Sunday, November 12, 2006

Moving Into a New Circle of Hell and Other "A Measure of Salvation" Thoughts

One of the problems with Battlestar Galactica's premise is that given the Cylons' opening gambit--the extermination of all but a tiny fragment of a civilization that once numbered in the billions--there was nothing, absolutely nothing, the humans could do that would measure up. Gina's mistreatment, all of the indignities visited on Sharon, Hera's kidnapping, Leoben's torture, the bombings on Caprica, old and new--none of them come close to evening the scale. For a show supposedly more concerned with exploring the darkness inherent in the human psyche, this was a major hurdle. Which is why, I suspect, the writers came up with the possibility of reciprocal genocide.

Now, just to be clear: there's still a difference, and not a small one either, between committing genocide against an unsuspecting population who are barely even aware of your existence, and committing it against a species who has previously committed it against you, and who you know are dedicated to finishing the job. For the humans to use the genocide weapon would obviously mean buying real estate in a new circle of hell, but the Cylons would still have a much better view of the frozen lake and Satan's three mouths.

That said, the decision is not clear-cut, and I appreciate the way the writers express that ambiguity. That is to say, on the macro level, I'm pleased with the range of opinions expressed. On the micro level, I'm not sure I buy the mouths those opinions are coming out of. Lee's sudden decision to deny the Cylons' personhood, for instance, doesn't work for me. Granted, we've never seen him express any feelings to the contrary, but two and a half seasons into a show's run is a little late in the game for the writers to announce that character X's opinions about subject Y, with which they are confronted daily, are as violent and as intense as Lee's are in this episode. I can't help but wonder whether Lee's stance originally belonged to Tigh, although obviously I'm glad to have the character talk about something other than his weight.

It makes sense for Helo to stand for a complete moral rejection of the weapon, although his 'what if there is but one righteous man in the city?' argument might have carried more weight if our recent glimpses into Cylon society hadn't made it abundantly clear that no, there is not. Which brings me to the sole exception, and I don't see how I can be expected to believe that Sharon will do nothing to save her people. But then, it's not as if any of the Sharons have been getting consistent characterization this season. One of my problems with the very ending of "Lay Down Your Burdens II" was my difficulty in believing that the Boomer we saw in "Downloaded"--who was, by far, the most human Cylon we'd ever seen--would so calmly accept that traveling to New Caprica and subjugating the humans there could ever end well. In "Occupation"/"Precipice," however, it turned out that Boomer had gone completely plastic. Her conversation with Cally, however brilliant an example of two people speaking the same language and not understanding each other at all, had almost nothing to do with the Boomer we'd known for an entire season, and certainly not with the angry, self-righteous young woman we met in "Downloaded". Along those same lines, I simply don't see what could have caused the transformation in Sharon during the missing year that would instill in her such a violent loyalty to her adopted people. Until the show bridges that gap, I won't be able to connect with the character, and her scenes in this episode therefore rang hollow.

In a lot of ways, "A Measure of Salvation" is strongly reminiscent of "Resurrection Ship," in that in both stories the leaders of the fleet are faced with a choice between morality and expediency. To choose the former is to risk not only their own lives but the survival of their species, and the condemnation of later generations is ameliorated by the knowledge that those generations might not exist if a morally untenable choice is not made. As she did in "Resurrection Ship," Roslin chooses to bloody her hands (and where, might I ask, are Adama's 'we have to deserve survival' scruples when he calmly accepts that decision?), and just as in that earlier episode, the decision is taken out of them. Like "Resurrection Ship," "A Measure of Salvation" cops out in its ending, choosing to have its cake and eat it too. In "Resurrection Ship," Adama decides not to kill Admiral Cain, but Gina does the dirty work for him. Roslin chooses to kill the Cylons en masse in "A Measure of Salvation," but Helo belays that order. Both episodes choose to maintain a static perception of a character's moral standing--Adama is staunch, Roslin is flexible--without forcing them to face the real-world consequences of their choice--Adama's might have doomed the fleet, Roslin's might have cost humanity its collective soul.

It's a cowardly solution, and to be perfectly honest, not even a necessary one. It would have been possible to release the genocidal weapon and still continue the show's story--after all, the Cylons' genocide wasn't 100% effective. Wouldn't it have been fascinating to watch the ragged remnants of the Cylon nation pursuing Galactica, looking for vengeance and their own chance at a new beginning? I can't help but wish that Galactica's writers had been willing to take us down this path, and truly tell a story about a war in which neither side holds the moral high ground.

3 comments:

Janice said...

I completely agree with your dissatisfaction at the episode's ending. In fact, I didn't like the rest of it much either. The writing was pretty hamfisted and made the situation out to be more cut and dried than it ought to have been. As you said, the proposed genocide would not likely be 100% effective, and we could have gotten some explanation of how many Cylons there really are and where they live. Surely they're not all chasing the human fleet?

Of course, that would mean the producers would have to figure out the answers themselves, and I have a feeling they're putting that off as long as possible. Yes, I'm getting that X-Files feeling...

About the Sharon/Boomer question, though: I think you're confusing the two characters. Even though the models are supposed to be nearly identical within their ranks, the Sharon who's with Helo has always been different from the rest. She is not a sleeper agent; she knows who she is and has sided with the humans from nearly the beginning (albeit with some occasional harsh words for Adama's ears).

The resurrected Boomer we met in "Downloaded" was NOT the same Sharon. In fact, I wonder where that character went. We've seen her walking around with Caprica Six a number of times this season, but she's gotten no attention at all. Puzzling, and disappointing.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

I may not have expressed myself very well regarding Sharon and Boomer, Janice. I do recognize that the characters are different and have different personalities, but I don't think either one is being consistently written.

As of last season's "Downloaded," Boomer was the most human Cylon we'd ever seen, the only one capable of comprehending the vast wrongness of everything the Cylons had done, and the only one who was giving even a moments' thought to the feelings of humans (the 'they loved me and I betrayed them' scene). It didn't make sense to me that this person would think subjugating New Caprica would be a new idea, and when we next spoke to her, we discovered that the only way the writers could excuse that acquiescence to the Cylon party line was to reduce the character's humanity - in her scene with Cally, Boomer is typically obtuse about human emotion. She starts talking about her relationship with Tyrol and how happy she is for him and Cally while Cally is imprisoned and possibly facing execution - it takes a special kind of fucked-up-ness to get to the point where you think that's an acceptable conversational gambit.

Meanwhile, at the end of the second season Sharon was 1) not even remotely human in her behavior or moral understanding and 2) angry at hell (not unjustifiably) at her treatment by the humans. When we jump forward a year, she's not only committed herself whole-heartedly to the human cause, but she's gained a depth of personality and humanity that simply weren't present in the character when we last saw her. It's that new-found integrity that leads her to choose not to stop the Cylon genocide (and wouldn't it have been ironic if it were her willingness to stand back while her own people were slaughtered that got Helo to look askance at her, when a corresponding willingness to overlook the genocide of his people doesn't seem to have even registered with him), and as I say in my post, without some information as to how she got from A to B, I can't accept either the transformation or the decisions stemming from it.

Jennifer R said...

See, I actually don't have a problem with Boomer's change in characterization. She felt herself to be human, and suddenly she loses ALL humans. She's literally surrounded by an enemy, no hope of reuniting with anyone on Galactica in her old life, and she's being encouraged in every circumstance to embrace the Cylonness- because staying "human" isn't an option any more. After a year of that, of course she now kinda has to "side with the enemy." She's lost touch with her former human-ness after immersion in a completely different world.

As for this episode: yeah, it sucked. Everyone knows the Cylons aren't going to get killed off, and Adama looks pretty bad for NOT pursuing who did it (I assume it's because he figured odds are 50/50 that his pet Sharon did it and he doesn't want to bust her). Why go there if they're not going to go there? It is as much of a cheat as the killing of Cain was.

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