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[BSG] Jammer's Review: "Unfinished Business"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Note: This review contains significant spoilers. ... Battlestar Galactica: Unfinished Business Galactica s crew members work out their frustrations in boxing
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 5, 2007
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      Note: This review contains significant spoilers.

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      Battlestar Galactica: "Unfinished Business"

      Galactica's crew members work out their frustrations in boxing matches,
      where rank is rendered irrelevant and unresolved personal issues from New
      Caprica are settled in the ring.

      Air date: 12/1/2006 (USA)
      Written by Michael Taylor
      Directed by Robert Young

      Rating out of 4: **1/2

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      -----

      I'm picturing a movie poster right now that has Kara Thrace and Lee Adama,
      half obscured in a dark shadow, with brooding looks on their faces, their
      eyes cast somewhat downward as they wear boxing gloves, standing facing in
      opposite directions so they aren't looking at each other, and the poster
      tagline above them says "Love Hurts."

      That might give you an idea of what the net effect of "Unfinished Business"
      is. Here's an episode I might be willing to label a "guilty pleasure" given
      the initial plot outline (crew members settle their personal pent-up
      frustrations in boxing slugfests while we finally are shown what went down
      between Kara and Lee to open the gulf between them), but once you see it and
      then think about it, you realize there's very little pleasure to be found
      here.

      Either this is (a) a brilliant character study about how the damaged psyche
      cannot possibly be understood -- not the least by even oneself, or (b) a
      cynical exploitation of boiling-over soap opera themes filtered through
      dark, exaggerated angst. I'm not sure which side of the fence I'm on.
      Certainly, there's a case to be made for both sides.

      The episode's conceit is that all the military personnel aboard the
      Galactica apparently know how to box, and in keeping with military
      tradition, they use the boxing ring as a medium for working out their issues
      in a "Fight Club" sort of way: One boxes such that one can still feel alive.
      You leave your rank outside the ring, and then you step inside and settle
      issues like man was meant to: by beating the living crap out of his fellow
      man.

      The scenes in the boxing ring are edited together along with a series of
      flashback scenes set on New Caprica eight months before the Cylon
      occupation. Certain gaps in that missing year that I, for one, have been
      curious about are answered in these scenes. Obviously not everything, but a
      few important things.

      In many ways, this episode is refreshing. It takes us away from all issues
      of the Cylons and focuses purely on the characters and their internal
      workings and assorted dramas. Specifically, this episode leads up to a
      climactic fight between Kara and Lee that's been about a year in the making.
      What happened on New Caprica to get these two characters, who once loved
      each other, to this point? Even more specifically: What made Lee so
      absolutely bitter toward Kara, and what turned Kara into a bitch and a half?

      The episode's most memorable and melancholy point is in how it reveals that
      the Colonial settlers, had it not been for the occupation, might actually
      have been able to live out their days happily on New Caprica. While it was
      previously established that New Caprica was a cold and harsh planet, the
      scenes in these flashbacks reveal that there must've at least been a
      comfortable warm season to offer a respite. There's a community celebration
      that feels as if the clock has been turned back to a simpler time where
      human beings could simply live in peace as neighbors. It's almost depressing
      to think that a few months after this celebration, all these characters will
      be trapped once again inside overcrowded tin cans.

      This realization is made all the more poignant by the wonderful performances
      of Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell, who ponder this new, peaceful
      chapter in humanity in scenes that hint at possible romance without ever
      confirming it.

      As for Kara and Lee, such confirmation will *not* be left to the
      imagination. Most series tend to have their own version of the Will They or
      Won't They, and "Battlestar" is no exception. Kara/Lee has been an implied
      (and later explicit) WTOWT situation since basically day one -- and season
      two, with the introduction of Anders, only complicated/accelerated that. In
      the flashback scenes here, the whole situation plays itself out in
      painstaking detail, some of it very interesting and agonizing. Lee and Kara
      had drunken sex on New Caprica, after which Lee put all his cards on the
      table and proclaimed his love for Kara by shouting it to the sky. Would Kara
      reciprocate? Well, she shouts to the sky, but when she does it, we don't
      believe it for a second, and the moment is hit so precisely perfectly on the
      head -- in all its awkwardness -- that it's almost painful to watch. It's
      effective: We see that Kara can simply not return Lee's feelings, for
      whatever inexplicable reasons.

      The next morning before Lee wakes up, Kara marries Anders, for reasons that
      will elude most of the audience, not to mention probably Kara herself.
      Certainly those reasons elude Lee, who would not have been unjustified in
      castigating her on the spot (which he does not). Kara's actions are nasty
      and inexplicable, but Lee's own previous speechmaking about marriage and the
      future was part of the catalyst.

      Clearly, Kara has issues that go back to childhood, and those issues have
      impacted the adult that exists now, but to try to explain Kara's thoughts
      and actions is to try to employ psychology beyond its usefulness. Why would
      she do what she does to Lee in such a heartless way? The episode's point is
      that shit happens, and people do lousy things to other people that they
      don't deserve. Even Kara probably wouldn't try to explain or defend it.
      Lee's answer is to marry Dualla as a sort of consolation action, which is
      not a good reason to marry anybody. (I couldn't help but feel sorry for
      Anders and Dualla, both whom are being married for the wrong reasons. Did
      they even have a clue what they were getting into?)

      Still, I respect the writers' willingness to confront such a mess,
      especially in the face of consummating the central WTOWT of this series.
      Messy relationships are a fact of life, and to a degree I'm in sympathy with
      this material. But I have reservations about taking that friction and
      turning it into an over-the-top grudge-match in the present, where Kara and
      Lee pound on each other for so long that neither has the strength to stand.
      (This follows logically, I suppose, from Kara's downward spiral stemming
      from her psychological torture on New Caprica. Meanwhile, Lee cannot be
      faulted for responding to Kara's blatant baiting.) The end of this fight,
      which for some will seem like the ultimate cop-out and yet makes a certain
      amount of twisted sense, is like the cleverest reset button ever concocted.
      Where do the characters go from *here*? Back to where they were pre-New
      Caprica? Better yet, where do Anders and Dualla go? They are like the
      doormat byproducts of the WTOWT.

      Despite my misgivings over all this, I'm more put off by the outcome of
      Adama's bout in the ring with Tyrol. It starts out with Adama's sucker-punch
      that seems like a cruel taunt and continues with Tyrol punching Adama where
      he previously had been shot. It ends with Adama going down in the ring in a
      sequence of painful humiliation: No one in the room wanted to see it, and,
      frankly, no one in the TV audience wanted to see it either. Adama seems to
      be making a reckless point here, but it's lost on me, because he's
      essentially arguing that friendships for him became a weakness rather than a
      strength because of the impact they had on his military decisions during a
      time of (deceptively) apparent peace. Given all the facts under
      consideration, I'm not convinced by this argument. Is Adama supposed to
      jettison his humanity in order to run a better military machine?

      All the messages in "Unfinished Business" are delivered in a sea of
      intentionally murky contradiction and individual self-destructiveness, as if
      the whole BSG universe were a cautionary tale. Is that the point? I think it
      is. Should it be? I'm not sure. My own cynicism believes that when people
      have been through such harrowing situations, they are likely to become dark
      and unlikable people like the people shown here, and the writers are brave
      to depict that so honestly. But I'd also like to think that the message
      could be more optimistic. I said way back in my review of "Act of
      Contrition" that "this series contains more humanity than most." That was
      then, and this is now. Perhaps the New Caprica experience was more damaging
      to the human psyche than we thought.

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      Copyright 2007, 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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