Image courtesy Galactica Station
Erin, Dan and I sat down to watch the two-hour season premiere of Battlestar Galactica (actually a fusion of two episodes, entitled Occupation and Precipice respectively) and, at the end of it, we struggled to come up with a word to describe it.
Other than “intense”, that is.
Over a hundred days have passed since the Cylon fleet occupied the rag-tag remnants of humanity. Now, the residents of New Caprica are divided. Their Cylon overlords have clamped down on the populace, and some humans have agreed to join a New Caprica police force (with suitably Nazi-esque uniforms). People have been arrested, interrogated, and disappeared.
On the other side, Colonel Tigh leads the resistance, now minus an eye due to harsh Cylon interrogation. And as more humans choose to collaborate with the Cylon regime, his methods turn more brutal, including suicide bombing. This of course prompts the Cylons to crack down harder, but both humans and Cylons grow concerned that the conflict is crossing what few lines previously existed. Cylon Sharon and Number 6 cling desperately to the hope they had that they could restore their dream of opening a new chapter of Cylon/Human relations, but the other Cylons become convinced that their choice is between restoring order, or losing it completely.
Meanwhile, Admiral Adama and his son Lee argue over whether they should return to liberate the colony, or take the 2000 humans they have and strike out for Earth. And Leoben (played with panache by Callum Keith Rennie) plays with Starbuck’s mind in a bizarre recreation of her old apartment, trying to convince her to love him.
Director Sergio Mimica-Gezzan establishes an unrelenting tone of doom throughout the two hours. Our first glimpse of green doesn’t come until the last five minutes when Battlestar’s Boomer arrives to work with the New Caprican resistance, and it almost comes as a shock. Otherwise, the story is told in shades of grey, ranging from night-for-night shoots, and blistering, high-contrast brightness. The scene where Baltar confronts Roslyn in her prison cell in the aftermath of the first suicide bombing, is a particular highlight, thanks also to the stellar performance of James Callis and Mary McDonnell. Though Roslyn is a prisoner, she is absolutely calm, while Baltar trembles as he hands back her glasses.
In a sea of stellar performances, however, Michael Hogan stands out. His Colonel Tigh is greatly changed from the man we saw in Season Two, even in the “one year later” segment of the finale. He redefines being embittered. He is so consumed by the fight that he has gone beyond callousness. He has become, in some ways, a ruthless Cylon. Well, at least he’s no longer drinking. I have my doubts that Colonel Tigh is going to get off New Caprica. Even if he does manage to escape, he’s basically dead inside.
President Baltar also gets an excellent moment, when the Cylons force him to sign the death warrants of two hundred suspected dissidents. James Callis made me believe that Baltar was close to defying his Cylon masters and refusing to sign the document. Had he done so, his character could have been completely redeemed, but unfortunately it was not to be. It is a powerful scene that damns him more than he has been damned so far this series.
And finally, there is the exchange between Occupational Cylon Boomer and Cally, as Sharon tries to make peace with the woman who shot her dead. In that instant, the folly of her and Six’s plan to try and make peace with the humans is revealed. When Cally screams at her to just go away and leave her alone, she isn’t just speaking for herself, but for the entire battered, traumatized human race.
All of these storylines, developing at once, do give a discordant feel to the episode, but discord is the theme here. Both the humans and the Cylons are starting to break apart in their views of what must be done. Roslyn deplores the tactic of suicide bombing, and the Cylons disagree on how (and if) the human race can be controlled.
A part of me feels that no one story is told in a satisfying whole. But that’s the point. All of the elements of Battlestar Galactica have come together in a gigantic clash. Everyone, even the Cylons themselves, has been knocked off-kilter. Everybody is just struggling to regain their feet.
Why should the audience be any better off?
Battlestar Galactica is firing on all cylinders, surpassing all of its benchmarks for gritty drama. Indeed, these past two hours were among the series’ most grim, and on the face of things, Battlestar Galactica runs a risk here of alienating its viewers. Just like the human race that’s struggling to survive, one wonders just how much further the audience can watch without some ray of hope.
But the genius of Ron Moore is that, even in the series darkest hour, there is still a sense of hope. You see it in Admiral Adama’s decision to go back to the people he left behind, even though he knows it means certain death. You see it in the decision of the New Caprica police officer to cut Cally loose just before the execution and tell her to run. And, most of all, you see it in Adama’s decision to trust Sharon enough to reinstate her as a member of the crew.
Just as trust can only come when when you can’t know for sure who to trust, hope remains in spite of hopelessness.
Callum Keith Rennie’s Leoben is especially interesting. Quick question: was he among the Cylon models at the council meeting where it was decided to kill the 200 suspected dissidents? I don’t think so. This prompted Erin to ask if the Cylons even know if he’s around. I figure they would have to, but he’s clearly following his own agenda. His plot thread is so out of place of the Cylon/Human machinations that I am fascinated. Just what the heck is he planning, and what will the Cylons think if they find out?
I loved the exchange between Roslyn and Zarak, former political enemies, as they meet up while being taken away to be shot. When Zarak asks if Roslyn tried to steal the election, and Roslyn owns up, I think they make peace with each other, especially when Zarak admits that he now wishes she’d gone through with it. Assuming they survive the next few episodes and start back towards Earth, we might not want rule out an alliance between the two. It might also be interesting to get former terrorist Zarak’s perspective on Tigh’s activities.