Sunday, May 03, 2015

Battlestar Galactica: Kobol's Last Gleaming (S1E13/14)

by JASmius

Rating: **1/2

Story by: David Eick
Teleplay by: Ronald D. Moore
Directed By: Michael Rymer

For a season finale that purports to be a watershed installment, and does end with, shall we say, a bang, “Kobol’s Last Gleaming” has a deceptively mundane opening act. Much like the Star Trek: TNG episode “Data’s Day,” the program opens showing the characters involved in ordinary pursuits. Workaholic Colonel Tigh gets immersed in paperwork and forgets his anniversary, even after wife Ellen reminds him in a sexy nightie with a bottle of booze. The Adamas, Bill and Lee, are doing a little sparring, of which the son is getting the better until he lets his guard down and Pops tags him, giving him a shiner for the rest of the ep (The CO couldn't lose here, since Apollo could have pounded his face in and nobody would have noticed the difference). And Vice President Baltar is in the missionary position, banging away at…Starbuck?

Yes, indeed. Man, she must have been drunk. Either that, or he really is hung like a Tauron.

Thing is, right as she climaxes, she cries out the name, “LEE!!!” Why this would matter to Baltar is puzzling, since he never conflates lust with love anyway, but it does throw him off his rhythm (though not so much that he fails to, um, finish his business). Why it’s supposed to matter to Starbuck gets back to the A/S shipping that has been blessedly in the background for most of this first season, but accursedly has never gone completely away.

As a sort of “housekeeping” note, I should mention that I’m combining my review of parts I and II in one post, which gives me all the excuse I need (i.e. space limitations – though, of course, I’m not really limited at all in that regard, but work with me here…) to avoid elaborating any further on the Apollo-Starbuck-Baltar triangle, or, for that matter, Number Six’s jealous reaction to Baltar's womanizing, which comes off as completely out of character since she always knew that about him and used it to infiltrate the Colonial defense net in the first place. On the other hand, I could elaborate, only substituting the classic characters; somehow, the picture of Richard Hatch walking in on John Colicos feeding it to Dirk Benedict just never fails to make me smile (on my mad dash to drive the porcelain bus).

The quiescent prelude is fourteen months pregnant with ominosity, so it doesn't take long for business to start picking up.

On a routine scouting patrol, Boomer and her partner Crashdown discover an M-class world that is not just a goldmine of supplies, not just a possible place where the survivors of humanity could possibly resettle, but could be Kobol itself.

Kobol, just to review, is the planet from which the ancestors of humanity ventured forth several millennia earlier, eventually discovering and colonizing the twelve, well, colonies. We haven’t yet gotten an explanation for why they did this, or whether they completely abandoned Kobol, or just some left and those who stayed behind were decimated in a civil war or a natural disaster or an attack by an unknown alien species, or even went off in some completely different direction – like Earth, for instance.

What is clear is that whatever the answers to those questions are, Kobol in the here & now is deserted, but still habitable. And it is too rich an opportunity, just from a re-supply perspective, to pass up.

This discovery sets off a flurry of activity that takes various characters in unexpected directions.

Adama, as you might expect, immediately dispatches three Raptors with a survey team that Number Six “persuades” Baltar to volunteer to lead. Probably to get him away from Starbuck and any other comely wench in whom he’d delight, but also a far more nebulous reason (see below).

Before he can depart, though, Number Six also “persuades” him to have a talk with Boomer. And just in time, it would seem.

Despite Gaius having assured her that she was “100% human,” Sharon Valerii is still having self-doubts. She still isn't sure who or what she is. She’s still deathly afraid that she’s going to do something else to harm her friends and shipmates, and with the termination of her romance with Chief Tyrol, she has nobody in whom to confide. She’s scared and alone, and she reaches the point where she’s ready to end it all.

Enter the veep. Which itself is rather odd, at least from Sharon’s perspective, since she’s about the only piece of ass on the Galactica to which he hasn't helped himself. Also ominous upon reflection, despite his attempt to figuratively talk her in off the ledge, since the only other interaction she’d had with him was her “Are you a Cylon?” screening. Him showing up now when she’s suicidal would be confusing at best, and certainly not reassuring.

Sure enough, as Baltar, with Number Six in tow, walks down the hall from Boomer’s quarters, a shot rings out. Don’t worry, she “missed.” But that shot was a heavy bit of foreshadowing. Let’s just say that it wasn't the last time Boomer would be firing her weapon before the episode was over.

I’m guessing that there aren't any psychiatrists left in the fleet. A shrink might have been able to get inside Sharon’s head and maybe, must maybe, put two and two together.

Meanwhile, on Colonial One, President Roslin is getting higher than a kite.

You’ll recall in “The Hand of God” that the chamalla she’s taking for her breast cancer – an “alternative” treatment that, by her own admission this week, isn't even slowing down the spread of the malignancy – also has hallucinogenic properties that have given her “visions” that Elosha, a Kobolian priestess, interprets as Roslin being the fulfillment of ancient prophecy of a future exodus, with her as its “Moses.”

This comes into play again when the President takes a look at orbital photos of Kobol that Boomer and Crashdown took. One pic looks to her at first like an intact structure with a round, domed center with horizontal columns extending from it in a circular pattern like spokes from a wheel. Then when she looks at it again she just sees ruins, with the wheel/spokes pattern only barely discernible.

Roslin, more influenced by Elosha’s mumbo-jumbo than she really wanted to admit even to herself, consults with the priestess in hopes of finding out what this could mean. Number Six answered this question two weeks ago: this planet is, in fact, Kobol, and prophecy foretold that Roslin would find it. The kicker Elosha adds is that the predicted “Moses” would also find the way to Earth and lead her people there as well.

How this squares with Number Six’s version - that the fleet will encounter its greatest enemy at Kobol and meet a “catastrophic end” – is another mystery yet to be fleshed out. Although, as telegraphed earlier, Boomer may provide a possible answer.

In the meantime, the aforementioned survey mission jumps into Kobolian space, and right into the middle of a Cylon ambush. One Raptor is destroyed, a second (Baltar's) is damaged but manages to make planetfall, and the third succeeds in escaping back to the fleet.

The Cylons have made all too little tangible trouble for the human survivors this season. Here is where the piper gets paid. They had Kobol within their grasp, and now a big, fat Cylon basestar is sitting on it, with a third of the survey team, including the Colonial vice president, trapped on the surface.

This looks like a job for …Starbuck!

Well, Starbuck and her pet Cylon raider, captured back in “You Can’t Go Home Again” and reverse engineered ever since. Her mission: jump into Kobolian space in the raider, approach the basestar as if intending to land, fire off a nuke, blow up the basestar real good, and return home.

Simple as pie, right? Not so fast.

According to ancient prophecy, the future “Moses” needs a doohickey to actually divine the route to Earth – something called the “arrow of Apollo” (no, it’s not a phallic reference to the CAG – at least I hope it isn't…). There’s only one teensy-tiny problem: this doohickey is all the way back on Caprica (sorry, that should be “Cylon-occupied Caprica). And there’s only one vehicle that can execute that long a jump: the captured Cylon raider. And there’s only one person who can fly that captured Cylon raider: Lieutenant Kara Thrace.

The ensuing scene between President Roslin and Starbuck suggests, and almost writes, itself.

Ah, but you might be thinking, “Come on, Starbuck can’t be talked into anything by anybody. Especially not Roslin – she’s not just an authority figure, all of whom Kara disdains, but a politician to boot. There’s no way in the cosmos that the President is going to persuade Starbuck to defy orders and jump back home to fetch Apollo’s Arrow for her.”

But you’re forgetting one thing: Roslin isn't just a politician, she’s a damned good one. Which means she’s a keen observer and knows what buttons to push on anybody to whom she happens to be speaking. In Starbuck's case, Roslin turns that very disdain for authority to her advantage. How? By spilling the beans on Adama being full of crap about knowing where Earth is.

If you wondered why Adama got so pissed off in the conclusion, now you know. He confided that secret in the President, made it part of the foundation of trust in their mutual working relationship, and she blatantly betrayed that trust – with potentially catastrophic consequences for the entire fleet.

The immediate consequence was that, after surreptitiously sounding out the Commander about the topic of Earth and its location and how far they still had to go to get there (which elicited evasive answers that confirmed to Starbuck what Roslin had told her), Starbuck flipped a big, fat “FU” at Adama and warped off for Caprica instead, leaving the survey team (including the vice president) marooned and both them and the entire fleet imperiled by the still intact Cylon basestar.

Thus ended part I. As a standalone hour, I’d give it three stars. Which should tell you what I thought of the continuation in part II. It should also bring to mind something that didn't occur to me until just this moment: that part II was the season finale rather than part I. Typically the way season-ending cliffhangers work, part I is the season finale and part II is the next season’s premier. I’m not sure why TPTB arranged it this way, aside from the likelihood that they knew part II would be the weakest installment and wanted part III, which presumably is significantly better, to kick off season II.

OTOH, maybe the “bang” ending had something to do with it.

That ending is about the only thing of any real interest in part II. The story tracks set in motion in part I fall more or less into holding patterns while the lone new wrinkle unfolds. Unfortunately that new wrinkle is, at least to me, utterly inexplicable given the parameters of the characters involved.

I mentioned a few graphs back that President Roslin betrayed Commander Adama’s “There’s no Earth” secret to Lieutenant Thrace, causing her to disobey orders and take on Roslin’s “arrow of Apollo” quest instead. I mentioned that Adama was pissed out of his mind at this double-cross. What I can mention here is that I can and do completely understand and identify with that anger.

We know that Adama never has really seen eye to eye with Roslin. We know that he resented her interfering with the “private little war” he was determined to have with the Cylons back when all this nastiness began. And we know that even after he realized she was right about survival dictating flight instead of fight, he was still zealously territorial about any and all military decisions remaining his – and wasn't shy about expanding that territory as far as he possibly could.

And now here is that same “schoolteacher,” ratting him out to an insubordinate subordinate, hanging him out to dry, all but literally squatting right smack in the middle of his bailiwick, and endangering the entire fleet (the original gathering together of which was her idea), all behind his back, and for what, to him, is a certifiably crazy, loony, wacko myth-quest that brings her fitness to continue serving as president into serious question.

I was with Adama in all of that. I was even with him when he got on the horn to Colonial One and demanded Roslin’s resignation.

Where I took my leave was when he told her he was sending troops to arrest her.

I've tried to come up with rationalizations for Adama ordering a military coup. It’s an extreme situation; Roslin imperiled everybody whose protection is Adama's prime responsibility; she directly caused a mutiny against his command; her imbibing of that chamalla crap and the detrimental effects it's having on her judgment justifies invocation of the Kobolian equivalent of our Twenty-Fifth Amendment (hence, the imperative of rescuing Vice President Baltar and his survey team). The last one would be the most compelling, but the problem is that, unless there's some wrinkle of Kobolian law with which I’m not familiar, or he has been named Defense Minister off-screen, Adama is not institutionally empowered to “transmit to the President pro tempore of the Quorum of the Twelve his written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of her office.” And since Adama never offered so much as a pretense of a justification for seizing Colonial One, I can only conclude that he didn't have one. It was simply a direct power grab, out of wounded spite. It was revenge. It was rule by the fist.

And it is completely out of character with what we've seen of this incarnation of William Adama.

I’m sorry, but I’m not buying it. Adama is not a Napoleon. His old man was a lawyer, for heaven's sake. He knows the established institutions of government, and his role within them. Unless Kobolian democracy is a recent innovation, he must know that even if you have utter contempt for the person who occupies the office of president, you must respect the office itself, even if the occupier him/herself does not. And if you wish to remove that occupier from office, you must utilize the means, if any, that your Constitution, or bylaws, or Colonial Charter provides.

Leave aside that any public move to impeach Roslin would only play into the hands of Tom Zerik. Or, for that matter, that it would make the patsy-traitor of humanity, Gaius Baltar, the next president. It’s the system itself that must be preserved, even over the fate of any individual entrenched within it. Otherwise…well, you just play into Zerik's hands even worse by proving every point he’s been making.

And then what does Adama do? Once Roslin is in the brig, does he announce that he's seized power? Does he destroy her politically by revealing her dirty little secret about being strung out on hallucinogens? Does he tell the fleet of what she did to him? Can he do that without running the risk that his dirty little secret about there not really being any Earth after all will get out to the public at large? And if he tries to keep everything quiet, well, could something like that be kept under wraps for long, given what an overt show he made of storming Colonial One like it was the prison barge?

The implication is that he did at least consider the leadership alternatives, found them comprehensively wanting, and opted to “promote” himself, instead. But I just do not believe that this Adama would do that. It’s petty, it’s impetuous, it’s wildly ill-considered. It isn't him. It wouldn't happen.

Is it any wonder that the writers had Boomer shoot Adama at the end?

Yep, that cat is now out of the bag, although it’s not like I didn't drop several piano-casing-sized hints.

After not quite blowing her own head off, Lieutenant Valerii inherited Starbuck's basestar-cracking mission. There was the little detail of not having a Cylon raider available, but her superiors reasoned that with a Cylon transponder aboard her Raptor, the basestar would think she was a Cylon agent. How’s that for toe-curling irony?

While on final approach, Boomer’s co-pilot, Racetrack, tries to launch the nuke into the launch bay, but the launcher conveniently jams, providing a plot contrivance for Boomer to enter the basestar itself and set off the warhead manually. What she finds upon disembarking are (1) that basestars are as “organic” as raiders, and (2) a delegation of Boomer clones coming out to greet her.

I haven’t made up my mind about the depicted psychology of this progression. On the one hand, this cannot help but confirm Sharon’s worst nightmares, that despite all she knows and remembers, she really is a Cylon. Given that she was about to blow her own brains out not twenty-four hours earlier, I would think this would drive her into catatonia, or panic, or a dead faint.

On the other, she appears to accept this revelation with far more equanimity than is plausible. After some nervous kibitzing with her “sisters,” Sharon beats a hasty retreat, finishes arming and triggering the nuke, and flies the hell out of there.

Perhaps the oddest part is that the Boomer clones let her go, and let the nuke destroy their ship. Or maybe it’s that, having apparently decided to go with her human side after all, she suddenly pulls out her sidearm and blows two holes in Adama's chest right after he congratulates her on accomplishing her mission. Almost as if that was a separate program that was on a timer and kicked in unconsciously. Judging by her dazed, bewildered expression after she’s tackled to the bridge deck, that may indeed end up being the case.

Is a basestar for the life of the human military commander a bargain for the Cylons?  Perhaps – if they have another ambush waiting in the wings.

Meanwhile, back on “Cylon-occupied Caprica,” Starbuck finds the “Arrow of Apollo,” which is remarkably underwhelming since, given its supposed mythical properties as the thing that will “point the way to Earth,” you were somehow expecting it to be more than just…well, an arrow. I mean, at least the “Engine of Creation” that Dylan Hunt, Beka Valentine, and Trance were hunting for in Andromeda’s “In Heaven Now Are Thee” had some bells & whistles attached.  It wasn't even Loki's scepter.  All Starbuck's find looked good for was a little archery practice. That, and killing the Number Six clone that was doing a splendid job of kicking her ass.

It was inevitable, I suppose, that Helo and his pregnant Boomer avatar would pick that moment to show up. Kara, who has been through quite a bit even over the past few weeks when you think about it, falls to pieces when she sees another Boomer where she shouldn't be, and is stopped from blowing her away by Helo who informs her that this Boomer has his bun in the oven. I think it would have been more in character for Starbuck to burst out laughing instead, but what do I know?

I guess I should touch briefly on Baltar and his Number Six. Let’s see; NS “pulls” him out of the fire-engulfed Raptor wreckage before it explodes, thus (allegedly) saving his life; he falls onto the nearby grassy hillside in a configuration dismayingly reminiscent of the Crucifixion; NS appears again standing above him, providing what is a spectacular upward look at Tricia Helfer's knobs until you realize that Baltar's view would have been straight up her dress as well. Two for the price of one with a side order of tuna salad, as it were.

Sorry, where was I? NS takes Baltar by the hand and leads him into a particular ruin that assumes “virtual” shape once he’s “inside” it. There he finds an auditorium with the stage blindingly lit, and something sitting there that NS tells him is the “birth” of something. Baltar looks inside, is apparently overwhelmed by what he sees, and then lovingly gazes into NS’s eyes and engages in some serious tonsil-hockey that, for the first time, looks like something more base lust.

What did he see? Beats me. The whole sequence was a non sequitur, near as I could tell. Maybe it's Helo's and the other Sharon’s “baby,” though I really don’t know what significance such hybridization (assuming Helo's speculation that the “Cylon agents” are human clones is off the mark) could have for the Cylons, since they've already “gone organic.”

Or maybe it was a holo of Adama lying on the CIC status board table thingie with two bullet holes in him. A glimpse of Baltar's “glorious destiny,” as it were.

I guess I sort of care to find out. But it’s not as if I can’t wait until July to do so. Perhaps that was the point of part II – to lower expectations for next season's premier.

Until then, “Kobol's Last Gleaming” is symbolized for me by the armed confrontation on Colonial One. Adama’s troops burst in, led by Colonel Tigh and Captain Apollo. The find themselves staring down the muzzles of President Roslin's bodyguards. Neither side is willing to yield. Then Apollo turns his weapon on Tigh, almost beseeching him to back away from this precipice. Tigh looks back with dense consternation (coming in the wake of Starbuck's betrayal) and snarls, “This is mutiny!”

Well-done irony raises the hairs on the back of your neck. Bad irony gives you the giggles.

I’ve been hee-hawing ever since.

Next: the continuation and the one thing classic Galactica never had – Season #2.

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