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[BSG] Jammer's Review: "Lay Down Your Burdens, Part 1"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Note: This review contains significant spoilers. ... Battlestar Galactica: Lay Down Your Burdens, Part 1 As Kara leads a risky mission to rescue survivors
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 12, 2006
      Note: This review contains significant spoilers.

      Battlestar Galactica: "Lay Down Your Burdens, Part 1"

      As Kara leads a risky mission to rescue survivors from Caprica, a Raptor
      crew discovers a habitable planet that Baltar uses as the lynchpin in his
      presidential campaign.

      Air date: 3/3/2006 (USA)
      Written by Ronald D. Moore
      Directed by Michael Rymer

      Rating out of 4: ***

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

      "Lay Down Your Burdens" opens with a teaser so marvelously done, conveying
      such a sense of epic sweep and ominous foreboding that one wonders how the
      creators do it. In the spirit of the BSG crosscutting teaser (see also
      "Kobol's Last Gleaming, Part 1" and "Home, Part 2"), the director, editor,
      and composer all seem to channel the script as if their lives depended on
      it. In this sequence, amid much crosscutting between characters and events,
      Sharon notes that "something dark is coming," and then Chief Tyrol awakens
      from a nightmare and savagely beats Cally. At that moment, I was convinced
      that Tyrol was a Cylon, purely by the way this sequence was shot and
      emotionally configured.

      Now, I'll have you know that I've utterly resisted any notion that any of
      the main characters are Cylons unknown to us. The way I see it, it's simply
      not necessary. But in the opening teaser here, it's an idea and feeling that
      is generated through the pure technique of filmmaking, and it shows the
      makers at the tops of their game. It's a tour de force.

      A pity, then, that the episode can't live up to the feelings of pure dread
      in that teaser. Perhaps nothing could. While this is a good episode, it's
      also like a lot of episodes that come billed as "part 1 of 2": It suffers
      from a common syndrome known as All Setup, No Payoff. The episode ends as
      one of those annoying cliffhangers where explosions are going off everywhere
      and the characters are scrambling for survival. Frankly, as a cliffhanger,
      it's a snoozer because it's so utterly expected and arises from routine
      jeopardy instead of emotional truth. Fortunately for "Burdens," that's not
      really the point of the episode. Before the ending, this episode is mostly
      more proof that the series highly values its characters.

      The plot is about Kara leading a risky mission involving a small army of
      Raptors making a complicated series of FTL jumps all the way back to Caprica
      to rescue the survivors of Anders' resistance group. She promised him she
      would, and now she's going to deliver. The episode wisely depicts the
      journey back to Caprica as a difficult one that required several technical
      hurdles in order to plan and will take a lot of heart in order to
      successfully implement. It requires a piece of bio-technology from the
      captured Cylon Heavy Raider to be tied into the lead Raptor's navigation
      system, and it requires Sharon to interface with that Cylon technology in
      order to plot the course. All of that is fine by me: If you're going to do a
      story about a trip back to Caprica, then it can't be a walk in the park and
      must require some risk and loss. (To illustrate that point, a Raptor crew is
      lost when they jump inside a mountain in a low approach to Caprica.)

      Anyway, that's the plot. As I said, this is a story mindful about its
      characters. For example, we have Sharon, who has essentially gone into a
      depressed shutdown in the wake of what she believes to be her newborn
      daughter Hera's death in "Downloaded." The early scenes show her sullen and
      closed off, and if it isn't bad enough that her daughter is dead, everyone
      still gives her accusing stares even as she becomes the most crucial cog in
      the rescue mission. The fact that Kara speaks up in Sharon's defense is
      worth noting, and Helo does his best to be supportive, but it doesn't change
      the fact that Sharon is still a Cylon and, in the eyes of most, a potential
      danger to be feared and hated.

      We also have Baltar, who is almost as distraught as Sharon over Hera's
      death, because of that odd notion Six planted in his head that she and
      Baltar are as much Hera's parents as Sharon and Helo. One could call this
      sort of displaced empathy a sickness, but then there's a lot about Baltar
      one could call a sickness. Baltar has other problems: The election campaign
      is in the home stretch, and he's fallen far enough behind Roslin that it
      looks like there's little chance of him catching up. Zarek, who functions as
      Baltar's Machiavellian puppet master, looks for anything that might give
      Baltar a new edge.

      That new edge comes in the form of a planet discovered by pure chance. A
      Raptor from Kara's rescue mission gets separated from the group and in the
      process happens upon a habitable world. They report back to Galactica, and
      it quickly becomes a possibility that this world could be considered for
      permanent settlement. If the plot point feels like dejà vu of "Kobol's Last
      Gleaming," the difference here is that the planet is obscured in such a way
      that the Cylons might never find it. Zarek, seeing an opportunity,
      immediately seizes upon it as a political issue that could set Baltar apart
      from Roslin and turn the election in his favor.

      Roslin is committed to the continued search for Earth. She is not convinced
      that the planet would offer true safety from the Cylons. And geological
      surveys have shown that it is a cold, harsh world where life would be
      possible, yes, but far from easy. But Zarek has canny instincts about what
      people want to hear, and their tendency to vote their hopes over the cold,
      harsh truth. The idea of open space and real skies speaks volumes to people
      who have been cooped up in metal boxes for months with no end in sight. He
      pushes Baltar in this direction, and when Six gives him a nudge as well, he
      goes for it.

      Is it a cynical move for Baltar to prey on people's hopes as a political
      tool? I suppose that has to do with whom you ask. Roslin would certainly say
      that Baltar is taking an issue and exploiting it for political gain, without
      considering the truth of what the fleet would face if they actually settled
      on this planet. In a presidential debate, Baltar answers this claim by
      turning around and accusing Roslin of exploiting people's fear of the
      unknown. I suppose it's of little consequence that fear of the unknown is
      what keeps the fleet from being destroyed by the Cylons every week, but tell
      that to the civilians who are living in metal boxes with presumably far
      fewer amenities than the Galactica. It's proof that there's only so much
      room in politics for the brutal truth, and that spin and hope are what
      really drive the engine.

      The other major character thread here is Tyrol's. Is he a Cylon? No, but
      he's afraid that he might be. He has a recurring suicide nightmare where he
      throws himself over the second level of the flight deck. When he beat Cally,
      he was in the middle of one of these nightmares. His fear arises in part
      from the fact that he was in love with a Cylon who didn't herself know she
      was a Cylon. He thinks he might be capable of the same cursed fate as
      Sharon. And now he also fears that he's going to be alone because he can't
      face his shipmates after having attacked one of them.

      Having a religious background, Tyrol is more comfortable with religious
      counsel than, say, a psychiatrist. He has a terrifically written
      conversation with Brother Cavil (Dean Stockwell) in which Cavil -- never a
      coddler -- tells Tyrol point-blank what's wrong: "The problem is: You're
      screwed up, heart and mind. You." There's something about Cavil's directness
      that's refreshing, and I liked his take on personal responsibility
      (including, don't use prayer as a crutch, because the Gods intended their
      children to figure things out for themselves). The Tyrol/Cavil scenes
      comprise the psychological and emotional heart of the story.

      It's perhaps a disappointment, then, that the episode ends with a complete
      lack of useful feeling and instead feels mechanically aborted in the most
      jarring sense of the All Setup, No Payoff "part 1 of 2" cliffhanger
      syndrome. Kara's mission reaches Caprica, they find Anders and the survivors
      (many of which, in an extreme and unnecessary coincidence, had been killed
      in a Cylon attack just that morning), and then the Cylon bombing suddenly
      starts and the screen goes to black.

      Simply put, this doesn't feel worthy of what came before. I understand that
      it's the middle of a bigger story, but previous "part ones" have been more
      satisfying than this, usually with characters making crucial decisions just
      before the episodes end. For example: "Kobol's Last Gleaming, Part 1" where
      Starbuck decides to jump back to Caprica, or "Home, Part 1" where Adama
      decides to put the fleet back together, or even "Resurrection Ship, Part 1,"
      where Adama assigns Starbuck to kill Cain. These are moments that felt
      satisfying as episode endings that showed characters in control of the
      story. Here, as the bombs started falling, I felt that the episode had
      simply stopped and not ended. Sort of like this review right now.

      Copyright 2006, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
      Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.

      Jammer's Reviews - http://www.jammersreviews.com
      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...
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