Jammer's Review

Battlestar Galactica

"Final Cut"

**1/2

Air date: 9/9/2005
Written by Mark Verheiden
Directed by Robert Young

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

There's something about the documentary-within-the-narrative structure of a show like "Final Cut" that is somehow both gimmicky and self-defeating. Putting cameras in front of the cameras adds an extra layer of artifice to something that is already artificial (although ostensibly real). Watching the episode through an extra level of video cameras is innately distracting. Plus, "Final Cut" has a twist ending that is unnecessary and frustrating.

Despite its flaws, "Final Cut" nearly transcends its structure. It has admirable qualities, like its focus on supporting characters and its obvious allegorical intentions. The premise brings a TV news reporter (if they call it TV) named D'Anna Biers (Lucy Lawless) to the Galactica, where Adama grants her unlimited access to do a story on the ship and crew. He does this because the distrusted military needs a PR outlet to put a human face on those who protect the fleet, particularly in the aftermath of the "Gideon massacre," where four people were shot and killed when Tigh sent marines to retrieve supplies from the civilian ship Gideon (see "Resistance"). Biers says that what she reports will not be a propaganda piece. Adama is fine with that, but he warns her: "If you start shooting anything that compromises the safety of this ship, it'll be cut."

This is an allegory for the role of the press in our current times, with our embedded wartime journalists, PR damage control teams, and endless political spin. By nature, I suspect, many people will automatically side with Adama and against Biers, for the simple fact that we are in sympathy with Adama while reporters like Biers are perceived as an annoying, interfering, hostile presence. There may be some truth to that characterization, but the press serves a legitimate purpose in real life because it ensures that someone will be held accountable for their actions (or inaction).

Coming less than two weeks after the Hurricane Katrina disaster, "Final Cut" has a certain magnified timeliness. On Sept. 2, President Bush famously (and idiotically) said, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job," to FEMA Director Michael Brown, in the midst of a desperate situation in New Orleans where thousands of people were still stranded without food or water. A day earlier, on Sept. 1, Brown had gone on Nightline and actually admitted that he didn't know until that day that there were thousands stranded at the New Orleans Convention Center, something that had been reported on TV. It could be argued that FEMA was not doing a heck of a job. Brown resigned on Monday, in large part because the media — right or wrong — tore him to pieces and dug into his qualifications, until ultimately he became the sacrificial lamb. Politically, someone had to pay. (No, he wasn't fired, but he might as well have been.)

Now, I'll be the first to say that we should work the problem now and play politics later. But there was a certain arrogance in Bush commending Brown on a response effort that was barely under way and obviously inadequate. And the reason the slow response was obvious was because day after day we saw these images on TV being reported by journalists on the scene. There was a wide disparity between the initial attempted spin (or ignorance) and the facts on the ground.

Anyway, that's what I'm sure D'Anna Biers thinks she's about — someone to dig beyond the sound bites and show what's actually happening. As such, she has one particularly good exchange when Adama confiscates a tape-of-happenstance showing a pregnant Cylon named Sharon in sickbay whom the civilian fleet doesn't know is in custody. He asks her if the repercussions of reporting the facts matter to her less than the fact that she can report it. Her response will be familiar in our post-war-on-terror, partisan world: "I'm sick to death of people like you questioning my patriotism. We all want this fleet to survive." It's a good point.

The question is, does D'Anna Biers serve the same purpose in the post-Colonial downfall as the press in current-day America? I'm not so sure. With only 47,853 survivors, and most of them having no chance to survive without the Galactica, mistakes along the lines of a slow hurricane response aren't likely to upend anybody or anything. Colonel Tigh is not going to be replaced a la Michael Brown of FEMA for making a bad call or looking bad in the press. Simply put, there's no one to replace Tigh unless it were to become absolutely necessary — and by absolutely necessary, I mean gross incompetence or death.

Apart from comparisons to current headlines, I'd better cover the plot. There isn't much plot, really, as this episode is pitched as a "day in the life" episode. Fine and good; less plot often means more character, and in the case of this episode, we get some nice moments that get into the heads of minor supporting characters, like Kat and Racetrack, and more prominent supporting characters like Dualla and Gaeta. We also learn all of their names, first and last. Kat in particular gets her own little storyline, documenting her gradual decline of mental health as she takes drugs to stay awake on duty. Her confession at the end about being ashamed is a poignant moment. The interview footage of these characters works well.

What works less well is all the on-scene switching back and forth between the episode's cameras and the pixilated, scan-lined video cameras within the story. It gets distracting and somehow has a way of betraying performances as performances rather than reality of the moment.

If there's a "plot" here, it's about Tigh's death threats resulting from the Gideon tragedy, although how this plays out is just a little too banal. Lt. Palladino (Jeremy Guilbaut), who led the Gideon mission, turns out to be the culprit, although I have my doubts that if he's seeking "justice" that he'd first go to the trouble of making poetic threats on mirrors. I also doubt he would potentially put other people's lives in jeopardy by sabotaging a ship he knows Tigh will be aboard.

Strangely, the interviews with the main characters are less insightful than the supporting characters. While Lee has a good speech about how his officers deserve respect, Kara has an overly cliched Starbuck Scene where she's attacking a punching bag and remarking on how a good flight candidate is "one crazy enough to follow me into combat." Yawn. Then there's Baltar, whose antics here seem like needless filler. He's desperate to be interviewed, egomaniac that he is, and yet has the gall to force Biers to schedule an appointment so he can clear his already-empty calendar. What a toolbox. I suppose this is consistent with his character, but it's not the least bit interesting. And Six seems especially superfluous here; I'm eagerly awaiting the return of ponytailed Six.

One thing that seems like a missed opportunity is that there's no interview footage addressing the fractured and subsequently repaired relationship between Adama and Roslin. The episode doesn't go there. Maybe it doesn't need to, but it might've been an intriguing choice.

Lucy Lawless proves to be a good choice for Biers; personable but with an edge, with the capacity of being self-serving but not necessarily doing so. Not to mention tall and formidable. She's fair, but doesn't shy away from tough questions. Watch her interview with Tigh, where the first thing she does is pour them both drinks. There's also a subtle moment that demonstrates the relationship between the reporter and camera operator; Biers asks her cameraman to get a close-up of some mundane piece of equipment; he says, "Yeah, sure," then rolls his eyes and doesn't bother. He, like her, spends a lot of time in the editing room.

The story they end up with is not a propaganda piece, but certainly sees the military favorably overall. One wonders if the real-world press would come away with that story or if they would come away with a story about a Cylon prisoner being hidden from the public. I guess it comes down to your level of cynicism and how bad things in the world really are. Our present press would probably report on the Cylon, but then we haven't been virtually wiped out by them, either.

I didn't care for the ending, in which we see the Cylons watching the news story on Caprica. It wasn't that part that bothered me; indeed, there are some relevant story points, where the Cylons are delighted to see that in the cut footage Sharon is still alive and carrying the hybrid child, and the implications that "the baby must be protected at all costs." No, what I really could've done without was the needless "shocker" that Biers is actually a Cylon who helped get this footage to the Cylons. It muddies the whole meaning of the story.

Before the twist, the story is about how a reporter holds back major information on a story because she believes it's in the better interests of society to do so. But by making Biers a Cylon, that entire point is thrown out the window, because now it's about her Sinister Cylon Agenda. Or maybe here's the point: that no real reporter would actually hold back on that story, and her being a Cylon is the justification for it. I don't know. What I do know is that it feels like a needless cheat that turns the character into a device.

All that said, "Final Cut" is consistently watchable and sometimes compelling. But it's not on the level of what we've had so far this season.

Previous episode: Home, Part 2
Next episode: Flight of the Phoenix

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16 comments on this review

David - Wed, Jul 16, 2008 - 11:52am (USA Central)
Rewatching the past episodes during the break, and just rewatched this one. With the D'Anna reveal as a Cylon, is it possible the point is that the D'Anna who functions as a reporter in the fleet is a D'Anna "sleeper" model who really is sincere in the reporter role throughout? I don't think the one shown with the other Cylons at the end is supposed to be the same unit, of course and I don't think anyone would think that. So perhaps the D'Anna Cylon-reporter transmitted the "deleted footage" to the Cylons in some way she wasn't consciously aware of? That's how I personally make sense of the story, but perhaps there's something in the episode or perhaps later I hadn't considered which would discount this theory?
Triskelion - Sun, Jul 20, 2008 - 10:22am (USA Central)

A year and a half before this episode aired, Stargate SG-1 did a very similar premise with it's season 6 Heroes, pt 1 & 2. There were many similarities: the hard-nosed journalist asking all the wrong questions, citing ideals of freedom of press and people's right to know, while, just like real-world journalists, glossing over the personal gains to be had by exposing imperfections in a military organization. In both series, the journalists come away with a gritty view that, as Adama wanted, put a human face on the military. Both pieces came off with a positive net result, and not without some idealistic hubris. In this way, they did indeed come away with a propaganda piece in exchange for unlimited access.

(Personally I think it would be a good idea to follow journalists around in the same manner, catching them warts and all).

One problem I had with this episode was the threat that Biers posed with the footage of the Cylon Sharon. She intimated that public knowledge that the Galactica was "harboring a Cylon" could plunge the fleet into chaos. While obviously a secret of military importance, I fail to see it launching a significant public protest to any degree that it might endanger the fleet - except perhaps by alarmist journalists wallowing in their own brand of power - the power to shape thought, as easily as the institutions they so readily accuse.
Triskelion - Sun, Jul 20, 2008 - 10:24am (USA Central)
Correction: Heroes was SG1 Season 7.
lvsxy808 - Tue, Oct 21, 2008 - 3:53pm (USA Central)
As to the moment when D'Anna asks her cameraman to get a close-up of the air recycling system and he doesn't, it seemed clear to me that the two of them were working together in that moment, not against each other. Dualla was giving them a tour and showing them boring, irrelevant stuff, pointing out the recyclers as if they were exciting. D'Anna was going along with her with her command to her cameraman, not serious about it. It was just for Dualla's sake. The cameraman knew that, and so as soon as Dualla was out of range, he laughed it off.
k - Sat, Nov 29, 2008 - 8:31pm (USA Central)
This version of "reality" TV was done on Babylon 5 well before Stargate, though that episode was far too genteel compared to BattleStar. Have to agree with Jammer on how the TV video added another level between the action and the viewer that was at times confusing and self-defeating, but perhaps it was meant to do that to underscore how we perceive things and how we perceive things through various media, as opposed to seeing something "live" in real time. The interviews were the most telling, and Gaeta certainly seemed to be flagging something. What? And I liked the ending. Again, it ratcheted things up a notch by revealing another Cylon in the midst, and one with considerable clout who can experiment at will with the human psyche through her news reports. But that said, if the premise was merely to support the shock ending, I think it wasn't worth the trouble and playing the episode straight (and either improving or ditching the Tigh death threat sequences) would have made for a better episode.
Alexey Bogatiryov - Wed, Mar 18, 2009 - 6:12pm (USA Central)
Yes, the Cylon revelation could have been built up over several episodes. I figure that they could not have afforded to put Lucy Lawless int a supporting non-recurring role. The revelation was a downer - it was at this point that the show kind of became a "Who is the next Cylon?" focused mystery with decisions being completely arbitrary in my view. 2 stars.
Mark Y - Tue, Mar 31, 2009 - 1:49am (USA Central)
I almost want to say that this was an awful episode, but the interviews with Kat, Gaeta, and Dualla were definitely interesting enough to bestow some redemption. The worst offender is this episode is the ending which makes an already shallow character evaporate, followed by Tigh's forgettable subplot and the main characters' arrogance.

The episode plays like an after school special, where the "GOTCHA!" media reporter cliché learns a valuable lesson about why militarism is good, only then to reveal herself as an enemy agent. (which makes me wonder if the next Cylon will be a lawyer or banker or some other reviled class..)
Then there is Tigh's subplot, seemingly only thrown in for mandatory action, where the unlikable reporter discovers an officer reading a book which I can only guess has the reputation of The Catcher in the Rye, concluding that he's the would-be murderer, only to arrive with backup too late, as Tigh has already difused the situation. I'm left asking... Why? Especially if she was s Cylon.
Finally, there's the pretty black and white portrayal of both the media and most of the military. The military are the grand protectors and the media are there to defame; however, unlike other episodes of the series, it doesn't really reach any mature or nuanced reconciliation.

Trashing aside, I am genuinely surprised by this point that I enjoy Sharon 2's and Helo's subplot. What started as a seemingly episode lengthening arc has definitely outclassed this episode by means of creating a compelling story. I'm interested in seeing where the writers took this.

And one last thing: if you have enough ambrosia, they don't really hurt that much.
Nic - Sun, Apr 3, 2011 - 9:51pm (USA Central)
I don't buy Kat's stim addition at all. It just came out of nowhere. I understand that stuff happens off-camera, but the fact that we haven't seen any clues to her addiction before makes it hard to care, and I'm convinced it will be forgotten next week.

So, two of the (presumably six) female Cylon models are blondes. Seems pretty... convenient.
Sanagi - Wed, Apr 6, 2011 - 2:12pm (USA Central)
Galactica is already filmed in a way that makes you conscious of the camera, so adding a 'real' camera POV is problematic. It feels redundant and therefore uninteresting, but it also draws too much attention to the way the show is made.
Nick Poliskey - Tue, May 3, 2011 - 10:40am (USA Central)
Terrible.

The only moment worth watching was the sharon baby-problem subplot.

This episode had 2 things that began annoying, and are getting worse.

1. Tigh. He is presented in every episode as if every decision he makes is wrong. this is getting redundant, in real life, he would be out. He is becoming nothing more than Adamas counterpoint. The only reason he was in the editing room with Adama at the end of the episode was to say it was a negative portrayal of the military. And of course, the thoughtrul Adama thought it was "perfect". Tigh is becoming the counselar troi of this show, this needs to reverse, and FAST.

I thought this was easily the worst acted of any episode yet on this series. Watching a bad supporting actor have a drug overdose on screen is bad enough, but that scene where Starbuck gets in to to it with Lee in the hanger, and the reporter girl puts the camera in their face and they keep going, was frankly cringe-inducing bad.
Michael - Tue, Nov 15, 2011 - 5:33pm (USA Central)
I know this is the 21st century where it's all about fuzzy feelings, hugging trees, bunnies and rainbows; you can no longer conduct a war because the minute a stray bullet hits someone it's not supposed to, the media are all over you accusing you of "massacre." Well, I happen to think that in war--particularly an existential war, which B.S.G. is all about--the media should either behave responsibly or be shut down. By behave responsibly I mean blow the lid on corruption and war crimes, but not be allowed to chase after stories and sabotage the war effort through negative reporting.

I would have thrown D'Anna's butt in prison, not opened up my military infrastructure to her and her cameras' full view. Adama is becoming really annoying as this teddy-bear he's been molded into as of late. He's lost his edge... :( I really liked his character and fervently hope he gets back to normal by and by.
chris - Mon, Oct 15, 2012 - 12:34pm (USA Central)
I think that was the weakest and most boring BSG episode so far. On the other hand, Lucy Lawless is a nice addition to the series.
Togah - Tue, Oct 30, 2012 - 2:51pm (USA Central)
It was a bad idea renting the miniseries during exam period. And now I'm practically in the middle of season 2. Oh boy.

Really didn't care at all for the Tigh-death-threat sub-plot. Seemed like a lot of filler to me. Otherwise, I really enjoyed getting to know the crew. It was great getting to see different sides to them. Gaeta really surprised me. :D
Rosario - Fri, Dec 21, 2012 - 1:11pm (USA Central)
I must have missed her name in the credits because the whole episode I was thinking, "this lady is familiar." Didn't see her name until the review and then, "Xena!?" haha

BSG is actually starting to slide downhill for me - the drama is so forced, the music so contrived, the dialogue so fake, the acting so over the top... people aren't like this. Anyone who is, is a deeply disturbed person. It's like the writers took the worst character traits of about 100 different people and 10 good character traits from 10 different people. Then the writers molded 10 main characters out of that clay, each made up of 10 horrible traits and 1 good one. Blech.

I had such grand hopes for Tigh but he has become increasingly one-dimensional, his wife is a name I have begun to despise when I see her guest starring and he just won't man up and put that bottle down. Rooting for him so hard to throw that bottle away and he just WON'T! argh!

And I gotta say, the whole interview thing was almost totally worthless. Who the heck actually remembered Kat? At least "Hot Dog" gets name-dropped, this lady is just a face in the crowd. Someone mentioned that they never mentioned her acting strange so pill-popping seems kind of outta left field. Well anything they do with her will be out of left field because they haven't mentioned her since she was recruited! And Dualla on camera... haha They sure are pretty eyes but man do they just stare emptily into nothingness - and don't tell me she was being faraway because she was discussing hard things! Her eyes are always vacant and huge like a deer in headlights.
Nebula Nox - Fri, Jan 11, 2013 - 10:48am (USA Central)
Gosh, the Cylon designers sure liked tall leggy blondes...
Tloser - Thu, Aug 29, 2013 - 9:27pm (USA Central)
I have to agree with other folks who said this episode was weak. This episode almost made me give up BSG, but thankfully I returned. After seeing so many other shows do the obligatory "documentary episode", I just didn't want my beloved BSG to keep up with the Joneses. Maybe my expectations of BSG innovation is too high.

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