Archive for Daybreak: Part 2

‘Battlestar Galactica’ review: The angels walking among us

Posted in Battlestar Galactica, Fantasy/sci-fi, TV shows with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 22, 2009 by Dawn Raftery

The epic, emotionally draining “Daybreak: Part 2” ends not with a bang or a whimper, but with a wink-wink, nudge-nudge. The last scene of the two-hour “Battlestar Galactica” finale takes place in modern New York City, apparently the hub of the universe, even in the sci-fi—or should I say syfy—world. Head Six and Head Baltar are strolling through Times Square. They stop to peer over the shoulder of Ronald D. Moore as he reads a magazine article about the discovery in Tanzania of Mitrochondrial Eve, who’s presumably the grown-up Hera Agathon. About to play in the background is Jimi Hendrix’s version of “All Along the Watchtower.”

It’s a cheeky conclusion, almost flippant, followed by videos of real-life technology meant to show the correlation between a civilization’s progress and its downfall. Forgot WALL-E, ladies and gentleman. In the dark, dismal world created by Moore and fellow executive producer David Eick, the dancing robot is not as innocuous as you think. Someday between doing back flips and the moon walk he’ll plot to overthrow you.

Despite its disappointments—and there are a few—the culmination of four seasons of one of television’s most moving, thought-provoking and extraordinary shows of any genre crosses its celestial finish line with both gusto and grace. I’m not sure if the last couple minutes measure up to the whole series or even most of the last episode, but TV shows of this caliber are rare, and I’m just delighted that most of this swan song resonates on just the right note.

By the second half of the finale, the colonial humans have settled on Earth, or a planet they name Earth, where the natives are primitive but compatible with their DNA—a scientific find that leads Gaius Baltar (James Callis) to remark they can breed with them and William Adama (Edward James Olmos) to joke that he has a one-track mind and, when the doctor takes offense, no sense of humor. But amid the bantering arises a crucial question: How did we naturally evolve on a planet a million light years away from the Colonial humans? A reformed Baltar points to divine intervention.

Religion plays a strong role in the finale. Who are the spectral Baltar and Six? Angels. (And let me add very seductive, debonair, well-dressed angels.) Who is behind the visions of an opera house shared by Six, Athena and Roslin? God. How does Starbuck get the fleet to the new Earth? She’s an angel too. And why did she lead them to the other Earth, the destroyed Earth, before? Is that why the hybrids call her a harbinger of death? Unfortunately, still no answers there, and we’re not likely to get any now that the show’s over.

We do know this much. The survivors of the assault on the Colony, along with the those of the fleet (who mysteriously end up in the right place at the right time), explore the fertile, grassy plains of Africa and are happy to call it home. Heeding Lee Adama’s warnings about technology and its perils, the Colonial humans decide to live in different parts of the world without taking any of their gadgets and gear with them. The good Cylons—the Twos, the Sixes and the Eights—conform to this plan, as do the the remaining members of the Final Five. Hence the visually arresting scene with Sam Anders (Michael Trucco) leading the abandoned Galactica and fleet ships into the sun. The survivors of the Final Five set free the Centurions who fought on their behalf and give them the Baseship to find their own destiny. Ellen Tigh (Kate Vernon) hopes it’s enough to break the cycle of violence. So do we all.

It’s impossible to view the last episode ever and not recall some of the greatest, most powerful moments in this series. I’ll never forget Saul Tigh (Michael Hogan) tenderly holding his wife, Ellen, and telling her he understands even as he poisons her for betraying the resistance movement on New Caprica. I’ll never forget Gaeta’s (Alessandro Juliani) eerie singing in the sickbay after his leg has been amputated. I’ll never forget the chemistry between Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) and Apollo, whether they’re frakking or fighting. I’ll never forget Caprica Six (Tricia Helfer) shielding Gaius from the nuclear explosion on with her body—or her endless supply of flattering, form-fitting outfits. I’ll never forget the first time President Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) orders someone—the Cylon Leoben (Callum Rennie)—thrown out of the airlock. And I’ll never forget Cavil’s (Dean Stockwell) eloquent, impassioned tirade against the limitations of his puny human body.

Really, is this television, or an insightful glimpse into our future as well as the darkest recesses of our hearts and minds? Only time will tell.

A toast to the ultimate toaster battle

There is some heavy toaster-on-toaster action in this penultimate episode. The sight of the army of rebel Centurions with red paint slashed across their chests—to differentiate them from Cavil’s lobotomized forces—is impressive enough to instill an almost patriotic pride in Cylon haters everywhere.

The first half of the finale is what we’d expect: a spectacular showdown between Adama and Cavil. The fight scenes have some of the finest special effects I’ve ever seen, on the small or big screen. The level of technical genius as the Galactica jumps to where the Colony is and then plows into its side is riveting. The images of the ships attempting to navigate the swirling asteroid fields, enormous guns on either side firing on each other and the Centurions brawling in the ships’ corridors are exciting and chilling in equal turns. It’s a deadly ballet set in space with civilization-altering consequences.

The rescue mission is almost too easy. The assault should have been a futile exercise in bravado, but against incredible odds, Adama and his rag-tag crew succeed in infiltrating the Cylon stronghold and overcoming Cavil’s forces. And yet the enjoyment of viewing “Battlestar Galactica” derives not just from the challenges the fleet faces, but the drama along the journey. So I didn’t mind when they got Hera and escaped, because I could not have endured more misery and tragedy among the crew.

I’m sure every critic has gone into great detail about the battle sequences, but what left the most indelible mark on me is the opening shot of Adama and Tigh whooping it up in a strip club. Here, with strobe lights, pulsating music and scantily clad dancing girls, are the commercialism and decadence that doomed Caprica. You think you’d too distracted to follow everything, but the focus here is on the personal conversations taking place amid all the pomp and porn.

The strip club is a visually appealing scene with dual purposes. First of all, the flashbacks partly show how Adama arrives at his decision to helm Galactica and unwittingly put himself in the grueling position of saving humanity’s last survivors. Secondly, they provide further insight into the complex but undeniably strong relationship between Tigh and Ellen. Because just when you think Adama and Tigh are having a boys night out, perhaps even dabbling in infidelity, Ellen pops up behind her husband’s shoulder, cackling wildly, swinging from him like he’s a set of monkey bars, and downing drinks like the crazy woman we remember from earlier seasons.

The Tighs are having a lot of fun at the strip club; Adama is not. It’s pretty clear whose idea this is. And later on, when Adama is sprawled on the ground and puking on himself, you feel like you’re witnessing something you shouldn’t, especially when in typical “Battlestar Galactica” grim-and-graphic detail, you see his vomit spew out. Adama starts laughing as he gazes up at the stars, and this undignified but genuine display of human error is a stark contrast to the somber admiral making his last stirring speech to the crew before their present-day attack on the Colony. (Of course, present day is a relative term here, given that the final battle is supposed to have happened 150,000 years ago!)

There’s a critical message embedded in this scene: Adama is not a machine. He will fail from time to time. But what makes humanity special is not our ability to succeed so much as our capacity to learn. And Adama, despite being an old dog set in his ways, still has it in him to learn new tricks.

Best part of the past: Tigh continually yelling “YEAHHHHH!!!” several times at the strip club. You just have to see it for yourself to know what I mean.

Baltar to the rescue?

One of the most rewarding character arcs in the last half of Season 4 belongs to Baltar, former president of New Caprica and onetime reluctant executioner of his people. As everyone left aboard Galactica shifts into combat mode, Baltar experiences great inner turmoil. Perhaps in response to Lee’s earlier challenge, he is contemplating a selfless act: Risking his life to save Hera, the half-human, half-Cylon daughter of Helo (Tahmoh Penikett) and Athena (Grace Park). We saw him wrestle mightily with the decision on last week’s episode in the hanger deck, only to be shamed by the feeble, cancer-stricken Roslin making her way to the fighting side.

But I think his eventual decision to give up the creature comforts of his harem and stay and fight on Galactica precedes that episode. I trace it back to when he escaped to the Cylon Baseship during the recent mutiny, only to realize not even sex can distract him from the feeling he has abandoned his people and that he needs to find a cause and stand behind it for once in his life. That’s when the Baltar we’ve all come to know and often loathe grows and develops into a decent human being who can someday perhaps make up for the mistake of selling out humanity for love. (And good riddance to the Cult of Baltar. Talk about annoying. I chuckled gleefully when he says, “They’re all yours, Paula. Enjoy them.” I can picture Paula subsequently forming one of the first matriarchies on Earth.)

Baltar’s presence on the battlestar especially comes in handy when he manages to bamboozle Cavil, doing what he does best: bullshitting. With his talk of angels, God, destiny and the meaning of existence—all of which, I’ll grant, he seems to honestly believe in—he convinces Cavil to stop fighting and leave Hera alone. I don’t know if I consider it plausible Baltar could reach Cavil when no one else could, including Ellen, but maybe even the evil Cylons have grown tired of this war and Baltar’s words simply come at the right time. I wanted Ellen to duke it somehow with the monster of her creation, but her weapons are her mind and her feminine wiles, not her fists or firepower.

Baltar’s character has truly come full circle at the end when he tells Caprica Six he has spotted terrain that would be good for cultivation. The intellectual snob who was once embarrassed of his unsophisticated father and humble background acknowledges his farming roots to the person who now matters most to him. It’s a tender moment between them, and the tears in his eyes come across as genuine and not a means of manipulation.

The relationship between Baltar and Caprica Six also has come full circle. Without a doubt, these two are made for each other. I can’t think of a cuter sight—and there’s not many of them on a show as bleak as “Battlestar Galactica”—than the Amazonian, bare-armed Caprica and the petite, heavily protected Baltar preparing for battle. They were in love before, and they fall in love again as Caprica tells Baltar she’s proud of him for the first time. And, despite being on the brink of danger, they share a passionate kiss. But the real reason they’re made for each other—other than their impressive libido? They’re literally haunted by each other.

A tale of two Sharons

I have no qualms admitting to my thirst for blood when the recipient is more villain than victim. When Boomer twists Simon’s neck with a loud crunch to prevent him from conducting more tests on Hera, I cheered. It was a satisfying sound. (If only Cavil had been around too for Boomer’s brand of justice.) We haven’t seen much of Simon (Rick Worthy) during the series, but I feel a mixture of disgust and horror when I recall his central role in using human women for breeding experiments, with Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) being one of his many test subjects. I’m not against all Cylons, but Simon merits any fate involving termination. Unfortunately, Boomer only kills one, not the whole line.

Despite this redemptive act, Boomer’s status is still shaky. Although I’m glad to see Athena has finally pulled herself together, she and the other Sharon now have this kind of Harry Potter-Voldemort conflict, where one can’t live while the other survives. Just when she’s finally embraced her humanity and returned Hera to her mother’s arms, Boomer is riddled with bullets by the still-angry Athena. Park has done a phenomenonal job portraying all the different Sharons, especially the evolutions of Boomer and Sharon. She might have originally wanted the role of Starbuck, but depicting the Eights has allowed her to really showcase her acting abilities.

One example of Park’s range is that I was both inconsolably saddened by Boomer’s death and frustrated at Athena’s obstinate desire to shoot anyone who poses a potential threat to her daughter—and it’s the same person in both roles! I know Boomer’s options were limited. She couldn’t return to Cavil, and she couldn’t expect to be welcomed back into the fleet. But there had to be another way, or so I mulishly hoped. She and Chief—once he got over her deception and if he managed to keep his hands off her neck—could have found some small corner in the universe to carve out a life together. I don’t think I’m the only viewer who wanted Boomer safe from the punishment I envisioned Athena, Cavil or even the duped Galen Tyrol (Aaron Douglas) inflicting on her.

Surprisingly, Boomer’s last memory is not of her onetime lover. It is of Adama back when she was a rookie pilot. In this flashback, he and Tigh are harshly reprimanding her for her mistakes while landing a Raptor, but the commander allows her to remain a pilot. From their well-rehearsed insults, I gathered that this verbal thrashing was a natural and somewhat enjoyable part of the job for Adama and Tigh. When their censure is over, Boomer tells Adama she owes him one, and that when she pays him back, it will be meaningful.

“Tell the Old Man I owed him one,” she says, just before Athena executes her. “We all make our choices. Today I made a choice. I think it’s my last one.”

Boomer has carried that memory—and that promise—for a long time. It’s a touching tribute to the character.

The opera house blues

I always knew the opera house was a symbol for another place, but I imagined something cooler than the CIC. I pictured it being on Earth, or a planet very like Earth. I thought it would be a real opera house, even if only the ruins, or an ancient structure of some sort. Still, the reenactment of the visions shared by Athena, Roslin and Caprica aboard Galactica is pretty powerful stuff, and “Battlestar Galactica” has a thematic history of melding technology with the mystical. As Caprica, Baltar and the ailing Roslin contribute in different ways to Hera’s survival long enough to reach the CIC, where the Final Five are waiting, the music and lighting add to the well-orchestrated experience.

The one false note in the scene is that even as he and Caprica see with their own eyes all the enemy combatants still present and struggling to fight, Baltar sets Hera down. Within seconds Cavil has scooped her up and is holding a knife to her throat. Really, Gaius, don’t you know possession is nine-tenths of the law? And when you have something as desirable as Hera in your possession, you keep a tight grip on her.

So many replays of the opera house visions in previous episodes have led up to this moment, and you expect something significant to happen. It does, but not in the way you think or hope. In a rare move—rare because he does it without seeking Adama’s approval first—Tigh barks out the promise to provide Cavil with resurrection technology to seal the tentative truce Baltar has managed to gain, causing Ellen to cry out his name in consternation.

We learn Ellen was telling the truth in “No Exit.” Rediscovering the knowledge requires the efforts of each of the Final Five. Even before Ellen explains to them they must open themselves up to each other and share their memories as part of the process, I was shaking my head no and furiously waving my hands. Those of us who have faithfully followed the series already know that an ugly truth is about to be revealed: Tory’s role in the death of Tyrol’s wife, Cally (Nicki Clyne). Not long after the mental joining all of them see Tory ejecting Cally from a Viper launch tube, and Tyrol reacts brutally.

Here is yet another vicious scene in the finale, but there’s far less sympathy shown toward Tory (Rekha Sharma) when Tyrol strangles her and then snaps her neck than, say, Athena’s treatment of Boomer as a firing range. For one thing, there is no reflection on the character afterward. The truce with Cavil has been disrupted, and that’s where our attention immediately shifts. I consider is a deliberate move. Tory has never been portrayed as a likable character, either before or after learning of her Cylon heritage. She becomes especially weird right after learning the truth: walking around with unkempt hair, talking about Cylon superiority, starting a relationship with the still-married Anders, sleeping with the enemy Baltar—remember, she was a presidential aide to Roslin and should have kept her distance. Tory really goes the wrong way about embracing her Cylon heritage, and she pays for it. Bad taste in men and grooming do not a Cylon siren make.

Although I don’t bemoan the loss of Tory, especially this late in the game, I’m troubled by Tyrol’s atrocious behavior and everyone’s collaboration with it. No one takes Tyrol to task for what taking the law into his own hands; Tigh tells him he’d do the same if someone had killed Ellen, perhaps forgetting his own role in his wife’s onetime death by poisoning.

Tyrol might not have strong memories of their relationship, but Tory is the same woman whom he loved and was engaged to marry 2,000 years ago. Now, I understand Tory is a murderer and that the justice system is not the top priority when Cylons are shooting at you, but I don’t condone female abuse, and Tyrol’s character has a history of it. His courtship with Cally begins after he pummels her face so badly she ends up in the sick bay. I know he didn’t intend to hurt Cally; he was having a bad dream and she unwisely tried to wake him up. I think it’s a good idea that when they reach our Earth, Tyrol chooses to live in isolation. He doesn’t know how to trust—or be trusted—with women.

Tyrol’s emotional outburst, to put it mildly, moves the plot along, though, in the direction the show’s creators wanted. Everyone is placed in jeopardy as Cavil, Simon and Doral (Matthew Bennett) resume fire until they die. (I’m still deciding whether I think Cavil’s suicide following the death of Simon and Doral is cowardly or just typical of his hard-core personality.) The writers are able to work in a line from “All Along the Watchtower” as outside of the Cylon stronghold, Racetrack’s dead hand accidentally launches her Raptor’s nukes at the Colony, and Adama orders Starbuck to jump. Kara mutters, “There must be some kind of way out of here,” and punches in the notes to her father’s song for jump coordinates.

Starbuck in (permanent) flight

The Kara Thrace thread is by far the most unsatisfying aspect of the finale and entire series. No answers are really given by the end about the cockiest pilot this side of the cosmos. I’m sure many fans like me feel let down and thwarted by the producers’ refusal to untangle the mystery surrounding one of the show’s most complicated and beloved characters. In her final scene, she might have had a look of peace on her face—a very unusual look indeed for the volatile Kara Thrace we know and love—but we’re left to be content with a puzzle. I, however, want closure.

The lusty, foul-mouthed, cigar-chomping Starbuck is not what anyone would imagine the heavens would employ to save humanity. If she’s indeed an angel like Head Six and Baltar, why could everyone always see her? Why wasn’t she aware of her true nature like the other two? Why doesn’t she appear in the finale scene with the spectral Six and Baltar? I’ve even heard that some consider her to be a Jesus figure who ascends—or goes on to her next assignment—once her mission with the colonial humans is complete. Or that at least the new Kara—the one sent back to the fleet—is Jesus. I have a hard time fully believing any of the theories, and I can’t understand why the series would end leaving so much up in the air about such a main character.

I wanted a more down-to-earth existence for Kara; I would have liked her to end up with Lee. Throughout the show, these two have always had a torrid connection, whether they’re making love under the stars on New Caprica or beating each other bloody in a boxing ring aboard Galactica. The flashbacks to their first meeting and their nearly frakking on the dining room, while Zak lies passed out on the couch, reveal they have been drawn to each other from the beginning. Even later, when they’re both married to other people—he to Dee (Kandyse McClure) and she to Anders—they can’t keep their hands off of each other. But much like their interrupted sexual encounter in Caprica City, the scenes are just a tease. Because once the Cylon threat is gone, they have no future together. One moment Starbuck is standing near Apollo, asking him what he wants to do on Earth, and the next she’s gone, like she never existed.

Kara has a more proper farewell with her husband, Anders, still only functioning as a hybrid. He is hooked up to Galactica’s systems once again, and his one clear, logical statement since becoming the Cylon equivalent of a Rain Man-like seer is a “See you on the other side” to Kara after she walks away. She sheds a few tears, kisses him and tells him she loves him, but I don’t buy it. I know Kara has affection for Anders—she was furious when neither Roslin nor Adama would greenlight a search-and-rescue team back to Caprica—but they aren’t convincing as “star-crossed” lovers. After he joins the fleet, she often ignores Anders or treats him like a sex toy. She obviously marries Anders to avoid making a real commitment to Lee, who would have challenged her. Her dedication to Anders since he received the head wound during the mutiny doesn’t seem right or fair to the material.

Perhaps I’m having trouble letting go of the idea of Starbuck and Apollo because I’m having trouble letting go of Kara Thrace herself. She has fulfilled her purpose, but she hasn’t answered any of our questions.

The president and the admiral

If Starbuck and Apollo represent the turbulent passion that can exist between two people, Roslin and Adama represent the calm that comes after the storm. Through hardship and sacrifice, this man and this woman have more than earned the serenity you see in their domestic scenes toward the end of Season 4. Unfortunately, their joy together is short-lived.

The bond between the stalwart admiral and the shrewd president is one of the most poignant and compelling elements of the series. I wouldn’t have guessed from the beginning they were meant to be lovers, not after Roslin disobeys him time and time again and especially not after Adama puts her in the brig that one time. But I clearly recognized the respect they start to feel toward each other early on, and when they become allies instead of perpetual sparring partners, I knew the fleet had a chance at survival. Their slow courtship is gentle and sweet—in a world where those qualities are in short supply and low demand.

I’m glad Roslin is able to see Earth for herself, or as much of it she can with her diminished senses, but how bittersweet the end of the fleet’s journey is also the end of her life’s journey. Her final flight—the aerial sightseeing tour Adama takes her on after bidding good-bye to Kara and Lee—is one of the most heartrending yet romantic moments in the show. He’s talking to her about the cabin they’ll build—the one they discussed on New Caprica—when she takes her last rattling breath.

Watching as Adama turns his head toward her and realizes she is no longer alive brought tears to my eyes, particularly when he takes his wedding ring off and slips it on her finger. I wish he had made the gesture sooner, when Roslin was still alive. His decision to live alone, with Roslin buried nearby, speaks volumes about his commitment to her even in death. People mostly comment about Adama the military leader—his powerful strength of character, his strategic acumen and his fierce charisma—but I enjoy Olmos’ fine acting just as much in his quiet scenes with Roslin, conversing in his quarters on Galactica or hers on Colonial One.

Much like Kara, Roslin is at peace with herself near the end. She has fulfilled her destiny of being a dying leader who, if not exactly being the conduit that led her people to a verdant new world, still played a critical role in the continued survival of the colonial humans. Her flashbacks in the finale are perhaps not as effective as the others—they show her blind date with an eager former student and eventual decision not to play Mrs. Robinson to the younger man on a regular basis—but they show the exact moment when she decides to do something more with her life. And that late-night phone call to join a mayoral campaign is what sets her on the path to the presidency and eventually into Adama’s arms.

Even outside of her love affair with Adama, I’ve always found the development of Roslin’s character intriguing, given her rise from Secretary of Education to President of the Twelve Colonies. I remember Tigh once telling her sometimes he thought of her just as a schoolteacher and other times he thought she had ice in her veins. In her reign, she’s sacrificed thousands of innocent civilians, abolished reproductive choice, killed enemy combatants without trial, almost stole an electiona and tricked Sharon and Helo into believing their baby was dead. Even though she comes across as formidable and sometimes even ruthless, she’s never without sound logic on her side. McDonnell has always portrayed her character with razor-sharp intelligence and steely grace.

Friday nights will never be the same without “Battlestar Galactica.” I’ll be eagerly awaiting the DVD release of the second half of Season 4—and keeping an eye on emerging technologies that can think for themselves.

Last thoughts

— Really, what’s up with Hera always running off? Everyone on the battleship is trying to save her, and she practically leaps into the enemy’s arms any chance she gets. You’d think with all the technology these people have, someone would have invented a simple device to keep her from leaving her parents’ side. Like a rope.

— I don’t know who the Hoshi dude is, and I don’t care. They had to put someone in charge of the fleet, and anyone of any import with the exception of Doc Cottle (Donnelly Rhodes) had to go on the rescue mission. But the ethically challenged Romo Lampkin (Mark Sheppard) as president? Sorry. I haven’t stopped laughing.

— Where has Leoben been all this time? He’s been in hiding ever since discovering with Kara her dead body on the destroyed Earth. I would have liked for him and Kara to have a final scene together. He owed her that much, after keeping her his prisoner and plaything on New Caprica.

— I haven’t studied a biology or anthropology textbook in decades, but doesn’t making Hera Mitochondrial Eve mean that only her survivors have lived on? Meaning she truly was the key to human and Cylon survival? Good thing Adama changed his mind about rescuing her.

— I hope Hollywood casting agents won’t pigeonhole the stars of the show, because many of the leads—McDonnell, Olmos, Hogan, Sackhoff, Park and Callis, among others—would be an asset to any kind of television series or movie.

What are your thoughts on the series finale?

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