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[BSG] Jammer's Review: "Final Cut"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Note: This review contains significant spoilers. ... Battlestar Galactica: Final Cut In an effort to put a human face on an embattled military operation,
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 15, 2005
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      Note: This review contains significant spoilers.

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      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.

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