I didn't exactly plan to start a running Battlestar Galactica commentary, but I just had to sound off on this week's episode in order to share a scary statistic and an even scarier thought. The statistic is that thus far in its winter season, Galactica is two for six. Sure, "Resurrection Ship I" kicked off the season with a blast and last week's "Scar" was a brilliant mixture of character development and thrilling heroics, but in the interim, the writers have been feeding us a steady diet of mediocrity--The One Where, In Lieu of Plot, Here's Fifteen Cumulative Minutes of Jamie Bamber Shirtless; The One Where We Wave Our Hands and Roslin's Cancer Goes Away; The One Where, Instead of Using a Perfectly Good and Decently Foreshadowed Existential Crisis We Already Had Ready For Him, We Saddle Lee With Another Existential Crisis That We Pulled Out of Our Asses; and, of course, Friday's episode, The One Where the Only Person In the Fleet With More Than Two Brain Cells to Rub Together Ends Up Dead.
Seriously, has anyone sat down and worked out the sheer amount of dimness that was required to make "Sacrifice"'s plot work? First there's Sesha and her friends, who genuinely believe that they're going to get somewhere by taking people hostage and threatening to shoot them. Did they not have cop shows in the twelve colonies? Doesn't everyone with a halfway functional brain know how hostage situations play out? Those people were dead the minute they shot off their weapons, and it boggles the mind that they actually thought Adama would deal with them. The only question was how many of the hostages were going to end up in body bags. Then there's Starbuck, who has somehow forgotten that she's a pilot, not a marine, and doesn't have the expertise for armed combat outside of a cockpit (which, granted, raises the question of why she was put in charge of the assault team in "Bastille Day"). Ellen Tigh's stupidity in blowing Starbuck's cover is pretty much the reason that shooting breaks out (Starbuck may have been wrong to go into the room, but she was right to reach for her weapons once her cover was blown--she would have ended up dead or one of the hostages otherwise). And, of course, Adama and Sesha race each other to finish line to see which one of them can commit a greater act of idiocy--is it Sesha, who honestly needs to have it pointed out to her that the grey, frozen and slightly decomposing corpse of the first Boomer was not killed recently, or Adama, who pulls a switcheroo so obvious that a four year old would see through it and yet fails to demand a release of hostages before delivering the corpse, thus necessitating further gunplay (Roslin is right to blame Adama for Billy's death, but not because he wouldn't hand Sharon over but because he so thoroughly squandered this opportunity)?
Far more disturbing than the fact that they're borrowing tricks from the Stargate: Atlantis writing staff is the fact that, for all their talk about writing morally complex stories, Galactica's writers have consistently chosen, thus far in the winter season, to paint their characters' antagonists as one-note caricatures. The argument can be made that the fleet's bereaved civilians deserve justice, and that harboring a Cylon agent and lying to the fleet about it is a miscarriage of Adama and Roslin's responsibility to the civilian population. And since even Adama begins to suspect Sharon of manipulating and misleading him, Sesha's argument that Sharon needs to be killed in order to protect the fleet is clearly meant to have some merit to it. However, as presented in this episode, the woman is clearly deranged, and her motivation--grief over the death of her husband--is not only overstated but unappealing. As many commenters have already said, every single person in the fleet has lost someone, and the episode fails to make us feel for Sesha and her compatriots--the unfortunate flashbacks of Ray's death are simply overkill, and frankly do more to raise questions about the writers' priorities. They keep us completely in the dark about Dualla and Lee's burgeoning relationship, but they have time to repeat that ineffective flashback three or four times?
"Sacrifice" would have been a much stronger episode if we could have sympathized with Sesha or been swayed by her argument, but not since the death of Admiral Cain have Galactica's writers chosen to give us such a complicated villain. The pro-Cylon activists in "Epiphanies" are painted as deluded fools and terrorists, whose arguments are incoherent and under-explored. They are being duped by a Cylon agent, and their representative is a semi-psychotic who couldn't argue his way out of a paper bag and is playing the tired old 'we're the political arm' game that we all know is the universal identifier of someone who can't be trusted or reasoned with. The black marketeers, who characterize themselves as providing a necessary relief valve for the fleet, are actually nascent mobsters who steal medication, murder anyone who gets in their way, and, just in case we weren't sold on their evilness, run a child prostitution ring. There are arguments to be made for treating the Cylons like people and trying to reason with them. There are arguments to be made for allowing illegal trade in the fleet. None of these arguments are showing up on the screen, and the resulting stories are flat and simplistic.
If the hostage-takers are unappealing, the main characters barely even show up on the screen. Adama's lines seem to have been spliced together from snippets of previous episodes, and his interactions with Tigh and Sharon fizzle instead of crackling. Lee, who obviously wasn't going to die, doesn't have much to do beyond bleed, and although both Katee Sackhoff and Mary McDonnell hit the ball out of the park in, respectively, the scene in which Starbuck tells Adama about the botched reconnaissance mission and Roslin's breakdown in the morgue, they have little to do during most of the episode. The fact that the "Sacrifice" doesn't fail entirely can be directly attributed to Billy Keikeya, who in many ways is the episode's heart and soul. I understand that Paul Campbell's departure from the show was partly his own decision, as his relatively small role was keeping him from pursuing other work. It's the right decision for him and I wish him well in his career (and hell, if things don't work out, we can always discover that Billy was a Cylon), and there's no question that the character got a proper send-off.
In his last day of life, Billy is smart enough to realize that Roslin has to be honest with the fleet, and brave enough to say so to her and Adama's faces. He makes a bold move with Dee and, once he realizes how thoroughly he has misjudged her feelings for him, gives her a much-deserved dressing-down (I have no problem with the fact that Dee doesn't love Billy, but keeping him around as a fallback while she propositions Lee is tacky). In the bar, Billy is the only person who bothers to argue with the hostage-takers, and his response to their argument--"They're all good men"--is clear and precise. I don't believe that Billy's final act of courage was an attempt to be the soldier that, he thinks, Dualla desires, but a genuine expression of his willingness to stand up and fight. Billy took his vitamins the day he died and, although things didn't exactly work out for him, he spent that day being the best possible version of himself--smart, courageous, morally staunch, and dignified. I'm glad we had the opportunity to see him that way. But for fuck's sake, you can't put Billy Keikeya in the same room as Ellen Tigh, put a gun to both their heads, and have that fine young man be the one who ends up getting carried out feet first.
I understand that there are Galactica fans who genuinely enjoy Ellen's antics, just as there were fans last season who thought Six's All Vamp, All the Time act was appealing. I feel for these people and I hope they get the help they so obviously need, because Ellen Tigh is thoroughly, and deliberately, disgusting. In everything she does, in every single word that comes out of her mouth, she is despicable. Cowardly, lascivious, dishonest, disloyal, and, worst of all, criminally, painfully stupid, she is clearly an attempt on the writers' part to get our gorge rising, and I don't appreciate it. Ellen is a caricature who couldn't find a second dimension with two hands and a flashlight, with no appealing or redeeming characteristics. For all that the winter season has been problematic, Galactica should still be above her kind of character. I understand that the resonance of Ellen's death wouldn't begin to approach the tragedy of Billy's (hell, I would have been cheering in the streets if she'd gotten a bullet to the head), but the character needs to go, and her death would have been a perfect opportunity to drive a wedge between Adama and (the criminally underused, these last six episodes) Tigh. Instead, Billly's death precipitates a cooling of Adama and Roslin's relationship, and I'm sorry, but we've already done that and we know who comes out on top. Ellen's purpose in "Sacrifice" was to advance the plot through her stupidity and selfishness (if she'd stayed in the bathroom with Lee, it's likely he wouldn't have been caught and eventually shot, which as previously mentioned is also Ellen's fault), which, once again, is lazy writing. The character needs to be gotten rid of, and it pains me to see the writers squander such a perfect opportunity to do so.
I honestly don't understand where the Galactica writers' heads are these days. They seem to have cast character continuity by the wayside (did you know that they actually shot scenes of Starbuck having an empty and meaningless assignation on Cloud Nine? Did they not watch last week's episode?) in exchange for disposable plots that don't really work with the show's overarching plotlines. When I wrote about the summer season, I expressed concern about Galactica's standalone episodes, but it never occurred to me that the writers were so willing to sacrifice the overall feel of the show in order to tell whatever story had caught their fancy, or that they were truly incapable of marrying Galactica's mood and tone to a non-arc plot. Which brings me to the scary thought I mentioned at the beginning of this entry, and I want you to sit down or hold on to something before you read this: for overall entertainment value, Battlestar Galactica's winter season has been running a distant second to Stargate: Atlantis. Hell, I actually enjoyed Friday's Stargate: SG-1 entry more than I did "Sacrifice", and not just because it reunited Ben Browder with leather pants. Which, assuming that I haven't shifted into the bizarro-verse, is not a sentence that I ever anticipated typing. Even with four episodes still unaired (and, I suspect, with the arc about to heat up again), the winter season is already shaping up as the least successful block of episodes in the show's history. It's time for the writers to take their vitamins, remind themselves of the kind of show they're trying to make, and get back on track.