Monday, May 12, 2008

Battlestar Galactica: Season 4, Episode 6, "Faith"


As much as I’ve loved the ponderous lack of urgency underwriting these past few character-driven episodes of Galactica, I can certainly see how they might have gotten a bit frustrating, particularly threaded out over a month or so. “Faith” addressed these concerns by dialing up the action, not only with several impeccably disorienting shootouts, but by setting up the events of the foreseeable future.

That’s not to say that “Faith” was a brainless action-romp; it was, in fact, perhaps the most probing episode so far this season. But rather than further flesh out its characters, “Faith” instead elected to explore how those characters respond to a very fundamental tenet of humanity (and, thanks to recent events, cylon-ness): we’re all going to die.

Before we begin, even if you didn’t rejoice in that motif (and if you didn’t, you’re crazy), at least Kara Thrace, or whatever it is that looks like her, was brought back to the competent, reasonable military officer she once was. There was something touching about her rushing to help Gaeta, the insubordinate (to her) mutineer whom she nearly airlocked early last season, forgetting her personal animosity and her own mission almost instantly to administer medical aid to someone many feel didn’t deserve it. That mutiny, acting as it did as a referendum on Kara’s unstable command, reined her in, obviating that divisively militant personality, and made the climactic scene with the hybrid—who revealed to her that she, Starbuck, was the bringer of death, and would lead them to their “end,” whatever that means—a more interesting scene than a smug, blustery Kara Thrace receiving her destiny otherwise would have been.

Tagging along with Kara, Anders and Athena aboard the cylon basestar was one Jean Barolay, whom I couldn’t remember ever seeing before (though, as it turns out, she’s been in several episodes, as a resistance group member on both Old Caprica and New Caprica). Usually when an anonymous character volunteers to go on a dangerous mission, one of two things happens: either the character sabotages it, or winds up sticking a knife against someone’s throat. Here, Barolay existed simply to die ignobly, alone and in enemy territory, as retribution for her past sins. She wasn’t here to provide a fleeting moment of false drama, but to illuminate how far the cylons have come in their quest to become human. They’re no longer glib about death (on New Caprica, Cavil’s only complaint about his reincarnations was that they gave him migraines) since it’s now a final state of being, certainly an imponderable fate for a race that had previously been, at all events, immortal. Even as Gina, the Six who seems to be in charge of the lone basestar surviving Cavil’s holocaust, derides the concept of “human justice” and blood for blood she embraces it, pulling the trigger of the gun Anders couldn’t bear to fire. The momentary kiss between Gina and the guilty Six wasn’t erotic at all; it was a sublimely abject expression of comfort between two personalities that operate on sensuousness, not rationality.

Elsewhere on the basestar, Athena finally met up with a group of her sisters, so to speak, in a scene that echoed the events of season 1’s finale, “Kobol’s Last Gleaming”. But while that earlier confrontation untethered Boomer from her humanity, Athena's encounter reinforced hers. She refused to even entertain the idea of helping her fellows on that principle, even if that help was a simple, sympathetic hand to a dying Eight, hemorrhaging blood into a milky-white pool: “You pick your side, and you stick.” Grace Park is often forgotten when people talk about the embarrassingly talented Galactica cast (which may have something to do with the fact that she’s been out of the spotlight for so long. Seriously, she and Jamie Bamber must have some incriminating photos of Ronald Moore), but she and Tricia Helfer have done a fine job throughout the series of shading scores of identical bodies with believably unique personalities.

But the emotional centerpiece of “Faith” was, unquestionably, President Laura Roslin and her new BFF coming to grips with their mortality. From Roslin’s staggered gait to the frank conversation about her faith in God/s (on your deathbed, there’s no subject more important than that), the entire sequence felt uncomfortably real. I think it’s fair to say that Roslin accepting Baltar’s monotheism was all but inevitable, but I hadn’t expected it to come so early, and without any grandiose, heartfelt speech from James Callis. Instead, Baltar was consigned to a radio the entire episode, a whispering ghost of reassurance that, yes Laura, everything’s gonna be all right.

I really can’t say enough about Mary McDonnell here. Roslin’s breakdown after realizing that she’s not exactly like her mother—who was, like her, a teacher and penitent monotheist—was heartbreaking, and it led to that fine moment on the boat, a cascade of emotions flooding her face—joy at seeing her mother; distaste at having embraced anything by Gaius Baltar. That emotional matrix played out again in Adama’s quarters, but it was further suffused by Roslin’s apprehension at accepting a religion that essentially denies what has up to now driven her along: she’s the prophesied dying leader who will lead humanity to Earth. If nothing else, that loss of certitude undermined Laura’s iron fist just for just a moment, allowing Laura, the cancer patient, to comfort Adama’s growing despair about the events of Galactica that are increasingly spinning out of his control.

Some other thoughts:

In an episode where so many faced their mortality stoically, watching Gaeta—the man who refused to beg for his life, even as he was the individual most responsible for the successful New Caprican resistance—beg a man to leave his wife and friends to die just so he could save his leg felt a bit off to me.

Can we please abandon the clock countdown? On all shows? Seriously, there was just no way that the Demetrius was going to leave the basestar floating around in space, not with that many principals aboard, and that knowledge totally undercut any lame tension there may have been.

While 3 of the final four cylons have all lost their humanity to a certain extent, Anders, in his compassion towards Barolay and the Eight, is reinforcing his.

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