February 13, 2009

Battlestar Galactica: "No Exit"

"It's in her bones, Admiral. Her bones are rotten."

And so the final season begins in earnest.

As I said last week, while the "mutiny" arc was rousing good fun, I couldn't help but view those episodes with the eye of a terminally ill hospital patient: things that would have seemed so important just a few short months ago simply weren't when faced with the encroaching certainty of the end. I hyperbolize, but it's nonetheless difficult to imagine an episode that could be more different from the mutiny arc than "No Exit."

To begin with, "No Exit" features virtually no action of any kind. Where the halls of the Galactica had just recently been filled with the sounds of small arms fire, here the only sounds are those of Chief Tyrol and his crew inspecting the creaking innards of the once proud ship. The rest of the episode's "plot" is essentially relayed in the form of two stories: one being told by the injured Anders, whose brain trauma has apparently allowed him to remember his life as a Cylon before the war, the other being told as the interplay between a near-psychotic Cavil and the newly-revived Ellen Tigh over the course of the 18 months after she was murdered by her husband, Saul.

As a result of the lack of action, "No Exit" can best be thought of as what I call an "answer dump" episode. We've seen these before, whether as an attempt to appease mystified network executives (Season 3 of Alias), or as an attempt to appease a dwindling and confused fan base (Season 6 of X-Files). (While I'm sure that there are more examples of the form, these were simply the first two that sprang to mind. Interesting side note: both episodes share the same name, "Full Disclosure".) While Galactica certainly doesn't have to worry about either of these factors this late in its run, it has to worry about something else - expediency. Otherwise there really is no reason to have an entire episode of television devoted to background exposition, but with the end looming, I imagine the producers of Galactica felt as if they had no other choice.

Fortunately, the questions themselves are interesting enough that the show can survive an hour-long stint of mere talking heads. Here's a quick summary of what I think we know after this episode (please feel free to correct me in the comments if you think I missed or mischaracterized anything):

- In the beginning, the Humans lived on Kobol.

- They invented the race of Cylons.

- The Cylons rebelled ("All this has happened before...").

- The Kobol Cylons invented resurrection (but not faster than light travel).

- Humans and Cylons went their separate ways after the war, Cylons to Earth and Humans to the 12 colonies.

- At some point, the Humans begin referring to their rebellious Cylon children as the "13th Tribe."

- Earth Cylons then learned how to procreate without resurrection. The secrets of resurrection were lost to them.

- Earth Cylons invented a new race of AI.

- The new race of AI rebelled (The results of this rebellion are the remains of Earth that we see in "Sometimes A Great Notion").

- Prior to the Earth AI rebellion, Tigh, Ellen, Tyrol, Tory, and Anders were tipped off that a revolution was coming. They began work to restore the resurrection program and prepared themselves to be resurrected in a ship orbiting Earth once the bombs fell.

- After the destruction of Earth (2,000 years before the beginning of Galactica), the Final Five traveled to the colonies at sublight speed to tell Humanity to be respectful of any AI progeny it created. They arrived after the first Cylon war, too late to prevent any rebellion.

- The Final Five then elected to counsel the centurions, themselves having developed a religious belief in one true god. Thinking that this belief was critical to preventing the cycle of war, Ellen and the rest of the Five became leaders of the Cylon people, creating 8 model "skinjobs" to move the Cylons towards humanity and religious salvation. "John" Cavil was the first.

- Cavil, resentful of being created with the limitations of a human and jealous of Ellen's love for the other models, "poisoned" the DNA of model number 7, Daniel, who, we are led to believe, never came online as a Cylon (I do suspect, however, that the show has at least one last secret in store for us on this score.)

- After the "poisoning" Cavil takes command of the Cylon people and "boxes" the Final Five, removing their memories and forcing them to live among the 12 colonies as Humans.

- The Galactica mini-series begins.

- The Colony at which the Five produced the skinjobs remains "still there."

As you can see, there is a lot to take in from "No Exit", and that's skipping any description of the limited "action" that makes up the episode (namely Tyrol's convincing Adama to make the Galactica part Cylon, Anders becoming brain dead after having the bullet in his head removed, and Boomer freeing Ellen from the clutches of the vile gangster John Cavill). While this is exactly the kind of thing I've been looking forward to ever since the show raised so many mythology-based questions in "Sometimes a Great Notion", I still can't help but think that there was a better way to get all of this information across, one that didn't involve a full third of the season being used to tell a pretty traditional coup narrative.

That being said, an "answer dump" episode really lives and dies on the answers which it provides. Though I will always believe that there was a more organic way for Ron Moore and company to present the information, I can't deny that the answers themselves are incredibly thought-provoking and have me ready and raring to go to see next week's episode.

Some Quick Thoughts:

A Dying Leader - I almost did this as a separate post last week, but given the fact that, in my view, the hypothesis was only strengthened in "No Exit", I thought I would mention that my thoughts on the Galactica as "dying leader" where certainly received very differently by certain members of the fan base, particularly on Alan Sepinwall's blog.

Here are a few excerpts:

Anonymous said...

"How could Galactica be the dying leader if the "dying leader will know the truth of the opera house"? The hybrid is clearly talking about Laura Roslin."

I said...

"Judging from the five figures waiting in the wings in those scenes, I think one could argue that the "truth" was in fact the identity of the final five Cylons. If that is the case, who knew better than Galactica the identity of those five? All five were on Galactica for significant periods of time, and perhaps more importantly, remember what the trigger for the final five was: a song coming from within the ship.

Looking at it from that perspective, I think it's more than plausible that Galactica "knew" the truth of the opera house and conveyed that truth in the nebula at the end of season 3.

It may not be the most obvious reading of the "opera house" prophecy, but in my experience the most obvious reading is usually not the right one. (For instance, I don't think that Starbuck will be leading humanity to its "end" in the most literal way (death). Instead I think she will lead them home.)"

This analysis went over well with some people...

"Richard Hoeg - though I'm not entirely convinced they are going in that direction or would be able to play out that metaphor for mass consumption easily enough, you do present one of the best theories about how/why Galactica being the dying leader would be the case."

"First, I agree with all of Richard Hoeg's post"

And not so well with others...

"And to Richard Hoeg: keep your blog to yourself. You are wrong."

"Richard Hoeg: are you being obtuse on purpose? Kara Thrace is the harbinger of death! Not some nice happy "end."Galactica is not a dying leader. It is not a cylon. It is antiquated old battleship. Get off it - if the writers meant what you are suggesting, the show would be completely stupid."

I had the last word (but only because I took it.)

"First, with respect to Kara's "harbinger" prophecy. I know that the way it's presented implies that Starbuck is bad business, but let's look at each statement individually.

"Kara Thrace will lead the human race to its end."

As I've already stated, this doesn't mean anything independently. She might be leading them to death or to their final home. Could go either way.

"She is the herald of the apocalypse."

One reading: Following Starbuck will destroy the fleet. Second reading: Starbuck led the fleet to Earth, a planet that had most definitely experienced an apocalypse.

"The harbinger of death."

As I stated before, she enabled the fleet to end Cylon immortality forever. In a very real way she was the harbinger of death. The prophecy was even highlighted during this episode. (In the alternative, as mentioned above, she also was mainly responsible for bringing the fleet to Earth, where the Colonials, including Starbuck, found little else but death.)

"They must not follow her."

Admittedly, I don't know what to do with this one except to note how the statement specifically uses two general pronouns to hide its true meaning. Who are "they?" The Colonials? The Cylons? Who is her? Starbuck? Perhaps, but remember we have just been introduced to a new Cylon who is expected to "claw toward the light". Could the "her" be Ellen? I'm sure we'll find out.

Finally with respect to Galactica as "dying leader" I note only two things. First, there is no reason to believe that the category of "leader" is limited to living beings. Think of "loss leaders", or "leading economic indicators" (so often in the news today) for examples of when leadership is not specific to a given individual. Second, note that the concept of dying is also not limited to the living. "My car just died." In a universe with a "disease" that affects only machines (Cylons), it seems odd to limit the definition of "dying leader" in the way you suggest."

Suffice it to say, I feel that my positions were only strengthened by the lengthy scenes in "No Exit" discussing the deteriorating integrity of the Galactica. Look at the quote at the start of this post. Tyrol twice refers to the Galactica as female and discusses with Adama the fact that "her" bones are rotten. Some might even say "wasting" away. I think the facts speak for themselves.

New Intro - I loved the new intro with all of its focus on Ellen and the fact that "all of this has happened before." I just wanted to point out to all those that suggested that the "mutiny" arc didn't involve at least some amount of stalling for time, that the presence of a brand new introduction to a show with only six episodes remaining is a highly unusual step for the show's producers to take, and one which I think reflects the added importance of this episode and the episodes to come. As always, these comments are not intended to overly critique what I thought was a very good trilogy of episodes. My intent is simply to point out what I believe is becoming ever more obvious, that the true "final episodes" skipped straight from "Sometimes A Great Notion" to "No Exit" with nary a stop in between.

Said another way, I have absolutely no problem imagining a scenario in which Tyrol hears something funny in Galactica and Anders has an unexplained stroke in a hypothetical episode immediately following the events of "Sometimes a Great Notion." Would anything in "No Exit" really have to change to accommodate this revised scenario? The scene in the dead quorum's chambers, sure, but anything else?

Cavil Knows Best - If you're anything like me you had long assumed that the reason the "skinjobs" were not permitted to think of the Final Five (though we saw how effective that programming was) was because the Five themselves had programmed the skinjobs that way (or, in the alternative, the skinjobs had placed the block in their programming out of an extreme sense of piety). In this episode, we find out (though induction rather than by exposition), that Cavil must have been the one to program the other skinjobs to not think about the Five.

The show's producers really took a number of steps in this episode to personify Cavil as the evil that had previously been attributable to all Cylons, but the realization that Cavil knew who the Five were all along has to be one of the most significant (particularly since we have no present connection to the murdered Number 7). As Ellen points out, Cavil knew their identities and still he tortured Tigh on New Caprica, still he took advantage of Ellen, and still he hunted Anders. Cavil is the very definition of evil and a useful antagonist for the end run of the series. I wonder, however, whether or not his evil sufficiently absolves the rest of the Cylons for their part in the genocide of Humanity, though it certainly seems to be the producers' intent.

Boomer's Gambit - The fact that Cavil introduces a resurrected Ellen to Sharon "Boomer" Valeri well before the events of this episode casts an entirely new light on the Cylon rebellion which occurred during the first half of this season (or last season depending on your point of view). During that rebellion, the deciding vote to "lobotomize" the Cylon raiders was made by Boomer, marking the first time that an individual Cylon had ever voted against their model number.

Of course, what we now know is that Boomer was given significant information that the rest of her line didn't have when she was introduced to and got to speak with a resurrected Ellen Tigh. The rest of the Eights wanted to prevent the lobotomization because they didn't want the raiders to fire on a member of the revered Final Five. Boomer, on the other hand, had a name to put with at least one of their faces, and when Ellen refused to apologize for the hurt that she had inflicted on Cavil, the die was cast. Boomer would eventually change her mind in this one, but not before starting a full scale civil war.

Humans Only - It was a small moment but an interesting one when Adama ordered Tyrol to fix his ship with a crew that was "humans only." Despite his willingness to work with both Tyrol and Tigh, it's clear that Adama doesn't really think of the two as Cylons. In contrast, the look on Tyrol's face was perfect, telling us all we needed to know about just how aware Tyrol is of his new status, as well as his thoughts on the inherent "racism" of the Admiral's request.

I'm a PC - Just as an interesting type-casting aside, I felt it necessary to note that the brain surgeon who was assigned to work on Anders was none other than the "PC" from Apple's famous "I'm a Mac" ads. I guess we can assume that the Cylons aren't running Leopard. Perhaps they prefer Linux?

Glowing - Really good staging in the scene where Anders sees all of the people at his bedside as glowing angels. It was easy to see that everyone the producers put in the scene was a known Cylon except for Starbuck. Does the glowing aura around Starbuck indicate that she too has a Cylon secret to share? Or was the glowing simply a side effect of Anders having a bullet lodged in his skull? You can read the scene either way, though I think the fact that Anders didn't have any information to give Starbuck in this episode tacks away from the theory that she is a Cylon. It's all too obvious an answer at this point.

The Leeward side - Perhaps one of the more cloying and artificial plot lines on the show has always been Lee Adama's. The show's producers never really seem to know what to do with him, and this episode is no exception. So when, in his one significant scene, he has a heart-to-heart with President Roslin in which she tells him that he will essentially be serving as president of the colonies because he was always "the one", pardon me if I gag a little. While I certainly have enjoyed many of Apollo's scenes throughout the years he has been fighter pilot, lawyer, presidential wannabe, quorum delegate, "john", husband, philanderer, mutineer (so often forgotten in the excitement of the past few weeks), and basically everything except for "the one." Just seems a bit too pat to me.

No Baltar - Nothing much to say here, just noting that a character who had seemed so important as few as five episodes ago once again got short shrift in this one (He didn't even appear). Oh well.

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