Jammer's Review

Battlestar Galactica

"Escape Velocity"

***

Air date: 4/25/2008
Written by Jane Espenson
Directed by Edward James Olmos

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

If there's a common theme in the intriguing and psychologically layered "Escape Velocity" (and I'm not sure that there is), it's that certain characters need to pay some sort of penance in order to move on to the next stage in their lives (or perhaps the next stage they will inhabit in the BSG master plot). Last week was all about building to an inevitable tragedy; now that there has been a victim, this week is somewhat more meditative.

Cally's funeral is a traditional religious service, which the dying Roslin finds comfort in while it makes Adama squirm. "It's not for me, I can tell you that," Adama notes. "I'm telling you what I like," Roslin replies. The way Roslin trusts Adama to honor what will be her final wish is both a reminder of their closeness and of how dire her situation is. Meanwhile, I find it intriguing how the BSG universe borrows things from our own world and then twists them just so for its own: The structured chanting seems to have its roots in a Catholic Mass, while the hasty timing of the service itself ("Why do they have to do these things at sunrise?") seems to hint at Judaism. (Inquiring minds: Was Cally's body recovered from space? For that matter, how did anyone discover she was blown out the airlock, which everyone apparently assumes she did to herself?)

In the midst of his grief, Tyrol makes a gesture in the direction of Tigh that I honestly am not sure whether speaks more about Tyrol, or about Tigh and Tory. For Tyrol it's a moment of weakness as he reaches out for those suffering a similar fate as his own (living in secrecy); regarding Tigh and Tory, it reveals the depths of their own paranoia: "Is he trying to get us killed?" As a neutral observer, I'd argue that what Tyrol does wouldn't raise any flags to anyone who witnessed it.

Tigh and Tyrol have something in common, though: They've both lost their wives, and Tigh minces few words when telling the chief that he'll have to live with that hole in his life forever. But when Tigh talks, there's a subtext to it that applies uniquely to himself; he has a special well of guilt because his wife's death was of his own doing. It's a well that his mind can't stop tapping.

And should it? That's the compelling tragedy that has become Saul Tigh, and Michael Hogan is endlessly watchable as this guy who has been through some of the toughest things among all the characters on the show (although Kara gives him a run for his money). Here, we get scenes between Tigh and the jailed Caprica Six that explore this guilt. He wants to know: As a Cylon, can she simply "switch off" her guilt over having committed genocide? Tigh wants to be able to turn off his own guilt, but it doesn't work that way for him or for the Cylons. (Oh, but that's right — he is a Cylon himself.) In a particularly interesting choice by the writers, sometimes Tigh sees Ellen when Six talks to him. Kate Vernon appears in scenes that are intriguing and creepy. It creates a strange budding relationship between Tigh and Six, which is made all the more curious by the fact that Kate Vernon and Tricia Helfer share some physical similarities (at least the way they're photographed here).

Tigh needs to pay some sort of penance in his own mind for what he did to Ellen. He doesn't reveal to Six what he did, but Six talks about her own pain and how that contributes to her learning process as a sentient being. I must admit that these scenes at times seemed a little too aware of their high-minded intentions and lacked a certain juice. When Six beats the hell out of Tigh and he willingly takes it, there's a self-flagellation vibe to it. But "this isn't what you need," she tells him. What does he need? Hell, what do any of us need?

The main plot here is centered on Baltar, unseen in last week's "Ties That Bind" but given a major role here, as he pushes his monotheistic religious movement onto center stage and consequently pisses everyone off. Violent mobs from the fundamentalist polytheistic establishment coming looking for Baltar. (Just how many civilians are living on Galactica?) "Old gods die hard, even among your people," Head Six notes. Baltar just wants to be a man, not supplant the religious status quo, but Head Six, always the provocateur within Baltar, convinces him to go on the offensive, which he does, picking a fight with the religious establishment, which puts him in danger and in the lawmakers' crosshairs.

Also working away inside Baltar's mind is Tory, who, unbeknownst to him, has embraced being a Cylon in order to reinvent herself. Before when they had sex, she cried. Now she has graduated to mild sadism. Baltar preferred the tears. Having his ear, Tory muses over her newfound sense of perfection, and thinks of it as a license to live free of guilt: She can do what she wants because she believes she was made to be perfect — a philosophy even Baltar, in all his egoism, has never subscribed to. But given the ideas he invokes at the end, there's a delicious (or tragic) irony in seeing how Baltar has a tendency to have sex with Cylons only to be manipulated by them.

Meanwhile, Roslin has had enough. I mean, how many times does she have to deal with the disruptive drama of Gaius Baltar? After a disturbance brought on by his religious run-ins, she reveals to him that she's dying in order to supply a veiled threat: "I'm not in the mood any longer to indulge you." This I believe. When your days are numbered, you don't want to be wasting them on the problems of and caused by Gaius Baltar.

This mess spills over into the political arena when Roslin tries to clamp down on religious assembly in order to quell the fighting. Her roadblock: Lee Adama, who sees Roslin's move as a larger threat to freedom of speech. Lee is looking at the bigger picture and the legal slippery slope; Roslin vents to Adama how Lee has an almost willful inability to be pragmatic: How can you run a society on its old rules when there's barely a society left? I wondered myself if Lee struggled with this question, seeing as he famously argued "We are a gang" in "Crossroads, Part 2."

The legal showdown over Baltar's rights goes down while Baltar himself tries to take his own stand. He confronts the guards that have barricaded his cult's temple in a bizarre scene that suggests the will of God — or whatever Head Six represents — props him up again and again after he gets repeatedly knocked down by the security guards. He takes a brutal beating for the greater good of his cult. Played as near slapstick, I'm not entirely sure if this was funny or serious.

It ultimately for me felt a little muddled in terms of motivation. Why does Baltar see a need to do this? What drives him? Is it the will of Head Six? Because he's crazy? Because he needs to assert his Self on the world? What? In the end, Baltar makes a speech announcing to his followers that "God loves you because you are perfect. Just as you are." I didn't find that this had the power or clarity of purpose that the story clearly wanted it to. (I also, for some reason, couldn't help but be reminded of James Callis saying "Just as you are" as a toast to Bridget Jones.)

More interesting, strongly motivated, and visceral to me was Tyrol's plight of desolation. He makes a mistake on the job that almost gets a Raptor crew killed. His attitude takes a public turn for the worse. It all leads up to the episode's most powerful scene, which starts as a friendly talk where Adama tries to set Tyrol back on the right track, before spiraling downward into an ugly, jaw-dropping tirade that Tyrol unleashes. It's a raw scene that lays bare Tyrol's unfiltered (and, let it be said, unwisely disclosed) honesty as he sees his and everyone's predicament in this crappy hand life has dealt. He lashes out about his dead wife in full public view, and it's not pretty.

The thing is, Adama gives him every opportunity to avoid crossing the line, and Tyrol blatantly refuses to take the life line. The end result is Tyrol losing the only thing that's probably holding him together right now: his job. Adama pulls him off the flight deck. The music makes its own commentary on the scene by playing the Cylon version of "Watchtower" during a slow tracking-out shot of a dazed Tyrol. Just like that, he did himself in. Being a Cylon has led him here. And now where will he go? I only wish the rest of "Escape Velocity" was as strong and focused as this scene.

Just as Baltar went missing in last week's episode, MIA this week are both the Demetrius and Cylon civil war plot lines, which suggests that this season, if so jammed-packed full of material, will have to pick its priorities from week to week and relegate the rest to the sidelines. I'm fine with that, provided the balance ultimately services everything. So, while one is left wondering what's going on with the Cylons after the Cavils launched their attack last week, time will tell.

Previous episode: The Ties That Bind
Next episode: The Road Less Traveled

Season Index

31 comments on this review

Sam - Fri, Dec 19, 2008 - 11:49pm (USA Central)
Wasn't this also the one where Baltar goes to some Colonial religious service and calls Zeus a serial rapist? Good times.
Occuprice - Sat, Dec 20, 2008 - 12:26am (USA Central)
I'm quite fond of this episode. I agree with everything you said about the Tyrol story, and I think the Tigh story is pure, compelling genius. I even found Baltar's story extremely involving as well, which is perhaps where I differ from you this season. I guess I'm not seeing the huge problem with motivation that you are.

Baltar has been thrust into this life, and it's the only one he can have. It's the only one that'll have HIM. So what's a guy to do? Say "nah.. I'm just gonna stay to the side" or is he going to embrace it? More to the point, what would Baltar do? Trapped in this life, I think Baltar would in fact embrace it and do exactly what he has done.

If there is some motivation to question, it's the motivation of his cult. But, at this point it doesn't really matter to me. They believe in him, and it's not hard to think that they really do, so I'm okay (not great) with not being told their exact motivation. At this point, all that really matters to me is Baltar, and I think his actions have excellent motivation; the only life he has now is that of a religious figure in a crazy cult, so that is what he will be.

Escape Velocity: * * * 1/2
Brendan - Sat, Dec 20, 2008 - 1:55pm (USA Central)
I also am not sure what to make of Baltar's speech at the end, and yet I found it compelling and powerful nonetheless. There isnt a clear cut way to take it. RDM said in his podcast that you can either take it as total nonsense, profound, or anything in between. And I'm not sure where I stand. What I do know, is that that speech was the moment when religious Baltar became believable to me, and I get chills every time I watch it still.

Greg - Sat, Dec 20, 2008 - 6:16pm (USA Central)
Although I don't always agree with everything you write, Jammer, this is a very thoughtful review. I liked what you said about Baltar being manipulated by yet another woman he doesn't suspect is Cylon. That's one aspect I haven't given nearly enough thought in terms of Baltar's character. Here's hoping there will be an interesting payoff for this mini-subplot in the final 10 episodes.

I also agree with Occuprice about the motivations of Baltar. I remember back to a scene in 'He That Believeth..." where one of Baltar's followers (the tall, vicious one, I believe) states that 'none of the other ships will have you' when he asks to go somewhere else, and I remember that it seemed to cut at him quite a bit. Here's a guy who had the majority of the fleet behind him, and now the only people who have any kind of respect for him at ALL appear to be religious nuts: "From the president of the Colonies to this -- the king of fools." All that plus the 'miracle' of the recovered little boy, and I start to believe Baltar's motivation given the kind of man he is -- self-serving and egotistical.

Now what that all will amount to by series end is still obviously up in the air, but for the moment I buy it.

A very good episode, in my opinion. I found it a particularly fascinating installment even for its flaw of seeming to be a little too aware of its high-minded intentions.

If I had to throw a score on it, I'd probably give it a 9/10 or ***1/2 stars or so and I'm not a typically generous person what it comes to grading things. I guess different episodes just strike chords with different people. Occuprice and I are probably in the minority of those who REALLY like it.
Greg - Sat, Dec 20, 2008 - 6:26pm (USA Central)
Also, Jammer, I understand that you're busy catching up on this season and your TNG reviews, but I was wondering if you were going to post your thoughts at all about The Shield finale. The euphoria of it is almost a month past by now, but I'm still curious about your reaction to it. I personally found it brilliant and about as perfect an ending as any series has ever gotten - it really tied up the WHOLE series masterfully. It seems like such a simple thing to just END a story properly but so many series manage to botch it in one way or another. Two out of my three favourite shows have gotten excellent endings (The Shield and The Wire), so here's hoping that Battlestar (my number three) will have the same!

Anyway - looking forward to seeing the rest of this season's reviews.
misterd - Sun, Dec 21, 2008 - 8:29pm (USA Central)
Can't wait for the DVDs as the details of each episode tend to blur together, but as I recall this was one of the weaker eps of the season. Too much transition in too many storylines.

One thing that makes this play a little different in hindsight is the Chief's confession that he wasn't all that fond of Callie in the first place. While Tigh is eaten up by Ellen's death, even though he had good cause (in his mind, anyway), Tigh may be haunted by the fact that he just doesn't care that she's gone, and may even be a relieved, which must force him to wonder if this is because he's a Cylon?
Occuprice - Mon, Dec 22, 2008 - 12:48am (USA Central)
Also wanted to add that this episode was the only one this season that's had me actually on the edge of my seat the entire time. The only other episode to do that was Exodus II because... well it was just viscerally intense. This was intellectually intense. There have been many better episode than this and Exodus II, but still.
Matt L. - Mon, Dec 22, 2008 - 1:51am (USA Central)
Put me in the camp that found Baltar's speech (and his arc in general) incredibly fascinating. I don't think it's at all hard to pin down his motivation. On top of the fact that circumstances have really given him no where else to go--Baltar is an egotist. He loves to be the center of attention. This is a consistent character trait that you can see going all the way back to the miniseries. And quite frankly you don't get anymore the center of attention then being the messiah of your own religion (I find it interesting that you continuously call it a 'cult'). At first I don't think he believed it at all, but bit by bit you can see him starting to buy into it and when he gives that speech...for me that is the moment when he decides that he believes. And what a dangerous and yet at the same time enticing speech it is. You are perfect just the way you are. God loves you just the way you are. The implication being that you don't need to worry about becoming a better person, which is very dangerous. But at the same time you can't help but wonder if maybe the people in this fleet need the kind of hope that such a religion offers.

Lol, I'm babbling. But I really do think there are a lot of interesting ideas bubbling under this sub-plot.
Anlyn - Wed, Dec 24, 2008 - 12:18pm (USA Central)
I think Tyrol wanted to be removed from the flight deck. After all, he was the one who helped cover up Boomer's sabotage early in the series. I think he was extremely aware that as Chief, he could seriously do harm to the Galactica, so he got himself thrown off, into a position where he can't do as much harm. I think much of his rant is sincere, but as you say, Adama kept giving him a chance to stop, and he wouldn't. So I think he did it on purpose in order to keep himself from sabotaging the ship.
Soptupa - Sat, Dec 27, 2008 - 10:24am (USA Central)
20 days until January 16th! 7 episodes to review!
= 1 episode review every 2.85 days!
MikeD - Sat, Dec 27, 2008 - 6:22pm (USA Central)
Another great review. Glad you're back at it. Your BSG reviews are the best on the Internet and I hope you're able to stay current during the upcoming season 4.5!

Cheers
HipsterDoofus - Sun, Dec 28, 2008 - 7:47pm (USA Central)
Hey Soptupa you're being a jerk why don't you shut up? He's not getting paid for this and even if he was you're not his publisher.
Occuprice - Sun, Dec 28, 2008 - 11:49pm (USA Central)
Doofus, you're the king of overreactions.
HipsterDoofus - Mon, Dec 29, 2008 - 5:40am (USA Central)
You haven't seen very much of the internet have you?
Occuprice - Mon, Dec 29, 2008 - 6:36pm (USA Central)
I've seen it, and guess what, I've READ it too.

He was NOT being a jerk. He was not saying or implying anything like "you have a RESPONSIBILITY to do this" or "I demand my reviews" or anything. To me, it seemed a very neutral statement that the deadline for having reviews done by the new season is approaching. It was a fact. Not any opinion. Not any presumption that Jammer won't get it done. Not any statement that he HAS to get it done.

You need to mellow out and save your anger for someone who ACTUALLY says or implies that Jammer has a responsibility to deliver and that it is somehow rude of him to keep us waiting.
Jammer - Mon, Dec 29, 2008 - 7:29pm (USA Central)
C'mon everybody; let's just calm down.
JackBauer - Tue, Dec 30, 2008 - 6:39pm (USA Central)
Jammer makes money from this site, it may not be much, but he does get money.

Personally If I were one of the suckers who chipped in money to get TNG DVD's for Jammer, id be pissed on that front.
Jammer - Tue, Dec 30, 2008 - 9:48pm (USA Central)
Honestly, the little bit of money I make from this site (which mostly covers expenses like hosting fees) has nothing to do with anything. It certainly has nothing to do with timetables that were never promised in the first place.
IEatLions - Tue, Jan 6, 2009 - 10:58pm (USA Central)
Well, good post as always. However, you should probably at some point correct "Escape Velicoty" on your front page seeing as it'll take about 6 months for it to get bumped off.
Jammer - Wed, Jan 7, 2009 - 12:31am (USA Central)
Well, in this particular case it should be bumped off in less than six days, but point taken and typo corrected.
limey - Tue, Dec 15, 2009 - 6:50pm (USA Central)
My hair stood up on the back of my neck when Baltar was shown actually being man handled by projected Six? The WTF reaction of the guard refusing him entry to the assembly, as in how is this guy physically moving in that way - like Jammer said, it feels like proof finally that Six is not only not just in Gaius' head, but actually can pick him up and throw him. Agreed that it might come across like slapstick, but it.was.freaky.
Josiah - Sat, Jul 2, 2011 - 4:30pm (USA Central)
limey, that scene was both funny and awe-inspiring to me. I definitely got chills watching him invisibly pulled up. I was surprised no one really reacted to it, I was like, "He's practically floating!"
Nick P. - Mon, Jul 25, 2011 - 11:59am (USA Central)
Can someone tell me why Roslin doesn't just ask Baltar to do the same thing he did before? If I was in her situation I would have him locked up until he cured me again?

I didn't love this episode the way I have been liking recent installmants. And mainly it is Baltars storyline. And it is not that it is unlikable or problems with motivation, I in fact think it is very Baltar, I just think that here in early year 4, there is so much going on in other plotlines that deserve so much more attention.

That being said, that scene where Tyrol yells at Adama, WOW, that is raw acting. I think this may be my favourite individual scene in the series. there is something so visceral and so truthful,and Cylon war aside, don't we all kind of feel like that sometimes? You can't ALWAYS be happy with your life. And this guy HAS been through alot.

A couple great scenes in an otherwise OK episode.
Nic - Fri, Oct 28, 2011 - 7:52am (USA Central)
Interesting point Nick P. about Roslin's cancer. It wouldn't be hard to explain it away, but even in deleted scenes this has not been done (yet).

Boy is Tory getting on my nerves. I'm not even sure why, other than she doesn't seem to care about anything or anybody anymore. I was hoping we'd find out WHY she decided to kill Cally... but it doesn't look like we ever will.
Michael - Sun, Nov 27, 2011 - 1:59pm (USA Central)
Baltar's motivation for persisting with this whole cult endeavor is abundantly clear: He is an egotist par excellence (as noted by Matt) although I always thought he'd be more of a mad scientist type of egotist than an exhibitionist; and leading a cult requires the latter.

What I don't get are people (the Quorum) who, after what Baltar did not all that long ago on New Caprica, now seek to protect him and even facilitate his advancing a messianic cult.

I also don't get how it's possible for, what, 2-3 dozen people to get themselves holed up in a room on a warship in the middle of a war, and nobody seems to know. With that kind of security, I'd not be surprised if a bunch of centurions had a command and control center somewhere in an obscure corner of Galactica, too!

Lastly, I don't get what was so spectacular or profound about Baltar's gasbagging near the end. "God loves you because you're perfect, just as you are." He may have believed it--sure looked like he did--but it doesn't mitigate the fact that it's total nonsense that is based on nothing but hot air. Are people that desperate for meaning and a direction that they fall for THAT!!?

ANother thought: How is nobody, least of all Tyrol, suspicious about the circumstances of Cally's death? Why isn't Tyrol wondering what Tory was doing there, and holding his kid at that?

The most insightful part of the show was Roslin's observation that--closely paraphrasing--there are only 30,000 people left and they're not happy unless they're kicking each other's teeth in... - "is this what we've become?". Very astute.
Elliott - Fri, Jan 6, 2012 - 10:11pm (USA Central)
It seems clear that the religions of the colonists and the Cylons serve as progenitors to the religions of earth with which we are familiar.
Ryan - Sat, Mar 17, 2012 - 7:21am (USA Central)
About the Quorum "protecting Balater;" most of the concerns raised were not specifically about Baltar, but about similar groups and beliefs held by the Quorum members' constituents. That is, they were afraid that the bill could, in the future, be used irresponsibly, possibly to quiet a group whom the Executive found troubling. They felt they had to stand up against such a bill, even if it meant helping Baltar, as unsavory as the idea may be. I think it's a reasonable and prudent stance, given Roslin's recent tendency toward secrecy and "executive orders."

On the idea of why people didn't react to seeing Baltar seemingly being moved by an invisible force; I've always just assumed those bits were all in his head. That is, we're seeing the scene through the lens of his mind and not quite what the people in the scene are seeing. I assume that because it's the only thing that makes sense. But, then, making sense isn't exactly something that the BSG writers seem to have at the top of their list, but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt on this one.

Also, another note on that scene; am I the only one who was laughing at the silliness after the guard smacked him for the fourth time? I guess handcuffs aren't standard issue for Galactica Security; if you're on guard duty and someone tries to get past you, just keep hitting him in the face until he changes his mind.

One last note; I said in my comment on The Ties That Bind that Baltar was the only character left that I liked. Well, I forgot to add Colonel Tigh to that list; dude's a badass but also a complex character, and for some reason his cool factor jumped even higher in my book when he took it upon himself to change Nikki's diaper early in the episode. Does Tigh have kids? Seems to me that he doesn't, but he jumped right in and helped the kid out, all the same. A subtle bit that wasn't lost on me.
Elliott - Wed, Jul 11, 2012 - 7:47pm (USA Central)
@Nic: was it not clear that Tory didn't want Callie to tell anyone else she was a Cylon? True, she's become a bit more ruthless (though as Jammer said, she's always been opportunistic and willing to break the rules), but given how easily Cylons are locked up, beaten, RAPED, and thrown out airlocks, she may have believed it was her only means for survival. I think the point is brought up in the next episode or two anyway. Season 4 is definitely my favourite. There's just enough of the plot gears turning to keep up the momentum lost in season 3, but not so much it overshadows the more important mythological and character elements.
Nebula Nox - Tue, Dec 25, 2012 - 9:51am (USA Central)
Love the review and loved the episode. And although it may have been brutal, it was also honest: Tyrol was settling by marrying Cally. He was always fond of her, but he loved Boomer. Of course, many people do settle when they marry, but in the bsg conditions of most of the population has been wiped out, it was an inevitability.
Peremensoe - Sun, Sep 1, 2013 - 8:11pm (USA Central)
I see no reason to think that Baltar's followers, and the Sons of Ares, are all civilians somehow holed up in Galactica. Most if them probably work there. The Sons seemed both to make an effort at disguise, and to have a good idea what the security response would be.
Cureboy - Fri, Jan 10, 2014 - 6:55am (USA Central)
Being five years late to the BSG party means I think the length of time to review episodes is just fine. :0)

Did I miss something? Why hasn't Roslin tried to use Hera's blood again? Obviously it doesn't work this time. I'm guessing it has something to do with Sharon being pregnant with Hera the first time. A hormone thing. But an explanation would be nice

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