Sunday, February 22, 2015

Battlestar Galactica: Water (S1E3)

by JASmius

Rating: ****

Written by: Ronald D. Moore
Directed By: Marita Grabiak

Imagine that you wake up and find yourself in a place you don't recognize. You have no idea where you are, how you got there, or how long you've been out. That would be pretty frightening, wouldn't it?

Now imagine that you wake up in a place you do recognize. You still don't have any idea how you got there, but you quickly discover that you're all wet, and you find an explosive device in your nearby duffle bag, and you have no idea how it got there. Now add in that your people are facing an alien enemy that has made itself so much like your own kind that anybody you know could be one of them - even without their being aware of it.

This is the living nightmare into which Lieutenant Sharon "Boomer" Valerii emerged in the opening act of "Water." It was a spellbinding character episode that takes the question of how well any of us really know ourselves or what we might be capable of and plugs it into a situation in which finding the answer to that question is both absolutely critical and equally terrifying as well.

Boomer wakes up in a small arms armory. Disoriented and bewildered at first, and then alarmed when she sees the grenade equivalent, she checks the grenade stores and finds a total of six of the weapons missing. This was a "Holy [BLEEP]!" moment if I ever saw one, and she all but shouts it out loud.

Interestingly, though, her concern isn't just, or even primarily, about the possibilities of infiltration or sabotage, but the likelihood that she will be accused of being a Cylon operative. Remember that at this time, barely a week after the Twelve Colonies were obliterated, paranoia about infiltration is rampant throughout the "ragtag" fleet. The nature of adversity-driven paranoia being what it is, people don't just fear infiltrators, but have a palpable need to find them as well, and can be expected not to be overly concerned with caution or due process in their search. Boomer knows this as well as anybody, and while she is concerned for her shipmates, she is frankly primarily focused on saving her own ass.

If this sounds an awful lot like Dr. Baltar, you're beginning to understand how ubiquitous the instinct for self-preservation really is.

And yet there are significant differences between the two. Baltar knows he's a skunk and knows that Number Six made him into an irredeemable patsy. Boomer honestly doesn't know what's going on, which frightens her even more than either the possibility of being framed as a Cylon operative, or worse, actually being one without her knowledge.

The closest analog I can think of to her predicament is Neo's revelation in The Matrix. But her situation is, if anything, even worse than his was, because whereas he awoke to a nightmare world in which he was humanity's messiah, she's already in a nightmare world and is being forced to consider the possibility that she may be not just something other than what she always believed, but a mortal threat to everything she loves and cares about.

Needing reassurance on just about everything, Boomer confides in her lover, Chief Tyrol. He has a very predictable and human reaction: he tells her exactly what she wants to hear. No, of course she can't possibly be a Cylon infiltrator; no, she won't be dragged away by a lynch mob complete with hissing torches and pitchforks; no, nobody will suspect her of being a saboteur. How? Why, we won't tell them, of course!

Well, the Chief isn't quite that irresponsible. He decides to inform the armory quartermaster of the missing grenades, but assures Boomer that he won't mention her name or any of the details of how this matter came to his attention beyond what he absolutely has to.

And therein lies the genius of the Cylon strategy. Tyrol's reaction is exactly the sort of natural protectiveness you would expect from a man for the woman he loves. He not only wants to shield Boomer from harm or accusation, but is unable to believe that what she fears could conceivably be true. And that leads to other questions: if Boomer is a Cylon plant (and we know from the pilot that she is), could even her choice of lover have been written into her programming? If the Cylons successfully slipped one of their own into the Colonial fleet as a senior pilot, just how long and intricate has this subversion become? And is not Boomer the perfect operative, to wit, a person who doesn't even know that she is, in fact, a traitor?

Unsurprisingly, this situation rapidly moves from potential disaster to actual crisis when five explosions rip open the Galactica's water reservoirs, causing all but a few days' supply to boil spectacularly into the vacuum of space as the bridge crew and President Roslin (who was aboard the battlestar for an official ceremony put on by Commander Adama because he kinda sorta likes her…) look helplessly on.

Now the human leadership really has a problem. With imminent death from thirst now supplanting imminent death from Cylon attack every thirty-three minutes (Why did those attacks cease, by the way? I mean, were two hundred thirty-eight failures finally enough for them, or did they finally just get tired like their quarry…?), Roslin and Adama now face not only the practical imperative of replacing their water supply, but quelling unrest in the civilian population that, it can be assumed, has had enough time to wonder how this calamity could possibly have befallen them and start pointing fingers at the people at the top.

A top level meeting of the governing council is immediately convened, where Dr. Baltar delivers the happy news of the level of supplies that nearly fifty thousand people need on a weekly basis, including water. He's also hit up by no less than the President for a progress report on his "Cylon detector."

I'm starting to wonder about a few things regarding this guy. For one, just how teflon-coated is his reputation as a genius and supposed indispensibility to his people? And for another, how can any reputation paper over what a complete fraud he so obviously is?

Yes, we get to see his inevitable expositional scenes with Number Six (in various states of undress), who has become the proverbial "li'l devil" and "li'l angel" sitting on his shoulder (hell, why do you think she wears a red dress, when she's wearing anything at all?), kind of like the conscience he never had but tailored perfectly to his bottom-feeding character. But, come on, wouldn't his constant "nervous complaint" cause somebody to start asking questions? Even to wonder in passing?

When Baltar gave President Roslin's query a technobabble-laden answer that was so full of crap it must have knocked flies off the sewage treatment barge at the back of the fleet, I thought that perhaps Adama was going to finally call his bluff. But instead all the Galactica's CO did was tell him that he's been working too hard and needs a staff to help him, and assigned one of his bridge officers as Baltar's aide-de-camp.

Not that this was an unmixed blessing for the perpetually horny midget. Not only was Number Six highly amused by this turn of events, but having somebody following him around all the time is the last thing Baltar wanted. After all, he gets enough of that from Number Six. And this aide isn't even a woman.

Oh, woe is Gaius! He can't lose his new helper fast enough, ditching him for a few rounds of poker with Starbuck. And wouldn't you know, Baltar cleans out the Galactica's resident card shark. Personally, I would have thought her to be too butch for the good doctor's carnal taste, but there might indeed be the possibility of a little B/S shipping. Maybe even a threesome with Number Six. Man, I hope they save the tape for when they get to Earth - either Baltar or Starbuck (or both) will make a fortune.

Meanwhile, the desperate search for water is going apace. And the searches are coming up empty - except for Boomer, and she can't see it.

That episodic climax was surreal to watch. She and her ECO are doing separate scans of a planet's surface. He finds nothing, but on her screen the words "POSITIVE MATCH - H2O FOUND" blink insistently on and off. She's looking right at it, but it's like she's blind, or seeing something else, or the visual image is getting stuck in her brain before the message it contains can be relayed out her mouth. She even says, initially, that her scan found nothing as well, before laboringly suggesting a second scan, just to be sure. Even then, with her screen showing the same results, she sticks again, almost like falling into a trance, her conscious mind fighting an internal battle with an unknown enemy that is her hidden Cylon programming.

Finally, Boomer manages to spit out her positive finding of water on the planet they're surveying. Her ECO, too distracted by his celebrating, forgets all about her strange behavior of the previous few minutes. And then she notices the final grenade, sitting right next to her on her console, toward which she kept reaching during her "trance," but never quite grasping to activate. Almost as if she just woke up again.

When Boomer returns with the good news, the whole fleet celebrates, and details of the reservoir explosion are buried, at least for the time being - Tyrol makes sure of it. But if you're Sharon Valerii, you've got to be wondering what the hell is wrong with yourself at this point. Which, if I'm any judge, may make her not a villain, but perhaps the most sympathetic character on the show before it's all said and done.

Interspersed over both this ep and "33" are occasional snippets of the character we all thought had been left behind in "Armageddon" - Helo, Boomer's original ECO. In the previous hour we saw him running through a radiological rain shower on "Cylon-occupied Caprica," and finally get captured. I assumed he was simply going to be executed, but then in this ep we see him in shackles awaiting something. That something turns out to be one of Number Six's "sisters," who is, as you might have anticipated, about to get it on with him when she's shot in the back by....

…Boomer, who has, she tells him, returned to Caprica to rescue him.

Could the Cylons be losing confidence in the Boomer model currently aboard the Galactica, and are sending a replacement using Helo's rescue as the pretext? Was Boomer supposed to blow up herself and her Raptor in order to cover the new version taking her place? Will she prove to be the key to ultimately defeating the Cylons?

Gosh, I hope I haven't figured it all out too quickly. But it's still top-flight storytelling, whatever the timing may be.

Next: Classic Apollo meets his successor

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