Episode Review: “The Road Less Travelled”May 5, 2008
Well, this episode was an interesting experience, because on the one hand, it did feel a bit like an episode whose major purpose was to set up a lot of things. Yet, it also did have some really intensely satisfying emotional moments for me as well. So shall we get right to it?
First, let’s have the next installment of…
Your Dylan Four Weekly Update
- Tigh: Seems to have reined in the crazy a bit this week. But then, he wasn’t on much.
- Sam: Leoben definitely did something for his crazy factor this week. Anders, hon, Leoben is a whack job. Even the other Cylons know it. Sharon should really take him aside and explain.
- Tory: I didn’t think she could possibly get any crazier, but now we find out she’s still frakking Baltar, while at the same time, tattling on him to Roslin, and then making no bones in telling him about all about it. She just don’t care no more. But her crazy is totally rocking my socks. Go on with your bad self, Tory.
- Chiefy: Wow, speaking of crazy: Baldy spent this episode looking like a tylium refinery getting ready to blow. And yet, if he just threw his lot in with Baltar at the end, he may have graduated to an even new level of crazy.
The Pirate Ship Demetrius
First of all YAY! They’re a PIRATE ship now! They even have creaky metal and vaguely ocean-like sounds going on in the background every few moments. My dreams have come true! And we’ve got a MUTINY folks! WOOT! We’ll see how long that lasts though. I suspect about two minutes.
Kara and Leoben: Together Again
Kara was absolutely riveting to watch this week, especially when Leoben showed up. I know some people are not pleased about his return, as it takes Kara back into the past. But I found it kind of a fascinating callback to earlier seasons actually. Katee Sackhoff did a brilliant job evoking the visceral sense of No, no, no, no, no! on Kara’s face as she felt herself being sucked back into that headspace where Leoben messed with her head, kept her captive. And what was fascinating this time around was to watch how Kara could both re-experience those emotions and yet stand outside them too. The scene where she beat on Leoben, saying she should have been out there on the deck and instead she was holed up in her room with him, played for me like a scene between a woman and her ex-boyfriend, one of those really bad-for-you boyfriends that you can’t quite quit, even when you know how much they screw you over.
Callum Keith Rennie was also excellent in this episode. He played Leoben with just the right level of excitable boyish mania about seeing Kara that strangely made me smile whenever he was on screen. I loved the way they used a callback to Season 1 when he whispers in Kara’s ear that her crew doesn’t trust her; it was blocked just the same way the scene from “Flesh and Bone” was when he whispers in Roslin’s ear that “Adama is a Cylon.”
And the way he in utter innocence asks Sam if he and Kara worked things out? Like the two of them are getting ready to toss back a few brews and commiserate over Kara? Even Sam beating the crap out of him doesn’t really seem to get through to him how unwelcome he is in this scenario. Leoben at his most fascinating is like a jackal puppy, a totally unsocialized wild innocent, blissfully unaware of how he emotionally tears Kara apart every time he comes near her. It must be difficult for CKR to pop back onto the set every six months or so and get his head back into that unique crossroads of certitude and wonder that is Leoben’s characterization.
So we got a few non-technobabbly Gaeta lines this week, which as Gaeta fans know, is generally a good week. He got to do the most unenthusiastic “Action Stations” ever this week and even got to be XO for five seconds. (Shortest promotion ever! Ah well, he’ll always be Executive Officer Gaeta in my heart.) And he got to do occasional moments of his trademark Gaeta snarkiness (“Now the Cylons want us to rescue them? That’s novel.”) And actually, I have to admit that my heart kind of melted a little at the end of the episode when Kara looked so lost, aware that she was losing her crew right then and there, aware that it was her fault for being so crazy; and the only one who thought to step in and offer her a graceful way out in that moment was Gaeta – who tells her in a gentle, non-confrontational voice that he’s got everything ready for her to steer them back to Galactica. (Not even Sam stepped in to help her.)
Of course, she didn’t take it, and so we have the big cliffhanger for next week, kids. This can not end well. I fear we’re going to lose someone on that ship next episode. I just hope it’s Pike, whom I’m hoping they’ve made deliberately whiny for a reason. I mean, why else would they put a Redshirt on that ship, am I right? Plus they already got rid of Mathias, so he’s overdue!
RIP, Sgt. Matthias
Incidentally, I’m sad to say that I found Mathias’ death to be the most pointless, lacking-in-impact death BSG has written in a long while. You blinked and she was gone. I think the death of the nameless pilots during the thousandth landing celebration in “Act of Contrition” had more of an impact on the viewer than Mathias’s death did, which is sad, because she’s been with us for a really long time, and she’d been through a lot with Kara.
Chief Tyrol’s Big Bald Adventure
So the other big storyline was the Chief, who walked around this episode like one big ticking time bomb of fury (the role formerly occupied by his now dead wife Cally). The choice to make him shave his head (whether it was explained by his new demotion or by his own insanity, was a great one, because it made him seem instantly more on the edge of sanity. It immediately evoked for me both the main character in Pink Floyd’s movie version of The Wall and the minor character Private Pyle in Stanley Kubrik’s Full Metal Jacket (the one who eventually goes insane during basic training). In both examples, you have characters who’ve become aware of themselves as pawns in their own existence, no longer in control of their own destiny, and so they just give in that, choosing to see themselves as machines controlled by others.
The Chief seems to be wrestling between seeing himself that way (notice how he jumps rope with metronomic intensity, like he’s trying to condition himself into a better, more perfect machine) and falling back on his humanity, symbolized by all the photos of Cally he keeps looking at. Tellingly, he goes from a discussion with Tory about their Cylonhood to crashing Baltar’s cult, giving into the heat of a most human rage, then running back to his room and putting a gun to his head, ultimately unable to go through with it (is it self-doubt, a will to live inspired by seeing the remnants of his human life in that photograph of Cally and Nicky, or merely Cylon programming?) It evoked for me that moment in Kobol’s Last Gleaming, where his Cylon ex-girlfriend Boomer tried to shoot herself in the mouth and couldn’t quite overcome her programming to do it.
Englightenment Through Neck Injury
In a moment of supreme irony that BSG totally loves, Galen’s lifeline in this struggle turns out to be Baltar, his nemesis when Galen was the head of the union on New Caprica, the puppet President who signed away Cally’s life on a death list, the man whose self-centered, fuzzy morality unwittingly allowed his Cylon lover to rewrite some programming code and rewrite the path of Galen’s entire life.
Baltar starts out his interactions with Tyrol from a familiar, self-serving place to us. It seems clear to me that Baltar initially calls out to Tyrol in reaction to Tory’s earlier put-down that his movement hasn’t attracted anyone “of consequence” to join, and so isn’t worth Roslin’s effort. There is still enough of the old Baltar there that wants Roslin’s attention, like a little boy craving any attention, even the negative kind. But apparently, it takes neck assault to finally get through to Gaius Baltar (remember Kobol, where he spent the entire arc with a giant bandage on his neck? Seriously, there’s a theme here, I know it), because much like the moment where his neck got slit and he showed a true moment of unselfishness towards a dying child, here the Chief’s strangling him seems to get Baltar to see his own jackassery. It’s unclear what Baltar’s thinking in that moment as he holds his neck, gasping for breath. But by the time he gets to Tyrol’s room, he’s showing a surprising, maybe even shocking humility about Cally’s memory, about Galen’s grief, and his own guilt.
What’s incredibly effective about this scene is the way that Galen says not a single word throughout, just lets Baltar unravel before him in greater and greater discomfort and honesty. Just so we can be sure to know the difference, we saw earlier in the episode footage of Baltar being the way we expect him to be – in his element surrounded by an adoring throng, a falsely modest, smug smile on his face (“Don’t clap, don’t clap.”), having the nerve to call Galen out of a crowd and more or less demand that he take his hand in forgiveness, when he has so much to answer for. But here in Galen’s room, with Galen staring at him wordlessly, Baltar has the silent space he needs to examine himself in a way that we have never seen him do in the entire history of the show – He admits to his own complicity in the Attacks on the Colonies, New Caprica, the Cloud Nine, all of it, with that one phrase: “I have committed unconscionable crimes.” Sure, it’s still a bit vague in the details, but for Baltar, it’s an astonishingly frank.admission. This is the man who summed up his crimes on New Caprica, for example, with a begrudging, “Mistakes were made.”
The beauty of this scene is that without a word, with merely a simple gesture at the very end, the Chief unknowingly offers Baltar absolution for all of it, at the exact moment when you can see that Baltar has given up any hope of reconciliation or forgiveness. The shakiness James Callis puts into his voice as he says “thank you” makes it clear how much more that extended hand means to Baltar than it does to even Tyrol, and makes it an intensely powerful moment. It’s an interesting new beginning point for both Baltar and the Chief’s psyches, and I’m very curious as to where it will go from here. Whether or not I think it’s a good idea for their paths to converge any more than for this moment, I’m not sure; but wow, what I’m glad we got this scene.
So, next stop: Damaged basestars! Unusually lucid-sounding hybrids! Cylon accusations! And oh noes! Looks like one of our pirates is getting shot! Until next week!