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[BSG] Jammer's Review: "Flight of the Phoenix"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Note: This review contains significant spoilers. ... Battlestar Galactica: Flight of the Phoenix A Cylon computer virus begins taking control of the
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 29, 2005
      Note: This review contains significant spoilers.

      Battlestar Galactica: "Flight of the Phoenix"

      A Cylon computer virus begins taking control of the Galactica's systems as
      Cylon forces close in on their position. Meanwhile, Tyrol decides to build a
      new fighter from scratch as a project to distract the crew from its

      Air date: 9/16/2005 (USA)
      Written by Bradley Thompson & David Weddle
      Directed by Michael Nankin

      Rating out of 4: **1/2

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

      "Flight of the Phoenix" is a decent episode that could've been better. There
      are good moments here that are heartfelt and nicely performed, but they
      don't quite pay off and the episode never really comes together into
      something truly cohesive. It instead becomes a victim of its own split
      personality. This is by no means a weak episode, and I liked it more than
      "Final Cut," but I'm scoring it a near-miss.

      I think the main hang-up is that the jeopardy plot and the human story don't
      seem like they're a compatible fit. They tend to get in each other's way and
      might've been better suited alongside different subplots, or perhaps on
      their own. The stories feel crammed to the very last second into a limited
      amount of screen time that does not seem adequate to hold all the intended
      beats and nuance. Here's an episode that needs to breathe but is so pressed
      for time that it cannot.

      In plot A we have a Cylon computer virus that is running rampant on the
      Galactica, and in plot B we have Chief Tyrol undertaking the construction of
      a new stealth fighter from scratch, which is his way of giving himself and
      the crew something to focus on besides the unremitting doom and gloom. Plot
      A is technical, plot B is emotional, both have their good qualities, neither
      has very much to do with the other, and neither quite pays off to full

      We do have a number of good character-oriented scenes, including the early
      bits where Helo gets the cold shoulder at the card game from the other
      pilots. It's a case of guilt by association: He shared a bed with a Cylon,
      so he has therefore been compromised. Racetrack in particular shows a major
      attitude. Starbuck stands up for Helo, because she went through a lot with
      him, but for those who weren't there, Helo is about one step up from being a
      Cylon collaborator. What's lacking in these scornful pilots is a sense of
      empathy. I suppose empathy is hard to muster when a lousy card game is the
      high point of your day.

      On the flight deck, Helo and Tyrol get into a heated brawl over Sharon,
      which continues to be an intriguing love triangle of the most uniquely
      screwed-up kind. What's interesting to note here is that these two share an
      understanding that Sharon is not simply a Cylon traitor, but also an
      individual who was (and still is) important to them. Cally gets out of the
      brig, and we can see that the once-close friendship between her and Tyrol
      has been left in ruin by her actions.

      Morale on the ship is low. Gaeta shouts at Tigh in full view of the CIC.
      Racetrack, for the second episode in a row, comments about not being
      particularly worried about dying. Roslin visits the doctor, only to get bad
      news: She has mere weeks to live, a month at best. There's a scene later
      where she returns the book she borrowed from Adama all the way back in
      "Water" (Adama gave it to her as a gift at the time, saying, "Never lend
      books") and you can't help but think that she's putting things in order in
      anticipation of her own death. It raises the interesting question of what
      exactly is going to happen to Roslin. Are the writers going to find a way to
      save her, or are they truly going to carry through on this apparent death
      sentence? I await a brave and sincere answer.

      When the Cylon computer virus strikes, we learn that it has been lying in
      hiding since it got into the networked system in "Scattered." It has since
      been learning and adapting to the computer systems such that it can take
      control and turn the Galactica's systems against the crew, but I question
      the strategy effectiveness of such a brilliant virus to first announce its
      intentions by dropping hints such as knocking Dualla out of her chair with a
      "Star Trek"-style exploding console, or shutting off the oxygen in the
      firing range.

      The scene in the firing range, by the way, doesn't work. It starts with an
      apt moment where Lee is blasting the hell out of a target with Sharon's face
      on it, but then it turns into ho-hum jeopardy with Kara laughing deliriously
      because of oxygen deprivation, Lee collapsing to the floor, and then the two
      of them rolling around on the ground trying to shoot holes in the door to
      escape. There's little suspense to a scene like this (gee, y'think they'll
      survive?), and I was not able to suspend my disbelief enough to see this as
      anything but actors doing their best to convey a strange (goofy?) situation.

      The computer virus strikes me as a little too much like a Trek sci-fi tech
      device to be used so urgently. Like the Borg, it learns and adapts and is
      evidently implacable. This is not unique to "Battlestar." Not that it's a
      huge problem, but it feels like plot rather than story or character, and
      this series is more interesting as story/character than as mechanical plots.

      The effort to eradicate the virus brings all the major minds to the effort,
      including Baltar, who is, refreshingly, employed without the presence of
      Six. The way the problem is eventually solved -- amid a countdown scenario
      before a Cylon fleet swoops in and destroys the Galactica -- involves
      Sharon's Cylon tech knowledge being tapped after Adama comes to the
      difficult decision to try trusting her as the defector that the Galactica
      crew is not particularly ready to accept her as. Adama comes to this
      decision only after a crucial scene where he confides in Roslin -- a scene
      that indicates that their relationship is indeed very much repaired. She
      recommends that he trust or distrust Sharon based on "common ground," and
      the common ground Adama uses is the common desire to live.

      Sharon is brought to CIC where she has a plan to stop the Cylon fleet while
      Gaeta wipes the Galactica hard drives and reinstalls from backups, which is
      perhaps the most straightforward and believable solution to the problem that
      could've been written. Sharon disables the approaching Cylon fleet by
      cutting into her hand and inserting a fiber-optic cable into the vein in her
      wrist, and sending a virus back to the Cylons. This hits maybe a little too
      close to Locutus-of-Borg territory; I found myself MST3K-ing Data's line: "I
      put them all to sleep."

      The writers need to be careful with how the human-looking Cylons can
      interface with technology, lest Sharon become the equivalent of Seven of
      Nine, whose nanoprobes became an all-too-handy and overused plot device for
      the "Voyager" writers.

      Similarly, the writers also need to be careful with how bull-headed they
      write Colonel Tigh when he's being a skeptical hard-ass. There are perhaps
      too many scenes in this episode where, for the sake of adding conflict, it's
      clear that he's taking the losing side of what would obviously solve the
      story's problems. Conflict makes good drama, but making Tigh too
      transparently wrong doesn't serve the character or the audience. I did,
      however, appreciate a scene where Tigh was willing to listen to Tyrol's
      plight, and the nice touch where Tigh takes a jar of alcohol as if it's his

      Tyrol's storyline is a nice example of finding hope in a desperate
      situation, and I appreciated the way members of the crew were initially
      skeptical but slowly came around and rallied around his project.
      Unfortunately, this story doesn't segue smoothly into and out of the other
      plot involving the computer virus and Cylon attack fleet. It feels rushed,
      particularly at the end, where the story picks up the human threads in haste
      after the technical threads have been resolved.

      The key emotional moment in the episode comes when Tyrol's new fighter is
      unveiled and christened at a ceremony that *almost* really works and is
      wonderfully performed ... except that logically it doesn't quite add up
      because there's no scene that adequately sets it up. Quite simply, I was
      puzzled by the fact that Tyrol and the deck crew decide to name the ship
      Laura in Roslin's honor. It's a moving gesture, but for me it had a slight
      head-scratching effect, because we've never really seen that there's a bond
      between the deck crew and President Roslin. Certainly there *could* be, but
      we've never been given that sense on-screen, so this scene doesn't quite add
      up or pay off.

      Which is too bad. I certainly like the intentions here, and it's wonderfully
      staged. It reminds us that this series can be sentimental despite the
      darkness and despair. But it also seems like there are scenes missing from
      "Flight of the Phoenix," and without those scenes it's not quite complete.

      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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