Saturday, February 28, 2009

episode: battlestar galactica, "someone to watch over me" (4.19)

I thought "Someone to Watch Over Me" was a wonderfully written, visually compelling character-driven episode of Battlestar Galactica, and whereas some people may have felt underwhelmed by the emphasis on love (and with it, absence and betrayal) and wanted a stronger pursuit of dogfights and/or mythology, personally, I think that understanding these characters more will provide for an explosive last few episodes. (I teared up a little when I typed that.) Think about it. A lot actually happened in this episode. We were introduced to Sonia, a Number Six model who has replaced Natalie as the leader of the Cylons. (And I'm assuming she was the Number Six that was at Caprica Six's side in the hospital last week.) Boomer took Hera (more on that below), so now Cavil has the "special" hybrid child. And Boomer pretty much hit Adama with a "point of no return" ultimatum: attempt to shoot her down with Hera on board, and she will jump. Adama didn't back down (boy, he didn't!) and Boomer's jump ripped pieces of Galactica apart. I don't think there's any doubt that the ship Galactica is the "dying leader" of the Pythia prophecies.

Am I forgetting any-- Oh right. Starbuck's dad is Daniel. And kudos to the writers of this episode, David Weddle and Bradley Thompson, for providing this information in such a dramatic way.

Because this episode was primarily about three pivotal characters -- Starbuck, the Chief, and Boomer -- I have divided my thoughts by their character-specific narratives, but in no way do I see these narratives as isolated from one another. The very climax of the episode was heightened by the editor's decision to make Dreilide Thrace's song the connective tissue between the Final Five('s recognition of the song), Tyrol (entering into an empty home), Boomer (jumping), and Starbuck (reawakening from an infantilized state of being). Extremely well done, I say to you, sirs.

Starbuck: First of all, the opening of this episode was brilliant -- and I know I tend to overuse that word a lot with this show, but to be fair, I don't use that word very often elsewhere. BSG is my Plato's Form of the Real, to which everything else must be compared. The episode begins with a montage of Starbuck's routine. This exploration of the quotidian is interesting not simply because she's found herself trapped in monotony*, but because her recitation of the crew's mission (as she is the CAG, once again) comes to her in passing. She is not concentrating on remembering her lines, nor is she preparing for her presentation. As she mentions, "Our mission is the same as it was last week. And the week before. And the week before that." In one simple line, we, the audience, finally find out what the pilots have been doing these past week and what the goal is they're reaching towards. So in this opening montage, it's not just about Starbuck feeling trapped -- because "trapped" implies that one can eventually escape, and as Maurice Blanchot would argue, the everyday escapes [you] and thus you cannot escape it. The opening montage is instead about the despair and desperation found in the everyday. BSG has traveled this road before, most notably with Dualla. The everyday can sometimes be the hardest part of living.

* I particularly appreciated the multiple shots of Starbuck in the shower. She didn't do much other than shower, and there wasn't a strong differentiation between these scenes (she wasn't angry in one, sad in another, for example). And this visual redundancy further emphasized the state of not-being that Starbuck experiences throughout the entire episode.

I had a conversation with my BSG comrades J&G last night, and J. has a difficult time caring for Kara Thrace because she seems to bounce from man to man, taking what she wants from them and discarding them when it's uncomfortable for her. We eventually came to appreciate the fact that people like this exist in the real world (we call them narcissistic self-centered assholes...), but for J., he wants to see a redemptive moment from a character like that. I, on the other hand, because I know of Kara's history with an abusive mother and absent father and losing Zak Adama, I don't need her to bounce back. It's not that she "uses" these men -- Lee, Leoben, and Sam -- but that she gets specific answers from each of them. With Lee, their relationship revolves around competition and action, and he's really the only person she truly trusts. But Kara is a self-destructive person who doesn't think she deserves happiness (because of her mother and because of Zak's death, which she blames herself for), and so her relationship with Lee can never fully flourish because she doesn't trust herself enough to be with him. From Leoben, she gets religious answers -- and his prophetic utterances mirror her mother's assertion that she is special and needs to fulfill that role better -- but Leoben leaves her at the very moment when Kara loses her concept of self. "Kara" is a fighter pilot, but on Earth, she discovered that "Kara" is dead and she has no idea who (or what) she is anymore. And Leoben can't provide those answers anymore. He doesn't know who or what she is either. And then there's Sam Anders, who represents civilian life and normalcy, a side of humanity that Kara never thought she could be part of. When you think of previous Starbuck-centered episodes, she constantly puts herself out on the field (or out in space, rather), even if her chances of dying are 110% likely. That's why "Maelstrom" was such an interesting episode because Kara, I think, has this secret death wish. Dying in battle, dying in a moment of glory, would hold more meaning to her than, say, living on New Caprica and having a life with Anders. And of course, we don't get to see that domestic side of Starbuck for very long before she's held captive by Leoben. And perhaps there's a reason for that. "Domestic Kara" is not Kara at all. So Anders represents this life of normalcy (he's not a soldier, a concept that primarily makes up her identity), and with Anders in the hospital -- and Lee in political circulation -- she really has no one left to provide her with answers. What does she do? She goes to the bar, downs a few shots, and then imagines -- projects? -- a pianist.

I'm not going to go into specifics about her scenes with this pianist, other than to say that they were very well done. Katee Sackoff did some of her best acting in this episode, and a particular highlight is when she tries to press the piano keys and can't. In that moment, she's crying -- but it's not a scene of self-pity. It's a scene of hardened determination. She wants to play the keys as to prove to herself that she can, that the memory of her absent father will not keep from making her own decisions, but instead she cries and she hides these tears from the piano player. Others have compared the ending reveal -- the pianist was never really there -- to The Sixth Sense, but I think that's unfair because that gimmick has been around a lot longer than that movie. But what was particularly satisfying about the reveal was that Starbuck was NOT shown to be shocked. It wasn't really a reveal -- and let's be honest, most of us (should have) figured this out long before the ending, namely since the pianist didn't talk to anyone else and no one in the bar was affected by his playing. So after the "reveal," there is the mid-shot of Sackoff, and she portrays Starbuck as someone who is finally coming to terms with her father leaving her. Just like Anders and Leoben and Lee, her father cannot provide her with any more answers. In the same vein that her father's song made her feel happy and sad all at once, Kara Thrace is a character who finds sadness in happy moments (like marrying Anders the morning after she and Lee profess their love for one another) and the silver lining in despair (such as her determination to find Earth).

Boomer/Tyrol: Oh, Boomer. You make it so hard for me to empathize with you. Boomer, of course, was the first "deactivated" Cylon, and during her secret affair with the Chief, she discovered clues that pointed to her being a Cylon. (And in an interesting parallel, when Boomer was secretly planting bombs aboard the Galactica, it was Tyrol who helped her and almost took the fall for her. The irony, of course, is that back then, neither of them knew their true identity and were dealing with the exact same problems that they face here, almost four years later.) Boomer shoots Adama; Callie shoots and kills Boomer. Her murderer then marries the man she loves and has a child with him. In the episode "Downloaded," we get the initial seed of darkness and anger with Boomer. Whereas she originally felt like she was betraying the humans, she later feels that the humans betrayed her -- that the Chief betrayed her -- and she joins/is manipulated by Cavil to join his band of not-so-merry men, hell-bent on the destruction of the human race. Boomer's entire arc here -- helping Ellen escape to Galactica -- was only a ruse so she could capture Hera and bring her back to Cavil. If there a twisty-mustached villain in BSG, it would be Boomer.

Two things to discuss about Boomer: (1) Does she still really love the Chief, and (2) Why would she sleep with Helo? In response to the first one, my answer is yes, she does still love the Chief. Not only does she ask Tyrol to leave with her at the end of the episode, but her projection of their potential life together -- a life they were planning long before either of them knew they were Cylons -- was so specific to their discussions from four years ago that I got the sense that she has been escaping into this projection reality for the past few years. How often she goes there, I don't know. And then after Boomer leaves Galactica with Hera, Tyrol's projection of the house has him in his uniform (and not grey t-shirt), which shows his own projection -- projection from psychoanalysis, not Cylon-projection -- of heartbreak. Boomer is gone, and Hera, the metaphorical surrogate for their own child, is gone. Tyrol thus enters an empty home which, like a heart, is filled with empty rooms. Did Boomer manipulate the Chief? Absolutely. But manipulation and love are not mutually exclusive. She could very well have used him in the hopes that he would escape with her at the end.

As for the second question, she slept with Helo as a means of responding to the notion of Athena. Boomer was originally part of Galactica then betrayed them for the Cylons, and Athena (waaay back on Caprica in season one) betrayed the Cylons in order to join the Galactica fleet. Athena found love with Helo and they bore a child together, and not only that, but Adama and the rest of the fleet accepted her. (Not initially, of course, that took time, but Boomer wouldn't know about the hard struggles Athena faced.) She sees Athena as a weak Cylon, someone not worthy of being part of her line of Eights, and she resents Athena for being and having everything that she couldn't. Boomer is fully aware that Athena is tied up and would witness her sex tryst with Athena's husband, which is why Boomer comes at Helo like a lion ready to pounce on its prey. It's not sex; it's domination, and Boomer is dominating Athena, not Helo.

Fantastic character-driven episode, and I really think it's created a nice set-up for the upcoming last three episodes (sniff...). These characters are more real than real to me, so I know that saying goodbye -- and not living out the future with them -- is going to be hard. Sometimes I think I shouldn't become so enmeshed in these characters, but this show, more than any experience I've had in the real world, reminds me on a constant basis why humanity deserves a fighting chance, despite our flaws and our mistakes. I'm going to miss that reminder.


James Jacob said...

Awesome review, very in depth and you were obviously paying much more attention than I was while watching it!

Ps - how do you think it will end? Will the Galactica survive? I think it will go down in a blaze of glory to be honest

keyser soze said...

Hello! Thank you for -- what I'm taking to be -- the compliment. In all honesty, I try not to think about how it will all end. I'm usually that jerk online who looks up spoilers, but never for BSG. I want everything to be a surprise to me. All I know about the end is that it will be realistic and plausible. I have absolute faith in Ron Moore (which is ironic because I don't have faith in much else), but I wouldn't be surprised if most people don't make it out alive... but again, I don't want to put too much thought into where I think it will lead.

To quote that ol' Buddhist proverb, it's the journey, not the destination.