January 30, 2009

Battlestar Galactica: "The Oath"

"Madame President, we are in danger of losing this ship."

As expected, "The Oath" picks up almost exactly where last week's episode left off, with the fleet on the brink of civil war. As Adama, Tigh, and Roslin struggle to stave off the growing civilian unrest spurred by the Quorum's anti-Cylon resolution, Gaeta and his growing military insurrection move to take over the Galactica, first by freeing Zarek from the brig, then by taking Adama and Tigh prisoner. There's shooting, there's danger, there's intrigue. And at the end of it all there's the apparent death of Adama and Tigh. What more could you ask?

Not a lot really. The episode definitively returns Galactica to its more action oriented roots, foregoing the big questions just as last week's did. Unlike last week's anti-climax, however, this episode has the benefit of being nothing but climax, a rousing action adventure featuring the return of the potent Lee/Starbuck and Adama/Tigh combinations that had been so energizing in the past. Even Roslin steps up in this one (albeit only after being spurned into action at the thought of losing her new boyfriend to an onslaught of mutineers), commandeering Baltar's pirate signal to deliver her message of Cylon hope and change to the whole of the fleet.

While neither this episode nor the last actually bothers to conclude a given storyline, at least in this one the producers of the show were kind enough to realize that fact, gracing us with the old "To be continued..." in the process. As I mentioned last week, I think that the producers of Galactica, now untethered to a need for ratings or easy marketing ploys, likely crafted the final ten episodes of the show as one big collective. As such, I strongly suspect that most if not all of the remaining episodes will either have an explicit or an implied "To be Continued" aspect to them. While this is to be expected in a serialized show of this type (just look at Lost or 24), it does make it difficult to watch outside the framework of DVD.

All that being said, "The Oath" is an excellent action piece that delivers on many of the things that have made Galactica great over the years. If the show can't give me the answers that I want, than this will definitely do.

Other things to think about:

Time Keeps on Tickin' - I don't want to harp on this every week, but the plain fact of the matter is that we are now down to seven episodes left in Galactica's run. The question remains: When do we start moving towards a finale? The producers of the show made an interesting call in having the fleet discover Earth so early in the season, but the result of that call is that these post-Earth episodes lack focus, a reason for being. What I like about that is that it makes us, as the audience, feel a bit more like the crew of the Galactica themselves. They, after all, are also wandering in the desert, if you will. The difference, however, is that we know exactly how long their wandering will last (or at least how long we get to witness it). This makes it much more difficult to sit idly by while plot lines torn from the first season of the show take center stage.

Oaths - The word "oath" is used in this episode at least twice and both in the service of the mutineers. First, when Zarek baits Lee by playing up the conflict between his father and the oath he swore to be the representative of Caprica. Second, during the opening minutes of Gaeta's mutiny, as he and Adama argue about which is truly upholding their oath to protect the people of the fleet. One of the best things about Galactica throughout its run has been it's ability to craft difficult situations and place it's characters into moral quandaries. While definitely not as potent as earlier season scenarios regarding abortion or suicide bombings, this episode does create an interesting dilemma by allowing Zarek and Gaeta to put forth such strong arguments. Despite our unique perspective on events (knowing what we do about the Final Four/Five), to the members of the fleet these "people" killed billions of humans, and it is only because of them that humanity was relegated to fleeing across the stars. There is very good reason to follow Zarek and Gaeta in this episode, and it is not at all surprising that they are able to recruit so many to their cause. Given the same facts, I can't honestly say that I wouldn't have been a part of Gaeta's revolution, and that's one of the things that makes Galactica so great.

Making Sense out of Mutiny - Last week I complained that the insurrection plot line felt too much like the show was simply stalling for time before tackling the big questions. Since then, I've been trying to figure out just how Galactica's producers could tie this revolution into the greater themes of the show. My best guess goes back to something I said when I wrote about "Sometimes a Great Notion", that the series endgame must be based around the unification of the human and Cylon nations. If that guess is correct, then this little rebellion could determine the fate of two civilizations, a fact that will only become more apparent in hindsight. Look at it from an outside perspective. If there really has been a third party bringing the two sides together (as I think is likely given the events of "Maelstrom", and the presence of the in-head people), then this plotline is where all those efforts are most at risk of falling apart. In other words, it's possible that the importance of this plot line
(which, incidentally, will take up at least three episodes of the show's final ten) and the danger it presents to the show's endgame may wind up being properly felt only once we have a better understanding of what that endgame actually is.

Death Wish - It's fun to see the transition both the writers and Katie Sackhoff are making with the character of Starbuck. Seeing Starbuck save Lee simply by indescriminately shooting at the mutineers reminded me of just how bad ass and uncomprimising Starbuck used to be, before the great softening of the Lee/Anders era. Now that she thinks that she is essentially playing with house money (seeing yourself dead in a field will do that to you), she is reckless and bold and more than a little agressive. It's like seeing the old Starbuck again. While I think her "death" has forced her to teeter on the edge of sanity, it is nice to revist an old friend.

Seriously, What's the Plan with Baltar? - After this week's episode and last's I'm beginning to rethink my feelings on the importance of Baltar within the framework of the show. This week, once again, Baltar is essentially relegated to one or two scenes mostly related to the fact that he has apparently all but given up his religious crusade. Throw in a pirate wireless signal, and "bam" you've got the entirety of the Baltar storyline. I can't honestly say that I have any idea what the creators of the show have in mind for our favorite destroyer of worlds at this point, of whether they have anything in mind at all.

Unspeakable Losses? -During Roslin's speech to the fleet, she implores humanity to recognize the similarities between the Cylons and the human race. One of the things she references is that both sides have "suffered unspeakable losses." Okay, one side definitely had their race just about exerminated, but what did the other side lose. The resurrection hub? Seriously, I think Roslin has some good points to make here, but equating the loss of Cylon immortality to the killing of billions of people wouldn't convince me to join the alliance if I were floating on some random ship of the fleet. The moral equivalence is disturbing.

Specialization of Labor - Just a minor point, but we see in this episode that the Galactica has the ability to cut off the pirate signal which Baltar had been using to broadcast his religious messages to the fleet. First, why was this never used before, particularly in those episodes in the first half of the season where Baltar's "cult" was seen as a real threat to the safety of those on board the Galactica. Second, if you're Gaeta, and you're really the only one who knows how to "isolate the signal" in order to turn off the pirate broadcast, why do you stand in the middle of the command center rather than manning your original post? The oversight allows Roslin to speak to her people, and it could prove a costly one for our young, legless mutineer.

Time Cards - If it seems like I've been talking about the use of time cards a lot lately (like, here and here), it's because the shows that I have watched have been using them in interesting ways. Whereas a show like Lost needed timecards in its premiere (and arguably still needs them) to give the audience any hope of keeping the timeline of events on that show straight, the producers of Galactica instead use explictly denoted
(06:20, 10:27) timecards in this episode to create an almost documentary catalog of the hours leading up to the insurrection. This serves a dual purpose, as it both allows the producers to show that the alarming chain of events portrayed in this episode is happening over the course of hours, not days, and it allows them to create a sense of tension during the proceedings (24, of course, being your go-to source for ticking clock tension). I'm trying to recall if the show has ever used this device before, but I'm not having any luck. Let me know if you can think of one.

"It's been an honor to have served with you my friend." - One of the last things Adama says in the episode, this short statement gives us just a brief insight into the emotions he still feels towards his old friend and comrade Saul Tigh. The growing acceptance of the Cylons (particularly the Final Four/Five) among the senior members of the fleet, as a matter of fact, seems to be leading the show towards the answer to one of its greatest questions. What's the difference between a Cylon and a human? It doesn't matter. As Tigh said in the Season 3 finale, he'll be the man he wants to be until the day he dies. Seems Adama has accepted that, and that in short course we will be asked to do the same...

1 comment:

  1. Death Wish - I don't think Starbuck is teetering, I think she might be full-blown insane. Still, her badass-ness rescuing Lee cannot be overstated.

    Unspeakable Losses? - didn't like a whole bunch of Cylons die in the raid on the resurrection hub? Like isn't Lucy Lawless the last of her kind? I recognize it's certainly not the same, and it's hard to forget/forgive what they've done, but you may be understating it...maybe...