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[BSG] Jammer's Review: "Pegasus"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Note: This review contains significant spoilers. ... Battlestar Galactica: Pegasus The Galactica crew rejoices when they discover another battlestar, the
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 7, 2005
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      Note: This review contains significant spoilers.

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      Battlestar Galactica: "Pegasus"

      The Galactica crew rejoices when they discover another battlestar, the
      Pegasus, survived the Cylon attack. But friction arises when its commanding
      officer, Admiral Cain, announces her plan to take control of the fleet.

      Air date: 9/23/2005 (USA)
      Written by Anne Cofell Saunders
      Directed by Michael Rymer

      Rating out of 4: ****

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      -----

      Says Adama to Roslin: "I've been taking orders my entire career. This is no
      different."

      Like hell it isn't. Adama just hasn't realized it yet -- or maybe he's
      putting up a comforting front for Roslin. Admiral Cain (Michelle Forbes, an
      actress who comes with a built-in tough edge, although she strikes me as
      awfully young to be an admiral), commander of the Battlestar Pegasus,
      outranks Adama and has left no room for misunderstanding that she intends to
      take command of the entire fleet. And thus begins the uncomfortable
      foreboding, which becomes more alarming with every scene.

      "Pegasus" is a gripping hour that is sold purely on emotional and visceral
      impact, as opposed to plot and subtlety. Because we care about the
      characters and because we are invested in the society that has been created
      from their ragtag fleet, we can't help but wince when Cain says she's taking
      the reins. And as we begin to learn what the Pegasus and her crew are about,
      it becomes clear this is a club we don't want to be a part of.

      The episode's presentation is operatic in approach. Restraint is not the
      name of the game here. The writers have created a premise where we have no
      choice but to side with the Galactica, because the actions of key Pegasus
      players are clearly immoral. I'm told the "Pegasus" episode from the
      original series was more tempered, with a more sympathetic Pegasus crew. Not
      the case here. Here's a storyline that knows where it stands and intends to
      take sides. It's larger than life and doesn't shy away from that knowledge.

      It begins with high jubilation. The Pegasus appears, and even the music
      knows this is not your typical day on the Battlestar Galactica. A formal
      greeting of Admiral Cain on the Galactica flight deck is played with epic
      military pomp that's so effective it gave me chills. There's a terrific shot
      of the two battlestars flying together that conveys a renewed sense of
      magnificence. As Adama and Cain both say at the beginning: This is a
      miracle.

      But not so fast. After the initial jubilation and celebration, "Pegasus"
      almost immediately becomes a quietly, unbearably unnerving experience of
      waiting for the other shoe to drop. It does -- fairly quickly -- but then
      there's another shoe, and another, and another.

      Who's in charge here? In the first scene after the greeting, we realize that
      Cain intends to take command, and Adama, following military protocol,
      intends to hand command over to her without a second thought. In the dinner
      scene, when Adama says "Yes, sir" to Cain, the look of shock on Roslin's
      face is downright chilling -- as if foretelling where the story is headed.
      Cain takes note of Roslin's apparent worry: "Madam President, you look like
      I just shot your dog." After Roslin leaves, it's pretty clear that Cain has
      little regard for Roslin: "Secretary of Education?" she asks Adama.

      Meanwhile, Tigh has drinks with the Pegasus XO, Colonel Fisk (Graham
      Beckel). Fisk tells a dark tale about how Cain shot the previous Pegasus XO
      in the head, in full view of the crew, because he refused to order an attack
      on the Cylons. Fisk breaks out laughing and plays it off as a joke, but we
      can't really be sure what that means. Tigh believes the story actually
      happened, and relays it to Adama, who responds by saying "context matters,"
      and reminds Tigh that the Galactica crew themselves destroyed the Olympic
      Carrier with over 1,300 civilians on board. Yes, but there was certainly a
      context there. What exactly was the context of Cain executing her own XO, a
      former close friend, if indeed it happened? Adama prepares to turn over his
      logs to Cain. Tigh says, "We should ask Admiral Cain for her logs, just so
      we can put her in context." Adama responds, "Wouldn't that be nice." The
      chain of command pulls only in one direction.

      The ominous foreboding continues through various scenes of character
      interaction, like the scenes where the Galactica pilots meet their Pegasus
      counterparts, a seemingly humorless bunch that tallies their kills on the
      sides of their Vipers. The Pegasus CAG, Captain Taylor (John
      Pyper-Ferguson), is an all-business dude who has some mild friction with Lee
      and tells him that Admiral Cain's way is now Galactica's way. Cain's way
      apparently has no qualms recruiting civilians into the ranks of the
      military; the Pegasus deck chief (Vincent Gale) was a civilian who was
      recruited into the military ranks by a Cain-imposed draft. Just what is the
      status of the civilian population among the Pegasus? Do they have their own
      ragtag fleet and politics? We aren't told, but you get the feeling that if
      they do, they're all under martial law.

      Quietly and slowly -- but unmistakably -- this all adds up to build a very
      disturbing sense that the Galactica way of life is over. Society as it has
      been under Adama and Roslin is about to become the unbending Law of Cain.
      Adama at first takes this in stride, yielding to his own humility and the
      establishment that is the chain of command. But brick by brick, the
      foundation of Galactica's world seems to be on the verge of dismantlement.

      Cain, who at first offers assurances that she has no intentions of
      interfering with Adama's ship or command, soon is telling Adama that his
      logs reveal he is too close to his officers -- to Lee, to Kara, to Tigh --
      and that she intends to integrate the crews and make personnel changes. She
      reassigns Lee and Kara to the Pegasus, which for Lee is an instant demotion.
      The way Cain uses Adama's logs as a weapon against him is unnerving.

      At the end of last week's "Flight of the Phoenix," there was a big emotional
      scene that conveyed the sense of a family that this fleet of military and
      civilians had become. That scene takes on a new dimension here, because it
      seems likely to be lost under Cain's command.

      All of which is about personal feelings and what the Galactica fleet has
      become accustomed to. Perhaps Adama goes along with it because that's what
      the chain of command says he does. But there's also the matter of what the
      Pegasus crew is capable of, and the story ventures into inflexible matters
      of right and wrong. The Pegasus also has a Cylon prisoner. She happens to be
      another copy of Number Six, which is revealed to Baltar in a scene that
      sends the usually cocky hallucinated version of Six reeling with shock and
      sadness -- a welcome change of pace. This prisoner has not simply been
      imprisoned like Sharon, but also repeatedly beaten and raped and deprived of
      food and water. She exists now as a broken shell, psychologically destroyed.
      Baltar plans to work with her to get information ("You have already used the
      stick," he says to Cain. "It's time to use a carrot."), which later leads to
      a powerful and emotionally revealing scene where he confesses to this
      prisoner how he fell in love with a Cylon that looked just like her.

      When you consider how the Pegasus crew has treated their prisoner compared
      to that of Galactica, you begin to see evidence of an alternate path that
      has unfolded under similar circumstances. Pegasus seems like Galactica's
      evil twin. Not that everyone on Pegasus is capable of these sorts of
      atrocities (indeed, we don't learn much about them overall). But the fact
      that Cain apparently permits rape as an interrogation tactic (or at least
      turns a blind eye to it) is hugely significant, because as a leader she sets
      the tenor for the crew. There are issues of prisoner abuse and morality and
      leadership and human failure and the capacity for evil that this story
      inherently brings forth, but for the most part it doesn't address them
      philosophically or polemically and instead chooses to tackle them via
      storytelling microcosm.

      That microcosm is Pegasus' Lt. Thorne (Fulvio Cecere), a Cylon interrogator
      well known among the Pegasus crew for his tactic of raping the Cylon
      prisoner for information. This tactic becomes clear to us in a scene where
      Tyrol and Helo are talking with drunken officers from the Pegasus, who
      describe Thorne's practices -- as well as their own personal involvement in
      rapes -- in pathetic alpha-male guttural. This scene is truly effective in
      its ability to rile our feelings of distaste and outrage, and the only
      reason Helo and Tyrol don't pummel these officers right here is because they
      realize that Sharon is in very immediate danger.

      Thorne, at this moment, is interrogating Sharon about the purpose of a
      massive Cylon ship -- bigger than a base star -- that the Pegasus has
      photographed on recon missions. Thorne starts by smacking Sharon around and
      then has the guards hold her down. Helo and Tyrol charge in to the rescue,
      and there are visceral shots of them in a frenzy as they do some serious
      ass-kicking. Caught up in the scene, I was energized and wanted these
      Pegasus guys to *pay*. Thorne is accidentally killed in the struggle. My gut
      says he got what he deserved, which is a testament to this episode's
      amped-up emotional provocativeness.

      Sharon's rape -- or attempted rape -- is edited perhaps too carefully and
      responsibly in the interests of making the scene easier on the audience ...
      which may be an odd thing for me to say. No, we don't need to see Sharon
      being raped to get the point, but the editing is so cautious in its attempts
      to spare us that we don't know whether or not the rape was actually
      prevented by Helo and Tyrol's charge-in. It seems to be, but Sharon's
      reactions suggest otherwise. Ultimately, I suppose it doesn't matter. The
      point is: Thorne commits rape, which is subhuman behavior that infuriates
      us, and we don't feel regret when he dies.

      Helo and Tyrol are arrested for murder and treason, and taken back to the
      Pegasus, where they face court-martial. Adama wants to be sure they get a
      fair jury trial, but that seems unlikely, and the situation begins to turn
      increasingly tense.

      This main thrust of the story exists alongside the subplot where Kara and
      Lee report to the Pegasus to prepare for an attack on the mysterious Cylon
      ship. The episode further sells its reality with details aboard the Pegasus,
      which show it as a more modern and higher-tech battlestar. The pilot ready
      room is shinier and has video monitors instead of cardboard charts. Captain
      Taylor explains the mission, and Starbuck's response is, "Your plan sucks,"
      which she punctuates with a self-satisfied, smart-ass grin that had me
      laughing out loud. She recommends instead the use of the stealth ship
      constructed in "Flight of the Phoenix," a plan Taylor refuses while
      immediately taking Kara off the mission. These seeds are obviously planted
      for the next installment, but they keep the business of the war at hand
      moving along. For the mission, Lee is saddled with Taylor co-piloting a
      Raptor, which is somehow hilarious in its indignity.

      The episode is yet another hiatus-entering cliffhanger. Like "Kobol's Last
      Gleaming, Part 2," I'm not about to complain that cliffhangers are cliche
      when they are also this riveting. The episode ends with Adama and Cain
      squaring off over the fate of Tyrol and Helo, whom Cain has found guilty and
      has sentenced to execution in a hearing where she was the only one who had
      any say (she apparently thinks she can do whatever the hell she wants
      without consequences, which may provide an insight into the way the Pegasus
      works). The scene where Adama gets this news provides a satisfying climax to
      an episode full of percolating tensions not acted upon. He winces as if in
      pain, then orders the preparation for a fight and charges toward CIC with a
      determined game face on. It's a moment of catharsis where I felt like
      cheering.

      I loved Bear McCreary's music in this episode, which goes out on a limb and
      is unlike most music on this series in that it draws attention to itself and
      blatantly cues our emotions without apology. It lends to the operatic feel,
      which is never more clear than at the end, where Adama gets on the phone
      with Cain, says he's getting his men back, period, and launches the alert
      fighters. Military themes take control of the soundtrack. Violence might yet
      be averted, and any number of solutions to this problem are possible, but we
      see the line in the sand drawn here, and it makes for great drama. Even
      great melodrama.

      -----
      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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