Sunday, May 11, 2008

Battlestar Galactica: 'Faith' (4x06)

So far, this has season of Battlestar Galactica has been nailing every episode in a way that none before has. Season three may have started out with the four best episodes of the show’s run, but it slipped up after that. While these episodes haven’t matched the heights of the New Caprica arc, at least yet, they’ve got me much more optimistic about the future of the show. Each new story turn opens up a lot of interesting possibilities, and thankfully it seems like we’re staying focused on narrative and character development, not random standalone stories. There’s so many interesting threads in play right now, and on an intellectual level, the show is far beyond anything else currently on the air. This episode is a perfect example of what science fiction at its best can do.

As I mentioned last week, Kara has been so on for me since she went off on the Demetrius mission. They’ve finally reconciled the destiny-having, mystical believing Kara Thrace with the badass pilot fighter Kara, and she’s once again the most fascinating character on the series. Just from the way she moves her eyes, you can see the internal conflict seething within her, and her struggle to balance her need to keep the trust of everyone on the ship with her desire to realize her destiny and reach Earth.

She’s always been someone whose passion overflows, and watching her speak to the hybrid, you can sense her yearning for some kind of purpose, a direction, proof that she’s doing the right thing and isn’t just insane. Earlier than that, I love the moment when she sees the basestar suspended in the planet’s atmosphere and realizes that her picture has come true. It’s absolutely gorgeous aesthetically, and such a triumph for her, even the onslaught of meteorites afterwards can’t shake her confidence.

The sequences on the basestar are a triumph of forward planning. It feels almost like a well executed farce, with everyone who shouldn’t be meeting running into each other at the most inopportune time. There’s so much potential tension all around, a closeted cylon, a cylon playing human, and others all keep things full of tension.

Let’s start with one of the episode’s strongest scenes, the confrontation between Six and Barolay. I got so distracted by the possibly there lesbian subtext of her admiration for Kara that I didn’t even realize we had a classic red shirt aboard, and her death had me genuinely worried because I want this cylon/human alliance to happen so much. I’ve always been partial to the cylon characters, and ever since Downloaded, this is what I’ve wanted to see. So, I was on edge when Kara returned and tried to guide them to a truce.

The real star here is Tricia Helfer, who killed it in that scene with herself. It was so well shot, perhaps by necessity using those really tight close-ups, lit so we can barely even see their faces. Throughout the episode, the lighting was really low, and I liked that. Glowing neon colors barely casting light onto the characters’ faces made for beautiful scenes. The scene is evidence of how much Natalie needs this alliance to happen. Without the humans, they are doomed, and she’s willing to sacrifice a piece of herself to make it happen. But, at the same time she indicts the humans for their bloodlust. The Six probably would have died anyway, but this way, she shows them how wrong they are to want to kill. Really powerful stuff.

Also interesting throughout the episode was Sharon’s struggles to deal with her own identity. As much as I wanted Sharon to find a place within the fleet, I think the character loses something when played as a completely loyal soldier. Here, we get more insight into what’s driving her, she has to totally commit to this side, go overboard, because if she doesn’t choose a side, she’ll fit nowhere. This is the only way to keep Hera safe, it’s the only way to be with the man she loves.

That said, I have to wonder why the Eight who dies at the end of the episode says that Athena Sharon was right. Doesn’t she lose something by totally betraying her culture? I suppose the Eight winds up dying alone, and nobody wants that. But, is actively fighting against your own people any way to be. I suppose that is a part of the character’s problem, the fact that at this point she must hate herself to be accepted, and that is made literal during the scene where she tells off the horde of Sharons seeking her out.

Also struggling with his identity on the journey is Anders. He sees the base star as the place where he can find out who he really is, and that’s why he shoots Gaeta rather than risk getting taken back to Galactica. I’m sure there will be repercussions for that, though it may get overlooked when the basestar returns. If I had to guess where things will go at this point, I think there will a split of factions within the fleet, echoing what we saw in the cylons earlier this year. The hardliners will say that it’s folly to go with the basestar towards Earth, to bring the fleet’s greatest enemy within them to what should be the sanctuary from this war. Gaeta will be one of these hardliners, as will Adama, while Roslin, Baltar and Kara side with the Cylons, who offer a way to Earth. But who knows what will really happen.

On the basestar, Anders seems to be perpetually on the edge of snapping. I love the moment where he reaches for the watery thing, a potential source of answers to who he is. The other great scene is his moment of kindness towards the Eight after Sharon rejects her. He at least won’t let her die alone.

The episode closing hybrid revelation sets up a potential path towards both Earth and the revelation of the fifth. I love the scenes with the hybrid, it’s hard to believe that it’s really a person in there, and that’s a testament to how well the actress playing her does the role. It’s crazy stuff going on, but everyone grounds it in emotional reality.

Elsewhere, we see Roslin getting ready to embrace both death and Gaius Baltar. Long time enemies, it seems like Baltar is really onto something this time if he can get Roslin over to his side. The cylon god though he may be, he offers comfort to the dying, and that’s what she needs at this moment. The episode closing scene with her and Adama is beautiful and tender, even as it hints at a possible schism between the two. Adama refers derisively to Baltar’s “horse manure,” which she’s clearly starting to believe. I’m looking forward to the next meeting between the two of them.

This was one of the best episodes of the series’ entire run to date. It’s filled with incredible images, and really emotional sequences. The basestar sequence was a perfect example of how to use the long term character development possible in a series to set up really intriguing and tense narrative situations. We’ve been with these people so long, there’s such history, it’s easy to feel how fragile the d├ętente is, and how much ill feeling exists between these people.

And, perhaps most importantly, the episode opens up a world of fascinating story possibilities. How will the Galactica react to the arrival of the basestar? Will Baltar embrace them as religious brethren? How will the final four react? And many more, this season is fantastic so far, and looks like it’ll only get better. I only wish it wasn’t ending so soon, it took me a couple of episodes to get back into the world, and I don’t want to lose it so soon.


Anonymous said...

I really hope - with the mid-season break only a month away - that the hiatus isn't too long. But all signs point to a resumption in 2009, which will likely kill the momentum they have built up so far. Three months I could live with; six is going to be hell. (I honestly can't think of this show as four seasons, because it's hard to reconcile with how the show has been broadcast.)

Otherwise, I agree with everything you say. The show is so full of complicated, rich characters in such complex situations that the possibilities of what will come next are incredibly exciting.

And the show is cementing its place as one of the best dramas ever.

Patrick said...

Totally, it's always going to take an episode or two to get back into the world, I can understand why Sci-Fi wouldn't want to compete with the Fall network launches, but at this point, the people who are watching the show are going to stick with it, there's not going to be too many viewers stumbling onto the series.

And, it sounds like we'll have to wait until January for Dollhouse too. Just get the stuff out there.