personality to the Cylon mix, one that's rational, cautious and generally compassionate. As a Cylon, we'd be tempted to call him one of the bad guys. But this is a show where simple distinctions like that just don't work. Certainly what he's doing on the farm is horrible, but seperated from his job, he's basically a nice guy. The BSG universe shows that yet again, it is a place of infinite shades of grey.

Back at the fleet, Adama may be back in charge, but not of every ship. Roslin is still running the show for many of the refugees, albeit from a meat locker, and we see more of how far she'll go to maintain that control. One can't help but note how she was very quick to play the religeous card in calling on the ships of the fleet to follow her to Kobol, and yet she's quite uncomfortable when some of the prisoners aboard the Astral Queen kneel and wait for her blessing. The fact that she balks at really playing the role of a religeous figure when it's right in front of her, but is willing to play on people's faith when she's sending a message over the wireless to split the fleet - thereby putting all of the people aboard the seperatist ships in danger since they will be without Galactica's protection in a region of space frequented by Cylons who by now must be aware of hostile activity - shows what a cynical, calculating politician she really is. She'll use religeon to suit her purposes, but initially shying away from being the prophet who delivers blessings shows that really, truely, deep down, she doesn't believe. Admittedly though, it would have been worse if she would have readily stepped right into the blessing with an easy smile, because that would have shown her to be a dangerous egomaniac. As it is, she may be manipulative and determined to stay in power, but she hasn't completly lost her mind. It may sound like I'm rabidly against Roslin. I'm not. I think she's a prime example of the brilliance of the BSG writers, and Mary McDonnell's acting, in creating a well-rounded character - one who is neither sickly sweet nor abjectly evil, but rather a complex human being who can be quite likeable and charming, but also driven, determined, cunning, and ruthless as her inclinations and circumstances dictate. If I'm hard on her from time to time, it's because I'd hold any real politician to the same account.

At her side is Apollo, who, despite his tendency to switch sides, is at the core a reletively consistent personality. He always tries to do the right thing. And as Roslin's team martials their efforts to convince the ships of the fleet to join them in ditching Galactica for Kobol and the road to Earth, Apollo refuses to engage in maligning Adama in front of their entire civilization. He may not agree with everything Adama has done, but in the end Apollo won't completely turn against his father.

In the end, Roslin leaves with nearly a third of the fleet.

And with that, I'll leave off tonight's installment of Blogging Battlestar.

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