295[BSG] Jammer's Review: "Unfinished Business"
- Jan 5, 2007Note: This review contains significant spoilers.
Battlestar Galactica: "Unfinished Business"
Galactica's crew members work out their frustrations in boxing matches,
where rank is rendered irrelevant and unresolved personal issues from New
Caprica are settled in the ring.
Air date: 12/1/2006 (USA)
Written by Michael Taylor
Directed by Robert Young
Rating out of 4: **1/2
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
I'm picturing a movie poster right now that has Kara Thrace and Lee Adama,
half obscured in a dark shadow, with brooding looks on their faces, their
eyes cast somewhat downward as they wear boxing gloves, standing facing in
opposite directions so they aren't looking at each other, and the poster
tagline above them says "Love Hurts."
That might give you an idea of what the net effect of "Unfinished Business"
is. Here's an episode I might be willing to label a "guilty pleasure" given
the initial plot outline (crew members settle their personal pent-up
frustrations in boxing slugfests while we finally are shown what went down
between Kara and Lee to open the gulf between them), but once you see it and
then think about it, you realize there's very little pleasure to be found
Either this is (a) a brilliant character study about how the damaged psyche
cannot possibly be understood -- not the least by even oneself, or (b) a
cynical exploitation of boiling-over soap opera themes filtered through
dark, exaggerated angst. I'm not sure which side of the fence I'm on.
Certainly, there's a case to be made for both sides.
The episode's conceit is that all the military personnel aboard the
Galactica apparently know how to box, and in keeping with military
tradition, they use the boxing ring as a medium for working out their issues
in a "Fight Club" sort of way: One boxes such that one can still feel alive.
You leave your rank outside the ring, and then you step inside and settle
issues like man was meant to: by beating the living crap out of his fellow
The scenes in the boxing ring are edited together along with a series of
flashback scenes set on New Caprica eight months before the Cylon
occupation. Certain gaps in that missing year that I, for one, have been
curious about are answered in these scenes. Obviously not everything, but a
few important things.
In many ways, this episode is refreshing. It takes us away from all issues
of the Cylons and focuses purely on the characters and their internal
workings and assorted dramas. Specifically, this episode leads up to a
climactic fight between Kara and Lee that's been about a year in the making.
What happened on New Caprica to get these two characters, who once loved
each other, to this point? Even more specifically: What made Lee so
absolutely bitter toward Kara, and what turned Kara into a bitch and a half?
The episode's most memorable and melancholy point is in how it reveals that
the Colonial settlers, had it not been for the occupation, might actually
have been able to live out their days happily on New Caprica. While it was
previously established that New Caprica was a cold and harsh planet, the
scenes in these flashbacks reveal that there must've at least been a
comfortable warm season to offer a respite. There's a community celebration
that feels as if the clock has been turned back to a simpler time where
human beings could simply live in peace as neighbors. It's almost depressing
to think that a few months after this celebration, all these characters will
be trapped once again inside overcrowded tin cans.
This realization is made all the more poignant by the wonderful performances
of Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell, who ponder this new, peaceful
chapter in humanity in scenes that hint at possible romance without ever
As for Kara and Lee, such confirmation will *not* be left to the
imagination. Most series tend to have their own version of the Will They or
Won't They, and "Battlestar" is no exception. Kara/Lee has been an implied
(and later explicit) WTOWT situation since basically day one -- and season
two, with the introduction of Anders, only complicated/accelerated that. In
the flashback scenes here, the whole situation plays itself out in
painstaking detail, some of it very interesting and agonizing. Lee and Kara
had drunken sex on New Caprica, after which Lee put all his cards on the
table and proclaimed his love for Kara by shouting it to the sky. Would Kara
reciprocate? Well, she shouts to the sky, but when she does it, we don't
believe it for a second, and the moment is hit so precisely perfectly on the
head -- in all its awkwardness -- that it's almost painful to watch. It's
effective: We see that Kara can simply not return Lee's feelings, for
whatever inexplicable reasons.
The next morning before Lee wakes up, Kara marries Anders, for reasons that
will elude most of the audience, not to mention probably Kara herself.
Certainly those reasons elude Lee, who would not have been unjustified in
castigating her on the spot (which he does not). Kara's actions are nasty
and inexplicable, but Lee's own previous speechmaking about marriage and the
future was part of the catalyst.
Clearly, Kara has issues that go back to childhood, and those issues have
impacted the adult that exists now, but to try to explain Kara's thoughts
and actions is to try to employ psychology beyond its usefulness. Why would
she do what she does to Lee in such a heartless way? The episode's point is
that shit happens, and people do lousy things to other people that they
don't deserve. Even Kara probably wouldn't try to explain or defend it.
Lee's answer is to marry Dualla as a sort of consolation action, which is
not a good reason to marry anybody. (I couldn't help but feel sorry for
Anders and Dualla, both whom are being married for the wrong reasons. Did
they even have a clue what they were getting into?)
Still, I respect the writers' willingness to confront such a mess,
especially in the face of consummating the central WTOWT of this series.
Messy relationships are a fact of life, and to a degree I'm in sympathy with
this material. But I have reservations about taking that friction and
turning it into an over-the-top grudge-match in the present, where Kara and
Lee pound on each other for so long that neither has the strength to stand.
(This follows logically, I suppose, from Kara's downward spiral stemming
from her psychological torture on New Caprica. Meanwhile, Lee cannot be
faulted for responding to Kara's blatant baiting.) The end of this fight,
which for some will seem like the ultimate cop-out and yet makes a certain
amount of twisted sense, is like the cleverest reset button ever concocted.
Where do the characters go from *here*? Back to where they were pre-New
Caprica? Better yet, where do Anders and Dualla go? They are like the
doormat byproducts of the WTOWT.
Despite my misgivings over all this, I'm more put off by the outcome of
Adama's bout in the ring with Tyrol. It starts out with Adama's sucker-punch
that seems like a cruel taunt and continues with Tyrol punching Adama where
he previously had been shot. It ends with Adama going down in the ring in a
sequence of painful humiliation: No one in the room wanted to see it, and,
frankly, no one in the TV audience wanted to see it either. Adama seems to
be making a reckless point here, but it's lost on me, because he's
essentially arguing that friendships for him became a weakness rather than a
strength because of the impact they had on his military decisions during a
time of (deceptively) apparent peace. Given all the facts under
consideration, I'm not convinced by this argument. Is Adama supposed to
jettison his humanity in order to run a better military machine?
All the messages in "Unfinished Business" are delivered in a sea of
intentionally murky contradiction and individual self-destructiveness, as if
the whole BSG universe were a cautionary tale. Is that the point? I think it
is. Should it be? I'm not sure. My own cynicism believes that when people
have been through such harrowing situations, they are likely to become dark
and unlikable people like the people shown here, and the writers are brave
to depict that so honestly. But I'd also like to think that the message
could be more optimistic. I said way back in my review of "Act of
Contrition" that "this series contains more humanity than most." That was
then, and this is now. Perhaps the New Caprica experience was more damaging
to the human psyche than we thought.
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@...