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.