Wednesday, February 18, 2009

No Exit

'No Exit' is destined to be one of the most remembered and talked about episodes of the series, even though, story wise, there isn’t much to it. Most of the episode involved Cylons explaining it all. Well, not all. But a lot. It could be described as an exercise in exposition.

A few things before we get to that. From the survivor counts we learn that the total number of people killed in the two episode mutiny was 87. They originally fled with 50,298 and have since lost 10,742.

During the episode we cut away from the Cylons for two sub-plots, though one, being a single scene, hardly counts as a sub-plot. That one is a conversation between Lee and Roslin. They are in the Quorum chambers. Lee says that the next Quorum should be based around the ships they live on now and not planets they can no longer inhabit. Roslin agrees and tells him it’s his responsibility now. She is passing the torch. He is humbled, I don’t know why. They have been passing him the torch throughout the season. It’s long past time he took it. The idea of basing representation on the ships sounds interesting, but, as we learned last episode, there are about three dozen ships, and some are much bigger than others.

The other sub-plot involved Adama, Galen, and the repair of Galactica. Adama asks the Chief to return to his duties and fix his ship. There are signs of metal fatigue throughout it. Adama places one stipulation of Galen’s work, the repair crew must be entirely made up of humans. Galen is surprised, but agrees. He then finds signs of much greater damage and insists that the only answer is found in Cylon technology. Adama flatly refuses, that is, until a gash opens in his own quarters. He realizes he can’t have his ship unless he has the Cylon technology and authorizes Galen to use it. As storylines go, this is one of the most wrongheaded in a long time. Continuity problems are bound to crop up the longer a show continues - Trek fans used to joke about the show’s continuity dampeners - but just before this episode was a two episode story about a mutiny. Someone ordered the captains of the other ships to accept Cylon technology and to allow the Cylons necessary to deploy it onto their ships. He threatened to arrest any of them who refused. It was the last straw for many throughout the fleet and led to open rebellion and the deaths of almost ninety people. The writers seem to have forgotten that it was Adama who gave that order and Adama who fought down a mutiny in order to enforce it. So why is Adama refusing that very technology now? It makes no sense. It is a lazy attempt at drama, in an episode that didn’t need it.

Finally, what are we to make of the title? ‘No Exit’ signs refer to a dead end. What is the dead end?

The first Cylon storyline involves Sam Anders. In the last episode Sam took a bullet in the head. In this episode he regains consciousness and remembers all! 'I remember everything. Earth. Why we're here. I see everything.' He tells Kara to get the other three. From here on its Sam in his hospital bed giving the others backstory, while nurses and doctors run in periodically and shout at them for wearing the patient out. Eventually he has a seizure and Kara, as his wife, authorizes the surgery in spite of his fears that he may lose his new found memories. So what does he remember?

The Five worked together at a research facility on Earth. Both Saul and Ellen and Galen and Tory were couples. Somehow they were warned of the impending attack and prepared a way of escape in the form of a ship they could resurrect into after the destruction of their bodies. ‘Organic memory transfer’ was a technology that had existed on Kobol, but had fallen out of use because the Cylons had learned to reproduce naturally. The Five reinvented it.

Having survived Earth’s holocaust, they decided to travel to the Twelve Colonies and warn them to treat their Cylons well. Break the cycle. It took them two thousand years to reach Earth because they did not have the ability to travel at faster than light speeds, though, thanks to Einstein’s theory of relativity they had time dilation on their side and it didn’t seem that long from their perspective. But when they got there it was already too late, the war had started. The Cylon Centurions had even started to make their own humanoid Cylons, resulting in the Hybrids. The Five brokered a one-sided ceasefire. In return for ending the war, they gave the Centurions resurrection technology and eight humanoid models. Yes, eight. There are thirteen models, not twelve. Makes sense, including Earth there are thirteen colonies from Kobol.

Cavil was first made and he helped them make the others. The Five thought they could break the circle of violence by having the Cylons embrace the single, loving god that the Centurions worshipped, but Cavil rebelled. He killed them, suffocating them, and then blocked access to their memories and implanted false ones, much like what we saw with Boomer.

Before Sam is wheeled into surgery we also learn that back on Earth each of them had seen a different sign warning of the impending destruction. That’s not explained. And we learn of a seventh model called Daniel and that he was killed. The last thing Sam does before the doctors wheel him away is to warn Saul to stay with the fleet, that it is all starting to happen. He talks of 'a gift from the angels.'

Saul, Galen, and Tory take all this in. They still have a lot of questions. Hearing their true history doesn’t trigger any memories in them. They debate whether they are responsible for the war, given that they made Cavil and Company. Saul returns to his quarters looking for a drink, but Caprica reminds him that there hasn’t been any booze in, apparently, their quarters for some time. There is a little domestic moment, where he feels the baby move for the first time. Kara has been on an emotional roller coaster. She wants to save Sam’s life and she wants to know if she is a Cylon. After the surgery she is talking to him when the nurse tells her that there is no point. There is almost no brain activity. Yes, the operation was a success, but the patient died! Well, not dead, but he is a vegetable.

In spite of being built around the hoariest and most predictable of storylines - How many soap operas have associated head injuries and memory? Did any think he’d still remember post-op? - we do learn a lot from Sam, including why, of a planet of full of Cylons, only five were resurrected, but we get a lot of new questions too. If organic memory transfer existed on Kobol, was it limited to the Cylons? Could it explain the return of Kara? If Kobol didn’t have faster than light speed, where did the Twelve learn of Earth and who nuked it? Was it the humans of Kobol or did something else happen? If the Five thought if was worth travelling great distances to warn the Twelve Colonies to break the cycle, does that mean that the humanoid Cylons of Kobol were made by Centurions of Kobol? Anders says that monotheism was a belief of the Twelve Colonies’ Centurions. Did it exist among the Kobol-Earth Cylons? In the re-imagined series the humanoid Cylons have pretty much eclipsed the more mechanical ones and we know very little about them. Finally, who are these angels?

Throughout the episode we cut over and over again to the show’s biggest surprise: the resurrection of Ellen Tigh. How can she resurrect now that the hub is gone? Because these scenes are all take place in the past. The first is set eighteen months ago, when Ellen died on New Caprica. Yes, from the fourth episode of season three she has been held captive aboard a baseship, her presence known only to Cavil and the one Eight, Boomer, who has his confidence. Yes, throughout the whole debate about the five Cavil has known who they are. In fact, he alone among the thirteen has always known their identities. Ellen meets him and calls him John. He hates the name, but it’s his, in honour of her father, the man after whom he is modeled.

We next see them six months later, one year ago. A lot has happened. New Caprica has been abandoned. D’Anna has begun her fanatical search for the identity of the Five. The fleet’s food becomes contaminated and their search for new supplies will take them to the algae planet and the discovery of the Temple of the Five, or the Temple of Hope, as it’s called in this episode. Cavil and Ellen debate responsibility. He blames her for everything. She asks why, if he were so intent on being the perfect machine, he embarked on his campaign of destruction against the humans. A campaign fuelled by revenge. He counters that it was fuelled by justice, demanded by the enslavement of the Centurions. Boomer is introduced to Ellen at this point, but a lot of their conversation goes over her head. She knows Cavil has been sleeping with this Eight, just as he was sleeping with her before on New Caprica. Of course, Ellen had no way of knowing their past, but he knew she was his creator, his mother, and that he was modeled after her father. Cavil, as we are learning, is something of a basket case.

Another two months pass. The star around which the algae planet orbits has already gone supernova and Cavil is showing Ellen images of it. D’Anna has seen the Five and been boxed. Neat trick, using the temple to reveal themselves. Ellen says they had nothing to do with that, they merely stopped on the planet to pray while travelling to the Twelve Colonies. The Temple of Hope was already there. She reminds him that boxing D’Anna isn’t permanent, unlike what happened to the number Seven models. Cavil begins a rant about hope much greater the experience of a supernova would have been if he hadn’t been limited by his human-like senses. His conviction is so obvious that he almost sounds reasonable. He storms out. Boomer asks Ellen if she feels any remorse for what she has done. She doesn’t. She gave them free will, emotions, the ability to love. Who would we love, Boomer demands, humans? Interestingly, at this point we cut to a shot of Galen. Boomer seems to have gone from denying her Cylon side, when first resurrected on Caprica, to denying her humanity. Personally, I’d like to see her and Galen get back together. I think it would be a nice way of completing the circle, as Sam says. Of course, once Galen gets his memories back, he’ll probably be in love with Tory again, but we’ll see. The Tighs will have their problems, too, given the new pregnancy.

Next up, its only four months ago. Kara has disappeared and returned, and the hub has been destroyed. Cavil wants her help. The hub is gone, but they don’t know about the colony. All her equipment is there. She could create another hub. That makes sense, and many fans have asked why they don’t just build another hub. Apparently, because only the Five know how. Who is it that doesn’t know about the colony? The humans who helped destroy the hub, or the six models who have been working together with Cavil until the split that led to the destruction of the hub? And what is the colony, exactly? It is the Cylon homeworld? But Ellen says she can’t do it. Not by herself. She’d need the other four. Cavil doesn’t believe her. He threatens to open up her brain and access her memories directly.

Now it is only two days ago. Ellen is sketching Saul when Cavil walks in, ready to carry out his threat to take her memories by force. They argue about his motives and we learn that he killed them and sent them to live among the humans, as humans, so they could appreciate his attitude towards humanity. So that they would admit that he was right and they were wrong. We also learn that he killed the Sevens, the Daniels, out of jealousy, corrupting their embryonic formula and their genetic code so they could not be resurrected. Ellen tells him that he has done terrible things, but he is not a mistake and that she loves him because she made him. But he refuses her plea. Boomer comes to lead Ellen being to her surgery, but instead takes her to a waiting raptor and off the baseship. Ellen has escaped. We know from the previews that she will make it to Galactica. Of course, if you remember the previews for the last episode, you’ll know what a reliable source of information those can be!

So there you have it. The origin of the humanoid Cylons and of the Five. And the show now has a Big Bad of its own, in the true Joss Whedon sense of the word. Words. Whatever. As I said at the beginning of this column, this is an episode that will be chewed over for some time. I think it could have been stronger if it had done away with the Anders, Adama, and Quorum scenes and just concentrated on Ellen and Cavil. Kate Vernon and Dean Stockwell brought a real chemistry and bite to their scenes together and, with Boomer there to prompt the necessary explanations, I think the whole thing could have been done from the baseship. But it’s pointless to mull that over now.

We are down to our final five episodes!

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