"Sometimes a Great Notion"
Air date: 1/16/2009
Written by Bradley Thompson & David Weddle
Directed by Michael Nankin
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"Sometimes a Great Notion" is a true companion episode to the final shot of "Revelations." There is a great deal of information supplied by this story, with several more secrets revealed about Earth — enough to really get the speculative juices flowing — but there is no plot in the conventional sense. This is a character piece, marked by stellar performances, that takes the final shot of "Revelations" and depicts its fallout for the hour's duration. "Revelations" provided the big reveal, and "Notion" compellingly, vividly, devastatingly documents the consequences.
As I said before, Earth is not going to save these people. Indeed, quite the contrary: From the evidence here, it might hasten their demise, because finding it as a barren, uninhabitable wasteland has now stripped away the one thing that has kept many people in this fleet going: hope. Hope that the journey had a destination and that their unremitting daily hell would one day end.
The episode opens with a series of simple, powerful shots that stretch out the emotions of the final minute of "Revelations" — characters wordlessly looking at the landscape of a destroyed Manhattan-like city on the opposite side of a riverfront. They sift helplessly through rubble, ruins, and dirt. Dee finds a child's game of jacks, and she just loses it. "Let's get outta here," Adama eventually grumbles. When Roslin gets back to Galactica, words completely fail. There's nothing she can say to express this kind of crushing disappointment, and no way to spin it into anything remotely positive. So she says nothing. She just walks away.
On the planet surface, investigations continue. It's here that we get the most intriguing new facts about Earth and how it fits into the mythos. Surveys show that the planet was nuked about 2,000 years ago. The metallic head of an ancient Centurion is found — and it's a model not known to the Cylons. And in the biggest twist yet, analysis of skeletal remains reveals that the people who lived here were all Cylons. Yes, the Pythian-prophesied 13th Tribe of Kobol were Cylons. They came to this planet and called it Earth.
What does this mean??? That's right — three question marks. And I never use more than one (because it's bad form). The possibilities put forth by what's shown here are tantalizing. If the 13th Tribe were all Cylons, does that perhaps hint at the reasons for the original exodus from Kobol 3,600 years ago? Which in turn led to the formation of the 12 Colonies? And then there's the fact that the 13th Tribe was destroyed 2,000 years ago in its own nuclear holocaust, presumably by the Centurions that they created, but, well, maybe not.
Here's a theory that occurred to me, although one that might be quickly debunked: What if everyone is a Cylon? What's the difference, exactly, between a human and a humanoid Cylon?
Forget that for now. How about this: There's an assumption that the seven non-Final-Five humanoid Cylons somehow evolved, within 40 years, from the Centurions that were created by man. But what if they didn't? What if they are a completely different race that originated from the 13th Tribe? Or at the very least evolved because of some mysterious interaction with survivors of the 13th Tribe? I could go on like this for some time. (Ironically, this isn't even what this episode is really about.)
We also get some more clues about the Final Five. Being on Earth gives them flashes of 2,000-year-old memories. Tyrol sees a black burn mark on a wall. It's what's left of himself; he remembers being blown up, right here, in a nuclear blast. Creepy. Anders remembers playing the Cylon cover of "All Along the Watchtower." While I don't believe for a second that he could, as he does here, find a partially intact musical instrument just inches below the dirt after 2,000 years, it's still intriguing as all hell: "That song that switched us on — I played it." How did the Final Five, who were on Earth 2,000 years ago, get to the Colonies with these repressed memories?
Then there's Kara. She and Leoben track down the signal that led the fleet to Earth, and this builds our slow realization of an inevitable conclusion. In a creepy sequence, Kara finds her own decomposed body in the destroyed cockpit of her Viper. Her dog tags are still around the corpse's neck. Yes, she really did die at the end of "Maelstrom." It was one thing to watch Kara blow up and then come back amid an air of mystery. It's quite another thing when we actually see her body — when she sees her body. There's something deeply unsettling about the way the corpse is just ... there — providing an austere, incontrovertible fact that now forces her to deal with the reality she has maybe known all along. "If that's me lying there, what am I?!"
Leoben, usually the confident prophet with all the handy answers, is speechless. He backs away slowly, like he's afraid of what Kara might actually be, since she's clearly not what he was sure she was. "I was wrong," he says. "About everything." You've never seen Leoben this lost, and you realize here that the revelations on Earth are going to affect the Cylons every bit as much as the Colonials. Later, in a nicely photographed and edited sequence, Kara builds herself a funeral pyre. Wrap you brain around that.
But I've still not gotten to the real meat of "Notion," which is in watching things go to hell in a handbasket on Galactica. Take, for example, Roslin burning the Book of Pythia and skipping her cancer therapy. Basically, she has given up. She is broken. She curses the fact that Adama ever listened to her about Earth, about anything. Mary McDonnell's performance is devastating. Roslin's emotional state? "Dire" might be the word.
Then there's Dee. The sudden refocus on Dualla and Lee and their relationship had me initially perplexed: Is her sudden prominence here a setup because she's the final Cylon? No. Something else entirely. Her action here represents the ultimate act of surrender, while at the same time the ultimate act of taking control of what may be the only thing she, or anyone, has any control over — the ending of her life. In the show's most truly shocking moment that I didn't see coming, Dee puts a gun to her head and pulls the trigger. It's all the more jarring because she seems so happy just before she does it.
This works as raw shock value, but it works for reasons beyond that. It works because it rings true psychologically and because it says something about hope and loss, about limits and the human ability to cope. This series is not afraid of killing off prominent characters, and in this case it has chosen its moment aptly. This woman has decided she has simply had enough. She's done.
The fallout's fallout: Lee and Adama in the morgue, pondering why Dee would do this. Adama is unabashedly drunk (and it's a brilliant performance; Edward James Olmos nails the confluence of emotions as filtered through a believable alcoholic haze). He offers Lee a drink. Lee refuses, and look at that steely resolve in his eye. Alcohol is not going to be his solution. Then again, there are no solutions.
Then there's that superb shot that follows Adama through the corridors on his way to Tigh's quarters, as the ship spins utterly out of control. People huddle in the hallways in despair and apathy. Two men are in a fight, and Adama doesn't even acknowledge them. "FRAK EARTH" is spray-painted on the wall. The best word here, again, is "dire." If this is not Galactica hitting bottom, I fear what we may see in upcoming episodes.
This leads to the hour's dramatic showpiece, where Adama attempts to commit suicide-by-Tigh. It's a masterpiece of depicting the entropy of the fleet via the microcosm of these two old friends. The cavalier sense of drunk Adama ("Sit down, Cylon!") is entertaining in its weird, offbeat way (mostly because you can enjoy the rawness of the performance), but it quickly turns into a very tense, painful, dangerous, sad situation. Adama says awful things to Tigh, and ultimately turns his bile toward Ellen, the one subject he knows will provoke a reaction in Tigh. He wants Tigh to shoot him. Olmos goes all-out in a performance of unfiltered ugliness. Just look at that mug, for crissakes.
And how about that Tigh? Once again, this guy's the epitome of awesomeness, taking the higher road in the interest of the fleet and talking sense into Adama when he most needs it. I wanted to cheer him. If an argument needs to be made that Adama and Tigh's friendship should survive Tigh's outing as a Cylon, that argument is right here, because Tigh has this guy's back when things are at their bleakest. Adama hits bottom, Tigh talks him through it, and there's a sense that maybe, for now, the corner has been turned. Adama subsequently makes a speech to attempt to bring some solace to the fleet.
If I'm burying the lead here in saying that we also find out Ellen is the final Cylon — well, that's because the episode itself buries the lead. Maybe because it's not really the point and never should've been. Ellen's reveal doesn't play as a shocking revelation so much as another piece of character development for Tigh. I think it's a wise choice to reveal this now and in this manner. It defuses our expectations and instead invites us to ponder its meaning. Tigh has a flashback to 2,000 years ago on Earth. Ellen was his wife then, too, just before the nukes went off. "Everything's in place," she told him. "We'll be reborn together."
So Cylon resurrection was apparently invented by the 13th Tribe two millennia ago. What does it mean that Ellen and Saul Tigh have had a relationship that has spanned (at least) two lifetimes? There must be a special significance to that, and to them. Everything has happened before, and will happen again. It's just unclear exactly what "everything" is. "Sometimes a Great Notion" demonstrates that this series is about its characters and their personal mysteries. The story value of the final Cylon is not in who it is. It's going to be in why it is — and its part in the larger, ever-expanding BSG mythos.