"A Disquiet Follows My Soul"
Air date: 1/23/2009
Written and directed by Ronald D. Moore
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"There is a languor of the life more imminent than pain. 'Tis pain's successor — when the soul has suffered all it can." — Adama's opening voice-over
That line contains a pretty good general description of how this episode feels. Last week's "Sometimes a Great Notion" was such a harrowing depiction of pain and people acting out that it was hard to imagine the series getting darker or more dramatic. The show had hit bottom, emotionally speaking (and its peak, dramatically speaking). So now we have pain's successor in "A Disquiet Follows My Soul." It's not even in the same league of compelling as "Notion," but then how could it be?
BSG has been on such an unfathomably good roll during this season and the end of season three that I've begun to feel more like a cheerleader than a critic. That's fine by me, because I can honestly say that BSG is shaping up to be among the best television series I've seen, and certainly the most gripping sci-fi. The last dozen episodes, with the plight of the secret Cylons and the rocky alliance and journey to Earth, have had the momentum of a locomotive. Now that the train has crashed and its cars are lying in ruins, we have to pick up the pieces and start from scratch. "Disquiet," as a result, has sort of a "now what?" feel to it.
It's clearly a transitional piece, and it lacks a certain spark that most of this season has had, which is that feeling that anything could happen at any moment. Instead, we have to get reacquainted to life on Galactica now that the dream of Earth is gone. The anguish is (for the most part) over, and the malaise and bitter recrimination has started to set in. Unfortunately, the malaise sort of seeps into the drama. Perhaps that's the point. I've gotten so used to 47,000 things happening on this show that when only 11 things happen, it feels like an off week.
Don't get me wrong; there's some nice stuff in this episode. But there's also an uncertainty in some scenes here that I haven't seen all season. One wonders if that's because this was the first episode filmed after the end of the writers strike, or because it was Ron Moore's directorial debut. Perhaps neither; who knows.
The plot arises from the fact that the Cylons have superior technology that will greatly improve the FTL capabilities of the entire Colonial fleet, making the search for a new home much faster. The catch is that the Cylons want Colonial citizenship, which would bound Adama, under his oath to the military, to protect them once Cavil and the other Cylons inevitably (and you know it will have to happen eventually) cross paths with the fleet. Obviously, the specter of Cylons being Colonial citizens is not going to be the most popular initiative to go before the government and the civilian populace. Zarek tells Adama straight off that this would be unacceptable.
He's not the only one who feels this way. In an early scene, Caprica Six and Tigh are in sickbay as she gets a sonogram and we see "the future of the Cylon race." As Six looks at the screen and expresses her almost giddily innocent wonderment, you realize that this woman has come so far and is on such a different path than she once was that on some level she must be living in denial. It's like she forgot that she was instrumental in the destruction of humanity and that other people know that. Look at Cottle's assistant, the way she recoils as Six talks about what this fetus represents. It's an ominous sign. Meanwhile, Gaeta sits on the other side of the room and watches while complaining about the bad fit of his prosthetic leg. He has to wait while the Cylons are attended to. He is bitter, bitter, bitter about the notion of Cylon allies. He's a ticking time bomb of discontent.
Where's Roslin during all this? Taking a break from all her worries. After her despair in "Notion," where she was burning the Pythian Prophecy page by page, she has now graduated to a sort of serene apathy, as if a weight has been lifted: Now she can live free of so many burdens, because her prophesied role as a leader was a load of crap. She even stops taking her cancer meds. This is shown in the scene where she dumps all her pills in the trash. Alas, the performance and direction here are, well, hard to describe. What's the word I'm looking for? "Weird." Then the act-out is Laura drinking a glass of water. I'll grant that not every act-out can be Adama holding a gun to his head while goading Tigh to shoot him, but — really? Drinking a glass of water?
Still, I liked Roslin's speech to Adama that she has earned the right — and for that matter, so has he — to live for today. She's not going to keep acting like there might be a tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Tyrol has a problem with pronouns. When he's talking about the FTL upgrades, he keeps referring to "we" and "they" and "us" and "you" like he's not sure whom he identifies with, humans or Cylons. While Tyrol's identity crisis has been well documented, here I thought it came across as pretty heavy-handed. It also suffers from the problem that it assumes something has transpired off-screen (which is not typically a problem except when it plays as a non sequitur as it does here.) The way he talks, it's like he's already living on the Cylon basestar.
Ditto for when Lee lets slip in the press conference that the government believes, regarding the final Cylon, that "she's" dead. The press corps is aroused. But I'm thinking to myself, when and to whom did Tigh divulge that Ellen is the final Cylon? What was the reaction? What did other characters make of it? Why was this done off-screen? And would Lee really let such a fact slip in a press conference?
Another aspect that didn't really work for me was the occasionally self-indulgent pace. Do we really need to see Adama brush his teeth twice in this episode? Or Roslin running through the corridors for so long that it's obviously intended not simply to have meaning but Meaning?
I'm not saying I disliked this episode. It's more that I was lukewarm to it. While there were things about it that didn't work, there were several things that certainly did. Like, for example: Tyrol's son is sick. The little guy has kidney problems, and what seems like a routine medical storyline suddenly and yet almost casually becomes one the most unexpected low-profile plot twists of the season: It turns out this kid is not Tyrol's. Cally got pregnant right before they were married. Cottle knew but was bound by doctor-patient privilege. So this half-Cylon kid isn't even half-Cylon at all. The writers have got to be patting each other on the back for their almost-too-simple ingenuity here. Not only does it reduce the number of Cylon children to be dealt with as story points, but it but further alienates Tyrol in his sad world of sick-cosmic-joke isolation.
And the Gaeta storyline is strong. There's a scene where Gaeta gets right in Kara's face and calls her out for being married to a Cylon — the same Cylon, by the way, who shot his leg off. Gaeta's evolution as a character, from an almost happy-go-lucky optimist to an utterly bitter man drawing his lines in the sand, has been inspired. This guy is absolutely fed up with the Cylon coddling, and he's ready to take action. He begins sowing the seeds of a mutiny.
Meanwhile, Baltar's words feel vividly nihilistic. Perhaps God is wrong, he says, and we should all be demanding He ask us to forgive Him. Baltar's speech happens while Tyrol meets eyes with Hot Dog — the actual father of Cally's son — and they get into a fistfight in the middle of Baltar's service. Baltar doesn't even bat an eye; he just smokes nonchalantly.
And then there's Tyrol's crash-course for Hot Dog on fatherhood: Lesson No. 1 in hospital situations: Someone has to sit by the bed the whole time; I'm gonna go get drunk; don't leave until I sober up and come back. One wonders if Tyrol is simply going to check out of the whole fatherhood thing now that he knows he's a Cylon, Cally's dead, and Nicky is not actually his blood.
I still haven't gotten to the main plot of this episode, perhaps because it lacks a certain urgency. Basically, the Quorum, taking Zarek's lead, passes a law that allows civilian ships to reject the installation of the Cylon FTL technology. This is Zarek taking a position against Adama that can in no way be realistically sustained by a civilian government that doesn't have the guns, but I guess Zarek has decided he's not going the quiet route he took in "Sine Qua Non." Subsequently, crews in the civilian fleet start to mutiny, and then the tylium fuel ship jumps away, upping the stakes. A lot of this to me felt more like a rehash of second season's "Resistance" than something fresh and worthy of season four.
So Adama has Zarek arrested. He knows Zarek can contact the tylium ship. Adama's game is to threaten to expose Zarek for engaging in various government pay-to-play schemes, using Zarek's self-image as a martyr (and a folder full of incriminating evidence) against him. Adama predicts that Zarek would rather cave than be exposed as a dirty politician. (Here Ron Moore shows his knack for clairvoyant allegory about my own state's Gov. Rod Blagojevich, removed from office just yesterday for his own alleged pay-to-play schemes, among other things. Oh, that remark about clairvoyance is sarcasm, by the way — and also a reaction to my own surprise that Illinois politics would somehow find their way into a Battlestar Galactica review. Blagojevich, it should be noted, would never have caved to Adama. Why do that when you could go on The View?)
It turns out the folder of incriminating evidence was actually just "laundry reports" and Adama was bluffing his way through, correctly guessing Zarek was in fact dirty. This to me feels a little too TV-contrived for BSG. I'm also not sure it's even necessary to make Zarek a dirty politician. Zarek is interesting precisely because he advocates a particular point of view and not simply himself for power's sake. This is the guy who resigned from Baltar's administration during the New Caprica debacle, after all. Making him dirty doesn't negate his positions, but I don't think it makes Zarek a more interesting character.
However, the prospect of Zarek conspiring with Gaeta for what's clearly a brewing mutiny is intriguing, and proves that this episode, more than anything, is simply laying the groundwork for bigger developments to come. It's just too bad it sometimes feels like it's spinning its wheels with what's actually happening here.
Lastly, I'm not sure I needed to see Adama and Roslin finally consummate their relationship. Yes, I understand the point here. And these two characters, more than probably anyone in the fleet, deserve to take some time and enjoy life in the moment. But somehow, seeing it on-screen feels unnecessary and unsatisfying. Maybe it's because the pitch-perfect moment when their love was finally vocalized in "The Hub" could not possibly be topped. But this feels like a TV show trying to satisfy a TV audience with an obligatory payoff. This scene is a microcosm for my feelings about the episode. It's not bad, and I appreciate what it says and tries to do. But there's something about it that doesn't quite work and feels a little off.