Jammer's Review

Battlestar Galactica

"The Passage"

**

Air date: 12/8/2006
Written by Jane Espenson
Directed by Michael Nankin

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

About now, I'm wondering if the post-New Caprica BSG landscape is going to be able to sustain itself any longer — until the next mega-crisis comes along, anyway. After "Collaborators," which dealt with the mess left over from New Caprica, this series has been settling into a formula that feels a little too static. We don't seem to be building anywhere with much momentum. Recent standalone episodes have lacked conviction. I think I'm in favor of another shake-up pretty soon.

I'm beginning to wonder, for example, just how many of these similar dialog scenes I can watch with Baltar on the Cylon basestar. Baltar has always been one of this series' best characters, because he's always been at the center of some sort of unintended tragedy or debacle (his role in the miniseries or getting everyone stuck on New Caprica, for example) or self-serving situation that somehow made his position more powerful (his ascending to the vice presidency and later the presidency).

Now among the Cylons, he's essentially been straightjacketed by the role the writers have given him. Logically, this is the way it must be since he's a captive among those who treat him with a lot of skepticism (although that skepticism shrinks with every passing day), but emotionally there's a void left on the human side of the story involving the fleet. Where's that sneaky element to keep everyone on their toes?

As of "Collaborators," I thought that element might be Tom Zarek, but Zarek hasn't been seen since. One of the annoyances of recent episodes is that it was never made clear whether or not the stunt Zarek pulled in "Collaborators" got him booted from the civilian government. Did Roslin rescind her offer to name him vice president? That could very well be the case, but unless I've missed something, I don't think we know one way or the other for sure. Where has this guy gone?

That leaves most of the drama on this show aboard the Galactica and its military storylines. In "The Passage," we learn that the food supply has suddenly become contaminated because of some accident, meaning the fleet has no food and is on the verge of starving. Cottle says people will start dying in a little more than a week. As a result, the Galactica is on a mission to find a new source of food, and as the episode opens we learn that a planet has been located that just might be the answer to everyone's prayers.

The premise isn't the show's strong point. I found the sudden, off-screen contamination of the food supply to be a dramatically weak contrivance. In "Water" there was at least a tangible reason behind the loss of the water supply, but here the food supply has been tainted well before the episode begins; we join the situation in mid-crisis. I understand the need for getting storylines under way quickly, but this is simply unsatisfying; we're given no reasons for how or why this happened. It just did, deal with it, move on. (Such a crisis would be easier to take seriously if the show had earned it instead of pulling it out of thin air.)

I also found the mechanics of the plot to be worthy mostly of indifference. The planet, you see, lies on the other side of a star cluster. It's too far to go around the star cluster, but Galactica might be able to go through it by jumping to the halfway point and then jumping from there to the other side. While inside the halfway point, everyone will be exposed to deadly radiation and blinding light that will make it virtually impossible to pilot a ship, so in order to get the civilian fleet through, the people will be transferred to Galactica (which has radiation shielding) and then Raptors will guide the civvie ships — helmed by skeleton crews — through the blinding light and radiation. The Raptor pilots will be at considerable risk of radiation exposure during this period, and it will take five trips through and back to get all the civilians and their ships through the passage.

I've explained the plot, and I'm sort of sorry now that I did. It's not what I'd call interesting. And I didn't understand why the ships had to stay in the middle of the storm for so long. Why can't they jump in and jump out before the light disorients everybody and causes ships to fly off into oblivion? (Haven't the pilots heard of sunglasses?)

Thankfully, the episode does not dwell on the details of the plot mechanics. Good thing, because the plot is a placeholder; the characters must transcend it in order for the show to work. (This is the sort of episode whose moments work in spite of the plot, not because of it.)

Even so, the central character premise has problems. We learn here that Kat has a mystery in her past that dates back to before the attack in the miniseries. This is a Dark Secret that she's had to live with for the entire time we've known her as a character, even though we've never gotten a hint of said Dark Secret before now. Is it me or does that seem a lot like what we went through with Adama in "Hero"?

A man named Enzo (Patrick Curry) recognizes Kat in the corridor and calls her "Sasha." They obviously share a history, and it's immediately clear that Kat is not who we all thought she was. We eventually learn that before the attack on the Colonies "Sasha" was actually a drug courier and Enzo was her supplier. She assumed the identity of Louanne Katraine from a dead body after all hell broke loose. Galactica became her chance to start over as someone else.

I don't much care for retroactive backstory that completely rewrites what we thought we knew of a character. When these stories delve into the past in ways that don't much inform the present (and indeed come across as completely falsified by the writers), it strikes me as a waste of time.

The point of the episode is the question: Is a person who they seem to be right now, or is the past an inescapable definition of not simply who they were but also who they always must be? Can a fresh start redefine who someone is, and is there really such a thing as a clean slate? There's a tough scene between Starbuck and Kat where Starbuck argues that, no, the past is not forgiven, and a lie is a lie. Starbuck says you can't live a lie and you must accept who you are, not run from it. But consider the source: This is the same person who, we learned last week, probably married Anders in part because she was trying to run from her own troubled past.

Kat's past begins eating away at her so much that she believes she must make amends, pay a penance, something. During the final trip through the passage, she puts herself in grave danger by piloting a mission when she has already exceeded her allowable radiation exposure. She saves a ship and becomes a hero ... but we already know by this point in the story that this is going to be Kat's final mission.

Why do we know? Because there's an earlier scene where the music swells and the drama announces itself as DRAMA! and the images of Kat dissolve on top of one another and we're supposed to be carried along for the emotional ride. The sentiment is a little pushy for my tastes. It might as well be an announcement saying, "Kat's going to die, and this is her official hero's sendoff!" Whatever happened to letting drama live or die on its merits? I understand the desire for earnest sincerity, but come on.

As much as I resisted being force-fed that Kat was making this noble sacrifice, the fact is that she does make it, and it brings about some good scenes on her deathbed. Starbuck's reconciliation with Kat is honest and sincere, and you can understand how sometimes Kara has a tendency to pass judgment when she's angry and later regret the meaning behind overly harsh words. Meanwhile, Adama's scenes with Kat are genuinely affecting. When Kat tries to confess her sins, Adama will not hear of it; he already knows all he needs to know about the kind of person she is. Actions in the here and now are what matter, and the past should stay in the past. Good character work and solid performances redeem a less-than-stellar storyline.

Another example of good character work is Tigh, who finally returns to duty, to the applause of the CIC staff. Tigh is a character who has had a true arc and thus a truly earned payoff. Unlike Adama in "Hero" or Kat here, the writers have developed a story with Tigh rather than simply concocting one, which I think demonstrates the problems with "The Passage" and "Hero."

As for the story on the basestar, I was less than thrilled. Baltar learns about D'Anna's secret suicides and calls her on it, so D'Anna attempts to explain her need to find the answers that lie somewhere between life and death. She says she sees the faces of the mysterious final five Cylons in the images between her downloads — or at least maybe she does. Baltar, still suspecting he might be a Cylon, wants to know if he's one of the faces in the images so "I would stop being a traitor to one set of people, and be a hero to another" — which is a Baltar guilt-assuaging sentiment if I've ever heard one.

Frankly, all this wannabe-poetic mythical doublespeak on the basestar is starting to wear thin. Baltar and D'Anna go down to visit the Hybrid — who seemingly speaks a never-ending gibberish stream of consciousness — to draw insights. The conclusions Baltar reaches by listening to the Hybrid are the sort of arbitrary plot-driving methods that drove me mad with the X-Files, in which Great Meaning is implied with wondrously impenetrable lines of dialog no reasonable person could be expected to decipher. It purports to make sense only because the writers say it does. It alludes to something called the "Eye of Jupiter" as the next point on the map in the race to Earth, and there's apparently a connection now between the humans' Gods and the Cylons' God.

If this sort of mumbo-jumbo is the extent of the drama we're going to get on the basestar, then this plot needs to come to a head now, before the audience checks out of these scenes completely. Fortunately, next week's episode is called "The Eye of Jupiter," so it may do just that.

Previous episode: Unfinished Business
Next episode: The Eye of Jupiter

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13 comments on this review

Brian - Tue, Apr 1, 2008 - 4:26pm (USA Central)
I'm not exactly sure how I feel about this episode. There are definitely problems abound, but the initial disappointment and dislike for this episode have been tempered on my second viewing. While I agree that the plot is poor, it's everything else, the little things, that truly work well. The scene in the opening where they are dividing the food and stuff like that really worked for me. I also found the ending genuinely moving.

I found the stuff on the basestar to be quite good, except for Gauis' quick interpretation of the Hybrid's statement when she's supposed to be so hard to understand that people think she just says gibberish.

I want to rate this a 2.5 because of all the things that do work, but then I realize the reason the poor quality of the episode is lessoned the viewing because the impact of Kat's retroactive story and the overblown heroic foreshadowing had already been taken the first viewing. So, I would agree with your 2-star rating.

I have yet to rewatch A Day in the Life, which I think is the weakest BSG and the only one to be "bad", but if, like with The Passage, I enjoy it more the second time and my distaste for it has been amplified by time, then I may enjoy it more. I hope I do because in my mind it is so far below The Passage and Black Market (which is an episode one can at least respect for the effort while Day in the Life is just... you can't even do that).

Jason - Mon, Apr 28, 2008 - 4:22pm (USA Central)
I dunno....I found the laughter between Tigh and Adama over the "paper shortage" to be hysterical. The episode was middle of the road, but that scene was quite funny.
Brendan - Thu, Jul 22, 2010 - 5:17pm (USA Central)
the "paper shortage" scene is among my favourites of the whole series. and while the plot left a lot to be desired, the execution of that plot was excellent. the visuals of the radiation scorched raptors and people chaotically scrambling in the blinding light is effective.

Michael - Thu, Nov 24, 2011 - 1:24pm (USA Central)
I will have to be a voice of dissent here and say that I liked this show a lot.

Its beginning is very uninspiring and, for the first time ever with B.S.G., I found myself doing primarily something else while having it run in the background. I also thought the subplot involving Kat was rather boring and didn't appreciate it very much, especially because I always really liked Kat: Why besmirch her reputation, why run down her character? The part where she is shown having gratuitous sex with her tormentor is particularly galling.

BUt then, in the final sort of quarter of the show, all that changed. Realizing we were seeing the last of Kat made me sit up and take notice. The portrayal of Kat's sacrifice and everyone's reaction to it was amazing and--I'll second Brian here--really moving. For me, it redeemed the previous parts of the show, which were admittedly rather lackadaisical.

I hope the assmunch who pushed Kat over the edge gets his comeuppance on a future show.

Kat was a cutie with a great personality. I'll miss her... XOXOX
Kyle - Mon, Jan 16, 2012 - 4:51pm (USA Central)
This episode continued my dislike of Starbuck who up to this season was my favourite character. I found her annoying in every scene she was in which wasn't helped by the close-ups of Sackhoff constantly licking her upper lip.

The parts on the Cyclon ship made me completely reexamine how I saw the show up to this point, especially the line D'Anna speaks about "maybe they believe in the same Gods."

I always thought the show had similarities with the Terminator in that humans created the centurions as work robots, who then became self aware and smart enough to create a human like form. But with the Minority Report cog and the constant talk about believing in different Gods (how can they, humans made them) I seemed to be way off base in how I was looking at it. I'm starting to get a little nervous about the show's direction, especially after being exposed to some of the negative criticism of the later episodes.
Ryan - Sat, Mar 3, 2012 - 10:03am (USA Central)
Gee, another episode where Starbuck acts like a total bitch and puts someone else's life in danger. I'll add Kat to the list of Casualties Caused by Kara Thrace's Shit Attitude. Push this troublemaking snatch out the airlock already.
Zane314 - Fri, Jun 22, 2012 - 9:42am (USA Central)
I'd give The Passage a solid 3.0 stars, maybe 3.5. On the downside Jammer is right: the story is simple, cliched, and technically weak (star navigation, no sunglasses, etc). Plus, I'm with Kyle and Ryan about Starbuck in this episode: annoying, harsh, angry, destructive and (my fave for her) repulsive! Note that "Starbuck's reconciliation with Kat" was actually Kat requesting to see Starbuck. And at the end Kara says "I've gotta go" and kind of winces a smirk. (sarcasm mode on) Perfect! Great way to apologize for being a mean, colossal jerk Starbuck to your rival on her deathbed! (sarcasm mode off)

On the upside, wow, what great work by Olmos and Carro for Kat's deathbed scene, chokes me up every time. Adama saying he doesn't want to hear about her past, she was a good CAG that made her pilots feel safe, and his "oh, I'm staying" was so strong. His adopting her as his third kid in spirit and posthumously promoting her back to CAG was moving, very moving. Too bad Luciana Carro isn't 5'6" or 5'7" - she'd been a much better Starbuck IMO: the right balance between brash, egotistical, confident and empathetic, kind, and forgiving. No matter, her send off was outstanding, great job!
Caleb - Thu, Jul 26, 2012 - 1:02pm (USA Central)
I don't think I've ever had such a change of heart about a fictional character before. Starbuck was probably my favorite through Season 1 and 2. But post New Caprica she's just been a spite-filled hateful person, and that apology... eh, just assuaging her guilt it seemed like. Kudos to Sackhoff for pulling it off and making it believable.
Reality - Fri, Jan 4, 2013 - 3:54am (USA Central)
Good riddance to Kat, the most annoying character in the series.

Shame on the writers for butchering the Starbuck and Apollo characters to this point in the season.
Nebula Nox - Mon, Jan 14, 2013 - 12:22pm (USA Central)
I just cannot believe that Kat - or anyone - would feel threatened by what she did before the holocaust. She certainly wasn't guilty on the level that Baltar was guilty, and she has been giving her all since then. She was so brave in so many other situations, she should have been able to tell Adama befotre. On the other hand, I could be wrong ... with the hunger and all the stress perhaps she could feel this way.
Nebula Nox - Mon, Jan 14, 2013 - 12:25pm (USA Central)
But the end gets me. In the end, Adama is father to his pilots. Unlike Kara, he is not afraid to pull up a chair and sit beside someone who is dying. He is not afraid to love - to be there for those who need it.
Cureboy - Sun, Jan 5, 2014 - 2:04pm (USA Central)
I'm sorry. But this episode really got to me. I was straight up crying at the end. Kay had a past, like everybody, but it's what she became in the end. I would love to work for a guy like Adama.

The paper shortage scene between Tigh and Adama was classic. I love that these people are human.
RandomPerson - Thu, Apr 10, 2014 - 6:54pm (USA Central)
It would appear that I am in the minority, but I didn't find Kat's "noble sacrifice" to be noble at all. Unless she was already dying (which she may have been, and I just missed it), she was just taking the place of somebody else, who would have been fine. There was no real reason for her to die, except that it made things easier. If she hadn't changed patches with another pilot, the other pilot would have been guiding the Faru Sadin through the star cluster instead. Perhaps the other pilot wouldn't have lost them in the first place, because they weren't as sick.

All I saw was that Kat wanted to be a hero, and was willing to die for that. Staying behind to find the ship might have been brave if she wasn't already going to die. (Which she was, because she was already past her radiation level) But trading the patch so that she would be on that trip wasn't noble or heroic. It was stupid. Instead of dealing with her past, and facing the consequences, she decided to die instead, and it was unnecessary. I didn't find that brave. I can understand why none of the characters called her out on it, but I don't see why we shouldn't.

I loved the scene when Starbuck gave Kat the sleeping pills. It felt very honest to me.

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