January 23, 2009

Battlestar Galactica: "A Disquiet Follows My Soul"

Well, they can't all be winners right? Truth be told, the second episode of Galactica's final ten had the near impossible task of moving the plot of the show towards its multi-episode endgame while simultaneously servicing the deep emotion of its characters. The resulting "A Disquiet that Follows My Soul", unfortunately, winds up being the worst of both worlds. A show with very little characterization dedicated to the service of very little plot.

There are really only three things at issue in "Disquiet": The rising power of Tom Zarek in the face of a Roslin/Adama administration that has all but completely lost the will to fight; The growing antipathy of Felix Gaeta given the crew of Galactica's willingness to join forces with the Cylon race; and the surprising paternity of ex-Deck Chief Tyrol little baby Nicky. While this last bit of plot is an interesting curiosity, particularly with respect to the Hera question (more on that below), the bulk of the show is really focused on establishing Zarek's rise, Roslin's fall, and Gaeta's state of mind (i.e. the opposite of pro-toaster).

The set up for this likely civil war is the proposal by the rebel Cylons (Six's, Leoben's, and Eights) to give superior FTL technology to the fleet in exchange for a seat on the Quorum (a 13th seat...fitting I would say). While Adama and Roslin are inclined to agree to the offer, Zarek uses his position as de-facto head of the Quorum to characterize Adama/Roslin's endorsement as a desperate attempt to hold on to power after the failure that was the journey to Earth. In so doing, he foments the passage of a Quorum Resolution limiting the ability of Cylons to board the ships of the fleet unless the captain and crew of the ships in question agree to the boarding.

Roslin, now off her chemo-equivalent and basically unwilling to lead, chooses not to deal with the rising tension. Adama, on the other hand, chooses the military approach, ordering his marines to escort the Cylons to the ships of the fleet regardless of any lack of permission. When the fleet's only (?) remaining fuel ship mutinies, Adama sends Athena and some Vipers to establish Galactica's authority over the matter. Galactica then picks up a message from one Tom Zarek authorizing the fuel ship to resist Galactica's advances, and the fuel ship jumps to parts unknown. Adama, now without a target, orders Athena and her troops to arrest Zarek.

As a brief aside, though Adama authorizes deadly force in the arrest, we never get to see this confrontational scene. Instead, we cut to seeing Zarek already in Galactica's brig. Why a dramatic arrest scene didn't make the script or the cut is beyond me, but perhaps budgetary concerns played a role.

Now under his control, Adama "convinces" Zarek to part with the coordinates of the fuel ship, and Athena and her troop bring the wayward ship home. Though it is later revealed that Adama was bluffing the existence of a file on Zarek's dirty politics in order to induce Zarek's confession, the scene plays out strangely even without the reveal of the bluff. The plain fact of the matter is that Zarek gives up the fuel ship's location without too much of a fight at all.

Now its possible that time constraints prevented the Galactica writers from writing anything that was too drawn out on this score. In my view, though, it's far more likely that being put in the brig and forced to disclose the location of the fuel ship was Zarek's plan all along. I mean, how does this look to the rest of the fleet? The Quorum resolution on its face seems pretty reasonable. If Cylons are going to be allowed on your ship then you have to agree to their presence. Pretty democratic. By forcing Adama to violate the resolution, Zarek has positioned himself to make Adama's moves look like those of a military dictator (this has always, quite frankly, been Zarek's opinion of the Adama's since all the way back in Season 1). I think we are going to see some real fireworks next week as the fleet responds to Adama's actions.

Unfortunately, while the episode features all of this excellent build-up and rising tension, it doesn't have a true climax. The episode ends roughly where my summary above does, with the sole exception that we get to see Zarek talking "revolution" with an increasingly irritated Felix Gaeta, and Adama and a very bald Roslin taking their place in the newly appointed Admiral's love lounge. While the acting, as always, is excellent (particularly Mary McDonnell's continued portrayal of a broken Laura Roslin), the whole thing feels like a middle of the day episode from 24: no real beginning (handled by the far superior "Sometimes a Great Notion" last week), and no real end (presumably to be handled next week).

My guess is that "Disquiet", like an episode of 24, will play quite a bit better when it is put in context with the rest of the final ten episodes. Either way, I think it's clear that the producers of Galactica
no longer feel constrained by the usual strictures of episodic television making. As a result, we may be getting one long eight-hour movie over the next two months. While this is likely a good thing in the long run (read: on DVD), on a week to week basis this means that we could very often wind up as we did this week-watching half a movie with no climax and no discernable independent reason for being.

Other Interesting Things:

Echoes of the Stand-Early in the episode we see Tigh and the captured Six enjoy the wonders of ultrasound with personal favorite Dr. Cottle. In looking at their Cylon love child, Six explains to the more human among us that the mere birth of this child will herald the saving of the Cylon race. This, she further explians, is because no cylon/cylon pairing has ever produced any offspring. While a bit of a stretch, when watching this scene I couldn't help but be reminded of the plight of Frannie and Stu's baby in Steven King's materwork The Stand. In that book, the population of the Earth has been wiped out by a super virus with only a small portion of the human race having immunity. One of the major beats of the story's climax relates to whether or not the baby of two such immune people (Frannie and Stu) will be likewise immune once born. If the baby is not immune, then the survivors of the virus will be the last humans to walk the Earth. If the baby is immune then it will survive and the race will live on. The very act of being born and surviving is the miracle. Much like little baby Tigh.

Tigh's Honesty- Since "Sometimes A Great Notion" ended with Tigh's realization that Ellen was the final Cylon, we didn't know until Lee's slip-up whether or not Tigh would reveal that fact to his "friends" in the fleet. With Lee's press conference blunder (telling the press that the fleet brass believed that "she" died some time ago), we now know that Tigh told at least Adama about Ellen. That says something interesting about the relationship Tigh and Adama still share. It also explains at least some of Adama's apparently growing ease with working with his Cylon XO. Finally, it raises the question of whether Starbuck knows that all 12 Cylon models have now been identified. To be sure, the presence of a whole planet of different models opens the door for Starbuck (or anyone else in the fleet) to still be a Cylon, but has no reason to know that. If she knows about Ellen, then her sense of self must be even more off-kilter than it was before. That could be something interesting to explore in the coming episodes.

What's the buzz, Baltar?- Now, I have thought from the introduction of the "dying leader" prophecy that Roslin was not its subject (more on that below). My nominee for this position was always Baltar, and his rise as the almost Christ-like figure of the first half of Season 4 buoyed my beliefs on this front. In this epsiode, however, Baltar gets only one scene, and in that scene, while he is certainly still the leader of his "cult", it is a very different kind of leadership than it was before the discovery of Earth. Baltar, you see, has turned against even the "One True God" espoused by his in-head friends, and is fomenting rebellion against such god in his sermons. I am more than willing to admit at this point that I have no idea what the writers intend to do with this character. As a religious leader, I still think there is a strong chance that he is the dying leader prophesized in Pithia, but I simply don't know what this rebellion against god is intended to portray. And where were his ultra-religious in-head friends for this little rebellion? I hope the writers know what they're doing here.

The Hera Question-One of the problems that people had with the reveal of Cylon Tyrol at the end of Season 3 was that his baby with wife Callie was necessarily half-Cylon. While this isn't a problem in and of itself, the show had made quite a big deal of the first half-Cylon child, Helo and Athena's baby Hera, during the show's first few seasons. By backdooring the introduction of another half-Cylon baby, many fans thought that entire swaths of the action in Seasons 1 and 2 had been completely devalued. Adding to complaints, much of the action in the first half of Season 4 revolved around Tyrol's lack of love for his "shrew" wife. Since the earlier seasons had established that "love" was a necessary ingredient for human/Cylon procreation, Tyrol's apparent lack of love for Callie was all the more distressing. So the producers of the show did a bit of a retcon (retroactive continuity change) here, and established that Tyrol was not, in fact, the father of baby Nicky. This gave Tyrol some wonderful scenes to play and nicely answered the Hera Question to the benefit of all. I approve.

A Dying Leader-As I mentioned in my thoughts on Baltar above, it has always seemed too easy for me that the creators of Galactica introduced a prophecy plotline regarding a dying leader into a show with a president we knew to be dying of cancer at the time. Narratively speaking, it's far more common for a show (or movie or book or play) to introduce a prophecy angle expressly for the purpose of having that prophecy be misinterpreted by the main characters. When it is later revealed that the prophecy actually applies in a different way then originally assumed, both the characters and the audience can be surprised. To me, Roslin has always fit too perfectly and exactly into the role of the "dying leader". As such, I have often looked to other characters to see who could fulfill this role "unexpectedly" at the end of the series. In this episode, we are treated to a throw-away line made by Colonel Tigh to Adama about just how bad Adama looks. Now Adama has been through a lot at this point, but could this be a sign that he is in fact dying and will ultimately be considered to be the prophesized dying leader? My guess is still "no", but that's both because I still like Baltar for the role and because I think that through all the darkness and despair, the producers of Galactica are building up to a happy ending for Adama and Laura. Either way, we shall see soon enough.

Looking for Home-The opening titles have replaced the search for "Earth" with a search for "Home." Too true...

Spinning its Wheels-One of the things that really bugged me about this episode is just how little it did to move the plot forward; not with respect to a civil war plotline (which was nicely advanced), but rather with respect to what I view as the existential questions remaining for Galactica to answer (Who are the in-head people? What is Starbuck? Where is the 13th tribe? What is the role of the Earth Cylons? etc.) While perhaps unfair, it's worth noting that after this episode we only have eight episodes of Galactica left. If we aren't moving towards the endgame then we aren't moving at all. My fear, perhaps unwarranted, is that this whole civil war plotline is a mere distraction. That we will wind-up after episode four or so in the same place that we were at the start of this epiosde only with a mere six episode's remaining instead of nine. Adding to this fear is the fear that we have already pretty throughly explored the concept of a fleet civil war in the brilliant Pegasus arc of Season 2. If this plotline neither advances the main arc of the story nor shows us anything new, than I will be quite disappointed. Still, the writers have earned our trust to this point, and so I will put my faith in them. I just hope that the show isn't spinning its wheels instead of beginning the final push.

Well those are my thoughts, what are yours?

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