"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?