Battlestar Galactica – “Faith”


May 8th, 2008

If there’s anything that Battlestar Galactica’s latest episode asks for, it is certainly the episode’s title: faith in its vision, faith in its journey, and faith in its slow as molasses pacing. If there was any hope in this changing, then “Faith” certainly set the record straight: with still a large number of episodes to go, Ronald D. Moore is going to take his sweet time getting to “the point.”

Of course, I am not one to criticize this decision – the nature of this final season is that it is having to tie together three seasons worth of action, suspense and drama into something even bordering on conclusiveness. It’s the same problem that any series faces towards the end of a season, or the show itself, but one that is particularly tough when you have two distinct societies, with multiple destinies intertwined within each one, to deal with. Human and Cylon are both on a collision course with something big, but how they get there needs to be choreographed.

I am kind of wary on “Faith,” if only because on a plot level it didn’t even live up to the low standards that I provided for it. It is one thing to spend a quarter of the episode with a very character/mythology driven story for Laura Roslin, that’s earned considering the show and Mary McDonnell’s respective pedigrees; the big problem is that the dramatic payoff to the Demetrius payoff was neither suspenseful nor dramatic on a broad plot level. We already knew what Kara Thrace learns from the Hybrid, we pretty well presumed what was going to be the end result of their journey, and outside of a random leg injury I never felt like anything was truly in jeopardy.

But, in the process, there was a few key scenes that elevated the material, and a sign that even though we’re not moving as fast as some would like we are definitely on the water in the river between the past and the future storylines.

Inevitably, my biggest problem with the Demetrius storyline is that things are so gosh darn predictable: it took Anders shooting Gaeta (More on Anders later) to push everything in the sensible direction of sending a small team, but they are then off to the baseship. The problem with this is that, unlike Starbuck, her voyage of discovery is not surprising to us: we knew Leoben was telling the truth about a civil war, we knew from Razor that she was the harbinger of death, and we presumed from casting spoilers and logical plot structure that D’anna would have something to do with it. This means that while Starbuck is shocked by these larger issues, we’re left to dissect what little bits of information we could gleam, and the scenes that best took advantage of this scenario.

First and foremost, we have the one revelatory statement from the Hybrid, for us at least: the Final Five have been to, or are part of, the 13th Colony. Earth and the Final Five Cylons have never been expressly linked in this fashion before, but this development provides both a way to tie them together for the sake of the show’s pacing and for the further union of human and Cylon in that their goals intersect. It’s also a great way to explain away some of our nagging questions about the Final Five: opening up Earth to the Cylon evolution allows the possibility of two distinct lines of Cylons, and of humans, and the idea that the Five were in some way fostered through a different set of circumstances. How they got to Caprica is a question that isn’t overly easy to answer, but the door is certainly open for some logical explanations.

Of course, the episode doesn’t really get into them: the characters (through lead-heavy exposition) dissected the hybrid speech more from the point of view of “Final Five know where Earth is, D’Anna knows the Final Five, ???, Profit,” but tended to ignore both Kara’s harbinger of Death comment and the whole question of the Final Five (Which makes sense considering that only we know who they are). If this was the only part of the Demetrius storyline, it would seem as if the episode dropped the ball on that front.

Of course, it wasn’t the only part, as the storyline also nicely balanced the identity crisis of a random Six model, Anders and Athena. The Six, in particular, was a haunting and beautifully acted scene from Tricia Helfer; New Caprica still resonates strongly with the Cylons, especially those who lost their life in the process, and I loved being able to see what was essentially PDSD (Post-Download Stress Disorder). It raises a lot of questions about the emotional capacity of Cylons, and how too often humans in the series have considered downloading a clean slate as opposed to a traumatic ordeal. It was great for Starbuck to be able to see this, sure, but more important was Anders getting a glimpse at what could befall him in the future.

Natalie’s decision, after an absolutely heart-wrenching discussion with the Six, to kill her to appease the cries for a more human form of justice shook Anders to his very core; watching Cylons face a sudden mortality is shocking enough for Athena or Starbuck, but for Anders he is an emotional wreck even before the mission begins (Which explains why he shot Gaeta in the leg). His struggles with being a Cylon were about endangering the people he loved before, but now all of a sudden his selfish side peeks through. He is suddenly faced with the struggle of whether he enacts human justice on this murderer or allows his own sense of empathy and fear to spare her. That he doesn’t get to make the decision is ideal, for he spends the rest of the episode pondering the same questions and trying to find where he fits into this grand scheme.

I don’t know if he really gets an answer, although you’re free to disagree with me: he certainly ends up more empathetic to the Cylons than Athena (Something that should raise alarm bells for the latter, who couldn’t bring herself to even comfort her dying sister of sorts), so perhaps he believes himself to be with his true family now. These two characters are now on opposite ends of the spectrum: one Cylon who has embraced humanity with no intention of going back, and one Cylon who is forced with the same struggles but without such a definitive conclusion. Where Anders falls will all depend on the weeks ahead, and I am most certainly curious to see where his character is headed.

Of course, I was already interested in that, and all of those moments were fascinating but certainly not all that out of left field for a series that has delved into these issues before (Boomer in Season One, for example). By the same token, the episode’s other storyline picked up on the first part of the Hybrid’s ramblings: the dying leader will discover the true meaning of the opera house, or such. We got to spend considerable time with Laura Roslin and her fellow Cancer patient Emily (Played by Nana Visitor, who starred on Deep Space Nine).

Taken as a simple storyline, it was a great opportunity for Mary McDonnell to put foreward some fabulous acting, and it certainly did help to explain both why people believe in Baltar’s God and why even Roslin herself has reason to believe in at least some part of his words. Unfortunately, we already knew why people would believe in him based on the various episodes where people joined forces with him (Or even last week with his speech to the Chief), so outside of being a smart decision to spend more time with Roslin as a person as opposed to the President it didn’t really click for me as it could have.

The one thing I will certainly say I found interesting was the dream of the river, and of the passage into a new life. It’s a neat way of introducing heaven, or a heaven of sorts, if only because it takes the form of a dream, a shared dream in one instance – suddenly, we are drawn back to the Hybrid’s line, and to the one thread from the third season that we dropped entirely: Caprica Six, Athena, Roslin and Hera all sharing the same dream. Suddenly, we start to question whether the Opera House is not some sort of passage of its own, although not to the afterlife. We know that Baltar has experienced it himself, so it certainly seems like we will be returning to this in the future.

And there’s that future word kicking around again: I think this episode, more than any other, certainly did lay the pieces down for a future for these storylines. My only concern is that as a piece of dramatic television, it was largely predictable, and while I can write 1500 words on all of these little tidbits I do feel like we need to see something just a bit bigger moving forward. I don’t need all action, all the time, but I do think that something needs to happen that we as the audience aren’t expecting, where we are as surprised as the characters are for a change. In the meantime, the show keeps me thinking if not guessing, so I’ll keep my faith for now.

Cultural Observations

  • Odd end to this episode: a positive and smiley discussion between Roslin and Adama. Adama hasn’t been around much lately, so it was interesting to see his concern over Starbuck’s mission and his statement of total faith in Laura and in Earth based on her determination. I don’t know if it was designed to provide optimism for the future, or an excuse to play Bear McCreary’s awesome Roslin and Adama theme, but it just didn’t seem to do much to tie the episode together.
  • Didn’t recognize Nana Visitor at first, but she did fine work as Emily in a role that wasn’t as showy and over-the-top dramatic as it could have been. It balanced out as an understated performance that helped to pull some great work from McDonnell as well.
  • Not sure what Gaeta being shot in the leg accomplished other than creating false suspense for the viewer that Helo was truly willing to leave Starbuck behind without waiting a few minutes beyond the deadline. I’m curious to see whether we get Gaeta the cripple, and how exactly this works into any future storylines we have to deal with.

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