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[BSG] Jammer's Review: "Faith"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Note: This review contains significant spoilers. ... Battlestar Galactica: Faith Roslin finds her religious views challenged by a fellow terminal cancer
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 31, 2008
      Note: This review contains significant spoilers.

      Battlestar Galactica: "Faith"

      Roslin finds her religious views challenged by a fellow terminal
      cancer patient who has found solace in Baltar's words. Kara attempts
      to forge an alliance with a group of renegade Cylons and learn
      details about her destiny from their Hybrid.

      Air date: 5/9/2008 (USA)
      Written by Seamus Kevin Fahey
      Directed by Michael Nankin

      Rating out of 4: ****

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

      "Faith" tells a story combining religion and science fiction about as
      successfully as I've personally seen it done. In that way, it's a
      legitimate rival for my longtime benchmark, 1997's "Contact"
      (although they're admittedly apples and oranges). The result is an
      hour full of probing questions that will likely strike different
      people in different ways. This is a sophisticated and emotionally
      resonant meditation on life and death, struggle and pain, coping and
      humanity, and, yes, faith.

      The key reason "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's" issues of faith never
      truly worked as an allegory for the real world was because Bajor's
      prophets were tangible beings that could be physically observed and
      performed physically tangible miracles. The existence of the
      Bajoran "gods" was a simple fact; the only question was whether or
      not one believed the wormhole beings actually *were* gods. As a
      result, the religion issue on DS9 lost a lot of its real-world
      resemblance and relevance. BSG, however, resembles our world
      precisely because the existence of God (or the Gods) cannot be proven
      with evidence. It must be taken on faith.

      Before I get into all that, let me first pick up where last
      week's "Road Less Traveled" left off, with the situation on the
      Demetrius about to go sideways (as they're always saying on "The
      Shield"). Sideways it quickly does go, with Kara getting relieved of
      duty, Kara refusing to stand down, Sharon subduing Kara, Helo
      ordering the ship to jump back to the fleet, Anders taking Kara's
      side and pointing a gun at Gaeta and ordering him to halt the jump,
      and eventually Anders shooting Gaeta in the leg to take the situation
      over by force. Poor Gaeta. What did he ever do to deserve all he's
      gotten? (As Clint Eastwood once said, deserve's got nothin' to do
      with it. Later when Gaeta says, "Don't let Cottle take my leg," we
      know his fate is sealed; he's gonna lose it.)

      Kara, realizing things are quickly spinning out of control, agrees to
      step down but instead says that she will go herself in a Raptor with
      Leoben to find the damaged basestar. The rest of the Demetrius can
      wait here and jump back to the fleet if they don't return. Anders
      goes with her, along with, interestingly, Sharon, who just seconds
      earlier was holding Kara in a headlock. Kara needs a Cylon who can
      provide interfacing help. Plus, the story needs an additional reason
      to make Helo squirm as the deadline of 15 hours until the rendezvous
      counts down. Also volunteering for the mission is someone who
      believes in Starbuck -- a crewman named Barolay, who should probably
      be wearing a red shirt.

      "Road" and "Faith" are two separate stories, which merely use the
      cliffhanger as a jumping-off point for the real story about Kara's
      bizarre and eye-opening dealings with the Cylon renegades (if indeed
      it is they, and the not the Cavil camp, who are the "renegades").
      Finding the basestar is its own challenge; fortunately, Kara can
      sense which way to go, and to her own surprise realizes the comet she
      saw orbiting a planet in her visions was actually the basestar.
      Nifty, but it again begs the question: Who and what is Resurrected
      Starbuck? It's worth noting that we are now six episodes into
      Starbuck's return and essentially know no more about where she went
      than we did in the first episode. The writers have done a good job
      putting off all answers to the mystery while distracting us with
      character analysis like her realization in "Road" that she has lost
      the person she was and may never get it back. Ultimately, that's the
      right choice, because this is about characters more than it's about a
      plot answer that ultimately will have to be somewhat arbitrary.

      Once aboard the basestar, we see the formation of a precarious
      alliance. Renegade Six has no better options with her basestar
      crippled, but she is not especially happy about giving Kara access to
      the Hybrid, nor pleased in general about the Leobens' obsession with
      her. Meanwhile, in what is as amusing an idea as it is interesting,
      Athena is instantly accosted by a horde of Eights that timidly ask
      her to lead a mutiny against the Sixes that mutinied against the
      other Cylons. "You guys make me sick," Athena replies. "You pick a
      side and you stick. You don't cut and run." The Eights were once
      called a weak model; perhaps this is further evidence. Bunch of flip-
      floppers. They should heed Stephen Colbert on the virtue of having

      There are a couple of terrific key scenes in this storyline. The most
      psychologically compelling is when Crewman Barolay has a run-in with
      a copy of a Six in the docking bay. They get into a brief verbal
      exchange, and the Six kills her. Just like that. Turns out that
      Barolay had killed this copy of Six on New Caprica, and now she takes
      her revenge. Evident here is the ugly cycle of violence that begets
      violence. Like the best aspects of BSG, there's a real-world message
      to be found here, but it's elevated into the what-if realm by the
      ever-so-slight sci-fi tweak: Because this Six had resurrected, she
      was able to later face the woman who killed her. And she just
      couldn't let it go.

      The point of the scene is how the Cylons *are* indeed very much
      psychologically affected by the violence inflicted upon them: Despite
      all this Six's counseling and her struggles to put being killed
      behind her, she couldn't do it: "I still see her face when I try to
      sleep." So now this Six faces her end at the hand of Renegade Six. In
      an act of "justice" to make a point and provide an answer for
      Barolay's death in the interests of the fragile alliance, Renegade
      Six shocks everyone by pulling the trigger and putting down one of
      her own sister models. There is no resurrection ship; "She's as dead
      as your friend." Fascinating and powerful -- it's a statement of what
      she sees the stakes are.

      The other big moment here is when Starbuck finally gets to visit with
      the ever-cryptic Hybrid, who at first doesn't say anything remotely
      relevant or even react to Kara but instead seems to exist somewhere
      in her own world halfway between a "Star Trek" engineering deck and
      your office's IT department.

      Eventually, when it seems the Hybrid isn't going to say anything
      useful, and they're about to pull the plug, a strange series of
      events occurs. A Centurion shoots the Eight that is about to unplug
      the Hybrid from the basestar's control, causing the Hybrid to let out
      an endless, disturbing shriek before finally seeing Kara and
      imparting some information that makes for some of BSG's most
      significant mythology material yet. I'll simply quote it: "The dying
      leader will know the truth of the Opera House. The missing Three will
      give you the Five who have come from the home of the Thirteenth. You
      are the harbinger of death, Kara Thrace. You will lead them all to
      their end." Wow. It's not just in what is said, but how it's said and
      how it's lit and shot and directed and scored and edited. Absorbing
      stuff. And what's said is surprisingly decipherable.

      (By the way, I must do what I think I've somehow failed to do in
      every review up to this point and mention that the Hybrid is played
      by Tiffany Lyndall-Knight. Her performance is effective -- creating a
      presence that is profoundly creepy and yet at the same time strangely

      Within the basestar storyline are some smaller touches that are also
      nice, both involving Anders. One comes when he moves his hand toward
      a basestar interface panel but ultimately doesn't follow through.
      What would happen if he, one of the mysterious Final Five, were to
      attempt to interact with Cylon technology?

      The other comes later; when the Eight is shot and lies dying, she
      reaches out for a kindred hand, hoping to be comforted as she dies.
      Her sister Eight, Athena, reaches out but just barely balks, as if
      she can't bring herself to do it. When Athena demurs, Anders steps up
      and takes the dying Eight's hand. Good stuff worth pondering: Why
      can't Athena bring herself to go there? Is she so disgusted with her
      origins and sister Eight models? She seems so much now to identify
      herself as being human. Meanwhile, Anders tries to oblige this dying
      Eight, as if trying to step into the Cylon role he now knows he must

      So, yes, "Faith" is extraordinary stuff, and I haven't even delved
      into the storyline that's of probably more significance to "Faith's"
      real intentions -- the stuff dealing with the faith. After last week
      featured no Roslin or Adama at all, we now get a story all about
      Roslin and her battle with cancer as it takes place in the Galactica
      ICU. Season four is proving that it can leave entire plot lines and
      characters off screen for whole episodes at a time and then bring
      them back with unhindered effectiveness. I have no structural qualms
      with that whatsoever.

      Okay, maybe one. There's an early scene where we finally we see Tory
      and Roslin talking on Colonial One. I'm not positive, but I don't
      think we've scene such an occurrence yet this season, and only now in
      retrospect do I notice how much of an oversight it might've been.
      Roslin praises Tory's job performance for stepping up (after falling
      apart in "Crossroads"). I wish we'd seen more of this, because from
      what we in the audience have seen, it's less than apparent that Tory
      has been doing any job at all, let alone a good one. (But I suppose
      the point here is that they made the point.) Some meaty Roslin/Tory
      intrigue was something that seemed like an obvious wealth of material
      when we found out Tory was a Cylon. So far it hasn't materialized
      (but it's not like there hasn't been plenty else going on instead).

      Anyway, Roslin lands for an extended stay in the ICU, where she
      shares times with another terminal cancer victim, Emily (Nana
      Visitor, of the aforementioned DS9-prophet-worshipping Bajoran
      persuasion). Roslin has lost all her hair from cancer treatments. But
      the more direly ill Emily (who is mere days from death's door)
      ominously warns her: "It's gonna get a lot worse. Be prepared for

      The two bond over their shared experience of illness. Emily listens
      to Baltar on the radio, who preaches his One True God sermons that
      eschew the traditional Lords of Kobol that Roslin has always prayed
      to. Roslin wonders what Emily sees in Baltar's ramblings, but therein
      lies the key to the episode. Emily experienced firsthand what she
      surely believed to be God and the afterlife, and Baltar's sermons --
      not the traditional religion -- mirror what she is certain she

      The question here becomes: Could the truth of the afterlife actually
      be about the one true God that Baltar speaks of? Is that one true God
      the same as the Cylon God? And is faith in one true God a heresy
      against the Lords of Kobol? If so, what does it mean that this
      movement is now taking place among humans after having had such a
      foothold among the Cylons -- and perhaps been their impetus for
      destroying humanity in the first place? Certainly in our real world
      religion lies in the eye of the beholder. Is the eventual overthrow
      of the establishment simply an question of numbers?

      Sometimes it has nothing to do with the establishment. As the dying
      Emily says, "I don't need metaphors. I need answers." She's not the
      only one. A dramatic highlight in the episode is Laura's tale of her
      own mother's death, which to her revealed merely emptiness and
      nothing else. For Laura, at that young age, she saw only devastation.
      No comfort or reason to believe her mother was going to a better
      place. And it's a tough thing for her to talk about, all these years
      later. As Emily astutely points out, that experience was filtered
      through what *Laura* saw, not what the truth might actually have been
      for her mother. And that's the point here about faith. It's about the
      individual more than anything else.

      Later, Roslin has an experience where she apparently witnesses Emily
      crossing over into the afterlife. It's not a dream. It's ...
      something more. Faith. These are powerful images, despite their utter
      simplicity. "Faith" has things to ponder about big human questions.
      When Roslin wakes up and Emily is gone, in her bed is only Baltar's
      voice, on the radio. It really gets inside her head. Maybe there's
      actually something to what he's peddling.

      That this episode can raise so many recognizable real-world questions
      even though it exists in its own sci-fi universe is a testament to
      how truly it embodies the mission of science fiction. It is really
      about its characters, about us, about society, about issues in the
      real world.

      And I absolutely love that the ending of this episode is about
      emotions and characters and *not* about the plot. Yes, there is,
      previous to the final scene, a lot of plot-based buildup and a
      ticking clock that counts all the way down to zero. But, ultimately,
      the episode's send-off has nothing to do with any of it. The writers
      know that we know that the deadline crisis has been averted, and so
      they turn the ending inward to the characters.

      This attribute is a virtue of "Faith" that does not call any
      attention to itself whatsoever. But I must herald it, because it
      instead simply believes in its characters to connect with the
      audience and drive home the emotional points. It does so superbly.
      The final scene between Adama and Roslin -- which reveals Adama's
      emotional abandonment and how Roslin may be the very essence of his
      remaining soul -- is so straightforward and yet so moving. Here's an
      episode that knows it has enough plot to be a game-changer, and yet
      puts all its final efforts into finding just the right understated
      words, tone, and feelings between the admiral and the president.

      That's how it should be. This is an example of why the first 10
      episodes of BSG's fourth season are among the series' very strongest
      batch of shows.

      Copyright 2008, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
      Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is

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