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314[BSG] Jammer's Review: "Escape Velocity"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Dec 20, 2008
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      Note: This review contains significant spoilers.

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      Battlestar Galactica: "Escape Velocity"

      Baltar's religious movement leads to violent conflicts on the ship.
      Tyrol deals with the aftermath of a personal tragedy. Tigh opens a
      dialog with the imprisoned Caprica Six.

      Air date: 4/25/2008 (USA)
      Written by Jane Espenson
      Directed by Edward James Olmos

      Rating out of 4: ***

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
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      If there's a common theme in the intriguing and psychologically
      layered "Escape Velocity" (and I'm not sure that there is), it's that
      certain characters need to pay some sort of penance in order to move
      on to the next stage in their lives (or perhaps the next stage they
      will inhabit in the BSG master plot). Last week was all about
      building to an inevitable tragedy; now that there has been a victim,
      this week is somewhat more meditative.

      Cally's funeral is a traditional religious service, which the dying
      Roslin finds comfort in while it makes Adama squirm. "It's not for
      me, I can tell you that," Adama notes. "I'm telling you what I like,"
      Roslin replies. The way Roslin trusts Adama to honor what will be her
      final wish is both a reminder of their closeness and of how dire her
      situation is. Meanwhile, I find it intriguing how the BSG universe
      borrows things from our own world and then twists them just so for
      its own: The structured chanting seems to have its roots in a
      Catholic Mass, while the hasty timing of the service itself ("Why do
      they have to do these things at sunrise?") seems to hint at Judaism.
      (Inquiring minds: Was Cally's body recovered from space? For that
      matter, how did anyone discover she was blown out the airlock, which
      everyone apparently assumes she did to herself?)

      In the midst of his grief, Tyrol makes a gesture in the direction of
      Tigh that I honestly am not sure whether speaks more about Tyrol, or
      about Tigh and Tory. For Tyrol it's a moment of weakness as he
      reaches out for those suffering a similar fate as his own (living in
      secrecy); regarding Tigh and Tory, it reveals the depths of their own
      paranoia: "Is he trying to get us killed?" As a neutral observer, I'd
      argue that what Tyrol does wouldn't raise any flags to anyone who
      witnessed it.

      Tigh and Tyrol have something in common, though: They've both lost
      their wives, and Tigh minces few words when telling the chief that
      he'll have to live with that hole in his life forever. But when Tigh
      talks, there's a subtext to it that applies uniquely to himself; he
      has a special well of guilt because his wife's death was of his own
      doing. It's a well that his mind can't stop tapping.

      And should it? That's the compelling tragedy that has become Saul
      Tigh, and Michael Hogan is endlessly watchable as this guy who has
      been through some of the toughest things among all the characters on
      the show (although Kara gives him a run for his money). Here, we get
      scenes between Tigh and the jailed Caprica Six that explore this
      guilt. He wants to know: As a Cylon, can she simply "switch off" her
      guilt over having committed genocide? Tigh wants to be able to turn
      off his own guilt, but it doesn't work that way for him or for the
      Cylons. (Oh, but that's right -- *he* is a Cylon himself.) In a
      particularly interesting choice by the writers, sometimes Tigh sees
      Ellen when Six talks to him. Kate Vernon appears in scenes that are
      intriguing and creepy. It creates a strange budding relationship
      between Tigh and Six, which is made all the more curious by the fact
      that Kate Vernon and Tricia Helfer share some physical similarities
      (at least the way they're photographed here).

      Tigh needs to pay some sort of penance in his own mind for what he
      did to Ellen. He doesn't reveal to Six what he did, but Six talks
      about her own pain and how that contributes to her learning process
      as a sentient being. I must admit that these scenes at times seemed a
      little too aware of their high-minded intentions and lacked a certain
      juice. When Six beats the hell out of Tigh and he willingly takes it,
      there's a self-flagellation vibe to it. But "this isn't what you
      need," she tells him. What does he need? Hell, what do any of us need?

      The main plot here is centered on Baltar, unseen in last week's "Ties
      That Bind" but given a major role here, as he pushes his monotheistic
      religious movement onto center stage and consequently pisses everyone
      off. Violent mobs from the fundamentalist polytheistic establishment
      coming looking for Baltar. (Just how many civilians are living on
      Galactica?) "Old gods die hard, even among your people," Head Six
      notes. Baltar just wants to be a man, not supplant the religious
      status quo, but Head Six, always the provocateur within Baltar,
      convinces him to go on the offensive, which he does, picking a fight
      with the religious establishment, which puts him in danger and in the
      lawmakers' crosshairs.

      Also working away inside Baltar's mind is Tory, who, unbeknownst to
      him, has embraced being a Cylon in order to reinvent herself. Before
      when they had sex, she cried. Now she has graduated to mild sadism.
      Baltar preferred the tears. Having his ear, Tory muses over her
      newfound sense of perfection, and thinks of it as a license to live
      free of guilt: She can do what she wants because she believes she was
      made to be perfect -- a philosophy even Baltar, in all his egoism,
      has never subscribed to. But given the ideas he invokes at the end,
      there's a delicious (or tragic) irony in seeing how Baltar has a
      tendency to have sex with Cylons only to be manipulated by them.

      Meanwhile, Roslin has had enough. I mean, how many times does she
      have to deal with the disruptive drama of Gaius Baltar? After a
      disturbance brought on by his religious run-ins, she reveals to him
      that she's dying in order to supply a veiled threat: "I'm not in the
      mood any longer to indulge you." This I believe. When your days are
      numbered, you don't want to be wasting them on the problems of and
      caused by Gaius Baltar.

      This mess spills over into the political arena when Roslin tries to
      clamp down on religious assembly in order to quell the fighting. Her
      roadblock: Lee Adama, who sees Roslin's move as a larger threat to
      freedom of speech. Lee is looking at the bigger picture and the legal
      slippery slope; Roslin vents to Adama how Lee has an almost willful
      inability to be pragmatic: How can you run a society on its old rules
      when there's barely a society left? I wondered myself if Lee
      struggled with this question, seeing as he famously argued "We are a
      gang" in "Crossroads, Part 2."

      The legal showdown over Baltar's rights goes down while Baltar
      himself tries to take his own stand. He confronts the guards that
      have barricaded his cult's temple in a bizarre scene that suggests
      the will of God -- or whatever Head Six represents -- props him up
      again and again after he gets repeatedly knocked down by the security
      guards. He takes a brutal beating for the greater good of his cult.
      Played as near slapstick, I'm not entirely sure if this was funny or
      serious.

      It ultimately for me felt a little muddled in terms of motivation.
      Why does Baltar see a need to do this? What drives him? Is it the
      will of Head Six? Because he's crazy? Because he needs to assert his
      Self on the world? What? In the end, Baltar makes a speech announcing
      to his followers that "God loves you because you are perfect. Just as
      you are." I didn't find that this had the power or clarity of purpose
      that the story clearly wanted it to. (I also, for some reason,
      couldn't help but be reminded of James Callis saying "Just as you
      are" as a toast to Bridget Jones.)

      More interesting, strongly motivated, and visceral to me was Tyrol's
      plight of desolation. He makes a mistake on the job that almost gets
      a Raptor crew killed. His attitude takes a public turn for the worse.
      It all leads up to the episode's most powerful scene, which starts as
      a friendly talk where Adama tries to set Tyrol back on the right
      track, before spiraling downward into an ugly, jaw-dropping tirade
      that Tyrol unleashes. It's a raw scene that lays bare Tyrol's
      unfiltered (and, let it be said, unwisely disclosed) honesty as he
      sees his and everyone's predicament in this crappy hand life has
      dealt. He lashes out about his dead wife in full public view, and
      it's not pretty.

      The thing is, Adama gives him every opportunity to avoid crossing the
      line, and Tyrol blatantly refuses to take the life line. The end
      result is Tyrol losing the only thing that's probably holding him
      together right now: his job. Adama pulls him off the flight deck. The
      music makes its own commentary on the scene by playing the Cylon
      version of "Watchtower" during a slow tracking-out shot of a dazed
      Tyrol. Just like that, he did himself in. Being a Cylon has led him
      *here*. And now where will he go? I only wish the rest of "Escape
      Velocity" was as strong and focused as this scene.

      Just as Baltar went missing in last week's episode, MIA this week are
      both the Demetrius and Cylon civil war plot lines, which suggests
      that this season, if so jammed-packed full of material, will have to
      pick its priorities from week to week and relegate the rest to the
      sidelines. I'm fine with that, provided the balance ultimately
      services everything. So, while one is left wondering what's going on
      with the Cylons after the Cavils launched their attack last week,
      time will tell.

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      Copyright 2008, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
      Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is
      prohibited.

      Jammer's Reviews - http://www.jammersreviews.com
      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...