Monday, May 19, 2008

Battlestar Galactica: Season 4, Episode 7, "Guess What's Coming To Dinner?"

If the first few episodes of Battlestar Galactica’s fourth and final season—obsessed as they were with exploring the collective psyche of the principal cast—managed to repulse many viewers expecting a more dynamic payoff to the revelations from the show's 3rd season, “Guess What’s Coming to Dinner?” should satisfy that greedy, plot-crazed mob. Penned by longtime Galactica scribe Michael Angeli (who can have some trouble with prolix dialog, but is absolutely redoubtable with the show’s hallmark actiony sequences), the episode was a mirror of seasons past: a desperate flight from a cylon threat, Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) and Roslin investigating religious visions with gusto. It was also the first episode since the season premiere to showcase each member of the show’s impressively large stable of characters—even secondary and tertiary ones, like Racetrack and Hoshi. It was, in short, a welcome return to past glory, a near-perfect mélange of character and plot that is common to all the best storytelling, in any medium.

“Guess What’s Coming to Dinner?” opened up confidently, with Gaius Baltar (James Callis) guttersniping Laura Roslin on his radio sermon (seriously, he’s more ubiquitous than Paul Harvey now, isn’t he?), deriding her secret visions of the mysterious opera house, visions she shares with Galactica’s resident cylons, Sharon Agathon (Grace Park) and Caprica-Six (Tricia Helfer). Still consumed by his personal animosity towards the president, Baltar hasn’t exactly entered the rarified air of the saints, but the haunted, sympathetic look he gives the newly-legless Felix Gaeta (Alessandro Juliani)—his former protégé, as well as the man who has tried to kill him twice, once with a knife and once with perjury—suggests that he’s getting there. The Baltar of seasons past would have been pleased at the crippling of an enemy; that’s clearly no longer the case.

Elsewhere, events swirled primarily around the newly minted cylon-human alliance, as the surviving cylons from Brother Cavil’s holocaust no longer wish anything more than to be reunited with their lost brothers and sisters, the final five, whom they believe to be on the ragtag fleet as refugees from Earth (which is why they were able to recall a famous Earthen diddy, “All Along the Watchtower”, in last season’s finale). Instead, they have elected to become more human, even offering to help the humans destroy the cylon resurrection capacity.

There were great looks from the final four as they realized what these revelations of earth and mortality mean to them: Saul Tigh (Michael Hogan) just wants to be done with the whole thing, desperate to keep his humanity intact (his first instinct aboard the basestar wasn’t to tinker with its controls, but to determine the party responsible for shooting Gaeta), while Tory Foster (Rekha Sharma), who has been embracing this whole cylon thing with an appalling amount of zeal, looks horrified that her shot at immortality is being taken away from her. That revelation brought Tory back to her most recognizably human form since last season; she was genuinely hurt by Roslin impugning her character, and pumping Gaius for information (literally! Zing!) marked the first time this season she was acting in someone else’s interests, not her own.

Meanwhile, Anders (Michael Trucco) just can’t stop feeling guilty. How much of that stems from shooting Gaeta the man, and how much of that stems from shooting Gaeta the potential cylon—who in now the 5th person to ever sing in the show, the first four all being cylon—is certainly up to debate, but the pain on Trucco’s face was palpable. People are already parsing through the song’s lyrics for potential meaning (you can read about the composition process at composer Bear McCreary’s wonderfully detailed blog), but it worked on a different level for me, providing an elegiac counterpoint to Lee Adama (Jamie Bamber) playing the hero and imploring Roslin to explain her actions. She acquiesces, which is consistent with the changes of last week, but she’s still ultimately disdainful of representative democracy.

When that capitulation results in Natalie (Tricia Helfer again) explaining her actions to the quorum, a very grave Starbuck, watching the proceedings with a keen eye, realizes that the hybrid’s warning—that she, Kara, the harbinger of death—takes on a new significance. Thrace begins to realize that, hey, maybe it’s a positive appellation, referring not the destruction of mankind but to the potential loss of immortality among the cylons. That realization led to a reunion of sorts for Thrace and Roslin, who had bonded over religious imagery so many times before, promising to help each other ascertain the facts of the opera house, an ominous development underscored once more by Gaeta’s elegiac soprano.

That scene, in addition to showing Kara finally getting her shit back, set most of the rest of the events in motion. Half the principal cast is now trapped aboard the commandeered basestar with its twitchy, sentient centurions (even if the skinjobs have been robbed of their menace, the centurions sure haven’t) being spirited away against their will; Laura bringing Searider Falcon aboard the ship, suggesting she and Adama will never get to consummate their relationship. And, of course, Sharon Agathon shooting Natalie two times in the chest (what’s with the number eights never getting any headshots?) to protect her child, calling into question whether or not Roslin is still the prophesied dying leader—might Natalie now be? Some people have had problems with that last one, since Natalie is very clearly not Caprica-Six, the model in the shared visions, and Sharon above all should know that not all cylons are created equally. But at the same time I really can’t find fault, since the disorienting nature of Hera’s actions were very creepy to watch, and would set any parent on edge.

All in all, a fine episode. What did everyone else think?


Sofistafunk said...

I definitely don't think Gaeta is cylon #5, he's far too obvious a choice for a series this clever. If anything, the singing is a red herring. Plus, Doc Cottle told him to sing to cope with his phantom limb. So he didn't exactly start spontaneously like the rest of the final four.

This was my favorite episode of the season thus far for all the reasons you enumerated but especially because Baltar was mostly relegated to a radio again. What a great narrative device though. It really contributes to the nostalgia factor that's always been strong in the show (like the corded phones for instance) and has helped to keep it grounded and avoid seeming too sci-fi-y.

I was glad to steer away from the character study episodes. Though, where the eff has Commander Adama been??? He was only in there for 5 minutes and the badass factor takes a serious dip whenever he doesn't get any screen time. Having Kara AND Roslin marooned on the errant basestar definitely calls for some Adama action. Fingers crossed.

Danny said...

Midway through the episode I remember thinking: This show just gets creepier and creepier each week. I think the brilliance in knowing you're limited to 4 seasons is that it allows the writers to try and do as much as possible in 43 and a half minutes where other shows (like say those damn X-files) would drag it on for seasons without ever coming to a meaningful conclusion. But every character had at least their moment in the sun, which isn't an easy thing to pull off while having so many things happening at once.