Turning PointsMarch 16, 2009
Screncap credit: niciasus
Note: This is a review of the Battlestar Galactica episode “Daybreak Pt. 1”. Do not read if you do not wish to be spoiled for this episode.
Like a master craftsman sending the apprentices home for the day, Battlestar Galactica creator Ron Moore stepped in this week to write BSG’s two-parter, three-hour finale, and for the most part, the Master’s hand is showing itself in part one, an interesting episode full of glimpses of the past, and a few hints at the future, but still, no real questions answered.
Lives on the Cusp
Right from the opening theme, there are surprises – e.g. no poundy drums, no preview of events, as if RDM is trying to squeeze a lot in, or perhaps hide from us what’s coming. Whatever the reason, it works quite nicely to be dropped straight into these intriguing thematic shots of a fluttering, trapped bird, yearning for the light of a sun-filled sky it cannot reach, and imagery of a fountain spray that shows up later in the episode. These seem to be setting up symbolic themes of the episode, for we are then launched into a swooping, elegant aerial shot of what we are told is “Caprica two years before the fall.” Is the POV of that aerial shot the bird we saw finally getting its freedom? Is it the viewpoint of an omnipotent God watching over the mundane lives of our beloved characters, two years before they knew what horror lay in store for them?
“Mundane” is certainly the word for what we see next: Bill Adama is in a suit and tie, meeting with a man who is convincing Adama (albeit very reluctantly) to do something Adama has no desire to do. Next we see Baltar elsewhere in the city, looking casual and confident and in some sense, still purely himself, as his completely white outfit and jaunty striped socks suggest. The scene starts with a possibly predictable make-out moment in the back of an outrageously long stretch limo with Caprica Six, but finally lands Baltar elsewhere, in a truly mundane argument with his half-senile father about whether or not the hired nurse is stealing from his father and whether or not Gaius is an acceptable human being. Then we get an entertaining and poignant but otherwise seemingly pointless scene of Starbuck, Zak Adama and Lee Adama having dinner together in Starbuck’s old apartment. We also see a lovely but otherwise aimless scene of Roslin and her sisters after a baby shower Roslin has just thrown for one sister who is very visibly pregnant. (Later, we will get another flashback of Sam Anders as a Pyramid player being interviewed by the sports media while in a therapeutic bath at a gym.)
But these moments only seem mundane until plot twists and character moments reveal that these scenes are clearly turning points in our characters’ lives: What Bill is agreeing to is not clear, but it’s possible that we are witnessing him being badgered into the secret mission that sent him and Bulldog (Adama’s soldier who was held prisoner by the Cylons for three years) over the Armistice line that kept peace between the Colonials and the Cylons for 40 years and may have started the Second Cylon War. Also, we eventually find out that this is Baltar’s first time meeting Caprica Six, and that that she won his heart not so much through awesome sex, as the Miniseries would have us think, but because right from the beginning, she realized Baltar was at heart a boy who wanted the hard stuff taken care of. This also turns out to be Kara and Lee’s first meeting, and we can see how smitten they are with each other right away. Laura Roslin’s rollicking baby shower for her sister turns out to be the prelude to losing those sisters and her father in a car crash. The news brought to her door by the Caprica City Police sends her out in a daze onto the Riverwalk outside her house, and straight into a fountain, where she places herself heedlessly into a heady spray of water, as if only that amount of water can represent the tears of her grief. The scene makes clear that Roslin had already lost everything when the Apocalypse came. In retrospect, this survivor with no ties left (except a dissatisfying and dysfunctional office romance that was about to implode anyway) was the perfect choice to lead humanity in the face of staggering loss. Finally, Sam, meanwhile, waxes poetic in a soliloquy about how Pyramid represents for him the pursuit of perfection. Perhaps this is a leftover of the sentiment that drove him to participate with the other Final Fivers in creating the Cylon skinjobs?
Almost half the episode and a lot of emotional investment are devoted to these flashback scenes, and they are so rich with layers of meaning, so pregnant with the tension of foreshadowing that one can see how these are the stories Ron Moore enjoyed telling most. However, they do also link more or less to current dilemmas our characters are going through: Bill Adama is right now facing a distasteful decision – stripping Galactica bare and moving himself and his crew to a Cylon baseship; Laura Roslin is in sickbay on life-signs monitors and is facing the death to which all of her family has gone; Baltar faces another accusation of being a worthless human being, not from his dead father, but from Lee Adama. In becoming Galactica’s hybrid, Sam seems to be in pursuit of some more perfect form of communication with nature (if he has a will now at all).
In another flashback, after Lee’s meeting Kara for the first time, he comes home drunk and ineffectually tries to shoo away a pigeon trapped in his apartment. Is Lee the trapped bird – struggling with making a transition to a new way of life on a Cylon baseship, with a government that no longer represents various nuked planets, but civilian ships, and maybe even political and philosophical affiliations? Or is all of humanity the birds, clawing its way uncertainly towards the light?
The Shape of Things to Come?
The competing A plot (Hera’s kidnapping and rescue mission) and the minor C plot (Baltar’s attempt to enfranchise his movement) in this episode are by comparison much simpler, although not without their moral complexities: Baltar’s acolyte Paulla informs him that his movement has grown so large that his people now represent a majority on all the ships in the Fleet, so with her urging, (and Head!Six’s affirmation) Baltar tries to convince Lee to allow a representative from his movement onto the Quorum. Given Baltar’s history of self-aggrandizement, Lee is naturally suspicious and hostile to Baltar’s request, and dares Baltar to come up with even one true example of selflessness he’s done that has not in some way benefitted himself. It feels like a much more profound version of the accusations we saw Baltar’s father making in the flashbacks, where Julius Baltar accuses his son of abandoning his working class mores for greed and self-adulation. Unlike in the flashback though, where Baltar’s reaction is to lash out with tear-filled namecalling and defensive posturing, present-day Baltar stops in his tracks and is able to see outside of himself for once. He realizes aloud – “I wouldn’t trust me either,” leaving a slightly bewildered Lee behind without another word.
The show seems to be clearly setting up Baltar to comitt a true act of selflessness, which makes me wonder now if he’s going to sacrifice his life for poor little Hera, or for his flock’s welfare, or for the welfare of humanity itself.
Yes, Hera is still kidnapped, and the few glimpses we get of her on the basetar are not promising. She is not eating anything out of homesickness, and Cavil is not impressed with the lack of information she has yielded so far. “Dots and dots and dots,” he complains sardonically as Hera obsessively draws the same picture she drew for Kara. I have to mention that I really enjoyed seeing snarky Cavil and his air quotes again, completely, unrepentantly unchanged and untrustworthy, despite getting to meet his maker again, and despite being in the presence of this revered little girl who he stubbornly refers to as nothing but a “half-human, half-machine object of curiosity,” even if he does think she possesses the key to his survival in her genetic code.
Cavil, Simon and Doral (who return for essentially walk-on cameos) seem to beating their heads against a wall, about to resort to drills and force-feeding, while Hera’s message to her captors goes unheard. Back on Galactica, Kara has more luck, thanks to Hybrid!Sam, who off-screen, interprets Hera’s song as a location in space, which Kara guesses (and Adama is betting the farm) must be the location of the Cylon “colony,” where Hera is being held captive. Kara still doesn’t find out what she is in this episode, but Adama tells her when he comes to try and get Hera’s location out of Hybrid!Sam that he doesn’t care. “I know what you are,” he says with that trademark mix of gravitas and affection that Kara (no matter what she is now) is still a sucker for. “You’re my daughter.” The moment is a beautiful piece of closure for these two characters, but I have to say, it’d be nice if they’d tell us what Kara is already.
In the hallways of Galactica, we get treated to another kind of parent-child scene, one even more entertainingly multilayered. Adama is walking back from getting Hera’s location from Hybrid!Sam when he runs into Lt. Brendan “Hot Dog” Costanza carrying his newly-discovered son, Nicky, in his arms. Edward James Olmos, who plays Adama, and Bodie Olmos, who plays Costanza, are real-life father and son, so it makes the moment even sweeter, especially since this is the first scene in the entire series in which the pair of Olmoses have ever shared dialogue together. Hot Dog accidentally spills a pile of photos in his hand all over the floor while carrying a half-crying toddler Nicky. (Say hi to Grandpa, Nicky!) When Papadama helps him pick them up, Hot Dog explains that he’s collecting the pictures of dead pilots off the Memorial Wall before leaving Galactica, so they won’t get left behind with all the dead relatives and friends who aren’t ever going to be reclaimed because the people who knew them are now dead themselves.
It’s quite striking to see the Memorial Wall so stripped bare, a visual reminder of what’s going to happen to Galactica itself.
Heroism or Dereliction?
Of course, the Memorial Wall is also the key to the “rescue Hera” plot: Stopping to peer at the remains of the Memorial Wall, Adama spots a candid photo of Athena kissing Hera, probably placed by Athena herself, who in her grief has already given up Hera for dead, sure that Hera has already been cut up by Cavil into a hundred pieces. In a terrible moment with Helo, we see her trapped in the same depths of heedless grief in which we saw Roslin in her flashbacks.
Adama’s silent but visible decision to make a rescue attempt is of course more complicated than just the decision to retrieve a kidnapped little girl. It is about Bill Adama reclaiming himself, the leader he used to be, who would use all the resources at his disposal to save his faux grandchild because she needs him, a man who would rather go down with his ship on a suicide mission than peter out the rest of his days with no purpose on the ship of his former enemies. However, no matter how satisfying the moment is to watch, Adama’s decision, and the decisions that many of the other characters make along with him as a result, are also more complex than they seem on first glance, and even a bit disturbing:
For what we get next is a very stirring call to arms – where Adama makes an announcement in the hangar deck to everyone (and I mean everyone – even mutineers let out of prison for this and children as young as 15) that he’s going to take Galactica on a one-way mission to try and rescue Hera and he’s looking for volunteers to accompany him. He acknowledges in a booming voice that “this is likely to be a one-way trip” and warns people to not volunteer out of sentiment.
All very moving, and it’s clear that we’re setting up for a finale full of guns and eleventh-hour derring-do in the name of bringing back a little girl who is The Shape of Things to Come, but also is just a little girl. As much as I am excited to see all our favorite characters running around next episode being all badass, I’m aware of something that is not being mentioned at all as we watch how one-by-one, Lee, Tyrol, Tory, Ellen, Tigh, Helo, join Adama on his quest. Hell, even Roslin gets up from sickbay and unhooks her IVs to wobble over to the hangar deck and join them. (Perhaps not surprisingly, Baltar is the only major character not to volunteer himself, although we see many shots of his pained expression as he clearly debates volunteering, so I’m guessing he will in the last minutes before they leave Galactica.)
Here’s the fundamental concern I have with these characters rising up to the challenge of this stirring but possibly doomed mission: Why are we being manipulated into rooting for the most moral characters on Galactica to essentially abandon the Fleet to its fate?
Let’s recall the list again, but this time with titles: The Admiral, the XO, the CAG, the President, the leader of the Quorum and the Deck Chief are all leaving the rest of humanity in the hands of the Cylons, who the show disturbingly just made a point of telling us again (through Chief Tyrol) are “blow up dolls” that can not be trusted, and will eventually turn on you. I mean, Hot Dog is leaving behind his child to go on this suicide mission! Is that not morally questionable? Is it heroic for the entire command structure of the ship to leave humanity behind in pursuit of one child, no matter how special? They’re not even sure why or if she’s really special. Are we supposed to ignore the implications of this heroic quest, or is Ron Moore even smarter than all that and has that concern covered for next week?
Whatever the answer, I have to say, I smell death on the wind this week. Lots of it.