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Following the stars on Battlestar Galactica

“I want you to die.”

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Battlestar Galactica

"Home, Part 2"

Season 2 , Episode 7

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Battlestar Galactica

"Final Cut"

Season 2 , Episode 8

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“Home, Part 2” (season 2, episode 7; originally aired 8/26/2005)

“Home, Part 2” is the episode where Meier dies. This is not a big event. Much as I love character actor James Remar, he hasn’t been on the show long enough to make a huge impression; mostly he’s there to give us some insight into what Zarek is planning when the others aren’t looking. He dies because he thinks he can manipulate Sharon into turning on Lee and the others, a plan that Zarek throws by the wayside when Adama shows up. Sharon, realizing that she needs to do something to convince the others that she isn’t a Cylon sleeper agent, goes along with Meier’s plot just long enough to reveal that plot to the rest of the group. Then she shoots Meier, explains herself to Adama, and hands over the gun.

The scene isn’t really about Meier himself—again, he’s just a tool here, this time as a way for Sharon to build some incremental trust with Adam. (Who isn’t all that happy to see her, for obvious reasons.) But as Meier lies dying, he tells Zarek, “Just wanted to see you get your due.” It’s a small moment, but a telling one, I think. At its best, this is a show that allows everyone their viewpoint; no one is a complete villain, no one is made a monster just because stories need monsters to make things happen. Meier isn’t someone I’m going to miss, and no one would mention him in a top twenty (or top fifty) list of Battlestar Galactica’s best characters. But in that one moment, we realize that he was trying, in his limited, doomed way, to achieve something greater than himself. On his terms, he was almost noble.

This matters to me more than “Home”’s deep (or deep-ish) dive into its own mythology. Roslin is on Kobol to find the Tomb of Athena, and, via the tomb, uncover the location of Earth. This more or less happens. After some drama and some bodies, our heroes find the tomb; Starbuck uses the arrow she brought back from Caprica; and she, Roslin, Adama, and Lee are given a vision of Earth, and the clues on how to find it. Each of the 12 colonies shares a name with an Earth constellation, and the symbol of each of those colonies matches up with the constellation of the same name.

That’s cool, and the constellations and star systems that Starbuck and the rest see in their vision is a clever way to provide concrete information while still leaving things up in the air. Our heroes have clues, but they don’t have a map, so the search continues.

Still, while I remember being eager to find Earth the first time I watched the series, it’s not the primary reason to watch the show; nor, at least for me, is the exposition about the 12 colonies and the mysticism that sometimes binds these people together, and sometimes drives them apart. For right now, there’s enough ambiguity and awe to keep these elements from becoming tiresome, but it’s a difficult balance to walk, and one that the writers don’t always manage it. The problem with mysticism is that it reduces characters from individuals with agency to passive figures working within a system we can’t see or understand. It’s especially frustrating on a show like this where character choice (and our empathy with what drives those decisions) is so central to what makes it engaging.

The best parts of “Home, Part 2,” then, are the parts that focus on people. Seeing Adama reunite with the others is just as satisfying as you might imagine, and made all the more powerful because there’s no pretense of forced conflict. Adama and Roslin quickly settle in to the dynamic that will define their relationship: two fiercely proud and determined people who respect each other deeply, even as they are often at odds. The exchange where Adama forgives Roslin for her actions, and she tells him she didn’t ask for forgiveness, and he tells her she has it anyway, is everything you need to know about the two of them together. Having made his decision to get the band back together, Adama doesn’t waste time on squabbling.

Things aren’t entirely peaceful, though. As calm as he is, Adama isn’t perfect, and the sight of Sharon pushes him over the edge. Edward James Olmos does an amazing job of conveying both Adama’s serenity and his rage in a way that makes them both connected—his attack on Sharon isn’t a break so much as an extension of the mental state that allowed him to be so open in the first place. Intense trauma strips away a person’s defenses. Adama may be less rigid than he has been in the past, and more willing to bend to maintain what’s really important, but he’s also more vulnerable. The stoicism that seemed to define him at the start of the series has slipped, and what’s left is the deep compassion that’s always been there. But it’s a compassion that isn’t entirely stable.

“Home, Part 2” finds time for effective character moments even as it pushes forward the larger plot. Even as Adama and Roslin are mending their fences, Sharon is struggling with the knowledge that the other Sharon was shot and killed, and her assassin was let off with a light sentence. There’s some ambiguity as to whether or not the current Sharon is going to take matters into her own hands, and it’s a reminder of how difficult it still is to parse the Cylons’ motives. They’re genocidal monsters, but they aren’t just genocidal monsters. They have goals, but those goals are still largely obscured.

Which brings us to the only plotline that takes place off of Kobol: Gaius Baltar’s crisis of faith. I don’t think I ever realized before just how much Baltar’s conversations with the imaginary (?) Six work as a metaphor for religious belief, but this week, Six brings that metaphor into direct focus. After some of their usual sparing, with Baltar once again going off on the impossibility of his situation, Six changes out of her usual sexy outfits to sweats and a T-shirt, and tells him that she isn’t real. There never was a chip in his brain, and this entire time, her presence in his life is just a symptom of a brain divided in on itself, guilt-ridden over his inadvertent betrayal of the human race.

Faith is belief without proof, and, as Baltar eventually discovers, Six is telling the truth: there is absolutely no proof that his brain has anything in it beyond the usual gray matter. The conversations between the two of them have been a slow conversion process, Six prodding and pushing Baltar from his self-serving cynicism towards a belief in something larger, and this latest turn seems like just another step in the process. Once again, she forces him to question one of his basic assumptions, and once again, after he’s rattled and confused, he gets a sign that maybe something is going on; namely, he hears Helo and Sharon talking about their baby, which, to Six, is the baby Six has been prophecizing to Baltar since last season.

I’m not sure all of this makes complete sense—it’s hard to tell sometimes if Cylon inscrutability is an intentional artistic choice or just the result of the writers hedging their bets—but it works in a way that doesn’t necessarily need to make sense, at least not for now. The live-wire feeling of possibility that drives the show is one where strict narrative coherence is sometimes exchanged for intimation and portent. But as long as the characters themselves remain consistent, as long as their behavior makes sense, the madness that surrounds them will remain more intriguing than infuriating.

Stray observations

  • “We know more about your religion than you do.” -Sharon, pointing out the obvious
  • Early in the episode, during a terrific montage that shows Roslin’s group pressing forward as Adama and his crew work out where to find them, Roslin finds wet pages with blood on them. I’m assuming these were from Elosha, but it’s a great visual regardless.
  • Meier’s death also covers the blood cost of Adama’s group arriving on Kobol, more or less.
  • “Farther describes actual distance, further is more figurative.” -Sharon is also an expert in language.
  • “Freaking hypochondriac. One on every ship.” I can’t be the only one who wishes we had a Doc Cottle spin-off, right?
  • “To what end?” “To the end of the human race.” Well, that’s nice.

“Final Cut” (season 2, episode 8; originally aired 9/9/2005)

My fiancee is watching Battlestar Galactica for the first time as I’m reviewing it, and due to a scheduling conflict, she ended up seeing this episode without me. When I got home and asked her about it, she said she’d enjoyed it, and I mentioned how great Lucy Lawless is, and how fun it is to have her on the show. “Yes,” my fiancee said, “but she’s a Cylon.”

I remember having a similar reaction to “Final Cut” the first time I saw it. At this point, having seen the whole run, the surprise is gone; I know who the Cylons are, right down to the mysterious “Final Five” (whom I won’t have much time to talk about, which might be for the best), and the pleasure/horror of discovering someone I’d come to trust was actually a robot in disguise is gone. Cylon identities don’t even seem like that big a deal anymore, and while I’m glad I know what’s coming, I do miss the paranoia and shock that were such a major element of my first experience with the show.

Advanced knowledge also changes how “Final Cut” plays out. It’s still a good episode regardless, but now, I spent most of the time trying to figure out what D’Anna Biers (Lawless) was trying to accomplish with her full access pass to the Galactica. Was she sowing discontent? Trying to lull the troops into a false sense of security? Heightening the paranoia?

It turns out she was actually just there for intel, and for the unexpected but critical thirty seconds of video that showed Cottle working on Sharon’s baby. I don’t think this last was part of the plan—as the non-Galactica Sharon says at the end, they ddn’t even know if the Galactica Sharon was still alive—but the idea that the Cylons have a handful of their own still under deep cover, wandering around the fleet and keeping an eye on everyone, makes a lot of sense. It especially makes sense that they’d have a reporter embedded on the scene, so to speak.

But fixating on that final reval does a disservice to the rest of the hour, which does a fine job of re-establishing the status quo while reminding us just how unstable that the situation is. Biers is granted full access by Adama and Roslin as an attempt to head off her efforts to publicize the Gideon Massacre, and she uses that access (sometimes to a slightly improbable degree) to film the crew of the Galactica at their best and worst and in-between.

The result is a bit like a palate cleanser, a back-to-basics entry after a lot of character conflict and mythology work. Kobol isn’t mentioned here, nor is the search for Earth, and while the Cylons remain a presence, they’re relegated to the mysterious enemy that they were at the start of the series, rather than the mysterious enemy who is also semi-mystical and baby-obsessed. Up until the very end, “Final Cut” is more about the effect the Cylons have had on the humans than it is about the Cylons themselves, and while the discovery that the Galactica crew is on edge won’t surprise anyone, it helps to maintain the intensity that serves as one of the series’ defining traits.

That tension expresses itself in two storylines: the threats on Tigh’s life, and Kat bottoming out on stims. The latter helps to inform the former by giving a specific example of a larger trend. None of the soldiers on the Galactica are getting enough sleep, all of them are under extreme stress. Kat’s fight with the chief, and her breakdown while piloting a Viper, don’t really tell us much about her as a character (the non-Starbuck and Lee pilots on this show tend to blend together a bit at times), but it does show us a worse case scenario for everyone’s mental state. Just because others are holding it together better doesn’t mean they aren’t under similar pressures, which helps to explain the reveal at the end that the person responsible for the threats on Tigh is one of the marines involved with the Gideon massacre.

Honestly, it’s not that big of surprise. Starbuck jokes about being a prime suspect on the case, even quoting the poem that was written on Tigh’s mirror, but this sort of attack isn’t her style, no matter how much she might delight in Tigh’s discomfort. Having the Cylons stooping to focus on a single person would be unusual, and even then, they tend to work more out in the open. Sharon shoot Adama, and one of the Sixes tried to frame Baltar, but both of these were direct, and obvious, attacks. Waging psychological warfare on such a limited scale would’ve been an unusual, and arguably pointless, step for them. (If they’re trying to undermine the fleet, far better for Tigh to stay in a position of power where he can be despised.)

That leaves someone related to the Gideon massacre, which means it was either a civilian or a marine, and it’s unlikely that a civilian would’ve had this kind of access. Besides, we hardly ever deal with civilians on BSG. One of the most initially striking aspects of “Final Cut” is how it seems to give us a glimpse of a world outside of military and politics we’ve spent most of our time with so far. Biers is a reporter, and the story is told in large part through her eyes and from her perspective. The discovery that she’s a Cylon, while terrific for various other reasons, is a little disappointing in that it means that we haven’t gone beyond our narrative comfort zone after all. Much of the concern of the hour is based around how the rest of the fleet is responding to the massacre, and how Biers’ initial report could’ve flamed the fires of resentment and rebellion in the non-military survivors. But we don’t actually deal with any of those civilians except as a concept, and a problem.

That could be intentional, though. Our protagonists are all people who have to face the Cylon crisis every day, and part of the point of the show is to demonstrate how tragedy comes about when well-intentioned but flawed individuals make difficult decisions. A look at how the civilians are coping could be effective, but the stakes and intensity would be drastically lower. Here, we see people facing death every minute of their lives, and going back and fighting no matter what. Biers’ final video lays it on a bit thick, but there is some fundamental truth in what she shows. Strip away the rhetoric about how the soldiers of the Galactica keep giving it their all, you have a story of people pushing themselves beyond their limits. We tend to view this as noble idea, but maybe that’s just because we have to.

Stray observations

  • Tigh is not very sympathetic to the soldier that attacks him and his wife: “Gideon was an accident. This is a choice.” I’m not sure how much I believe that, but Tigh clearly does, and his belief helps explain his behavior in the episode.
  • For all the talk in the previous episode about Baltar’s Six being nothing more than a figment of his imagination, she seems to catch on to Biers before anyone else does. Maybe it’s just Baltar’s ego wanting the attention (and his efforts to get interviewed without ever showing how much he wants to be interviewed are hilarious), but Six’s immediate “She can help us” might suggest that she knows too much to be imaginary. (I legitimately don’t remember if they ever explain this one way or the other, so no spoilers here.)
  • “Final Cut” also gives us a little more info on some secondary characters. We learn Dee was estranged from her father, and that Gaeta doesn’t know anything beyond the military.
  • I love how happy the other Sharon is to find out the pregnant Sharon is still alive.