Saturday, October 14, 2006

Battlestar Galactica - 'Exodus: Part I' (3x03)

Another stellar hour of a show that's really raised its game with the third season. I feel like everyone, both viewers and the show's creators, was a bit underwhelmed by the second half of season two. I know I was pretty disappointed, and was starting to drift away from the series until the fantastic 1-2-3 punch of Downloaded and the season finale. And they just haven't let up after that, going into more complex, challenging stories with each episode.

While I generally loved the episode, I groaned a bit when 'One Hour Earlier' appeared on the screen. I think this device is usually a mistake. Countless episodes of Alias would use this flashback structure and it just isn't that interesting. In the case of this episode, it feels like we just had to track back to justify Roslin and Zarek not dying in the cliffhanger. Now, this isn't as egregious a trackback as something like The X-Files' 'Redux I,' but still, I think it would have been more effective to just start with the Chief hearing that Callie was with the people to be killed and then going from there.

It was pretty obvious that Roslin would survive, but I feel like setting up such a bold cliffhanger and then not paying it off with anything particularly interesting is a copout. I can't remember a major character ever dying on the show, and if you want to keep stakes high, occasionally someone has to go. Part of the reason that 24 is so legitimately tense is because anyone is expendable, they take it a bit far, but it's a lesson to learn.

I just want to remark on how fantastic the cinematography in the series is. The color correction they use gives each scene a really unique palette, be it the cold blue of the settlement or the slight brown of the woods. The vision scene was particularly standout. I love the way contrast is used to make the light look completely white, and the handheld camera work always brings our attention to the most important events in the scene. The use of zooms is also very cool, enhancing the feeling of reality. This is probably the best shot series ever on TV.

The piece of this episode that I loved most is Sharon's work with the resistance. She's someone who has totally redefined herself, abandoning the cylons, her people, for love and belief in the values that Adama is espousing. She is actively subverting her own people by helping to move the humans off New Caprica, and is doing so willingly. She has come to believe fully in the principles of Adama's leadership. And that's what makes the scene in the cylon headquarters so wrenching.

First off, I love the production design inside the cylon complex, the quick flashing lights of the data console and the stark white of the filing room. This scene shows that the cylons do have machine elements, they seem to have a kind of symbiosis with their machinery. It's so tough to watch Sharon walk the street and be heckled and assaulted, her outside appearance in total contrast to what she's actually there for.

And then it becomes even more brutal when she's confronted by D'Anna, with the news that Hera's alive. We're supporting Sharon in her work with humanity, the gradual development of her relationship with Adama was the strongest element of season 2.5, and their scenes together last week showed a deep understanding. But, at the same time, we're aware that they fucked her. There's no other way to describe it, Adama and Roslin completely screwed Sharon, and she would be totally justified in screwing them back. They lied to her and Helo, and took away the thing that mattered most to them in the world. There's no way to apologize for that. Watching the scene, Sharon seems to know, on some level, that D'Anna is right. She never exactly trusted their story about Hera, but by being immersed in human culture for so long, she's just come to accept her role and value what they give her. So, she chooses to finish her mission, but at the end of the episode, we can tell how pained Sharon is.

That scene is easily the highlight of the episode and draws you in so many different directions as a viewer. I was relieved when Sharon shot her, but I was also left dreading the inevitable moment when she finds out that they've been lying to her. When it happens, I think she may secretly resume working with the cylons, serving as a mole within the human fleet. The scene really plays up the moral ambiguity of the situation, making it difficult to sympathize with anyone but Sharon herself. Grace Park is really fantastic, making Sharon easily my favorite character on the series.

Earlier in the episode, D'Anna's visit to the oracle reveals more of her human side. The moment I love is when the oracle is talking about the child, how one day D'Anna will hold it and experience true love, and we see that D'Anna's crying. There's no attention drawn to the tear on her cheek, and the subtlety of the moment is what gives it meaning. Now, she seeks Hera not so much for the overall cylon plan, but to experience the emotion that both Sharon and Caprica Six have had, but the other cylons lack.

Another great moment in the episode is the scene with Baltar and Six. Here we see just how put upon Baltar's been over the past four months. You can see it physically, and just in the way he behaves compared to the way things used to be. He has absolutely no agency, and guilt over what he did is starting to drag him down. I would like more investigation into his relationship with Six and how they're managing to function personally within this totally divided world.

The cylon leadership is again equated with the floundering American leadership in Iraq. They don't have the resources to take greater control of the area, and the war is a huge strain on their internal dynamics. I like the way Caprica Six is equated with Baltar, in her lack of agency within the group. She started this as a way to save the humans, but has been overruled by the more militant elements of cylon civilization. That scene also raises the issue of the download process, and how it's gradually wearing down the cylon personnel.

These first three episodes have a very Star Wars feel. The show's always felt similar to the trilogy for me, but here we get the most concrete sense of a rebel alliance fighting back a big empire. I may not talk about it much on here, most of the stuff I enjoy today doesn't have much in common with Star Wars, but what those films do is create a story so epic, so deeply mythic that it drags you beyond your complacency wholly into another world. This show is increasingly doing this, and there are moments that hit the same emotions as the strained desperation of Empire Strikes Back. I'm thinking particularly of the scene on the hangar deck, which had a real powerful sense that something important was about to happen. Other scenes with the resistance down on the surface also manage that same quality.

I guess the thing I love about Star Wars, and this season, is the way that it tracks these personal conflicts that have universal consequences. There's so much scope to the story, but it's still got characters who feel real, who you can relate to. I think that's what similar stories set in history lack, they're so bound by the need to be 'real' as in true to the period that they lose the sense of universal human reality. Watching these episodes, and the series in general, we see what would happen if our whole society was thrown into chaos, and that's more interesting than seeing the same old story about teenage boys sent off to fight in a foreign land.

Some other great moments include Tigh snapping at his wife at the end, Sharon's final words to the chief and Zarek and Roslin's conversation in the pit. This was an episode where I was not happy to see the Executive Producer credit. So far, this season has been absolutely on fire, challenging the viewer and forcing you to question your emotional allegiances. Rarely have I seen such fantastic storytelling, and I really hope that they keep it up for the rest of the season.


Ethan said...

Just discovered your blog here, really enjoy it; good taste, well-written reviews, keep it coming. Anyway...

Hear, hear. I was uncertain of how I felt about the first two episodes this season, but this one made me anticipate...well, everything that's coming. I can't wait for the shit to hit the fan on all fronts in this amazing series...Gods be with the fleet when Sharon finds out about the baby...


Patrick said...

Thanks, Ethan. And yeah, that scene when Sharon finds out is going to be massive. I'm even more curious to see how Helo will react, he's been totally sedate and zen throughout the whole series, but I think finding out what happened to Hera could make him snap. I'm guessing that Roslin and co. will use Hera herself as the bargaining chip to keep Sharon in line.