Monday, March 19, 2007

Battlestar Galactica: 'Crossroads: Part I' (3x19)

This was a really great episode, probably the strongest since the tumult of the second half premiere. This episode brought to the fore one of the issues that's been challenging me all season, and that's my uncertainty about the creators' moral stance with regard to the characters and their troubles. Virtually every work has some kind of message it's hoping to convey to the audience, and even if there are morally ambiguous characters and actions, we have a general idea of what good is. Look at Babylon 5, it's clear that Sheridan and his crew are in the right, and even though we can understand the motivations of the Shadows and Vorlons, I don't think any viewer is going to side with them. But, in the case of this episode, who are we supposed to side with? Everything is caught in a morally ambiguous mess.

This isn't necessarily problematic, I've still got someone to root for, and that's definitely Baltar. I've never liked Adama and Roslin as much as I think we're meant to, I think they work really well together when they're away from work, as in the brilliant scene on New Caprica in 'Unfinished Business,' but when they're the two headed authority figure governing the fleet, they're not so appealing. The coldness and inhumanity they exhibited in various episodes across the season is such a contrast to Baltar's struggling humanity. I've always found him fascinating and seeing him becoming a reluctant messiah figure it a lot of fun. My sympathies were with him this entire episode.

I think Lampkin makes a strong defense, pointing out the hypocriscy of criticizing Baltar for compromising when the Resistance completely compromised their moral standards in an effort to fight the Cylons. He makes the point that resisting the Cylons likely would have led to more death in the short term, and no change in the long term. If Baltar hadn't surrendered, they could have just destroyed the Galactica, and then the humans would never have gotten off New Caprica. He might not have been courageous, but he was pragmatic. Yes, he was looking out for his own interests, but does anyone really believe that if he hadn't signed the Death list, the Cylons wouldn't have just killed him and appointed a new president?

Even though he makes a good defense, I can't help but feel like there aren't some major cards they didn't play. I was assuming the major secret Lee was going to pull on Roslin was her theft of the election. I don't remember if the majority of the fleet heard about that, but bringing it up would inherently cripple her credibility. If she was willing to break the law to get herself elected, and then return to power under very shady circumstances, her criticism of Baltar would be completely unfounded. I think it was a major mistake not to bring that up. Throughout the season, I've complained about Roslin's easy return to power, and the fact that no one has a problem with her almost monarchial inheritance of the presidency. I hope to see that brought up next episode.

I also hope to see more about the support for Baltar. They keep calling him the 'most hated man alive,' but he seems to have a big following, and I'm assuming that will play some role in the finale. I've heard there's a big twist, but am avoiding spoilers. If I had to speculate, I'd imagine it will be something like the fleet splintering, and half following Baltar to the Cylons. Clearly there's some sleeper agents in play, and someone is revealed to be a cylon. That revelation could undermine the distinction between human and cylon.

I really liked seeing Lee working for Baltar. He's always been one of my least favorite characters, but with this arc, he's picked up some Kara's roguish spirit. It's a lot more convincing than the faux darkness they put him through in mid season two. If there is a schism in the fleet, he might side with Baltar's crew. I'd think it was a conflict of interest to have the defense attorney's father as the judge, but we'll let that go.

I mentioned last week that it's really tough to make courtroom scenes interesting, but they pulled it off here. There was huge tension in both the Tigh and Roslin questionings. Another fantastically tense scene was Six and Tigh's discussion in her cell. I really wish we got to see more of her feelings about being on Galactica, she's barely got any time since jumping ship. There was a scene of her and Gaius in the promo last week, so hopefully the two of them will be reunited next week.

The music thing raises some issues. Tigh, Tori and Anders were all down on New Caprica, but I'm not sure of any other connection between them. I could certainly see Tori and Anders being cylons, but I feel like having Tigh a cylon would make virtually no sense. He was imprisoned by them, so it's possible they put some kind of tracking device or implant in his head, but I don't know when they would have done that to Anders and Tori. Were they imprisoned at any point? I suppose it's possible they're all sleeper agents of a sort, with Tori and Anders as actual cylons and Tigh as just implanted with something. Regardless, Tori looked very hot with the zombie chic look.

I also really liked the opening sequence. Roslin seems to be in the same theater that we saw at the end of the first season, the place between life and death. Hera was previously seen there, as the 'child' of Six and Baltar, will she be back with them by the end of the season? The look of the sequence reminded me of Inland Empire, the scene with Laura Dern in the movie theater. Most of the time, you can't tell the show is shot on digital, but I could here, and I think it worked to the scene's advantage.

Well, things are up in the air, but I'm pretty confident that the season finale will work well. More generally, I'm frustrated by the meandering nature of the back half of the season, but the show has never let me down at the end of a season. I just hope if this major twist creates a new status quo, they actually stick with it, and don't return to the current situation. If the show has only two seasons left, there's no reason we can't spend them in a constantly evolving state.


Anonymous said...

Hmm... Baltar isn't really that sympathetic, and it's not just a "Roslin + Adama are mean and cold" reason. Baltar has had multiple opportunities to present information to the fleet that would save lives and put him in the right, but he has repeatedly chosen to watch out for his own personal skin instead. More often than not he has taken delight in living in his fantasy world while humans crash and fall and die around him. He uses people for his own selfish gain and cares not a wit what happens to his fellow humans. He's basically taken the "chosen one" thing as an escape route for his guilt and complicity... hoping that he was a Cylon so that it could say "look, I helped you guys out, so you should like me and embrace me (please embrace me, because I'm terrified the humans will find out and kill me)."

I don't buy the Baltar as a guilty victim, and his choice to allow the occupation is extremely debatable. He was probably relieved to see the Cylons, thinking they would accept him as one of their own and give him money and girls and a life of luxury.
-Keith P

Patrick said...

I don't know if he was relieved to see the Cylons, he already seemed to be living pretty well, but I do agree with your general points. I guess this is a case where the character is so interesting, he transcends morality. It's like with Spike on Buffy, I know he did awful things, and in the real world I wouldn't want him around, but on the show, he's just so compelling, I'd forgive him pretty much anything.

Baltar may have done some bad things, but he's so interesting to watch, he gets my emotional sympathy where Adama and Roslin repel me. I think part of the reason I go so far to Baltar's side is that Moore presents Roslin and Adama in a cold way so as to create moral ambiguity, but my inherent favoring of Baltar pushes things too far to one side. So, rather than grudgingly acknowledge that Lampkin might have a point in his defense of Baltar, I'm totally with him.

It's sort of like in a slasher movie, in theory you shouldn't want the characters to get killed, but in practice, the joy of the movie comes from watching people die, you take out the villain and you've got a bunch of characters just hanging around. Baltar is the slasher, he may technically be the villain, but I can't help wanting him to succeed.