Says Adama to Roslin: "I've been taking orders my entire career. This is no different."
Like hell it isn't. Adama just hasn't realized it yet — or maybe he's putting up a comforting front for Roslin. Admiral Cain (Michelle Forbes, an actress who comes with a built-in tough edge, although she strikes me as awfully young to be an admiral), commander of the Battlestar Pegasus, outranks Adama and has left no room for misunderstanding that she intends to take command of the entire fleet. And thus begins the uncomfortable foreboding, which becomes more alarming with every scene.
"Pegasus" is a gripping hour that is sold purely on emotional and visceral impact, as opposed to plot and subtlety. Because we care about the characters and because we are invested in the society that has been created from their ragtag fleet, we can't help but wince when Cain says she's taking the reins. And as we begin to learn what the Pegasus and her crew are about, it becomes clear this is a club we don't want to be a part of.
The episode's presentation is operatic in approach. Restraint is not the name of the game here. The writers have created a premise where we have no choice but to side with the Galactica, because the actions of key Pegasus players are clearly immoral. I'm told the "Pegasus" episode from the original series was more tempered, with a more sympathetic Pegasus crew. Not the case here. Here's a storyline that knows where it stands and intends to take sides. It's larger than life and doesn't shy away from that knowledge.
It begins with high jubilation. The Pegasus appears, and even the music knows this is not your typical day on the Battlestar Galactica. A formal greeting of Admiral Cain on the Galactica flight deck is played with epic military pomp that's so effective it gave me chills. There's a terrific shot of the two battlestars flying together that conveys a renewed sense of magnificence. As Adama and Cain both say at the beginning: This is a miracle.
But not so fast. After the initial jubilation and celebration, "Pegasus" almost immediately becomes a quietly, unbearably unnerving experience of waiting for the other shoe to drop. It does — fairly quickly — but then there's another shoe, and another, and another.
Who's in charge here? In the first scene after the greeting, we realize that Cain intends to take command, and Adama, following military protocol, intends to hand command over to her without a second thought. In the dinner scene, when Adama says "Yes, sir" to Cain, the look of shock on Roslin's face is downright chilling — as if foretelling where the story is headed. Cain takes note of Roslin's apparent worry: "Madam President, you look like I just shot your dog." After Roslin leaves, it's pretty clear that Cain has little regard for Roslin: "Secretary of Education?" she asks Adama.
Meanwhile, Tigh has drinks with the Pegasus XO, Colonel Fisk (Graham Beckel). Fisk tells a dark tale about how Cain shot the previous Pegasus XO in the head, in full view of the crew, because he refused to order an attack on the Cylons. Fisk breaks out laughing and plays it off as a joke, but we can't really be sure what that means. Tigh believes the story actually happened, and relays it to Adama, who responds by saying "context matters," and reminds Tigh that the Galactica crew themselves destroyed the Olympic Carrier with over 1,300 civilians on board. Yes, but there was certainly a context there. What exactly was the context of Cain executing her own XO, a former close friend, if indeed it happened? Adama prepares to turn over his logs to Cain. Tigh says, "We should ask Admiral Cain for her logs, just so we can put her in context." Adama responds, "Wouldn't that be nice." The chain of command pulls only in one direction.
The ominous foreboding continues through various scenes of character interaction, like the scenes where the Galactica pilots meet their Pegasus counterparts, a seemingly humorless bunch that tallies their kills on the sides of their Vipers. The Pegasus CAG, Captain Taylor (John Pyper-Ferguson), is an all-business dude who has some mild friction with Lee and tells him that Admiral Cain's way is now Galactica's way. Cain's way apparently has no qualms recruiting civilians into the ranks of the military; the Pegasus deck chief (Vincent Gale) was a civilian who was recruited into the military ranks by a Cain-imposed draft. Just what is the status of the civilian population among the Pegasus? Do they have their own ragtag fleet and politics? We aren't told, but you get the feeling that if they do, they're all under martial law.
Quietly and slowly — but unmistakably — this all adds up to build a very disturbing sense that the Galactica way of life is over. Society as it has been under Adama and Roslin is about to become the unbending Law of Cain. Adama at first takes this in stride, yielding to his own humility and the establishment that is the chain of command. But brick by brick, the foundation of Galactica's world seems to be on the verge of dismantlement.
Cain, who at first offers assurances that she has no intentions of interfering with Adama's ship or command, soon is telling Adama that his logs reveal he is too close to his officers — to Lee, to Kara, to Tigh — and that she intends to integrate the crews and make personnel changes. She reassigns Lee and Kara to the Pegasus, which for Lee is an instant demotion. The way Cain uses Adama's logs as a weapon against him is unnerving.
At the end of last week's "Flight of the Phoenix," there was a big emotional scene that conveyed the sense of a family that this fleet of military and civilians had become. That scene takes on a new dimension here, because it seems likely to be lost under Cain's command.
All of which is about personal feelings and what the Galactica fleet has become accustomed to. Perhaps Adama goes along with it because that's what the chain of command says he does. But there's also the matter of what the Pegasus crew is capable of, and the story ventures into inflexible matters of right and wrong. The Pegasus also has a Cylon prisoner. She happens to be another copy of Number Six, which is revealed to Baltar in a scene that sends the usually cocky hallucinated version of Six reeling with shock and sadness — a welcome change of pace. This prisoner has not simply been imprisoned like Sharon, but also repeatedly beaten and raped and deprived of food and water. She exists now as a broken shell, psychologically destroyed. Baltar plans to work with her to get information ("You have already used the stick," he says to Cain. "It's time to use a carrot."), which later leads to a powerful and emotionally revealing scene where he confesses to this prisoner how he fell in love with a Cylon that looked just like her.
When you consider how the Pegasus crew has treated their prisoner compared to that of Galactica, you begin to see evidence of an alternate path that has unfolded under similar circumstances. Pegasus seems like Galactica's evil twin. Not that everyone on Pegasus is capable of these sorts of atrocities (indeed, we don't learn much about them overall). But the fact that Cain apparently permits rape as an interrogation tactic (or at least turns a blind eye to it) is hugely significant, because as a leader she sets the tenor for the crew. There are issues of prisoner abuse and morality and leadership and human failure and the capacity for evil that this story inherently brings forth, but for the most part it doesn't address them philosophically or polemically and instead chooses to tackle them via storytelling microcosm.
That microcosm is Pegasus' Lt. Thorne (Fulvio Cecere), a Cylon interrogator well known among the Pegasus crew for his tactic of raping the Cylon prisoner for information. This tactic becomes clear to us in a scene where Tyrol and Helo are talking with drunken officers from the Pegasus, who describe Thorne's practices — as well as their own personal involvement in rapes — in pathetic alpha-male guttural. This scene is truly effective in its ability to rile our feelings of distaste and outrage, and the only reason Helo and Tyrol don't pummel these officers right here is because they realize that Sharon is in very immediate danger.
Thorne, at this moment, is interrogating Sharon about the purpose of a massive Cylon ship — bigger than a base star — that the Pegasus has photographed on recon missions. Thorne starts by smacking Sharon around and then has the guards hold her down. Helo and Tyrol charge in to the rescue, and there are visceral shots of them in a frenzy as they do some serious ass-kicking. Caught up in the scene, I was energized and wanted these Pegasus guys to pay. Thorne is accidentally killed in the struggle. My gut says he got what he deserved, which is a testament to this episode's amped-up emotional provocativeness.
Sharon's rape — or attempted rape — is edited perhaps too carefully and responsibly in the interests of making the scene easier on the audience ... which may be an odd thing for me to say. No, we don't need to see Sharon being raped to get the point, but the editing is so cautious in its attempts to spare us that we don't know whether or not the rape was actually prevented by Helo and Tyrol's charge-in. It seems to be, but Sharon's reactions suggest otherwise. Ultimately, I suppose it doesn't matter. The point is: Thorne commits rape, which is subhuman behavior that infuriates us, and we don't feel regret when he dies.
Helo and Tyrol are arrested for murder and treason, and taken back to the Pegasus, where they face court-martial. Adama wants to be sure they get a fair jury trial, but that seems unlikely, and the situation begins to turn increasingly tense.
This main thrust of the story exists alongside the subplot where Kara and Lee report to the Pegasus to prepare for an attack on the mysterious Cylon ship. The episode further sells its reality with details aboard the Pegasus, which show it as a more modern and higher-tech battlestar. The pilot ready room is shinier and has video monitors instead of cardboard charts. Captain Taylor explains the mission, and Starbuck's response is, "Your plan sucks," which she punctuates with a self-satisfied, smart-ass grin that had me laughing out loud. She recommends instead the use of the stealth ship constructed in "Flight of the Phoenix," a plan Taylor refuses while immediately taking Kara off the mission. These seeds are obviously planted for the next installment, but they keep the business of the war at hand moving along. For the mission, Lee is saddled with Taylor co-piloting a Raptor, which is somehow hilarious in its indignity.
The episode is yet another hiatus-entering cliffhanger. Like "Kobol's Last Gleaming, Part 2," I'm not about to complain that cliffhangers are cliché when they are also this riveting. The episode ends with Adama and Cain squaring off over the fate of Tyrol and Helo, whom Cain has found guilty and has sentenced to execution in a hearing where she was the only one who had any say (she apparently thinks she can do whatever the hell she wants without consequences, which may provide an insight into the way the Pegasus works). The scene where Adama gets this news provides a satisfying climax to an episode full of percolating tensions not acted upon. He winces as if in pain, then orders the preparation for a fight and charges toward CIC with a determined game face on. It's a moment of catharsis where I felt like cheering.
I loved Bear McCreary's music in this episode, which goes out on a limb and is unlike most music on this series in that it draws attention to itself and blatantly cues our emotions without apology. It lends to the operatic feel, which is never more clear than at the end, where Adama gets on the phone with Cain, says he's getting his men back, period, and launches the alert fighters. Military themes take control of the soundtrack. Violence might yet be averted, and any number of solutions to this problem are possible, but we see the line in the sand drawn here, and it makes for great drama. Even great melodrama.