Saturday, December 2

Lee vs. Kara: A marquee 'Battlestar Galactica' throwdown

Source: The Chicago Tribune

In the interest of keeping your interest while I’m gone (I’m on vacation until Dec. 4), I’m writing some posts on upcoming episodes of various shows.

This one is about the episode of “Battlestar Galactica” that airs Dec. 1. It contains spoilers, so don’t read it if you don’t want to know about this episode, in which the Battlestar crew go up against each other in an all-comers fight tournament. You might want to read it after the episode airs if you’re not into spoilers. (By the way, if you want to know more about the episode, there are pictures of it here.)

The first few sequences cut between scenes from a party on New Caprica – before the Cylons arrive, and when hope is still in the air – and scenes of a fight tournament that Admiral Adama has engineered on the deck of the Galactica. The idea is that anyone who puts his or her dog tags in a certain box can challenge anyone else whose tags are in the box, regardless of rank.

Lee Adama goes up against Helo, and there are various other matchups involving Hot Dog, Kat and other crew members. Yes, there’s even some girl-girl fighting. And there’s one bout you’ll have to see to believe (after you watch it you may understand why I thought of Shakespeare’s “Henry V” during this episode. Or not).

Things are clearly leading up to a big blowout between Lee and Kara Thrace – they’ve had a tangled history, and the finale of Season 2 showed that things were quite icy between them at that point. This is the episode in which we find out why.

“Battlestar” is sometimes criticized for being too dark; personally, I don’t find that a problem -- exploring the darker corners of human nature is what this show -- and most of my favorite dramas -- does best. But the writers don’t uniformly characterize everyone and everything as gloomy; heroism and self-sacrifice are part of the deal on the show, and I don’t find those qualities dark.

In any case, there’s some quite literal brightness in this episode. At the party on New Caprica, colorful banners are flying, the sun is shining, and the members of Galactica’s rag-tag fleet don’t look quite so rag-tag. In fact, they look a bit sleek and wear expressions of relief and tentative happiness. They’ve found their safe haven, their port in the storm. So they think.

I think my favorite party scene is of Admiral Bill Adama and President Laura Roslin turning to each other with happy smirks after Gaeta leaves them alone; he’d been droning on about some colonization issue and they were both bored out of their minds.

After he is gone, they stand behind a tent and drink and smoke like a couple of 12 year olds giggling in the parking lot at a boring bat mitzvah. Those actors have such wonderful chemistry, and they’re such pros that they know they don’t have to push it. It’s just there, and they let it be. Oh yes, Adama-Roslin shippers will have lots to smile about during this episode.

There are lots of happy couples, seemingly, at the party; Chief Tyrol and Callie get permission to live down on New Caprica and raise their child in the “fresh air”; Tigh and Ellen throw off sparks aplenty, and give you fresh reasons to understand Tigh’s current agony; Dualla and Lee are in the first flush of new love; Anders and Kara are also all lovey-dovey, but it’s obvious that she still has eyes for Lee, and probably always will.

One of the pleasures of this show is that everyone in the “Battlestar” cast steps up when the spotlight turns to them. Michael Hogan’s been turning in amazing, gut-wrenching work as Tigh, and Aaron Douglas gets an excellent moment in the spotlight during this episode as well. (And going back a bit, I had to completely reassess my view of Tricia Helfer when we met the No. 6 who’d been tortured aboard the Pegasus. She was stunning in those scenes.)

But what was really shattering in this episode was the look on Lee Adama’s face the morning after the party. I won’t go into what happened between him and Kara, but the next day, he’s a broken man. The stunned look on his face that morning is heartbreaking. Poor Lee, is all you can really think. Yes, he knew Kara was a whole bucket of trouble from Day 1, but still. Nobody deserves to have their heart shredded.

And as much as you want to allow Kara some psychological rationale for what she does to Lee, as much as it might make some kind of intellectual sense, there’s a level on which her actions are unforgivable. She’s weak, selfish, scared and stupid. Maybe all of that comes from some greater hurt, some central wound, some unquenchable self-hatred. But can that kind of wound ever heal or is she destined to hurt other people and herself for the rest of her life?

That’s a fate worse than even she deserves. In any case, you can understand why Lee wanted to punch her lights out. Still, is Kara so very different from any of us? Anyone who hasn’t ever stepped on anyone else’s feelings – or, indeed, shredded them – due to personal weakness or cowardice, raise your hand.

This is one of those episodes that makes me want to go back and watch the entire season all over again. As we saw in a recent episode, Kara has started taking a few steps to clean herself up and drag herself out of the pit of resentment she’s dug for herself. But reviewing her history, post-New Caprica, you can see why she descended into such dark place this season. She hated herself even more than usual for what she did to Lee.

If this woman is ever truly able to love anyone, including herself, it’ll be an accomplishment. No doubt, since this is “Battlestar Galactica,” the road to that possibly impossible goal will have plenty of surprising twists along the way. But the show's about nothing if not the frequent impossibility -- but the absolute necessity -- of redemption.

The closing minutes of “Unfinished Business” (an episode with a typically outstanding score, by the way) are among the most emotionally evocative scenes “Battlestar” has ever done. It’s not about what the Cylons have done to “us”; it’s about the damage that these people -- people allegedly on the same side -- do to each other.

We have met the enemy, and she is us.

1 comment:

Rob Robinson said...

Great review of a great episode. I really enjoyed this one. In was frustrated at times in season 2 with the episodes that were essentially self-contained (the ones that didn't move the larger story forward), but that has not been the case for me this season.

This one had revelations that told us more about what has taken place along the way, but it was basically a set piece focusing on a couple of hours of activity on the ship. I thought it had a near play-like dramatic feel to it, so your mention of Henry V is appropriate.