Sunday, June 07, 2015

Battlestar Galactica: The Farm (S2E5)

by JASmius

Rating: ***

Written by Carla Robinson
Directed by Rod Hardy

Slowly but surely the disparate threads created and strewn about the dramatic landscape in last March's "Kobol's Last Gleaming" are being resolved and tied off. Chief Tyrol and Vice President Baltar have been rescued from Kobol; the Boomer on Galactica has met her fitting, if tragic, end; and Commander Adama has recovered from his wounds and returned to duty.

In a story arc sense, "The Farm" had the feel of DS9's "Sons & Daughters" in that it seemed like, after the cataclysmic developments of the previous few episodes, the narrative took a moment to slow down and catch its breath. As a result, though what material this ep did depict was very well done, the quality and quantity of said material didn't measure up to the installments that preceded it.

Act I opens with Adama returning to the Galactica's bridge to a hero's welcome from the crew. Never one to enjoy the spotlight, Adama delivers a characteristically low-key, taciturn speech that amounts to, "Thanks for your support, now let's get back to work." Very much in character as we have come to know him.

That work, however, is unchanged from what it was before he "went on the DL" days before: capture President Roslin and take her (back) into custody. The problem is neither Adama nor Colonel Tigh know where she is. Once Apollo's Raptor landed, they disappeared, and now they could be anywhere in the fleet.

No problem at all, Adama reasons - just search every ship in the fleet. With armed soldiers, presumably. Or, in case you missed "Resistance" last week, was precisely the numb-skulled "call" of Tigh's that got several civilians reduced to room temperature.

The viewer wants to believe at this juncture that Adama is, if not, um, not an idiot, then at least less of an idiot than his XO. And I think that's true. But the difference between the two is no improvement. For whereas Tigh was simply too weak and foolish to know any better, for Adama this whole thing was personal from the beginning - and now, with his son's defection, it has become an intra-family vendetta.

If Adama was physically unfit for command before, he is still mentally unfit for command now, as he was before he got shot.

Frankly, the fugitives' actions and deliberations were far more interesting, and revealing of the characters involved - particularly Laura Roslin.

Tom Zarek, the deposed president's delighted partner in insurrection, advises them that they have to make a broadcast to the fleet in order to capitalize on the public disaffection that Tigh's declaration of martial law has precipitated, and more to the point, before Adama's troops can find them.. He adds that it will carry additional gravitas if Apollo will publicly denounce his father and his illegal actions.

This creates a major dilemma for Lee, though one whose inevitability he should have foreseen. He has only just learned of his dad's recovery, and having come so close to losing him, he is understandably relieved. Yet his turning against Adama's actions in deposing President Roslin for sewing insurrection and mutiny in the military preceded the latter's injuries, and the consequences of that defection still remain. And, to really twist the screws of irony, Zarek is right - this is no time for sentimentality. Though Commander Adama may be Apollo's father, he is also now a military dictator who must be overthrown if the legitimate government is to be restored to its rightful place. And Lee's public declaration will be powerfully persuasive.

Lee gets most of the way through recording his message when he hesitates, stutters for a moment, and then switches off the machine. He can't bring himself to do it. He decides that Adama is still more his father than the enemy. And he is certainly no revolutionary.

If only Tigh were still in command.

What comes next is a fascinating glimpse into the politician's mind, and how pragmatism - considered by many to be a valued character trait in effective (if not great) leaders - can easily slide into cynicism.

President Roslin, left with no other practical alternative, announces that she is going to "play the religious card" by, in essence, broadcasting to the entire fleet the same spiel she gave the Quorum of the Twelve in "Fragged": that she is "the voice of the prophet Pythia," and the prophesied messiah who is destined to lead the remnants of humanity to salvation on Earth.

"Play the religious card"; what a pregnant turn of phrase. Everything we've seen of Roslin since she started seeing chamalla-induced visions late last season has suggested that she genuinely believes what Adama contemptuously dismisses as "that religious crap." Now, here, in a candid moment, she describes this heretofore heartfelt belief like it's just another political strategy.

Not to rip off the old Palmolive jingle, but "Does she or doesn't she?" Did Roslin put it that way for Tom Zarek's ears, to cultivate his continued cooperation by feeding his preconceived notions of her moral corruption, or even convince him that they're more alike than he thought or she was willing to admit? Or is she not so much a religious convert as a pragmatic leader who sees following this prophecy as the only realistic shot the human diaspora has at actually finding Earth?

Or is it some of both?

The most interesting answer to this question, and also the most accurate one, is: we don't know. And that's the answer that just happens to keep power and influence most centered in Roslin's hands.

Following Roslin's broadcast, her ship jumps back to Kobol. And there's nothing more Adama and Tigh can do but wait and see how much of the fleet follows her.

They're both convinced that nobody will. For all the power of her words and the political ascendancy she now enjoys (thanks to Tigh's incompetence and Adama's endorsement of it), Kobol has been swarming with Cylons ever since they stumbled across the planet, and any ship captain will know that returning there is probable, if not guaranteed, suicide.

But as I discussed a week ago, the people are only now beginning to fully realize that the old civilization, and all the old ways that went along with it, are gone, and behold, all things are new. The societal slate has been wiped, and what replaces it has yet to be determined. In such circumstances people are prone to return to their oldest cultural roots in order to find a place of "solid ground." And post-apocalypse is, by definition, not the most receptive soil in which to try and replant a crop of "rationality".

All told, a third of the fleet follows Roslin into they, and she, know not what (unless that, too, was recorded in the scrolls of Pythia). Which I found surprising, as I thought the percentage would be a lot higher.

For all the keystokes I dedicated to the above story track, that was the secondary thread. The main focus of screen time was devoted to Kara "Starbuck" Thrace and "Cylon-occupied Caprica." There is, however, a great deal less to say about this angle.

Kara, Helo, and their new allies are out on a recon patrol when they get ambushed. In the ensuing firefight, Starbuck suffers what appears to be a flesh wound on her left side. That's the impression I got, anyway, as it looked like about where Wally shot Mick Dundee at the climax of Crocodile Dundee II, and Mick not only didn't pass out but was still on his feet. And he wasn't any more heroic or hardboiled than Starbuck is.

But for purposes of the plot, Kara had to collapse and lose consciousness in order for her to wake up in a hospital and play out the remainder of the thread.

That thread wasn't anything all that deep or original. The patient who wakes up, doesn't know where she is or how she got there, is almost immediately greeted by a smiling doctor who tells her she's going to be fine, but that I'm deeply sorry, but the people you were with were all killed, and steadily grows suspicious of what's really going on until she sneaks out of her room and makes The Shocking Discovery. As I alluded to above, it was well done for what it was, but it was as predictable as the sunrise.

Maybe it was Starbuck's natural cynicism that triumphed here, but I wasn't all that impressed with "Simon." He tells her not everything that he thought she wanted to hear, but more like everything he thought she would expect to hear. How she was in a resistance medical center (even though she looked around and saw her comrades fleeing the scene in headlong retreat), her new boyfriend was dead (on just Simon's say-so {must...resist...obvious...pun...}), how she kept needing sedatives to keep her asleep, how the new scars that kept appearing on her abdomen where just "routine surgical follow-ups," etc. A little bit of that would work (and appeared to, even on Kara), but days of it, as well as seeing and hearing nobody but Simon and not being allowed to leave her room, would make anybody suspicious (especially Kara).

And that doesn't figure in the creepy familiarity that he sought to cultivate. The bit about all her fingers having been broken in the same place during childhood and the implication of physical abuse (apparently true judging by her reaction, which is a piece of her back story I would have preferred to have been left buried), and the psychological tie-in with his persistent selling to her of her "duty" to have babies, a pitch to which she was, as you might have imagined, not very receptive.

I won't presume to speak for the whole audience, but it seemed obvious to me that she had been captured by the Cylons and that it was only a matter of time until she made the same discovery and revealed the deep, dark secret lurking nearby.

Only, of course, that secret was telegraphed by Simon's maternal sales pitch. So when Starbuck slits Simon's throat (the spurting blood cascading all over her face was rather graphic), caves in the skull of a Number Six avatar with a fire extinguisher, and finds the room full of human women hooked up to Cylon machinery - essentially, living "artificial" wombs - to bear the hybridized spawn that Number Six presumably showed Baltar in a vision back on Kobol, the moment was considerably less of a jaw-dropper to me than it was to Kara. Even the plea of Sue-Shaun, one of the resistance fighters, to Kara to "kill me" was, but for the absence of a flame-thrower, pretty much a rip-off of a number of such scenes in the Alien series, and a great deal less riveting.

We even get a neat little plot contrivance at the end when, after Helo and Anders' gang rescue Starbuck, they're all in turn rescued and evacuated by Boomer (the "other" Boomer who was last seen absconding with Kara's Cylon raider in "Scattered"). Only this Boomer is not a "deep cover" model, and has - apparently! - switched sides. And together with Starbuck and Helo - and after a tearful goodbye scene between Kara and Anders that didn't convince me of the emotional depth it sought to portray - she takes off in what I'm assuming is a FTL-equipped craft, thus tying off the last "KLG" thread and, hopefully, the whole "Cylon-occupied Caprica" vignette series.

But just exactly where are they headed? For the Galactica or for Kobol?

Looks like business is about to pick up again.

Next: Apollo and the "other" Boomer on a collision course - isn't that worth the price of admission all by itself?

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