Sunday, August 30, 2015

Battlestar Galactica: Lay Down Your Burdens (S2/E19)

by JASmius

Rating: **1/2

Written by: Ron Moore, Ann Saunders, and Mike Verheiden
Directed By: Michael Wymer

Okay, I admit it – I never got around to writing this review four months ago, and I didn’t pay close enough attention to the re-run schedule over the summer and missed the replay Friday before last. And I’m not going to try and bluff my way through it anyway based upon episode recollections that are that stale. If you want a full review, click here. Jammer and I don’t usually differ all that much, and I had pretty much the same reaction to the last ten seconds as he did.

-From my belated review of Enterprise’s third season finale “Zero Hour”.

The only difference this time? I never got around to writing this review seven months ago. Okay, there is one more distinction: I will try to bluff my way through this one.

In the big-picture sense, season two of Battlestar Galactica closes much the same way it opened: with the Colonials having found a class-M planet and wrestling over the possibility of abandoning their headlong, semi-aimless flight through the stars in a pipedream search for an Earth that may or may not exist so far as they know in favor of settling on the terra firma they have in front of them and taking their chances on the Cylons finding them and wiping out the remaining vestige of humanity.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Our story begins with the long-telegraphed rescue mission of Starbuck’s boyfriend, Anders, and his guerrilla group from Caprica. I’m frankly still more than a little stunned that Admiral Adama would be willing to devote so many presumably irreplaceable fleet resources for the sake of a handful of people whose successful rescue would have to be considered a long shot under the best of circumstances. I mean, if Starbuck is going to drink herself into becoming the next Colonel Tigh, surely there must be better ways of pulling her out of her alcoholic descent than to squander an entire Raptor squadron on what is little more than a fool’s errand.

However, this plot piece had to go forward because without it, Boomer v. 2.0 would not have been able to “accidentally” divert a Raptor to the class-M planet that eventually becomes “New Caprica.”

Sorry, got ahead of myself again. Guess that’s what happens when you don’t write a review in over half a year.

Boomer is employed as a sort of Cylon sherpa for the rescue mission to Caprica, and I suppose that technically it isn’t overtly portrayed that she deliberately “miscalculated” the one Raptor’s jump into the nebula that conceals a habitable planet that could conceivably be hidden by the surrounding stellar gases and dust from Cylon detection. But it just seemed a little too convenient to me that the same “woman” who had so recently raged against her human captors for what she thought was the murder of her half-breed baby would (1) be entrusted as mission navigator and (2) “misdirected” one squadron member to a planet that could serve as a powerful lure to the human diaspora to stop fleeing and stay in one place for the Cylons to eventually find.

And powerful lure it was. Just as President Roslin is pulling away in her re-election bid against her hapless veep, the chump traitor Gaius Baltar, the errant Raptor returns to the fleet with the electrifying news that they’ve found what could be a new home for the inhabitants of the “ragtag fugitive fleet.” Tom Zarek, Baltar’s campaign manager/strategist, recognizes a wedge issue when he sees one and seizes upon this discovery as a means of checkmating what heretofore has been Roslin’s greatest strength: her status as the Moses-like Matriarch prophesied in their culture’s ancient writings gained several months earlier in the aforementionedly similar discovery of Kobol, the birth-planet of all thirteen human tribes.

Way back at the beginning of this civilizational exile, Adama concocted the notion of finding Earth because, as he said then, “It’s not enough to just live; people need something to live for.” Hope can, indeed, be a powerful thing. But even so, it is still an abstraction, and abstractions only have as much power as the faith people invest in them. And faith does not come naturally to what our real-life ancient writings refer to as “the natural man.” Particularly when presented with an actual, visible, tangible alternative right in front of him after, to quote Adama again, “months on the run with little to show for it but casualties and deteriorating conditions.”

Baltar did not have to “fan the civilian population's desire for a new home, a safe home, an end to the constant running,” because that was going to happen anyway. All he had to do is simply get out in front of it, Bill Clinton-style, and let the tsunami of emotion carry him all the way to Colonial One.

For Roslin, it was the worst of all worlds. Her greatest political asset had, after all, been her inate and canny pragmatism, borne of years of political experience. That pragmatism has seemed to wane ever since her brush with death in “Epiphanies”; here she finds herself essentially trapped on the side of principle instead. Indeed, it is doubly ironic in that embracing the status of religious icon in the Kobol adventure had been perhaps her most brilliantly pragmatic masterstroke, and now it comes back to bite her and bite her hard.

Still, I thought there was at least some room to try and finesse this issue past the election. Maybe not much, but enough to warrant making the attempt. In an irony hat trick, it would have been, in Roslin’s predicament, the pragmatic thing to do.

But she does not. Quite a part from the religious/EarthQuest angle, Roslin believes, with absolute conviction, that halting their flight from the Cylons and taking their chances on New Caprica is strategic suicide. She knows that humanity’s only chance to survive is to continue to elude their enemies, not stop in one place for them to inevitably find and finish off.

Thus we arrive at the fourth, and bitterest, irony: Roslin’s convictions complete her transformation into a “conviction politician,” but those convictions are now suddenly massively unpopular, and her refusal to make the appearance of compromising guarantees the election of the any-port-in-a-storm pants-around-the-ankles scoundrel that will toss them, and his own people’s survival – for the second time in a year - out the nearest airlock for nothing more than his own political gain.

“I’m Gaius Baltar, Democrat and traitor [not to be redundant], and I approve this message.”

Meanwhile, the rescue mission to Caprica unfolds about how one would have expected: Starbuck and her minions reach Caprica, manage to find Anders and friends, and get immediately pinned down by a Cylon ambush. They’re about to be wiped out when, all of a sudden, the shooting stops. The dazed survivors look warily around, then search more thoroughly, and find that the Cylons haven’t just retreated from the immediate area, but have evacuated the entire planet altogether.

As disclosed via the introduction of Dean “Quantum Leap” Stockwell as another Cylonoid model named “Brother Cavil,” the Cylons have been persuaded by their two “heroes” – the real Caprica Six and Boomer v. 1.0, whose declaration of a sort of Cylon “reformation” only took place the week before in “Downloaded” – that the genocide of humanity was itself a sin and that henceforth Cylons and Humans will go their separate ways.

If this sounds once again awfully convenient, as well as jarringly quick and less than entirely plausible, go to the head of the class. I would have appreciated an intervening episode showing how this sudden cultural about-face was carried out and why Six’s and Boomer’s Cylon brethren were so easily and comprehensively turned on so fundamental an issue. Absent that, it became simply another plot device to seemingly remove any remaining doubts about the efficacy of halting the fleet and settling on New Caprica.

Remember that wiggle room for Roslin finessing this issue I mentioned earlier? Wave it bye-bye.

Still, it seems to be that it was still incumbent upon the, um, incumbent to try and stall the settlement question past the election, to do anything she could to blunt this wedge that was turning the election rapidly in Traitor-boy’s favor. Instead, she foolishly tips her hand and shows her weakness by making a personal appeal to Baltar to set aside the very thing that has given him the upper hand – which, naturally, he leaks publicly in their second and final debate. Left with nowhere else to go, Roslin refuses to back down, reiterating her adamant declaration that quitting the Earth quest is suicide and continuing their journey is their only chance of survival as a race. She’s right, which near-term events would horrifyingly bear out, but as often happens in politics, her timing sucks. Nobody wants to hear the truth, because the truth of the diaspora’s existence over the past year has become intolerable. They’re tired, they want out, they’ve found a planet on which they can settle, the Cylons have declared peace and gone away – it’s everything people have been longing for ever since the long free-fall following their civilization’s Armageddon, and no rational argument or reasoned persuasion can overcome such powerful emotional yearnings.

Just as Boomer v. 2.0 calculated? I report, you decide. But I know which way I’m betting.

With no more legitimate “cards” to play, Roslin begins contemplating what would have for her been heretofore unthinkable: stealing the election.

Just to cut to the chase (and the quick), you can spare me the Florida 2000 parallels for any number of reasons, but most pertinently because this is a circumstance in which the stakes of subverting democracy – the survival of mankind – seem to render the decision a no-brainer. Roslin knows that Baltar is a traitor, and that his election will put all the human survivors in mortal peril. He cannot be allowed to become president, no matter what it takes.

There does not, to me, seem to be much fodder here for a good polemical debate. The worst that could happen is that Roslin’s election theft would eventually come out and she would be disgraced and politically destroyed. But she would still live, as would her people. That’s all that should matter. After all, you can’t have democracy of any kind when everybody is dead.

Still, the writers attempt one anyway, with Adama cast in the role of Roslin’s civic conscience. It might even have been semi-compelling if the dumb broad hadn’t been so bumblingly incompetent at ballot box-stuffing. As the returns are coming in Baltar takes a commanding lead, as expected, and then Roslin makes a furious comeback based soley on the votes from a single ship. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that something fishy is going on, and Lieutenant Gaida quickly uncovers the plot. Knowing now that pursuing it any further will only expose her perfidy and defeat the very purpose the scam was attempting to accomplish, Roslin abandons the effort.

Baltar wins. Upon his swearing in he immediately issues an Executive Order halting the fleet and beginning the settlement of humanity’s survivors on New Caprica. And in Adama’s mind, the final countdown to disaster begins.

That countdown is punctuated by the tying off of a couple of long-dangling loose ends.

Remember Gina, the Six-clone who had been the sexually tortured prisoner of the late Admiral Caine aboard the Pegasus, was liberated by the smitten Baltar, and encouraged him to challenge Roslin for the presidency, but who refused to put out for Gaius in the sack? As the pressures of first the campaign and then his victory mount, and his balls become bluer and bluer, Baltar puts more and more pressure on Gina to become the sex goddess that Imaginary Six has been in his mind’s eye for all this time. Finally, she relents.

Now recall the nuclear warhead that Baltar gave to his would-be lover after discovering back in “Epiphanies” (as if this should have been any sort of surprise) that Roslin thought he was a scumbag. And, finally, the expression, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Or coerced into having sex against her will. Whether it was suicide borne of trauma despondency or revenge or simply her programmed mission, Gina makes a big boom, and the Cloud Nine and a fifth of the fleet disappear in a flash.

A flash that is, (here’s that word again) conveniently detected by a (waiting?) Cylon task force three light-years away. A signal, perhaps?

Well, maybe, maybe not. The last scene jumps ahead another year. Most of the human population has moved down to the planet. Anders and Starbuck are married, but Anders is also dying of pneumonia. Former President Roslin is a schoolteacher once again. Chief Tyrol is now a Big Labor boss. He and his wife, Callie, have a newborn little girl.

Frankly, the settlement looks less like a “city” and more like a squalid shantytown. And “habitable” looks like only a technically accurate description of New Caprica, as the climate appears to be cold, damp, miserable and all-around inhospitable. Maybe living on space-going ships was no picnic, but New Caprica doesn’t look like any sort of bargain, either.

The fleet, along with the Galactica and Pegasus, remains in orbit, but with only skeleton crews – certainly not in any shape to resist a sudden Cylon incursion.

Yes, I’m telegraphing – why the heck not when the plot went so far out of its way to do so? Suddenly three Cylon base ships jump in-system. The Adamas, Admiral and Commander, have no choice but to take the mothballed fleet and flee, leaving the settlement below at the Cylons’ mercy.

Except that the Cylons do not attack. Instead, they occupy the planet and, in the act that he seems to have been predestined to perform, forces President Baltar’s unconditional surrender, thus squaring the circle that began with his unwitting facilitation of the destruction of the Twelve Colonies.

This “benevolent” takeover comes at the direction of the two “heroes of the Cylon,” Caprica Six and Boomer v. 1.0. How this squares with the notion of Cylon and Human going their separate ways, much less “living in peace,” is anybody’s guess. You can see that the precise opposite is inevitable, and that it will undermine the two “women”’s reformation, thus reviving the question of what made their case so overpoweringly persuasive to their people in the first place. And since the series itself would end along with Kobolian humanity, obviously some sort of rescue will be miraculously carried out, and the status quo ante restored.

I dunno. I guess this is intended to be epic storytelling. Perhaps it could have been. But “Lay Down Your Burdens” is, in fine art terms, finger-painting by the numbers, not a candidate for the Louvre, a victim of its own unavoidable plot manipulations.

Next: Season Three, and life under the Cylon heel.

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