Note: This review contains significant spoilers.
Battlestar Galactica: "Sacrifice"
Civilians-turned-terrorists take hostages at a bar on the Cloud Nine and
demand that Sharon be turned over to them for execution.
Air date: 2/10/2006 (USA)
Written by Anne Cofell Saunders
Directed by Reynaldo Villalobos
Rating out of 4: **1/2
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"Sacrifice" reminds me of "Bastille Day" in that it's a competently executed
routine plot with moments that transcend the overall structure. The problem
is just that: It feels like a competently executed routine plot with just a
few moments that transcend the whole. It doesn't feel like it's actually
happening (which is one of BSG's usual strengths). It exists more often
within standard, uninventive storytelling conventions.
At this point in my movie- and TV-viewing life, I'm almost willing to say
that any pitch that can be summarized as "hostage situation" should be
thrown out by whomever is potentially producing it. At its core, that's what
"Sacrifice" is -- a "hostage situation." On the Cloud Nine, terrorists take
over the bar -- which happens to be conveniently occupied by several key
Galactica characters -- and make their demands. The question is how to deal
with the terrorists and how to save the hostages. Describing it like that is
probably enough to make your eyes glaze over.
Fortunately, there's a little more to it than that, and it's worth noting
that BSG's writers have employed their routine plot in a way that makes
sense and relates to key issues on the show. The terrorists are demanding
that Admiral Adama turn over Sharon Valerii to them for execution because
they think she's a Cylon agent that's working for the Cylons and not the
Colonial Fleet. Hell, they may even turn out to be right. You never know
with the Cylons, not even with Sharon, who has saved the Galactica on more
than one occasion.
The terrorists are led by Sesha Abinell (Dana Delaney), who, we learn in the
opening minutes, lost her husband in a recent Cylon attack. She's fed up
with the Colonial Fleet's apparent lack of assessing and dealing with
threats, and says that if the military is not willing to take action against
Valerii, then she and other civilians must take matters into their own
Sesha is a domestic terrorist, plain and simple; she's willing to kill, or
even be killed, so long as her cause is advanced. Like any
ready-to-be-martyred terrorist, to her the movement is larger than her own
life or anyone else's. She's using violence to advance a cause she believes
will make things better for the homeland, as opposed to a terrorists who
want to simply destroy his enemies. The arrogance of domestic terrorism is,
of course, that a few people decide to do what they think is right for all
of us, meanwhile using innocent bystanders as currency.
The selfish human complication here is that Sesha has lost someone close to
her. But as Adama rightly points out, *everyone* in the Fleet has lost
someone -- if not everyone -- close to them. What makes Sesha more entitled
to carry out terrorist threats and take hostages? The answer, obviously, is
nothing. I'm trying to do character analysis here, but there's really not
much to say about the personality type that believes they're entitled to
demands simply because they've made them.
The reason you can't negotiate with terrorists is very simply, as Tigh puts
it, because you'd "open the floodgates." You'd be under siege every week.
The story question here is how the people in charge of working the threat
behave when the threat becomes personal (a plot thread which propelled an
entire season, or perhaps three, of "24"). On board the Cloud Nine are Lee,
Dualla, Billy, and Ellen Tigh. This makes it a very personal situation for
Adama, Roslin, and Tigh as they make decisions on how to handle the crisis
from the Galactica. Much of the episode is about stalling for time, as such
hostage scenarios ago.
Interesting is how much of a hard line Roslin takes. She seems even less
willing to cave -- even for the sake of stalling -- than does Adama. True,
Billy is not her blood the way Lee's is Adama's, but as Roslin correctly
points out, Billy is as close a thing to family as she has left in this
world. The terrorists know who the hostages are and use that knowledge.
Meanwhile, Adama contacts Kara, who just happens to be taking vacation time
also on Cloud Nine, so she can infiltrate the bar for recon purposes.
On board the Cloud Nine are the usual standoffs, shootings, etc. One thing
that definitely got my attention, however, was the story's massive momentum
shift when Kara ends up in the bar and gets forced into a shootout with the
terrorists. In the confusion, she accidentally shoots Lee in the chest ("It
was friendly fire," she later tells Adama, in tears). Every once in a while
something happens in a routine plot that makes you sit up and become
reinvested in the story, and this is one of those moments.
Such moments are the exception to the rule, however. "Sacrifice" is more
often reluctant to deviate from formula. Possibly the most true-to-BSG
moments are the ones that focus on character rather than plot, like the
opening sequence where Billy proposes marriage to Dualla, who, in a scene of
agonizing discomfort, turns him down. Naturally, it follows that Dee and Lee
-- who have been the corners in the Dee-Billy-Lee triangle for several
episodes now -- will shortly thereafter unexpectedly run into Billy at the
bar on the Cloud Nine just before the terrorists take it over. Billy's words
to Dualla here are even more agonizing, because they are in response to a
perceived betrayal, and have the ring of truth. I'd imagine I'd be pretty
pissed too, if I were in his position.
The other unexpected moment is when Billy is shot and killed in the
episode's climactic struggle for control of the bar, when the marines storm
in and the machine guns come out. Billy has been on this series since the
beginning, and killing him here is what earns the story its title, since
most of the characters in the episode don't have to make any real
sacrifices. If this episode truly had the convictions of its title, Adama
would have to let Lee bleed to death rather than negotiate with the
terrorists, but obviously we are boxed in here by the fact that we can't go
killing off our lead characters (just the supporting ones).
What does not play as a surprise is Adama's attempted shell game, where he
pretends he's going to hand Sharon over to Sesha and instead gives her the
corpse of the Sharon killed in "Resistance." This will instantly be obvious
to any audience member (who has been paying attention) from the moment Adama
announces his terms and hangs up the phone. My thinking is that it should've
been obvious to Sesha as well, since the other Sharon's death is a matter of
The episode's best payoff is the heartbreaking scene where Roslin visits
Billy's body in the morgue. Roslin, who maintained a tough, rightful hard
line about not caving in to terrorists during the crisis, is seen at the end
as an individual who has truly paid the price of those convictions. It's a
credit to Mary McDonnell's performance that all sides of Roslin's persona
exist believably, seamlessly, and in no way in contradiction with each
other. They are a part of a realized whole.
I'm not entirely sure what to make of the scene where Dualla visits Lee in
sickbay. Clearly, this is a woman who has reached a conclusion about who
she's really in love with. Maybe that's an easier conclusion to reach when
the other guy is lying on a slab in a freezer. Yes, relationships can be
messy and sometimes you crash through one with no idea where it's going or
why, but this to me feels a little nebulous, like the writers just sort of
concocted the Dualla/Lee thing -- even though, yes, there were hints of it
as far back as "Resistance."
I guess that's as a good note as any to end on regarding "Sacrifice." This
is an okay show with some nice moments, but it's not a deep or complex one,
and it doesn't feel ironclad in its romantic motivation. And I guess every
once in a while a supporting character has to die to remind you that maybe
no one is safe.
Copyright 2006, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...