Jammer's Review

Battlestar Galactica

"Occupation/Precipice"

****

Air date: 10/6/2006
Written by Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Sergio Mimica-Gezzan

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

In the first two seasons of Battlestar Galactica, we had subplots that took place on "Cylon-occupied Caprica." But it wasn't much of an occupation, because most of those who would've been occupied had already been exterminated. So far as I could tell, the occupation was a few isolated pockets of resistance, mainly Anders and his crew of freedom fighters. If there were other survivors on the Colonies — and I would assume that there were — they were not depicted on screen. We didn't see much of what actually went on.

Now we have "Occupation" and "Precipice," a two-hour premiere to the third season of BSG that should've been given one title for the sake of simplicity (why not simply "Occupation" parts 1 and 2?) — and because that's what this show is really about: a harsh Cylon occupation and its grim results.

"Occupation/Precipice" is a powerful and absorbing two hours of television. If I had my doubts about the way "Lay Down Your Burdens, Part 2" left massive gaps in the narrative with its one-year leap forward, those doubts have been assuaged here. "Occupation/Precipice" works even better than it otherwise might've because the situation feels new and unfamiliar; any security blanket we had with any formula that BSG was settling into during the latter half of the second season has been yanked away. Part of the fascination is in seeing where all the characters are now. Let's put it this way: They are not in a good place.

This premiere is dark, violent, and wonderfully complex. It asks hard questions that different people in the audience are going to respond to in different ways. When you can play devil's advocate and both justify and condemn the motivations behind so many of the characters' actions, you know the story is working on an intellectual level. When you find yourself riveted to the screen and leaning forward at what you see, you know the story is working on a visceral level. This episode clearly works on both.

Let's start with Colonel Tigh. The episode begins in his holding cell following endless weeks of imprisonment, questioning, and torture. (They even ripped out his eye and showed it to him: "Looked like a hard-boiled egg," he later muses.) Cylon Cavil taunts him over the hash marks he scratches onto the wall to count the days. Tigh is one of the key leaders of the resistance to the human occupation, which the Cylons are attempting to put down with intelligence gathered from prisoner abuse.

Tigh is released early in the episode as part of a deal that involves his wife Ellen (unbeknownst to Tigh) having sex with a copy of Cavil. Although it's no secret that Ellen has slept around in the past, her actions here are a case of mercenary prostitution with noble intentions: she's trying to protect her husband. But the question becomes: At what point are you a collaborator? Let's face it: Ellen's behavior would be construed by most patriots as sickening, and yet it's one of the episode's perfect examples of someone taking desperate action because they are backed into a corner.

Hers isn't the only such situation. Once Tigh is released and rejoins the insurgency (Tyrol and Anders are the other key resistance leaders), we realize just how bad things have gotten under Cylon occupation. It's been four months since the events of "Lay Down Your Burdens, Part 2," and Cylon occupation is going over about as well as the German occupation of much of Europe in World War II. For that matter, there are certain superficial parallels one could draw with the U.S. occupation of Iraq — although it should be said that Ron Moore's script never attempts to turn this into some sort of politicized statement. This is an episode about occupations in general, and a heartless Cylon occupation in particular.

One of the key aspects of the story surrounds the New Caprica police force that the Cylons have put together out of human beings who are generally regarded by the other humans to be traitors to their race. Our entry point into this aspect of the story is through Jammer (the character, not yours truly), who signed up because he hoped he could do the Cylons' dirty work in a way that would be less dirty. His recruitment into the police force happened in "The Resistance," the online episodes that were released prior to this episode's airing. I must admit: Despite my qualms with the narrative choppiness of those mini-installments, they shed some light onto Jammer's plight here.

They also shed more light onto the actions of Duck, who has also joined the police force, but for very different reasons: He's an infiltrator working for the resistance. In a powerful and disquieting sequence, Duck straps explosives to his body and blows himself up along with a room full of humans and Cylons at a graduation ceremony for new police officers. Dozens are killed. (I was uncertain how Jammer survived unscratched, since he appeared to be just feet away from the explosion.) Later, a woman blows herself up to take out as many Cylons as possible.

These suicide-bombing scenes have a swift and brutal ferocity that is disturbingly real. They demonstrate the kinds of atrocities that become possible in war. Some scenes in "Occupation/Precipice" are impossible to watch without thinking of current-day conflicts. Yet the episode has no political agenda whatsoever, unless there's an agenda in pointing out that atrocities happen during wartime, and that those atrocities might be, you know, wrong.

The episode's central argument revolves around Colonel Tigh. He has no problem with suicide bombings if it means distracting the Cylons long enough for Adama to plan a rescue op. Tyrol has his reservations: "There are some thing you just don't do, Colonel. Not even in war." There's a scene where Roslin tells Tigh that the suicide bombings must be stopped at once. His dismissive and yet well-thought-out response to Roslin is some sort of grizzled veteran's prose masterpiece. Here's a guy who has been tortured and damaged, and when he talks he seems to make perfect sense and to have gone off the deep end at the same time. There's also a telling scene where Baltar demands Roslin to look him in the eye and say that she can defend the suicide bombings as justifiable. She can't.

What this episode is about is finding moral ground upon which its human characters can stand. Can they do that and still fight for survival? That's been a question on this series for a long time, but it becomes even more urgent here, where the Cylons have the entire population contained under the constant threat of force.

Aside from this question, "Occupation/Precipice" does a hell of a job reestablishing all the characters and picking up their storylines, reboot style. Kara has been held by Leoben for four months, where they have been in a long series of battles in a stalemated war of patience. Her jail cell has the disguise of an apartment unit of routine domesticity, and Leoben is waiting for Kara to cave in and realize that she can love him. The tone is set when she stabs him in the neck and then calmly goes back to eating her steak. This is someone's twisted version of hell, and somehow a macabre humor finds its way to the surface.

Leoben finally plays his trump card by bringing in a small girl named Kacey, whom he claims is Kara's daughter (see "The Farm" for the sordid details). The implications of this scene are intriguing, but also must be treated with a high dose of skepticism, since the Cylons are known masters of manipulation.

Meanwhile, Baltar's presidency has become a puppet administration of the Cylons. Gaeta serves as chief of staff, but not happily, and he's the secret source feeding information to the resistance. To say Baltar is in way over his head would be an understatement. Make no mistake: He's as miserable as everyone else on this rock, if for different reasons (mostly because he has to live with himself). I fully expect him to be shot on sight by the resistance. (Indeed, one of Tigh's plans had Baltar as the target of a suicide bombing.) Colonial One is not a happy place. It's filled with Cylons who force Baltar into impossible corners. At one point, they demand he sign an order of execution for suspected insurgents, who are to be rounded up and shot. Watching Baltar is like watching a train wreck: It's so damned fascinating, and horrifying.

Somehow, despite everything, I feel sorry for Baltar. His failures stem from weakness and selfishness, not maliciousness. I've said it before: You'd feel really sorry for this guy if his actions didn't land everyone else in just as much or more trouble than himself. The Cylons aren't happy about the whole occupation situation, either. They're at odds with how to deal with humanity. There's a dramatically intense moment where Doral holds a gun to Baltar's head and screams at him to sign the death warrants. When Six tries to defuse the situation, Doral shoots her in the head. What can Baltar do? He signs the warrant. After all, he's not going to take a bullet. That would be beyond his abilities.

Meanwhile, Cavil orders Ellen to betray the resistance or lose her husband, which leads to an agonizing scene where trusts are violated while stakes are unbearably high: She steals a map outlining the rendezvous point of the resistance with the Galactica's scouts; she doesn't even realize the true scope of her betrayal.

Back aboard the Galactica, the plans have been developing for the past four months. Adama conducts training drills for a return to New Caprica to rescue the survivors. One point of unexpected humor is the notion that Lee has really let himself go since the settlement on New Caprica. He's packed on the pounds, and both Adama and Dualla (confirmed here as Lee's wife) accuse him of having lost his edge. Adama calls Lee on the carpet for the ineffectiveness of the Pegasus crew, and demands that he whip them into shape. The capper is: "I want you to turn around and get your fat ass out of here." The scene is both funny and startling. Funny to see Lee turned soft, but startling to see Adama so angry that he raises his voice.

Lee thinks Adama's plan to rescue the survivors is borderline suicide, and he might be right. There's a nice philosophical argument where Lee says to his father that he owes it to humanity not to make such a high-risk gamble, because the consequences of losing are too high to contemplate. Adama's response is one of simplicity, and it doesn't even try to argue using logic. He simply can't leave all those people behind to the Cylons because "I can't live with it."

The way Adama's plan brings Sharon into the picture is also of much interest. He restores her flight status and gives her the mission to infiltrate the Cylon base on New Caprica and obtain the launch codes to unlock the ships on the surface so they can escape. Adama's basically taking a leap of faith based on trust. It's not an unreasonable one under the circumstances (they've developed an understanding over the past 16 months), and yet I can't shake the feeling that with Sharon there's always another shoe waiting to drop — perhaps another program lying dormant to supply her with another directive.

Frankly, "Occupation/Precipice" sets up so many pieces that it seems like half the season could be turned into a New Caprica occupation arc. Could such a storyline maintain the momentum that this episode seems to promise?

Previous episode: The Resistance (webisodes)
Next episode: Exodus, Part 1

Season Index

25 comments on this review

idiotghos - Mon, Sep 24, 2007 - 11:20pm (USA Central)
There's some parallels to be drawn here with A Time to Stand/Rocks and Shoals. Both were excellent debuts to the season, and subsequent episodes felt lackluster in comparison.
Brian - Fri, Apr 11, 2008 - 10:58pm (USA Central)
I think this may be the best episode of the series.

Previously I thought it was Pegasus, and before that Kobol's Last Gleaming. High hopes for next year, but it might be hard to overcome this episode. Not even Crossroads, which I think is on par with KLG and Pegasus, threatens this episode's position at the top.

But then again, the 4th season brings the series finale, so this may indeed be overtaken.
Paul - Sun, Aug 3, 2008 - 3:24pm (USA Central)
Does anyone know if Lee gained weight for the role, or did the role fit around his real-life weight gain?
Jammer - Tue, Aug 5, 2008 - 10:03am (USA Central)
The weight gain was an illusion done with prosthetics, padding, and probably body doubles. The actor did not gain the weight.
Paul - Tue, Aug 5, 2008 - 2:09pm (USA Central)
Well I'll be damned.
Josh - Fri, Feb 27, 2009 - 6:55am (USA Central)
No mention of the opening montage? It was such a haunting sequence, wreaking of despair. Really set the scene.

These guys are good.
Alexey Bogatiryov - Fri, Mar 20, 2009 - 8:21pm (USA Central)
This episode was probably the most realistic one on BSG. I really liked how the writers made the viewers uncomfortable by putting our heroes into the shoes of terrorist in Iraq - powerful stuff.

This resulted in the BSG cast being invited to the UN: http://popwatch.ew.com/popwatch/2009/03/galactica-un.html
bigpale - Tue, Feb 22, 2011 - 10:43am (USA Central)
This is my 3rd time running through the series, as I do every spring, and each time I'm consistently amazed at the depth of character, music, cinematography and writing.

As someone who has long wished for Ron Moore to reboot Star Trek, I don't know how he could without completely reinventing it.

It's amazing to think that the beginning of BSG ran concurrent with Enterprise. One show was a network staple (or at least the franchise was) and had the full financial weight of Paramount behind it, and the other was a cable show based on an obsolete one-season wonder in the 70's.

And yet to compare the two, visually, intelligently, musically, etc -- it would be a no-contest: BSG blows Star Trek out of the water.


In short: I don't think the Trek-only fans could handle what an unfettered Ron Moore would bring to the Franchise.
Zach - Thu, Mar 3, 2011 - 4:49pm (USA Central)
Actually, he doesn't restore Sharon's flight status. The Sharon aboard Battlestar Galactica never had her flight status, she came aboard with the refugees from Caprica. The original Sharon, the one who slept with Chief Tyrol, was downloaded back to Caprica.
Nick P. - Fri, May 27, 2011 - 8:03am (USA Central)
I don't know if I agree that this was a 4 star. It was easy 3.5, but for some reason every scene with Adama or his new fat kid just drags the whole show to an absolute standstill. On top of that both actors acted way over the top (for them), and it really took me out of the episode.

That being said, ANY scene outside of those 2 was some of the best of the series. That scene with Balter signing the execution order was so well done you almost wish these guys could win an oscar. Even little touches, like how imaginary six showed up immediately after real six was killed. I love thinking how I would be acting in his place, and I would love to say "I wouldn't sign it, even if I was killed", but who short of Christ himself could honestly die for other with a gun at their head. I don't believe any crap like that. Every person on earth would sign that paper.

Also, the Baltar-Roslin scene was masterfully done, as was, surprisingly, Starbucks. As much as I still don't like her character (or maybe just the actress), I admit that her psersonal prison is perfect for her. She can't kill herslef, she can't kill her captor, she can't leave, yet they are not obviously mistreating her, it is just months of nothing. Which is exactly what would unrile this particular person. And than the kid. The best part of the way BSG is done, is that she so obviously knows she is being toyed with, yet she is still a human, and must care for the child. An absolute masterpiece!!

If Adama and Fat Albert weren't in this episode, it would have been the best of the series.
Nic - Tue, Jul 19, 2011 - 8:31am (USA Central)
These two episodes are presented seperately on the DVD sets, which explains the two tiles ("Occupation" ends with Duck's suicide bombing).

My main problem with this episode is that I don't understand the Cylon's motivations. I'd been waiting since the Miniseries to find out why the Cylons decided to attack the Colonies. Then we got "Downloaded", one of the best episods so far, that led me to believe the Cylons were ready to make peace. Now it seems they don't want peace, they just want to have complete control over the survivors of the holocaust. But why? What is their ultimate goal? I can't think of any goal that would be worth all this trouble.

There were a lot of riveting moments focusing on the human characters on New Caprica, but I couldn't get past the fact that none of it makes any sense.

All of the scenes on Galactica were great, though. Adama finally deciding to trust Sharon Agathon - something I've been waiting to happen for over a season now - is wonderfully emotional. In short, it's about time.
Dan - Sun, Aug 14, 2011 - 5:46am (USA Central)
This episode -- or really, the last half-hour of the Season 2 finale -- was when the wheels started coming off BSG. The series never really recovered from the New Caprica arc.

Nic has it right, that at this point the Cylons' motivations make no sense at all. Assuming what Cavil told our heroes in "Lay Down Your Burdens" was true -- and it must have been, as evidenced by the presence of Caprica Six and Boomer on New Caprica -- what is the point of all of this? It seemed that the Cylons really had made a breakthrough in recognizing the "error" of what they had done, even if their conclusions were self-serving; the occupation storyline negates all of that, and at this point the Cylons are subjugating the human race for no other apparent purpose than that the series, needing an ongoing villain, requires them to.

Boomer's presence as part of the occupation force is even more confounding. It's impossible to believe that this character, who totally retained her sense of self and her human beliefs and sympathies as of "Downloaded", would be a party to what the Cylons are doing on New Caprica, let alone have thought the whole thing up herself (as she and Six likely did). Of all the Cylons, she more than any other would have understood that the human race would never have accepted even a benevolent "partnership" with the toasters, let alone a bloody occupation that began with a contingent of Cylons (including Boomer herself) marching aboard Colonial One and telling Baltar "Don't resist and nobody will get hurt".

"Occupation/Precipice" has a great many wonderful scenes, but the entire episode -- indeed the entire series from this point on -- is undermined by the fundamental unbelievability of the Cylons' actions. For drama to be riveting, it has to first be logical.
Weiss - Tue, Sep 27, 2011 - 6:09pm (USA Central)
in some ways I think Boomer is to the cylons as Baltar is to humans.

they both are pretty messed up characters, conflicted to their core, and their allegiances switch often, but eventually they both belong to their respective race (unlike Six who crossed over to helping humans).
Baltar does a lot of his decisions based on self preservation, but on occasion he has moments of altruism (or what he perceives as such, eg. when curing Roslin of cancer). Sharon, i think is based on bitterness (but she also wants to help out, like in downloaded and in the finale). yeah, she helped them during downloaded but she doesnt have any more connections to humanity, at least Six has her head Baltar to push her. Boomer is looking to belong somewhere.

spoilers
(and later it is revealed that Cavil has been working her/trying to influence her. making her feel part of the Cylon community)
Michael - Sat, Nov 19, 2011 - 1:39pm (USA Central)
Dark. Despondent. Depressing.

* * *

"Look me in the eye and tell me that you approve of sending your men and women to crowded places with explosives strapped to their chests."

Of course, there is a GREAT deal of difference between those "crowded places" being a police station of an occupying force as opposed to a, say, nightclub, pizzeria, marketplace or hotel full of pensioners having a festive dinner. Somehow, suicide bombers in our world tend to pick the latter; almost never (and in some parts of the world EXACTLY never) the former.

I'm dying to find out what fate is eventually going to befall Baltar.

REALLY happy to see Galactica's Boomer treated better, although I'm not sure if she is or ever can be 100% trustworthy.
Naha - Wed, Apr 4, 2012 - 10:05pm (USA Central)
@dan at this point the Cylons are subjugating the human race for no other apparent purpose.

yes, and some would say that same of the U.S. occupation of Iraq after a point and history/current events will give you lots of other examples of an occupying force subjugating the native population for what eventually devolves into no good reason.

@dan: she [Boomer] more than any other would have understood that the human race would never have accepted even a benevolent "partnership" with the toasters.

I don't think the occupation was at all what Boomer and Caprica Six had in mind. But again, read your history books or pick up a paper. Boomer and Cap Six are one voice whose intentions or suggested intentions have been co-opted and mangled and misunderstood by the true powers that be. Boomer and Caprica Six have influence but not power.

The Cylons motivations? Twisted religious fervor. Try reading the news headlines on any given day.
Nestorino - Wed, Jul 18, 2012 - 5:06pm (USA Central)
In my opinion, "Occupation" & "Precipice" together formed BSG's finest two hours. Not even the "Miniseries" captured the feeling of desperation the humans were faced with on New Caprica, who are now without the protection of their military. But of course, the Adamas felt the pressure as well. With both battlestars at half-strength and sans their most notable soldiers, they were constantly crushed under the feeling that any rescue attempt would be destined to fail. In the end, that didn't stop Admiral Adama from trying and eventually succeeding, but the whole arc conveyed feelings of desperation and struggle unlike anything ever seen in science fiction.

My only complaint with the whole arc was Fat Lee. I think the writers should have just let subtlety and dialogue explain just how soft Lee had gotten. It makes me wonder if his overeating was part of the reason the fleet found itself on the verge of starvation in "The Passage."
Caleb - Sat, Jul 21, 2012 - 2:24am (USA Central)
Naha has it right. The Cylon occupation makes plenty of sense. We were never told that the Cylon's were ready to be buddies with humans, only that Six and Boomer were able to convince the Cylon population that genocide had been a mistake. The Cylons ran with it but not in the benevolent form Six/Boomer might have wanted, and we see them struggle with that in the episode. The Cylon belief appears to be that, with enough time, they will be able to force the humans to accept their religious Dogma. It's an irrational belief, but quite plausible. I thought the Starbuck plotline was basically meant to be symbolic of the situation as a whole.

Fantastic episode. Riveting. This is BSG at it's best.
Jonathon - Tue, Nov 27, 2012 - 9:07pm (USA Central)
I was not a huge fan of the time jump at the end of Lay Down Your Burdens...too much was packed into that last 20 minutes to really be believable or have emotional impact for me. Mustache Adama, Fat Lee, Bearded Tyrol, and long-hair Starbuck really didn't help things either....it made everything feel like a bizarro world parody of the show.

With that said, these episodes helped flesh out the new situation more, so it's becoming easier to swallow as time goes on. I just hope Lee goes on a diet soon...he was one of my favorite characters!
Grumpy - Sun, Dec 2, 2012 - 10:54pm (USA Central)
Jonathon, if you think Lee got fat too fast, wait 'til you see how he slims down!

Uh, spoiler alert.
Michael - Sat, Jan 5, 2013 - 8:41pm (USA Central)
Hands down the finest arc of the series. Every scene works perfectly, the atmosphere is palpable, and the music and cinematography take it over the top. It's so good that it makes me think we should have stayed with the occupation for a half season or so, there's so much to work with in the premise. Only BSG (or maybe Farscape) was bold enough to do something like this, and the result is a masterpiece of science fiction.

I respectfully disagree with the criticisms leveled against it. The Adama scenes are fantastic, showing Bill and Lee struggling with an impossible task and a terrible responsibility. Bill dismissing Lee alone is great.

The cylons seem to have a voting based decision making process, with seven voting blocks that typically vote unanimously. We know that the Doral, Cavil, Simon, Leoben and Deanna models were very hawkish, so the occupation was likely their idea, tempered by the new belief by the general cylon population that genocide was immoral. Occupation was likely thought to be a compromise, not that I expect the Sharon or Caprica Six models to have agreed with it. But, if it was happening anyways, I'm sure they would go to try to moderate things. And Caprica Six would go for Gaius, regardless.
Nebula Nox - Tue, May 28, 2013 - 2:08pm (USA Central)
"Nobody has been tortured for information!"

Any coincidence that Gaius Baltar and George Bush have the same initials?
beej - Sat, Sep 28, 2013 - 4:26am (USA Central)
This is kind of petty perhaps, but the makeup on Lee's face looked off to me in this episode. Misshapen, I mean. Looked more like an infected tooth or the mumps rather than weight gain.
Cureboy - Wed, Jan 1, 2014 - 5:36pm (USA Central)
Wow!! I just finished this one minute ago and it is the best episode so far! So much going on. I was sitting there at the edge of my seat the whole time. My personal favorite moment was between Roslin and Tom Zarek. I loved that he took no part in the occupation. I hope it's not a setup. But damn this show is good. Time to start the next one...
Cureboy - Tue, Jan 7, 2014 - 9:34am (USA Central)
I am probably the only person who laughed at this joke. At the end of the credits they have the production company logo cartoon but with Ronald Moore and the other guy. At the end of this episode, they did a whole bit on the band The Cure. Made me chuckle
matt - Thu, May 8, 2014 - 4:02am (USA Central)
Spoilers

Spoilers

Spoilers

“Which side are we on? We’re on the side of the demons, Chief. We’re evil men in the gardens of paradise sent by the forces of death to spread devastation and destruction wherever we go. I’m surprised you didn’t know that.”

That line takes on so much more weight if you already knew that everyone, including tigh, in the room at that time was one of the final five.

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