"Someone to Watch Over Me"
Air date: 2/27/2009
Written by Bradley Thompson & David Weddle
Directed by Michael Nankin
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"Savor this alone time, but do not whack too much. We need you to conserve your O2." — Starbuck's morning briefing recommendation
"Someone to Watch Over Me" is the sort of wrenching emotional journey that is going to make me miss this series when it's gone. I'll miss it not just for its story revelations and performances and action and craftsmanship, but for its grace and artistry and humanity — even as that humanity may spring from dark places or end in sorrowful tragedies. This is a series about characters we've come to care about, and that makes an hour like "Someone to Watch Over Me" rewarding not because huge events happen, but because intimate character stories are valued.
This is a welcome return to form after the mystifying and unsatisfying "Deadlock." Where "Deadlock's" plot and characterization frequently seemed to clang and thud, "Someone to Watch Over Me" is pretty much pitch-perfect on both counts. Dare I say it evokes an elegiac tone. (Until the final act, of course, when all hell breaks loose. But even after that, its final shots are tragically elegiac.)
The episode's opening sequence is one of BSG's signature musically underscored opening montages, in the vein of "Kobol's Last Gleaming, Part 1," "Home, Part 2," "Lay Down Your Burdens, Part 1," and "Occupation." I can't recall if we've even had one of these since "Occupation," but if we haven't, then it serves here, as we enter the final hours of the series, as a callback to past methods.
Weeks have gone by since "Deadlock," a point driven home by the documented repetition of Kara's morning wake-up, shower, and pilots' briefing in the ready room. It suggests the daily drudgery of routine — which is about all Galactica has left these days. The mutiny has stretched personnel thin (with many who participated having been put off the ship, although that wasn't shown on-screen). It's strange (and interesting) to see Cylons in the ready room — who are now flying CAP — but for the characters even that fact has become wallpaper. If the daily drudgery weren't bad enough for Kara, Anders remains in a coma, with no end in sight. He has brain activity that can't be explained, but there's no evidence of conscious thought. Cottle's recommendation: "Get on with your life."
A key point about the music in the opening montage is that it's a solo piano performance. The last time that happened was in second season's "Valley of Darkness," where Kara and Helo went to Kara's old apartment on Caprica and listened to tapes of Kara's father, who was a concert pianist. The music we hear on the soundtrack here is also actually supposed to be Kara's father's music, something that takes on a significance as the story proceeds.
Part of Kara's routine is drowning her sorrows at Joe's Bar. This is how she meets the bar's mysterious new piano player (Roark Critchlow), who is endlessly composing a song, much to Kara's initial annoyance, and gradual interest. She plays critic to this guy, who is a through-and-through musician. Their discussions are enlightening, and what's great about this episode is how it takes its time in getting to where it's going. It allows Kara and the pianist to talk about things. First music, then her childhood, and then she even confesses that she found her body on Earth — something she hasn't told anyone. Kara's larger dilemma seems to stem from that universal question: Why am I here? She says that while she was leading the fleet to Earth she felt she finally had a purpose after a lifetime adrift. But now, with Earth in the rear-view mirror, she's adrift again. Full circle. And I thought to myself: Yes, that's Kara Thrace. Always looking for her destiny. Never finding it.
These scenes insightfully burrow toward the character truth here, which is that this guy reminds Kara of her father, who was himself such a through-and-through musician that he walked out on them when she was just a child. When he left, Kara gave up music, which was the harshest revenge she was capable of at the time. There's this one song, though, that she always used to play, and she tries to remember the notes. She can't remember the notes, but then she remembers that Hera, when she visited her earlier in the day, wrote a series of dots on a piece of paper. And it hits her: Those dots are notes. And not just any notes, but the notes of that long-forgotten song. And when that long-forgotten song turns out to be the Cylon version of "All Along the Watchtower" — well, what can I say but: Wow. Ain't that something.
The beauty of this story — and I really can't stress it enough — is that it's told so simply, so honestly, and with such an effortless, relaxed grace and style that it becomes almost hypnotic. This tale is an immersive and intimate experience, sold on performances that are so good they're transparent, and photographed with a lighting scheme that evokes an understated moodiness in every frame. And it's about character as much as it's about revelation. I'll even grant the story its narrative conceit, which is that the pianist isn't really there, but merely a figment of Kara's imagination (or whatever it is these "head characters" might ultimately mean in this BSG mythos), because this isn't about the piano player. It's about all the torment and scars that stem from Kara's troubled past.
Now about what we learn: It's clear that the piano player is merely a stand-in for Kara's father, so she can vent at him about abandoning her a child. ("He never called! He never wrote!") What's not confirmed but drawing obvious attention to itself is the possibility that Kara's father might have been the mysterious, artistic Cylon Number Seven, Daniel. It might explain why he never called or wrote but one day simply left, and it might also explain Kara's special destiny and her ability to return from the dead. (What if she is the first human-Cylon hybrid?) Not to mention that tape of her dad's music. The title is "Dreilide Thrace: Live at the Helice Opera House." Hmmm. Opera House. How about that. And Hera spontaneously drawing the notes of The Song is almost as creepy as when her coloring book was filled with blond women and the number "6."
But enough pondering. I must move on to the episode's other story, which is equally important and equally good. The fleet's Cylon allies want Boomer turned over to them so they can try her for treason, with the most likely result being the death penalty. She was the only Eight who sided against them in the Cylon civil war, and now she must pay. Tyrol is understandably alarmed. Boomer, after all, rescued Ellen from Cavil and brought her back to the fleet. Shouldn't that count for something? And Tyrol still has very obvious feelings for Boomer. He has a personal, emotional stake in her well-being.
So Tyrol goes to see her in the brig, perhaps out of a need for a new beginning, or closure. We see here that they still love each other, and always have, even when separated by death and betrayal. As the series reaches its end, there's a sense here that many things must come full circle.
What happens in the brig is intriguing. Via the magic of Cylon projection, they share a marriage fantasy that picks up from the plans they long ago made, and imagines What Could Have Been. This is more than a typical "fantasy" and more like a virtual reality environment where the most real thing about it are the emotions. The virtual life includes their dream home on Picon they always talked about, and the daughter they always wanted. What could've been a purely manipulative sequence is instead heartfelt and affecting — and, yes, very manipulative, but that's the point. Aaron Douglas' performance knocks it out of the park; he really sells Tyrol's pure joy over what he and Boomer share ... or might have shared in some hypothetical parallel life. But we also sense immediately that this is a dangerous game. When the other shoe drops, that only makes what they share here more tragic.
The show does a fine job of bringing us into Tyrol's state of mind. When he makes a personal appeal to Roslin to spare Boomer's life, the president dismisses Tyrol so coldly ("You're dismisssssed") that it plays almost like a taunt. It's such a sublime moment in the story's manipulation of us as viewers that you could argue that it's played this way to subtly suggest that it's Tyrol's subjective point of view. Even if Roslin is right that Boomer is a danger — in or out of the brig — this scene pushes Tyrol into a corner where he feels he has no choice. He can't let Boomer die. So he knocks out a nameless Eight working on the ship and does a Sharon switcheroo. He puts the nameless worker Eight in the holding cell and frees Boomer. (I'm not exactly sure how he did this. Where did the guards go?)
The switcheroo gag is something this series has avoided playing, perhaps because it might seem like an obvious thing to do. But it's well utilized here and proves interesting. It reveals that Boomer has a plan here that wasn't anywhere even approaching Tyrol's radar screen. (It also suggests that Cavil has known all along where the fleet is.) And it depicts an act by Boomer that is either deeply depraved in its gratutiousness, or simply a necessary improvisation during her plan. She punches out Athena, gags and ties her up in a bathroom stall, and then a few minutes later has sex with a clueless Helo on the bathroom floor while Athena watches helplessly through the crack in the door. It's just so ... wrong. Should Helo have known Boomer wasn't Athena from their lovemaking? And because he doesn't, what does that say about him? Or about Athena? Or about Boomer? How much individuality does Athena lose by having copies out there who know her well enough to undermine her like this? It's disturbing.
Boomer kidnaps Hera from Athena's quarters and makes her way off the ship with Tyrol's help, who has no idea what he is actually helping Boomer do. The ease at which Boomer does this is enough to make you want to scream at the television screen (and I mean that in a good way). She plays everyone here like a violin. It's chilling. It rivals what Six did to Baltar on Caprica.
I should point out that it's maybe slightly (but only slightly) more complicated than Boomer playing the chief like a violin. She plays him, but she still loves him, and tells him that no matter what happens, her love is true. That may be, but it doesn't change her mission. She hides so many things from Tyrol that by the end of it all, he can only possibly be revealed as a dupe. Roslin was 100 percent right. As betrayals go, this one is up there with the most heinous of them.
The details of Boomer's getaway with Hera turned knots in my stomach. The action (brief as it is) is built on an unsolvable Catch-22. Boomer is in a Raptor fleeing the ship. Adama can't let her go, because that means Hera will be in the hands of Cavil. But he can't open fire on the Raptor because Hera is on board. So he tries to retract the landing pods before the Raptor leaves, which causes it to crash, which causes it to go out of control, which causes Boomer to jump while too close to the hull of the ship, which causes the shockwave to rip a hole in Galactica. As if it weren't in bad enough shape already. Roslin collapses, as if her heart has been torn out with Hera's kidnapping. How is Roslin connected to all these pieces of the mythos? And is she dead? Dying? Welcome to the battlestar Galactica, where a routine day turns on a dime to become a major catastrophe.
Deep Space Nine used to have an annual "torture the chief episode" that put O'Brien through the wringer. Now on BSG, we've essentially had an entire "torture the chief season." But this outing takes the cake. The look on Tyrol's face when he realizes what has happened, what he has become complicit in, is ... well, it's beyond any useful description. This poor, poor man. It's almost too much to bear to think about what it means when Tyrol retreats into his projection of the fantasy home. The wife and daughter are gone. The world is a cruel laboratory designed to crush this man. This is the tragedy of Galen Tyrol. And it is devastating.