And all along the watchtower
The night horses and the black mares
Ready themselves for the outcome
For the strange times upon us
(I love it when I get to use Tori Amos lyrics in my titles)
Image courtesy BSG Media.
You know, as first contact with humanity goes, a Jimi Hendrix-esque cover of a Bob Dylan original is far, far better a greeting, in my opinion, than an image of Adolf Hitler’s speech at the opening of the 1936 Munich Olympics. Or Jodie Foster looking for her dad.
Overall, I’m happy with Crossroads, the two-part season finale of Battlestar Galactica. It offers some genuine surprises, it mixes things up, and it points the series in a number of interesting directions for the fourth (and possibly final?) season.
But in some respects, some of the wheels of the series have shaken loose and are threatening to come off. Hopefully, the changes in season four will provide Ron Moore and company with the energy they need to plough ahead and leave the problems behind, but it is a troubling development in what used to be the best show on television (Doctor Who now holds that title for me).
So, let’s untangle the plotlines, shall we?
The trial of Gaius Baltar proceeds, with Lee and Adama sitting on opposite sides of the courtroom. Life in the fleet halts (sort of) while everybody waits for what they see as an inevitable judgement against the collaborating former president… well, almost everyone; Baltar gets a visitor in his cell, a young mother asking for his blessing over her sick son. The trial offers a number of revelations, such as the return of President Roslyn’s cancer (remember, it was foretold that she would lead the humans to Earth, but not live to land on its surface) and the fact that she’s taking Kamala extract again, and that Gaeta so hates Baltar that he’s willing to perjure himself to try and ensure his conviction (again I have to wonder just what Baltar has on Gaeta, since Gaeta’s efforts here go beyond mere righteous indignation over Baltar’s treachery). Mostly the court sequences just drag on, until the defence present a short but sweet case, and Baltar finds himself unexpectedly acquitted.
There is a great “shut up, Baltar” moment after his acquittal, where he thanks his counsel and maintains that he knew he’d be acquitted all along, this after complaining long and loud over the ineffectiveness of his defence’s legal strategy. Mark Sheppard maintains his strong performance as legal counsel Romo Lampkin, and the moment where he ends his relationship with Baltar and leaves the man to realize that he is still the most hated man in the fleet, is wonderfully done. Once again, Romo and Lee Adama are on the same page.
More interesting, however, are the strange things happening to no less than eight characters on the show. Straight from the teaser in part one, we return to the mysterious opera house of Kobol, as Roslyn, Athena Sharon, Caprica Six and (probably) Hera share the same dream. You know, we’ve been returning to the opera house since the end of the first season, and I have to wonder, now, if this is an ancient opera house in Kobol, or if it has more to do with the journey to Earth. Certainly its connection with the five remaining models of the Cylons suggests the latter.
Meanwhile, Tigh, Anders, Roslyn’s chief-of-staff Tory and Tyroll are having a shared strange experience of their own, as music nobody else can hear starts haunting them. Whatever the music is (it uses an electric guitar with a mean set of chords) must be impossible to ignore, because it rapidly drives the four batty. Tigh has to be relieved of his XO duties and Tory’s job performance for the president basically collapses.
Then, of course, comes the season ending crunch. The fleet jumps to the Ionian nebula, looking for the next signpost to Earth. Then the power fails across the fleet. Baltar’s cult rescues him from (fairly) certain death. The music in Tigh, Anders, Tory and Tyroll’s heads become a lot clearer, and it turns out to be none other than All Along the Watchtower, originally by Bob Dylan but this version is heavily influenced by Jimi Hendrix. On the basis of this, the four assume that they’re actually Cylons (this is a wonderful scene, anchored by Tigh and Anders’ angry denials and Tyroll’s grim acceptance; indeed, Tory is somewhat of an odd-woman out, here), but they resolve to fight whatever Cylon conditioning is within them, as a massive Cylon fleet materializes on an intercept course. As the humans prepare to fight for their lives, Lee Adama tosses off his legal suit and rejoins the Viper fleet, only to be buzzed by (as I called it) Starbuck. She’s been to Earth, you see, and she’s going to show everybody the way. See you January 2008.
It’s the last ten minutes that makes Crossroads work, really. Other than revealing Roslyn’s cancer and rendering an unexpected ‘not guilty’ verdict, leading to Baltar’s “rescue” by his cultists, the trial does very little to enhance this series. Yes, Lee Adama’s impassioned speech marks a major turning point in the character (more on this later), but there should have been less time consuming ways to deal with this, and it wouldn’t have had to turn on the out-of-character decision to pit father against son, over the past three episodes.
It’s strange, but Galactica seems off its game in one key area — that being dialogue. Especially in part one (written by Michael Taylor; part two was shared between Ron Moore and Mark Verheiden and the difference is visible), the people responsible for putting together the script have lost their use of subtlety. A good example of this is the scene in part one where Baltar, Lampkin and Lee Adama sit in a back room somewhere discussing Laura Roslyn’s testimony. Although the scene is well acted, the dialogue the actors are forced to carry amounts to a lot of obvious statements, delivered as portentously as possible. Lee Adama’s conversation with his father and their subsequent falling out is similarly off, carried by the actors to get through the poor dialogue and the frankly out-of-character moves both characters are forced to make.
It’s possible that this may have been a problem for some time, and it’s only coming to light now because of the run of dialogue-heavy episodes. Either way, it’s a serious disadvantage to the program. The engine that used to be firing on all cylinders is now misfiring on dialogue. The result is a sputtering car.
But at least Crossroads had plot. The car’s drivers seem to know where they are going. Indeed, in terms of knowing where the series is going, the show’s writers showed that they know where the series has been. The highlight of Baltar’s trial comes when Lee Adama takes the stand and goes on an impassioned rant about how the system he believes so strongly in can no longer stand in the face of desperate ingenuity. (An exceptionally well-played scene which, nicely, draws a very mixed reaction from the crowd in attendance) In that moment, Lee lays out everything he has done in past three years that keeps him up at night.
(Except shooting the guy in Black Market, but perhaps Lee thinks that guy had it coming to him. More than a few members of the audience would agree)
This is the best part about the trial by far — the defense’s case rests on the accusation that Baltar shouldn’t be singled out because everybody is guilty. They’re guilty of surviving in place of billions of dead friends and loved ones. More than the constant stress, close quarters or dwindling resources, this most threatens the sanity of the fleet: survivor guilt.
In this respect, the finale’s turn of events could not come at a better time for the rag-tag remains of humanity. Key previous episodes, including the much maligned The Woman King highlight humanity at the end of its rope. Lee’s speech says something which is probably obvious but which nobody in the fleet will admit: there is no human race anymore. Civilization is dead.
Assume for a moment that the refugees find Earth. All we have coming Earth’s way are a bunch of survivors the numbers of whom, if compared to the original population of the twelve colonies before the Cylon attack, would round to zero. If Earth is a lost colony untouched by Cylons, it likely has a civilization of its own and a population in the billions. It would take the 40,000 refugees and assimilate them. Capricans and Saggitarons alike would just become Earthists. Whatever high-minded goals these humans have of maintaining their distinct culture are doomed to failure, so the only goal now can be to survive. And that’s not enough to be human.
And that’s assuming that there is something waiting for them on Earth. And that’s the best assumption the rag-tag remnants of humanity can hope for, that there are people ready to take in the refugees and assimilate them into the native culture.
And as the final ten minutes show, something might well be waiting for them at Earth. Something completely unexpected.
- Okay, given that Tigh, Anders, Tory and Tyroll are all hearing the same song, an Earth song, it’s understandable that they might think they were Cylons, but I suspect the reality is something different. Obviously what they are hearing is connected to Earth, and the only way this could be related to the Cylons, or even the five final models of the Cylons is if we were Cylons.
- Besides, humanoid or not, have the Cylons ever been interested in music?
- The fleet-wide power outage must be significant. What’s more significant, however, is that Roslyn anticipated it. Why just her?
- Anybody notice that Romo’s magically appearing cat from The Son Also Rises wasn’t anywhere to be seen in the two-parter? Anybody even care? Everybody see the further evidence that some of the writers have decided to throw things at the wall and see what sticks?
- Incidentally, I forget, but did we see any sign of the Cylon fleet shooting at the humans as this episode drew to a close? I don’t think so. Indeed, I don’t think we saw any Cylon images, except for the basestars during the long pullout. This is atypical of a Cylon attack, wherein fighters are launched within seconds of the basestar’s arrival. And given that Kara Thrace just happens to show up at this moment suggests that she’s with them. And that suggests that these Cylons have nothing to do with the Cylons that have been chasing the humans up to this point (for, you see, Caprica Six seems as in the dark as the rest of the human fleet, and her dream sequence suggests that the final five models of the Cylons are something that she personally has to fear.
- My wacky prediction for the opening of the fourth season? The Cylons the trailing raptor spotted in part one of Crossroads are not the same fleet of Cylons that ambushes the humans at the Ionian nebula. And we’ll know this when the first set of Cylons shows up, and the second set of Cylons blows them to smithereens.