Sunday, February 28, 2016

Battlestar Galactica: Torn (S3/E6)

by JASmius

Rating: *** (out of four)

Written by: Ann Cofell Saunders
Directed By: John De Segonzac

In the pro wrestling business, now known as “sports-entertainment,” there are sometimes programs worked between two wrestlers in which the hatched animosity grows to such on-screen levels of personal hostility that the idea of their dispute being settled in a mere wrestling match – even an “extreme” one with no rules – becomes highly implausible.

I’ve never liked such programs. The over-hyped hatred and bitterness always drains any drama or suspense out of the rivalry for me. I put myself in the place of the babyface (or heel, for that matter) and think, “If it were me, I’d say, ‘Frak the pay-per-view, I’d corner this SOB in an alley somewhere and after I was finished they’d never find his remains.” But we’re expected to believe that such differences can actually be settled in a physical context that doesn’t even send anybody to the emergency room.

The same principle applies for me when viewing (and reviewing) scifi drama as well.

I love a good polemic. Set up a believable moral conundrum for our heroes and I can be riveted to the edge of my seat. Star Trek Deep Space Nine was brilliant in this regard with its Dominion War saga in such eps as “In The Pale Moonlight” and “Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges” where Captain Sisko and Doctor Bashir and Admiral Ross had to wrestle with the idea of doing horrible things they would never have otherwise conceived of in the cause of the greater good of survival and the preservation of the very principles they were having to personally bend. Even Star Trek Enterprise took a crack or two at this sub-genre with its Xindi epic and other eps like “Dear Doctor.”

The key to the success of a polemical angle, though, is believability. Cast the conflict as being between refraining from and carrying out an act that will eliminate altogether the show’s principle villain, thus also eliminating the show, and since the viewer knows that that isn’t going to happen, all the steam is vented out of the angle. There is no longer any point to the story. All that can salvage it is character window dressing.

Now you know why I yawned my way through “Torn”

The plot element this week is the simultaneous discovery by the human diaspora and the “pursuing” Cylons of the next milepost on the road to Earth. The reason the “rag-tag, fugitive fleet” is searching for the home of the “thirteenth tribe of man” is long established. Here we learn why the Cylons are searching for it as well: they want the planet as “their new home.” A concept that opens up all kinds of worm cans – Don’t they already have a homeworld? Did they pick up their whole civilization and take out after the Galactica and the straggling survivors of the genocide they unleashed on the Kobolian colonies? Why on, well, Earth would they have done that? Are the Cylons such humanophobic racists that they would seek to eradicate this last outpost of human civilization clear across the galaxy that had utterly nothing to do with creating them or waging war against them? – but doesn’t even attempt to address, much less answer them here other than to create, with moderate effectiveness, a sense of future foreboding.

Ex-President Baltar is the common thread of this quest, providing the Cylons with the same information he earlier synthesized for Admiral Adama and his both predecessor and successor, Laura Roslin. Thus is another collision course set, though it doesn’t come close to providing a satisfying payoff.

It’s difficult to know how to feel about Baltar these days. His ideal life was the one that he had before the holocaust he was duped into facilitating – full of ego-stroking and publicity-mongering and womanizing, all of it superficial and inconsequential. When Caprica Six made a patsy traitor out of him, suddenly the superficiality went up in the Cylons’ mushroom clouds, and his actions now had consequences he couldn’t escape. Even escaping with the scattered survivors simply deferred those consequences for a while. He could never escape them because he could never escape the same fallen nature that had gotten him into his predicament in the first place.

I suppose you could say that now, living as a prisoner, or perhaps a zoo specimen, of the Cylons, he is embarked upon serving his long, well-deserved penance. He even seems to dimly grasp that in his introspective moments, before his irresistible instinct for self-preservation kicks in yet again. That’s the one constant that runs throughout his strange, pathetic odyssey, even now in the Cylons’ very midst. Only the fact that he’s so frakking good at it seems to be keeping him alive.

That, and the dawning suspicion, based upon what Caprica Six tells him about her people’s ability to “project” the reality around themselves that they want to see, that he, himself, may be one of the thus-far unrevealed five remaining humanoid Cylon models. Of course, if that were the case, it wouldn’t do much to explain why they treat him like a human, unless even the Cylons don’t know they identity of one or more of the remaining models themselves. Perhaps Imperious Leader knows? Heck, maybe that is Baltar.

Sorry, I’m “jumping” too far ahead again, aren’t I? Let’s go back to the once-more “last battlestar.”

After the retributive purge of last week, most things seem to be sorting themselves out. Apollo has been demoted back to major and reinstated as Galactica’s CAG. His pilot stable undergoes war game training to shake off the rust and get their edge back. Boomer v. 2.0, aka Sharon Agathon, is given the new callsign “Athena,” perhaps a nod to the original series character (Apollo’s kid sister, not reproduced in the current incarnation) of the same name.

But not everything settles into place, nor would it. The Galactica still has plenty of casualties whose wounds don’t show on the outside. We saw two of them the past few weeks: Colonel Tigh and Captain Thrace.

Starbuck simply is not equipped to cope with the psychological rape that the Leobin Conoy model inflicted upon her. We’ve known for a long time that her badass, braggodicious persona is just a cover for a soft, mushy interior that she doesn’t want anybody to see. Almost like she expects that exposing her vulnerabilities will get her hurt, so she’s determined never to open up what’s inside her.

But the other side of that coin is that nobody can help her deal with and leave behind the trauma she suffered on New Caprica. So when she climbs back in the cockpit, it’s not so much with a guilt-driven death-wish like she had last season as an “I don’t give a crap” attitude that looks for a fight with everybody over every thing, with the unspoken hope that somebody will take her out and in that way put her out of her emotional misery.

Consequently when she acts that attitude out in the combat exercises and endangers her fellow pilots, Apollo grounds her. This puts her in essentially the same position that Tigh has been in ever since the “Second Exodus.”

Tigh’s pain is worse than Starbuck’s and concomitantly more difficult to overcome. Whereas Kara had horrible things done to her, Tigh had to do horrible things, including to his own wife, that inflicted mortal wounds upon his own soul. And with now-Captain “Helo” Agathon serving as acting-XO, he doesn’t even have the solace of losing himself in his work, even if such a thing were possible.

With both relieved of duty, they have nothing to divert themselves from their own darkening bitterness, and it metastasizes into divisive contempt for everybody who didn’t suffer as they did. A mindset that manifests itself in the officers’ lounge, where Saul and Kara take turns taking cheap shots at the pilots who weren’t trapped on New Caprica but who just happened to be the ones who rescued them from Cylon captivity.

Adama acts quickly to stop this cancer before it can spread any further. In his characteristically quiet but blunt way, the admiral confronts them both, tells them that what they’re doing is wrong and is going to stop here and now. He then puts a loaded sidearm on his desk and gives Tigh a choice: either pick up the gun and shoot him or revert to the man he used to be.

The tactic works on Starbuck, who symbolically slices off the long, golden tresses she grew while on New Caprica and strikes up a relationship with Kaycee, the little girl she thought was her daughter, and her real mom that she had earlier rejected. But, as would be entirely plausible and consistent with his deeper psychological baggage, it doesn’t work on Tigh, who stands up, tells the admiral that the Saul Tigh he knew “doesn’t exist anymore,” and walks out. Time may heal all wounds, but some take longer to heal than others.

Contagion, on the other hand, can strike very quickly, as the Cylons find out when they arrive at the nebula Baltar charts as the aforementioned milepost on the road to Earth.

Well, not the first base ship, anyway. All the main Cylon fleet gets is a garbled distress signal, then nothing.

Baltar, seeing an opportunity to ingratiate himself with his captors, volunteers to reconnoiter the scene in a captured, remote-controlled Raptor. What he finds on the missing base ship is staggering – all the humanoid Cylons are dead or dying of an infectious disease. The only question is where this plague came from.

The ex-president and ex-vice president only finds one thing out of the ordinary on board: an evidently human artifact, a space navigational buoy of some sort. He does not, however, relay this information to his Cylon handlers.

Why, I’m not sure. It could be his nearly simultaneous discovery of a brunette Six model nearby, still alive. Maybe he suddenly got horny, never having seen her in that hair color, and it manifested itself in a compassionate urge to calm her down and reassure her that he was there to help. Or it could be that she refused to listen to him, accused him, as a human, of setting that buoy for them to find as a trap and trying to strangle him with her bare hands and last ounce of strength, forcing him to kill her in self defense. All I remember is that when it was over his eyes were bugging out like Roger Rabbit’s, and he couldn’t get off that base star fast enough.

Next: The Colonials find the dead base ship next, and it may be the answer to all their prayers.

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