Note: This review contains significant spoilers.
Battlestar Galactica: "Lay Down Your Burdens, Part 2"
Taking opposite sides on the issue whether to colonize the habitable world
dubbed New Caprica, Roslin and Baltar square off for election day.
Air date: 3/10/2006 (USA)
Written by Anne Cofell Saunders & Mark Verheiden
Directed by Michael Rymer
Rating out of 4: ***
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
I gotta say, the writers on this show have some serious balls. They don't
screw around, and they don't hedge. They make decisions and are bold about
Barring a reset that I can't even contemplate, the season two finale for
"Battlestar Galactica" represents nothing short of a complete retooling of
the series. The writers, let it be said, have taken some serious risks in
the closing 30 minutes of "Lay Down Your Burdens, Part 2." This is a show
that attempts so very much that you can sense a tightrope act that's risking
a fall from a very high place. It's the type of hour (actually 90 minutes)
that will have some viewers announcing, "Brilliant!" while others are
claiming, "Jumped the shark."
While you can count me in the "brilliant" camp, this may actually be an
episode too ambitious for its own good. Yes, it changes everything. But I'm
not convinced (yet) that it changes everything for the better in terms of
the series' direction, and I don't think this is as purely satisfying a
cliffhanger as either "Kobol's Last Gleaming, Part 2" from last season or
"Pegasus" from mid-season. Those shows were more effective. Even though
"Burdens 2" takes more risks, it's not a better-told story. Bigger, yes. As
Let's begin on Caprica. We rejoin our heroes amid the Cylon mortar assault
that was under way in "Burdens 1," where it's looking now like a
particularly bad case of the rescuers needing to be rescued. Then, suddenly,
the bombing simply ... stops. The Cylons withdraw, with no explanation.
Brother Cavil (Dean Stockwell) appears on the scene and proclaims it's a
miracle. But how can he be on Caprica and also on the Galactica? Oh, he's a
Cylon. No one in Kara's rescue party recognizes him, which I can buy -- but
I guess we're also to assume that Cavil was among Anders' resistance group
all along, because if he simply and coincidentally strolled up after the
bombing stopped, wouldn't everyone be kind of suspicious? This is one
slightly confusingly executed conceit the show makes. The reason the bombing
so coincidentally stops (which I'll get to momentarily) is even more so.
Kara's rescue party returns to the Galactica with the rescued resistance
fighters from Caprica, and they bring Cavil with them. He's recognized
instantly by Tyrol, which thankfully eliminates any possibility of faux
suspense games involving the uncovering of Cavil's identity, who willingly
came back to Galactica to deliver a message. Because Sharon had not said
anything and it's assumed that "of course she knew" Cavil was a Cylon, she's
thrown back into the brig, in what seems like a never-ending cycle (albeit a
justified one) of trust/non-trust on Adama's part. Her nihilistic frame of
mind is somewhat understandable; following her baby's death (as most believe
it to be) she's lost the will to care about anything, and had decided to
simply let whatever Cavil planned to do run its own course.
Cavil is thrown into the brig along with the other copy of Cavil, who
protests that he's not a Cylon right up to the point he sees the
surrendering copy of himself already in the brig, at which point, he simply
resigns: "Oh. Well, okay then." Dean Stockwell is memorable in this scene as
two Cylons flawlessly integrated into one scene, explaining the Cylons' new
epiphany: That the "war hero" copies of Six and Eight (Sharon) had managed
to swing popular Cylon opinion to the conclusion that the occupation of the
Colonies and the pursuit of the fleet were errors. (See the setup of such in
"Downloaded.") "Cylon and man will now go their separate ways, no harm
done," explains Cavil. (Aside from the billions dead, of course.)
This scene is executed so well and with such a sense of newfound curiosity
and story development that I'm almost tempted to forgive the last-minute
suddenness of how the story goes from Cylons bombing resistance fighters on
Caprica to completely withdrawing from the Colonies. The timing -- let's
face it -- comes off as totally contrived. But what's interesting in the
dialog here are the suggestions of significant ideological and religious
strife within Cylon society. They don't all agree, and that's going to
undoubtedly be an interesting aspect to play out in season three.
For now, the main plot in "Burdens 2" is the election, which is going to be
decided on the issue of whether to colonize the newly discovered habitable
planet, now dubbed New Caprica. Baltar is adamant on using the issue of
colonization as his new political platform. There's a scene where Roslin
makes a desperate private plea to Baltar to table the issue of colonization
until after the election because it's too important to go forward on it
without a closer examination of the facts. She even goes so far as to call
Baltar on his relationship with Six, which she witnessed right before the
attack (but didn't remember until her hallucinatory state in "Epiphanies").
When it's clear that Roslin's election is in doubt, she recruits her
campaign manager, Tory Foster (Rekha Sharma), into a plot to do whatever is
necessary to make sure Baltar does not win the election. Roslin's wording is
careful not to explicitly tell Tory to rig the election, but Roslin and Tory
both know what's what.
On Election Day, we see the ballots coming in, and I appreciated the level
of detail and heft the producers put on the electoral process, right down to
the locked metal boxes containing the ballots that are overseen by the
civilian auditors. Tory's plot to steal the election involves at the very
least Dualla and Tigh (who swap out a crucial box of ballots) and most
definitely not Gaeta (who notices and reports that a misprint has
inexplicably been corrected on those ballots). There's irony in the fact
that at the beginning of the season Tigh was locking Roslin in a jail cell,
and now he helps her rig the election. It's a simple matter that everyone
(except for the general population, of course) instinctively knows that
Baltar as president would be an unmitigated disaster. An even bigger irony
is that Baltar assumes upon losing that Roslin couldn't possibly be guilty
of the corruption Zarek suspects.
And yet, the question becomes: Can Roslin actually do this? When Adama gets
wind of the ballot discrepancies, he confronts her in a sad, quiet scene
that somehow sums up everything about their relationship and yet is in no
way predictable. They both know Baltar will be a disaster, and yet they work
the issue through the larger issue of right and wrong. Is doing the right
thing even prudent in the interests of survival? Maybe not, but maybe we
have to live or die by what's right and not by what's prudent. They decide
to overturn the corrupt results and bury the conspiracy. Baltar is
suspicious, but Adama convinces him to let the matter pass. Amazing, how
Olmos' tone of voice and a glance can communicate so much implied menace.
And the fact he calls Baltar "doctor."
There are also many good character touches to be found here. There's a scene
where Cally forgives Tyrol for beating her and breaking her jaw, and it
plays as a mirror of the situation earlier in the season where Cally was
seeking Tyrol's forgiveness for killing Sharon. And there's Kara and Anders
involved in a drunken make-out display that's tacky as all hell because of
its utter rudeness; they do it right in front of Lee, and you ask yourself
what Kara's thinking. I'm thinking she's drunk. Much later, there's a scene
where Adama is not only smoking a cigarette, but snapping off the filter
before he lights up.
And there's a brilliantly written piece of psychological warfare where Six
tells Baltar that she's not going to go live on New Caprica, and Baltar
desperately explains that "every last single one of us" is going to live on
New Caprica. We realize that Baltar's whole point for trumpeting the
colonization agenda was, in a way, so he could start a new life there with
Six. There's something sad and pathetic about that, and poignant and
completely in the nature of Baltar's character. And then they have sex in a
scene intercut with Baltar being sworn in as president; the sex plays like a
long-awaited consummation, and it's haunting.
And yet ... I have some significant problems involving the nuclear bomb and
all it represents from a plot accountability level. You recall the nuclear
bomb, supplied to Baltar by Adama way back in "Bastille Day," which Baltar
then gave to Six in "Epiphanies." Well, Six detonates the bomb here in what
you could say is a Cylon suicide attack of the most unanticipated kind. She
destroys the Cloud Nine and at least two other ships in the blast, and
although the death toll is never mentioned on screen, one would guess it's
in the thousands. It's a chilling visual and a powerfully tragic outcome,
and yet the lack of fallout eludes me.
Consider: Adama *gave* Baltar the nuclear warhead, and now this warhead
somehow has gotten aboard the Cloud Nine and has been detonated, killing
thousands and potentially crippling the fleet, and Adama's reaction is to
quietly presume that the Cylons somehow got their hands on it after it was
"stolen from Baltar's lab"? Even after Roslin warned Adama that she believed
Baltar was working with the Cylons? Somehow, I doubt it. Furthermore, when
Adama warns Baltar that there could be more Cylon attacks and Baltar refuses
to listen to reason and orders that colonization of New Caprica is to begin
immediately, would Adama so passively just sit back and let it happen?
Couldn't he assert "military decision" as he did with Roslin?
And, for that matter, wouldn't *someone* (the press comes to mind) be asking
questions about why a nuclear bomb has just gone off in the fleet? Perhaps
it has something to do with the fact that the people who have the answers --
Baltar and, to a lesser degree, Adama -- are also the ones in power, but the
episode doesn't even consider the question. I guess what I'm saying is that
the issue of the nuclear bomb as a plot piece has never seemed convincing to
me, and seems just as unconvincing here, if not more so. When a nuclear bomb
explodes, there should be hell to pay in the aftermath (political fallout,
scapegoating, etc.), and there's zero indication of that here. Perhaps
everyone is simply too tired of running. Perhaps the population doesn't even
know the explosion was one of Galactica's own warheads because the fact was
covered up. The episode doesn't tell us. Maybe we'll find out next season.
For now, it's a frustration.
Then comes the episode's twist, in which we jump ahead to "one year later,"
where a colony has been established on New Caprica under Baltar's apparently
seedy presidency (as hookers lie about his cabin on Colonial One, now docked
on the planet surface). The last 20 minutes of the show play like an
extended teaser for next season, offering character tidbits and plot pieces
that will undoubtedly become new launching pads. There are a ton of pieces
the episode throws at us, such as:
* New Caprica City has a population of nearly 40,000; a tent city in a
* Half the crews of the Galactica and Pegasus (in a very lax orbital defense
mode) have moved to the planet. Adama urges Tigh to move down there: "Only
one man per lighthouse," he notes. Would the fleet really get this lax?
* Roslin has gone back to teaching school. She stays close to Maya and the
Cylon hybrid child.
* Tyrol stands next to a pregnant Cally in a crowded tent; he's a
rabble-rousing union leader preaching about the evils of Baltar's
* Kara and Lee are on cold, virtually non-speaking terms for reasons we can
* Lee and Dualla are married aboard the Pegasus.
* Kara and Anders are married on the planet surface. Kara has given up the
life of a fighter pilot. Anders has potentially fatal pneumonia.
* Kara and Tigh are friends now, even hugging when they greet each other.
And then, out of nowhere, a Cylon fleet shows up. The Galactica, Pegasus,
and rest of the fleet in orbit have to make an emergency jump away, leaving
the planet defenseless. The Cylons -- including a Six and an Eight (are they
the "war heroes"?) -- meet with Baltar, who offers an immediate surrender
when they promise that no one will be harmed if there's no resistance.
Centurions march into the streets, marking the first clear stage of an
occupation. The Cylons explain that they found New Caprica because they
detected the radiation from a nuclear explosion. The irony is so thick you
could choke on it.
Poor Baltar. If he weren't the cause of all this misery for so many other
people, you might almost feel sorry for the guy. Not only did he unwittingly
help the Cylons in the first attack on the Colonies, his actions led
directly to the destruction of the Cloud Nine and thus the Cylons finding
New Caprica. He is truly his own (and everyone else's) curse. There's a true
fascination to his character's arc. Here's a man driven to madness over the
obsession with a woman, and just as he thinks he's re-attained her, she
commits suicide, killing thousands and permitting the Cylons to find the
fleet again. Maybe that's what Six had in mind. Maybe not. It certainly
isn't what Baltar had in mind. He's like a sleepwalking, cascading,
compounding, self-fulfilling tragedy.
There's a ton of material in "Lay Down Your Burdens," and tons of teaser
pieces, including the mysterious return of Leoben, who's looking for Kara
Thrace, for reasons loyal viewers will understand even though they'll have
no idea what it means for the future. Clearly this is a compelling and
ambitious episode, crammed with elements you could discuss ad nauseam.
And yet, there's this mild dissatisfaction here. The one-year gap leaves too
much out and perhaps reinvents the series before we were ready to see the
existing material jettisoned. Story threads that have been in development
for two seasons are rendered irrelevant (or at the very least on hold) --
and in some cases have been resolved off-screen. The one-year gap means more
time has passed off-screen than in the entire first two seasons of the
series, and that's an odd feeling. All existing momentum has been halted,
and the train has been restarted with completely new cargo. We have no clue
of the status of some characters. It's all a bit jarring.
But I'll be damned if it's not interesting -- and awfully brave.
Copyright 2006, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
Jammer's Reviews - http://www.jammersreviews.com
Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...