Battlestar Galactica – “Daybreak Part One”

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“Daybreak Part One”

March 13th, 2009

Methinks that Ronald D. Moore has placed a red line right down the ranks of the Galactica faithful, which is something that he seems to revel in – it is not that the beginning of “Daybreak” is inherently a bad episode, but rather that it represents a very cautious approach that is treating this three-hour finale as an episode in and of itself as opposed to an extension of the episodes that came before it. The result is another in a long line of setup episodes, weaving in and out from his main character’s past lives in Caprica City in a way that makes thematic sense to the show as a whole, but doesn’t actually feel like it connects with the mutiny, or the rest of the fourth season thus far.

There’s something to be said for this kind of approach: with a cast this large and with a timeline this varied in terms of both action and reaction, it’s easy to see why returning to who these people were before “the Fall” would be of some value. And yet, at the same time, I left the episode not pondering how much these characters have changed but rather how much they’ve remained the same. Something about the way the episode was structured made it a bit too easy, the parallels between their former lives and their current predicament too simply stated, for us to forget some of what has happened to them, to remove the context of forward momentum and replace it with a potent nostalgia.

The result is something different, not something wrong: when Adama has his heroic speech, we are properly on the edge of our seat, properly considering the gravity of this situation, and properly realizing just how epic this is going to eventually be. But we’ve been waiting for something epic for a long time now, and by layering that suspense with the catharsis of the flashbacks we’re taken out of the season and placed into a series perspective perhaps too disconnected from the season thus far.

I’m left wondering not whether Moore is steering this ship in the right direction for the finale, which has the right kind of epic qualities as we need it to have coupled with a strong connection to these characters and their past lives, but rather whether this finale remains unchanged from the plan originally designed for when the second season was to be only 13 episodes – I have a feeling that it wouldn’t have been any different. As a result, while it feels like we’re heading in the right direction for a series finale, I don’t quite know if it feels like an ideal capoff to the season in and of itself.

The episode’s basic structure is established as soon as we begin in Caprica City. We see a number of images: a galaxy, a bird flying through rafters, a water-covered planet, and then the base of a fountain. Over the course of this opening hour, we see the non-celestial images come to fruition, and what we get from them is the message that roughly two years before the Cylon attack on the 12 Colonies these people were not happy. The message I got from the episode was that humanity was not to be defined by their relationship with the Cylons, but rather their connections with their past selves, a message that became the most clear with our glimpse into Anders’ life on Caprica.

Sitting in a tub in the locker room, mirroring the tank in which he sits in the form of a quasi-hybrid aboard Galactica, Anders talks about how he doesn’t care about trophies, or championships, or even the team: all he cares about is the perfect shot, the perfect throw, the perfect pass, and about achieving that piece of perfection in some way. It’s a message that sounds selfish at first, self-actualization merging into selfishness, but we start to realize as the episode goes along that we have seen many people follow this same path. The result is various mediations on this idea, all of which ask characters to consider more carefully what role the Fall, and the years that have followed, really played on their lives.

This is most clear with Gaius Baltar, who is humanized in a way he has not been for quite some time as we get a glimpse into the life of Gaius Baltar just after meeting Caprica for the first time. He has an elderly father who stabs his nurse with a steak knife, and who serves as a constant drain on Baltar’s existence. Said father throws a lot of accusations at Baltar, including that he has changed his accent: this all hearkens back to Season Three, wherein we learned that Baltar was originally from a far poorer area than his accent and his position would suggest, and returns us to identity issues in Baltar which run deeper than his betrayal of humanity.

It’s all part of a process wherein we learn that stories we thought we saw the start of run far deeper. With Baltar, we learn that Caprica was the one who “solved” the problem of Baltar’s father, sticking him in a home where he could be happy, all with the underlying impression that he could well be dead. Baltar, though, might never have bothered to look: he may have simply accepted it as an accident of fate, that this woman would be so kind as to help him eliminate that thing which was tying him back, that was tying up his money. It implies that Baltar’s concerns about betraying humanity are recognizable at both the macro-level (which he seems to be largely over) as well as at the micro-level with the shirking of responsibilities when it comes to his father.

Baltar is one of the characters who needs to be a focus in this finale, but has remained out of focus all season. Here, we’re returning to hopefully answer the question of why Head Six is there – is it just that he began to view Caprica as the solution to all of his problems, and hence she began to manifest as his conscience angel and devil all wrapped in one, or is there something more that is going on? If it’s the former, it’s a very human reaction, and could justify why he once saw a version of himself when his conscience desired it. However, that’s all largely irrelevant to the events actually within this season, which have been quite far removed from any of this. It’s answering the series’ question, not the season’s.

However, it worked great in the context of this episode, as Baltar tries to play his cards in a politically opportune way. His plea to Lee Adama about gaining a voice in the government, effectively trying to take over, is called out for being selfish, calling back to Anders’ perspective: it is not that Baltar isn’t passing Lee’s test, but rather fails the test he has for himself (perhaps emerging in the form of the argumentative Six in his head). Baltar has to stop a second before he realizes that Lee is right, and even goes so far as to realize that perhaps ever since that day with his father he has never made a decision that was selfless, meant to assist others more than himself. So when we saw him standing on the port side of that red line, Caprica staring at him from the other side, we got those goosebumps, the sense that he could jump across at any point and that he is reconsidering his position more than ever. However, isn’t that the same position he was in during “The Hub,” that he then regressed past with his own civilian armorment? It was all killing time until the finale, which might as well have happened after “the Hub.”

In fact, none of the flashbacks really deal with the fundamental purposes of this season, being the discovery of the final Cylons (only Anders is present in our flashbacks) as well as the search for Earth (the concept of settlement entirely out of the equation as the fleet focuses on the suicide mission ahead of them). The tragic death of Roslin’s father and two sisters in a car accident sheds light on a lot of Roslin’s past character beat, including why she was a quasi-mother to Hera during their time on New Caprica (perhaps harbouring some concept of motherhood), explaining her hesitancy to get into politics, etc. That fountain shot was also highly effective, and explains why it was there she went later to rest herself, to consider things, thinking where she found solace after such a personal tragedy. All of that was highly effective, and powerful considering our experience with the character and Mary McDonnell’s stunning acting.

It just didn’t really connect with the here and now: we’ve dealt with Roslin’s view on her mortality for a long time, and the death of her family isn’t really that expansive of our past experience with the subject. “Faith” was such an intriguing investigation into those questions, especially as it dealt with her mother, that getting the other side of the equation was helpful but not revolutionary in any way. There was never any chance of Roslin not walking onto the Starbird side of that red line, so we didn’t get to see anything really shift inside of her head in the way that we did with Baltar. As a result, we’re left waiting until next week for the end of her story, likely also bringing the end of her life.

With Roslin, though, the lack of the Opera House was honestly troubling – it’s the only major plot-driven mystery, and while it’s entirely tied up in three characters who are all moving forward to the colony it did take a strange backseat here. This was something that ran through a lot of the episode, with very little legwork being done on the actual questions and more work slowly setting up the characters involved as with last week. So, we get our glimpse into Starbuck trying to make sense of the music while Adama plays the role of Lee in ensuring her that she’ll always be his daughter, regular old Starbuck, to him. It’s the same basic storyline, just now placed into the context of Starbuck’s quiet domesticity with Zak Adama. Even that, though, was clearly left for next week: we got to see Starbuck in this happy relationship with Lee as the cleaned up brother-in-law, but we didn’t get to see the aftermath of Zak’s death on the character who we feel it would have affected most.

Lee gets a bit more interesting of an edit, being placed in charge with the dismantling of Galactica and having to eventually make the tough decisions in regards to Baltar. What we see of Lee in the past is someone who is out of control, who gets drunk and finds that pigeon in his apartment, trying to shoo it out with a broom in a hilarious scene that again feels like another piece of setup. But considering that this whole half season has felt like setup in one form or another, it seems odd that the show is now inserting setup where we didn’t even know it was there, to establish almost origin stories for characters whose origins were probably already quite sufficient in some form. I like that we’re focusing back on the main characters, don’t get me wrong, but it just doesn’t feel like we’re connecting with anything that we’ve been watching for the past seven weeks.

Adama releases all of the people from the mutiny from their cells in this episode, for frak’s sake – he does it because he needs the bodies, and so that Racetrack and Bones can again be the ones to perform dangerous recon missions (they found New Caprica, if you remember), but it also sends this message that much of this season never happened. Similarly, the human/Cylon tension that was built up so much never really emerged, this episode being entirely swept under the rug without even a mention. Hera’s importance is unquestionable, and she does form the sole basis for Adama’s mission on the surface (we’ll get to him in a second), but I found her collective importance to both humans and Cylons too simple a way to bring them together considering the tension discussed previously in the season. It cut a lot of that off at the knees, something that’s problematic in many ways.

But not for Admiral William Adama. We’ve clearly got more of his flashback to see, trying to find out what precisely it was that he was tasked to do despite having run two Battlestars, but there is nothing that this show does better than to see people rally around Adama, to see the sheer power of the man’s will change the course of humanity and his ship. This is the final send-off that he wanted it to have, and for a purpose that he realized when he saw that picture on the memory wall was more important to him than he may have realized. It all came together too easily: Anders just happening to have the answer (did they not ask him before?) was more than a bit convenient, and the device of bringing everyone together with the red line was drama for the sake of drama. But Olmos is so bloody good that you get chills when it boils down to such simple things, and when people start to pick their sides you want them to go the Starbird, judging them if they don’t.

That’s the power of character, which is why I understand Moore’s impulse here: the problem is that this character focus has been erratic all season, weaving in and out with bigger ideas and never really integrating with them effectively. If, in fact, this episode’s existence precipitates this in the rest of the finale, then many of my concerns will be alleviated. The problem is that the rest of the season is already written in stone, and it already indicates that this episode doesn’t jive with it, and that much of what happened (especially in the slow as molasses first half) was irrelevant to the series’ greater purposes. With a 13 episode season, I feel as if we could have had the best of both worlds, forcing them within time contraints (like a three-hour finale) to make sure that everything was there for the right reasons, used in the right fashion.

But I feel like we can’t really judge this one until we see the entire thing: the above is a healthy combination of my concerns as well as those moments that showed Moore is in command of these characters, is fleshing them out for some greater purpose and not just for the heck of it. I don’t even have problems with the idea of flashbacks, as I think there’s something powerful in playing with our preconceptions about the past of these characters. It’s just that Moore has left himself with an even more difficult task, interweaving an intense action climax with the fate of both plot and character as Adama and what is left of his loyal followers are heading into a black hole in search of the Colony, in search of Hera, and in search of a satisfying end.

Here’s hoping they find one.

Cultural Observations

  • We finally got to see the fate of Tyrol this week, as he is in the brig when Helo goes to visit him. There we get his pessimistic view, believing that his fault with Boomer was believing that any Cylon would be a person, as opposed to anything involving his own emotions. It’s a really interesting character move, which is why I wish we had seen more of it last week – he’s questioning his own humanity and the humanity of all Cylons, and considering the attitude with which he joins Adama (“Don’t tell me you have anything better to do,” he says to Tori) and the fact that we know Boomer wasn’t entirely lying in her manipulations, I think Tyrol still has an important role to play.
  • They had to do a lot of CGI work on Caprica City, but there were some definite moments of nostalgia seeing Stabuck’s apartment again, and seeing Baltar in that type of house (I know they had a lot of trouble shooting at the actual house, so I doubt they went back to the one from the miniseries).
  • Of the Caprica scenes, I think Roslin happy and giggling with her sisters was just about as tragic as when we realized that Zak was going to be there and alive, although it’s kind of Sophie’s Choice.
  • Favourite moment of the flashbacks, and a sure sign of a romantic future: Starbuck and Lee meeting for the first time, and her insistence that “they should play cards.” Moments like that made this feel like a series finale.
  • Leoben BETTER be in the finale, Moore – I understand that he’s not on Galactica, but he is way too important to just disappear in 4.5 without any real reason. He better damn well have made the trip over.
  • I don’t know how I feel about the Telephone-style transmission of Adama’s message – would have preferred one of his stirring intercom speeches, even if it would have robbed them of the more simple division-based speech at episode’s end.
  • Loved seeing Cottle in his military uniform, and loved even more that wonderful moment of Adama saying that he was too valuable to be lost. Cottle has always been cantankerous and cynical, but he and Adama had a powerful bond, and that was a poignant (potentially) final moment.
  • As always, great work on the direction from Michael Rymer and the music from Bear McCreary – I feel like they’re still saving something up, definitely, but some strongpoints for each.
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4 Comments

Filed under Battlestar Galactica

4 responses to “Battlestar Galactica – “Daybreak Part One”

  1. Lots of good thoughts here. I enjoyed the flashback scenes, but I was also wondering what was the point–how did they connect with everything else going on. Each scene showed characters in their former life, before the cylon attack on Caprica, and all of them were dealing with some pretty miserable stuff. None of them were happy. Flash forward to now where every kind of shit has hit the fan and the series has plunged into deeper and darker territories, and yet these same characters have grown and evolved and formed new relationships that are so much stronger than what they had before on Caprica. For me, I saw the flash backs trying to say that these people might be living in dark times now, but they aren’t alone and they’ve come to a place where deep down they seem happier and more content. Roslin lost her family and was crying in a fountain, but now she has Adama (and he has her). Lee was drunk and out of control and just meeting Starbuck, but now he’s matured and she’s his best friend/possibly more. As for Baltar…if he’d stepped across that line I could say a lot, but as of now he’s still seeming pretty miserable and lost. I’m wondering if next week he’ll pull a last minute switcheroo and join the rescue mission.

    Like you said, it’s hard to review this episode properly without seeing the rest…so I’m reserving most thoughts until then.

  2. To add to your great thoughts, Brent, Alan Sepinwall pretty well nailed why I thought the Flashbacks worked in his review.

    Alan Sepinwall – “Daybreak Part 1″ – What’s Alan Watching

  3. Boogie

    It’s “starboard”, not “starbird” ;)

  4. big truck

    Great comments.

    I haven’t seen anyone discuss the theme of parents in this episode. It’s an explicit theme in Roslin and Baltar’s flashbacks, implicit in Lee and the admiral’s juxtaposed flashbacks, and comes up in the present when the admiral calls Kara his daughter. I’m guessing the theme will become even clearer in the rest of the finale.

    As for what it means… there’s an obvious parallel to the human/cylon creator/creation story. Beyond that I don’t know.

    If this finale is too self-contained for the season, I’ll still take it. It was a gripping opening to what I expect will be an excellent final chapter.

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