Friday 5 March 2010

Battlestar Galactica: Season 2, Episode 12 (2006)

In an effort to stop binging on Battlestar Galactica and try to break up this weekend with something fresh and new, we've decided to review some... Battlestar Galactica.

Based on Da Vinci's Last Supper, we love it! Commander Adama as Simon the Zealot, Gaius Baltar as Judas and the heart-warming Cylon, Caprica Six, as Jesus?! CAN THIS SHOW BE MORE AMAZING?!

Disclaimer: Because it's really hard to review individual episodes of a TV show with a long-scope narrative arc, we'll just put a big fat spoiler warning on this review. In case you are, like us, one of the last people on this planet who hasn't seen this show. Nonetheless we'll try to be as vague as possible.

As our review of the miniseries noted, one of the main themes in BSG (yes, we're on acronym-only basis now) is the difference or non-difference between humans and their Cylon "descendants", and how pure survivalism can sometimes unveil the disturbing similarities between the two groups. All this is textured with classical myth in the form of a conflict between Greco-Roman gods (whom the humans worship) and Abrahamic monotheism (which the Cylons promote). In plainer terms, the humans are constantly faced with tough moral choices, and their behavior becomes increasingly relativist - kind of like the way Zeus et al. were so morally ambiguous. As Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos) notes, "Context matters." The Cylons, on the other hand, resemble any hard-line moral absolutist in their unambiguous belief that they are right and the humans are wrong. The ultimate absolutist and judge, God, they believe, will eventually punish the humans for their various sins - and, to help Him along, the Cylons will put an end to their race. Interestingly, there are only twelve models - matching the twelve apostles? Hmmm.

By season two, episode Resurrection Ship, a new character has been introduced - Admiral Helen Cain (Michelle Forbes). Now, considering we're steeped in a story full of Old Testament allusions, Commander Adama and his ark of survivors flying to a promised land aboard the Battlestar Galactica don't take well to this new person named Cain and her militant commando-style Battlestar Pegasus. After a near-civil war between the two battlestars over the manslaughter of a Pegasus man (long story, other episode), the two agree to unite forces to destroy a Cylon spaceship dedicated to "resurrecting" Cylon consciousnesses into new bodies. In a secondary plotline, the ever-unstable Dr. Gaius Baltar (James Callis) has been assigned the task to interrogate the Pegasus' Cylon prisoner - an unnamed woman (Tricia Helfer) who is (1) a visible victim of torture, and (2) an identical copy to Baltar's ex-girlfriend and hallucination-companion, Cylon model number six (Tricia Helfer, duh). He, understandably, empathizes, as does the audience.

Jesus and Judas - err, I mean Caprica Six and Gaius Baltar the Traitor. Love it!

Now, a lot is going on here. An intimidating amount, in fact. So we'll start with what we know:

My brain! MY BRAIN!

There's no spoiler in acknowledging that one of the Galactica's former pilots, Sharon (Grace Park), is a sleeper Cylon agent. (This is revealed in the pilot episode.) As the show progresses, her character becomes increasingly complex - she is, right now, our absolute favorite. Without giving too much away, Sharon is now a prisoner aboard the Galactica, and the rest of the humans have very mixed feelings about her. Adama, in particular, has a tendency to get a little upset. (PPCC aside, but their interactions are the best!) In one scene, an exasperated and brooding Adama calls Sharon to his room to sit her down and ask, "Why do the Cylons hate us so much?"

Her response captures the entire issue: Adama himself once noted that humanity is a "flawed creation", and that humans can still be petty, hateful, even murderous, thus provoking the question, Do they deserve to survive?

"Maybe you don't," Sharon says bluntly.

This, of course, prompts Adama to prove that damned Sharon wrong by being the best human he can be, and hence deserving of survival. He shares his insights with the crew, too. But we can't help thinking Adama (Adam?) is a very flawed creature himself - his occasional tough decisions to cut the fleet's fat are pretty traumatic. Furthermore, we can't help wondering where, exactly, he is regarding the knowledge of good and evil? His relationship with the wonderful President Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) - apart from being sweetly romantic - often takes the hint of the seemingly pure and maternal Laura showing the gruff Adama just how much more hardcore she is than him. (No apples to appear, yet.)

Can we love these two even more? The answer is no. They are our peanut butter and jelly. They are our Saturday morning and Super Mario Bros. Can we just have an episode about how much they love each other? Please?!

The pageantry of science fiction

This show has made us cry a number of times now, often because of the beauty with which it presents the dystopian crises and interstellar battles. The lovely aesthetics are aided by atmospheric and interesting music by Bear McCreary, the show's composer. Often McCreary's music feels like a mix of minimalist Philip Glass (in one episode, one of Glass's piano pieces is heard) and the evocative Tan Dun (composer for films like Hero and House of Flying Daggers). In the episodes surrounding the Resurrection Ship, the Cylon warships are sometimes introduced with music resembling the chanting of Tibetan Buddhist monks. In some ways, it's reminiscent of the Tibetan long horns heard in War of the Worlds.

One scene, in particular, captures the grand-scale myth-making imagery found in the series. Ace pilot Lee Adama (Jamie Bamber) has ejected from his fighter, and he floats peacefully through space - the battle before him is spread silent and distant, and we take a moment to watch it with him, and to marvel at the tragedy. It's a lovely piece of filmmaking!

Captain Apollo watches the destruction as he floats through space.

And the moral of the story is... idea!

This is what we consider to be the genius of Battlestar Galactica: it is so ambiguous. Because we empathize and follow the storylines of a large ensemble of flawed characters, we can only watch the terrible things happen and lament at the iron-clad rules of cause and effect. Ideas such as free will feel deeply unstable when characters are often at the mercy of their own ignorance and heated emotions (ah, how Buddhist). And often we're faced with the "most pure" characters - Laura Roslin, Lee Adama - making decisions which force us to redefine purity so we can keep shoe-horning them in.

Similarly, the Cylons are progressively more and more humanized - such that, by this episode, it is unclear just how "morally correct" the humans really are in the war. Is it wrong that we love the Cylons too?!

So maybe the moral of the story is just that: Shit is complicated.


Heqit said...

Wow. I am the other person in the world who hasn't seen Battlestar Gallactica, but I think I need to start watching it. I love all this religious symbolism and mythological resonance and philosophical ambiguity. And I'm starting to really love the premises underlying SciFi as a genre, too.

P-PCC, have you read Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series?

ajnabi said...

Can we just have an episode about how much they love each other? Please?!

Season 4, episode 9. And that's all I'm gonna say about that. :-)

KJ@SLA said...

Even the theme song is insanely beautiful and used to make me all girly and wistful. Worked out why: the wistful-making bit is the Gayatri mantra:

oṃ bhūr bhuvaḥ svaḥ
tát savitúr váreṇyam
bhárgo devásya dhīmahi
dhíyo yó naḥ pracodáyāt

or "May we attain that excellent glory of Savitar the god:
So may he stimulate our prayers."

Sounds way better in Sanskrit when you've got no idea what they're singing!

KJ@SLA said...

Oh, that stuff was quoted from the Wikipedia site:

the post-punk cinema club said...

Heqit - Join me in worshiping this show! It's so fabulous. I could write SCORES. VOLUMES. And no - haven't heard of Vorkosigan, but I am a lover of sci-fi in all forms, so I am putting it on the List. Thanks!

ajnabi - Oh, thank God. I could watch just hours and hours of them being flirtatious and FRICKIN ADORABLE.

KJ@SLA - Ah HA! I suspected all along, since I thought I had heard a "jyoti" or "svaha" in there somewhere. (Though seems I imagined the former!) Reminds me of how George Lucas ALSO used Sanskrit in Phantom Menace's most awesomenest scene.

Sanket Vyas said...

Still miss this show and amazed at how incredible it was. All the symbolism stuff was fantastic but it's the relationships between all the characters I still remember.

Whether father/daughter (Adama/Boomer & Starbuck), lovers (take your pick), enemies (ditto), etc. Also, it's really interesting to note that alot of the characters in the update were actually male ones in the original - Boomer, Starbuck and Admiral Cain who was played by Lloyd Bridges in the original.