Note: This review contains significant spoilers.
Battlestar Galactica: "Epiphanies"
President Roslin, very near death, orders the termination of Sharon's
pregnancy amid violent protests by a group advocating a peaceful resolution
to the conflict with the Cylons.
Air date: 1/20/2006 (USA)
Written by Joel Anderson Thompson
Directed by Rod Hardy
Rating out of 4: **1/2
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
There's nothing really wrong with "Epiphanies" except perhaps that unlike a
lot of episodes of "Battlestar Galactica," I knew more or less where this
one was going. One of BSG's biggest strengths, much like "The Shield" or
"24," is that you never quite know where the characters and the story's
momentum will take you. You just know that there's so much momentum that it
will have to take you *somewhere*.
"Epiphanies" is somewhat boxed in by the fact that the only way for it to
end shockingly and unexpectedly would be to kill off the series' female lead
-- which, obviously, is not going to happen. President Laura Roslin, who has
been dying of breast cancer since the first half-hour of the first episode,
enters "Epiphanies" literally on her deathbed, and it quickly becomes clear
that by the end of the hour she will either be dead or miraculously saved by
sci-fi machinations. I leave it to you to guess which is more likely. If you
guess wrong, you are banned from reading my reviews.
To kill Roslin would be a writer's coup d'etat, just as killing Adama when
he was shot at the end of "Kobol's Last Gleaming" would've been equally
spectacularly shocking. The problem, of course, is that then your main
characters are dead and you don't have the same show anymore. Quite simply,
there are things you cannot plausibly do on a still-running television show.
I suppose it's an item of courage that the writers are willing to look the
deaths of the lead characters straight in the eye, playing a game of
storytelling chicken before swerving at the last possible moment to avoid
the collision. It's also worth noting that the way Roslin's death is averted
is perhaps the most absolutely appropriate under the circumstances, and one
that adds yet another layer to the Cylon/human conflict and Roslin's
personal world view concerning same.
On her deathbed, Roslin realizes she must make the order she has likely been
putting off: deciding the fate of Sharon's hybrid child. Dr. Cottle has seen
strange things about the pregnancy, although I would suggest (as does
Baltar) that any hybrid pregnancy between a man and a machine would likely
have some ... oddities. Roslin decides the baby, which could potentially
become a threat to the fleet, should be terminated. Since she won't be
around to make the decision later (when there might be more information to
make a more informed decision), she makes the decision now, and it's the
last one she expects to make as president. Adama agrees to carry it out. The
moral implications here are obviously huge, since we're talking about the
forcible abortion of a prisoner's child against her will.
This storyline coincides with a subplot involving new turmoil brewing in the
fleet thanks to an organized group insisting on finding a peaceful,
negotiated solution with the Cylons to end the war. This group is not above
sabotage and violence to get their message across, which begins as a thorn
in Adama's side before escalating to a true threat when one of their members
carries out a suicide bombing on the fleet's tylium refinery vessel. Adama
arrests their suspected leader, a man named Royan Jahee (Paul Perri), but
the movement continues and Jahee is not cooperative.
Yes, these are all interesting and relevant issues that have a basis in the
world we live in today. I guess the problem is that the story is a little
too much of a functional plot and not enough of a dramatic enterprise with
fresh character insights. Yes, Helo is understandably appalled at the notion
of his baby being aborted. Yes, Sharon flips out when he delivers her the
news. (In what might be the visceral peak of the show, she takes on the
characteristics of an enraged animal, ramming her head repeatedly into the
glass wall of her cell.)
But after all we've been through this season with the "Pegasus" trilogy and
the whole Kobol arc, "Epiphanies" feels more expected and inevitable, and
less surprising or riveting. Adama must track down the terrorist threat
while the characters react -- expectedly understandably negatively -- to the
edict that Sharon's pregnancy will be terminated.
There are also some ancillary issues worth mention. There's a parallel
flashback storyline that follows Roslin on Caprica in the days before the
Cylon attack. This was when she was secretary of education and was trying to
broker a deal with an educators union on strike. She does some
behind-the-scenes negotiations to end the standoff and get them back to
work. President Adar (Colm Feore) does not like the method of Roslin's
solution: "You've just showed them that if they hold out long enough, this
administration will cave."
The flashback narrative runs parallel to Roslin's and Adama's current
problems with the organized sympathizers, and the lesson to take from this
is that there's a difference between negotiating to solve a problem and
negotiating because you're afraid of violent reprisals. In the end, Roslin
agrees to negotiate with the sympathizers if -- and only if -- they bring
serious intentions to the table. I think that's the lesson, anyway, because
it honestly lacked clarity to me. Meanwhile, if there's *any* point to the
revelation that Roslin was having an affair with Adar during the education
standoff, then I've missed it. I found it completely arbitrary, extraneous,
and distracting -- downright puzzling, in fact. In brief: Who cares, and
what does it have to do with anything?
Meanwhile, there's Vice President Baltar, who looks to be just hours away
from assuming the full-time role of president. Baltar already shows signs of
not being up to the job; at one point, Adama gets in his face and
essentially tells him to grow up: "Pull yourself together. You're about to
become president of the Colonies. You're going to be asked to make some very
hard decisions. Act like you can handle it."
Baltar's situation is further complicated by the fact that he still has
feelings and sympathies for Pegasus Six, whom he helped escape and who is
now hiding on board the Cloud Nine, apparently helping the sympathy
movement. She wants his help. He's conflicted and still uncertain of what
she's capable of. Does she want to truly negotiate peace or wage her own
agenda and destroy the fleet? I like that Baltar is such a wild card: You
never know whether he's going to act out of his quasi-psychotic love for Six
(any version of her) or his deep guilty need to safeguard humanity from his
own potential contributions to destroy it. Roslin's flashbacks also reveal
buried information: She remembers seeing Baltar with Six on Caprica before
the attack. Now she knows he was somehow involved. And this will all lead
Baltar makes an eleventh-hour discovery that the blood in Sharon's hybrid
baby has unique resistance to human disease, including cancer. The blood in
fact is able to cure Roslin's cancer at the last possible moment. There's
irony in the fact that Roslin is saved by that which she ordered destroyed,
and it's an irony that will prompt some tough questions for her and everyone
else. I guess if you're going to rescue the president with a sci-fi solution
at the last minute, this is the way to do it, and one that creates at least
as many new issues at is resolves. Still, I found myself asking: Once you're
on your deathbed -- hours away from death -- isn't the damage to your body
already done? Even if you cure the cancer, aren't you still damaged beyond
repair? Perhaps this sci-fi treatment also healed all of Roslin's organs.
It's a tidy resolution, for sure.
I didn't much care for the episode's final exclamation point, where Baltar
delivers to Pegasus Six the nuclear warhead given to him (and virtually
forgotten by the series) way back in "Bastille Day." I'm having a very hard
time believing that Adama would be so careless in following the whereabouts
of this device, which he gave to Baltar, of all people, whose
trustworthiness has hardly been ironclad. I guess I'm resistant to the idea
of a nuclear bomb becoming a plot device in a world that often tries so hard
to be plausible in its military details.
Bottom line: "Epiphanies" is a perfectly acceptable hour of BSG, but this
series has done much better.
Copyright 2006, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...