Note: This review contains significant spoilers.
Battlestar Galactica: "The Passage"
When the fleet's entire food supply becomes contaminated and a new food
source must be harvested, the Galactica's Raptor pilots risk their lives to
guide the civilian fleet through a star cluster that exposes the pilots to
dangerous levels of radiation.
Air date: 12/8/2006 (USA)
Written by Jane Espenson
Directed by Michael Nankin
Rating out of 4: **
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
About now, I'm wondering if the post-New Caprica BSG landscape is going to
be able to sustain itself any longer -- until the next mega-crisis comes
along, anyway. After "Collaborators," which dealt with the mess left over
from New Caprica, this series has been settling into a formula that feels a
little too static. We don't seem to be building anywhere with much momentum.
Recent standalone episodes have lacked conviction. I think I'm in favor of
another shake-up pretty soon.
I'm beginning to wonder, for example, just how many of these similar dialog
scenes I can watch with Baltar on the Cylon basestar. Baltar has always been
one of this series' best characters, because he's always been at the center
of some sort of unintended tragedy or debacle (his role in the miniseries or
getting everyone stuck on New Caprica, for example) or self-serving
situation that somehow made his position more powerful (his ascending to the
vice presidency and later the presidency).
Now among the Cylons, he's essentially been straightjacketed by the role the
writers have given him. Logically, this is the way it must be since he's a
captive among those who treat him with a lot of skepticism (although that
skepticism shrinks with every passing day), but emotionally there's a void
left on the human side of the story involving the fleet. Where's that sneaky
element to keep everyone on their toes?
As of "Collaborators," I thought that element might be Tom Zarek, but Zarek
hasn't been seen since. One of the annoyances of recent episodes is that it
was never made clear whether or not the stunt Zarek pulled in
"Collaborators" got him booted from the civilian government. Did Roslin
rescind her offer to name him vice president? That could very well be the
case, but unless I've missed something, I don't think we know one way or the
other for sure. Where has this guy gone?
That leaves most of the drama on this show aboard the Galactica and its
military storylines. In "The Passage," we learn that the food supply has
suddenly become contaminated because of some accident, meaning the fleet has
no food and is on the verge of starving. Cottle says people will start dying
in a little more than a week. As a result, the Galactica is on a mission to
find a new source of food, and as the episode opens we learn that a planet
has been located that just might be the answer to everyone's prayers.
The premise isn't the show's strong point. I found the sudden, off-screen
contamination of the food supply to be a dramatically weak contrivance. In
"Water" there was at least a tangible reason behind the loss of the water
supply, but here the food supply has been tainted well before the episode
begins; we join the situation in mid-crisis. I understand the need for
getting storylines under way quickly, but this is simply unsatisfying; we're
given no reasons for how or why this happened. It just *did*, deal with it,
move on. (Such a crisis would be easier to take seriously if the show had
earned it instead of pulling it out of thin air.)
I also found the mechanics of the plot to be worthy mostly of indifference.
The planet, you see, lies on the other side of a star cluster. It's too far
to go around the star cluster, but Galactica might be able to go through it
by jumping to the halfway point and then jumping from there to the other
side. While inside the halfway point, everyone will be exposed to deadly
radiation and blinding light that will make it virtually impossible to pilot
a ship, so in order to get the civilian fleet through, the people will be
transferred to Galactica (which has radiation shielding) and then Raptors
will guide the civvie ships -- helmed by skeleton crews -- through the
blinding light and radiation. The Raptor pilots will be at considerable risk
of radiation exposure during this period, and it will take five trips
through and back to get all the civilians and their ships through the
I've explained the plot, and I'm sort of sorry now that I did. It's not what
I'd call interesting. And I didn't understand why the ships had to stay in
the middle of the storm for so long. Why can't they jump in and jump out
before the light disorients everybody and causes ships to fly off into
oblivion? (Haven't the pilots heard of sunglasses?)
Thankfully, the episode does not dwell on the details of the plot mechanics.
Good thing, because the plot is a placeholder; the characters must transcend
it in order for the show to work. (This is the sort of episode whose moments
work in spite of the plot, not because of it.)
Even so, the central character premise has problems. We learn here that Kat
has a mystery in her past that dates back to before the attack in the
miniseries. This is a Dark Secret that she's had to live with for the entire
time we've known her as a character, even though we've never gotten a hint
of said Dark Secret before now. Is it me or does that seem a lot like what
we went through with Adama in "Hero"?
A man named Enzo (Patrick Curry) recognizes Kat in the corridor and calls
her "Sasha." They obviously share a history, and it's immediately clear that
Kat is not who we all thought she was. We eventually learn that before the
attack on the Colonies "Sasha" was actually a drug courier and Enzo was her
supplier. She assumed the identity of Louanne Katraine from a dead body
after all hell broke loose. Galactica became her chance to start over as
I don't much care for retroactive backstory that completely rewrites what we
thought we knew of a character. When these stories delve into the past in
ways that don't much inform the present (and indeed come across as
completely falsified by the writers), it strikes me as a waste of time.
The point of the episode is the question: Is a person who they seem to be
right now, or is the past an inescapable definition of not simply who they
*were* but also who they always must be? Can a fresh start redefine who
someone is, and is there really such a thing as a clean slate? There's a
tough scene between Starbuck and Kat where Starbuck argues that, no, the
past is not forgiven, and a lie is a lie. Starbuck says you can't live a lie
and you must accept who you are, not run from it. But consider the source:
This is the same person who, we learned last week, probably married Anders
in part because she was trying to run from her own troubled past.
Kat's past begins eating away at her so much that she believes she must make
amends, pay a penance, something. During the final trip through the passage,
she puts herself in grave danger by piloting a mission when she has already
exceeded her allowable radiation exposure. She saves a ship and becomes a
hero ... but we already know by this point in the story that this is going
to be Kat's final mission.
Why do we know? Because there's an earlier scene where the music swells and
the drama announces itself as DRAMA! and the images of Kat dissolve on top
of one another and we're supposed to be carried along for the emotional
ride. The sentiment is a little pushy for my tastes. It might as well be an
announcement saying, "Kat's going to die, and this is her official hero's
sendoff!" Whatever happened to letting drama live or die on its merits? I
understand the desire for earnest sincerity, but come on.
As much as I resisted being force-fed that Kat was making this noble
sacrifice, the fact is that she does make it, and it brings about some good
scenes on her deathbed. Starbuck's reconciliation with Kat is honest and
sincere, and you can understand how sometimes Kara has a tendency to pass
judgment when she's angry and later regret the meaning behind overly harsh
words. Meanwhile, Adama's scenes with Kat are genuinely affecting. When Kat
tries to confess her sins, Adama will not hear of it; he already knows all
he needs to know about the kind of person she is. Actions in the here and
now are what matter, and the past should stay in the past. Good character
work and solid performances redeem a less-than-stellar storyline.
Another example of good character work is Tigh, who finally returns to duty,
to the applause of the CIC staff. Tigh is a character who has had a true arc
and thus a truly earned payoff. Unlike Adama in "Hero" or Kat here, the
writers have developed a story with Tigh rather than simply concocting one,
which I think demonstrates the problems with "The Passage" and "Hero."
As for the story on the basestar, I was less than thrilled. Baltar learns
about D'Anna's secret suicides and calls her on it, so D'Anna attempts to
explain her need to find the answers that lie somewhere between life and
death. She says she sees the faces of the mysterious final five Cylons in
the images between her downloads -- or at least maybe she does. Baltar,
still suspecting he might be a Cylon, wants to know if he's one of the faces
in the images so "I would stop being a traitor to one set of people, and be
a hero to another" -- which is a Baltar guilt-assuaging sentiment if I've
ever heard one.
Frankly, all this wannabe-poetic mythical doublespeak on the basestar is
starting to wear thin. Baltar and D'Anna go down to visit the Hybrid -- who
seemingly speaks a never-ending gibberish stream of consciousness -- to draw
insights. The conclusions Baltar reaches by listening to the Hybrid are the
sort of arbitrary plot-driving methods that drove me mad with the "X-Files,"
in which Great Meaning is implied with wondrously impenetrable lines of
dialog no reasonable person could be expected to decipher. It purports to
make sense only because the writers say it does. It alludes to something
called the "Eye of Jupiter" as the next point on the map in the race to
Earth, and there's apparently a connection now between the humans' Gods and
the Cylons' God.
If this sort of mumbo-jumbo is the extent of the drama we're going to get on
the basestar, then this plot needs to come to a head now, before the
audience checks out of these scenes completely. Fortunately, next week's
episode is called "The Eye of Jupiter," so it may do just that.
Copyright 2007, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
Jammer's Reviews - http://www.jammersreviews.com
Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...