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[BSG] Jammer's Review: "Valley of Darkness"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Note: This review contains significant spoilers. ... Battlestar Galactica: Valley of Darkness The Galactica crew must stop a boarding party of Cylon
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 28, 2005
      Note: This review contains significant spoilers.

      Battlestar Galactica: "Valley of Darkness"

      The Galactica crew must stop a boarding party of Cylon Centurions, which
      intend to take over the ship and destroy the fleet.

      Air date: 7/22/2005 (USA)
      Written by Bradley Thompson & David Weddle
      Directed by Michael Rymer

      Rating out of 4: ***

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

      Cylon Centurions don't seem like the brightest model of Cylon, which is why,
      I suppose, they are reserved for the type of mission that is about 90
      percent brute force and 10 percent effective strategy. In "Valley of
      Darkness," a ship of Centurions -- which had crashed and gotten aboard the
      Galactica during the chaos at the end of "Scattered" -- engage in a battle
      plan that seems pointless if you stop and consider they could've just nuked
      the battlestar, leaving the fleet defenseless. Why go to the trouble of
      trying to take over the battlestar? The answer is simple: because it's much
      more interesting to have Cylons on the ship as opposed to a bomb. Bombs
      don't have any personality.

      Cylon Centurions, on the other hand, have a little bit of personality. At
      the very least, they have metallic claws that can fold back and become
      machine guns, a red light for an eye that sweeps back and forth, and that
      vawum-vawum sound. Basically, they're like sleeker versions of ED-209. And
      they're on board the Galactica.

      As an episode of BSG, I'm guessing this is about as much hard-core sci-fi
      action as you're likely to see. Granted, little of this is new. To be
      cheeky: All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.
      We've seen shootouts in darkened corridors in sci-fi movies ranging from
      "Aliens" to "Star Trek: First Contact." What's notable about "Valley of
      Darkness" is the high level of technical skill the creators bring to a
      familiar concept. Particularly in the lighting and cinematography
      departments, this episode looks great. It combines murk, gloss, grit, and
      high-tech. (The darkness is justified by a plot device: Power systems are
      being affected by a Cylon computer virus that got through Gaeta's
      firewalls.) Director Michael Rymer has shot and assembled some handsome
      action footage on a finite television budget.

      It also helps that the actors believe the danger their characters are in.
      There's bravery and heroism in the action, yes, but also plenty of frayed
      nerves, running from danger, desperation, and yelling. In one scene, Apollo
      chants: "Headshot. Reload. Headshot. Reload." It's a moment of believable
      nerves. Along the way, Apollo's team picks up an isolated crewman named
      Jammer, who is amped up in a frightened frenzy; he's the polar opposite of
      the crewman of the same name from "The Abyss," who typically was dialed down
      almost to sleepiness. Still, for all the conviction the actors convey, I
      can't say that this plot had me all that viscerally involved. Simply put, I
      didn't believe for a minute that the Cylon boarding party could succeed. Of
      course it must fail. I admired the storyline more for the skill of its
      craftsmanship than for its suspense level.

      On a character level, this crisis demonstrates how Tigh's long military
      experience is a crucial asset. When the Cylons break into two parties -- one
      heading forward and one heading aft -- Tigh knows what's happening ("I've
      seen this before") and knows what to do. Although, I was a little hazy on
      the plot point of how the Cylons were planning to decompress the ship and
      vent everyone into space; are there people-sized vents everywhere, even in
      the CIC or the center of the ship? (A simpler explanation might've said that
      the Cylons would vent all of the ship's oxygen.)

      So Apollo and his assault team must intercept the Cylons before they gain
      control of the two stations that will allow them to vent the crew into
      space. Meanwhile, Roslin is unlocked so as to not be shot "like a rat in a
      cage," and she along with Billy, Dee, and Cpl. Venner, try to avoid being
      shot by the Cylons. The hunting and running through the corridors is an
      entertaining exercise in style, featuring a lot of visible flashlight beams
      cutting through the darkness, a percussive score by Bear McCreary, and the
      tiring overuse of the word "frak." The episode even goes so far as to make
      official the term "motherfrakker," which I admit I laughed at, because the
      notion strikes me as a weird tug-of-war between vulgar and nerdy.

      The one who utters "motherfrakker" is Cally, in the subplot on Kobol. The
      word snaps a distraught Tyrol back into reality, and the two make their way
      back to the unit with the medkit. Adding insult to injury, they find that
      they're too late and that their wounded man is going to die. This only
      drives home the point of how war can make a mockery of soldiers' hopes and
      efforts. A healthy man was killed on what now turns out to be a completely
      meaningless mission, because the wounded man is beyond saving anyway. This
      leads to the show's most poignant scene, in which Tyrol injects his wounded
      man with an overdose of morphine (or "morpha," as the episode calls it) to
      ease his suffering into death. This is not an original idea (I think "Saving
      Private Ryan" was the last time I saw it), but the story is sincere and
      earnest about it, and it works well as a somber demonstration of infantry

      The second most poignant scene is where Starbuck and Helo end up at
      Starbuck's old apartment on Caprica (small world, that), which once was her
      father's. It's a scene that manages characterization without insisting upon
      it (her apartment is filled with paintings she made; she finds a box of
      cigars), and conveys the loss of society without making it the focus of the
      scene. Kara notes that she fights not to get back what was lost in the Cylon
      attack, but because she wouldn't know what else to do regardless. The
      setting evokes loss simply because of the absence of all other people from
      this shattered city. All of society seems to be a ghost town, with Kara and
      Karl wandering helplessly through it. Kara turns on a battery-operated music
      device and the two just sit for a moment and listen. I must say, I really
      like the musical sensibilities of this series, which finds the right
      emotional notes but uses pieces that are dialed down into something
      evocative rather than overt.

      Intriguing music can also be found in Baltar's dream sequence on Kobol,
      where he dreams that Adama drowns his baby. The sequence is foreboding,
      although it remains to be seen exactly what it means, since we still don't
      know where this baby will come from, or if it's actually a symbol for
      Sharon's baby (who, by the way, is nowhere to be seen in the episode). In
      terms of baby-killing, I guess payback's a bitch: Six killed a baby in the
      miniseries, and now Adama kills her baby in Baltar's nightmare. It seems the
      writers on this series have no qualms tackling infanticide. Hopefully by
      midseason they will hold a gun to a puppy's head and follow through on it.

      Naturally, by the end of "Valley of Darkness," the Cylon invasion threat is
      quashed and the crisis is over. But solving one problem only reveals the
      many problems still lying beneath: Adama's life still hangs in the balance.
      Roslin is still in jail. There is no working government. The characters on
      Kobol and Caprica are still stranded. Lee is still at bitter odds with Tigh,
      and reminds Tigh that the ship belongs to his father.

      It is indeed Adama's ship. Tigh doesn't dispute that for a moment. When
      Adama wakes up, what will happen then?

      Copyright 2005, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
      Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.

      Star Trek: Hypertext - http://www.st-hypertext.com/
      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...
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