It's only now that I've started to get mad.
This is not to say that "Occupation"/"Precipice" is a bad hour and a half of television. In terms of the quality Galactica is capable of, I rate the episode as comfortably adequate. There's very little about it that's bad, and quite a few things that are good. Starbuck's sub-plot in particular is horrifying and deliciously nasty, and there are some beautiful grace notes and fantastic exchanges between characters--Tigh's deliberate and almost joyful descent into madness; Ellen's refreshingly human self-loathing after prostituting herself to Cavil; Boomer and Cally talking at cross-purposes, constantly shifting between the personal and the political, constantly trading power and never finding a common language; Adama and Sharon's newfound closeness, and a similar camaraderie between Roslin and Zarek.
There are obviously some complaints I could offer about the episode's pacing and construction. Far too many plotlines are allowed to proceed simultaneously, and the decision to combine two standalone episodes into a single two-hour premiere is nothing short of disastrous. After a stunning first act which succinctly, and with a minimum of fuss, establishes the status of most of the main characters, "Occupation" becomes bogged in exposition--Roslin's voice-over, for instance, tells us almost nothing we hadn't already been told by the preceding act or had simply taken as read, given how heavily the show trades in the clichés of the occupation narrative. The plotline on Galactica/Pegasus ought to have been excised entirely, thus bringing us closer to the characters' headspace--knowing that the fleet is out there but not knowing when they might arrive or whether they're watching the planet--and Duck's suicide attack should have ended the second act instead of being dragged out for a further half hour.
Alternatively, I could point out, yet again, that the show has taken to making its points with a sledgehammer. It's not enough for Lee to have let himself go a little--he has to have doubled in size. The effect is laughable instead of disturbing. It's not enough for Casey to hurt herself when Kara leaves her unattended--she has to crack her head open on a concrete step. The focus immediately shifts from Kara's conflicting feelings towards the child to the almost unanimous assumption that Leoben orchestrated her injury (and that she may not even be Kara's daughter). It's not enough for the New Caprica Police to work for the Cylons--they have to operate primarily as a gestapo. Instead of presenting a viable moral dilemma, the collaborators are painted as monsters.
But honestly, I just don't have the heart to get into these issues. I'm tired. One of the reasons I'd planned to leave Galactica alone for a while is that it had recently occurred to me that I've been writing about the show for more than a year now, and in all that time I've pretty much said only one thing, again and again, growing louder and more upset with each repetition: that the show's writers consistently sacrifice the integrity of their characters, their plots, and their invented universe to the Moloch of political allegory. That they are so enchanted by the notion of being seen to ask 'tough questions' that they willingly resort to the most embarrassing sort of contrivance in order to arrive at those questions, which only serves to bleed them of their immediacy.
I don't like repeating myself. It bores my readers. Worse, it bores me, and it's taken me 24 hours to grow terribly angry with Ronald D. Moore for bringing me to the point where I am too bored to criticize his show. He has such terrific material to work with: a dedicated cast, talented writers, a network in awe of his accomplishments and critics ready to crown him the new king of television. But it's not the fact that he squanders these assets and produces lackluster television that angers me. It's the fact that the allegedly dark and edgy story elements for which the quality of his show has been sacrificed are so goddamn half-hearted and lily-livered that makes me quiver with rage.
You want to talk about suicide bombings? Then talk about them. I'll listen. I'll watch you try to convince me that there might be a time in which good men and women would manipulate desperate young people into throwing away their lives for the promise of a happier eternity, or just money for their families. I'll let you try to tell me that there might be a situation in which the only viable military strategy is to target civilians going about their lives, that this is a sensible tactic with practical military goals.
Ron Moore doesn't do this in "Occupation"/"Resistance." He loads the dice. Duck is an adult, and a soldier, and he goes to his death clear-eyed and certain. His target is a military target, and the second suicide bomber's a logistical one. Some lip service is paid to the notion of targeting the market, but it is soon swept away--it is clearly mentioned merely to shock us. When Baltar talks to Roslin at the beginning of "Precipice," he describes suicide bombings as I understand them, and as I believe we are meant to think of them--young men and women strapping bombs to their bodies and blowing themselves up in public places. What Tigh orchestrates, however, is a different animal. He sends soldiers to blow themselves up near strategic targets, and while there is an interesting argument to be had over whether this is a legitimate military tactic, that's not the effect Moore is going for--he just doesn't expect us to notice the difference.
I've watched the premiere twice now, and as near as I can tell this is the thought process Ron Moore envisioned for his viewers when he planned the suicide bomber plotline:
- Suicide bombings are something that bad guys do
- Our heroes are good guys
- Our heroes employ suicide bombings
- *Head explodes*
Imagine yourself at a bus stop. Your bus is coming down the street. You get up, swing your backpack over your shoulder, rummage in your pocket for money, and all the time in the back of your mind, not even entirely conscious, is the thought: in a few seconds, I might be making the last choice of my life. The specter of ugly, sudden death is a constant companion. When you go to school, or shopping, or out for a night of fun. It doesn't matter who you are or what you believe in. Simply being on the wrong side of a dispute makes you fair game to someone who is perfectly willing to send young people to die in order to cause your death. But far more important to that person are the people who won't die, who will watch your death on TV and wonder when their turn will come, who will hesitate for just a moment before going to see a movie, or walking into a shopping mall. Or getting on a bus.
That is why suicide bombings are evil. That and bodies ripped to shreds by shrapnel and organs liquified by blast waves (the next person who tells me "Occupation" is 'dark' is going to have to give me 500 words on why the episode's last shot wasn't a screen-full of hamburger). I was ready for Ron Moore to try to tell me that sometimes such evil is necessary, but he never even tried. I was ready for Ron Moore to challenge me, but he never challenged himself. He pulled a bait-and-switch, cloaking a lesser (and, in the context of his story, not very logical) evil in the guise of a greater one. It's dishonest, and manipulative, and cowardly.
After the shrill disingenuousness of "Occupation"/"Precipice"'s major storylines, the conversation between Roslin and Zarek near the end of the premiere, in which they both ruefully wish that Roslin had been successful in her attempt to steal the elections which put Baltar in office and have been the source of so much death and destruction, is a soothing balm. For once, the power of words is used wisely. Our visceral reaction to the notion of tampering with a democratic election crashes against the horror now facing people too honest (if only by a smidgeon) to engage in that act, and there is no discernible answer in sight--only a sad grin. What a pity that such genuinely challenging fare can only be found on the show's margins.