Jammer's Review

Battlestar Galactica

"Valley of Darkness"

***

Air date: 7/22/2005
Written by Bradley Thompson & David Weddle
Directed by Michael Rymer

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Cylon Centurions don't seem like the brightest model of Cylon, which is why, I suppose, they are reserved for the type of mission that is about 90 percent brute force and 10 percent effective strategy. In "Valley of Darkness," a ship of Centurions — which had crashed and gotten aboard the Galactica during the chaos at the end of "Scattered" — engage in a battle plan that seems pointless if you stop and consider they could've just nuked the battlestar, leaving the fleet defenseless. Why go to the trouble of trying to take over the battlestar? The answer is simple: because it's much more interesting to have Cylons on the ship as opposed to a bomb. Bombs don't have any personality.

Cylon Centurions, on the other hand, have a little bit of personality. At the very least, they have metallic claws that can fold back and become machine guns, a red light for an eye that sweeps back and forth, and that vawum-vawum sound. Basically, they're like sleeker versions of ED-209. And they're on board the Galactica.

As an episode of BSG, I'm guessing this is about as much hard-core sci-fi action as you're likely to see. Granted, little of this is new. To be cheeky: All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again. We've seen shootouts in darkened corridors in sci-fi movies ranging from Aliens to Star Trek: First Contact. What's notable about "Valley of Darkness" is the high level of technical skill the creators bring to a familiar concept. Particularly in the lighting and cinematography departments, this episode looks great. It combines murk, gloss, grit, and high-tech. (The darkness is justified by a plot device: Power systems are being affected by a Cylon computer virus that got through Gaeta's firewalls.) Director Michael Rymer has shot and assembled some handsome action footage on a finite television budget.

It also helps that the actors believe the danger their characters are in. There's bravery and heroism in the action, yes, but also plenty of frayed nerves, running from danger, desperation, and yelling. In one scene, Apollo chants: "Headshot. Reload. Headshot. Reload." It's a moment of believable nerves. Along the way, Apollo's team picks up an isolated crewman named Jammer, who is amped up in a frightened frenzy; he's the polar opposite of the crewman of the same name from The Abyss, who typically was dialed down almost to sleepiness. Still, for all the conviction the actors convey, I can't say that this plot had me all that viscerally involved. Simply put, I didn't believe for a minute that the Cylon boarding party could succeed. Of course it must fail. I admired the storyline more for the skill of its craftsmanship than for its suspense level.

On a character level, this crisis demonstrates how Tigh's long military experience is a crucial asset. When the Cylons break into two parties — one heading forward and one heading aft — Tigh knows what's happening ("I've seen this before") and knows what to do. Although, I was a little hazy on the plot point of how the Cylons were planning to decompress the ship and vent everyone into space; are there people-sized vents everywhere, even in the CIC or the center of the ship? (A simpler explanation might've said that the Cylons would vent all of the ship's oxygen.)

So Apollo and his assault team must intercept the Cylons before they gain control of the two stations that will allow them to vent the crew into space. Meanwhile, Roslin is unlocked so as to not be shot "like a rat in a cage," and she along with Billy, Dee, and Cpl. Venner, try to avoid being shot by the Cylons. The hunting and running through the corridors is an entertaining exercise in style, featuring a lot of visible flashlight beams cutting through the darkness, a percussive score by Bear McCreary, and the tiring overuse of the word "frak." The episode even goes so far as to make official the term "motherfrakker," which I admit I laughed at, because the notion strikes me as a weird tug-of-war between vulgar and nerdy.

The one who utters "motherfrakker" is Cally, in the subplot on Kobol. The word snaps a distraught Tyrol back into reality, and the two make their way back to the unit with the medkit. Adding insult to injury, they find that they're too late and that their wounded man is going to die. This only drives home the point of how war can make a mockery of soldiers' hopes and efforts. A healthy man was killed on what now turns out to be a completely meaningless mission, because the wounded man is beyond saving anyway. This leads to the show's most poignant scene, in which Tyrol injects his wounded man with an overdose of morphine (or "morpha," as the episode calls it) to ease his suffering into death. This is not an original idea (I think Saving Private Ryan was the last time I saw it), but the story is sincere and earnest about it, and it works well as a somber demonstration of infantry camaraderie.

The second most poignant scene is where Starbuck and Helo end up at Starbuck's old apartment on Caprica (small world, that), which once was her father's. It's a scene that manages characterization without insisting upon it (her apartment is filled with paintings she made; she finds a box of cigars), and conveys the loss of society without making it the focus of the scene. Kara notes that she fights not to get back what was lost in the Cylon attack, but because she wouldn't know what else to do regardless. The setting evokes loss simply because of the absence of all other people from this shattered city. All of society seems to be a ghost town, with Kara and Karl wandering helplessly through it. Kara turns on a battery-operated music device and the two just sit for a moment and listen. I must say, I really like the musical sensibilities of this series, which finds the right emotional notes but uses pieces that are dialed down into something evocative rather than overt.

Intriguing music can also be found in Baltar's dream sequence on Kobol, where he dreams that Adama drowns his baby. The sequence is foreboding, although it remains to be seen exactly what it means, since we still don't know where this baby will come from, or if it's actually a symbol for Sharon's baby (who, by the way, is nowhere to be seen in the episode). In terms of baby-killing, I guess payback's a bitch: Six killed a baby in the miniseries, and now Adama kills her baby in Baltar's nightmare. It seems the writers on this series have no qualms tackling infanticide. Hopefully by midseason they will hold a gun to a puppy's head and follow through on it. (Joking.)

Naturally, by the end of "Valley of Darkness," the Cylon invasion threat is quashed and the crisis is over. But solving one problem only reveals the many problems still lying beneath: Adama's life still hangs in the balance. Roslin is still in jail. There is no working government. The characters on Kobol and Caprica are still stranded. Lee is still at bitter odds with Tigh, and reminds Tigh that the ship belongs to his father.

It is indeed Adama's ship. Tigh doesn't dispute that for a moment. When Adama wakes up, what will happen then?

Previous episode: Scattered
Next episode: Fragged

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17 comments on this review

Brendan - Wed, Feb 20, 2008 - 11:30pm (USA Central)
The last scene of dialog between Lee and Tigh is one of the best of the entire series, IMO.

Tigh: As far as I'm concerned you're not fit to wear the uniform.
Lee: Hm. You're right about that part, I am not fit to wear the uniform. And maybe I never was. But then again neither are you.

And Tigh nods ever so slightly.

Brilliant!
Rob - Sun, Mar 23, 2008 - 10:47pm (USA Central)
If the Cylons had a nuke aboard the ship I assume the Galactica's radiological alarms would have gone off and they would have given it a lot more attention than they did. [/nerdnitpick]
Graham - Wed, Mar 26, 2008 - 10:45pm (USA Central)
The title here has a lot of nice economy... a lot of power in a simple phrase. It's an allusion to Psalm 23, a prayer on the edge of death. It's the visual imagery of Galactica at its most desperate when the power's out and the centurions are heading toward a big self-destruct contrivance. It's a valley of darkness between the relative security and order of the days before the Kobol arc and afterwards. It's the second season, as the peace and security and order of the fleet's waning stamina fades in this valley between the peaks of the status quo in "Colonial Day" and the status quo on New Caprica. If I were to pick an episode title from the second season and fly it on the flagpole of the whole year, it'd be this one.

Now, I fear that's a little game of mine that I can't seem to stop myself from playing when the opportunity arises. I love titles... they are often a very nice addition to any work of art or literature, as they define a thing from the top down or from the bottom up or from a sideways glance. They stand outside a thing and are affected by it as they affect it. And I think, ever since Babylon 5 brought this episode title as season title thing to sci-fi epics, I've started playing this game. Of course, you need a series with big themes and effective titles to feel the least bit like a title may be a little authoritative, but I think it's a silly pasttime works nicely for BSG. "You Can't Go Home Again" would be the titular episode of season one for instance, I'd say. And I suppose bringing any of this up here and now might seem a little obsessive and ridiculous, but I thought I'd just try and make the point that, having just rewatched this episode today, mostly out of wanting to see Starbuck's apartment again, I think I'm very impressed... and very much inspired to consider the depths of relelvant, cool, prescient stuff here.

It's all about aching for the new season... Please forgive the fannish moments of venting here. (Great episode, this. Starbuck's apartment scene is one of the series all-time best.)
Occuprice - Tue, Jul 22, 2008 - 5:27am (USA Central)
I love the music in this episode- the piece introduced as something by Starbuck's father and used throughout the episode. Such a great piece and it really augments the episode. BSG has a number of episodes like that (but I'd argue that this is the best use of music), and yet I can't think of more than one or two episodes from a television show with such impactful or poignant scores (The Best of Both Worlds comes to mind, but that's about it. And it's impactful in a very different way)
stallion - Thu, Apr 9, 2009 - 3:44pm (USA Central)
The beginning few episodes of this season made me start liking Tigh. I'm assuming the last four episode all take place in the same day and boy did they really throw a lot at him.

1. A Raptor team is stranded on a planet.

2. After destroying one baseship another one just appears out of no where forcing the fleet to make an emergency jump.

3. Adama is shot two times in the chest by a sleeper agent who was a member of the crew.

4. Cylon Centurions are on the ship trying to vent everyone in to space.

5. Galatica is/was separated from the fleet.

6. Apollo point a gun at Tigh head.

7. The President has been remove from her position.

After a day like that anyone could use a deal.
Nolan - Sun, May 31, 2009 - 7:43pm (USA Central)
Did anyone else catch Sgt. Hadrian from Season one's Litmus name get dropped?
Nick - Wed, Nov 4, 2009 - 8:41am (USA Central)
One thing I am surprised that Jammer didn't comment on, or anyone else, was the really great use of sound in this episode. Simple as it may be, solund can make or break a show or film for me, and the constant screams/gunfire in the background (not loud, but there), the scraping and screeching, all VERY effective in this episode to create the athmosphere. Something as simple as birds chirping can add layers to a show, and BSG was amazing in sound editing.

Just a thought.
enniofan - Wed, Feb 10, 2010 - 1:02am (USA Central)
I clicked on this review and "Scattered" looking for some info to help someone on another website, about when they started the survivor count in the main title sequence.


anyway, as I recall this is a fantastic episode...the piano piece Starbuck plays in her apartment is called "Metamorphosis" by Philip Glass. While that is not original the dream sequence music by Bear McCreary certainly is, and is just awesome....
antred - Mon, Jun 7, 2010 - 3:47pm (USA Central)
To me this was one of the best episodes not just of season 2 but of the entire show. Such a busy episode ... so much action - on Galactica, on Kobol, AND on Caprica - such great music ... I was just totally blown away by this one. One of my favorite episodes for sure. Then again I seem to have way too many "favorite" BSG episodes. :-)
Nic - Tue, Mar 1, 2011 - 9:41am (USA Central)
My favorite scenes are still the ones on Caprica. The ones on Galactica were routine, the ones on Kobol were good. But seeing Kara's paintings and music is a highlight. A quiet moment in a series that could use more quiet moments.
AeC - Wed, Apr 20, 2011 - 9:33pm (USA Central)
@enniofan: Thank you! As soon as I heard that piece I thought it was something by Glass, and was wondering through the rest of the episode whether it had been licensed or if Bear McCreary just managed to channel the old Minimalist perfectly. I came to this page specifically to see if there was any info on its origins. Thank you for letting me avoid much Googling.
Michael - Sun, Nov 13, 2011 - 9:17am (USA Central)
Wondering about Starbuck and Helo: Is taking a Humvee out for a joyride the smartest thing to do? Isn't it too conspicuous in a place crawling with cylons?

The final shot of Apollo kissing his father on the forehead was incredibly touching...
Elliott - Mon, Jan 2, 2012 - 10:08pm (USA Central)
So apparently, Starbuck's father was Phillip Glass.
Ryan - Sun, Feb 12, 2012 - 9:37pm (USA Central)
>Is taking a Humvee out for a joyride the smartest thing to do? Isn't it too conspicuous in a place crawling with cylons?


I wondered this, too. I cringed when she turned on the music player, and again when they apparently decided it was a good idea to go 4-wheelin' through the streets.

For supposedly being "Cylon-occupied," Caprica sure seems pretty devoid of any sort of cylon presence.
Keiren - Wed, Apr 4, 2012 - 9:40am (USA Central)
Am i the only one that heres the line of dialogue saying that the cyclons want to get to the aft section to vent the oxygen, not the crew members, this occurs between Tigh and Gaeta in CIC...?
Justin - Sat, Jun 30, 2012 - 12:41am (USA Central)
Ya, Thrace should have made her callsign "Minimalist" instead of "Starbuck."
chris - Sun, Oct 14, 2012 - 10:18am (USA Central)
"Cylon Centurions... they have... a red light for an eye that sweeps back and forth, and that vawum-vawum sound."

Yeah, reminds me of KITT (is its producer named Glen Larson the same person who did Battlestar?)

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