325[BSG] Jammer's Review: "No Exit"
- Feb 24, 2009Note: This review contains significant spoilers.
Battlestar Galactica: "No Exit"
Ellen resurrects in the Cylon fleet and engages in an extended war of
words with Cavil. Anders suffers a serious brain injury, causing a
flood of memories from Earth to return to him.
Air date: 2/13/2009 (USA)
Written by Ryan Mottesheard
Directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton
Rating out of 4: ****
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
If I had to guess what the title "No Exit" means, it's that there's
no known exit from the cycle of destruction that the children of
Kobol have gone through, and presumably will continue to go through.
All of this has happened before, and it will happen again. The famous
proverb says that those who cannot remember the past are doomed to
repeat it. In the case of the children of Kobol, they may all be
doomed regardless -- but there may perhaps (repeat: perhaps) be hope,
because the past has been preserved in the fragmented memories of the
"No Exit" may contain more information, confirmation, revelations,
and answers than any singular episode of "Battlestar Galactica" ever
made. This is a hard-core mythology episode, wall-to-wall with
explanations and exposition, some of which is imparted at breakneck
speed. I was riveted by nearly every minute of it. This episode may
not have the visceral impact of an episode like "The Oath," but it
compensates for that with a pure assault of details that will make
your brain explode at the possibilities. This is fascinating material
that does no less than reveal (or confirm) nearly every remaining
secret involving the mysteries of the Tribes of Kobol. (That is,
until the rug is ripped out from under us by whatever twist comes
Let it be said, the issues that weren't dealt with regarding the
mutiny at the end of "Blood on the Scales" do not get sufficiently
addressed here, in my view. And if they don't before it's all over,
that will be a mark against the season at large, but mostly
against "Blood on the Scales." But I will not hold that against "No
Exit," which proceeds full-speed-ahead toward the end of the series,
and does so very effectively.
The story information pummels us on two fronts. On one front, we have
Anders, who was shot in the head and has a bullet lodged in his
brain. While being prepped for brain surgery to remove the bullet,
his memory from his long-ago days on Earth comes rushing back. He
tells Kara, "I remember everything."
On the other front, we see what happened to Ellen Tigh, the last of
the Final Five, after Saul poisoned her in "Exodus, Part 2." She was
downloaded and resurrected aboard a Cylon ship, where she had an
extended dialog (to the tune of 18 months) with Cavil.
Both storylines are equally fascinating and equally jam-packed with
answers, answers, answers. The beauty of all this is how it grows
logically from what's already been established. BSG's mythology, I'm
finding, is pretty much rock-solid. I think the secret to success is
that the mythology basically plays fair with us. Even through all the
twists and turns and curveballs the writers have thrown at us, the
mythology has not egregiously violated any rule that came before. It
has merely added new rules and puzzle pieces on top of what was
there. The result is a tapestry that, miraculously, makes perfect
sense when you step back and look at the big picture. What we see
in "No Exit" doesn't come so much as a shock as the next logical
progression and reasonable development of many threads whose
groundwork had been clearly established, most recently in "Sometimes
a Great Notion."
And yet it's still a thrill to watch it all unfold. This is an hour
filled with aha moments. When we learn, for example that the
evolution of the Centurions was accelerated during their 40-year
absence after leaving the Colonies because they came in contact with
the Final Five, it makes sense. It fills in a gap that seemed
somewhat inevitable -- so much so that I had guessed it in my review
of "Notion." It was guessable precisely because it's based on a solid
foundation where logic does in fact apply.
Ellen's storyline picks up from her resurrection POV (a process that,
visually, owes plenty to the "Matrix" films), and is brilliantly
realized as a concept and as performed by Kate Vernon: She's at first
horrified and lets out anguished shrieks, but then gradually becomes
calm as she processes the memories now resupplied to her. She
suddenly knows who and what she is. It's an intriguing
transformation, sold with zero words.
But first, let's put all the cards on the table in a nutshell of the
overall mythic chronology: The 13 Tribes left Kobol 3,600 years ago
after a war between man and Cylon. The 13th Tribe -- all biological
humanoid Cylons -- went to Earth; the other 12 founded the Colonies.
The 13th Tribe, who were capable of biological procreation, built
their own mechanized Cylons and were destroyed in a holocaust 2,000
years ago. Just before that holocaust, however, the Final Five were
warned and reassembled the ancient technology of resurrection
("organic memory transfer") before the bombs fell. This technology
was originally invented long before, on Kobol.
The Final Five were resurrected on a ship orbiting Earth just after
the holocaust; they then embarked on a journey to the Colonies to
prevent the same fate (an uprising of persecuted Centurions), from
befalling the 12 Colonies. Because they didn't have FTL technology
and instead employed some other method of near-light-speed travel,
the effects of relativity (or whatever; I'm not a physicist) caused
time to slow down, and they aged only a short time while 2,000 years
passed. By the time the Final Five met the Colonial Centurions, the
first Cylon War had already happened and the Centurions had left the
Colonies. The Final Five tried to teach the Centurions, who were
already experimenting with humanoid Cylons (hence the Hybrids) how to
embrace human qualities and agreed to help them construct the
humanoid Cylons in exchange for a promise of peace between Cylon and
human. But something went horribly wrong.
That "something" is the crux of the drama here (apart from the reams
of information). What went wrong is that after the humanoid Cylons
were constructed, Model No. 1 (Cavil), whose given name was John,
rebelled and killed the Final Five. When they downloaded, he blocked
their real memories, gave them human identities, and put them on the
Colonies, where his plan for revenge (the "Cylon Plan"?) subjected
them to the fate of humanity. When they survived the holocaust of the
12 Colonies, he put the Final Five through still more games, which
neatly explains why so many of these people have suffered such
hardships, like Saul being tortured on New Caprica. He did this out
of a need to prove a point, so that when the Final Five eventually
did return to the Cylons and regained their memories, they would see
he was right all along about the distastefulness of humanity.
My, what a neat, tidy package this is. I would call it contrived --
but that word has such a negative connotation. Or perhaps we should
simply embrace the word. Of course this is contrived. Truthfully, the
whole series is a contrivance -- but a bold and brilliant one.
Ellen's dialog with Cavil is intriguing. She and the other Final Five
created him and the other seven humanoid Cylons (yes, seven; more on
that in a moment). Indeed, Ellen thought of John/Cavil as one of her
children. But Cavil views his existence only as a bad joke. He is a
bitter, self-loathing creature who savagely hates humanity in no
small part because he hates the limitations that being created in
their image has brought him personally. His identity problems have
left him twisted and evil. Some of Cavil's speeches reminded me of
Agent Smith in the first "Matrix" movie, who also hated being cursed
to live as a human when he believed himself to be a far superior AI
Cavil has great intelligence, but he also reveals a great deal of
emotional immaturity. In a sense, he is a petulant child who has
greatly abused his power in terrible ways. When you consider that
Ellen created Cavil in the image of her father, and thinks of her as
a son, and that Cavil knew this (and at the time she didn't) while
having sex with her on New Caprica -- well, that's just twisted and
demented and disgusting and wrong. It constitutes a deviously sick
joke of bizarre logic that seems all the more appropriate because
Cavil thinks of himself as a machine, and of humanity as beneath him.
And Ellen's presence here brings out the worst in him, even as she
tries to offer him forgiveness and a road to redemption and assures
him that she still loves him. Perhaps she even blames herself for all
The dialog here is great stuff. It's not simply exposition (although
exposition certainly is a big part of it). It's also philosophy and
psychology, and provocative science fiction. It's storytelling that
examines the concept of an AI that cannot come to grips with the fact
that it was designed with limitations, and instead took the worst of
its given human emotions and became Wrath unleashed, which had
catastrophic consequences for humanity.
Cavil says he wanted "justice" for what the humans did to the
Centurions, but I think it goes even deeper than that, into the
depths of his own self-loathing. The Final Five intended to stop the
Centurions from destroying the 12 Colonies, but instead they may have
hastened it. This notion of culpability is echoed elsewhere in the
episode when Tigh and Tory argue over who's to blame for the cycle of
destruction. Tory wants to blame the humans, because, well, the
humans on Kobol made the Cylons, so it always goes back to the
humans. You might as well argue about the chicken and the egg. Tigh
is quite ready to own up to responsibility and move forward: "Maybe
we share the guilt with the humans, but we don't just get to shove it
off on them."
We also learn about a mysterious 13th Cylon. Again, the notion of a
13th Cylon seems inevitable in retrospect, if for no other reason
than because of a need to balance the narrative scales. Just as the
12 Colonies were missing their 13th sister tribe, the 12 Cylon models
are missing their 13th sibling. That Cylon was named Daniel, and was
destroyed when Cavil intentionally corrupted the genetic material of
all the Daniel copies. I can't shake the feeling that Daniel's
destruction has something to do with what Kara is. After all, there's
long been speculation she might be a Cylon. Could it be she was the
phoenix that rose from Daniel's ashes? This is an intriguing hint,
and I'm dying to know where it's going.
If there's a problem with the structure of the Ellen/Cavil dialog
(and it's a minor one), it's that it purports to take place over the
course of the full 18 months that Ellen has been away from the fleet.
For that matter, I'm often left slightly lost about the amount of
time that passes in the course of a BSG season. This episode also
alleges that four months has already passed since the resurrection
hub was destroyed in "The Hub." I don't know how that's possible,
unless a lot of time -- nearly the entire four months, really -- went
by off-screen in between "Sometimes a Great Notion" and "A Disquiet
Follows My Soul." By my
estimation, "Revelations," "Notion," "Disquiet," "Oath," and "Blood
on the Scales" collectively only account for a few days, and this
episode picks up only minutes or hours after "Blood." (I was
similarly confused by Caprica Six's claim that there's been no
alcohol around Tigh's quarters for weeks. Has she even *been* in his
quarters for weeks? This again must come down to how long went by off-
screen just before "Disquiet.")
Worth noting is that not everything was orchestrated by the Final
Five and/or by Cavil. The role of D'Anna seeing the faces of the
Five, as well as the "All Along the Watchtower" song, were not
planted in anyone's programming. Ellen argues they must've been
orchestrated by the One True God, which, as it happens, was a concept
that the Final Five learned from the Colonial Centurions; Ellen
believed that it was through God that peace could be attained and the
cycle of destruction broken, so she passed it on to the humanoid
After months of fencing, the turn in the Cavil/Ellen story comes when
the hub is destroyed and Cavil wants Ellen to help build a new one.
She says she needs all of the Final Five in order to do it. He
threatens to probe her brain for answers. Cavil has by this point
shown a capability to rise to any level of demonstrative villainy.
It's finally at this point that Boomer, Cavil's own student, helps
Ellen escape. (If you watch closely, the seed for this was planted at
the outset, when Ellen asked Boomer to watch closely and make up her
The Ellen/Tigh dialog runs parallel with the equally compelling
adventure in breathless revelations from Anders. There's so much
information racing through Anders, and he tries to impart it to Kara
and the other Final Four as fast as he can. It's exciting and at the
same time excruciating, because it's clear just how much medical
danger Anders is in.
Again, the vast amount of exposition is wisely anchored to an
emotional dilemma, namely Kara's tough spot where she wants answers
as much as anyone (particularly the answer of whether she's the 13th
Cylon), but has to play the role of the sensible wife and protect
Sam's medical interests. Katee Sackhoff grounds these scenes in
humanity, showing the emotional toll this takes.
At a key moment, when time has run out, Anders urgently tells
Tigh: "Stay with the fleet!" Could Tigh's Cylon baby be the salvation
that breaks the cycle? And after Anders' surgery is successful, but
his brain activity stops, what does that mean? It's as if his
consciousness has tried to download out of his head, and has
inexplicably gone missing.
The third tier to the plot is about Galactica itself. Turns out that
crack Tyrol found in the FTL room was merely the tip of the iceberg.
Below decks there are cracks everywhere, and deep structural problems
with the ship's main support beams. The ship is a ticking time bomb
that could "fold like a book" at any moment. The metal of the ship is
disintegrating everywhere because of old age, wear and tear. Adama,
ever the pragmatist, restores Tyrol as chief and charges him with
fixing the problem. But the only workable solution Tyrol comes up
with is a Cylon technology: an organic resin that can grow into the
metal and strengthen it.
I gotta tell you: This gave me a bad feeling in my gut. Very bad.
We're this close to the end of the series, and Galactica is on the
verge of structural collapse, and the only cure may be worse than the
disease. Adama has a bad feeling about it too. He balks initially and
strenuously. But like everything else around him, options have
dwindled. Doing nothing isn't an option. Meanwhile, Adama's drinking
and pill-popping only seem to be getting more dire. When Adama is
drinking more than Tigh, that can't be good. This plot, more than
anything, filled me with intense unease.
"No Exit" seems to describe the dilemma of all these people. Either
doomed by their natures into repeating their mistakes, or doomed by
fate while trying not to.
Some bulleted footnotes:
* Roslin grieves for the Quorum on Colonial One, which is about the
only fallout shown regarding the mutiny storyline. I could've gone
for more navel-gazing and at least a hint at what happened to
Racetrack, Seelix, et al, but we don't get it here. We also don't get
Roslin resuming her role as president. She says she will keep the
title, but wants Lee to remain as de facto president. Will there even
be a government from here on out?
* I dug the new "Cylons were created by man" opening. Nicely done,
and much better than the similar previous openings. When it
says, "One was sacrificed," the suggestion is that it was Ellen, but
as it turns out, I think the one they were actually referring to was
* When Boomer is brought in by Cavil to be an audience to his and
Ellen's war of wills, and it's clear Cavil is sleeping with Boomer,
Ellen says: "What about the swirl? Has he taught you that yet?"
* "Daily Show" Resident Expert John Hodgeman is the fleet's resident
brain surgeon. Worth a grin.
* For the record, the 13 Cylon models: (1) Cavil, (2) Leoben, (3)
D'Anna, (4) Simon, (5) Doral, (6) Six, (7) Daniel, (8) Sharon, and
the Final Five, who are not numbered. When they labeled Sharon as No.
8, I wonder if the writers had any clue where this would end up. My
guess is no. Very clever how they have filled in the blanks.
Copyright 2009, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...