Sunday, January 15, 2006

What Adama Should Have Said to Boomer and Other "Resurrection Ship II" Thoughts

I was spoiled for Boomer's line, "Maybe you don't deserve to survive", several days before watching the episode and, having assumed that it came as a bitter response to the attempted rape, hit the roof in fury. I wrote a long tirade that I think has been a long time coming for Boomer and the rest of the Cylon characters, which I won't post here because, having watched the episode, it's clear that Boomer's intention was neither plaintive nor personal. Her argument for the destruction of the human race is that we fight amongst ourselves, kill and rape and hurt each other. This ties in nicely to the observation that Dan Hartland made a few weeks ago in his Strange Horizons article--that Cylons haven't yet grokked the concept of individuality. If we are to assume that they evolved as a hive-like species (which, for an artificial intelligence, makes a certain amount of sense) then it would folow that they have only a limited understanding of what individuality is, and that to see members of the same species fight and try to kill each other would seem to them a strange sickness. As we can already tell, and as the Cylons are still refusing to admit, the choice to take on distinct human forms is already taking its toll on their uniformity. We see this especially in Baltar's scenes with the battered Six model, Gina, who unlike the 'ideal' Six in Baltar's head has discovered a form of individuality through having been left alone with her pain.

All that said, and recognizing that we've gained a further insight into the Cylon psyche, I still deeply dislike that scene. A sharp response to Boomer's absurd proclamation was definitely warranted, even if it wasn't the tirade I had going on in my head when I first heard the line. At the very least, Adama should have said something along the lines of "And you do?" I've said it before, but the fact that the Cylons commit atrocities and then turn around and claim the moral high ground like they were born there doesn't bother me--it's neat and not a little bit scary. It's the complete obliviousness of the human characters to this moral bankrupcy that drives me up the wall, and the implication that Galactica's writers are more interested in highlighting humanity's darker impulses than they are in telling a story with a consistent approach to ethics. I understand that Adama's conversation with Boomer was part of his long night of the soul as he struggle with the decision to assassinate Admiral Cain, but I can't help but be irked, and possibly even offended, by the notion that a person as staunchly ethical as Bill Adama needs to have an issue of morality cleared up for him by Sharon, who has yet to demonstrate that she possesses a conscience.

By placing Adama in Boomer's presence and having her question his species' right to survive, the writers were obviously trying to make us mull over that tired old chestnut, Are We Any Better Than Our Enemies. Problem is, when it comes to the Cylons, the answer is yes, a great deal better--not because we're so fantastic but because what they've done is so awful. The whole 'our bad guys believe in God and are always polite and well-dressed' thing was neat for about five minutes, but now it's grown tedious, and I really do wish Galactica's writers would stop using the Cylons as a Dark Mirror of Humanity and start working on giving these villains some depth--at the top of my list would be a Cylon who questions their orders for moral reasons, and possibly even a fifth column.

What kills me is that Sharon's experience is actually a brilliant opportunity for the character to show a little growth. Only a few weeks ago, she was blithely defending rape as an experience that might not be so bad if you didn't struggle. Now that she's had a taste of it herself, she has a chance to develop the one quality we've yet to see a single Cylon display--empathy--which might, in turn, be the first indication that she could one day grow into a moral individual.

The episode itself I found sadly disappointing. After the intensity of both "Pegasus" and "Resurrection Ship I", the elegiac tone (which anyway isn't something that Galactica does well for any extended period of time) felt out of place. The problem, I suspect, is that the decision to split "Resurrection Ship" into two episodes was predicated solely on there being enough material to bulk out the first half of the story. The remaining two acts of what should have been a single episode weren't sufficiently expanded, and we were left with endless shots of Lee floating in a pool. The result was not only padded but insulting to the viewers' intelligence--the first shot of Lee floating in water and then transitioning to the vacuum of space was beautiful and odd, but the writers should have had enough faith in our intelligence to trust that we'd understand what Lee was doing without providing visual metaphorical aids--see, he's letting the water close in on him, see?

The question of hope and despair--and the way that both of them affect human behavior--recurs throughout the episode, but I couldn't help but feel that, once again, the writers were hammering the issue in (and rather suddenly too--it's not a theme that showed up in either "Pegasus" or "Resurrection Ship I") because they needed to fill up space. I like the idea that his disillusionment with his father and his adopted mother pushes Lee over the brink and into despair. Like all members of the fleet, he's been hanging on to hope out of sheer habit, taking his life one day at a time and never letting up for one minute, lest he curl up into a ball and die. Which is precisely what he does towards the end of "Resurrection Ship II", as the realization sinks in that the life he has to come back to is one in which the people he admires let him down and he's expected to commit terrible crimes. His only regret is that in letting go of life he's breaking his promise to the one person who still represents something pure and good. I'm not surprised at Lee's choice, nor at the fact that despite his rescue, he's nowhere near whole--having let go of hope and life, it's going to be tremendously difficult for him to regain the desire for either.

I like the fact that Adama's decision to kill Cain, even though he didn't go through with it, has irreparably damaged both of his 'children', with Kara now wondering about her allegiances (I'm not entirely certain where Kara stands with regard to Cain, Adama, and the position she was placed in. Her eulogy for Cain seems to suggest that she recognizes how a loss of hope damaged Cain and led her to make reprehensible choices, but the very end of the speech suggests that Kara is now uncertain as to whether those choices weren't necessary, and she certainly has ambivalent feelings towards Adama and what he almost forced her to do). As we saw when the Pegasus crewmen came to attack Helo and Tyrol, Admiral Cain's choices have had a similarly corrosive effect on her crew, and there's no question in my mind that Cain's death will solve very little in the short term. Some of her crew will no doubt reassess their behavior in the wake of their exposure to the fleet and its more normative moral compass, but others have crossed a line that can never be un-crossed.

I can sympathize with Galactica's writers, who found themselves in an impossible situation when the time came to write the episode's ending (although only to a point because, really, this is something they should have seen coming), but I can't help but feel that the manner in which Admiral Cain was got rid of was contrived, an easy out that seems entirely out of place for this show. I wonder whether Roslin would have been as pleasant and cheerful in her last scene with Adama if Gina hadn't killed Cain, and he came back and told her that he wouldn't commit an immoral act. We're all as grateful as she was that Adama didn't have to kill Cain, but the manner in which she was gotten rid of leaves a sour taste in my mouth. Once again, I wonder if a tighter, more intense story wouldn't have helped to allay that sensation--if the plot had moved faster, I might not have noticed its inherent contrivance until I thought about it. In general I can't help but feel that "Resurrection Ship II" is a mass of good parts that come together into a muddled whole, and that it sadly cheapens the two excellent episodes that preceded it.

Oh, and Roslin may not die.

1 comment:

Dan Hartland said...

Interesting, because we have similar but different takes on the episode. Mainly, I think, based on me thinking the previous two episodes were too bald, dealing in moral absolutes that the show doesn't usually turn to. I mean, particularly in 'Resurrection Ship, Part I', Cain is shown to be simply indefensibly bad. In 'Pegasus', her crew was shown to be, well, indefensibly bad (and even then it was strongly implied that they were that way because of their commander). It seems to me rather too late in the game to try and make us understand her once she's dead.

The episode felt similarly stretched and contrived to me, then, not because it failed to capitalise on those previous episodes, but rather because it was hamstrung by them. Yes, Adama and Cain make the right choice re: their assassination attempts, but the consequences of Adama's choice - to allow life to someone perfectly willing to abandon the civilian fleet - will never be played out.

In an absolute sense, Adama made the right choice - the logic behind offing Cain is identical to the logic the Cylons use to exterminate the humans, and the humans use to rape Cylons. "You can't rape a machine," Fisk says. Humans have lost our right to survive, abdicated their humanity, is Sharon's implication. In leaving civilians to die, Cain gives up the right to command and to live. This is making moral choices in the absence of empathy - of the very understanding of individuality which I argue is central to the show. Unfortunately, Adama's choice to price morality over pragmatism cannot now be tested. How are we to tell if it was the right choice without that?

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