Battlestar Galactica – “Guess What’s Coming to Dinner?”

“Guess What’s Coming to Dinner?”

May 16th, 2008

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Season Four.

Yes, certainly, there has been some strong episodes in this first half of the fourth season, so my apparently very late welcome to the series is not to say that the show has been wholly off its form since its premiere in early April. However, with this our 7th episode in the first half of the season that is likely to serve as our only episodic Battlestar fix in 2008, the show is finally returning to what it does best: episodes that combine every conceivable point of strength for the show into a single forty-minute segment.

Here, we have everything: the subtle character moments (albeit in smaller number than episodes past), the haunting thematics, the secret agendas, the political intrigue, the mythology of the series emerging, the cliffhanger endings, and most of all the kind of acting that you just don’t get on other shows these days. The episode leaves us with so many unanswered questions that you’d swear we are leaving for a lengthy break starting now as opposed to in (likely) a month’s time.

But, nope – in two weeks time, we will find out what all of this week’s fantastic episode means. For now, let’s dig in.

First and foremost, let’s talk about Tricia Helfer and Mary McDonnell, who continue to do tremendous work this time around. Helfer, in particular, had two fantastic speeches as Natalie here, to Adama/Roslin and to the Quorum; there is just something about Natalie that seems to suit Helfer’s best qualities as an actress. She has managed to craft Natalie a persona of her own, something that seemed impossible when Caprica Six is so similar in everything but hair colour. The character is definitely deceptive, as she hides her hidden motives from the humans, but there is something about her character that just draws me in at a level beyond her deceptive qualities.

Laura Roslin, meanwhile, is done being deceptive, and has begun to just tell it like it is – she is tired of the lies, of the rumours, and is out to set the record straight. The result is a woman scorned, who rips into Tory for believing Baltar, who blatantly derides the Quorum to one of its members, and who bears her illness not our of pity but out of defiance to the Quorum, waltzing a Cylon into their midst (The look on Zarek’s face was perfect). Her uneasy alliance she strikes with Starbuck in terms of her newfound desire to find out the truth regarding the opera house, the one part of the Hybrid’s speech from last week I knew we would have to get to soon, is an example of someone who has most certainly accepted her own mortality and wants to know the truth before it all ends.

Of course, you could argue that the Cylons are willing to (according to Natalie’s perhaps deceptive speech) give up their own immortality for the same types of answers. They want to see the five, and to have them amongst them, and they claim to be willing to give up their endless existence in the process. We don’t particularly know to what level their information is faulty (I would presume that if they actually lied about what the Hub is, chances are Sharon would have spoken up), but they definitely were planning something. That Natalie doubts herself, as opposed to doubting the humans, certainly implies that it was none too kind a plan.

Sharon, actually, is the episode’s most intriguing story point for me. As I have mentioned in the past, I wrote my Honours Thesis partially about BSG, and my final chapter was entitled Heroic Hybridity. I focused a lot on Sharon, as she was a Cylon who became part of the show’s heroic structure through her own shifting self-identity. Once she came to terms with her own actions as a Cylon, she was able to move on and become just another lieutenant, and she seemed fairly secure in her own self beyond that point. That is, however, until last week. There, in a poignant scene as a fellow 8 died in front of her, she was unable to provide comfort – that was, for her, treading too close to the side of herself that she has been repressing since she first fell in love with Helo on Caprica.

This episode is less confusing for Sharon as a character if we consider this internal crisis. Certainly, her end of episode decision to shoot Natalie (In one of the show’s most shocking moments in quite some time) is strange considering that even she should have been able to recognize that it was not Natalie who was in vision, and that it was rather another Six model (Caprica, to be exact, which she certainly should have known since she met with her and Roslin back in Crossroads). To shoot Natalie implies that she fears all Sixes, that they as a whole are out to take her child or are at the very least fascinated with her child. This, of course, flies in the face of the logic behind Sharon’s own identity: she was able to break free from the broader Cylon mindset and become human, so does she have any right to claim that other Cylons are tied to their broader model in terms of their character?

I would argue, however, that she is not allowing herself to think in these terms, just as she did not allow herself to comfort the dying Eight. She is reacting in this episode out of fear, a logical fear of the fact that she is a Cylon re-emerging not in a sense of stigma (She has weathered that storm before) but in terms of a group actually embracing that side of her, especially in terms of Hera. Her discussion with Natalie about her child terrifies her because it is a stark reminder that she can’t run from being a Cylon forever, and that to embrace that side again could place her existing happiness in danger. Her decision to shoot Natalie is still, of course, problematic, but she is attempting to view Cylons as her human side wants to: as the enemy. That her daughter would gravitate towards the Six, especially with her creepy drawings, and that the situation would so clearly mirror the Opera House strikes fear in her that makes her do something very brash, and also extremely dangerous.

It’s a complicated portrayal, and probably my favourite of the episode. There was also some neat moments for Baltar, particularly his odd trip to the hospital to visit Gaeta (Or at least to peer in on Gaeta). I don’t know if he was there to visit someone else, or to actually see his former chief of staff, but it was certainly an odd little note that I really loved, and will wait to hear what Moore has to say about it on the podcast (Which I’ve decided to listen to once the show goes on hiatus so as to continue having BSG in my life for a little longer).

Gaeta, of course, was central to the episode in terms of a rather haunting song entitled “Gaeta’s Lament” that he sings whenever he thinks about his now amputated leg. This is a rather ballsy storyline, what with Gaeta refusing to be put to sleep, and with his singing being his own real emotion following the procedure. Its impact on Anders is as we expect (He’s more frakked up than before), but seeing its impact on something like Roslin’s conversation with Lee is more intriguing. Some people have been annoyed by the singing, but I thought that it was just haunting enough to work. It being moderately overplayed is perhaps a fair statement, but Bear McCreary’s blog post about the episode (Featuring such a wide range of information that I’m suffering from overload) certainly helps see how the song in its non-vocal form also appears throughout the episode, and the music in the final sequence was absolutely spectacular, so I think it certainly did its job well.

And, really, that’s the episode: it was just really good. The pace was breakneck, the agendas were revealed slowly and yet with just enough speed to keep things moving, and the cliffhanger sees half of the fleet’s vipers and its two most powerful leaders jumping off into space with the baseship, the Cylon leader bleeding out in a corridor on Galactica, and a lot of uncertainty about what is coming next (Although the spoilers in the preview alone are leaking out even to my preview-free eyes, so there’s plenty of discussion surrounding those).

Either way, a standout segment.

Cultural Observations

  • So do we think that Hera was the same actress grown up slightly, or an eerily similar little girl? I didn’t see much difference between them, and she has clearly aged somewhat, so maybe they kept it consistent? Regardless, she did a good job with her one to two lines of dialogue, and the show’s streak of child solid actors continues.
  • Liked how even characters who didn’t get much screentime did get subtle moments: this goes for all of the four Cylons (Tyrol being the one to pick up Hera, Tigh and his last second feeling about the Cylon Baseship, Tory feeling guilt over what Baltar did to Roslin, Anders’ moment of reflection on Gaeta) and Starbuck (Her flashback to the Harbinger of Death moment of the Hybrid’s speech). It made for an episode that, although not delving into any character but Sharon in any real depth, did manage to remind us of a lot of things.

4 Comments

Filed under Battlestar Galactica

4 responses to “Battlestar Galactica – “Guess What’s Coming to Dinner?”

  1. James

    Is there any reasonable explanation as to why they’re going to wait one week to air the next episode?

  2. The answer is simpler than we want it to be: since next weekend is a holiday weekend in the U.S., Sci-Fi is airing marathons instead.

  3. James

    Ah, that is a reasonable explanation I suppose.

  4. Not only is Sci-Fi waiting a week but Hulu is now waiting a week to post new episodes on the website. 😦

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