Tuesday, January 20

Galactica Station's Review of "Sometimes a Great Notion"

Gooby Rastor puts the reviewing cap on again, for "Sometimes a Great Notion."

I like to think that I’m not a complete idiot, so I don’t go into an episode of Battlestar Galactica looking for anything uplifting. I know what I’m in for: Grit and dark. And I like that. But my God. This... this may have been too much down, I’m afraid. I’ll explain what I mean: At the end of the first episode of the show, “33,” the writers and producers were afraid that they had crafted a show which was so relentlessly intense and depressing (what with the shooting down of the Olympic Carrier), that they would turn off their viewers. So instead of ending on the ominous note of Helo being “rescued” by Cylon Agent Sharon, they closed the show on the news of the birth of a baby boy on one of the ships. That one little glimmer of hope is what I was looking for here, and it was really nowhere to be found, wasn’t it?

The episode a hand, “Sometimes a Great Notion,” is one which the show probably needed, after the events of “Revelations.” It’s about the reaction to Earth; really it’s all about the reaction to Earth. And while this is a necessary thing, it means that the show doesn’t go so much into the question of “what now?” There are glimpses: Bill and Lee are starting to make motions of hunting around for an inhabitable planet—any inhabitable planet. Number Three has indicated that she’s going to stay behind on radioactive Earth. But these moments are the exception. Mostly, it’s all the reaction, and what a reaction it is. Some of my favorite scenes were of Admiral Adama walking down the corridors of Galactica, with all structure and military discipline falling apart: People lounging around listlessly; a fistfight erupting right in front of the CO; that sort of thing.

It makes sense that the show would need to hammer us with what an awful time this has got to be for the fleet, with their hopes for Earth dashed and nothing else to pin their hopes on. But the hits just keep on coming for these guys and for us, and I don’t know how much more I can take without something to make these people keep going. Just watching Roslin burning her Pythian Prophecies was heart-rending, as was Adama drowning his sorroes in alcohol (you’re not alone there, Admiral! Hic!), not to mention Kara’s discovery of her own frakking dead body! And that’s a downer almost totally unrelated to the big downer of Earth. Just the cherry on top.

But I don’t know that any more awful moment exists, in Galactica’s history than Dualla’s suicide. It was brutal, absolutely brutal. I actually managed to get my hopes up about one thing in this episode (yes, I am an idiot, despite what I said at the top), because it looked like she and Apollo might have a future together, and I was one of about half a dozen people for whom that was a hopeful prospect. So the show dangled that in front of my face before Dee pulled out her sidearm and blew her brains out. Seriously, I don’t think there’s been a more painful moment in the show’s history, and how bad does something have to be for me to say that? It was so bad, that when Apollo told Starbuck that Dee shot herself, I got teary just hearing him say what I already knew. But then again, I wasn’t 100% sober by that point.

Then there’s the big reveal at the end, which came... awful suddenly, like most everything else this episode. We move very quickly from Adama’s decision to move the Fleet on to Number Three’s decision to remain on Earth and... die of radiation poisoning or starvation or something, to the news that Ellen Tigh is in fact, the Final Cylon.

Actually, other than the odd pacing, which is an issue I’m getting to, I don’t really have a problem with us learning who the last Cylon is. At the top of every episode of season 4.0, there was the script which would remind us that “ONE WILL BE REVEALED.” And to be perfectly honest, I didn’t really much care by the end. Was I interested in the identity of the last Cylon? Sure, but not as much as what’s going on with Virtual Six, and with Baltar’s new religion, and Anders and the Chief, Hera, Boomer, any of a number of other characters and mysteries. So I’m relieved that we’re not going to spend the next nine episodes wondering about who last is. Let it be Ellen. There are a number of questions raised by it, and there’s some potential there. Of course I still think Billy would have been a great choice because it would’ve given him another chance with... oh wait.

Right, so how about the “review” part of this review? I think I’ve indicated my feeling that there ought to have been a slightly less... devastating tone, but I also think that the show had something a bit off about its pacing, particularly in the first half of the episode. The whole episode had a note of “wham, bam, thank you ma’am” to it, where the show and the audience weren’t really given the time to witness and appreciate the reactions as they came. Instead, we were busy leaping to the next: To Kara’s sojourn with Leoben, then to the Final Four’s memories, then to... whomever. This pacing issue also led to some rather confusing timeline issues. How long, exactly, was Chief Tyrol sitting by that half-wall, anyway? If what happened in the meantime is any indication, I think at least a day.

Mind you, there’s a lot to like about this episode. Dualla’s death was extremely effective, obviously. I’m very interested in the revelations about Ellen and about Starbuck, and am intrigued about Earth being a Cylon-populated planet. Overall, I could appreciate this episode, while simultaneously being worried by it. If Ron Moore’s vision for the last half-season is as unremittingly dark as this, I think that my memory of the show will suffer for it. We, or at least I, need those moments of triumph which Galactica has fed us all along, at various intervals. But there’s nothing to say that this isn’t exactly what we’re going to get in these last ten eps. And if that’s the case, then I’ll remember “Sometimes a Great Notion” as an episode which was a bit depressing for my taste, and a bit scattered in its execution but which does a passable job at setting the stage for the show’s exit.



Lorraine & Andy said...

What better way to give you a big happy ending than to give you bleakness and despair for the 9 weeks leading up to it?

Andrew G. Biggs said...

One thing that struck me about the evolution of the show, and your reference to the first episode "33" reminded me, is the shift from a gritty 9/11 in space theme to something more truly sci-fi, beginning with prophecies, then mystery cylons, then Starbuck coming back from the dead, etc. It's been gradual and the show has remained quite good, but I'm not sure it has the same impact. Just go back and re-watch "33" to see how hard those initial episodes hit. Revealing the final cylon isn't that important, in that it's never been very clear why the final cylons particularly matter.

Gooby Rastor said...

I have been re-watching the series recently, and that's a good observation. I think that this show never has gone all the way over to full sci-fi mode; not as much as what else is and has been out there, at any rate, but with the third season's introduction of the concept of the "Final Five" things did take a turn; one which was rounded further with the return of Starbuck.

Of course, there's been a real sci-fi/religion thread running through the show from the get-go, particularly regarding the identity/motives of Head-Six; and the destiny and significance of the Cybrid Hera. So I think that there are a couple of routes which I expect the last few episodes to take, in resolving these mysteries, which will take it into some science-fiction territory while remaining tied into the show's overall theme.