“We’re not a civilization anymore. We are a gang, and we’re on the run, and we have to fight to survive.”
The trial of Gaius Baltar sets up a courtroom that is permeated by history, fraught with tension, and caught between shifting allegiances. For the first time since right around New Caprica, we get a sense of the toll the experience took on the fleet, a sense of the simmering tension that has been building up over the weeks. Director Michael Rymer has his camera pan over the crowd and linger on faces, underscoring the bitterness and betrayal, the desire for revenge, and when the words hit, they hit with an icy bluntness that strikes to the core of the show’s relationships and themes. This is a trial surrounding one man’s life, but the implications of a guilty or not guilty verdict–as well as of the legal process itself–are far-reaching.
There’s a common idea that plays out throughout part 1: the fact that when everyone is brought into a room to face the cold, hard facts, previously stable relationships dissolve in an instant. Lee Adama is a perfect example of this, as his choices throughout the trial alienate him from his father, his president, and his wife. Yet, what he does is absolutely necessary, because 1) Baltar deserves a trial, and 2) There lies an inherent hypocrisy in the “system” that’s currently in place in this world. He points these out in his monologue from the witness stand, and Jamie Bamber gives possibly his best performance here as his voice rises and as what needs to be said is said. “This case…this case is built on emotion, on anger, on bitterness, on vengeance, but most of all, it’s built on shame.”
Part 1 is about that emotion, and it begins to deconstruct the BSG world we love by having that emotion plow headfirst into logic. The thing about Baltar is that while he’s a scumbag, he’s also someone who did what 99% of people would have done with a gun pointed at their heads. As the audience, we are privy to several acts that the characters don’t know about–e.g. Baltar and the nuclear bomb–but in the end, the verdict of “not guilty” makes complete sense. Roslin and Adama know he’s a traitor, but in the eyes of the law, convicting Baltar of treason is less justifiable than acquitting him.
There’s a similar notion of identity for Anders, Tory, Tigh, and Tyrol, the four people who realize at the end of part two that they’re Cylons. If part 1 was about deconstructing the world we know, then part 2 is about shattering the fabric of the BSG universe, about heading into the final season with a bang, about tripping out the audience as it looks forward to new horizons. I have a feeling the promise won’t live up to the actual result–as has happened a multitude of times over the course of the series–but there’s no denying that this is a puzzling, exciting, and compelling end to the season.
Going back to identity with the four of the Final Five, the idea can best be summed up by Tigh’s “My name is Saul Tigh. I am an officer in the Colonial Fleet. Whatever else I am, whatever else it means, that’s the man I want to be. And if I die today, that’s the man I’ll be.” So, even if they’re technically Cylons, they still want to hold onto the identities they know, the motivations and the world they know. Interestingly enough, if Tigh actually were to die, he would simply be downloaded into a new body, and he would not be remembered as the man he wants to be.
Speaking of Tigh, Michael Hogan is absolutely wonderful throughout the two episodes–if I ever need someone to play a drunk man, he’s one of my first calls–and he and the others sell the hell out of the scene in which they realize they’re Cylons. I’ll admit: up to that point, the reciting of the “All Along the Watchtower” lyrics was not going over well with me, but the show commits to it with such aplomb that the final sequence is absolutely wonderful. It is an exhilarating ride, one that takes Lee Adama from the courtroom to the skies, to a spot alongside someone he thought he lost. He looks out his window, and he hears a familiar voice:
“It’s gonna be okay, I’ve been to Earth. I know where it is, and I’m gonna take us there.”
Then, we pull out to see Earth, and one season of Battlestar Galactica remains.
GRADES: B+ (Part 1), A- (Part 2)
-Yeah, I get that this isn’t a legal drama set on Earth, but the show absolutely butchers the legal nuances of a trial. The most egregious writing choice: having Lee deliver his monologue from the witness stand.
-The “All Along the Watchtower” cover is sung by Bear McCreary’s brother, Brendan McCreary. Talented family. Moore on the song: “One of the ideas I wanted to play with was: okay, if you found a song that we, the audience, recognize, you realize that you have a connection to this world, too, and suddenly other pieces start to fit.”
-Okay, so what’s up with everything? I wonder if the Final Five downloaded themselves into human hosts. Maybe there’s a third party in play here. Maybe they’re not really Cylons. Maybe this show never existed.
-Roslin calling Adama to wake her up is a fantastic moment at the beginning of part 2.
-The Admiral’s response to his son’s integrity comment is one of those comebacks you think of two days later.
Photo credit: Syfy, Battlestar Galactica