The Problem With The Passage

The Passage

Image courtesy Galactica Station. Be warned that this review contains some serious spoilers.

The latest episode of Battlestar Galactica, entitled The Passage is a mixed bag, but I’m hard pressed to find anything really bad about the story. Things just didn’t gel. So, let’s start by highlighting the good parts before we theorize about what went wrong.

A few weeks after the events of Unfinished Business, disaster strikes the rag-tag remnants of humanity (again!). The food supply has been contaminated and even the crew on Galactica are near delirious with hunger. A planet with algae that can be converted into a food source has been found, however, but between it lies a huge and highly radioactive nebula, conveniently placed to make navigation difficult. The civilian fleet can get to the planet to start processing the algae, but only through a complicated maneuver involving Raptor pilots guiding individual civilian ships through “the passage”.

The story focuses on Kat, the former CAG who replaced Starbuck as the up and coming star of the viper pilots, and that rivalry between her and Starbuck is still pretty fresh. Conveniently, a man from her past materializes to torment her with threats of revealing her deep dark secret. Starbuck discovers that secret (that Kat was a drug runner who took the name of a girl who died two days before the attack on Caprica), but out of (some) respect for the life Kat has built for herself since, agrees not to tell Admiral Adama so that Kat will tell him herself. Kat decides she’d rather die living the life she’s leading than accept the life she used to lead.

Meanwhile, in another movie, the Cylons and Baltar continue their search for Earth (and that Six-D’Anna threesome is revealed to be real, and not just in Baltar’s mind — tip of the hat to Greg), but Baltar catches wind of D’Anna’s extracurricular activities: getting herself killed and resurrected to try and identify what it is she sees as she passes from life to death and back again.

The episode is well acted and directed (thanks to director Michael Nankin), with the Cylon scenes being especially well done. The revelation of why Baltar wants to be a Cylon is simply harrowing. And we must tip our hat to Luciana Carro, the actress who played Kat. I liked her, and she gets a good send-off here (I hope she finds a good role on a decent show, because she deserves it). Erin, who found the character (but not the actor) annoying, was moved to tears by Kat’s death, which says something about the acting, here. Indeed, it makes me wonder why they should so casually get rid of somebody with so much promise? Of course, given the depth of the talent in the acting pool, I’m not too worried about thos show.

There is a frustrating disconnect throughout The Passage, and part of it may be because we’re setting up plot elements for the upcoming episode The Eye of Jupiter. However, while we’ve had separate storylines for humans and Cylons before, this feels more intrusive, perhaps because we’ve been dropped into the human story too suddenly.

All of a sudden the food is contaminated, and people are getting delirious with hunger. All of a sudden, there is tension among the civilian population and the threat of food riots. This is a situation that would have to have taken at least a few days to develop, and we don’t see that. We’re just dropped in the middle of the situation — itself a valid action device — and we’re provided with no answers to key questions, like: how did the food get contaminated in the first place? What was it contaminated with? How did they find this planet with the algae? Why is this nebula in the way? Is any of this happening naturally, or is this all by authorial fiat?

The separate storylines of the previous episodes worked well because they all seemed to follow naturally from their point of division: the end of part two of Exodus, when the humans managed to escape New Caprica. What The Passage does is sever the link between its beginning and the episodes that preceded it. And rather than having the sense of a storyline that has developed naturally from the episodes before it, The Passage has the feel of something shoehorned in. An intruder disrupting the third season’s flow.

It’s also how Star Trek handles some of its episodes, so they can be shown out of context in syndication. It’s not a welcome approach here. It shook me out of my suspension of disbelief. We lost two ships in this episode, in a show where every life lost is counted down like a clock of doom, and they were dispatched as almost an afterthought. That just felt wrong.

On the other hand, the Cylon-Baltar storyline is humming along, and we’re given fascinating hints to what D’Anna is doing and why, and that there may be more to it than simple insanity.

Writing this review, I’m feel as though I like The Passage less now than when I finished watching it. Visually and emotionally, it packs a punch, and the characterizations are strong. Writer Jane Espenson, however (noted for some of the best scripts on Buffy: the Vampire Slayer, Gilmour Girls and a great episode of Deep Space Nine), stumbles with a storyline that is full of plot contrivances which feel out of place in this season. I’m not ready to call this a failure, but it’s not a success.

Galactica Notes

  • I’m going through in my head what scenes belonged to Ron Moore and company and what belonged to Jane Espenson, assuming there was any sort of sharing of duties. The Cylon scenes feel very Ron Moore-ish, very in tune with the series, while it wouldn’t surprise me to see Jane Espenson tackle the storyline with Kat. One really good scene, however, with Adama and Tigh talking about whether people were still eating paper (Tigh: “No… paper shortage”) and then bursting out laughing, feels like quintessential Espenson.
  • Erin says: “one thing that bothered me about this story is that it’s got the same plot as Water. It’s called Food!”

Fathom Five Cover

It’s a Cover!!

Bob Tarantino just experienced a happy moment that’s special to all writers: he’s evidence on Amazon that his book will see print. Here’s the link.

As he and I are being published at roughly the same time, I decided to see if the sequel to The Unwritten Girl, Fathom Five, was up as well. And, sure enough here it is. What can I say? Dundurn does a fantastic job with the covers.

Amazon appears to have received some old information, however, when we were debating whether to call the series “The Rosemary and Time Sequence” or “The Unwritten Books”. As you can see from the cover, they selected the latter. I’m sure a correction will be posted to Amazon, eventually.

I got to tell you: the thrill of seeing your second book in print (sort of) is just as good as that of seeing your first.

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