Jammer's Review

Battlestar Galactica

"A Day in the Life"

**

Air date: 2/18/2007
Written by Mark Verheiden
Directed by Rod Hardy

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

I've found that even the weakest episodes of Battlestar still meet a basic level of competence that makes them watchable, and that they still contain moments that are valuable. "A Day in the Life" is one of the weakest episodes of BSG to date, and yet it still has solid performances and the story still contains wistful moments of humanity. I guess that's a credit to the cast and crew; they've made a pedestrian script into a watchable hour.

Not watchable enough, mind you. At this point, I think the question isn't whether the story is competently told; I think the question is whether the story is compelling or necessary. "A Day in the Life" is an episode of Battlestar that's utterly unnecessary to the tapestry of the series. It held my attention while it was on, but once it reached its destination my thought was, "What was the point of that?" It's an earnest but ineffective character study that ultimately comes across as disposable filler.

I'm not saying every episode has to feature big sweeping plot developments (particularly an episode with a title like "A Day in the Life," where we learn it's been 49 days since the last Cylon encounter), but there at least has to be a sense that something relevant is going on that informs story or character. (Last week's "Woman King" managed that, despite having little to do with the series' larger arc.) If you're going to do a "day in the life" episode, there should be more focus on more characters' lives. This episode suffers in part because so many characters are omitted from the proceedings.

The episode is primarily an Adama piece. Today is his wedding anniversary — a day when Adama observes a personal annual ritual of pulling a wedding photo from the corner of a drawer and reflecting upon his lost ex-wife, Carolanne (Lucinda Jenney). At the end of the day, he'll put the picture back in the drawer, not to be reflected upon until next year. Carolanne presumably died in the attack on the Colonies, and even before the attack she and Bill had long been divorced, but on this day, Adama remembers what they had and what he's lost.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to give the episode a more tangible, meaty "plot," Tyrol and Cally find themselves inadvertently locked in a damaged airlock where the atmosphere is slowly leaking into space. If they can't find a way out soon, they'll suffocate. The structure of the episode is that it sets up Adama's character storyline at the beginning, addresses the Tyrol/Cally crisis in the middle, and then gets back to the character core well before the end. That's actually not a bad structure for this sort of episode, but the problem is that neither the crisis nor the character core has much resonance.

The jeopardy premise is uninspired, to say the least. A true "day in the life" episode, had it been able to give everybody solid character material, would not have needed such a device. I suppose we should instead be thankful that this plot is handled with a minimum of tech and a maximum of straightforward plausibility. With time running out, the only solution available is a dangerous scenario in which the airlock hatch must be blown, and Tyrol and Cally must be vented into space and pulled into a Raptor waiting just outside the hatch. Can they survive a few seconds' exposure to space without suits, or will they freeze to death or die of decompression effects? (What do you think happens? Here's a hint: They don't die.)

This is competently handled, but there's nothing compelling about it. The premise does have a basis in characterization, specifically that Tyrol scheduled himself and Cally to work together as a way of spending time with her without their baby in tow. He's maybe trying to recapture the past as it was before New Caprica. Of course, the problem with having two parents working together is exactly what happens here: A work-related accident could instantly orphan the child. That's a legitimate issue to deal with aboard a battlestar, I guess. But as storylines go on this series, this was not anywhere on my list of Top 50 things I needed to see.

Nor was the Adama story, where he rehashes his marriage in his head in the form of a running commentary between himself and Carolanne. I find it alarming that the writers seem to think Adama-themed episodes must venture back into his past via a flashback structure. First we got "Hero," and now we get this, in which insipid flashbacks try (but fail) to inform the present. The flashbacks take the form of a conversation in the present. It doesn't work. We already get enough scenes of imagined conversations between Baltar and Six. We certainly don't need such scenes between Adama and his dead ex-wife. (It also doesn't help that the setting is reminiscent of Baltar's house.)

In terms of character insight, there's nothing new to be found. The episode falls apart in one particularly cringe-inducing scene where Carolanne accuses Adama of putting his career ahead of his family, she yells and screams, she knocks all the contents of a table to the floor, etc., etc. This is a typically overwrought depiction of a typical broken marriage of the typical military man who cannot fix his typical problems at home. How many cliches can you get in one scene?

Meanwhile, I keep waiting for the new breakthrough between Adama and his son, if such a thing is possible. Their relationship has obviously improved a lot since the miniseries, but you could also say it has long since reached a subdued plateau. There's a conversation where Adama tries to discuss the divorce with Lee and the results are ... forgettable. The navel-gazing merely rehashes themes we've seen many times before, and doesn't tell us anything new or insightful about the characters.

Most other characters go unseen or barely seen. Kara, Helo, Sharon, and Dualla are glimpsed but barely on the periphery. Why not see more of what their days are like with the war on standby? Baltar and Six aren't in the episode at all — although there's more talk about Baltar's upcoming trial; Lee is assigned as chairman of the legal body that will oversee the trial's procedures. This suggests that Baltar's trial will be dragged out for most or all of the rest of the season. That might be fine if, in the meantime, there were real drama surrounding it, but we've now had two episodes where Baltar has gone completely unseen, while the story here offers up only tedious issues of legal wrangling.

Still, they say the truth is in the details, and there are some details here that I enjoyed. Roslin's friendliness toward Adama pushes into the realm of flirting. At one point she gives him a book, staying true to Adama's notion of books as gifts rather than loans. They discuss the lost what-ifs of New Caprica, and there's chemistry in the air. Adama does his best to resist it ("She's president of the Colonies," he notes, as if to put the idea off-limits), but the Adama/Roslin scenes are the best thing about the show. Coming in second place is the idea of Lee's legal interests, which stem from his past and also from Adama's father (a nice touch of continuity).

In the end, however, it's not enough. "A Day in the Life" feels like a lot of derivative themes and rehashed characterization. Carolanne and the flashbacks ultimately prove deadly to the show, and I yearned for storytelling that looked forward instead of back. BSG was just renewed for a fourth season, which reportedly could be limited to 13 episodes instead of 20. That might not be a bad thing if it allows the producers to tighten up the storytelling into something that moves along more efficiently and spends less time pining over the past.

Previous episode: The Woman King
Next episode: Dirty Hands

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21 comments on this review

Brendan - Fri, Nov 2, 2007 - 12:32am (USA Central)
Strangely I think this episode would have been better with no plot whatsoever... the attempt to glue it together with the awful "Will Tyrol and Cally DIE?" angle made it worse. They should have made it purely based on the day in the life of Adama, going through the motions and focusing on character both in background and present.
Sebastian - Tue, Jan 29, 2008 - 2:30pm (USA Central)
One technical issue:

Why didn't the "Raptor rescue party" dock to the pressure door and weld through it in a pressurised environment?
They did it in "Bastille Day" on the Astral Queen.
philaDLJ - Tue, Feb 19, 2008 - 4:25pm (USA Central)
You make a great point - this is a character piece with no character insight.

There's nothing wrong with taking occasional breaks with the narrative and delving into the pasts of the characters we know and love.

But not like this. Not like this.

For gosh sakes, doesn't anyone have a HAPPY past?:)
Brad - Sat, Jun 14, 2008 - 11:21pm (USA Central)
It WOULD have been more interesting to see a true 'typical' day on the ship. As it was, I didn't mind this episode. The Adama flashbacks and plot were weird, mainly because I consider the hyper-realistic imaginary person scenario to be Baltar's property. To have Adama do it was just... odd.

I'm liking the break from Cylons and combat. I even liked the jeopardy premise (it makes sense in the context of the show and I definitely liked that there was no easy 'tech' answer to the problem), although I question some of the ship's safety systems. Why are there spare suits in the airlock, for example? Why no extra patches? Why does the ship lock down the air lock, but not automatically alert the CIC (note that no one higher up seems to know what's going on until the leak gets worse)? Even so, it is nice to see an episode address the practical problems surrounding families on a ship. It is also nice to see that the show recognizes that the Galactica is not in top form after two years (?) of combat, abuse, and general wear and tear.

@Sebastion, I wonder if a battleship's airlocks are meant to repel the kind of cutting tech the Raptors have.
Sebastian - Sun, Jun 15, 2008 - 9:46pm (USA Central)
You mean that a batttleship's airlocks are thicker than hull plating on the Astral Queen?
Possible, but they have to slide away, so I somehow doubt it.

Anyway, the whole action felt contrived IMHO, like: "Hey, let's do a cool CGI space stunt!"

That's not what I generally expect from Galactica.
Brad - Tue, Jun 17, 2008 - 12:52am (USA Central)
I mean that perhaps a Battlestar is built to resist a forced boarding, yes. But I agree with you that there are definitely contrivances in this episode to get to the stunt.
David - Tue, Aug 19, 2008 - 11:33am (USA Central)
I personally feel as I read certain reviews that there's disappointment and frustration from some viewers that overall storylines aren't moving forward in a particular episode, and so this prevents them from enjoying the standalone episodes as much as they might otherwise. For example, several friends call all such episodes "filler", as if the whole reason they're created is to fill up a season schedule or what-have-you. "Filler" implies something of no value taking up space, and with the new BSG there's room for standalone plots and character pieces that are, IMO, certainly not something of no value.

Anyway, I enjoyed this one very much and especially on second viewing as I rewatch the series. I'm perfectly patient to wait for the broader unfolding story, and these standalones are so well-written and performed I can't get on board with what I *feel* is a pattern of summarily and automatically knocking off one "star" or a couple points in one's ratings for no other reason than the episode is relatively standalone in its plot before one even gets to evaluating the episode. An inevitable "handicap" in reception by committed viewers. IMO.

The abstract summation by Adama that the reason for doing things like going to war is not for its own sake but ultimately to create a space to "enjoy living life" or however he put it may seem an obvious sentiment, but in both fiction and in "real life" it's one that I feel isn't remembered or mentioned enough, as people seem to act as if all sorts of governmentally organized societal activity--military, police, legislation, etc.--are either for their own sake or for the purpose of enacting some Grand Vision For Everyone rather than so that individual people can find the space to live as they please and enjoy life. So to have a story add up to a character expressing this sentiment is a plus for me.
chuko - Mon, Apr 13, 2009 - 8:34am (USA Central)
Maybe it's just that it has some personal resonance for me, but the scene where Adama's wife screams and yells didn't seem cliche to me because it was informed by the comments from Lee that she was always volatile. It wasn't an overwrought depiction of the problems of a typical military marriage; it was a typical scene of their life.
enniofan - Sun, Jul 5, 2009 - 3:42pm (USA Central)
I just watched the series through over the course of a month oro so, and while I see many of the complaints, I find it a little refreshing to see some of the daily things the crew deals with in the course of their journey. Surely it need not be entirely about the Cylon god all the time, or Hera, or whatever. and I think it's interesting to see some of the background of the characters.

I didn't see it at all when it aired, but I can see how people would be disappointed in it if you were hoping for the next Baltar episode or whatever and got A Day in the Life.
NathanDoty - Fri, Feb 19, 2010 - 1:14am (USA Central)
Adama clearly addressed the airlock issue in the control room with the others. They discussed how it would take an hour to cut through the plating, and Chief and Callie only had 18 or fewer minutes. Hence the emergency rescue.
NoPoet - Tue, Mar 30, 2010 - 4:05pm (USA Central)
I'm working my way through the DVD collection and reached this episode yesterday. This is the only episode of BSG that I actually thought was crap. To put the Chief and Callie into a relatively mundane life or death situation like being stuck in an airlock... it lacks the punch of Cylon soldiers stalking darkened halls, or being pinned by snipers, etc, and it had none of the tension of the usual BSG mexican standoff. I like the characters but I don't care if they get blown out of an airlock; I want to see Gaius Balthar and the President going head to head.
Jeff - Mon, Nov 22, 2010 - 10:35am (USA Central)
The scene from the miniseries where the Adamas are talking about Lee's mother remarrying... Bill was happy for her in the miniseries, and here Bill is sad and mopey about it. Same scene, edited differently, producing different results just to fit the story. Irritating.
Nick P, - Sun, Jul 3, 2011 - 12:52pm (USA Central)
I actually kind of liked this one, contrivances yes, but so what, not everyone has a perfect marriage, no one actually, and since over 56% of all american marriages currently end in divorce, this is not that much of a stretch from reality, particularily military.

What bothers me is flashback. Can't people just talk on TV anymore? I good five minute heart to heart with Lee would have been way more compelling, and fun to watch.
Nic - Mon, Sep 26, 2011 - 9:47pm (USA Central)
There's abosloutely nothing wrong with an episode that doesn't advance the overall plot. There's also nothing wrong with an episode where nothing much happens (DS9 did it all the time: "Whispers", "The Wire", "Hard Time", etc.).

But as Jammer said, if you're going to focus on character, there'd better be something new and refreshing we learn about them, otherwise it's BORING. I would have preferred Cally and Tyrol actually TALK to each other about their marital problems (that is, for more than one scene) than be teased with their death when I know it's not remotely possible in an episode like this.
pegboy - Tue, Nov 15, 2011 - 5:57am (USA Central)
Dumb, dumb, dumb! There is basically no reason to watch this episode since nothing interesting or relevant to the characters or story occurs. This episode is the very definition of filler, even 1 star would be generous.
Michael - Sat, Nov 26, 2011 - 7:40am (USA Central)
This wasn't as bad an episode as all that. In fact, I found it better than the preceding one. Sure, it was predictable and hackneyed. Chief and Cally gonna die. Yeah, right. And Adama and Lee's father-son problems. This one regrets not having been a better father and making mistakes. That one regrets not having been a better son and being scarred by his parents' divorce. I get it, O.K. I got it. I thought they'd kissed and made up back in Season 1 and this stuff was behind them.

So, yes, watchable but if I didn't see it, I wouldn't feel I'd missed anything.

A few observations:
(1) Adama and Roslin are getting way too close for people in their positions. Adama's tenure is permanent; Roslin's is not. Plus, their roles are different yet extremely important in an ordered society. Would Adama be able to collaborate with a different president, having gotten this close to Roslin?

(2) Any chance of an election anytime soon? Roslin seized the post twice, without ever being elected to ANY position and, in fact, having tried to steal an election. Other than by virtue of Adama's (i.e. military) support, what mandate does she actually have??

(3) Chief and Cally: I can't say I care very much about their marital problems. In fact, I don't care at all. I do, however, find Cally's behavior irritating and unacceptable. She behaves unreasonably, emotionally and unprofessionally. Being bitchy at the husband who acts distant at home is one thing and understandable; snapping and snarling at Chief as her superior officer is another.

The shot of them touching hands through the glass of the I.C. unit was really touching.

(4) philaDLJ: Of course most people have a happy past, but these days it's in vogue to be a "victim." AND to talk to everybody and their dog about it. That's what annoyed me ineffably about Star Trek: Voyager, but B.S.G. doesn't nearly do it on the same scale, so it's O.K.
Wilbur - Wed, Jun 13, 2012 - 6:22am (USA Central)
I didn't like everything about this episode, but parts of it hit me hard. My ex-wife was volatile and self-destructive. She wasn't a good mother to my children (two boys). She started drinking toward the end. I've had some good relationships since then, and I'm a lot happier now than when I was married. But I still get kind of messed up on my wedding anniversary. And I still have a picture in a drawer . . . .
Patrick - Wed, Jan 9, 2013 - 4:28am (USA Central)
It was a MAJOR problem from the start to have Adama's wife appear to him in the style of Head Six and Baltar. It's a problem you find in film school level melodrama, where you give one character a trait that is the defining characteristic of another character. When you do that, it doesn't deepen your characters. It muddles them, and makes the whole plot feel false.

If they wanted to deal with Adama's past with his wife, then the episode should have followed the LOST format of flashbacks (which the show has done, most famously in Act of Contrition). Show Adama having a normal day in his life on Galactica today, on the day of his anniversary, and then flashback to Adama's everyday life back when he was married, in the past on Caprica. Contrast the two thematically. Also Contrast how life on Galactica is different from life on Caprica.

Get rid of everything with Tyrol and Cally's boring jeopardy that seems like it's out of a bad webisode.

Now you have an interesting episode. And I have no idea why the writers never saw this.
Andrés F. - Tue, Mar 26, 2013 - 7:28pm (USA Central)
(disclaimer: I love the overall series so far)

One problem I have with this kind of episodes is that introduce stuff and characters that weren't relevant before, and won't be relevant after. This is why I consider them "filler", as mentioned by another commenter: because they will be forgotten as soon as the episode ends.

Adama's wife was a throwaway line in the miniseries. Her character isn't interesting in this episode, and she doesn't explain the strains of the father-son relationship of the Adamas. We already know about Zak, and about William's expectations for his sons. That is enough explanation, no need to introduce extraneous characters.

Even worse was the past girlfriend of Lee (season 2?), whose memory almost forced him to commit suicide. Absurd! The character wasn't mentioned before, when we were shown a cheerful Lee, and was summarily forgotten after the episode ended. That's lazy writing.

Same with Lee's hooker girlfriend from another episode, etc. I hate it when they introduce characters you just know won't appear ever again.
Tloser - Tue, Oct 22, 2013 - 11:12pm (USA Central)
I am definitely in the minority here for liking the episode. I liked the juxtaposition of Adama's failed marriage next to Chief's. I thought the episode did have significant character exposition, e.g. delving further into why Lee and Adama had such a crappy relationship before, where exactly did Adama and Roslin stand with each other, and building upon Chief's comment that marriage creates bars. So were Adama and Carolanne really incompatible or did they have it at one time? Would Chief and Cally overcome their marriage troubles? How are Chief and Cally treating Nicky now versus how Bill left his kids and wife? Even the "contrived" hull breach thingy was a little worrisome for me. I was pretty sure they were not going to kill off the Chief, but I was pretty worried that Cally would off'd. The thought of Nicky losing his mom made me pretty queasy, but thankfully the writers had mercy on me.
D. Albert - Mon, Jul 21, 2014 - 9:38pm (USA Central)
Yeah, this episode could have been done better in all the ways discussed. According to Wikipedia

"Edward James Olmos submitted this episode for consideration in the category of "Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series" on his behalf for the 2007 Emmy Awards."

Perhaps Olmos's desire to get an Emmy made what could have been better what it was...

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