Air date: 2/20/2009
Written by Jane Espenson
Directed by Robert Young
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Now here's a dysfunctional episode about dysfunctional people. After "No Exit" — an episode that contained more information than one thought possible in a single hour and somehow maintained utter clarity and great characterization — "Deadlock" contains very little new information and somehow comes across as a ponderous, unfocused mess. There are solid, good moments and ideas to be found in "Deadlock," but they are adrift amid a sea of half-baked motivation and frankly ham-fisted drama.
What's a surprise — or, come to think of it, maybe it shouldn't be — is that the story's problems all stem from the volatile nature of Ellen Tigh, who strolls off Boomer's Raptor onto Galactica at the beginning of the episode and reveals to everyone that not only is she alive and well, but that she's basically still Plain and Simple Ellen. (Plus a ton of new information.)
"I'm still Ellen, you know," she says. She asks for a drink — or a flask, if someone has one. Apparently, you can take the memories out of the alcoholic, but you can't take the alcoholic out of the memories. She and Tigh make passionate love while he envisions Caprica Six, which is sort of the reverse of the situation with Six in the brig previously. It's like a three-way, Cylon Projection Style. When Tigh fesses up about thinking about Ellen while being with Six, Ellen's response: "I was your mental porn? That's just sad."
At some point, a conscious storytelling choice was made that although New Ellen has retrieved all her memories from her original life as one of the Final Five, the bulk of her personality still remains from Old Ellen, the Colonial Wife Whom Saul Poisoned. As such, she is quite capable of all the Old Ellen behavior: being petty, vindictive, bitchy, and insanely jealous. One of the tenets of the episode appears to be that we cannot change who we fundamentally are, even if we did suddenly remember that we invented resurrection and built an entire race of AI beings. Although New Ellen has great insight into the entire human-Cylon situation, that doesn't erase the very flawed Old Ellen who "frakked half the Colonial fleet" and is basically still pissed off because Saul is married to his job.
This would be a valid thesis if not for the fact that, well, virtually everything about "No Exit" played against this notion. Ellen's rediscovered memories made her a different person — one who was able to calmly argue and philosophize with Cavil for 18 months. But now here, most of that wisdom seems to vanish. It's a non-credible backtrack for the character, one that doesn't make a whole lot of sense and is less interesting, not more. Instead of doing her best to help the fleet, Ellen plays some rather cruel mind games.
But not always. There are scenes where she seems like New Ellen, where she marvels over seeing all of the Final Five, once again finally reunited, and ponders the possibilities for the future. But that vanishes when she learns that Caprica Six is pregnant with Saul's baby — a piece of information Saul carefully, stupidly omitted. The jealousy of Old Ellen comes storming back; she and Saul never could have a child, despite years of trying, you see. This is good for some tension and some cruel laughs; Ellen can be ruthlessly nasty with devastatingly cutting remarks while playing innocent, like she does when she visits Caprica Six in her quarters ("I come here trying to be good..."). But this can also be perplexing, as she turns on a dime and suddenly seems genuine. The bottom line is that all this seems petty and counterproductive when you consider the stakes. Maybe that's the point: If the fate of the human and Cylon races rest with people who behave as shortsightedly as Ellen, everyone's in trouble.
The problem is that too much of the drama feels schizophrenic, forced, or like it came out of left field. The main crisis here is that the Cylons want to leave the fleet and go it alone, and take Caprica Six and her future-of-the-Cylon-race child with them. But they won't do it unless the Final Five go along. So: Stay or go, Final Five? It comes down to a majority vote, because that's how such decisions are always made by Cylons. Anders voted last week when he said "Stay with the fleet!" before falling into a coma. Tigh of course wants to stay, because his loyalty to the fleet is second to none. Tory wants to leave, also not a surprise. Tyrol votes to leave. That makes Ellen the deciding vote, which she will leave up in the air while she plays out her little drama.
But back up a minute. Tyrol wants to go? I think that's worth a little examination (although the story doesn't agree). Yeah, Tyrol has had a rough go of things lately and has become disillusioned about life aboard the Galactica. But what does life on a Cylon basestar get him? A fresh start, I suppose — but Adama gave him a fresh start by giving him his job back. He has a chance to make a difference at a turning point in the fleet's history, when it's clear Adama is committed to the alliance. So why does he vote to leave behind everything he has ever known? I'm not necessarily saying he wouldn't cast his vote for leaving; what I'm saying is that story doesn't for a moment examine it. It's arbitrary.
For that matter, just how many of the Cylons want to leave? Another theme this show examines is the societal melding of the humans and the Cylons who are now living on Galactica. There are Cylons working to install the organic gel that will fix the metal beams in the ship. And as we see in the final shot of the episode, the Cylons have even started using Galactica's memorial wall for their own fallen comrades. That's a very intriguing moment, and the most genuinely poignant point of the story.
Also interesting is the symbolic notion that installing the gel to fix the ship is itself a melding of humanity and Cylon; Galactica is no longer who she used to be, but a hybrid of something new. And there's another great drunken scene between Adama and Tigh where Adama laments the death of Galactica as we knew her. While all this alcohol cannot bode well in the long run, watching these two old guys continue to drink together through all this mess is somehow reassuring, and I'd like to introduce a mathematical postulate: Adama + Tigh + Alcohol = Great TV.
By the way, the whole storyline involving the organic gel — it still makes me very uneasy. Surely Tyrol would've researched this mystery substance and declared it safe. Surely it's not going to grow into the metal and become something that could destroy the ship from within. But maybe not so surely. I don't know if Adama's obsessive alarmed gazes are just bemoaning the end of Galactica as she once was, or if he's concerned that this could end up being catastrophic. There are so many separate ominous shots of Adama watching the work being done (six, to be exact) that by the end of the show I wanted to declare these shots as the basis for the episode's official drinking game.
But I've strayed from my original point, which is: Given all that has happened that is tethering the humans and the Cylons, why do the Cylons want to leave the fleet?
Also not explained, nor attempted in even the most oblique way, is how Boomer was able to find the fleet in the first place. If she can find the fleet, why can't Cavil? (Or maybe he can, or always knew where it was, in which case he's playing waiting games.) Shouldn't Adama be asking a few questions along these lines?
Instead, it's straight to the brig for Boomer, which strikes me as plausible, I guess, but not particularly forward-thinking or intriguing as a dramatic choice. If we can forgive Athena for being a Cylon, and Caprica Six for helping nuke the Colonies (though I'm not sure anyone knows that except Baltar and Roslin), why do we come down so hard on Boomer for shooting the Old Man under preprogrammed directives she had no control over? Perhaps there are simply too many Eights roaming the ship, and Adama needs to know where they all are.
Also not explained: What the hell is a pregnant Caprica Six doing walking around the Dogsville section of the ship, which is overrun with gangs and people who hate the Cylons? That's just stupid. At this point, Caprica Six, given that her unborn baby is the future of the Cylon race, should probably be locked away in her quarters whenever possible. There are a lot of people, I'm sure, who do not want this child born. So why would you make yourself a target of violence and put the entire future at risk?
Speaking of Dogsville, it's one of the other tiers of this week's story. Baltar returns to his flock, who have started to look to Paula as their new leader. She used to be a member of the flock, and when Baltar left for the baseship, she took over. Now they become rivals in a quiet ideological struggle for leadership of the flock. Head Six returns to help inspire Baltar with words in this struggle. But a funny thing happens on the way to the pissing contest: The whole thing becomes a pointless lackluster exercise.
When Baltar was preaching against the establishment and in favor of the One True God, I understood where that notion came from. But that has all been wiped away and the priorities have been reset to the basics of finding food and hording it. Amid these events, Baltar's naivete is kind of mind-boggling. He tries to make a difference when he should damn well know better; Paula warns that guys with guns will steal the food, but Baltar doesn't listen. Then the guys with guns come and steal the food. I'm not sure what to make of this; I found it all sort of muddled.
What does ultimately work is Baltar's appeal to Adama, where he cites the fact that Galactica is becoming Cylonized, and the civilians, already pushed to their limits, won't accept it and are about to rise up in a revolution, which is about the last thing Adama needs. Baltar needs guns to provide security against the gangs of the lower decks. So Adama gives him the guns, probably against his better judgment. The problem with this whole storyline, like the episode in general, is that it feels concocted and perfunctory rather than urgent and logical.
The Ellen plot comes to a head on what might as well be called Ellen's Dramatic Theater Stage. She invites the Final Five (minus Anders; still in a coma) and Caprica Six into one room where they discuss the merits of leaving the fleet. When Ellen announces her vote to leave, Tigh rejects it outright, and Ellen accuses him of loving Adama and the ship and the uniform more than her, more than Six, more than his unborn baby. It must be noted that Tigh is awesome even in the middle of this petulant drama display; Michael Hogan is great at growling dialog and punctuating it with variants of the word "frak" in ways that make you want to cheer for him in the face of absurdity.
The psychological effects of this drama are enough to land Six in sickbay and put the baby's life in jeopardy. The whole notion of all of this is predicated on the belief that True Love is what's apparently needed to sustain a Cylon fetus. One scene I thought worked pretty well was when Saul struggles with the silly need to put love into words when he feels far more for Six and the child than those words could ever express. And I liked how Ellen transitioned from the role of selfish troublemaker to loyal supportive wife in the blink of an eye. Complicated and dysfunctional, this is.
But the baby dies, which I found to be blatantly manipulative, and more motivated by the writers' apparent need to make Hera the sole face of the future than by what actually jells here in terms of story. Apparently, the psychosomatic effects of a Cylon's mental doubt that her lover actually loves her can result in the baby's death. Wow. Sorry, but that's a bit much for me. Besides, if a Cylon baby allegedly cannot be conceived without this notion of ironclad True Love, how was the baby conceived in the first place? Six and Tigh conceived the child during some sort of strange Cylon therapy session. I doubt they were in love at the time, as would've been required by the Cylon Conception Rules suggested here.
I dunno. This episode is kind of a manipulative cheat and is dictated too much by Old Ellen, who somehow displaced the far more intriguing New Ellen. Last week, New Ellen was the matriarch and Cavil was the petulant child. This week New Ellen is gone and instead we have Old Ellen who behaves like a petulant child. There are probably ironies to be found there, but as drama this just doesn't work.