Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sometimes A Great Notion

Sometimes I get a great notion, to jump into the river and drown. It’s lyrics from the blues song ’Goodnight Irene’ and an indication that BSG is not going to return with a bang.

The episode’s director, Michael Nankin, has said this about the episode:

[D]uring the two weeks of prep, Ron Moore had not released the final script, so we didn’t even know if we were going to shoot the thing. The night before the strike, Ron gathered the entire cast and crew on the set of the CIC to give an impassioned, emotional speech. His voice quavering, he declared his love and pride for the show, for everyone involved, his frustration that the strike would not allow him to be with us — and, finally, his absolute trust in me and my artistry in overseeing what could possibly be the last episode ever. It was one of the most stunning things anyone ever said about me. It was an amazing moment for everyone. Soft-spoken Ron Moore turned into Patton. He was so choked up at the end of the speech that he could only turn and walk out when it was over. He went straight to the airport.

‘Everyone took what he said very seriously and the unanimous reaction to the possibility of this being the last episode was to turn in the best work possible. I have never seen a more dedicated, hard-working troop in my life. The cast rose to the occasion and gave everything they had in their hearts and spirits. All their feeling about the show, the entire beautiful ride, came through in the moments on-screen. Everyone was at the top of their game. It was a privilege to have been a witness to it.”
Throughout watching this episode, I kept wondering what it would be like if this really were the last episode. What we got was no so much a story, as a long series of reactions. Their journey to Earth is over and instead of a new home they find a world destroyed, just like the ones they left.

The episode starts where the last one ended, with the cast standing on the shore of a destroyed city. Tigh walks to the shoreline. I still haven‘t shaken the idea that the episodes closing scene, with Tigh and the revelation of the final Cylon, actually happened here, at this point in the story, though I realize that Tigh is dressed differently now than he will be then.

Sam finds the neck of a guitar and a memory is triggered. He remembers playing the song they were hearing earlier. Tory remembers him playing it too. Apparently he was the Michael Jordan of the Twelve Colonies and the Bob Dylan of the Thirteenth. Galen finds something even more evocative, the shadow he cast at the moment of his death. When a nuclear explosion happens intense radiation, a form of light, burns anything that is exposed to it. If something, an object or a person, blocks it a shadow is left behind. Recognizing what he sees, he remembers being in the marketplace. It is busy. We are surrounded by people we haven’t seen before. He is dressed like a middle class professional. Suddenly there is an explosion and they are all gone.

While everyone else is dumbstruck, Starbuck and Leoben are trying to track down the source of a weak transponder. They track it down to some wreckage. Kara’s original Viper. In it they find her body. Loeben is crushed. He placed his faith in Kara and now he doesn’t even know what she is.

Roslin arrives back on the Galactica to a large and expectant crowd. She has nothing to say to them. Nothing at all. She leaves with Lee shouting promises of a statement soon. She attends a debriefing on the scientific findings. Two thousand years ago the planet was destroyed in a nuclear holocaust. We knew that. They have found remains of Centurions, though of an unknown model, and of humans. Except they aren’t human, they’re Cylons. Earth was a colony of Cylons. Adama later finds her burning her copy of the Pythian prophecies. All those people, she tells him, died for nothing. (Of the 49,998 people who began the journey, only 39,651 made it to Earth. A loss of 10,347.)

It hasn’t been a bad day for Lee. First, he rallied the Quorum with a speech about choosing their own destiny. At least that’s what he tells Dee. We don’t get to see it. I understand how that would interrupt the downward tone of the episode, but I hate it when important things like that are played off stage. He is clearly stepping into the presidency at this point. He also has a great date with his ex. They kiss goodnight and, for a moment it seems like things may go further, but she begs off.

Dee’s day didn’t start so well. On the beach she found some child’s toys and began to cry. A memory, not doubt, but could it be a Cylon memory? She babysits for the Agathons, another contact with childhood, and then agrees to the date with her ex. Family seems to be the theme tying it all together. When she gets back to her quarters Gaeta tells her she is glowing. (No longer married to an Adama, she bunks down with a group of others.) She talks a bit about the child she was and how that child knew nothing of what life would have in store. Gaeta leaves. You get the feeling he didn’t want his pessimism to disrupt her revelries. She hangs up her dog tag and ring, takes out her side arm and kills herself.

Given the despair we see openly on display throughout the ship, I doubt it was the day’s only suicide.

Up to this point the Admiral hasn’t been a big part of the episode. Now he goes to pieces. It seems odd. There is no question that Dee’s suicide is the most powerful scene to this point, but the Admiral never seemed that close to her. She worshipped him. The father was obviously a big reason Dee married the son. She wanted to be an Adama. This contrasts sharply with his relationship to Kara, who, you’ll recalled entered his life through her engagement to his other son, Zak. Zak died before the wedding, but Adama has always looked on her like a favourite child. Now he is beside himself with grief? For who, exactly? He crawls into a bottle, then takes a sidearm from someone. He makes his way to Saul’s quarters. People are weeping. Someone wrote ‘Frak Earth’ on the walls. There is despair and disorder everywhere.

Once in Tigh’s quarter he starts making insulting comments about Cylons and crude ones about Ellen. He wants Tigh to kill him, but his XO to won’t do it. In both this episode and the earlier webisodes, which take place after this, Saul has been a new man. Centered. He isn’t quick tempered or easily provoked, though both Gaeta and Adama have given him every reason to lash back. That’s the real reason I think the revelation that ends the episode happened sooner than we see it. He is walking directly into the sea. He is either standing or kneeling chest deep in the water when something he finds there triggers his remembrance of two thousand years ago. He is in an office building. The attack has already happened. Ellen is calling him. She is trapped in rubble. When he finds her she tells him that it will be okay. That they will be reborn, together. Yes, Ellen is the fifth Cylon.

That’s the note the episode ends on. What if it were also the note the series ended on?

So, Earth was a colony of humanoid Cylons. In Galen’s memory of the market we saw many other people. Cylon models we haven’t seen before. Obviously there must be more than twelve kinds. Has the question of who the five are been a giant red herring to get us to stay in tune? The fleet and their Cylon allies go off to find a new home, Adama having made a speech much like the one Lee described earlier. D’anna remains on Earth. She wants off the cycle of violence and wants to remain there with ‘the bones of her ancestors.’ What does she know, exactly? Or is she just assuming there is a relationship, just as we viewer have been led to believe? And who, or what, is Kara Thrace? If this had been the last episode I don’t know how I would have reacted to all these unanswered questions.

Tomorrow’s episode, A Disquiet Follows My Soul, looks to be more Colonial infighting. With only nine episodes to go, it is either going to be great or disappointing. They all are. The show has risen the bar too high for anything mediocre.

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