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[BSG] Jammer's Review: "Torn"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Note: This review contains significant spoilers. ... Battlestar Galactica: Torn When Baltar agrees to help the Cylons in their search for Earth, the clues
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 5, 2007
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      Note: This review contains significant spoilers.

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      Battlestar Galactica: "Torn"

      When Baltar agrees to help the Cylons in their search for Earth, the clues
      lead them to an unexpected encounter with a deadly virus. Aboard the
      Galactica, Tigh and Kara's bitterness creates divisiveness within the crew.

      Air date: 11/3/2006 (USA)
      Written by Anne Cofell Saunders
      Directed by Jean de Segonzac

      Rating out of 4: ***

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
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      Jean de Segonzac, who directed "Torn," is a television veteran whose name I
      recognize from his many outings on the various "Law & Order" series and on
      "Homicide." Those shows, while very different from one another, come from a
      documentary school of thought concerning cinematography and editing. So it
      seemed to me that "Battlestar Galactica," with its similar documentary
      sensibilities, would be a natural extension of Segonzac's arena.

      Such knowledge could not possibly have prepared me for what "Torn" turns out
      to be. This is by far BSG's furthest venture to date into the art-film
      aesthetic, and also by far its furthest venture into hard, cerebral science
      fiction. There are times when this series only vaguely resembles sci-fi, and
      "Torn" is definitely not one of those times. After the very
      grounded-in-straight-drama "Collaborators," "Torn" is an aesthetic shift so
      jarring that, at first, I found it downright distracting. But the more I
      watched, the more fascinated I was, and the more I respected the artistic
      value. "Torn" contains things that this series has never attempted.

      It also requires viewers to look at the Cylons as creatures of sci-fi more
      here than ever before. Often times, the Cylons are depicted simply as an
      alternate version of human beings, with different philosophies and an
      anti-human agenda that turned to genocide. But here, the Cylons are seen in
      the full light of their alien biotechnological makeup. They aren't simply
      people with an agenda but a whole race of very different, peculiar beings.
      The way they coexist with their technology is shown here in what can only be
      called a seismic shift in tone. Here's a storyline where one half exists in
      the straight military drama setting, and the other half exists in the "Star
      Trek" Borg arena, or for that matter, "2001: A Space Odyssey."

      Many, if not most, BSG viewers will be comfortable with the genre, so it's
      not a problem. The question is whether BSG pulls off the shifts in tone
      successfully. The answer is: good enough. The tone changes are jarring, but
      not a problem.

      I didn't mention Baltar's storyline in "Collaborators." He had a subplot
      there, but I had more pressing matters to discuss and I knew I would have a
      chance here. Baltar is now aboard a Cylon basestar, and there's a question
      as to whether the Cylons will even keep him around. In "Collaborators," it
      was revealed that the deciding vote lay with the Sixes, which is a notable
      turn of events because the Sixes were presumably in his corner before, but
      apparently on the fence now. Six felt that she allowed herself to go astray
      and she might be reasserting her Cylon allegiances now.

      In the opening scene of "Torn," D'Anna asks Baltar what he knows regarding
      the whereabouts of Earth, which the Cylons have decided shall become their
      new home. Baltar clumsily talks his way into keeping himself alive a little
      longer, explaining how when he was on New Caprica, he did quite a bit of
      studying on finding Earth. His research notes are also aboard the Galactica
      and may help them in their own mission to find Earth. They don't know,
      however, that Baltar is still alive, nor that the Cylons want to find Earth.
      I guess we can consider the hunt for Earth the new collision course between
      humanity and the Cylons.

      The scenes on the basestar with Baltar and the Cylons play almost like
      experimental cinema when you juxtapose them with the typical BSG style.
      There are a lot of dissolves (even within individual scenes), and Bear
      McCreary's score (often featuring piano solos) seems like it was inspired by
      Philip Glass minimalism. There are shots here that have striking artistry.
      Do such shots fit in the BSG universe? I suppose the bigger question is
      whether they fit the tone of the individual scenes, and the answer is yes,
      they do. Baltar's (and thus our) experience aboard the basestar is a strange
      and educational journey, where we see how Cylons interact with their
      technology and we learn the aesthetics of their habitat. We also learn about
      how they "project" within their surroundings rather than imagine them, such
      that their imaginations become all but real. Baltar hypothesizes (or is it
      Imaginary Six doing the hypothesizing for him?) that he might himself be a
      Cylon. How else to explain his canny ability to see the imagined as so real?

      These scenes are intriguingly envisioned, and yet I can't shake the feeling
      no depiction of the Cylon habitat could be satisfactory. Life aboard their
      ships has been such a mystery, and now that those mysteries are shown to us,
      they can't help but take the form of familiar (albeit high-minded)
      science-fiction settings and practical sets. The wizard behind the curtain
      has, in a way, been revealed.

      Still, there are unanswered questions posed here, like the fact that we know
      seven of the 12 Cylon models but not the other five, which the Cylons here
      refuse to speak of. They are apparently not part of this Cylon fleet. Is
      there some sort of ideological divide?

      And there is also the new notion of the "Hybrid" -- a pseudo-biological
      Cylon that is also partly mechanical, tied into a vast network of
      electronics by her spine. She controls the basestar like the hub of a hive
      mind. She's a melding of all sorts of sci-fi concepts, from the Borg Queen
      to the precogs in "Minority Report" to the very notion of being plugged into
      the system in "The Matrix." Is she merely a derivative blending of several
      familiar sci-fi ideas? Perhaps, but it still makes for a memorably haunting
      sequence when she jumps the ship. Is she alive? Aware of what she is? Does
      she suffer? Some Cylon models, like Leoben, thinks she speaks the very word
      of God.

      So, yes, "Torn" is at its core much more sci-fi than BSG has probably ever
      been. It also has a plot: The clues to Earth take another basestar to a
      place where it's crippled by a deadly virus that's highly contagious to the
      Cylons. When the Cylons aren't sure how to investigate without being
      infected, Baltar volunteers to board the basestar. "A truly selfless act,"
      notes Caprica Six. Like hell. (Only with Baltar can self-preservation be
      calculated so many moves in advance as to appear noble. Still, I would think
      Six would know him well enough to see through him, and not be fooled the way
      she is here.)

      Baltar's mission to the crippled basestar reveals that the Cylons were
      infected by a beacon that they found floating in space along the apparent
      path to Earth. Was it left there as a roadblock by the 13th tribe? Baltar's
      encounter with a deathly ill copy of a Six leads to a murder that you
      probably always knew Baltar had in him, but are still a little startled by
      because of the desperate near-insanity that lies behind the emotions of the
      act.

      The plot aboard the Galactica is, as expected, more down-to-earth. Lee has
      lost the weight; in one of the lamer segues of the series, we see him finish
      a workout and he steps on a scale and the camera reveals him as back to his
      pre-fat self. (How long after "Collaborators" is this supposed to take
      place? Certainly not long enough for him to drop that kind of weight.)

      More crucially, the story continues Kara's and Tigh's threads to their next
      logical step. These two characters, damaged on New Caprica, are now acting
      out their issues in full public view on Galactica. They are happy to play
      the roles of malcontents, much to the rest of the crew's detriment. They
      make speeches in the rec room that essentially declare anyone who didn't
      suffer on New Caprica as untrustworthy. It's clearly unprofessional
      behavior, not excusable, but also not without its reasons.

      The best scene in the episode comes once Adama has lost his patience with
      the situation. He goes down to the rec room, throws his sidearm on the
      table, and then asks either one of them to pick it up and shoot him. In his
      quiet but very stern and authoritative fashion, Adama gives them a lecture
      that is blistering, honest, and true. When he knocked Kara out of her chair,
      I sat up and took notice. Likewise when Tigh told Adama that the man he used
      to know no longer exists. Despite all the sci-fi efforts of "Torn," these
      are the scenes that I live for on this show.

      Perhaps what I don't live for, though, are bizarre anticlimax endings that
      seem truncated instead of finished. You almost get a sense that the ending
      of "Torn" wouldn't even make sense if they hadn't tacked on the "to be
      continued" sign. "To be continued" is generally an audience-insulting cliche
      that isn't necessary because the executive producer credit already tells us
      that. The ending of "Torn" is so sudden that you almost have to have "to be
      continued" as a point of confirmation.

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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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