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291[BSG] Jammer's Review: "Occupation/Precipice"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Nov 3, 2006
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      Note: This review contains significant spoilers.

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      Battlestar Galactica: "Occupation/Precipice"

      In its fifth month under harsh Cylon occupation, New Caprica faces increased
      turmoil with a new human police force generally considered to be traitors, a
      resistance movement stepping up its violent attacks, and hope that a rescue
      from Galactica might still be possible.

      Air date: 10/6/2006 (USA)
      Written by Ronald D. Moore
      Directed by Sergio Mimica-Gezzan

      Rating out of 4: ****

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
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      In the first two seasons of "Battlestar Galactica," we had subplots that
      took place on "Cylon-occupied Caprica." But it wasn't much of an occupation,
      because most of those who would've been occupied had already been
      exterminated. So far as I could tell, the occupation was a few isolated
      pockets of resistance, mainly Anders and his crew of freedom fighters. If
      there were other survivors on the Colonies -- and I would assume that there
      were -- they were not depicted on screen. We didn't see much of what
      actually went on.

      Now we have "Occupation" and "Precipice," a two-hour premiere to the third
      season of BSG that should've been given one title for the sake of simplicity
      (why not simply "Occupation" parts 1 and 2?) -- and because that's what this
      show is really about: a harsh Cylon occupation and its grim results.

      "Occupation/Precipice" is a powerful and absorbing two hours of television.
      If I had my doubts about the way "Lay Down Your Burdens, Part 2" left
      massive gaps in the narrative with its one-year leap forward, those doubts
      have been assuaged here. "Occupation/Precipice" works even better than it
      otherwise might've because the situation feels new and unfamiliar; any
      security blanket we had with any formula that BSG was settling into during
      the latter half of the second season has been yanked away. Part of the
      fascination is in seeing where all the characters are now. Let's put it this
      way: They are not in a good place.

      This premiere is dark, violent, and wonderfully complex. It asks hard
      questions that different people in the audience are going to respond to in
      different ways. When you can play devil's advocate and both justify and
      condemn the motivations behind so many of the characters' actions, you know
      the story is working on an intellectual level. When you find yourself
      riveted to the screen and leaning forward at what you see, you know the
      story is working on a visceral level. This episode clearly works on both.

      Let's start with Colonel Tigh. The episode begins in his holding cell
      following endless weeks of imprisonment, questioning, and torture. (They
      even ripped out his eye and showed it to him: "Looked like a hard-boiled
      egg," he later muses.) Cylon Cavil taunts him over the hash marks he
      scratches onto the wall to count the days. Tigh is one of the key leaders of
      the resistance to the human occupation, which the Cylons are attempting to
      put down with intelligence gathered from prisoner abuse.

      Tigh is released early in the episode as part of a deal that involves his
      wife Ellen (unbeknownst to Tigh) having sex with a copy of Cavil. Although
      it's no secret that Ellen has slept around in the past, her actions here are
      a case of mercenary prostitution with noble intentions: she's trying to
      protect her husband. But the question becomes: At what point are you a
      collaborator? Let's face it: Ellen's behavior would be construed by most
      patriots as sickening, and yet it's one of the episode's perfect examples of
      someone taking desperate action because they are backed into a corner.

      Hers isn't the only such situation. Once Tigh is released and rejoins the
      insurgency (Tyrol and Anders are the other key resistance leaders), we
      realize just how bad things have gotten under Cylon occupation. It's been
      four months since the events of "Lay Down Your Burdens, Part 2," and Cylon
      occupation is going over about as well as the German occupation of much of
      Europe in World War II. For that matter, there are certain superficial
      parallels one could draw with the U.S. occupation of Iraq -- although it
      should be said that Ron Moore's script never attempts to turn this into some
      sort of politicized statement. This is an episode about occupations in
      general, and a heartless Cylon occupation in particular.

      One of the key aspects of the story surrounds the New Caprica police force
      that the Cylons have put together out of human beings who are generally
      regarded by the other humans to be traitors to their race. Our entry point
      into this aspect of the story is through Jammer (the character, not yours
      truly), who signed up because he hoped he could do the Cylons' dirty work in
      a way that would be less dirty. His recruitment into the police force
      happened in "The Resistance," the online episodes that were released prior
      to this episode's airing. I must admit: Despite my qualms with the narrative
      choppiness of those mini-installments, they shed some light onto Jammer's
      plight here.

      They also shed more light onto the actions of Duck, who has also joined the
      police force, but for very different reasons: He's an infiltrator working
      for the resistance. In a powerful and disquieting sequence, Duck straps
      explosives to his body and blows himself up along with a room full of humans
      and Cylons at a graduation ceremony for new police officers. Dozens are
      killed. (I was uncertain how Jammer survived unscratched, since he appeared
      to be just feet away from the explosion.) Later, a woman blows herself up to
      take out as many Cylons as possible.

      These suicide-bombing scenes have a swift and brutal ferocity that is
      disturbingly real. They demonstrate the kinds of atrocities that become
      possible in war. Some scenes in "Occupation/Precipice" are impossible to
      watch without thinking of current-day conflicts. Yet the episode has no
      political agenda whatsoever, unless there's an agenda in pointing out that
      atrocities happen during wartime, and that those atrocities might be, you
      know, wrong.

      The episode's central argument revolves around Colonel Tigh. He has no
      problem with suicide bombings if it means distracting the Cylons long enough
      for Adama to plan a rescue op. Tyrol has his reservations: "There are some
      thing you just don't do, Colonel. Not even in war." There's a scene where
      Roslin tells Tigh that the suicide bombings must be stopped at once. His
      dismissive and yet well-thought-out response to Roslin is some sort of
      grizzled veteran's prose masterpiece. Here's a guy who has been tortured and
      damaged, and when he talks he seems to make perfect sense and to have gone
      off the deep end at the same time. There's also a telling scene where Baltar
      demands Roslin to look him in the eye and say that she can defend the
      suicide bombings as justifiable. She can't.

      What this episode is about is finding moral ground upon which its human
      characters can stand. Can they do that and still fight for survival? That's
      been a question on this series for a long time, but it becomes even more
      urgent here, where the Cylons have the entire population contained under the
      constant threat of force.

      Aside from this question, "Occupation/Precipice" does a hell of a job
      reestablishing all the characters and picking up their storylines, reboot
      style. Kara has been held by Leoben for four months, where they have been in
      a long series of battles in a stalemated war of patience. Her jail cell has
      the disguise of an apartment unit of routine domesticity, and Leoben is
      waiting for Kara to cave in and realize that she can love him. The tone is
      set when she stabs him in the neck and then calmly goes back to eating her
      steak. This is someone's twisted version of hell, and somehow a macabre
      humor finds its way to the surface.

      Leoben finally plays his trump card by bringing in a small girl named Kacey,
      whom he claims is Kara's daughter (see "The Farm" for the sordid details).
      The implications of this scene are intriguing, but also must be treated with
      a high dose of skepticism, since the Cylons are known masters of
      manipulation.

      Meanwhile, Baltar's presidency has become a puppet administration of the
      Cylons. Gaeta serves as chief of staff, but not happily, and he's the secret
      source feeding information to the resistance. To say Baltar is in way over
      his head would be an understatement. Make no mistake: He's as miserable as
      everyone else on this rock, if for different reasons (mostly because he has
      to live with himself). I fully expect him to be shot on sight by the
      resistance. (Indeed, one of Tigh's plans had Baltar as the target of a
      suicide bombing.) Colonial One is not a happy place. It's filled with Cylons
      who force Baltar into impossible corners. At one point, they demand he sign
      an order of execution for suspected insurgents, who are to be rounded up and
      shot. Watching Baltar is like watching a train wreck: It's so damned
      fascinating, and horrifying.

      Somehow, despite everything, I feel sorry for Baltar. His failures stem from
      weakness and selfishness, not maliciousness. I've said it before: You'd feel
      really sorry for this guy if his actions didn't land everyone else in just
      as much or more trouble than himself. The Cylons aren't happy about the
      whole occupation situation, either. They're at odds with how to deal with
      humanity. There's a dramatically intense moment where Doral holds a gun to
      Baltar's head and screams at him to sign the death warrants. When Six tries
      to defuse the situation, Doral shoots her in the head. What can Baltar do?
      He signs the warrant. After all, he's not going to take a bullet. That would
      be beyond his abilities.

      Meanwhile, Cavil orders Ellen to betray the resistance or lose her husband,
      which leads to an agonizing scene where trusts are violated while stakes are
      unbearably high: She steals a map outlining the rendezvous point of the
      resistance with the Galactica's scouts; she doesn't even realize the true
      scope of her betrayal.

      Back aboard the Galactica, the plans have been developing for the past four
      months. Adama conducts training drills for a return to New Caprica to rescue
      the survivors. One point of unexpected humor is the notion that Lee has
      really let himself go since the settlement on New Caprica. He's packed on
      the pounds, and both Adama and Dualla (confirmed here as Lee's wife) accuse
      him of having lost his edge. Adama calls Lee on the carpet for the
      ineffectiveness of the Pegasus crew, and demands that he whip them into
      shape. The capper is: "I want you to turn around and get your fat ass out of
      here." The scene is both funny and startling. Funny to see Lee turned soft,
      but startling to see Adama so angry that he raises his voice.

      Lee thinks Adama's plan to rescue the survivors is borderline suicide, and
      he might be right. There's a nice philosophical argument where Lee says to
      his father that he owes it to humanity *not* to make such a high-risk
      gamble, because the consequences of losing are too high to contemplate.
      Adama's response is one of simplicity, and it doesn't even try to argue
      using logic. He simply can't leave all those people behind to the Cylons
      because "I can't live with it."

      The way Adama's plan brings Sharon into the picture is also of much
      interest. He restores her flight status and gives her the mission to
      infiltrate the Cylon base on New Caprica and obtain the launch codes to
      unlock the ships on the surface so they can escape. Adama's basically taking
      a leap of faith based on trust. It's not an unreasonable one under the
      circumstances (they've developed an understanding over the past 16 months),
      and yet I can't shake the feeling that with Sharon there's always another
      shoe waiting to drop -- perhaps another program lying dormant to supply her
      with another directive.

      Frankly, "Occupation/Precipice" sets up so many pieces that it seems like
      half the season could be turned into a New Caprica occupation arc. Could
      such a storyline maintain the momentum that this episode seems to promise?

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      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@...