“Unfinished Business” has the appearance of a bag of jumbled ideas, but when you reach in, you somehow pull out an affecting episode with moving performances and a narrative structure that serves the bottle episode feel quite well. To be honest, the show’s been more miss than hit when it attempts to play with structure, but the way this episode handles the location shifts is more effective than we’ve seen in the past.
First off, we have the contrast of not only the boxing ring and New Caprica (pre-Cylon occupation), but also the images of a New Caprica, pre-Cylon occupation, and the New Caprica we saw at the beginning of the season. Director Robert M. Young chooses to structure these flashbacks around a rare period in which the weather isn’t terrible, and the blue skies and sunlight lend to a sense of optimism, a sense that the people of New Caprica could live free of Cylon influence and therefore free of death and destruction. It’s unusual to see people that happy and carefree on this show, and the smiling faces during the dance or the tranquil (drug-induced) moment that Roslin and Adama share are placed side by side with the images of people pounding away at each other in the ring.
We get some half-assed explanation as to why there’s suddenly a boxing ring and why everyone’s suddenly in love with it (I guarantee we won’t see it again), but once you look past that, the setting is effective–if not a bit too effective–at getting its point across: here’s a place in which simmering issues not only between people, but also with regards to this society in general, can manifest themselves in a literal beat down, with a trading of blows. The weaker aspect of the fights involves the subplot between Adama and Tyrol, something that culminates in a speech by the former about being ready to fight and essentially how the the fleet let the Cylons walk all over them on New Caprica; the concept of duty’s been an important one throughout the series, but the episode makes this speech and this storyline out to be more affecting than they really are. Simply put, it feels lumped on at the end, something used to fill out the running time when we aren’t focusing on Lee and Starbuck.
Of course, those two are the heart of this story. Their relationship seems to be one that pops up a few times each season to remind us that it exists, but the reality is that they’re simultaneously the worst and most perfect people for each other. In an episode about the transience of optimism for those on New Caprica, we also get a scene in which Starbuck and Lee shout their love to the sky. It’s that in the moment rush they get, that fleeting optimism about how their relationship could turn out, that’s paralleled with what we see through the other flashbacks. And, at the end of it all, we know that the Cylons will take over and that Starbuck and Lee will marry Anders and Dualla, respectively. We know that Starbuck and Lee will almost commit, but then quickly retreat into their comfort zones. We know that there’ll be tension in both marriages, and we know that that’ll reach an all time high in the ring.
So, Lee and Starbuck beat each other until they can’t anymore. Neither can top the other. The rawness of the moment is hauntingly scored, directed, and acted, and the image of the two lying side by side–as not only they did on New Caprica, but also Adama and Roslin–at the end of the episode is sure to be one of the show’s best moments. The whole hour deals with excess, with constant pounding and dancing and smiling and bloodying, and this is the cathartic, climactic moment in which the two decide that enough is enough. At the end of the day, they’ve both been beaten down, but they’re still equals.
-The writers still have previous episodes in mind when they’re writing this episode, which is fantastic. For example, Starbuck and Leoben, a fake relationship, follows up Starbuck and Anders, another one (albeit a little less so). Then, Starbuck’s time with Leoben most certainly has a role in her mindset now. As for Adama, his guilt and doubt stem from the last episode, “Hero”. However, I’m not the biggest fan of that episode, so I’m not the biggest fan of his arc here.
-To expand upon the idea of excess–repetition might be a better word–the episode constantly returns to the same shots, with additional nuggets inserted each time we return. This is a reflection of our characters’ mindsets, of their recollections and the way they attempt to craft them, and it’s a nice showcase for the creative team.
-I’m not sure if the appropriate response to this episode is “WE GET IT!” or “We get it so much that it works”.
-Lee, if you want Starbuck, ask her while she’s flying. That’s where she feels truly safe to take risks.
-I feel sorry for Dualla and Anders here. Your significant others are pretty smoking, but still. Yikes.
-I’m not going to watch the TV version, but I wonder how much better or worse it is. It’ll be tighter, that’s for sure, but that won’t allow it to sit back and watch the characters’ little moments as much as it does here.
-The moment that Tigh and Starbuck share in front of a passed-out Anders is fantastic.
Photo credit: Syfy, Battlestar Galactica