Saturday, March 07, 2009

Battlestar Galactica: 'Islanded in a Stream of Stars' (4x18)

Watching this episode, it really started to hit me that the show is ending. Like Babylon 5, I’m guessing the series will end with the destruction of its titular ship. If Hera’s play is to be believed, the ship will plunge into a basestar, and we may see some of our characters going down with the ship. But, that’s the future, and the three hour finale we’ve got waiting for us. This episode was largely about moving pieces into place, but did so in a mysterious and compelling manner, full of really great images and moments along the way.

The Boomer/Hera plot was my favorite part of the episode, starting with the surreal visions of Hera running through the opera house, and continuing during Hera’s jaunt through Boomer’s imaginary dream house. Hera clearly has some kind of great power, but she’s also still a kid. She imagines a cupcake in her hand, and probably imagines Boomer as her mother, Athena. Unlike Helo, she can tell the difference between the two.

When they finally get to Cavil, he’s housed in a prog rock album cover demonic fortress. That scene just brought me joy, seeing this massive space station, and Boomer’s small ship working its way through it. This show usually avoids those more fantastic flights of sci-fi, but I love that they made Cavil’s fortress so over the top. And, Cavil had a great subtle menace as he took Hera and promised to make her more playmates. Cavil most likely wouldn’t want to create more cylon/human hybrids. He’s seeking to eradicate the humanity from his makeup, so I’m not sure exactly what he needs Hera for. I suppose part of it is ensuring that the other cylons don’t find a way to reproduce.

Another moment that wowed me in this episode was Sam’s transformation into Galactica’s hybrid. First off, I loved the production design on the room he was in, the red code snaking its way up the walls, the interior of the Galactica becoming more and more cylon based. And, Sam waking up and speaking the hybrid code was such a perfect fusion of thematic, narrative and visual development. The Galactica is struggling to cling to its humanity even as it becomes more and more cylon based. Anders struggles with the same fate, as Kara says, the human life he has is fading away, replaced by something new and uncertain.

Kara herself continues down that path. She has died and returned from the dead. There’s not much conclusive from this episode, but I love the moment where she speaks to Baltar from the toilet, and her uncertain feelings at being held up as an angel for the fleet. If she can return from the dead, what does that mean for the fates of all these people who died aboard the ship? Did they simply not want to live enough.

It’s hard to make definitive conclusions from an episode like this. The function was to put all the pieces in place for the finale, and these are often problematic episodes. In Buffy, the third to last episode of the season was often underwhelming because it’s all about laying groundwork for the big finale. I think what made this episode work so well was the fact that the individual scenes were so well executed. Narrative purpose and payoff doesn’t matter so much when you get scenes as visceral as Adama spreading paint around and realizing that he has to abandon Galactica, or the Six being sucked out into space. As such, what lingers from this episode is not its contribution to the mythos, it’s the individual scenes.

I particularly loved Adama and Roslin sharing a joint and reminiscing about their time on New Caprica. With Adama fearing the destruction of Galactica, she tries to convince him that home isn’t a physical place, it’s a community of people, and though the fleet has survived because of Galactica for so long, humanity is now evolved enough to survive without it. The Galactica was a relic of the first war with the cylons, when things happened again as they did before, it served humanity again, but the time has come to abandon warships.

This entire ending is very Invisibles, with the hardliners on both sides being eradicated, leaving a new, more united populace in its wake. My issue with the handling of it is that we don’t get that much insight into the cylon side. The cylons make all these compromises, and seem to be totally benevolent in serving humanity, I want to see more of what’s going on within their group, particularly some more time with Leoben and D’Anna, who have been frustratingly absent. Is not Leoben just another manifestation of the absent father that Kara seeks? Surely he holds the final answers for her destiny.

I loved this episode, as the camera pulled back, I was wishing that the episode was going on. It’s reaching that point where I’m more aware of the series ending, where each moment with a character could be their last. It’s always tough to watch a story you’ve watched for years come to an end. Two weeks from tonight it will be over. I’ll talk more about the legacy of the show in those next two reviews, but I want to say that though this show has frequently frustrated me, it’s also produced some of the most profoundly beautiful and challenging cinema of the decade. This is a show that used visual storytelling in ways that virtually no other series in the history of the medium has, and for that alone, it deserves commendation. And, a great finale could make up for a lot of the rough patches along the way.

4 comments:

Sri said...

Hi, this is Mike's friend Sri. I love this blog. I'm not sure if you covered this but in the episode where Ellen and Boomer get to Galactica, how did they find the fleet using the raptor? Am I stupid, or is that a HUGE plot hole. If it is, do you think they'll explain it in the finale? If they found the fleet, why doesn't Cavil?

Patrick said...

I'm not sure how Boomer knew where the Galactica was. I don't think that was ever explained. But, presumably the reason Cavil doesn't attack is because he wanted to get Hera first, and created this scheme with Boomer and Ellen to enable that. Why Cavil wouldn't attack now though, I'm not sure, since he's presumably got everything he'd want from the fleet, and could destroy them. Who knows.

And thanks for the compliments on the blog, good to know there's people out there reading.

Sri said...

Thanks for the response. I was thinking about this earlier, and perhaps that he knows where the fleet is, but he is unwilling to attack now that the resurrection hub has been destroyed and he and the other Cylons are now "mortal". I came to a similar conclusion, that he needs Hera to once again be immortal. His speech about justice to Ellen was just a front. Perhaps there will be another explanation, or none at all. If there is not an explanation, I will consider this a plot hole, but this has become arguably my favorite show of all time. I think that the ending will be somewhat inconclusive, as is the spirit of the show and in particular this season.

Sri said...

Also, I think Baltar is a Cylon, and he will end up taking Hera with Caprica 6 as is in the Opera House scene, or maybe that's too obvious.