Battlestar Galactica Round Table: “Sometimes a Great Notion”

In case you were living under a rock, last night was the season 4.5 premiere of Battlestar Galactica, chock-full of reveals, revelations, surprises, and deaths! In lieu of a traditional review, we’ve decided to hold a small round-table style discussion about the episode, and then open it up to the rest of the Tor.com community for a big ol’ discussion. The participants, Torie Atkinson, Threresa Delucci, Rajan Khanna, John Joseph Adams, and Pablo Defendini, were chosen by a purely arbitrary process, based solely on their fanishness. The conversation starts after the cut, and there are so many spoilers it’s not even funny. So if you haven’t seen the episode, please stay away from this post!

Pablo Defendini:

Let me get things started with a FRAK! DUALLA! NOOOOOOOO! I know some people didn’t like her, but I really did. That was very very sad, and broke my frakkin’ heart. When the show first started, and Dualla was buggin’ out with the jacks and during the Raptor ride back to Galactica, and even after she shot herself, I thought that she was going to be the final Cylon, and that there would be a resurrection hub somewhere on Earth.

Ok, moving on: Ellen Tigh is the Final Fifth! Wow, talk about going with the so-obvious-they-would-never-go-there choice. That explains why RDM said that some would find it lame, and some certainly will. I don’t quite know what to make out of this just yet, except to wonder how she’ll come back; I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a resurrection hub somewhere on Earth (or maybe on Luna, to keep it safe from the nukes?).

So, that fire that Starbuck started, was it a funeral pyre for her doppelganger, or was it also her getting rid of the evidence? Now that she didn’t get a chance to tell Lee, will she keep it to herself, and if so, will Leoben play along? Someone needs to test that blood on those dog tags. It’s a nice flip to have Earth people all be Cylon. It’s a body blow to Roslin, which then sends Adama, her convert, into the disgustingly intense and wrenching spiral that he goes into. The Old Man’s lost it, as EJO has mentioned in interviews recently, and this train wreck of a man is gonna be painful to watch.

A few notes on craft and presentation: I didn’t think they could go starker with the cinematography, but damn! Some shots are practically duotone! Also, there were some deft and very beautiful edits, particularly the cut into Starbuck’s funeral pyre scene. And those two hallway scenes, when the Old Man is heading to Tigh’s quarters and just walks by that brawl, and then afterwards, when the camera pans by the “Frak Earth” graffitti—I think it’s goddamned clear that morale is not only in the shitter, but out in the sewers!

Rajan Khana:

Put me in the camp of people who, while not exactly upset, is a little underwhelmed at the Ellen Tigh reveal. I thought that was way too obvious and while I easily discounted out there choices like Zak [Adama, the Old Man’s long-dead son], I think I was hoping for more of a surprise. But I’ll see where they take it. I love Tigh, so seeing him have more to interact with is great.

On the other hand, this latest development undercuts the whole decision Tigh made to kill her. Obviously he didn’t know that she would come back, but in a way it undoes that change. Although I have to say that when I was thinking about it tonight, I felt bad for Ellen. Tigh killed her, his own wife, whom he loved, because she turned traitor. Yet how many traitors are there around now? How many people forgiven? How many enemies now allies? Hell, Tigh was even a Cylon. In a way, bringing Ellen in as the last balances that somewhat, but I thought Ellen’s death was one of the emotional climaxes of the overall story.

I’m mostly wondering what the frak is going on with the other four of the five. So they lived on Earth? Two thousand years ago? Baltar said that the skeletons were Cylons. Presumably normal skin jobs as the Final Five seem to show up as normal humans. So somehow Tyrol and the others were normal skinjobs and now are something else?

Then there’s Starbuck. Yeah, what is she? One possibility is that there’s something on the planet or connected to what’s going on there that allows people to be duplicated. Something that allows dead people to manifest as regular people. I don’t know – it sounds ridiculous. And that still doesn’t explain her ship.

The chaos of the fleet is very disturbing. It seemed all about the loss of hope. Even the webisodes had that big speech by Sharon about hope being just another way to lie to yourself, and in a way that’s what they were doing with the search for Earth. Or at least from a certain perspective. And it looks like, from the next episode teaser, that there’s going to be more internal struggles. Plus there are still other Cylons out there.

As to Dee, yeah, that sucked. I think they were heavily hinting that she was the final Cylon. Even the promo before the show mentioned the final Cylon and zoomed straight in on Dee, as if they were hinting it was her. When she shot herself I was shocked. And horrified. And yet I love the show for doing things like that.

Adama seems to almost have taken over the Tigh role right now. But I wonder what will happen with Roslin. I assume she’ll have to break out of her funk at some point. What will make that happen?

Really, though, I still want to know what’s happening with the Cylons. How are they still around? And what’s the deal with Starbuck?

One last thing—I thought Leoben getting scared of her was awesome. Just a perfect little turnaround.

Oh, and more Baltar. He was barely in this.

PD:

There were a bunch of turnarounds in this ep: Roslin and Adama, Adama and Tigh, Starbuck and Leoben, Dualla (aw man…) and Lee, Torie and Anders! That moment, when Torie mentions that Anders sang “Watchtower” to all the final Cylons… what the hell was that? Does that mean that they were even back then a small, tight-knit group, or was Anders some sort of rock star? Was everyone on Earth like the Final Five?

Torie Atkinson:

I deny these rumors! I’m no cylon! I think you mean Tory. :)

PD:

We’re gonna have to find a nickname for Tory (the character), then. I will continue to make that mistake, probably.

Theresa DeLucci:

We could call her Cylon Bitch maybe? I’m still pissed about poor Cally! Tory’s gonna get hers before the end. She has to. That was too cold.

What is up with Anders playing Jimi Hendrix? And playing it for all of the other Cylons on Earth? Can you picture Sam as a rock star? He was a famous athlete on New Caprica, too. Is there like an archetype pattern there? Maybe not, but it’s so early in the season.

Ellen Tigh, huh? I always liked the drunken cougar routine. She was a little bit of Absolutely Fabulous on an otherwise very dark show. (Dee! Noooo!) And she was very clever. Will Tigh face repercussions from the other Cylons for killing one of their own? Will Ellen even return? I thought the other four Cylons could not resurrect. But I guess even they don’t know that. Can’t say I’m wowed by the final Cylon reveal, but it’s way too early to know what it means. Maybe it ultimately means very little – the real drama is what’s going on with the human fleet.

Human, or whatever the hell Starbuck is. Loved her interaction with Leoben and her scene at the funeral pyre.

Could you imagine season one Adama *ever* allowing his ship to deteriorate like that? Walking through the halls while his men fistfight, drink, strew trash around? God, the morale is going to be a huge problem. Dee’s just the first of many I bet. I kind of knew she’d lost her marbles on Earth. Her voiceover… if Lost and years of Whedon shows have taught me anything, I can usually see a character sacrifice coming. (I’d pegged Cally for a suicide, too, but the last-minute airlocking was a brilliant, unexpected twist.) But it was still chilling to see Dee all happy and then… Ugh.

Very little Roslin and even less Baltar in the opener. I wonder what they, two people more of faith than the other characters will do in the face of this huge letdown. Mary McDonnell is such a great actress.

PD:

Not to steal your thunder, Torie, but something that you mentioned to me last night over IM has stuck with me: about how the women on the show serve to facilitate the men’s emotional journeys, or some such. I went “Huh” and kinda put it aside, because one of the things that I’ve historically enjoyed about BSG has been the strong female characters. But looking back over the last season, and last night’s episode in particular, I have to say that I agree: women have been brought very low, and that’s a bit disappointing.

Dee offs herself. D’Anna decides to stay on Earth and basically die off. Roslin curls up in her bunk with her ganja-plant. Callie was gonna off herself as well, until Cylon Bitch kills her instead. Hell, even Cylon Bitch totally played the whole “groupie” card with Anders-as-Bob-Dylan last night!

As for archetypes, Theresa. Yeah, I do actually think that all the Cylons (both final and original flavor) conform to a certain archetype. I suppose it’s feasible that Anders embodies the “god among men, celebrated personality” archetype…

TA:

That’s been one of my big problems with the show since the beginning—the women seem to appear only if and when the men need some kind of emotional catalyst. Dualla’s death was an excuse to set off both Apollo and the (bizarre, in my book) scene between the old man and Tigh. Cally’s death was a great chance to send the Chief off the deep end. Six spent the first few seasons as fodder for Baltar doing stupid things in public, and then entirely disappeared from this episode except to appear with Tigh and remind us of their cylon baby.

I’ve got a few theories for how they’re going to explain away the final five, but none of them are satisfying. The writers sort of set a trap for themselves when they made pre-existing characters, complete with childhoods and histories, into secret cylons. Did anyone else notice that they only remember their past lives at exactly the same age as they are now? But how does that explain Tigh knowing Adama for thirty years, and aging? The five didn’t seem to tap into some kind of collective unconscious, the way that copies do—they were exactly the same, not built similarly. The best theory I can come up with is a pseudo-Buddhist reincarnation explanation—their souls come back again and again, together.

John Joseph Adams:

Man, I don’t know what the frak is going on.

I’ve sort of given up trying to actually make sense of everything that’s going on on the show and just wait and see what happens. See, here’s the thing. While they were looking for Earth, all along I was saying, the Colonies must be a lost colony—that is, humanity reached the stars, settled other worlds, then there was some cataclysm which resulted in loss of historical records and so much time has passed that they don’t even know where they came from, and Earth is only a legend. And based on what we see when they finally get to Earth, I thought I was proven right…until they reveal that there were cylons living there, and whatever the frak is going on with Starbuck, and whatever the frak is going on with the four fleet cylons (Tigh, etc.). Of course, the lost colony theory could still be correct if it turns out that these cylons who were living on Earth recolonized Earth years after whatever apocalypse happened there.

The reason I’m sticking with the theory, I suppose, is I can’t help but try to fit BSG into an actual possible future, rather than some alternate-timeline future, or some Star Wars-esque thing. Since the Colonies talk about Greek gods and use all these other real world cultural references, and they do acknowledge that such a place as Earth exists, I feel like it *must* be set in a real-world possible future—otherwise the creators have stacked the deck with wild cards and we don’t know what the rules of the game are. So because of this line of thinking, I’m having trouble trying to make sense of everything that’s going on. And also, because I’m a rationalist, and since BSG uses the furniture of science fiction, I’m assuming that they live in a rational universe, and so am assuming that there’s some prosaic explanation for all the seemingly paranormal activity that’s going on. But—it’s getting harder and harder to see how any prosaic explanation will make sense.

As to some specifics about the episode—the Ellen Tigh reveal was quite a shock to me, and I totally didn’t see that coming. I think it’s actually kind of a bold move to make the final cylon be someone who was killed off already. I don’t know what to make of it just yet, but I’m intrigued. As for the Earth and the seeming resurrection/reincarnation of those cylons, and whatever the frak is going on with Starbuck—I’m mixed on that because, like I said, I’m trying to fit it into my rational worldview, and I don’t see how it’s going to. But it *is* interesting, and I want to find out what’s going on, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt before I call it a mistake. It would have been interesting if Dualla had killed herself on the planet, to see what would have happened then, since the planet seems to have resurrected Starbuck and must have had something to do with those fleet cylons.

Like Torie, I also have trouble with the secret cylons with the complete childhoods etc. In the previous episode, when Tigh reveals he’s a cylon to Adama, and Adama questioned how that was possible given that he’s known Tigh for 30 years, I had hoped for some explanation about how that could be, but they kind of gloss over it and don’t really answer the question. Also, I find it really hard to believe that in a society sophisticated enough to create advanced artificial life that medical science would not be able to distinguish between cylon and human physiology *at all*. So, yeah—there are lots of questions to be answered about the final five, and I’m really skeptical that anything will possibly make sense.

PD:

John, I have the same issue with BSG regarding a rationalist approach—I have a hard time taking any religious or supernatural trappings seriously. But sometime around Season 2 I decided to just suck it up and suspend my disbelief.

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