309[BSG] Jammer's Review: "Razor"
- Dec 5, 2007Note: This review contains significant spoilers.
Battlestar Galactica: "Razor"
Lee Adama, the new commander of the Pegasus, selects Admiral Cain's protege
to serve as his XO in an effort to maintain an identity for the ship's crew.
This choice comes with baggage, however, as the traumas from Pegasus' brutal
past resurface during a dangerous rescue mission.
Air date: 11/24/2007 (USA)
Written by Michael Taylor
Directed by Felix Alcala
Rating out of 4: ***
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
If you wanted your "Battlestar Galactica" fix -- and there's little doubt
that the fans, myself included, did -- "Razor" will do the trick. Coming
nearly eight months after the third-season finale aired -- and somewhere
between three and four more months before the fourth season will finally
premiere -- this two-hour BSG movie fills the lengthy gap by providing, if
nothing else, something to tide us over until March. In doing so, it plunges
us into the dark and ugly world of Admiral Cain's Pegasus, not seen since
the second season.
To that end, "Razor" is typical, solid BSG: dark, compelling, and
uncompromising in its vision of its amoral main characters. If there's a
problem with "Razor," it's that large chunks of it are both dramatically and
thematically redundant. It's well made, solidly performed, deftly
structured, and, at times, powerfully intense. But the bottom line is that
there isn't much here we learn about the Pegasus or her crew that we didn't
already know after "Pegasus" and "Resurrection Ship."
Still, there's an appeal to the idea that "Razor" allows, via flashback, for
an actual dramatization of Cain's brutal command, which we had previously
only heard about (when Fisk revealed them to Tigh in memorably ominous
dialog scenes in the aforementioned episodes). Also, the saying goes that
the truth lies in the details, and there are some interesting details here
that we were not previously privy to.
Structurally, the writers find a way to do this in a way that connects past
and present both logically and emotionally -- via the character of Kendra
Shaw (Stephanie Jacobsen), who begins the story as a green recruit and finds
herself drawn into Cain's inner circle after the chaos of the Cylon attack
on the colonies.
It proves to be deft handling of a structure that had the potential to be
confusing -- because "Razor" does not simply contain flashbacks, but
flashbacks within a flashback. (The whole story takes place in various
stages of the past.) Its frame of "present" reference is actually right
after second season's "The Captain's Hand" as Lee takes command of the
Pegasus. He recruits Shaw to be his XO in an effort to address the ship's
wounded pride (four commanding officers in a matter of weeks) and lend
himself some credibility in the eyes of those who believed in Cain and now
see Lee as a Galactica outsider. But Shaw comes with attitude and baggage.
What "Razor" is ultimately about is the mentor/protege relationship between
Cain and Shaw, the role Shaw played in Cain's brutal reign, and how that now
informs the present.
In that present, a Raptor research team has gone missing, and Adama assigns
Lee and the Pegasus to search for it -- warning that excessive risk is not
one of the parameters of the mission. "Meanwhile" (if that term means
anything), in the past we see the moments on board Pegasus leading up to the
Cylon attack, and then the harsh days in the aftermath as Cain and her crew
realize the extent of the damage and decide what to do next.
Structurally, "Razor" is about as solidly built as it possibly can be. But
it still suffers somewhat from its narrative momentum shifts. Every time the
story switches back and forth between the past and the present, we are
pulled out of the moment at hand and into the parallel story. It's fortunate
that both threads of the story are interesting, but the flashback structure
has its inherent drawbacks.
Most of the flashbacks dramatize things we already knew -- granted potently.
We see the attack while Pegasus was still docked. The shipyards burning. The
desperate blind jump out of the battle to Anywhere But Here. Later, Cain
makes a speech to her crew that is as reminiscent of the speech in the
miniseries that Adama made to his crew as it is a stark, contrasting
reminder that the Pegasus took a different tack: Rather than running to try
to preserve humanity, under Cain they took it to the enemy in a guerrilla
style quest for revenge.
And then there's the order Cain gives to send in a wing of fighters that is
virtually suicide -- an order the XO (Steve Bacic, of "Andromeda" fame)
refuses, resulting in Cain shooting him in the head in full view of everyone
in CIC. We'd heard about this via Fisk's monologue in "Pegasus," and it's
equally effective on-screen as it was off, possibly because of the mounting
suspense in knowing it's coming.
Still, on a series that has always benefited from the fact that we never
know exactly what lies around the next corner, all of this feels slightly
redundant. Or perhaps it's an exercise in Dramatic Irony. We know, for
example, that Gina Inviere (a key point in the "Pegasus"/"Resurrection Ship"
storyline) is a Cylon spy who ultimately will kill Cain (not to mention blow
up the Cloud Nine), and that makes her presence as a Pegasus crew member --
right down to joining the "So say we all" rallying cry -- all the more
Perhaps the most interesting new nugget of information is the fact that Cain
and Gina were lovers. The fact of this relationship more fully informs the
severe bitterness Cain held for Gina in "Pegasus," because it shows that
Gina's betrayal was a personal one of the most intimate and humiliating
Now for a digression that I just can't help myself on. Following the
Cain/Gina revelation, in the bumper after the act-out during the TV
broadcast, we get: "It's been revealed! Helena Cain and Gina Inviere are
lovers! Brought to you by Quizno's!" This is one of the most absurd -- and
in retrospect, hilarious -- things I've ever seen. The intended context of
this message was apparently in connection with a poll question on SciFi.com,
but for any viewer who didn't know that at the time (including me), it was
positively weird randomness bordering on the sensationally ridiculous. (It
almost seemed to say: "Look! Lesbians! Wow! Quizno's!" Beyond goofy.)
And we're back. In other ways, however, the Cain/Gina relationship feels
like a missed opportunity. While the very knowledge of it informs our
understanding of Cain's bitterness, that's really all it does. In every
other way, it's meaningless. It changes nothing about Cain's character and
adds no new depth or insights (or even clever plot points of Gina betraying
Cain). The thread is so subtly established that it barely seems real. One
can hardly picture that these two actually had a relationship, because one
can hardly picture that Cain, always so serious and duty-minded, has the
capacity for a relationship at all. Really, as a character Cain is barely
social and basically asexual. So I don't quite even buy that these two were
But there's one particularly interesting storytelling choice to arise from
this. When we get to the second Really Dark Tale (also previously
established in Fisk's Tales of Darkness) -- namely, the massacre on the
Scylla and the plundering of the civilian fleet for parts -- there's the icy
moment when Cain orders the shooting of resisting civilians while staring
directly at a battered and raped Gina in a holding cell. It's as if she gets
her resolve to take this unspeakable action by looking into the eyes of an
enemy who was once a friend and letting the rest of her humanity go because
she's already come this far. In that moment, she sees everyone as a
potential threat to her authority.
Does "Razor" more fully "humanize" Helena Cain? I suppose that depends on
your definition of human. Yes, she's human in that she is deeply flawed and
at least has feelings and realizes that her humanity is being stripped away.
But her ability to make such amoral choices is chilling. She feels she has
no choice, but does that justify her position? Cain has a telling speech to
Shaw, which ends, "This war is forcing us all to become razors, because if
we don't, we don't survive, and then we don't have the luxury of becoming
simply human again." An argument like that plays like the opposite of
Adama's question in the miniseries where he asked if humanity was worth
It's to the writers' credit that they are brave enough to simply observe
rather than judge Cain. Still, I found myself not just questioning Cain's
morality, but also her sensibility and pragmatism. How, and why, do you
continue to wage a war that's over and where the only possible outcome is
defeat? When she orders her XO to send in the reserve fighters in what's
tantamount to a suicide mission merely to make a point, and then shoots him
in the head when he refuses, what does she really end up proving? That
sending in that attack leads to a devastating loss (more than 800 soldiers;
a third of the crew) that leaves the ship reeling.
And if you're going to plunder a civilian fleet for parts and personnel
following such a devastating loss, and leave the rest of them stranded and
defenseless, just what is your military protecting, exactly? Nothing, except
its own stubborn will. Based on pure results, Cain is a leader who seems
determined to win the battle at the cost of the war. The writers may be
unwilling to judge her, but I'm not. She's a dangerous cancer.
Michelle Forbes makes this character utterly believable, even if I find
Cain's philosophy no easier to comprehend than ever. If you are looking for
insights into Cain, there are few new ones to find here. We see more, and we
understand the Pegasus' hardships, but I still don't see how Pegasus had it
much harder than Galactica. Maybe it's all about balance, and how Cain
didn't have any. Adama at least had Roslin to stand up and challenge him.
Cain was the proverbial emperor with no clothes.
Our witness to all this is Shaw, and she bridges the past and the present.
She's a drug addict who's as screwed up as anybody but wears the Cain
protege label like a badge of honor. "I wouldn't be alive if not for the
decisions she made," she says at one point. Maybe not, but hundreds of
others might not be dead, either. Watching Shaw's hero worship is revealing
and scary. You see how a mentality of tyranny begins to make sense under the
circumstances, and how some become enamored with it. Cain is not without her
appeal and worthiness of respect, until you stop and think about what it has
cost. If you think back to "Resurrection Ship," you see that history was
actually repeating itself, because in that episode Cain was (successfully)
bringing Kara into the very same mentoring program.
There's a lot more to "Razor." In the present plot, the missing Raptor crew
has been captured by an old Cylon sect dating back to the first war (called
the "Guardians," who protect the first Cylon Hybrid). There are even
flashbacks to 41 years ago during the first war, where we see a young
William Adama (Nico Cortez, who has the Olmos faces down to a T) having
witnessed the scene where the original Hybrid was built via nasty
bio-experiments. These scenes feed into the series' mythology. I also
enjoyed the idea of using the original-series ships and Centurions to depict
the outdated Cylon Guardians. The Centurions get a few lines, and the
writers even work in "By your command." Nice touch.
The rescue attempt aboard the Cylon base features the other staples of BSG
war footage: much machinegun fire while soldiers hold down X position. The
mission's goal is to rescue the survivors and then nuke the installation.
This action is routine as these things go: competent but not exactly
pulse-pounding or suspenseful. When the remote on the nuke is damaged,
Someone Must Stay Behind, although I wasn't exactly clear on why Lee
would've ordered Kara to do it. If Shaw led the mission, wouldn't it be her
duty to stay behind? If that's not how it works, then why not the most
expendable (that no-name chick)? But then I don't know much of anything
about military protocol. I guess as drama it just plays better to make it
Shaw won't have it, and pulls a gun on Kara so Shaw can stay behind. She'd
rather die for the mission than keep living with her past choices, one of
which -- in a surprising reveal -- was that she was the one who fired the
first shot on the Scylla. (The way the flashback is staged, it's almost as
if her thinking was that someone had to invoke the tragically inevitable, so
why not me?) Before blowing up the joint, Shaw has a conversation with the
omniscient Cylon Hybrid, which makes for "Razor's" most intriguing and
haunting scene. The Hybrid is spooky in his utter calm, his seeming desire
to impart wisdom, his ability to tell you your past and predict your future,
and his offer to forgive your sins. Call him God; he doesn't have a problem
with it. And his message for Shaw, which she is not able to communicate to
anyone, is that Kara Thrace is "a harbinger of death" that will "lead
humanity to its end."
It provides a clever way to reveal something that ostensibly took place
during season two and yet will cast its shadow onto season four. Kara's
return in "Crossroads, Part 2" is turned on its ear from a prophecy of hope
to a prophecy of doom. If we can believe the Hybrid's doublespeak, anyway.
But I've gone on for far too long. "Razor" is a compelling if not
groundbreaking BSG outing that offers up an experience that is, really, more
introspective than visceral. The visceral impact is blunted somewhat by its
inevitability. But what it does, it does well. The horror of "Razor," above
all else, is in the way its characters are fully aware of their descent into
an amoral abyss -- and yet are still willing to go there, knowing that they
are sacrificing their humanity in the process.
Extended DVD edition notes:
* A superfluous exposition scene of Shaw on Caprica has been restored.
* The Adama flashbacks have been extended, including a notable FX action
sequence that was previously in the SciFi.com "minisodes" but not the TV
* There are flashbacks to Cain's past during the first Cylon war, where she
had to make a tough choice to leave her sister behind, who was apparently
kidnapped by the Cylons ("X-Files" style).
* Baltar actually gets a scene. He was cut from the TV version.
* There's more blood when Cain shoots her XO and during young Adama's
visions of Hybrid bio-experiments.
* Kara and Shaw have a scene before the rescue mission that gives their
relationship a little bit more depth.
* That priceless, 100-percent-Starbuck smile that Kara has as she walks away
after catching Shaw about to shoot up has inexplicably been *removed* from
the extended version; it's in the TV version. Now there's instead a weird
* There are a lot more cryptic lines from the Hybrid during the scene on the
Cylon base. Probably pages of them.
* Acts-in/out have been seamlessly removed.
* Movie-style end credit sequence features Bear McCreary's score.
* And, finally, from a BSG DVD release we get a passable menu design rather
than something that looks like it was created half-assed on the fly in
Photoshop (see season 1 and 2 DVD menus).
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@...