Battlestar Galactica – “No Exit”

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“No Exit”

February 13th, 2009

You know, sometimes you speak too soon.

When I posted that extended rant this morning, I knew that it was very likely that tonight’s episode, “No Exit,” would actually do much of what I wanted to have done:  a greater glimpse into the Cylon side of this fleet, a return to questions of human/Cylon connectivity, and more of an investigation into the central issues that I felt drove the mutiny in the first place. As a fan of the first two issues in any episodes where they enter into the show’s narrative, then, this one is a doozy: it answers questions about the Cylon creation process that we never even bothered to ask, filling in gaps of logic, philosophy and science in the history of these people like a Cylon bioorganism would fill in the holes within Galactica’s hull.

There’s a whole lot to discuss on that front, so I’m going to get this out of the way before we even get below the fold. To be honest, I still stand by my earlier thoughts about the mutiny arc, and actually felt this episode confirmed much of it. While there is some strong Cylon material here, there is still a disconnect between human and Cylon that feels odd when you are discussing the combining of these two forces at almost every turn. This episode raises some amazing questions of Human/Cylon identity, do not get me wrong, but because those questions appear as highly philosophical conversations on one side and as much less in-depth decisions on the other, there is still that sense of imbalance that struck me with the mutiny arc as well. We’ve switched to the opposite problems: the Cylons have apparently spent 18 months having these fascinating conversations, and yet the humans haven’t been afforded the same luxury quite yet.

All in all, “No Exit” draws itself further into philosophical and expositional territory than any other episode in this half-season, resulting in a slower but deliberate pace that offers more than enough food for thought – let’s focus on that, and maybe I’ll rant a bit more at the end.

So, let’s run this down:

  • The Final Five were technicians who worked on Earth creating humanoid Cylons who developed resurrection technology that was an expansion of earlier technologies operated on Kobol by the 13 Colonies.
  • When the Holocaust arrived, they used their technologies to resurrect onto a spaceship orbiting the planet and then slowly began to travel (without jump drives) in order to warn the other colonies about the danger of creating artificial life and failing to monitor it (and befalling the same fate).
  • They eventually reached the 12 Colonies during the first Cylon war, discovering that the Centurions had created hybrids but hadn’t bridged the technology. They made a deal with them: they would teach them how to create humanoid models as long as they would call off the war against humanity. They agreed, and they began building the Eight other Cylon models, starting with 1 (Cavill, or John as he was known).
  • They continued with time, eventually creating Daniel (#7), who Ellen favoured, but who would eventually be wiped out by John’s jealousy and rage taking hold.
  • John’s rage went further as he resented them for making them too human, so he suffocated the Five, and then took their resurrected bodies and stripped them of all memories, placing them amongst humanity and forcing them to watch another holocaust happen.

Okay, there’s a lot to process here. I’ll admit right now that I’m still not too sure on what Earth was: was it all Cylons, or was it just that humanity had created Cylons who eventually became the dominant force in the population over time? Or did the resurrection technology developed on Kobol over time turn everyone into Cylons in some sort of post-life conversion of the self? I didn’t really follow that bit, which is partially the episode’s fault and partially my own for being a little bit too disoriented by the information overload.

More clear, however, is the rest of the story, especially the part of which is the most game-changing. No, I’m not talking about the 8th humanoid model, forget that for a second. Instead, I believe that the biggest thing we learned in this whole process is that the Final Five were responsible for ending the first Human/Cylon war. That, my friends, is what we call a real game-changer: it throws the entire question of blame and equilibrium around, creating the best of intentions for people whom we have rarely have the best of impressions. It’s another example of Cylons becoming more like humanity: while blame for the nuclear attack on the colonies could be traced to Baltar, or the moment when Adama went over the Red Line, in reality it could never be that simple.

We’ve finally achieved the same here, I feel, and my favourite scene in the episode is Tigh, Tyrol and Tori standing around considering what Anders has told them, and wondering if it gets them off the hook. What Tigh says in that scene, that it all comes back to them if they truly were the creators, raises so many fascinating questions that return to the core roots of the series. Was it humanity’s fault for creating the Cylons that started this war? Or was it the Five’s fault for creating humanoid Cylons who would grow to resent them? Or is it the fault of those eight models for failing to respect their own past and giving in to the worst of their human qualities? The question of blame is so yesterday’s news when it comes to this show, and instead we have an even more complex labyrinth. Tigh understands this immediately, having dealt with many of the same issues in terms of his own personal microcosm: was he responsible for Ellen’s death on New Caprica, which we saw again tonight? Did he have some part in undermining human activities? On both a grand scale, and at a personal level, we’re seeing these types of complications and now we have one more piece to add to the puzzle.

I am not diminishing the very ideal that “Daniel” is walking around somewhere in the fleet, something that does indeed raise an entirely new question. It isn’t Starbuck (which she had been hoping, praying for because it would give her something to stand on in her own mind), and as far as I know we haven’t met anyone named Daniel. Part of me feels that this could be circling back to someone like Zack Adama, but there’s probably something far simpler staring me in the face, and he could actually be long dead by now. It was clear that Cavill had destroyed the maturing sample of Daniel’s model, but they didn’t seem to discuss the fate of Daniel himself, which I guess is something that remains to be seen. I personally took the vagueness to mean he is alive, but maybe it’ll be someone who died a long time ago.

[Edit: after perusing some other reactions to the episode, which I always wait to do until after I’ve written my own, there’s some talk at NeoGAF about Daniel being Starbuck’s father. An artist-type, painter, etc. It all fits. It would make Starbuck another Hera, another hybrid, and would explain at least something about how she managed to survive as two separate people (one Cylon/one Human). It’s my favourite theory yet, and puts a lot of pieces together. So props to Deadly Monk for that one.]

I do have to wonder, though, whether this was all too much information, told in a way that was in some ways effective and in other ways a bit distracting. The episode was split into the two time periods, one the current situation aboard Galactica with a pre-op Anders tapping into parts of his memory previously unreachable, and the other was the slowly descending timeline tracking Ellen’s time aboard Cavill’s baseship from the time of her death on New Caprica to the present day of sorts. I want to talk about these two things separately, because I think that their connection to one another was tangential at best.

Separated from the rest of the episode, the stuff with Ellen aboard the baseship was a great opportunity to reconnect with Kate Vernon (who did some very nuanced work as Ellen in especially the New Caprica arc), and I think that the philosophical overload it represented did convince me of Boomer’s eventual decision to believe in her co-creator and rush her off in that raptor. But there were a few moments where it felt like things were becoming repetitive, where we were getting conveniently similarly themed conversations spread months apart that were more or less variations on the same argument. There was a nice crescendo of sorts, starting with the opening confusion/vagueness and eventually seeing “John”‘s rage and Ellen’s belief driving them to the conclusion, but at a certain point I either wanted more sides to this story or for them to at least give us a bit more diversity than the admittedly great Dean Stockwell/Kate Vernon showdowns.

The same kind of goes for the Anders side of the storyline: while I was glad to have the information, I have to wonder if the whole showing vs. telling debate doesn’t rear it’s ugly head here. It’s one thing for Anders’ situation to send him flying back to those past memories, but when we don’t get to share in the memories and just get to learn bits and pieces with the Cylons it trades us actually experiencing that distant path in favour of the other parts of the Final Five reacting. I like the latter component, and think it’s a smart way to get some more out of these facts, but it felt like we were being told a lot without being shown much of anything. The entire load of all of this admittedly fascinating Cylon material was being given to us in either grandstanding speeches or prescient pre-op rememberances, and there is something that feels cheap about that.

I think that I would have been more accepting of this quick crash course in Cylon history showing up with such force if it wasn’t for the episode’s other storylines more or less entirely ignoring its impact. The mutiny was supposed to be a reminder that the fleet didn’t support the Cylon side of this equation, that the human/Cylon tension was more palpable than Adama realized, and yet this episode has a Cylon being operate on by a doctor without any question of their different biological structures, Adama refusing to allow Cylons on Tyrol’s work crew, and Roslin and Lee deciding that the real way to fix fleet democracy is not to reflect the people’s opinions but to shift from previous colonial geography to a more accurate ship-based delegate system. These all felt like either the show eliding, or simplifying, this conflict for the sake of convenience.

None of this human activity feels like it reflects the Cylons in the least: yes, Adama eventually is forced to weigh the option of having Galactica explode or allowing Tyrol’s Cylon bio-technology to fill in and repair the holes, but even that question is presented as an absolute last resort even when Adama himself was suggesting Cylon FTL drives just weeks earlier. Now, I can read a lot into this storyline: how Adama was willing to let the FTL drives shift over, but how the very hull of “his girl” was too valuable. You could even relate how Adama is all about a decision when it feels like it is militarily important, but when it becomes personal he has a much tougher time letting go of his prejudices. However, where was that in the episode? Other than the (admittedly great) moment where he throws down a shot before making the call to Tyrol to allow the Cylon biological fix to be part of the solution, we never get to see him consider this question at any deeper level.

Some may call this part of the show treating its audience with intelligence, knowing that we could put together that Adama’s actions in the episode are in direct relation to the discussions between Ellen and “John,” but there comes a point where I want to see the two sides given the same types of material. Much of my post earlier today was about how I felt we could have done with more Cylon narrative in the mutiny arc, balancing the human and Cylon sides, and I feel the same now: this was all Cylon, and while we can apply those ideas to the humans I kind of want to see everyone on the same page for once and not having to do it with A-Plot/B-Plot structural changes. The mutiny arc started out like it was going to nicely transition into an episode like this one, but it instead felt like an abrupt change: when John Hodgman’s (PC from the Apple ads, Daily Show Corresponent, etc.) brain surgeon showed up and was a joke character as opposed to someone who would even bring up the ethics of operating on a Cylon, I was just plain annoyed.

And I don’t want to be annoyed with an episode that does delve into and expand the show’s mythology like this one does. Nonetheless, though, this was a noticeable change from the last few episodes: even though I wanted a bit more from them, the pacing felt much more immediate and it seemed as if people were throwing all caution to the wind. This was bound to be a shift from that, the all-in mentality shifting to one of survival, one of evolution, and in the case of the Cylons a big ol’ history lesson that is meant to blow some minds. Instead of the characters showing their cards, in other words, it was the writers (in this case, Ryan Mottesheard, the show’s script coordinator). It just felt like a lot to dump on us in a single episode, and part of me still feels like we could have had more of it sprinkled through the last few in order to build more gradually to this moment.

But then you remember the little moments it gave us: the Centurion changing the shape of its hand to be more welcoming to Ellen as she got out of the chamber, the chance to revisit the various moments important to the intersection of humans and Cylons from a new perspective, Boomer slowly coming around and eventually jumping Ellen to something approaching safety, or the various interconnected images of X-Rays piercing into the internal workings of the Cylons, into Anders’ brain, and into the bones of Galactica itself. I like all of these, but it felt like they were wrapped in an episode that where multiple different episode structures were thrown together. It’s not quite bad enough that I’d call the speeches too pretentious, or Anders’ plight a Sci-Fi Grey’s Anatomy, but there comes a point where the organic quality of this episode felt like it was slowly slipping away.

My only hope is that getting it all out in the open frees the show to truly unite human and Cylon in a way that, by separating their destinies for these past few episodes, they have been ignoring (in my mind) for much too long.

Cultural Observations

  • No offense is meant to John Hodgman above, by the way, for ruining this part or anything. It was written as a bit cameo piece, and it’s not Hodgman’s fault that his choice of jobs has led to me presuming he is trying to be funny at all times. It was fun to see him once I got over what I felt was a far more interesting character opportunity, and Starbuck nearly glaring him to death was particularly amusing.
  • Continue to enjoy something we saw start in earnest during “The Oath,” with Tyrol and Adama striking a particularly enjoyable friendship of sorts. I like Adama’s very plainly stated idea that he doesn’t have a Chief anymore, and all he has is a Galen. That they are able to work around prejudice and the past in order to save the ship is a sign to the power of their friendship, and the importance of the ship to even those with a newly tenuous connection to it.
  • For all intents and purposes, this is the halfway point of the half-season, and I have to admit it felt it: there was a definite feeling of transition here, not helped by Lee and Roslin having a discussion about transition in the bloody mess of Colonial One.
  • I’ll be honest in that, while I liked a lot of Cavill and Ellen’s discussions, the “gelatinous orbs” line was painfully bad.
  • Interesting to see a whole new opening sequence just for this episode to emphasize some key themes (including the cyclical reasoning that compels the Final Five in the first place). I’m curious to see what we get for the sequence next week.
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7 Comments

Filed under Battlestar Galactica

7 responses to “Battlestar Galactica – “No Exit”

  1. Andy

    Thank you for talking about show not tell. Anders pretty much reciting the entire cylon history pissed me the hell off. The history of the cylons is probably the biggest answer of the series and to have that answer diminished in its impact is very annoying. Imagine if they had devoted the entire episode to telling the Cylon history using flashbacks, starting with the 5 in their lab on earth, their journey to the colonies, them making a deal with the cylons, witnessing the creation of the first humanoid cylon and the rest of stuff. It would have been one thrilling episode. Like you I also felt a bit of information overload, had they shown us actual flashback the problem of information overload would have been averted as it would have given us more time to process the information, seeing all of that stuff would also have given us a better context to the whole story. I find it bizarre why Ron Moore did not go that route, I mean he is ready to spend an entire episode with an episode like “A disquite follows my soul” but he is not willing to give us the copete payoff on the cylon mythology?

  2. I thought that having Anders tell (not show) a RIDICULOUS amount of mythology at a rapid-fire pace because he’s running out of time to do so was a pretty apt metaphor for the show as a whole right now. While I’ve enjoyed (to varying degrees) all of 4.5 so far, I can’t help but feel as if the show wasted 4.0 on a slow-building story arc focused on aimlessness and wandering; now that they’re tackling the really important stuff, they have to do so at such an insane pace that both the knowledge learned and our characters’ reaction to it is getting short-changed by running time.

  3. I’m glad to know that I’m not the only one who thinks Daniel might be Starbuck’s father. After Ellen mentioned that Daniel was the “artistic” type, my brain jumped straight to Starbuck’s apartment with her father’s piano music. It totally fits. (If I’m wrong, then seriously, what the F is Starbuck?)

  4. lylebot

    I disagree that all the info in this episode is “the really important stuff”. This show was never really about the mythology; it’s always been about what it means to be human. Season 4.0, which centered around Starbuck and the four Cylons trying to understand who and what they were in light of what they thought they were, explored that masterfully. So did the mutiny arc, which to me was much more vintage “Battlestar Galactica” than this episode was. It’s nice to get answers, but as far as I’m concerned “Revelations” could’ve been the last episode of the show and it would’ve been a more-than-satisfying conclusion (though very bleak and very open-ended).

  5. Yep, I’d say you’re right that we are once again on the same page, Myles. Though I disagree that making Daniel Starbuck’s dad is a good idea for reasons I spelled out on my blog in response to someone theorizing it there. I’ll leave your readers to check that out for themselves since I want to discuss what you bring up in your review here.

    I agree whole-heartedly that we should have seen more of Adama’s conflict in coming to that decision to use Cylon ‘blood’ to save his ship. Somehow I suspect this fact will become an important point in the upcoming episodes and if so, this point should have really been given more emphasis so we could appreciate Adama’s dilemma down the road brought on by this fateful decision.

    And while I didn’t mention it in my review, I also didn’t care for John Hodgman’s inclusion in this episode. Not that I don’t enjoy his work, but his presence here for obvious levity (the “PC” guy operating on a Cylon computer brain – yeah, we get it, thanks) was more distracting and oft-putting. Besides, wasn’t this just a little too convenient to have a neurosurgeon on hand for this? And why isn’t this guy helping Cottle more? Those scenes showing all the victims of the mutiny lying about was clear proof that more doctors are needed, despite whatever specialty they used to perform back in the colonies.

    But again, this was just another one of those annoying plot devices used here to help push along this storyline and which most of us suspect was done to help set up the upcoming episodes. But with such a disappointing set-up, will we really be able to appreciate what’s to come next? Guess we’ll see.

  6. I would have to disagree with the idea that BSG has never been a show about Mythology, the entire narrative is founded in its mythology. While the resounding theme is this question of what it means to be human, it is the mythology that Ron Moore and co have used to explore the philosophical argument that arise in that discussion, driving the debate through the narrative. As the history of humans and Cylons has been slowly unravelled it has lead to new perspectives from our protagonists must query the nature of their own existence, its futility and its beauty.

  7. On the question of mythology vs. more human identity issues, let’s all agree that we’re really talking about the same thing here: one cannot disconnect the two ideas in the context of the series, and the mythology has been set up as incredibly important to such questions.

    Unfortunately, that complex relationship wasnt evident in this episode for me, and for some others as well based on the comments. It isn’t that the episode was wrong to focus on one over the other, but it seemed like it was literally just “Okay, here’s a boatload of mythology, we’ll sort out its connections to human identity and the meaning of the series later.” And that’s problematic for me when the show is supposed to be viewed as a collective experience. I know this isn’t The Wire, where things are drawn out over five seasons, but there are themes that have been teased out slowly over time and have been better for it. To have this episode so quickly dump everything on it feels like the mythology, and the human side of things, are both getting shafted in some way.

    Tanveer, we agree on most things, but I have to admit that I don’t really think this setup can ruin upcoming episodes: the content itself being as fascinating as it was, I really do feel like there’s a lot of potential found, especially with the more high-octane opening. I trust Ron Moore enough that, this episode aside, he’s got this under control.

    Thanks to everyone for the comments!

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