“Daybreak Part Two”
Series Finale – March 20th, 2009
“Ever since we found out who…what we are…”
When the Battlestar Galactica Miniseries first began, there were two main questions: who are these people who are leading humanity forward after this devastating tragedy, and what is the nature of the Cylons who caused that devastation? It was part of that central binary the show put forward, humans vs. Cylons, but from the very beginning these are not two separate questions. In the character of Boomer, this balance between who/what was inherently questioned, as those who straddled the line between human and Cylon were forced to confront these types of questions. When the Final Four Cylons were revealed, they all fell on different sides: Tyrol accepted “what” begrudgingly in the quotation above, Tory downright embraced it, while Tigh refused to abandon “who” and continued to emphasize his personal identity.
At this point, we as viewers are all people straddling this line between “who” and “what” in the shadow of “Daybreak,” a series finale which struggles less from pressure within the show itself and more from the external pressure of fan expectation. The problem is that we, as fans, grapple with similar problems: are we concerned, moving into the finale, about who these characters are and what journey they have taken, or are we too caught up in the “plot holes” or the questions to which we demand answers? It’s not a new binary amongst viewers: for ages people have been complaining about episodes for having too few explosions, or for being too slow, or for not doing enough to advance the show’s complicated plot structure. Whereas for most of those episodes, I’ve noticed strong character development, effective mood building, and an almost cathartic sense of pacing that is part of what makes the series more than just science fiction.
“Daybreak” is an episode that, more than answering which side of this binary people should fall on, should destroy it altogether. This isn’t about plot, or character, but the intersection of these ideas. In the show’s fourth season, amidst some admittedly complicated and on occasion bungled storylines, one thing that has remained consistent is the idea that the definitions of human and Cylon are melding together. Much as Edward James Olmos argued against race being used as a cultural determinant during the United Nations panel earlier in the week, we should be beyond the point of considering these people purely along the lines of human vs. Cylon, just as we should be beyond the point of considering the show in terms of plot vs. character.
So, let there be no red line drawn down the deck: with this epic, sprawling, action-filled and philosophically-driven finale, Ronald D. Moore has accomplished what he set out to do. He manages to meld together the cheeky with the solemn, the profound with the surreal, the whimsical with the emotional, in a way that gives you that sense that destiny is not a four-letter word, that plot and character are neither slave to the other, and that whatever this show accomplished it will go down in a fashion befitting of one of television’s most effective pieces of programming, period, independent of its science fiction heritage.
So say, if not us all, then at least this particular believer.
I don’t even know where to start, so I’m going to start with the very end: a quick flashforward to modern New York City, as Head Six and Head Baltar, at this point established as Angels, peer over Ronald D. Moore’s shoulders as he reads in a magazine about the discovery of the mitochrondrial Eve in Tanzania (which the show posits is, in fact, Hera). It’s one of those winks to the audiences, as it’s followed by a series of videos of real life technology that could send us (or so the scene suggests) down the same path. Head Six posits, oddly optimistically according to Head Baltar, that perhaps mathematics will show that we won’t keep repeating the same pattern, that we might be the one anomaly to the trend the show has developed. This is a scene that the episode had to earn, running the risk of coming across as some sort of too cheeky statement on politics, culture or religion.
Some will argue that it wasn’t earned, but for all its cheekiness I think it does nothing to belittle the episode that came before it. If anything, it springs from many of its themes, of destiny and the role it plays in shaping modern society. Rather than trying to pin down some sort of abstract principle of destiny, Moore’s conclusion ties it into our own lives, turns the question back on us. The show has always presented itself as a parable of sorts for our own existence, and the manifestation of that within the show itself helps to solidify that in a way which didn’t overwrite the rest of the series. It was a definite “plot development,” no doubt, but one that felt to me like it added to our understanding of the series as a whole while not getting in the way of the character conclusions that we were really here to see. It was these that formed the foundation of the episode, and that allowed them to go a little bit meta for their conclusion. It is also these which serve as the primary preoccupation of this review.
Baltar and Caprica:
Love and Destiny
I want to start with what has been the fourth season’s largest problem, which as I type it seems like an impossibility: the Gaius Baltar in this episode was so much more complex, and so much more powerful, than anything we’ve seen all season, primarily because he was removed from his harem and removed from everything which made him comfortable. Part of the fun of Gaius Baltar is watching him squirm, is watching him in a scenario where he is totally out of his league, either based on sheer awkwardness (like his first days aboard Galactica in Season One) or the pressure of his situation (dealing with the Cylon occupation on New Caprica). Baltar isn’t nearly as interesting when he is comfortable, but rather when he is overcoming adversity either interal or external to his person.
I rewatched The Hub earlier today (a very smart choice considering a callback I’ll be discussing later), and there is the moment where Baltar explains to Roslin how finding the one true God has rid him of his guilt over what happened on Caprica. However, that wasn’t Gaius Baltar’s only guilt: as we learned in the first part of “Daybreak,” his relationship with his father and his shame in his roots was causing him great guilt even before that moment where he realized he had been partially responsible for the death of millions of people. The flashbacks exist in this episode to demonstrate that these characters, despite three years of change, find themselves in similar places to where they were before, that before any of the madness that followed they had found their destinies. We learn that Baltar, meanwhile, was actually in love with Caprica, that it was out of that love that he gave her the defence codes which would eventually cause The Fall.
Part of me feels like this was all swept under the rug too easily, and I’ll talk about that a bit later too, but for Baltar and Caprica this was the perfect conclusion. They had been in love before, and it’s clear that they are again. We all knew that Baltar was going to cross that red line eventually, and that he would wait until the final moment stepping onto that Raptor was fitting. From that point on, it was the best moments we’ve seen for his character in a long time: that first awkward interaction with Caprica at their guardposting, the way Baltar pulls her in for the kiss, and then the double take as they realize they are both seeing the “angels,” that their shared visions were in fact connected. Both James Callis and Tricia Helfer demonstrated some real skill in that last scene, as they had to play both the all-knowing and the dumbstruck, giving them both a final showcase for their acting dualities.
And yet, their story from there took the turn it needed to take: gone is the laughter and the discomfort, and arrived is the sense of purpose. They take their part in the Opera House reenactment with the right attitude, Caprica there to offer the voice of reason while Baltar is there to offer the voice of God, the voice of the angels, the voice of some higher power who is watching over them. I’ll discuss the scene in earnest in time, but their role was just right: Baltar was finally speaking with passion, not just anarchistic ramblings, and when his words proved enough to bring that conflict to a close you realized what role he would play. Yes, his season four journey has meandered too much, but I don’t feel it affected his role in the finale: when he was in that corridor, and finally experience the Opera House as the others had, he had transcended to that higher place, fulfilled his role in God’s plan.
Their conclusion is perhaps the most hopeful: there is a sense of rebirth in Gaius that there isn’t in all characters who eventually end up on Earth, planning to start a farm as his father had done, helping to ease the guilt he felt before the bombs dropped on Caprica. The theme of rebirth with Earth, of starting anew, runs through just about every storyline, but I felt it with Baltar more than with most primarily because there was no loss surrounding him. He had his moment of glory, he has this connection with Caprica that has brought him into this whole scenario, and in the big picture he was partially responsible for ensuring that Hera remained alive. I won’t say that Baltar’s conclusion was the one that was the most suspenseful, or the most worrisome, but it came out as the best balance of execution and pleasantness in terms of the story elements.
Leading Humanity to Its End
We still do not know what Kara Thrace was. We don’t know what happened during those months where she ended up on Earth (1), we don’t know how she came to survive when there is a dead body in existence, and we don’t know why her father happened to know All Along the Watchtower. What we do know, though, is that Kara Thrace was not just a person: she was, in essence, a hybrid of humanity and the angels, someone tied as much to the land as she was to her own body. She was an agent of destiny, whether it’s God or some other force, and she was sent into this culture despite her death in order to lead humanity to its end. That end, of course, was an end to humanity as we know it, as opposed to their deaths as we might have presumed.
I know the ambiguity of Starbuck is going to drive some people batty, but I feel it’s justified and actually fits in quite well with some of what we know about the rest of the series. She is, in a way, a Sleeper Agent just as Boomer was, someone who has been placed into the fleet through miraculous circumstances, unaware of her true role or purpose until that moment where it is required (learning the song, inputting the song coordinates, etc.). It’s something the show has dealt with before, and that it even dealt with within the episode. It is as if Kara, in not fearing death and facing it head-on, was given the chance to live again, to serve humanity in their purpose through her selflessness. Much as Baltar’s role was fulfilled when he made that selfless act, so too was Starbuck’s laughter in the face of death her way of transcending, of giving humanity hope that Earth was ahead.
Starbuck’s flashbacks were perhaps the most effective in the entire episode, primarily because they spoke to who she is. We saw in the first part of “Daybreak” that Adama sees Starbuck as no different whether she’s an Angel or a human being, and the episode never felt like it took Starbuck’s status as part of destiny and changed who she was. She was still a badass, gunning down everything in sight, making jokes where necessary, and living up to her reputation as much as to her destiny. While the nature of the conclusion didn’t let her down a few shots, the flashbacks gave us that opportunity to show us the cocky fighter pilot who laughs in the face of death but not in the face of fear, who wants to be remembered. It was one of those flashbacks that defines who Kara Thrace was: it explains why she would risk her life to fly back to Caprica and retrieve the Arrow, why she would fly into that cloud after that Heavy Raider, and why she was so frustrated with both of her parents abandoning her in one way or another. She figured that, if she had a fate, it would come when it would come, and waiting or being careful wouldn’t make it come any faster.
However, what I like is that this is how Kara was before her “death”: after, she was all about her destiny, all about trying to make it happen faster, bring it to the surface as quickly as possible. She has become a different character, one where that cockiness has been replaced by something else, but as the finale went along you saw her develop into someone different, someone who is actually content. There is something tragic about Kara’s magical disappearance at the end of the episode, primarily because we want these characters to have futures that we can imagine and piece together, but in her disappearance she was content. She was happy, because she had found her destiny, because she was no longer trapped or left waiting around. It never mattered to Starbuck what her destiny was, just that she would be remembered for it; the result was that, instead of being defined by the facts of her destiny, she’s defined by what she accomplished and how we remember her. She will always be Starbuck, angelic ascension or no angelic ascension, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I want to sing Katee Sackhoff’s praises one last time, as well. While she wasn’t given too many dramatic moments in the main action, serving more in a military capacity, her work in the flashbacks was an entirely different part of Kara Thrace had we haven’t seen in a long time, and she tapped into it in a way that created a very subtle contrast between the contentment of fearless Starbuck and the contentment of Kara as she realizes she has found her home, her place of rest, at episode’s end.
Roslin & Adama:
Love. Simply Love.
There is no more emotionally affecting moment in this episode than Adama flying the raptor above the flock of birds as Roslin slowly dies just as Adama explains how there is so much more life on this Earth than in the 12 colonies combined. That he continues on, not realizing that she has died, talking about where they’re going to place their cabin together, brought me really close to the point of tears (I refuse to apologize for this). What made that scene so powerful is that we knew it was coming: we knew that Roslin had little time left, and the episode toyed with that emotion by giving her those shots of adrenaline, giving the impression of someone simply injured as opposed to critically ill and close to her death. It was that bittersweet feeling that hit me the hardest, that struck me nearly dumbfounded at what we were seeing unfold.
Their love story has always been the show’s most emotional moment, something that has never been tainted by a love square, a poor character arc, or the sense that they were teasing it for too long. Ever since the second season, the two of them have more or less been in love, but in season four we saw this come to the surface in a way that was beautiful, elegant, and like a rebirth of sorts. I was rewatching “The Hub” today, and I am so glad that I did. The moment where Adama takes off his own wedding ring, or what we presume is a wedding ring, and places it on Roslin’s hand is taken directly from Roslin’s in-jump visions, and when that came true it brought up all of the emotions of that episode, and that final moment between a man and the woman that he loves, at that moment neither Admiral or President.
And this episode shows them outside of those roles: Adama is not the Admiral of a fleet when he takes the Battlestar to run after the Hub, but rather a man who wants to rescue an innocent girl kidnapped by these forces. Roslin is not the President either, rather a medical assistant who is responsible for deciding whether people should live or die, a powerful statement for the woman choosing a speedier death in order to make this journey. There is just so much pathos in these characters, to the point where Mary McDonnell and Edward James Olmos almost start to bleed into their characters: it is past the point where they’re injecting these characters with something, or that these characters are giving them great material; they are one and the same now, identified by the sheer force of their presence in these scenes.
For Roslin, she fulfills the Opera House vision, which was a scene more powerful than I can really explain. Her role was particularly moving, as the elegant and swift Roslin from the vision was replaced with this frantic and limping Roslin, off-kilter and desperate in her attempt to find the girl. She played her role, her brief role, in finding Hera and keeping her from Cavil’s forces as they walked by – she was not the person who would become the saviour in the eyes of God, but nonetheless she had that role to play in this grand affair. The scene with Doc Cottle aboard Galactica, just as the good Doctor was about to leave, was the perfect example of what this all means to Roslin: this was time she wasn’t supposed to have, a life she wasn’t supposed to lead, experiences that she was never supposed to have.
Ultimately I feel like Roslin’s flashbacks were the least effective of the bunch, never really offering us any deep insight into her condition, but it does show us the first moment where she decided she wanted something more from her life, that she wanted to make a difference. Her primary concern in “The Hub” and in the span of the fourth season was how she would be remembered in terms of leading the people, but in many ways it was about a personal journey. She was given a death sentence, but then suddenly she was President; perhaps the flashbacks were to show us that, even in tragedy, it was inevitable that Laura Roslin would rise to the occasion to find her purpose. What Cottle gave her, she said, was a life, a life that would eventually lead her to finding a new home aboard Galactica with the man that she loves; there’s something very pure in that, something that eventually had little do with faith and more to do with the power of love.
I’m not usually one for love being used as an answer to anything, but for Roslin and Adama I don’t think there’s any other conclusion. Adama, as a character, went through a journey of his own in this episode, one primarily defined by perseverance. He chose to make this journey because he felt he had to, that some sense of purpose and humanity compelled him. Adama has always been someone who lets his emotions dictate his policies: he trusts Starbuck even when she could be a Cylon, he stays behind to wait for Roslin’s return because he can’t live without her, and has made various decisions because of that combination of stubbornness and loyalty we love so much. In his flashback, we saw one such decision, where he throws away the chance at a desk job (after the scandal which got him transferred to the lowly Galactica) because he felt it was going against his honour, that he shouldn’t have to be subject to such investigations.
That flashback wasn’t all pretty for Adama: we have seen him on the ground overcome with emotion on numerous occasions, whether it was when he found out Tigh was a Cylon or when he realized that his ship was falling apart, but none were quite as gross as him sitting on the ground outside a bar puking on himself. But then he looked up to the sky, thinking about where he is, and he smiles to himself: that’s the same attitude he takes into the attack on the Colony, realizing he is down but that there is something he can still do. While he only gets one badass action moment (kicking down a stunned Simon who is bleeding from the mouth), he is nonetheless in control, commanding what was once a museum and turning it into an awesome battering ram.
Like with Roslin, Adama’s story ends with that bittersweet sense that all of this was worth something, the love that he and Roslin shared and the hope of humanity possible based on his leadership, but yet he lost so much. Galactica had its back broken, flying off into the sun, and Roslin died in that raptor, buried where she would have an easterly view of the river from the place where their cabin would have been. As he sits and talks to Laura beyond the grave, describing the view and how he has planned it all out, you get the feeling that there’s nothing for him to build it for: he is now by himself, having devoted his life to a ship that’s served its purpose and a love that will never die. I want to think that he would build that cabin anyways, that he would live in Roslin’s honour, but part of me feels that he doesn’t need to: while he didn’t quite disappear as Starbuck did, in many ways he has fulfilled his purpose beyond what anyone could ever expect.
In the end, while I was happier about Baltar’s conclusion, I don’t think there’s any way that someone could argue against Roslin and Adama’s love story being the most satisfying, if just as tragic as it was beautiful, “ending.”
The Final Five:
Truth and Destiny
While a lot of things in the episode created goosebumps, and led to me pointing out connections and meanings to those watching with me, there was no greater moment of collective realization then when Ellen began to explain that the innermost truths of the Final Five would reveal themselves when they began to transfer the plans for resurrection to the colonies. Immediately, I was making dramatic hand gestures and realizing that a long forgotten thread, abandoned once the Final Four became less a study of character and more a function of plot, was about to resurface. What followed was one of many viscerally powerful scenes in the episode, and a fitting end to the reign of the Final Five.
Tory’s betrayal of Tyrol, in her decision to murder Cally, was the most cold-blooded thing we saw one of the Final Five undertake, and created a distance between her and the audience: she so bought into her identity as a Cylon that she became less an intriguing study of her character and more a weapon waiting to be put into action. When she eventually was, she faded out of the series narrative, popping back in as more of an afterthought than as a real character. This makes sense: she hadn’t been around for very long beforehand, and to be honest hadn’t been particularly memorable in her role as Roslin’s assistant. She was always a bit of an odd one out, and the result was that her role in killing Cally got swept under the rug.
But it came back here with a vengeance. We knew it was coming as we watched that scene, but the pure hatred in Tyrol’s eyes as he saw the truth was incredibly powerful, as was how he actually did break her neck after strangling her. That it all escalated into an enormous battle, and that it was enough to send everyone into a sort of frenzy, was a sign that their actions are always going to have consequences, and that despite their omniscent or enlightened perspective up in the rafters in the Opera House vision they too are flawed, and they too have a history to be dealt with. I have some issues with how some of their stories were concluded, but that image as Baltar and Caprica walk into CiC and see them up there on the balcony as they were in the Opera House vision was enough to give me goosebumps, and on that level the Final Five felt both incredibly important and, more importantly, still human.
I have some issues, though, with Tyrol’s eventual conclusion. While for the most part I felt the weakness of parts of Season Four was written off by much of these episodes, Tyrol remains criminally underdeveloped, especially seeing how integral he was to the initial questions of identity and even to Boomer’s recent kidnapping of Hera. We never did learn why he ended up in the brig, and there was even a disconnect within the episode itself. Tyrol insinuated in the first part of “Daybreak” that he believed that every Cylon was the same, that they weren’t in fact different, but we never really got to see this follow through. Tyrol’s ending is his decision to become a hermit, to avoid all people (human or Cylon) and live on his own. And yet, shouldn’t his pure anger over Cally’s death have shown him that he is capable of real human connection? While a reunion with Boomer was obviously impossible, they could have at least had him consider that, or given us more than a token conclusion. He and Tory had no flashbacks in the episode either, so they didn’t have those extra elements to really flesh them out; I guess you could argue we’re waiting for “The Plan” to fill in those gaps, but I kind of wanted it here anyways.
Things were stronger with Anders, who did have a series of flashbacks, ones which were more important to the episode as a whole than I first realized they were. As he’s sitting in that tub after a practice, speaking to the media, he continues the discussion of perfection that he started in Part One, speaking of:
Those moments when you can feel the perfection of creation, the beauty of physics, the wonder of mathematics, the elation of action and reaction…
First off, this is a fitting statement for someone who eventually becomes in complete control of complex ship systems, reacting and acting in a way that is in a way perfect, but in another way completely out of control. Anders’ methodology was incredibly complicated because it was, like Kara’s, too cocky: it presumed something was possible or attainable that truly wasn’t, and what Anders is describing is an idealistic relationship with the world around you. You can’t control the things he is discussing in a normal human form, unless you happen to be a brilliant 2000-year old scientist. That Anders, before realizing he was a Cylon, was thinking in the kind of terms that the Final Five considered in creating the skinjobs, connects him to this idea of destiny just as he actually ends up connected to Galactica and to the Baseships. He was never going to be an incredibly important character, introduced as late as he was, but I found they made the most of a man sitting in a tank, doing more with an immobile character than I expected. That he eventually was the one who led all of the ships into the sun, a necessary partner in their effort for rebirth, is a fine note for him to leave on.
It would have been a poor note, though, for Saul and Ellen Tigh, whose journey was fittingly quiet in this finale. Let’s face it, after the amount of drama that these two have had in the past, what made this episode work is that there has been such a fundamental change in the way in which they approach their love between the episode’s flashbacks and the final couple we see peacefully starting the rest of their lives on Earth. We had enough of their biblical sides in previous episode, “Deadlock” doing more damage than good at the end of the day, so here we have smaller moments. Tigh deciding that he is willing to give Cavil resurrection technology, for example, was a moment of leadership, where he stood up and made a bold move reminiscent of the Tigh of old but with a new sense of confidence as opposed to just bitterness. Ellen, similarly, had her small moments of guidance more than moments of shrill tyranny.
Their flashback was more funny and touching than meaningful, Tigh sitting at a strip joint with Adama and Ellen showing up and clearly being along for the ride. You think at first that this is Tigh being unfaithful, but this was the nature of their relationship: they lived in the moment, on his two-week leaves or their short vacations, and the prospect of Tigh being able to retire (after Adama took a deskjob, likely taking Tigh with him) was a beacon of hope for them. It was a chance to just live with each other, every day, something that was always going to be problematic considering the way their relationship operated. But by episode’s end they get their retirement, not one created by alcohol or by some sort of public shaming but through perseverence and purpose. Tigh never had his big moment in the episode, but part of what makes Tigh so great is that he doesn’t need big moments: he was the ideal XO, there when you need him but solid in the background when you don’t, and Michael Hogan and Kate Vernon had plenty of time in the flashbacks and in the present to continue to do some amazingly fine acting.
“I owed him one”
The centerpiece of the past few episodes, Hera’s abduction was an integral part of why “Daybreak” was so successful. Hera matters to a lot of elements of this story, whether it’s the Opera House mission, Cavil’s villainy, or the characters of Athena and Helo and the love that made her even possible. Before she was even walking she was saving Laura Roslin’s life, so in many ways she could have developed into nothing but a plot device. However, between hiring a slightly older and more accomplished actor to play Hera for these final few episodes where she was required to do more acting and some really subtle work, Hera became something much more than a MacGuffin and much more a character.
I discussed above the princples of “what” vs. “who,” and it was one of the things that Baltar said to Cavil in his plea for Hera’s life: Cavil referred to her as a technical subject, an “it,” but Baltar corrected him with the fact that she is a child. In being a child, she has parents who love her, as well as people who care enough for her (Adama, Boomer) to go that extra step to protect her. BSG has often been about familial relationships, especially parentage, so I buy that a child would be a powerful enough force to bring all of these people together. While destiny obviously played a role, that it shaped around a child gives it that much more power.
First and foremost, her fate was intertwined with Boomer, who got an early but powerful sendoff from the episode. I spoke to the television a few times during the episode, but my first main one was asking Athena not to do what she eventually did, riddling Boomer with bullets. Yes, Boomer was expecting it, and yes she had just committed an extremely selfless act, but I nonetheless felt like she could be redeemed, that this didn’t need to be the end of her story. When the story flashed back to Boomer’s past, I felt even more strongly: seeing Boomer back in that uniform, a rookie struggling to stay focused and landing her raptor properly, her entire arc flooded back as if it had just happened yesterday. It’s her own flashback in a way, showing that she had always owed Adama a favour, and that using it as her last act was in some way part of her own destiny. Perhaps they could have done more with Boomer after New Caprica, where she certainly took a backseat, but I felt these episodes (with Boomer committing the act of kidnapping but immediately regretting it and assisting in undoing it) faithfully captured the motivations and struggles of the character to the point where Athena shooting her was the right combination of fitting and tragic.
Her parents, also, got some focus here, even if Athena took a backseat to Boomer. Athena has always been a bit of an odd duck once she fully integrated into Galactica’s crew, and Helo hasn’t been a major focus in season four either. In the finale, Athena really only got to play the role of nervous mother, who is eventually reunited with her child and who finds with her a happy purpose. I’m not too sad about this, as her arc was really solved back during the New Caprica arc in Season Three when she was officially initiated back into the fleet. Helo, meanwhile, could have been more interesting, but I did love the way that the episode pulled the same trick as the start of the series: you presume that Helo is dead (as we did when the Miniseries ended having stranded him on Caprica), and then all of a sudden there he is walking along. It was a great moment, as I really wasn’t prepared for a character like Helo to die on me considering it would leave Hera homeless, and was definitely a fist pump moment waiting to happen.
But, of course, she is the important one: she is the final character we see, as she’s skipping through the grass, eventually to be discovered as a key piece of human evolution. She was the baby that wasn’t supposed to exist, the baby that’s wasn’t supposed to survive, and the baby that instead of solving questions of Cylon or Human identity instead ushered in a new era in the development of something even more profound. I feel as if that’s a fitting end to her own arc, and that it justifies the importance prescribed to her character.
In the first edition of The McNuttcast, my brother Ryan indicated that Lee Adama had one of his favourite character arcs, and while it was cut out of the podcast for time purposes I kind of have my reservations about this. It’s not that Lee’s storyline has ever been bad, a fairly realistic depiction of a son coping with daddy issues and always searching for his purpose, but there came a point where it was clear that this was not just character development, and that the writers had no idea what the frak they wanted to do with him. As a result, Lee went from lawyer to politician, and eventually ascended to the Presidency too quickly for any of it to feel particularly organic.
However, “Daybreak” shows us the transformation that Lee has undertaken into a true leader, and that who he is when he sets foot on Earth and lays out his plan for society to return to basics in an effort to defeat the cycle of technological determinism is someone who is born to play this role, who has discovered their true purpose. This is not to say that Lee, like Kara, is perfectly home and content when he arrives on Earth; he tells her that he wants to find adventure, to climb the mountains and see this whole world that is suddenly in front of him. Kara tells him, in a bit of a cliche, that this is the first day of the rest of his life, but it really is, and he’s not going to live it stuck in one role but rather with the freedom that he’s always aspired to.
There wasn’t that freedom when he was begrudgingly following in his father’s footsteps in his flashback, justifying his path to his brother. There were traces of Lee’s future, like his focus on democracy, but he tried to pass off the military as a commitment, an obligation, as a way of indicating why he and his father weren’t on speaking terms. It made me remember that, when this series started, Lee and Adama hadn’t spoken, their meetings in the miniseries terse and cold. That went from being the status quo to being the point of conflict: they patched things up pretty quickly after the miniseries, their relationship then surviving the tests of Lee’s mutiny or Lee’s decision to defend Baltar as the rocky patches. Here, though, they were always on the same page: Lee was the first to cross the line, Lee was there leading the forces into the Colony, and Lee would eventually be the one to take over as the fleet’s “leader.”
I use the term in quotation marks because Lee is not perfect, and what he’s given to the people in his dream of a society without comforts but with a clean slate was the same thing as Adama’s imaginary Earth that started this whole quest, that gave the people hope. He can’t know it will all work, can’t micromanage it to make it successful, but he can give the people hope, and use every decision making skill he has to pull it all together. Jamie Bamber has been at the mercy of the writers in never quite getting the biggest of moments, but when he is asked to step up he delivers: like in “Crossroads, Part 2” as he took to the bench, you get in his pitch to Adama about his plan that sense of scale, that sense of forethought that makes Lee a thinker, that makes him think he can be a voice for the undefended and a voice for the democratic process. Bamber gives that speech the right level of populism, the selflessness that Lee holds himself to sometimes too slavishly, and makes me buy the romantic notion of this primitive existence as a truly progressive ideology, providing for Lee a true image of leadership.
Connect the Dots
One of the problems that the series had in this finale, perhaps the most problematic if not ultimately that detrimental, was that they couldn’t really tie up the fate of both Cylons and humans. The entire fourth season has struggled to integrate these two ideas beyond those characters we knew personally, so while the Final Five had their moments, and Caprica/Athena/Boomer emerged from the pack, the actual history, present and future of the Cylons as a whole was sort of left as a dangling thread amidst this otherwise satisfactory conclusion.
I don’t think it’s a problem of unanswered questions, because there is ultimately logical answers that can be easily presumed for any things that haven’t been outright explained. For example, the reason why the Cylons broke the truce and attacked the 12 Colonies was based on Cavil’s greed, and his anger at humanity for serving as the model for the inherent flaws he was given by his “parents.” And the reason why the 13th Colony was destroyed by a similar attack can be traced to the idea that the drive for technology will always lead us down that path towards our own destruction. The way the fourth season was structured meant that these answers ended up being connections we as the audience had to make, as opposed to drawn out for us, but I don’t think that’s an inherent problem.
More of a problem is that we didn’t quite get enough of Cavil in this episode, at least for my tastes. His showdown with Baltar was a fitting moment for his character, but that he didn’t get a pivotal death scene kind of felt off for me. In an episode where so many people got heroic or tragic ends, I at least wanted to see Cavil face his own insecurities, admit that he had done something wrong, show some remorse or regret for what he did. Instead, he died as he was established in “No Exit,” a heartless villain with no regard for humanity and willing to corrupt the programming of his siblings to avoid any or all of it. In doing so, of course, he was embodying human emotions, and I kind of wanted that to turn on him in this episode. Again, perhaps a lot of this will be explained or expanded on in “The Plan,” but this was his ending and I kind of wanted to see more of it take place onscreen.
I was more pleased with the fate of the Rebel Cylons who we have been spending more time with in season four. The idea of allowing the Centurions to go off on their own in the baseship in search of their own home was quite fitting, and I’m with Ellen that it should stop the cycle of destruction from that perspective. That the others chose to live on Earth, settling in their own areas, was another nice moment where the collectivity of purpose and destiny played a substantial role in the episode’s conclusion. I wasn’t totally dissatisfied with the way in which the Cylons were treated, there were just parts of it which felt left behind in favour of humanity’s fate; this makes sense, but makes me more anxious to see how “The Plan” might fill some of that in.
Working Class Heroes:
The one benefit about having killed half of society, and quite a few supporting characters, in the preceding seasons, is that you don’t have too many characters to follow through to the end. With Gaeta, Zarek and Dualla all dispatched earlier this season, and Kat before them, there wasn’t this huge pack of familiar faces who needed to have their final sendoffs, who we had to say goodbye to in order to feel satisfied with this finale. However, they made the most out of these small moments, and nonetheless used them to give this the feeling of a highly eventful finale.
I want to start with Racetrack and Skulls, primarily because it was one of those hanging chads of sorts that is introduced earlier, forgotten about, and then followed through with that final heroic blast. It’s an action cliche, the injured or out of commission pilot who suddenly surfaces to fulfill the killing blow, but that moment where you realize that Racetrack is still out there, and then remember that the nukes are armed, you’re pumping your first into the air as you realize that they are going to be able to get out of this, even though you pretty well knew they were going to make it from the very beginning.
Meanwhile, seeing Romo Lampkin again was a treat, primarily because this time he wasn’t carrying around a dead cat and going insane. I’m not sure why Lee would have seen that behaviour as a sure sign of Presidential material (perhaps he’s been seeing a therapist), but I felt Lampkin was the right kind of character for the job, and I’m glad that Moore wrote him pretty straight in terms of his wackiness. As for the other interim leader, Hoshi is a bit of an odd case since we really only started to meet him recently, but I realized that he’s really the only trustworthy person left who wasn’t a “main” character that was clearly going to be on this mission. With the mutiny turning out as it did, he was the only guy left, and I love the little foreshadowing in part one where Tigh tells Hoshi that he’ll never make Admiral spilling his coffee all over the place.
And “Daybreak” is also our goodbye to Doc Cottle, who is just so lovingly cantankerous. I already mentioned the scene with he and Roslin above, but their goodbye was so touching, and seeing the good Doctor get emotional was damn fine television (especially when Roslin told him to just walk away, have a smoke and start grumbling about it). And that he was there on Earth, able to see it through and be a part of that amazing discovery, was just a great feeling with which to leave the episode.
Behind the Scenes
As a show that is continually a stunning achievement, it’s amazing that in a finale we would see such continued great work from two people who, by this point, should have been entirely overrun by the sheer weight of it all. But the combined talents of Ronald D. Moore, Michael Rymer, Bear McCreary, Gary Hutzel’s team and everyone else behind the scenes came together to breathe life into stunning events, small moments, and new locales with some absolutely fantastic work.
I’m not convinced that Rymer’s work in the finale was as strong as the visually stunning premiere work by Michael Nankin, but what Rymer achieved here was some really challenging moments in terms of capturing various different characters at different stages. In tackling the flashbacks, he had to help create moods and characters that fit into that time period, a challenging task when the episode then needs to transition into entirely different moods for action and then moving into the deneoument. He got some really powerful performances out of his actors, and the shots on Earth (especially the rising sun on the horizon) were just stunning, especially since we haven’t had these characters operating in such a sunny and clear environment since Cloud Nine was destroyed. The visual look of the episode couldn’t have been more diverse, from the dark interiors of the Colony where Galactica broke through to the lush greens of Earth, but Rymer brought it together and created a powerful final statement for the show’s visual style.
Similarly, this serves as a powerful exclamation point for Bear McCreary’s amazing score work on the series. While his work has become more public through his great blog, detailing how he struggled to complete the music for “Revelations” and went through a profound life event in scoring “Someone to Watch Over Me,” there is just something so wonderfully inclusive about his music. It feels like it exists and stems from this world, and his use of very clear character themes is on a scale that I can’t even imagine. This one had it all: the stunning echoes of my favourite theme, “Roslin and Adama,” the return of the Irish tones of the Adamas, the echoes of the Earth theme he recorded for “Revelations,” and (in my favourite moment) the strains of the Colonial Theme as the fleet rides off into the sun as opposed to the sunset. It was just some hauntingly beautiful work, and in the summer months I will personally write letters to every single eligible Emmy voter on his behalf if I thought it could help him earn the Emmy nomination he so deserves.
I’d read a few people talking about how they were disappointed in the lack of major action sequences and special effects in previous episodes this season, but immediately you saw why: “Daybreak” contains probably a good 1/3 of the season’s special effects budget, and boy did it pay off. From the guns aboard the colony, to the image of Galactica careening directly into the side of the Colony, to the complete armies of Centurions (the shot of them on the hangar deck was particularly chilling), to the absolutely stunning slow but methodical “breaking back” of the Galactica itself. This was just one enormous project for the special effects people, who were working up until only weeks ago despite the episode having finished shooting months and months ago, and it paid off: while they are able to submit “The Hub” for special effects as it is in the eligibility period, I think there’s no question that “Daybreak” represents a whole new level for television special effects work.
Meanwhile, a lot of this episode has to fall back on Moore’s script. We doubted him last week, a little, with flashbacks that felt like they didn’t yet have a purpose, but I was willing to be patient until we saw the completed finale. I’m glad I did: Moore provided just the right balance of various elements, leaving no one area untouched and no one area given too much focus, delivering a finale that made me forget some of season four’s problems, that made me care for characters who have been waylaid by some problems, and that gave me the goosebumps that I wanted to feel. I don’t begrudge him the indulgence of the parabolic conclusion, primarily because the rest of it was so strong, and secondarily because I feel as if it is consistent with Moore’s vision with the series as a whole. An unsatisfying finale would have been one where it felt the writers were forced to create contrivance after contrivance, and I never felt that from Moore’s script even if some points were a bit cleaner than others. Moore has a way of making it all feel quite organic, so for these three hours I bought into his destiny wholeheartedly, and I have to give him a great deal of credit for that.
Earth 2, Electric Bugaloo
As some of you may know, I wrote my undergraduate thesis about Battlestar Galactica’s connections with Medieval Romance, in one section focusing on its connections with the Quest Narrative. You see, in Medieval Romance, the quest is not about the destination: it could be just about anything, and when the Knight of the Round Table went in search of the Holy Grail they really had no idea what they were looking for (and in various retelling of the story, it changed fundamentally even while the basic action of the quest itself does not). The point here is that the quest for Earth, like those quests, was not about finding Earth: it was about providing hope to the people, something that Adama invented in order to give the people a fighting chance.
So when Adama was sitting with Roslin underneath that tarp watching the gazelles, and they were discussing what they should call this home that they had discovered through Kara Thrace’s divine musical jump coordinates, I knew where he was heading before he got there. Earth was not a place but a symbol, an idea that gave humanity the chance to survive and that when absent (such as when “real” Earth was desolate) resulted in a morale vacuum resulting in suicide and mutiny. So when Adama finally does find a habitable planet, it is only fitting that he is able to call it Earth considering that he created the existence of Earth, at least as it means for his own people, himself in the final moments of the Miniseries.
In many ways, elements of Battlestar have always worked the same way: Earth, the Final Cylon, Baltar’s Visions, Starbuck’s Identity; all of them were goals that existed less as pieces to some grand puzzle and more as elements of dramatic tension, giving Moore and the writers the opportunity to craft these stunning storylines. While every answer may not have been satisfactory, some of these quests ending on notes which felt too shallow or perhaps too easy, we have to ask ourselves the question: was the quest worth it? Did these questions not serve as the backbone for some of the show’s most effective moments, or as the motivations for its more compelling characters? Is this not what television is all about?
“Daybreak” was the perfect finale, if not the perfect episode, for Battlestar Galactica primarily because it owned up to these facts, choosing not to tie things up with a pretty bow, instead offering a scenario that lets each character have their moment, that gives each of these quests something approximating a conclusion, and leaves just enough room for speculation and guesswork to keep us imagining just what went on in those 150,000 years between Hera’s jaunt through the grasslands and Ronald D. Moore reading a magazine in New York City. By never giving up its complexity, while also creating a finale that balances said complexity with the power of basic human emotion, Battlestar Galactica has given me everything I needed to say that it is, without a doubt, the most powerful television experience I have had the pleasure of witnessing, and one that through future research and future blogging is unlikely to leave my mind until long after it’s left my TV screen.
So I guess I want to thank Moore, Eick and everyone at Battlestar for this amazing series, as well as any and all readers who have been along for the ride here at Cultural Learnings. This surely won’t be the last I cover the show’s universe, with Caprica on the horizon and “The Plan” to come in the Fall, but it’s been an amazing experience. I know that I write far too much about the show, and that at a certain point this transforms from a discussion to an exorcism for the sake of my sanity, but anyone who’s read through to this point earns my utmost thanks for taking the time. This season has been the first time we’ve had some great discussions on these posts, so huge appreciation to those who have helped make that possible, and for making this amazing television experience that much more memorable.
So say we all.
- Favourite moment of the flashbacks: Tigh’s “YEAHHHHH!!” yell. It’s perhaps one of the funniest things he’s ever done on the show, and I look forward to the GIF potential in the days to come.
- I took one look at Lampkin and Hoshi about to get onto that Raptor, and immediately I wanted a spinoff – they’d be such a delightful odd couple, and at some point in time someone is going to have to give Mark Sheppard his own bloody show.
- I was really glad to have Leoben back, and one thing missing from the episode was a final scene for Leoben and Starbuck together. I like that Lee was there for her final moments, but she and Leoben have a real history, and Callum Keith Rennie’s lengthy absence meant that their scenes in the 4.5 premiere were the last they got to spend together.
- Loved, after they jumped to Earth, Roslin responding to Adama’s concern with “Honey, I’m fine.” It’s not the first time they’ve used such language, but it still makes me really happy inside, and thus even more sad with her eventual farewell.
- “You’re still standing…which means it’s time for shots.” I’m convinced that the alcohol shortage aboard Galactica was the real tragedy in the show, since we got less of the Viper jocks just sitting around and getting plastered. I miss those moments.
- Was kind of madly in love with how cute and adorable Hera, Helo and Athena were on Earth, especially when they started referencing back to on Caprica. It was such a peaceful glimpse into a little family, and combined with my relief in Helo being alive really made it an emotional one.
- I would like to thank Space, the Canadian channel for Galactica, for pushing the entire episode into two hours, as it made for shorter commercials. On the other hand, I want to throw things at Space for reairing their great Chuck commercial too often, switching some people in the room from “I want to watch it” to “Get it off my screen, Space!” Oh, and I also want to throw things for their uber-lame “Fan Forum” interstitials, one of which included FAKE CRYING after Roslin’s death. Totally took me out of the moment, and was entirely disrespectful to the tone of the show. The Circuit, you’re on notice.
- I’m going to go ice my fingers now.