Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Battlestar Galactica: Season 4, Episode 1

For most of its first 3 seasons, Battlestar Galactica always kept its unique mythology in the background, tending instead to focus on the more immediate concerns of the fleet. Sure, there were a few minor episodes that flashed elements of a paganish mysticism. And President Roslin’s (Mary McDonnell) character has always been at least partially defined by her certitude that she is the prophesied dying leader who will lead humankind to Earth. But many of the elements of the series’ overriding mysteries came to the fore in season’s 3 finale, which saw the outing of Colonel Tigh (Michael Hogan), Chief Tyrol (Aaron Douglass), Samuel Anders (Michael Trucco) and Tory Foster (Rekha Sharma) as 4 of the final 5 unseen cylons, to say nothing of Kara Thrace’s (Katee Sackhoff) miraculous return from the dead.

Those revelations, coming as they did in the final moments of season 3’s finale, gave the fans hundreds of questions to chew on during the year-long hiatus. That's nothing new: Galactica’s finales have always been massive cliffhangers, either by showing the ominous march of cylon centurions through the marketplace on New Caprica, or the shooting of Commander William Adama (Edward James Olmos). Still, while those previous events were mostly character-altering developments, the events of season 3 led to a fundamental shift in the series itself. Viewers were no longer asking, “What happens next?” but rather, “What the hell does this all mean?”

That dynamic is something viewers of Lost will certainly understand. But if there was any trepidation that this new Galactica would falter along the lines of that show—minutiae designed for the sake of weirdness, inorganic character decisions designed to forestall eventual revelations—the events of “He That Believeth in Me” laid those fears to rest. After a breathtaking battle sequence in the opening act (the best work the Galactica effects crew has ever done), the episode settled down to do what it does best: take a look at how the events of the show effect the characters in it.

If there was a theme to the episode, it was one of identity. “Be the man you want to be until the day you die,” Tyrol admonishes Anders, echoing Tigh’s speech in the finale, post-revelation (“My name is Saul Tigh. I am an officer in the colonial fleet. Whatever else I am, whatever else it means, that’s the man I want to be. And if I die to day, that’s the man I’ll be”). While the newly revealed cylons will certainly grapple with their outing, so to speak, I’m not so sure those revelations will profoundly affect their behavior. We’ve already seen one cylon be able to overcome her programmed hatred of humanity thanks to the power of love, and certainly 3 of the final 4 have deep relationships, too. (Only Tory is something of a wildcard, but that’s primarily because we haven’t really been exposed to her in any meaningful sense.)

In any event, while the episode’s most poignant moments lay in its dramatic irony (particularly poor Anders telling Kara he would still love her even if she were a cylon, with Kara retorting that she would kill him in a New York minute if he was), the episode’s best moments were those focused on the newly-exonerated Gaius Baltar (James Callis). Baltar is unquestionably one of the richest characters on television, ever, and much of that is thanks to Callis’ wonderful ability to extract some (dark) humor from what is a mostly bleak show. That was on full display here, particularly when Baltar’s disgust with his ragtag groupies didn’t extend to his taking advantage of one of them.

But Callis isn't some one-trick pony, and has anchored Baltar’s memorable arc throughout the series—from traitor to president to Marx to now, apparently, Jesus, complete with a cheesy string-lighted shrine from his groupies. Yet Baltar isn’t just Jesus, he’s also actively proselytizing for the cylon’s monotheism. Does that make him Zoroaster as well? John the Baptist? Galactica has never been one to shy away from allusions—particularly visual ones, as the shot of Baltar praying was reminiscent of thousands of Italian frescoes. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

Some other thoughts:

The survivor count is getting depressingly low. They’ve lost 10,000 people (more than 20 percent ) in the span of 10 episodes.

Michael Hogan is turning in fantastic work every episode. He’s more expressive with one eye than most people are with their whole bodies.

The episode's only weak spots were Apollo-centric. For a show obsessed with its character continuity as Galactica is, it was odd to watch Apollo seem blithely unconcerned as to Starbuck's potential cylon-ness (this is the man who nearly exterminated the entire cylon race, as well as consistently belittle the Sharon-Helo relationship). In the same vein, Apollo turning in his wings to his father to get away from the military seemed an odd moment, particularly because much of season 2 was dedicated to establishing how similar the two really were.


Darryl said...

More thoughts to come, as I've literally just finished watching the episode and subsequently reading this post, but I wanted to chime in on the Apollo Question.

I think the character choices made with regard Kara are ultimately that - about Kara and his relationship to her. I'm going to be going back to Season 3, which I watched while having considerable doubts/quibbles/whines, but I think that there seems to be a shift in focus with regard to Lee. I think that some of the panoramic views of his attitudes may be lost in looking so closely at his relationship with Kara, but I'm hoping that as he moves into government we'll see the balance develop again.

Steven Simunic said...

Apollo has always been the least defined character on the show, in part because he's been defined so many times. Still, I can at least give the writers some credit. Part of my quibble with Apollo in this episode was at least a continuation of the previous 4 episodes or so (i.e. Apollo doesn't feel connected to the military, and chooses to turn in his wings to become a lawyer, or in this case work for the government).

Like I said above, the real trouble I had was just the inorganic, what-me-worry attittude towards Starbuck possibly being a cylon. Apollo and Starbuck have each been established as having hated the cylons more or less equally, and it would have been more consistent had Apollo acted the way Kara suggested she would act if she knew Anders was a cylon.

That's a syntactic disaster, I know, but I think it makes sense.