Battlestar Galactica: “Escape Velocity”

“Escape Velocity”

April 25th, 2008

It was inevitable: after a monumentally eventful third episode for the show’s fourth season, we were bound to find ourselves at least mildly disappointed in “Extreme Velocity.” Written by Jane Espenson and directed by Edward James Olmos (Adama, for the unknowing), the episode was very slight: of the four plots that we picked up on last week, we abandoned two of them while the other two never really showed any new potential to the level that fans had imagined it.

In other words, we probably wouldn’t have conceived an episode that portrays a predictable Tyrol-like response to Cally’s death, and we wouldn’t have abandoned the Cylon Civil War in order to focus on not Baltar’s character, per se, but rather the emergence of his total religiousity. For others, it might hearken back to the unfortunate string of episodes at the conclusion of the third season that the show admits were desperate attempts to save an episode in the editing room.

I don’t think it is nearly to that level: while certainly a lighter episode on plot than we are used to, there was nothing overly objectionable about its content. Considering that the themes of the season are very much returning to the opening of the second season and the division within the fleet along religious lines, it is good that we are seeing more of both politics and people relating to this development. While I do think that a few of the storylines felt like they were getting either too much or too little time, and that there were certainly some balance or editing issues to deal with, the end result is a decent setup for the things to come.

Admittedly, this will be shorter than last week, but there’s just less to talk about. Let’s start with the most complicated storyline, one that suffers horribly from a lot of content and almost no explanation. On a surface level, Tigh projecting his dead wife Ellen onto Caprica Six makes a lot of sense – he continues to feel guilt over her death, and of course wonders now whether it was his Cylon programming that resulted in his decision as opposed to his own free will. He is spurned by Tory’s speech about hiding guilt, wherein Cylons are able to avoid humanity’s flaws, and decides to investigate during his visits to everyone’s favourite captive cylon.

I like that we are investigating this storyline further, as it ties into the central questions of identity for these new Cylons, but I didn’t really get it: we never really got to see the impact on Tigh, and the entire sequence of Six repeatedly punching, and then kissing, Tigh seemed like a random “Wouldn’t this be cool?” as opposed to a real resolution or climax to the storyline. While I don’t mind Battlestar being subtle, it felt like the time for subtlety was over considering how obvious the question of Cylon identity became in the episode previous.

On top of this, we have the actual fallout from the events of last week, with Tyrol having a tiny bit of a meltdown. He acts out towards Tory and Tigh at Cally’s service, fraks up a repair on a raptor causing it to crash into giant fiery pieces (With its pilots miraculously unharmed), struggles with doing something other than work, and then has a huge confrontation with Adama that results in him being demoted.

I liked a lot of these scenes individually, particularly the confrontation with Adama – its use of the past (His relationship with Boomer, Adama threatening to kill Cally) was a nice reminder that Tyrol has not had the easiest road of sorts through this journey. However, it felt like we had two competing interests: an intensely personal meltdown after his wife’s death, and Tigh’s somewhat more removed reaction with Caprica Six. Something about them didn’t click for me – I wanted Tigh’s to be more personal, and for Chief’s to be more broad, and yet I don’t know if this would fix any of my indescribable issues with how it was handled. Whatever it was, it just didn’t click.

The most time, of course, was spent on what we’ve been neglecting: Gaius Baltar, religious leader (Coincidentally, Jesus Christ Superstar just came up on random in iTunes…creepy). After his sect, with his one God philosophy gaining steam, is attacked by a fundamentalist religious group, it means that Roslin has to take a stand: she’s left Baltar on Galactica to keep him close (Which sort of makes sense, but it’s still odd), but now she needs to make a statement after Baltar emerges from his anger to trash and attack a traditional polytheist ceremony.

I think that this storyline is clearly important for a variety of reasons, but that doesn’t mean it was always perfectly compelling. It was like the shit hit the fan, so the speak, but we knew what was going to happen – we knew that this issue would be rising to the forefront considering the importance of Baltar’s figure to the storyline, and as it went through the paces it was as expected: government tries to shut him out, he gets angry, and then Head Six compels Baltar into becoming a martryr and a rallying point for his cause. A lot of this was already happening in past episodes, but now it’s gone to a fleet-wide level.

The storyline was more interesting for its little things than its big ones: seeing Head Six physically lift Baltar and carry him around like a rag doll to force him to anger the Marines raises a lot of questions about her existence, and I think that James Callis, as always, is awesome. However, other things bug me: the political side seemed fairly simplistic, as I don’t yet see the Quorum as some all-important legal body when they meet on Colonial One and bicker for a while. Lee, in particular, doesn’t seem qualified nor knowledgeable on a lot of these issues: we need to see more of Lee as a person before we buy his act.

And while Roslin’s edict that doing the right thing isn’t always possible is certainly true, it’s also not really political but personal; Roslin’s own journey is a complicated one, with cancer treatments taking her hair and with her energy depleting at a rapid rate. It’s true that doing the right thing is too idealistic for some situations, and so we have to wonder where we head from here: other than cementing Baltar’s following, did the episode really change our perceptions of any of these situations enough to justify forty minutes away from the Cylon Civil War or even the Demetrius, which has seen negative plot development in two episodes?

I don’t really know if there’s an answer to this question until we see what follows; however, unlike episodes from last season like “The Woman King” or “A Day in the Life,” this episode was at the very least extremely relevant. Those episodes felt like they were telling stories that didn’t matter, things on Galactica that were irrelevant – here, no one can claim the same thing. It was a strong episode for these particular thematic questions, even if at times it seemed as if too much time was being spent in some areas compared to others that might have proved equally beneficial and may be in need of more attention.

In the meantime, we’ll see if next week brings a bit of velocity to the other storylines as we finish the first quarter.

Cultural Observations

  • Interesting to see Olmos step behind the camera: I thought that he did some need framing shots here and there, but I felt that the editing was a bit all over the place as we moved between Tigh/Six and the other storylines near the climax.
  • There is a certain irony to Adama’s book which he is reading to Roslin during her treatments – he doesn’t know the ending, as he has never wanted it to end. I think this is a subtle nod to the series ending, of course, and I don’t know if I feel the same way just yet. Wait until the final five episodes, and maybe then I’ll wish that it would never end in my mind.

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