Left on the Cutting Room Floor:
“Deadlock,” Editing and Soap Operatic Indulgence
Last weekend, still stewing in frustration over “Deadlock,” [my review] the latest episode of Battlestar Galactica, I tweeted the following to my twitter followers:
Pretty sure I could write five blog posts this week delving into points of contention on last night’s BSG. I must resist this.
As you can see, I lasted until this morning, as I have in weeks past, before needing to delve back into episodes that frustrated me, trends which concerned me, and that voice in my head that for all of my enjoyment of BSG’s four seasons is extremely cynical about the show’s direction when the show ends in three weeks. The last three episodes of the show have all felt “off” for me, and I’m at a point where I need to see something in tonight’s episode, “Someone to Watch Over Me,” that convinces me less of Katee Sackhoff’s talent or Bear McCreary’s musical genius and more of Ronald D. Moore and David Eick’s vision for completing this thing in only 4 more hours of television.
I am aware, of course, that these hours are really only 43 minutes, and that in that amount of time the show only has time to do so much. In fact, on numerous occasions this year, there have been moments where I’ve wondered what was left off the cutting room floor, and how some content seemed ill-fitting for particular scenarios. And after reconsidering “Deadlock,” and reading some of the interviews with the show’s writers regarding episodes like aforementioned Deadlock and No Exit, I’ve come to a conclusion that somewhere, in those minutes of uncut footage and those ideas not followed through on, there might have been a way to quell my cynicism.
But we got a love triangle instead.
I won’t spend too much time ranting about the Tigh/Caprica/Ellen storyline from “Deadlock,” a storyline that was not fundamentally awful so much as it felt as if the characters were ignoring the magnitude of their situation to deal with something that was driven entirely by base human emotions. And while I understand the story reason for this, that Ellen and Tigh are just like their “children” in terms of their susceptibility to human emotions, it felt as if it was robbing us of some more serious investigations: Ellen’s reunion with the other four “final” Cylons was an important point of knowledge, she being able to offer the answers that they desperately wanted to find within Sam’s head in “No Exit,” and in Tigh and Ellen’s reunion there was a continuation of the powerful story from New Caprica, as Tigh poisons his wife and she dies in his arms.
What we got, of course, was a rushed and almost pointless Final Five reunion, tarnished by Ellen’s inability to focus on anything but Tigh and Caprica’s child. The episode at this point got indulgent, following this admittedly highly emotional storyline and using the Cylon’s decision to leave the fleet as less an actual plot point and more as a stage for the Ellen/Tigh battle. In reading Jane Espenson’s post-episode interview, though, there were many points of this episode that could have been turned around if they had followed a different instinct, perhaps cut out some of the soap opera in favour of some greater nuance, giving the storyline power by relating it to the fleet at large.
Now, to start with, it’s not all good. From the interview:
And there was a really fun exchange between Tigh and Ellen about her poisoning in which she pretended to be furious about it. Tigh: I thought you know it was poison! You asked for the cup! Ellen: I was thirsty!
Remember what I said about the episode already tarnishing Ellen and Tigh’s reunion? Well, I don’t think this would have fixed that. The moment when Tigh returns from New Caprica in “Exodus” and walks off of that raptor with his eyepatch in tears nothing that not everyone made it, well, similar to Deadlock’s final scene in which Tigh collapses to Adama after Liam’s death. To turn this emotion into a joke would have been in line with Ellen as a first season character, but there was an impression she had changed onboard the Cylon baseship, and that she might like Tigh have that sense of missing her not just for sex but for the deep emotional connection they shared. Yes, Tigh already knew she was alive, but that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t have been a bit more reverence (and not poison comedy) when they reunited.
But there are some other things in the interview that would have gone a long way to beginning to relate the world of the Cylons to the human experience, something that the show should have been doing since the very beginning. In fact, we can go all the way back to the season’s second episode, “Sometimes a Great Notion,” to find a production/editing choice that changed the dynamic of the entire seasons. For those not aware, the scenes featuring Ellen, Cavil and Boomer which were featured in “No Exit” were, in fact, written to be a part of “Sometimes a Great Notion,” the season’s second episode. This would have had Ellen’s resurrection directly following our learning that she was the final Cylon, and would have done something more important: in an episode where the human/Cylon binary became an issue of contention in the fleet, it would have actually shown us part of the Cylon equation.
The ramifications of this would of been pretty huge for the entire season: while I loved “The Oath” to death, I felt like “Blood on the Scales” had no Cylon drama to really fall back on, and eventually the reasons for the mutiny were swept under the rug and not really all that well explained. If perhaps we had seen more of the Cylons, if Anders could have entered into his altered state during the mutiny itself and began to spill out things that we as an audience already knew but that were new to the Cylons searching for their identity. While we were told that Gaeta was concerned about a new blended culture with the Cylons, we were never really shown another side to the story. Espenson says in her interview, when asked about this conflict between those who want purity of the human race and those who understand the need for cooperation, the following:
Well, I think the clashing of those two factions was carried out pretty well during the recent mutiny.
I can’t say I agree with this: in fact, I think that clash took a backseat to a solely human problem of being unable to get over one’s past, to overcome people who have wronged you and the feeling that you’ve been powerless all along. It was Gaeta’s mutiny, not the mutiny of political forces against Cylons. All of the people we saw involved were driven out of personal vendettas: Seelix out of unrequited love for Anders gone awry, the Sunshine Boys out of revenge for Helo and Tyrol’s authority over them, Gaeta at least partially for the loss of his leg. This sounds familiar, doesn’t it – it sounds almost the same as Ellen and Tigh’s baby drama driving them to ignore the magnitude of leaving humanity behind, distracting them from logic and leading them to make some rash decisions.
I like that parallel, but I think the problem with it is that the Cylon and Human narratives were so fundamentally divided. There’s two ways to make an argument like this one, and considering how long we’ve been questioning the difference between human and Cylon attempting to separate them out was bound to feel as if in either story we were missing an important part of the equation. Ellen and Cavil’s discussion would have added a whole new element to earlier episodes, just as accelerating some of “No Exit” to happen earlier in the mutiny might have pushed things forward. By the time we got to “Deadlock,” it felt like we had seen the struggles of humanity, we had seen the history of the Cylons, but that we never actually got to see how these things influenced or affected the other side. But, the worst thing is that we could have. From Espenson’s interview:
And there was a big debate about whether Laura/Lee/Adama would allow the Final Five to reunite, with or without witnesses.
This would have been a simple little scene, but an incredibly important one to keep the two sides of this conflict from being ships passing in the night, unaware of one another. This was a decision that Adama, Roslin and Lee clearly made, but not seeing it made the reunion feel almost perfunctory, something that considering the show’s slavish attention paid to these five people rings especially false. This scene would have given some ceremony to those moments, and kept them from feeling like just an excuse to start revealing the soap opera to Ellen.
The other major cut from the episode, though, actually had the largest implications to the episode’s other problematic storyline, the sudden decision from Adama and Roslin to arm Baltar with weapons in order for them to serve as humanitarian aid. There’s been plenty of people questioning the logic behind this, especially Baltar’s apparently persuasive use of the language of “last human solution.” Espenson’s interview sheds some light on why this language was effective:
Oh, there was a whole little runner about the possibility of bringing Centurions over to help keep order among the civilians. It was a very cool idea, but there was ultimately no room for it.
Make frakking room, Espenson – this would have, if not made the decision wholly plausible, would at least have sold it as a last ditch move to avoid so powerful an image of blending, so great a dependence as to have to see Centurions walking the halls of Galactica. As it was, the episode spent a lot of time with Adama staring at the construction going on deep in his hull, wasted seconds of Adama just contemplating. This storyline, meanwhile, actually explains why he was so concerned: it’s one thing when people don’t see the Cylon bone matter in the core of the ship, but when the toasters are walking around you can’t get your mind around it, the contrast is just too great.
It also, you know, wasn’t actually in the episode, which is something that I find particularly concerning. When I was taught how to write essays, you don’t make points this way: if we view the premiere as an introduction, we followed with three hours of almost purely human drama, and now two hours focused mainly on the Cylons (dominated, at the very least, by their efforts), and only now does it feel like we’re starting to put things together. These should have, by my mind been weaved together, and there are signs that this impulse was there initially. Unfortunately, it seems like it was quelled for reasons that I’m still grappling with, reasons that limited the season’s dramatic potential by creating too much space between ideas, too much division between these two people who we are beginning to learn were meant to co-exist and cooperate.
And it’s all about the little changes: I do not have any problem with Tigh and Ellen’s battle holding the fleet hostage, but the Cylon threat to leave felt like it was only to make their decision harder, and we never go to see Adama’s reaction, or the human panic, or the ramifications of this. We’re left to presume that they’re there, something that doesn’t work for me this late in the game. I’m not suggesting that leaving it up to the audience to draw parallels between human and Cylon is unsophisticated, or that there isn’t value in his putting it together ourselves, but there have been moments this season where I’ve wondered how much more effective some of this season would have felt if only they had been willing to cross streams and see what happened.
And if all it had taken was a few less generous cuts and some subtle editing, I have to wonder whether or not some of these seemingly small exclusions are going to be regrets by the time the season comes to an end.
- Another scene that was edited out of an episode: this wasn’t supposed to be the first we’ve seen of Head Six this season, as Baltar’s “Sometimes a Great Notion” monologue about his waning faith in God was supposed to be interrupted by Head Six, who was going to question Baltar’s sermon. Apparently there is no mythological reason for her reappearance, so I wonder why we were robbed of another glimpse into Baltar’s mind, something we’ve had much too little of this season for him to be suddenly returning to the main narrative in this way.
- You will notice above that my tone against the Ellen and Tigh storyline has shifted since last week – I am more appreciative of some of its nuanced connections to the mutiny now, and continue to feel it was incredibly well acted. It’s just its placement in the episode, so prominent and overwhelming, that still bothers me.
- I am very curious to see whether or not Espenson’s writing style, which leans on the dramatic, emotional and comical, will work for Caprica, for which she is serving as showrunner. That’s going to be a very interesting tone to strike, and considering its plot of daughters, religions and personal vendettas, I think she might actually be the perfect person for the job.