Note: This review contains significant spoilers.
Battlestar Galactica: "Final Cut"
In an effort to put a human face on an embattled military operation, Adama
grants complete access of the Galactica to a video broadcast news reporter.
Air date: 9/9/2005 (USA)
Written by Mark Verheiden
Directed by Robert Young
Rating out of 4: **1/2
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
There's something about the documentary-within-the-narrative structure of a
show like "Final Cut" that is somehow both gimmicky and self-defeating.
Putting cameras in front of the cameras adds an extra layer of artifice to
something that is already artificial (although ostensibly real). Watching
the episode through an extra level of video cameras is innately distracting.
Plus, "Final Cut" has a twist ending that is unnecessary and frustrating.
Despite its flaws, "Final Cut" nearly transcends its structure. It has
admirable qualities, like its focus on supporting characters and its obvious
allegorical intentions. The premise brings a TV news reporter (if they call
it TV) named D'Anna Biers (Lucy Lawless) to the Galactica, where Adama
grants her unlimited access to do a story on the ship and crew. He does this
because the distrusted military needs a PR outlet to put a human face on
those who protect the fleet, particularly in the aftermath of the "Gideon
massacre," where four people were shot and killed when Tigh sent marines to
retrieve supplies from the civilian ship Gideon (see "Resistance"). Biers
says that what she reports will not be a propaganda piece. Adama is fine
with that, but he warns her: "If you start shooting anything that
compromises the safety of this ship, it'll be cut."
This is an allegory for the role of the press in our current times, with our
embedded wartime journalists, PR damage control teams, and endless political
spin. By nature, I suspect, many people will automatically side with Adama
and against Biers, for the simple fact that we are in sympathy with Adama
while reporters like Biers are perceived as an annoying, interfering,
hostile presence. There may be some truth to that characterization, but the
press serves a legitimate purpose in real life because it ensures that
someone will be held accountable for their actions (or inaction).
Coming less than two weeks after the Hurricane Katrina disaster, "Final Cut"
has a certain magnified timeliness. On Sept. 2, President Bush famously (and
idiotically) said, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job," to FEMA Director
Michael Brown, in the midst of a desperate situation in New Orleans where
thousands of people were still stranded without food or water. A day
earlier, on Sept. 1, Brown had gone on "Nightline" and actually admitted
that he didn't know until that day that there were thousands stranded at the
New Orleans Convention Center, something that had been reported on TV. It
could be argued that FEMA was not doing a heck of a job. Brown resigned on
Monday, in large part because the media -- right or wrong -- tore him to
pieces and dug into his qualifications, until ultimately he became the
sacrificial lamb. Politically, someone had to pay. (No, he wasn't fired, but
he might as well have been.)
Now, I'll be the first to say that we should work the problem now and play
politics later. But there was a certain arrogance in Bush commending Brown
on a response effort that was barely under way and obviously inadequate. And
the reason the slow response was obvious was because day after day we saw
these images on TV being reported by journalists on the scene. There was a
wide disparity between the initial attempted spin (or ignorance) and the
facts on the ground.
Anyway, that's what I'm sure D'Anna Biers thinks she's about -- someone to
dig beyond the sound bites and show what's actually happening. As such, she
has one particularly good exchange when Adama confiscates a
tape-of-happenstance showing a pregnant Cylon named Sharon in sickbay whom
the civilian fleet doesn't know is in custody. He asks her if the
repercussions of reporting the facts matter to her less than the fact that
she can report it. Her response will be familiar in our post-war-on-terror,
partisan world: "I'm sick to death of people like you questioning my
patriotism. We all want this fleet to survive." It's a good point.
The question is, does D'Anna Biers serve the same purpose in the
post-Colonial downfall as the press in current-day America? I'm not so sure.
With only 47,853 survivors, and most of them having no chance to survive
without the Galactica, mistakes along the lines of a slow hurricane response
aren't likely to upend anybody or anything. Colonel Tigh is not going to be
replaced a la Michael Brown of FEMA for making a bad call or looking bad in
the press. Simply put, there's no one to replace Tigh unless it were to
become absolutely necessary -- and by absolutely necessary, I mean gross
incompetence or death.
Apart from comparisons to current headlines, I'd better cover the plot.
There isn't much plot, really, as this episode is pitched as a "day in the
life" episode. Fine and good; less plot often means more character, and in
the case of this episode, we get some nice moments that get into the heads
of minor supporting characters, like Kat and Racetrack, and more prominent
supporting characters like Dualla and Gaeta. We also learn all of their
names, first and last. Kat in particular gets her own little storyline,
documenting her gradual decline of mental health as she takes drugs to stay
awake on duty. Her confession at the end about being ashamed is a poignant
moment. The interview footage of these characters works well.
What works less well is all the on-scene switching back and forth between
the episode's cameras and the pixilated, scan-lined video cameras within the
story. It gets distracting and somehow has a way of betraying performances
as performances rather than reality of the moment.
If there's a "plot" here, it's about Tigh's death threats resulting from the
Gideon tragedy, although how this plays out is just a little too banal. Lt.
Palladino (Jeremy Guilbaut), who led the Gideon mission, turns out to be the
culprit, although I have my doubts that if he's seeking "justice" that he'd
first go to the trouble of making poetic threats on mirrors. I also doubt he
would potentially put other people's lives in jeopardy by sabotaging a ship
he knows Tigh will be aboard.
Strangely, the interviews with the main characters are less insightful than
the supporting characters. While Lee has a good speech about how his
officers deserve respect, Kara has an overly cliched Starbuck Scene where
she's attacking a punching bag and remarking on how a good flight candidate
is "one crazy enough to follow me into combat." Yawn. Then there's Baltar,
whose antics here seem like needless filler. He's desperate to be
interviewed, egomaniac that he is, and yet has the gall to force Biers to
schedule an appointment so he can clear his already-empty calendar. What a
toolbox. I suppose this is consistent with his character, but it's not the
least bit interesting. And Six seems especially superfluous here; I'm
eagerly awaiting the return of ponytailed Six.
One thing that seems like a missed opportunity is that there's no interview
footage addressing the fractured and subsequently repaired relationship
between Adama and Roslin. The episode doesn't go there. Maybe it doesn't
need to, but it might've been an intriguing choice.
Lucy Lawless proves to be a good choice for Biers; personable but with an
edge, with the capacity of being self-serving but not necessarily doing so.
Not to mention tall and formidable. She's fair, but doesn't shy away from
tough questions. Watch her interview with Tigh, where the first thing she
does is pour them both drinks. There's also a subtle moment that
demonstrates the relationship between the reporter and camera operator;
Biers asks her cameraman to get a close-up of some mundane piece of
equipment; he says, "Yeah, sure," then rolls his eyes and doesn't bother.
He, like her, spends a lot of time in the editing room.
The story they end up with is not a propaganda piece, but certainly sees the
military favorably overall. One wonders if the real-world press would come
away with that story or if they would come away with a story about a Cylon
prisoner being hidden from the public. I guess it comes down to your level
of cynicism and how bad things in the world really are. Our present press
would probably report on the Cylon, but then we haven't been virtually wiped
out by them, either.
I didn't care for the ending, in which we see the Cylons watching the news
story on Caprica. It wasn't that part that bothered me; indeed, there are
some relevant story points, where the Cylons are delighted to see that in
the cut footage Sharon is still alive and carrying the hybrid child, and the
implications that "the baby must be protected at all costs." No, what I
really could've done without was the needless "shocker" that Biers is
actually a Cylon who helped get this footage to the Cylons. It muddies the
whole meaning of the story.
Before the twist, the story is about how a reporter holds back major
information on a story because she believes it's in the better interests of
society to do so. But by making Biers a Cylon, that entire point is thrown
out the window, because now it's about her Sinister Cylon Agenda. Or maybe
here's the point: that no real reporter would actually hold back on that
story, and her being a Cylon is the justification for it. I don't know. What
I do know is that it feels like a needless cheat that turns the character
into a device.
All that said, "Final Cut" is consistently watchable and sometimes
compelling. But it's not on the level of what we've had so far this season.
Copyright 2005, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...