The byzantine complexity that is the mythos of Battlestar Galactica ultimately, in the first hour of the three-hour series finale, comes down to a grand gesture of spectacular simplicity. Adama draws a red line down the middle of the hangar deck and asks everyone to make a choice. If you choose yes, you stand on this side of the line. If you choose no, you stand on that side of the line. It could not be more simple. It also could not be more difficult.
To choose yes might very well mean to choose death. Battlestar Galactica — despite its complex mythos, its prophecy of a cyclical pattern of repetition, its characters who are pulled by the apparent hand of destiny, and the possibility of a Higher Power Orchestrating Everything — is nevertheless still a series about making choices. Everyone has to choose what they believe, and what they're willing to do in pursuit of that belief.
To review "Daybreak, Part 1" is to review the first act of a three-act play: A more inconclusive exercise may not be possible, especially when you consider that "Daybreak" was obviously designed from the outset to be viewed in a single sitting. Because it's three hours long, Sci Fi had little choice but to split it across two air dates. (And thank the Gods this series is ending before I have to start calling the network by its forthcoming moniker, "SyFy." Corporate idiots.) To rate it on the rating scale would be pointless. A reader suggested recently that I simply drop the star system. Not a bad idea, but rating scales exist for a simple reason: They're fun. I'm not going to give up the star system because, well, I don't want to.
I am, however, withholding a rating on "Daybreak" until its conclusion (*), because (1) it's my prerogative, and (2) what, honestly, is the point of rating one-third of a series finale? "Daybreak, Part 1" does not end on a question or cliffhanger; it merely stops at an act-out when time expires. The structure, which features numerous flashbacks with setup sans payoff, is in many cases inconclusive. Thus so will be this review. (Future Jammer speaking: If you're reading this review based on watching a DVD set where "Daybreak" is combined into the single finale it was intended to be, I apologize for the split review — but also pat myself on the back for being a prophet capable of predicting the future.)
"Daybreak" announces up front that This Is The End with arty opening shots of a galaxy, a planet, flowing water, a bird. The story opens on Caprica before the fall of civilization, and there are some beautiful CGI shots of Caprica City that go a long way toward selling the notion that this was a real city inhabited by millions of lives. (One also cannot escape the sense that these flashbacks also serve as an implied reminder that after BSG ends, the story's universe will be reborn here via the prequel spinoff Caprica.)
In some cases, the flashbacks inform the present characters. In others, they don't, because the full picture is not yet apparent. For example: Adama is in a meeting with a man who is trying to persuade him to do something Adama doesn't want to do. The man tells him: "It's one hour of your life. Look, sometimes there are things you just gotta do." And that's it. We don't know yet what this means. Ditto goes for flashbacks involving Kara meeting her boyfriend's brother for the first time, for dinner in Kara's apartment. Zak is the boyfriend, and Lee is the brother. Lee later ends up at home drunk, chasing a pigeon out of his house. What does it mean? Don't know.
Other flashbacks, however, are more immediately informative. Baltar has just recently started dating Caprica Six. Would-be sex in the back of a limo is interrupted when Baltar gets a phone call and must rush back to his father's house. Their relationship is ... strained. We see here that Baltar is an impossible man, but his father is even more impossible. Their histrionics here I felt were overplayed. Endless shouting works better in scenes where you know what the score is, which we don't here.
The interesting point is the way Caprica Six — who was apparently just a casual date before Baltar's battle with his dad — burrows her way into Baltar's life. He didn't necessarily care to have anything more to do with her, until she tells him that she found a solution to his father's living arrangements. It wasn't simply sex and ego-stroking that Six used to get into Baltar's world (he could find plenty of both from others); it was by solving a very specific problem in Baltar's life. Maybe if Baltar's father isn't such a pain in the ass on that particular night, Six has to find someone else to exploit in her role in the Cylon holocaust.
The most compelling, character-informing thread here is Roslin's. We see how happy she is with her two younger sisters after one's baby shower. It's a Laura we truly have not seen before. Later, there's a scene where the police inform her that her sisters and father have been killed by a drunk driver. Boom. Instantly, she's alone. Life is devastatingly changed forever. And we realize that, really, for Laura, the apocalypse happened on that day. Her life would reset a few months later (when asked to join Adar's presidential campaign), but as something else — not what she thinks of as her life, I suspect. The attack on the Colonies was a horrific day, but by then all of Laura's personal loss had already happened. Society simply caught up with her.
The effect of these flashbacks is to establish an oddly bittersweet tone as we enter the final story of the series. Sweet in the sense that lives are being lived in a world very much like ours, and that in this unique-for-BSG place (the fading past) society actually moves and breathes. Bitter in that, well, we know this is all about to come to a very abrupt end. Billions who are alive today will soon not be. Ignorance is bliss; these people have no clue what awaits them. And for that reason, no scene that takes place in the flashbacks can be seen as anything but a precursor to tragedy.
The flashbacks are intercut with the drama in the present, which involves the crew moving off the ship and stripping it for parts. There's a simple moment that made me realize the power of fiction (and the medium of serial television in particular) once we've let it seep into the routine of our lives. It's a scene where Adama is packing boxes in his quarters. For this entire series we've watched scenes in Adama's quarters, and now it has no furniture. Just stacks of boxes. We've all had that last look around an empty house or apartment or dorm room before moving out for good. For Galactica, this serves as that moment. I remember several years back when the last of my grandparents died. My family had to go through the house and clean out what was left for the estate sale. Someday, all that's going to be left of any of us is a bunch of crap in a house that needs to be sorted through and discarded, hopefully by our children. The people in the fleet who want Galactica's parts may seem like vultures, but what else is there to do? Galactica is dead, and it's the only member of an organ-donor program.
Life must go on. The baseship will protect the fleet, a search for a home will continue, and the emerging government will attempt to function. Baltar wants a seat at the table on behalf of his flock of constituents. Lee initially dismisses him out of hand, but Baltar makes an eloquent, even humble, appeal to Lee on behalf of looking to the future. Lee cuts to the heart of the matter, and it's damning in its irrefutability, even by Baltar himself: The man has never done anything truly selfless in his life, so why should anyone trust him of altruism now? (Meanwhile, Head Six is sure Baltar will be key in the near future: "Humanity's final chapter is about to be written, and you are its author.")
Tyrol is in the brig, predictably hard hit by Boomer's betrayal. He's ready to write off all the Sharons and Cylons as creatures of cruel deception, "because we made them that way." I found it especially interesting that Helo is the guy trying to reach out and provide Tyrol with some perspective. After all, it's largely Tyrol's fault that Hera was taken (and now sits in the middle of the Cylon colony, where Cavil is prepared to run invasive procedures on her). Yet Helo maintains a level of understanding toward Tyrol because they both loved a version of the same woman.
The story's turning point comes with the smallest of realizations, when Adama sees Hera's picture on the memorial wall. In that moment, he realizes that he can't let it go. He must act. Much like when he faced the grim odds for the rescue at New Caprica, he realizes he must make a moral rather than practical decision. So he goes with Kara to see Anders 2.0 to find out where Hera has been taken. How Anders knows this, I have no idea. The story does not begin to explain it. (Instead, we get a flashback to Anders on the Colonies, where we see a typical athlete's interview evolve into something more substantive — a meditation on experiencing "perfection.") But this scene isn't about "plot"; it's about the character moment when Adama tells a very lost and tormented Kara that he knows what she is: She's his daughter.
So now we're at the moment with the red line on the hangar deck. Adama asks for volunteers for a mission to rescue Hera from the Cylon colony. It may very well be a suicide mission. But it's a mission he will not be denied. Anyone who wants to go, including the mutineers or any civilian, can go. All they have to do is cross the red line. Baltar gets his opportunity to cross the line. He can prove to himself and everyone else that he can make a selfless act. But he can't bring himself to it. The truth is that he is a man who, above all else, wants to live. And I understand his choice, in all its selfishness. Altruism is a great quality. But are you willing to die to harbor it?
The unforgettable image I will take from this episode, above all others, is when Roslin crosses that line. Here is a woman so ill, so frail, that she can barely walk. She shakes with every step. But she is going. Roslin's determination and courage in this moment was so moving, so emotional — such a victorious scene of triumphant will — that I just lost it. This BSG viewer wept at the screen. As a single moment of poignancy, it equals anything I can remember on this series.
"Daybreak" is clearly not afraid of grand gestures. I eagerly await the conclusion of Battlestar Galactica. Just as much as I fear the fates that may await these characters.
* Note: In the interest of completeness, I assigned a somewhat arbitrary rating of 3.5 stars, which more or less applies to both pieces of "Daybreak," when I posted the review for part two.