321[BSG] Jammer's Review: "Sometimes a Great Notion"
- Jan 23, 2009Note: This review contains significant spoilers.
Battlestar Galactica: "Sometimes a Great Notion"
The crew of Galactica investigates its biggest discoveries yet
concerning Earth, which deal a crushing blow to the morale of the
fleet and its leaders.
Air date: 1/16/2009 (USA)
Written by Bradley Thompson & David Weddle
Directed by Michael Nankin
Rating out of 4: ****
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"Sometimes a Great Notion" is a true companion episode to the final
shot of "Revelations." There is a great deal of information supplied
by this story, with several more secrets revealed about Earth --
enough to really get the speculative juices flowing -- but there is
no plot in the conventional sense. This is a character piece, marked
by stellar performances, that takes the final shot of "Revelations"
and depicts its fallout for the hour's duration. "Revelations"
provided the big reveal, and "Notion" compellingly, vividly,
devastatingly documents the consequences.
As I said before, Earth is not going to save these people. Indeed,
quite the contrary: From the evidence here, it might hasten their
demise, because finding it as a barren, uninhabitable wasteland has
now stripped away the one thing that has kept many people in this
fleet going: hope. Hope that the journey had a destination and that
their unremitting daily hell would one day end.
The episode opens with a series of simple, powerful shots that
stretch out the emotions of the final minute of "Revelations" --
characters wordlessly looking at the landscape of a destroyed
Manhattan-like city on the opposite side of a riverfront. They sift
helplessly through rubble, ruins, and dirt. Dee finds a child's game
of jacks, and she just loses it. "Let's get outta here," Adama
eventually grumbles. When Roslin gets back to Galactica, words
completely fail. There's nothing she can say to express this kind of
crushing disappointment, and no way to spin it into anything remotely
positive. So she says nothing. She just walks away.
On the planet surface, investigations continue. It's here that we get
the most intriguing new facts about Earth and how it fits into the
mythos. Surveys show that the planet was nuked about 2,000 years ago.
The metallic head of an ancient Centurion is found -- and it's a
model not known to the Cylons. And in the biggest twist yet, analysis
of skeletal remains reveals that the people who lived here were all
Cylons. Yes, the Pythian-prophesied 13th Tribe of Kobol were
*Cylons*. They came to this planet and called it Earth.
What does this mean??? That's right -- three question marks. And I
never use more than one (because it's bad form). The possibilities
put forth by what's shown here are tantalizing. If the 13th Tribe
were all Cylons, does that perhaps hint at the reasons for the
original exodus from Kobol 3,600 years ago? Which in turn led to the
formation of the 12 Colonies? And then there's the fact that the 13th
Tribe was destroyed 2,000 years ago in its own nuclear holocaust,
presumably by the Centurions that they created, but, well, maybe not.
Here's a theory that occurred to me, although one that might be
quickly debunked: What if *everyone* is a Cylon? What's the
difference, exactly, between a human and a humanoid Cylon?
Forget that for now. How about this: There's an assumption that the
seven non-Final-Five humanoid Cylons somehow evolved, within 40
years, from the Centurions that were created by man. But what if they
didn't? What if they are a completely different race that originated
from the 13th Tribe? Or at the very least evolved because of some
mysterious interaction with survivors of the 13th Tribe? I could go
on like this for some time. (Ironically, this isn't even what this
episode is really about.)
We also get some more clues about the Final Five. Being on Earth
gives them flashes of 2,000-year-old memories. Tyrol sees a black
burn mark on a wall. It's what's left of himself; he remembers being
blown up, right here, in a nuclear blast. Creepy. Anders remembers
playing the Cylon cover of "All Along the Watchtower." While I don't
believe for a second that he could, as he does here, find a partially
intact musical instrument just inches below the dirt after 2,000
years, it's still intriguing as all hell: "That song that switched us
on -- I played it." How did the Final Five, who were on Earth 2,000
years ago, get to the Colonies with these repressed memories?
Then there's Kara. She and Leoben track down the signal that led the
fleet to Earth, and this builds our slow realization of an inevitable
conclusion. In a creepy sequence, Kara finds her own decomposed body
in the destroyed cockpit of her Viper. Her dog tags are still around
the corpse's neck. Yes, she really *did* die at the end
of "Maelstrom." It was one thing to watch Kara blow up and then come
back amid an air of mystery. It's quite another thing when we
actually see her body -- when *she* sees her body. There's something
deeply unsettling about the way the corpse is just ... there --
providing an austere, incontrovertible fact that now forces her to
deal with the reality she has maybe known all along. *"If that's me
lying there, what am I?!"*
Leoben, usually the confident prophet with all the handy answers, is
speechless. He backs away slowly, like he's afraid of what Kara might
actually be, since she's clearly not what he was sure she was. "I was
wrong," he says. "About everything." You've never seen Leoben this
lost, and you realize here that the revelations on Earth are going to
affect the Cylons every bit as much as the Colonials. Later, in a
nicely photographed and edited sequence, Kara builds herself a
funeral pyre. Wrap you brain around *that*.
But I've still not gotten to the real meat of "Notion," which is in
watching things go to hell in a handbasket on Galactica. Take, for
example, Roslin burning the Book of Pythia and skipping her cancer
therapy. Basically, she has given up. She is broken. She curses the
fact that Adama ever listened to her about Earth, about anything.
Mary McDonnell's performance is devastating. Roslin's emotional
state? "Dire" might be the word.
Then there's Dee. The sudden refocus on Dualla and Lee and their
relationship had me initially perplexed: Is her sudden prominence
here a setup because she's the final Cylon? No. Something else
entirely. Her action here represents the ultimate act of surrender,
while at the same time the ultimate act of taking control of what may
be the only thing she, or anyone, has any control over -- the ending
of her life. In the show's most truly shocking moment that I didn't
see coming, Dee puts a gun to her head and pulls the trigger. It's
all the more jarring because she seems so happy just before she does
This works as raw shock value, but it works for reasons beyond that.
It works because it rings true psychologically and because it says
something about hope and loss, about limits and the human ability to
cope. This series is not afraid of killing off prominent characters,
and in this case it has chosen its moment aptly. This woman has
decided she has simply had enough. She's done.
The fallout's fallout: Lee and Adama in the morgue, pondering why Dee
would do this. Adama is unabashedly drunk (and it's a brilliant
performance; Edward James Olmos nails the confluence of emotions as
filtered through a believable alcoholic haze). He offers Lee a drink.
Lee refuses, and look at that steely resolve in his eye. Alcohol is
not going to be his solution. Then again, there are no solutions.
Then there's that superb shot that follows Adama through the
corridors on his way to Tigh's quarters, as the ship spins utterly
out of control. People huddle in the hallways in despair and apathy.
Two men are in a fight, and Adama doesn't even acknowledge
them. "FRAK EARTH" is spray-painted on the wall. The best word here,
again, is "dire." If this is not Galactica hitting bottom, I fear
what we may see in upcoming episodes.
This leads to the hour's dramatic showpiece, where Adama attempts to
commit suicide-by-Tigh. It's a masterpiece of depicting the entropy
of the fleet via the microcosm of these two old friends. The cavalier
sense of drunk Adama ("Sit down, Cylon!") is entertaining in its
weird, offbeat way (mostly because you can enjoy the rawness of the
performance), but it quickly turns into a very tense, painful,
dangerous, sad situation. Adama says awful things to Tigh, and
ultimately turns his bile toward Ellen, the one subject he knows will
provoke a reaction in Tigh. He *wants* Tigh to shoot him. Olmos goes
all-out in a performance of unfiltered ugliness. Just look at that
mug, for crissakes.
And how about that Tigh? Once again, this guy's the epitome of
awesomeness, taking the higher road in the interest of the fleet and
talking sense into Adama when he most needs it. I wanted to cheer
him. If an argument needs to be made that Adama and Tigh's friendship
should survive Tigh's outing as a Cylon, that argument is right here,
because Tigh has this guy's back when things are at their bleakest.
Adama hits bottom, Tigh talks him through it, and there's a sense
that maybe, for now, the corner has been turned. Adama subsequently
makes a speech to attempt to bring some solace to the fleet.
If I'm burying the lead here in saying that we also find out Ellen is
the final Cylon -- well, that's because the episode itself buries the
lead. Maybe because it's not really the point and never should've
been. Ellen's reveal doesn't play as a shocking revelation so much as
another piece of character development for Tigh. I think it's a wise
choice to reveal this now and in this manner. It defuses our
expectations and instead invites us to ponder its meaning. Tigh has a
flashback to 2,000 years ago on Earth. Ellen was his wife then, too,
just before the nukes went off. "Everything's in place," she told
him. "We'll be reborn together."
So Cylon resurrection was apparently invented by the 13th Tribe two
millennia ago. What does it mean that Ellen and Saul Tigh have had a
relationship that has spanned (at least) two lifetimes? There must be
a special significance to that, and to them. Everything has happened
before, and will happen again. It's just unclear exactly
what "everything" is. "Sometimes a Great Notion" demonstrates that
this series is about its characters and their personal mysteries. The
story value of the final Cylon is not in who it is. It's going to be
in why it is -- and its part in the larger, ever-expanding BSG mythos.
Copyright 2009, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...