June 13th, 2008
Since New Caprica, Battlestar Galactica has been a series defined by the intersection of two races – of their people, their beliefs, their actions and their futures. At odds with one another from the moment the Miniseries began, humans and Cylons have slowly but surely centralized into two groups of people who are searching for a greater purpose and a greater understanding. When the Cylons occupied humanity on New Caprica, Caprica Six and the other Cylon leaders felt that they were meant to co-exist – of course, one cannot force such a peace as easily as they had hoped.
No, it takes the right moment for that to happen, which is perhaps the very definition the show’s purpose in the first half of its fourth and final season. It seems as if the search for Earth is, in fact, that point of intersection: conveniently for the series’ narrative, the human desire to discover a new home on Earth requires the discovery of the Final Cylon models, the discovery of which is the goal of the current batch of renegade Cylons. And so we have spent nine episodes bringing these two groups together, now finally reaching the point where all the pieces are in play.
We started the season with a mysteriously untouched viper and four newly found Cylons, and they return here to ask the question of everyone on each side of the conflict: are you willing to accept the intertwined fate of these two peoples, or will old wounds win the day? As the driving force behind a tense showdown with an infinite number of potential outcomes, “Revelations” proves something we knew all along: that few shows on television can have us questioning everything as easily as this one, and that no show on television can measure up because of it. Plus, after all the questions are over, we’re left facing an answer we never saw coming, and a future that waiting seven months for will be, well, a frakkin’ bitch.
I can’t imagine how Bradley Thompson and David Weddle must have felt being able to write all of the moments that the first half of the season was building towards: they had the luxury of writing the episode where the fleet discovers the identity of the four Cylons within their midst, where we see the varied and fantastic reactions of each of those people closest to them. Their writing, combined with the amazing performances of the actors involved and the as-always fantastic direction of Michael Rymer, is like a wish fulfillment for viewers: that it lives up to the hype is an amazing accomplishment for all parties involved.
One of the show’s central conflicts has always been about the group vs. the individual. As leader of humanity, Laura Roslin has always had to manage her own views with that of the people, forced to make hard decisions and fight to urge to operate selfishly. This was evident as recently as last week, where she made the decision to not kill Baltar largely because she knew that the future of humanity depended on her taking a path through life less focused on vengeance or hatred. What she needed to do was return to a view of humanity as people united in a goal, fighting for the same purpose: to find Earth. The Cylons, too, have the same issue: their united front fractured for good during the recent Civil War, and individual Cylons like Caprica or D’Anna have emerged to challenge the group mentality with their extreme or diverging agendas.
The show has never offered a resolution to this conflict, but rather like all of its ideas have put the question to the characters themselves. The success of the series is derived from the creation of a multitude of three dimensional characters who have beliefs, views, opinions, emotions and who are capable of being influenced by the show as it happens around them. “Revelations” does not just refer to what we find out about Earth or about anything else, but also to what each and every one of these characters has to go through. Some are simple, some are complex, but every single one feels like a culmination of past development, and a preparation for a future. We don’t just watch the dominos fall down, but rather see real (but fictional) people react in emotional ways.
First and foremost, we have the Four themselves, those who we’ve followed from the beginning of the season as they’ve struggled with this new reality. Going into this episode, I can safely say that I had no expectations that all four of them would end up revealing themselves, and that we would have a string of successive events which spiraled into something near-catastrophic for some of the show’s characters.
For Tory, this was a long time coming; of all of the characters, she would be the first to embrace an opportunity to join her people, and the first half of the season has done a fine job of explaining that. I’m not quite sure where her character has left to go, actually – all throughout these episodes I’ve pondered why she was not given a full cast credit when Anders was, but it has become clear that her journey as we know it is somewhat complete. She waltzed over to the Baseship, met her people, gave Roslin her medication before finally turning her back on her, and then waltzed off. It was in a way the least satisfying of them all, because the people who made the discovery are both total spin doctors who believe in either everything being about them (Baltar’s proclamation that he had subconsciously known all along) or about some magical journey (Okay, I’m simplifying, but that’s at least a partial reason for Roslin’s measured response).
As far as the character’s future, we saw at least one glimpse of what appears to be her interest in taking on yet another role similar to her past ones; she seems to be made out for this political advising job, and D’Anna might be looking for someone to take that role in the future. Of course, her advice was awful, but it made sense that it was awful: as Baltar attempted to explain to her, the human hatred of Cylons (especially those who they thought were human) is far too great to be so easily categorized in the form of their past behaviour. Baltar may be a bit of a loon, but he at least has the intelligence to distance his insanity from logical thought in most situations, something that Tory seems to have lost in her own self-importance as a newly born Cylon. How that plays in the future will be interesting, as will seeing how often she sticks around considering her credits status.
If Tory’s was the one we expected, Tigh’s was the one we anticipated: not only is he the character with whom we’ve spent the most time, but he is also the one who we knew would illicit the most reaction from those around him. The trajectory for his character unfolds with perfection in the episode, as he slowly realizes the consequences of his secrecy before he is forced to do what he felt he should have from the beginning. In a powerhouse scene, he reveals everything to Adama: the Nebula, the music, the truth about the fact that he is a skinjob.
What I love about the scene is that unfolds exactly as it did in our minds, but with the power of Edward James Olmos behind it. Adama questions everything that we questioned: how he’s known him for thirty years, how he has aged, and how perhaps it was something the Cylons did on New Caprica. Watching Adama try to reason himself out of this, with Tigh having every answer from his own time obsessing over his own identity, is powerful to watch. This isn’t a moment of total desperation from Tigh, but an admission: with literal open arms, and a half-smile, he offers himself to Adama as a way out of this situation. He is finally telling the truth, and it is empowering: that he has a way to use his inner torture to assist the very person he’s loyally served all these years is his best case scenario.
And, no, not enough can be said for how amazing Michael Hogan is in this scene, or how stunning Olmos is in the scene that follows it. Adama’s reaction isn’t anger, it’s outright implosion – he does not yell but roars, does not shove away his books but rather smashes them aside. Olmos’ performance had every potential to appear as if he was Hulking Up as opposed to becoming angry, but he is so capable of displaying the subtle crossing of the line. Adama has reacted before, such as his reaction to Starbuck’s death in “Maelstorm,” but this was like turning that up to eleven in the best possible way. Equally powerful was watching as Lee picks him up off the bathroom floor, faced with a father who is usually so powerful weeping in his arms. Jamie Bamber helps make that scene, just the right combination of resolved and sympathetic, of president and son. He’s right to tell Tigh that he did that to him, that Adama’s state was his fault, and watching as Tigh agrees to give up the other two members of the Four shows just how strong the relationship between these two men is, and how settled Tigh is in the path he chose.
The result is that Anders isn’t the one to reveal to Kara that he is a Cylon, and that she has to learn the information he’s been dreading from some nameless marines (RIP, Sgt. Mathias) who come to arrest him and Tyrol. While I hate to devalue Anders, this is really Starbuck’s story more than it is his. She is the ultimate test of the central question of the episode, asking ourselves whether in the face of these stunning revelations she is able to still hold true to her vision of the Cylons and the humans finding Earth together. She’s a believer in that sense, someone who cares more about Earth than anyone else, and it is a testament to her character that she chooses to test the Cylons’ theory in favour of thoughts of betrayal or anything else. This isn’t to say that Adama’s reaction was any less reasonable than hers, but rather that hers is the more progressive.
Starbuck’s been a bit off in the last few episodes, ever since her return from the baseship, mostly because we haven’t seen her reactions to news. While Alan Sepinwall is right to point out in his review that we are missing a lot of reactions in this episode (Someone like Gaeta, for example), we do get the most important ones: Starbuck’s decision to save the three Cylons due to the signal on the Viper is her way of recognizing the need for an amnesty and cooperation in their journey. I’ll get to a few more Starbuck questions when I start getting further into the episode’s conclusion.
Meanwhile, if I had one major complaint with the episode, it’s that the finale member of the trio completely gets the shaft: having already enjoyed his big arc at the beginning of the season, Galen Tyrol has nobody to smash mirrors for him when the entire fleet finds out he’s a skinjob. With Cally dead and gone, and having somewhat written off everyone else around him, there’s no one to cry for Chief Tyrol and his Cylon-ness. Like with Anders, it feels as if Tyrol as an isolated character isn’t going to make a difference here: that it is in his son, and in likely future interactions with a certain renegade Cylon who we last saw fleeing from the Resurrection Hub, where the character’s path lies.
Tyrol did get a nice moment where he told Anders to give it up already as he held out on confirming the truth to Starbuck, but he’s already aired his laundry so to speak. We do eventually have to see him interact with other Cylons, in particular as many Eights as they can throw at him considering his history with the line, and I’m also curious to see how interactions between the Cylons are now that the secret is out. Will the secret that Tory kept from Tyrol come to the surface, and will they continue to remain in contact now that they have their relative freedom? All questions to ponder, really.
Of course, this was only the human side of things: on the other side of the coin we have the Cylon baseship and its leader. D’Anna, obviously at least somewhat abreast of what we presume was Natalie’s original plan, takes the humans aboard the ship hostage after their return to the fleet largely in an attempt to smoke out the four. I admittedly missed the first eight minutes of the episode, where I have figured out I missed a key little note to set up the Adamas’ storyline and also some more of D’Anna’s reasoning, but it seems about as solid a plan as they could come up with. It was a bit of a quick transition, as I’ve discussed with a few folks after the episode has aired, between her reasoning with Roslin last week and taking hostages this week, but let’s chalk it up to the challenges of an hour-long episode that could have probably used an extra half hour.
Because while the breakneck pace of the episode’s event was appreciated, something tells me there was enough content and quality here to extend that without much harm. The episode’s central standoff is between D’Anna and the newly strong and powerful Lee Adama. After how much Lee was emasculated in the rather awful “Sine Qua Non,” it was great to see a return to an Apollo who thinks, who makes decisions, and seems sure of himself. Placed in a combative position with D’Anna, it was the ideal game of cat and mouse in terms of the series’ tension. At any given moment, each character had everything to lose and everything to gain both on an individual level (Lee’s tenuous presidency and the pressure of the fleet, D’Anna’s newfound mortality and being so close to fulfilling her vision from the Temple of Jupiter) and in terms of the big picture.
While it may make me awfully naive, I was completely prepared for Michael Hogan to fly out that airlock, and was convinced that there was every potential for D’Anna to send those hostages to their deaths. With the stakes of the game so high, the show had enormous dramatic potential. If anything, I was shocked when barely two thirds of the way into the episode they were calling a truce. Going in it was easy to anticipate that there would be a cliffhanger, that like parts of the rest of the season it felt like all build up and no payoff. That the episode actually ended with a lengthy denouement was shocking enough; that it actually ended with them reaching Earth was nearly mind-boggling.
That conclusion built in stunning fashion, from a tenuous truce bought through amnesties and partnerships followed by a wondrous scene of celebration and discovery for all of our characters. Whether it’s Roslin and Adama finding one another, or Roslin confirming to Lee that the people will need him in the future, or the absolute perfection of Starbuck honouring Kat at the memorial wall, it feels more final than I ever imagined the MIDseason finale to be. I figured that ending on this kind of positive note was unsustainable for a series with more story to tell, but yet I wanted to just pause the DVR and leave it there. But, it wasn’t possible to, because Galactica was careening towards Earth faster than we expected: rolling a hard six, as Adama calls it.
Yes, they found Earth, and anyone who says that they didn’t think back to Planet of the Apes needs to seriously get their brains checked. There are few more iconic images in cinema than that image of the Statue of Liberty on that barren planet, and in terms of television it will be hard to top the visual artistry from the Visual Effects team and Michael Rymer on the final pass through all of our characters as they react to the nuclear wasteland that is New York City. I had no expectations for them to arrive at the planet so quickly, but I actually forgot my own point I recently made in my thesis about quest narratives. To (forgive me) quote myself:
“Of course, there is no map to Earth; as a non-believer in the scriptures which tell of its existence, Adama does not believe his own words. As a result, much as was seen in the Quest for the Sangkreal, there is no set path ahead of the fleet, and their journey instead is a fabrication designed in order to keep hope alive amongst the survivors. Adama’s reasoning is not only resonant within his own storyline, but also to the general purpose of the quest: he says in “Battlestar Galactica” that he lied “because it’s not enough to just live, you’ve got to have something to live for.” This construct creates a scenario in which the adventures that follow are not simply for the sake of victory, but rather survival and hope… “
The search for Earth wasn’t about Earth, it was about survival and (over time) about fulfilling a quest for answers, tradition, religion or purpose. None of those quests have changed in finding Earth in this condition, and in many ways even if they had found Earth as we know it today it wouldn’t have changed the fact that these people would still be in search of many of these things. The series is all about this quest, and while the destroyed Earth may seem a cheap way to extend it, to send it flying off in a different direction, it is precisely within the tradition of the show as it has send the characters careening off in different directions all in search of these things. That Earth, a fabricated end point by Adama in a time of crisis, is not the actual final destination makes perfect sense – Adama only thinks it’s their last destination, only thinks that it’s all they had to look for.
And, in quasi-Lost style, it also raises a whole host of new and intriguing questions for the future, some of which would fall into the category of revelations if I’d say so myself. First and foremost, the question I had leaving the episode was whether this was the moment where Starbuck finally made her decision that would lead humankind to its end. The Hybrid’s warning in Razor, and the subsequent warning she got a few episodes ago, serves much as Lost’s flashforwards (In particular Hurley apologizing to Jack for going with Locke): we spend a lot of time analyzing that characters’ decisions to discover their consequences. Here, we may have our best candidate yet: Starbuck stopping Lee from sending Tigh out the airlock led to a Cylon/Human alliance, the discovery of Earth, and potentially a new and dangerous path for these people. There are still a lot of questions about Starbuck and that Viper, and they will soon need to be answered.
Although we did get at least one hint at them with the newest signal received by our four Cylon models, and that we learned can also be received (we presume) by Starbuck’s fancy new Viper. From Lee and Starbuck’s conversation, it is a Colonial Emergency Locater Signal – does this imply that the cause of the signal could have been the destruction that we witnessed when our heroes went down to the surface (Emergency being the operative word?) It at least seems to be implied that Earth was not in that condition when Starbuck first visited it, or when that first signal was sent to the four Cylon models within the fleet (This is all presuming that the music, being that it was Bob Dylan, emerged from Earth, which seems a pretty safe bet at this point don’t we think?). Discovering Earth’s fate seems like it will be an important step in the journey of the show as it heads forward.
But there’s a lot of fates at play: as Admiral Adama speaks to the whole fleet and as everyone starts to celebrate, and later as they all stand on Earth’s charred surface, we get a glimpse of the questions to come. There is meaning in the fact that we see both of our half-human/half-Cylon children in the span of that first sequence, and that we see Baltar not solitary but with his people who now follow his vision (Something that clearly has not seen its full potential realized). And as they stand on Earth’s surface, we see Caprica move slowly to rest her arm on Tigh’s, implying that we have much to learn about her child. Of the various lists I’ve seen floating around of the mysteries left to solve (Opera House, Head Six/Baltar/Leoben/etc., Final Cylon), the one most hinted at is the adage of “All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again;” it was brought up by D’Anna and debunked by Lee in terms of their own mythology, but I believe it was the Hybrid in Razor who said it and as a result I figure that it has great meaning for the future.
Earth may have gotten checked off earlier than we anticipated, but let’s remember: we have the 12th Cylon name floating around there, combined with everything else. Hopefully, the final eleven hours (Rumours have them adding a third hour to the finale) and this fall’s potential prequel movie (on top of back-door pilot prequel Caprica) could perhaps shed some light on the path moving forward, if only because chances are we’re going to go crazy with anticipation before that point and will need another hit to get us through the break. I plan on going back through the first half with Ronald D. Moore’s Podcast Commentaries in the Fall to lead up to it, so there’s an idea to keep us going. But, for now? I’m more than satisfied with what we received here.
- Can enough wonderful things be said about Bear McCreary? If he isn’t nominated for an Emmy this year (It is unfortunate for him, Olmos, Hogan and the show that this aired outside the Emmy eligibility period), it will be an outright tragedy: he has done amazing work all year, but the majestic thing is that the music of the season itself was a point of momentum. It moves like an opera, offering waves of themes along with movements like Gaeta’s Lament, and now finally reaches its full peak as all themes combine (from Dylan to Opera) into a choral showpiece of epic proportions. That his music so clearly dominates the show’s mood was even more clear in the complete silence except for the cold wind as they stood on Earth, a sign of the power of the sonic in this universe.
- Another nice part of the episode was the return of Dualla to our main narrative, something that hasn’t happened since Lee left Galactica early in the year. That she was so prominently featured on Earth surprised me, and while it might lead to Final Cylon talk for some I actually felt like it was more of a chance for her character to do something for a change, especially in conjunction with her larger role in assisting Lee throughout the tense standoff.
- And this is a purely selfish observation, but I recently purchased a hat that is quite similar in style to the one that Adama was wearing on Earth. As a result, it shall now be known as my “Adama’s Earth Hat,” and is at least 10x cooler.