Sunday, May 31, 2015

Battlestar Galactica: Resistance (S2E4)

by JASmius

Rating: ***1/2

Written by Toni Graphia
Directed by Allan Kroeker

Just like I concluded last week - "from the frying pan into the fire"; "metastasizing insanity." Or perhaps nothing more complicated than the delayed but inevitable chaotic reaction to humanity's Armageddon.

Season #1 of Battlestar Galactica can, in retrospect, be seen as a sort of culture lag. Tom Zarek, ironically enough, gave voice to this observation in "Colonial Day" during his bid for the vice presidency:

He talks about people clinging to their old jobs and old lifestyles - all the things, of course, that Zarek, as a "revolutionary," has always railed against - in a situation in which neither are relevant anymore. He speaks of the holdover mindset, which exists as a sort of mass security blanket for the people to cling to in a situation of disaster and free fall, as a lie that must be repudiated if "the people" are to survive. He talks about an economy with no money, lawyers with no clients, businessmen with no businesses. In short, he makes the status quo look and sound utterly foolish.

I then tossed in an additional insight:

Remember, Roslin doesn't only represent "the past," but she also is the face of the government that allowed the Cylon holocaust in the first place. It wouldn't matter that she had nothing personally to do with that, that she was a lowly education secretary forty-third in line of succession, or that nobody except a certain perpetually horny genius knows just how Colonial defenses were compromised so suddenly and comprehensively. A public just emerging from a state of shock would be eminently mobilizable toward whatever direction a skilled demagogue wanted to direct them.

Mr. Zarek recognized all of this because, as a dissident from that culture, he stood outside of it, and thus it was far more obvious to him than it would have been to anybody else. The greatest irony, and what makes the current storyline so brilliant, is that it is President Roslin herself, via her newfound (and ironic in its own right) role as a religious messiah, who has become the "skilled demagogue" who is mobilizing humanity's survivors in a direction that none of them, or she, would ever have dreamed of before the Cylon holocaust.

And to put the cherry atop the dramatic sundae, it is Mr. Zarek whose uneasy ally and co-conspirator Roslin becomes in the effort to thwart Adama's, and now Colonel Tigh's, military coup.

My advance apologies of my observations of Tigh's behavior and actions seem redundant given what I've written of him in recent reviews, but in a secondary sense I'm being swept along by the narrative right alongside him. Last week he declared martial law after having told the Quorum of the Twelve that Adama had no intention of doing so. And now we see the results, that seemed a lot more surprising to Tigh than they did to me.

The XO clearly isn't much of a thinker and is utterly lacking in empathy. That's one of the things that makes him so weak, which explains his alcoholism and his susceptibility to the henpecking of his ambitious nympho wife, Ellen. Unfortunately for Saul, Ellen persistently bullies him in the wrong direction.

Some ships in the fleet start protesting martial law by refusing to resupply the Galactica. Tigh is dumbfounded, having apparently genuinely believed that by declaring martial law the fleet would come under his direct command and they would simply follow his orders. Hey, I did say he had a political tin-ear.

To give him his due, he considers sitting down with the captains of the dissident ships and explaining why he had to declare martial law. Having seen his attempt to do that with the Quorum of the Twelve last week, I doubt that would have accomplished anything except to make matters even worse, but it wasn't a bad impulse in and of itself. But Ellen won't hear of it; she reinforces every bad instinct he has, haranguing him that "they can't defy your authority" and that he should send in troops to "restore order."

So that's what he does. He deals with a situation of tension-laden civil unrest by introducing armed soldiers into it. Anybody - well, okay, anybody [fifty] or older - who didn't immediately think "Kent State" stand on your head.

Tigh, of course, has never heard of Kent State, but there must have been a Colonial equivalent sometime in its history. Apparently he never heard of it, either, and is thus taken by surprise again when his "show 'em who's boss" decision turns into what President Roslin calls a "travesty" resulting in several civilian deaths. I, however, called it "Tigh is Marianas Trench-deep in over his head."

Had Tigh ever stopped to consider how this whole debacle, going back to "Kobol's Last Gleaming" looked from the standpoint of an average civilian in the fleet, he might have gotten a glimpse of just how deep the public relations doo-doo in which he's buried really was. Roslin, however, knows exactly how deep it is, and how strong her political hand is, and uses this massacre as the impetus to act.

With Apollo's help, and of course that of her sympathetic guard, they escape the brig and make their way to the landing bay in order to commandeer a Raptor and get off the Galactica. "How could they possibly hope to pull this off without being detected?", you may be asking. The answer is simple, and shows how far the political momentum has swung back in Roslin's favor: with the active collaboration of most of the battlestar's crew.

Dualla processes their off-ship transmissions. Gaeta notices it, but denies any knowledge of same when Colonel Tigh directly asks him about it. Remember, these are the same people, Dualla in particular, who were solidly in Adama (and Tigh's) camp just a couple of episodes ago. When Tigh told a comatose Adama that he'd "really frakked things up" for him, he wasn't kidding. The tragedy for him, I suppose, is that, like a spider being eaten alive from the inside by wasp larvae, he was aware of it the whole time it was happening, because he knew it would happen all along.

But while Tigh might be a hardass and an authoritarian, there are still lines across which not even his wife can push him.

One such moment for a nameless guard happens when Roslin and Apollo (and Special Assistant Billy) reach the door to the landing bay. She has orders to prevent precisely that with which she is now confronted. But Roslin won't back down; she tells the guard, quietly but firmly, that either she is going through that door, or the guard has to shoot her. There are no other options.

Faced with that impossible conundrum, the guard did what any of us would have done - she relented. Roslin's party boards the Raptor, only to have Billy announce that he's not going on the grounds that being a fugitive is a line that he will not cross. Or something like that. It was a bit curious, but then I still think he's staying in order to finally make it with Dualla.

When Tigh learns of Roslin's and Apollo's escape, he is incensed. When their Raptor is detected, he sends a Viper squadron after it. When Apollo won't heel to, Tigh orders shots fired across his bow. When Apollo still won't alter course, Tigh is brought face to face with the same choice as the guard outside the landing bay: assassinate the President of the Twelve Colonies of Kobol and Commander Adama's son, or let them go.

And he, too, bows to the inevitable. He's a soldier, not a murderer. Though there's still the doubt of what he might have done if Apollo hadn't been in the Raptor.

Ellen isn't happy, of course, so much so that she escalates from shoutingly berating Saul to slapping him around. Saul slaps her back, and they end up doing it right on the floor of their quarters. Not exactly Leave It To Beaver, huh?

This jailbreak is, nominally, the A-story track. But the secondary thread is compelling, megatragic, and chillingly gripping.

When Chief Tyrol's group returns to the Galactica from Kobol, he is immediately and summarily thrown in the brig by Colonel Tigh. Why? Because he is Boomer's ex-lover. You know, the Boomer who is a Cylon and blew two big holes in Commander Adama. Tyrol wasn't aware of any of this, of course, since that happened while he was gone. But in Tigh's mind, guilt by association is guilt nonetheless. And it's guilt that he is determined to force out of Tyrol if he has to beat the snot out of him to get it.

Quite a welcome home for the Chief, isn't it? After going through the whole ordeal on Kobol, he is accused of being a Cylon and imprisoned in the same cell as his former squeeze, whom he now learns is a "toaster."

What makes Tyrol such a great character is his "everyman" quality. He's a lot like Chief O'Brien on DS9 - a good, decent, average blue collar man with whom just about every viewer can identify. This enhances his accessibility for the viewer. The reactions he displays to extreme situations are just what you imagine would be your reactions in his place.

Here, Tyrol is a massed jumble of emotions - dashed relief at going from castaway to falsely accused prisoner; righteous and incredulous indignation at being called a Cylon; and revulsed betrayal at discovering that the woman he thought he loved is an enemy machine. That reaction only adds to Boomer's despair, since despite all that has happened she doesn't feel like a Cylon, and now the man she still loves is rejecting her as well.

In a very real sense Boomer's plight is worse even than Borg assimilation, in that whereas in the latter one's individuality is erased and one becomes a passive observer to an alien consciousness controlling their actions as well as radically altering their appearance, Boomer looks and sounds, even and perhaps especially to herself, like the person she's always been. And yet she is universally regarded and treated as a pariah, a monster, and the nightmare, as she has known going back to “Water," is that she knows that there's something deep down inside her that is precisely that. Her "enemy within" has turned her one-time friends and comrades into enemies without, and now Chief Tyrol has joined them.

But it is the man who knew she was a Cylon before anybody else that exploits this horrifying duality in a scene as riveting as any I can recall since Elim Garak's torture of Odo in DS9's "The Die Is Cast".

Baltar, wearing his scientist's hat (and fresh off of blowing a hole in Crashdown), visits the unhappy couple on the ostensible pretext of administering his Cylon-detector test to Tyrol. Instead he injects the Chief with a deadly and quick-acting toxin and demands to know from Boomer how many other Cylons are in the fleet before he'll administer the antidote.

Frantic, Boomer exclaims that she doesn't know. And on a conscious level, she doesn't; but buried down deep in her Cylon programming, she does, and Baltar knows this, just as he knows that imperiling the last shred of hope in her shattered life is the only thing that can penetrate to that depth to dredge up the information he seeks - a lesson in emotional brutality that his own succubus, Number Six, has taught him well.

The pressure and intensity are overpowering. Boomer is apoplectic, can't believe this is happening, can't believe what Baltar is doing, time is running out, Tyrol is slipping away, oh my gods what am I going to "EIGHT!," she suddenly shrieks, "THERE ARE EIGHT OTHER CYLONS IN THE FLEET!" Baltar gives Tyrol the antidote, saving his life, but her living nightmare just got worse as, unlike when she shot Adama, in this manifestation of her buried but dominant Cylon nature she didn't blank out, but was a conscious and lucid witness to it.

Later, Baltar returns to take Boomer with him. When Tyrol asks why he's taking her, the veep replies that he's going to conduct "mental and physical tests" on her. "Like a lab rat?" Tyrol replies in shock. Yes, like a lab rat.

Tyrol by this time is more confused and conflicted than ever. He is shamed by having fallen in love with a machine, angry and resentful against Boomer for that manipulation, but not so much that his decency and innate moral sense are desensitized. He doesn't know how to feel about Boomer, but neither does he want anything bad to happen to her - and medical experimentation would certainly seem to qualify.

But while that might seem "ugly," it is also brutally pragmatic - and absolutely necessary. The other "evolved" Cylons have known who and what they were and actively deceived their human prey; Boomer is the first "deep cover" version they've encountered, programmed not just to look and sound and feel human, but to itself believe that it is human. They are unwitting walking time bombs and the humans have to learn everything about them ASAP before even worse things happen than the near assassination of their military commander.

It is literally a matter of survival, life or death. But that doesn't make it any less wrenching for the parties involved.

The ensuing transfer of Boomer to Baltar's lab is shot in appropriately surreal atmosphere. Galactica crew members line the corridor, hooting and jeering at her, their voices and angry faces blurred and streaked together in her perception. It came across very much like a nightmare, actually.

If it also had you thinking “Jack Ruby," go to the head of the class.

Callie - sweet, innocent, little Callie - Chief Tyrol's elfish assistant, hasn't had a very good last few days. From the crash landing on Kobol, to watching one of her crewmates mowed down before her eyes, to being ordered to sacrifice herself to the Cylons as cannon fodder, to having Crashdown nearly blow her head off, and now her outrage at seeing the Chief falsely accused and tossed in the brig, this "little girl" was all set to go postal. And does she ever. Lunging from the jeering mob, Callie shoots Boomer through the heart, thus closing the most vicious of circles that began with Boomer's shooting of Adama.

As she utters her dying words to Tyrol - "I love you, Chief" - the camera zooms in on a drop of her blood as it falls to splatter on the deck, just as Tyrol's did in the brig at Colonel Tigh's hand in the ep's opening scene. But the emotional context is the diametric opposite. For now he is no longer disgusted by her very presence, but can only comfort and hold her as she dies.

This is powerful stuff.

We also get an update from "Cylon-occupied Caprica," where Starbuck and Helo discover that there are other humans on the planet after all, and they have the same armament, 'tude, and fondness for pro pyramid as she does. Which telegraphs the love interest between Kara and the group's leader, Anders, but heck, it's been days since she's had any, so I'm inclined to cut her a break.

Overall, the big questions still remain, however: what form will Roslin's counter-insurgency take? How will the military counter it, or will they? Is a rapprochement, a closing of this gaping breach possible? And how far will Roslin herself take this "messiah" persona/mission?

When Adama pulls a very nice swerve by making his gingerly return to ask Tigh, "What's been going on on my ship?" you're tempted to think that he will be the voice of sanity who will bridge the rift and heal this wound. It's so effective that you almost forget that it was Adama who, together with Roslin, ignited this quasi-civil war in the first place. Then Adama soothingly reassures Tigh that they'll "pick up the pieces together," and the memory comes rushing back.

It reminds me of Chancellor Gowron's comment to Captain Sisko in "By Inferno's Light":

Think of it - five years ago no one had ever heard of Bajor or Deep Space Nine. Now all our hopes rest here. Where the tides of fortune take us no man will know.

Ditto the "last battlestar."

Next: Adama finds out the scope of Roslin's counter-revolution, and Starbuck discovers a hideous secret.

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