[BSG] Jammer's Review: "Flight of the Phoenix"
- 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
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.
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...