"Daybreak, Part 2"
Air date: 3/20/2009
Written by Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Michael Rymer
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"I don't know what to say."
"Don't spoil your image. Just light a cigarette and go and grumble."
— President Laura Roslin and Doctor Sherman Cottle
Several weeks ago, when I posted my fake review for "Daybreak, Part 2," I said that I was going to simply bow out of the discussion and allow the much-debated ending of Battlestar Galactica to simply be left up to you. After all, what can I say that hasn't already been said? Not much, really. All I can do is say what I want to say the way I want to say it. And what I want to say is that, no, "Daybreak, Part 2" is not perfect. But it is for me a thoughtful and visceral and exciting and emotional and contemplative and satisfying ending to the BSG saga. Does it make perfect logical sense? In places, I must admit that it does not. But you know what? I don't really care.
I do know one thing: I will never again open up comments on something I have not reviewed if I intend to review it. In that direction lies only madness. I'm not saying it was a mistake allowing everyone to discuss the finale before I weighed in. On the contrary; I was happy to supply another place for your say where you could discuss among each other while I went AWOL for a month-plus. But it makes a mess of my task, because a temptation germinates to try to answer and reconcile the myriad of others' points — a futile endeavor.
No, a review must be a voice representing myself, and not the arguments in support of or against everyone else. So I've had to decompress and start again, and I went back and watched "Daybreak, Part 2" again a couple weeks ago. It's not the same experience as when I originally saw it, but it reminded me of that experience.
The plot itself is pretty simple: Galactica must rescue Hera from the Cylon colony and the clutches of villain Cavil and escape. The task is not simple; it is the uphill climb of all uphill climbs. In the miniseries, Adama made a speech about whether humanity deserved to survive, and talked about its inability to take responsibility for its creation and subsequent treatment of the Cylons. I think the question of whether humanity has earned the right to survive is answered by Adama's notion of this mission. At the possible cost of their lives, the crew will rescue Hera, which represents the ultimate act of humanity taking responsibility for what it has wrought.
We get great scenes of building anticipation. The foolhardy mission and its crazy odds are made clear. An epic battle is assured. Tigh goes "around the horn" and has all combat stations report their readiness, and Adama announces that, yes, this will be Galactica's final battle, no matter the outcome. The heartfelt goodbyes begin, the first of which is between Cottle and Roslin, and when Cottle gets choked up, Roslin stops him with a great line: "Don't spoil your image. Just light a cigarette and go and grumble." To protect the rest of the fleet, Hoshi is named admiral and Lampkin is named president. Now there's an executive team you would never have envisioned.
And Baltar finally, finally makes an 11th-hour selfless act. Given how this all plays out, it's interesting how Head Six basically manipulates him into it by telling him that it's his destiny to stay with the fleet and lead humanity to its end — prompting him to reject destiny and make up his own damn mind. Like in The Matrix, it's not so much that what the Oracle says is actually true; it's that she tells Baltar what he needs to hear when he needs to hear it.
The resulting battle action scenes are kick-ass on a scale that dwarfs pretty much anything of this series' prior production. When the battle plan was drawn up, they weren't kidding about how close the jump-in location really was: When Galactica jumped right in front of the colony — and I mean less than a half a ship's length — my reaction was, whoa, that's not good. And then when Galactica instantly started taking a barrage of gunfire and missile blasts from dozens of Cylon gun turrets, it was DOUBLE WHOA. ("Can't take much of this," Tigh remarks. Indeed. That's understatement of the year.)
Composer Bear McCreary pulls out the stops for the battle scenes, as does Gary Hutzel and the visual effects team. In terms of all-out action, this is a doozy for Galactica, which features countless impressive scenes including the use of Galactica as a battering ram, crewmen rappelling out of the ship and down into the colony, Raptors jumping out of a closed flight pod (destroying it in the process) and into the middle of an asteroid field, and a swarm of Centurions fighting on our side, striped with red paint so that we know they're friendly. Much chaos ensues. One shot that highlights the elevated level of chaos shows both Adama and Tigh on the phone simultaneously, relaying orders to wings of fighters and Raptors; has that happened before on this series? What I am sure that hasn't happened on this series: amusing and cool action scenes involving rock-em-sock-em toaster-on-toaster combat between old-school and new-school Centurions (including a gag where a Centurion shoots another point-blank in the face-mask).
All of this mayhem over one little girl. The ever-conflicted Boomer looks on as Simon begins running experiments on the child, and if you didn't think another of Boomer's double-reverses was all but guaranteed, then you haven't been paying attention. I like what they've done in the last few episodes with Boomer, and her final decision here highlights two things: (1) that perhaps the last thing you do is what you will be remembered for, and (2) that Boomer cannot maintain loyalty to anyone, because those loyalties are so hopelessly divided. Compare this to Athena, who made her decision back in season one and has lived by it ever since. Athena, knowing this, doesn't hesitate to put Boomer down once her daughter is returned to her. (Athena's machine-gunning of Boomer is one of this episode's two acts of satisfyingly fierce and personal violence.)
What also emerges is the point to the flashback sequences, which posits: What happened in the past directly points to the arrival of where everyone is now. In the case of Boomer, we see how Adama cut her a break when she was a rookie, and she promised to repay that debt when it really mattered. And she does that here. Neat.
As for the rest of the flashbacks, they effectively give us pieces about the characters' pasts that explain why they didn't end up in civilian life (something many of them were on track for, including Adama and Roslin) and instead ended up on Galactica. For Adama, it was a matter of principle — the distaste over being strapped to a lie detector for a job interview. For Roslin, it was a matter of realizing that she didn't want to start dating simply to get out of a rut; with her family destroyed, she realized she'd rather put herself to work, which led her back to government and, ultimately, Galactica.
The Lee/Kara flashbacks highlight their sexual tension and attraction, which was immediate. But we also see further insights into Lee's less-than-reverent philosophy on military life, which points to his abandoning it for civilian government in season four; and Kara's flirtation with death — and her confession of a fear of being forgotten outweighing a fear of death — something that would define her in terms of her larger destiny, which plays right into the final scenes here.
If there's a truly unifying element in all the flashbacks, it's alcohol, which flows freely through all of Caprica. Adama and Tigh discuss the merits of civilian life at a strip club — a sequence which ends with Adama puking on himself in the street. Kara and Lee get drunk and contemplate sex on the kitchen table while Zak, even more drunk, lies passed out on the couch in the living room. Roslin and her younger date sip champagne before having sex on the first date. I'm not sure if there's even a message here beyond "alcohol lends atmosphere to scenes and creates unpredictable volatility and potentially promising characterization." Or perhaps the notion that Caprica is a place of hedonistic excess — something that serves the dual purposes of juxtaposing the lives of these people on Caprica with their lives after the fall, and also as an aesthetic stage-setter for the upcoming Caprica prequel series.
At their very core, these flashbacks are illustrations of these characters and their choices. For all that these characters are maneuvered by Destiny, Fate, or God in "Daybreak's" late-breaking revelations, we see that Free Will led them to Galactica, and I love that as a storytelling concept. The end is the beginning. Structurally, the flashbacks are skillfully arranged and edited, offering bits of insight alongside the action in the present. It's ambitious in scope, and the execution is dead-on.
And as much as "Daybreak, Part 1" was so obviously cleaved from the rest of the finale, I'd like to point out that the structure of part two was cleverly edited and still feels like it could exist as its own two-hour finale. The opening of part two, with its shot of the Caprica City skyline at night (terrific FX, by the way), mirrors the opening of part one and its opening shot of the city during the day. Similarly, the beats of the story here make sense. Despite the fact that you can divide all of "Daybreak" into three distinct acts, you can also do that of "Daybreak, Part 2" on its own. Strange but true. (Not that it matters; getting too sidetracked by structural issues is kind of pointless.)
Eventually the combat spills onto the decks of Galactica, with a Cylon invasion party storming into the corridors. Baltar and Caprica Six end up fighting side by side. We see the relationship come full circle here when Six confesses that the thing that she always felt was missing between them was her sense of pride in him. They also reach an epiphany here when they both realize that the other can see their Head Selves. And is it just me, or is there something inherently hilarious in seeing Baltar in riot gear? Despite the very serious and tortured aspects of Baltar, I love that the writers can still see him clearly through comedy. Even in battle this guy is provided humor rather than heroism, as in the moment where he opens fire on a Centurion that has already been killed.
The final revelation of the meaning of the Opera House visions is a combination of utter brilliance and ever-so-mild insipidity. It's slightly insipid in that it doesn't really reveal anything new (the Opera House turns out to be CIC, where the Final Five await — but by this point we already know who the Five are and what they intend to do), but it's absolutely, positively brilliant in its cinematic and theatrical execution, even outmatching their similar employ in "Guess What's Coming to Dinner."
Hera goes wandering the corridors of the ship with gunfire all around her, and we have Roslin and Athena and Six and Baltar all trying to save her, and these shots are juxtaposed with the Opera House visions we've seen before. Cinematically this is great stuff — expertly executed and wonderfully edited, with musical callback cues that sell the epic sweep and the chilling anticipation as it unfolds. The action manages to fit everything together into something that's visually effective and tracks with the previous Opera House scenes. On the other hand, there's not much in terms of new ideas being sold here. You can sort of sense the scenario being manipulated to fit the already-existing pieces, and it ends more in serendipity than revelation. It's more a case of the appearance of meaning than actual meaning. Still, on balance, I'm okay with that, because it's cinematically effective.
And it also finally puts Baltar in the place and time to make exactly the speech he needs to make when he needs to make it. It comes in the middle of a showdown in CIC where Cavil holds Hera at gunpoint and intends to walk away with her. Baltar's admission that he "sees angels" and his speech about faith in the One True God are possible only because he is finally in the position, after having undergone his spiritual awakening, to truly believe in the assertions that he makes. Quite a journey it's been for him, from atheist to believer. This speech is his moment of destiny.
It's great, too, how the peace is so suddenly negotiated, and how unthinkably the battle goes from madness to calm in a mere matter of seconds. The Final Five agree to give Cavil the secret to resurrection in exchange for the Cylons ending their war against humanity. Just like that it seems like disaster is averted. But then...
The Final Five must share thoughts to unlock the secret of resurrection, and that means they will all briefly know what the other knows. (Funny line by Tigh to Ellen: "Looking forward to that.") This was a great moment of realization. I had figured by this point that the writers were going to let Cally's death remain one of those points of intentionally poetic injustice, and that only we in the audience would know the truth about what Tory did. But Ron Moore finally plays the card; we see here how Tory hems and haws and tries to stave off disaster by talking about possible sins that might come up that the others should all just agree to forgive in advance.
How hilariously, typically self-serving of this woman who decided, once she realized she was a Cylon, that she could do whatever she damn well pleased. Now she wants to write herself a last-minute pardon for her sins. No such luck. This is delicious character material that swiftly causes the truce to turn back to disaster. When Tyrol realizes what Tory has done, he strangles her to death (in example #2 of satisfying personal violence), which interrupts the upload of the resurrection secrets and upends the delicate cease-fire under way, and as fast as the truce was created, it is destroyed. The bullets start flying, and Cavil is so certain the game is over that he simply shouts "Frak!" and eats his gun. (It's strangely funny, although I'm not entirely sure that's what they were going for.) What does it say that the truce and future of two entire civilizations comes down to this moment, and it's all overruled by one man's base need for immediate revenge?
I enjoyed how the story lulled us into a false sense of security with this truce and before ripping the rug out from under us. (Would you expect anything less from BSG?) But I thought it was a bit much to have the Cylon colony destroyed more or less by accident (or divine will, or what have you) when Racetrack's dead hand launches all the nukes. There's a fine line between serendipity and silly, and this notion flirts with it perilously.
Speaking of the Hand of God, how about Kara's desperate jump of the ship out of certain doom? It's epic and revelatory and awesome. It reveals Kara's final destiny, where she ultimately will lead the human race. The mysterious "Watchtower" notes become the jump coordinates for Galactica's Final Jump. And those jump coordinates take us to...
The reveal of Earth-2 — which is actually "our" Earth 150,000 years ago — is a gasp-worthy Galactica-style twist, except that it offers a measure of hope rather than a bitter pill a la "Revelations." In retrospect it's really quite clever the way "Revelations" faked us out, having carefully never shown us the moon or continents when we approached that planet. (Many have prudently asked how the Zodiac map room in "Home, Part 2" could pass the plausibility test under this scenario when combined with Gaeta's "Constellations are a match" line in "Revelations." The only likely answer, I'm afraid, is that the writers changed their intentions between seasons two and four.)
And yet, this being BSG, I was still uneasy. This show has us so ready for the other shoe to drop that when we see open fields and blue skies and there's still nearly an hour to go, we figure this must be some sort of trick. (And look at the photography and those vistas! So lush, so beautiful! This can't be how it ends!)
But, for once, it's not a trick. Battlestar ends on several notes of bittersweet calm. It is not a "happy" ending. It is bittersweet. These people have survived, but they must start over on a parallel human world where the most advanced existing civilization still does not have the power of language.
Lee comes up with the idea of breaking the cycle by abandoning all technology and starting completely over as a civilization, dispersing the 39,000 Colonials and Cylon skinjobs into small groups across the planet to assimilate into the existing primitive civilizations (or possibly it's the primitives who are being assimilated; Lee says that perhaps the Colonials can give them the gift of language).
So Kara Thrace, with help from Lee, has indeed led them all to their end. But the end was inevitable. Colonial civilization is over. But the end is the beginning. Humanity must reboot.
I must say, the abandonment of technology was the one aspect of the finale that I couldn't abide. Sure, as a sci-fi concept I think it works marvelously, cleverly tying the Galactica mythos into our own world. But I don't buy it as something the Colonials would seem likely to do. For one, technology isn't their problem; human nature is the problem. And in terms of best chances for survival, wouldn't a city of 39,000 people with supplies be stronger than dropping people by the handful all over the globe?
It seems more likely to me that these people would band together and form New Caprica II — except, of course, that such a notion doesn't get us to where Ron Moore needs us to go, story-wise. This is where you can sort of see the story's gears straining a bit — where the motivations are molded to fit the desired end result rather than vice-versa. But I must also say that my doubts about the decisions these people make are assuaged by where it all takes us, narratively speaking, both emotionally and in the story's whimsical coda.
So then come the goodbyes. All the characters are awarded terrific final moments of reflection and farewell. The shot of Adama piloting the last Viper off Galactica allows for a poignant last look at the Grand Old Lady. Kara and Anders share a moving last moment in CIC, before he pilots the entire fleet into the sun to the tune of the original BSG theme — a particularly nice touch.
The final moments between Roslin and Adama play like a reminder to treasure the things in life that matter before they are gone. For this series, I will treasure these final scenes, just as Adama will treasure his last moments with Roslin. It's comforting that she — and so many others — made it all the way to Earth-2, but sad that she makes it no farther. Like Kara, she has completed the purpose of her journey. Their final flight in the Raptor is beautiful and devastating, and Roslin's final words marvel at the world's richness: "So much life." And then she's gone. In a nice touch, Adama puts his wedding ring on Roslin's finger after she passes, in a direct echo of "The Hub."
The story provides us with not one but a series of bittersweet pills to swallow: Roslin succumbs to her cancer, but she is able to do so with peace of mind. Adama and Lee have settled all the rifts that used to exist between them, but they separate here, for what apparently will be forever (which I must confess I just don't get, beyond the story's need to tear-jerk). And Adama finally gets the long-delayed retirement and the lovely view of the mountains, but without the woman he loves. (And how about that final shot of him on that hilltop? I'm getting choked up just thinking about it.)
Meanwhile, Tyrol realizes that he's sick of people, and decides he's going to go off into seclusion on a faraway continent, away from everyone and everything — which seems like a recipe for a lonely death. In a way, it's the most bitter end for any of the characters.
Perhaps the series' happiest ending is for Tigh and Ellen, who now have the rest of their lives to spend together; we see in the strip-club flashback conversation that life with Saul was honestly all Ellen ever wanted. Oh, and Sharon, Helo, and Hera; they also get a happy ending. And how about the strange and turbulent and touching journey of Baltar and Caprica Six, and their Head Angels? What a bumpy, complicated ride, and it's all brought home here with Baltar's emotional line that by virtue of the flashbacks explains so much about them and their new situation: "I know about farming."
And Kara Thrace. I'm of the opinion that Kara's vanishing act is just about pitch-perfect in its tone, and a terrific example of less being more. What was Kara Thrace? You'll have to answer that for yourself, but by simply having Kara vanish in an open field while in mid-conversation with Lee, using the absolute simplest of camera techniques — well, it works probably as well as any literal interpretation probably could've. The acting and directing in the scene is key. Watch how Kara says that she's "done here" and then, when Lee moves toward her for a possible embrace, she subtly recoils, as if she knows what's coming and wants to prevent Lee from reconnecting. And when Lee does turn around and sees that she's gone, his reaction is oddly muted. In real life, if someone vanished like that you'd freak out. But the message of the scene is one of acceptance, and I thought it really worked. Again, wholly bittersweet.
Let it also be said that for me Kara's vanishing was the single most unsettling and mind-racing aspect of the episode; it kept me up pondering the night I first watched it. It's so mysterious and emotionally complicated and somehow ... right. And while I don't know exactly what the pigeon in the flashbacks means — possibly nothing, in literal terms — it seems to fit the mystery of Kara, and the notion that her existence — like all of our existences — is fleeting. (As for all the red-herring speculation about how Kara tied into the Cylons and/or Daniel: While it might've led to fascinating conclusions of their own, it turned out to be a case of the material being so open to interpretation that the speculation outran the scope of the original simpler intent. I don't have a problem with that.)
And how about that Bear McCreary, anyway? You realize here, when all the characters' individual musical themes are such a part of the storytelling, how much identity this composer has brought to this series. The Adamas, Roslin, Kara, Sharon, Baltar, Head Six, the Final Five, the Opera House — they all have their own specific musical cues, all of which are employed in "Daybreak." Oh, and don't forget the Jump Forward Theme, which is played here not for a one-year jump forward (cf. "Lay Down Your Burdens, Part 2"), but for a 150,000-year jump forward to present-day New York City.
That final scene in present-day Manhattan is, as I said, a nice piece of whimsy, which alleges that not only are we are all descended from the Colonials and the Cylons, but that their "angels" (Head Six/Baltar) continue to observe us, offering up their commentary on whether we are marching ourselves toward destruction by our technology. With our robotics, are we approaching the point where we are on the verge of creating our own Cylons? Do we have the ability to avoid the fates of the human race that came from the Colonies, and the Cylons that came from Earth-1? Or are we doomed to repeat their cycle of destruction? How much of Them is in Us? Enough, it would seem. The last thing to play on the soundtrack is the Jimi Hendrix cover of "All Along the Watchtower." He was part Cylon, after all.
Looking back at BSG the series, I see a show that asked a lot of probing questions and usually did right by its characters. Because the whole arc wasn't planned out in advance and Moore preferred to make things up as he went along — or throw out ideas that didn't work — sometimes the ambition overreached what the writers were able to deliver. And you can sometimes see that in "Daybreak" (with the aforementioned Opera House revelation and the Colonials' abandonment of technology, for example). But overall I think the dynamic approach to storytelling served this series extremely well. It wasn't always perfect, but it was usually interesting. More to the point, this show was alive. Few series combined the visceral, the intellectual, the unexpected, and the emotional as well as Battlestar Galactica.
I've enjoyed watching and writing about this series, and I hope you've enjoyed reading about it on this site. BSG may be over, but my inability to shut up means that this site will go on, in one form or another. Whatever the future holds, I hope you'll stick around. I'll see you on the other side.
Note: I opened comments on this episode when it originally aired March 20. I moved all those pre-existing comments, which includes much interesting discussion, to the fake April 1 version of this review when I posted this review on May 9.