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[BSG] Jammer's Review: "The Hub"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Note: This review contains significant spoilers. ... Battlestar Galactica: The Hub Despite some uncertainty, a joint Colonial/Cylon mission is undertaken to
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 17, 2009
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      Note: This review contains significant spoilers.

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      Battlestar Galactica: "The Hub"

      Despite some uncertainty, a joint Colonial/Cylon mission is
      undertaken to destroy the Cylon resurrection hub and make the entire
      Cylon race mortal.

      Air date: 6/6/2008 (USA)
      Written by Jane Espenson
      Directed by Paul Edwards

      Rating out of 4: ***1/2

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      -----

      Not every series could or would attempt to put such a huge question
      mark at the end of an episode, then go the entire subsequent episode
      without even *one scene* from the point of view of the characters
      most crucially involved in that question. But not every series has as
      many players as "Battlestar Galactica" and gives them such equal
      emphasis. Take, for example, the exceptionally superb "The Shield."
      It's also arc driven, but in terms of screen time, it's a little more
      biased toward Vic Mackey and the Strike Team. I don't think BSG has
      such a bias. It has a lot of characters and gives them all a lot of
      play. That's just a simple observation, not an opinion on whether one
      approach is inherently better than the other.

      When you look at the three-episode structure of "Guess What's Coming
      to Dinner?", "Sine Qua Non," and now "The Hub," it's rather sublime.
      Rather than having three parts told chronologically, where we'd be
      crosscutting between all the characters, the writers have crafted two
      separate "part twos." The first part two addresses the story from the
      characters in the fleet, and the second part two addresses it from
      the characters on the basestar. Both episodes span the same time
      frame. It's fundamentally a simple concept, but also crafty.

      I think it makes sense because the stories involved, while operating
      on a common thread, have very different themes. Even if told
      chronologically it would still necessitate two episodes of screen
      time. So by separating them and telling the stories on their own,
      they've actually made it easier to sustain narrative momentum in each
      thread. I admire that approach. It was also probably one of
      necessity; to show all of what goes on in each of these two episodes
      at the same time would not be easy. The story has grown so big that
      subplots have their own subplots.

      But I'm getting too hung up on structure here. "The Hub" works
      because it's big, it's epic, it's emotional, and it's a major turning
      point in the BSG storyline. At the same time, it's also an intimate
      character study of Laura Roslin, who is very aware of her inevitable
      death, and realizes in her dreams/experiences/visions here that being
      the president has made her hard. The visions come every time the
      basestar makes an FTL jump. An FTL jump aboard this ship apparently
      has a special knack for bringing insight to people who need it. I
      like the notion itself that while you're in mid-jump, you might exist
      somewhere between reality and post-reality. It's kind of creepy, and
      also kind of comforting.

      In these visions Roslin sees herself on her deathbed and is guided by
      the long-dead Priest Elosha, with whom Roslin was very close, and who
      laments the humanity Roslin has lost: "You don't love people," Elosha
      tells her. We realize in these scenes how the burden of being
      president has taken its toll on Roslin's soul. If indeed it's true
      that she doesn't love people, it's probably because she feels she
      can't afford to.

      Back in the real world, the Hybrid's jumps are actually based on her
      own instincts; she's following the signatures left by the jumping
      resurrection hub, which means the daring attack plan might not be
      lost. If the Colonials can get into position once the basestar is in
      the hub's vicinity, they can launch their attack and destroy the
      Cylon resurrection ability forever.

      The Hybrid also continues to speak its gibberish, which Roslin and
      Baltar mostly fruitlessly attempt to decode (both have experienced
      the Opera House) in strange quasi-comic scenes where they're both
      yelling at the Hybrid and trying to get its attention. I didn't think
      all the yelling worked as comedy or drama; it was merely loud
      goofiness. But in the Hybrid's gibberish we do learn that she knows
      Renegade Six was killed on Galactica, and a Sharon copy refers to her
      as "Natalie." (Like Pegasus Six aka "Gina" of season two, it's not
      until the character has been killed on-screen that we actually learn
      her name -- hence the reason I've never used it in a review before,
      despite the fact SciFi.com revealed it before season four even
      started. It's not canon 'til it's on the screen.)

      "The Hub" also keeps minor subplots alive in the background. For
      example, a prominent "guest" character here (played by a regular
      actor) is a copy of Sharon that knows how to massage Helo's
      shoulders. How does she know what only Helo's wife knew? Because she
      has accessed Athena's memories that were stored after she was last
      killed/downloaded (see "Rapture"). I'll henceforth call this Sharon
      clone Athena-2. This is a bizarre turn of events and a unique
      violation of Helo's trust and Athena's individuality (although one
      wonders if Athena expected to retain that privacy having gone through
      the download process), and it serves to remind Helo (and us) of the
      real difference between humans and Cylons. As long as this
      downloading process exists, it will always serve as a reminder that
      these people maybe aren't people in the true sense, because they
      cannot die. It's all the more interesting to ponder what it will mean
      to the Cylons when that capability is gone.

      So the Colonials' daring plan goes ahead: A surprise attack on the
      hub's FTL drive will disable it so an extended attack can be launched
      and the Vipers can get in close enough to nuke it. This surprise
      attack will require the Vipers to be powered off and towed via cable
      by Cylon Heavy Raiders under the guise of a peaceful approach. It
      also means the human Viper pilots must put full trust in their Cylon
      allies amid a very tenuous alliance. Athena-2 makes an impassioned
      plea to the Viper pilots to trust her and the other Cylons like just
      they trust Athena-1. (Complicated enough?) What's important to note
      about this battle plan is that it's not based on complicated,
      meaningless technical or strategic details; it's about the more human
      military aspects, like trusting your ally not to betray you, and your
      wingman not to screw up.

      But trust only goes so far. When it comes to the plan to rescue
      D'Anna, who knows the identities of the Final Five, Roslin takes no
      chances; she orders Helo to bring D'Anna straight to her after she's
      unboxed and (inevitably, successfully, by episode's end) rescued from
      the hub. Helo, always the man with a code who wants to do the right
      thing, objects to this deception. When he argues for trust in the
      Cylon allies -- like he trusts his wife -- Roslin has a coolly
      delivered response: "You are not married to the entire production
      line." Fair enough; Cylon copies are individuals, and as such, you
      can't simply trust them all to behave monolithically.

      The actual attack on the hub is a powerful sequence. It features a
      beautiful, wonderfully realized visual effects sequence and a
      haunting score by Bear McCreary. It has an epic, poetic -- even
      mournful -- sweep to it. The reason it works so well is because the
      creative staff is keenly aware that this is not a typical visceral
      action sequence; it's an emotional piece about the very nature of the
      Cylon existence, and how humanity and rebel Cylons have teamed up to
      fundamentally change that existence. The gravity of what's happening
      is fully conveyed through editing, through music, through feelings.
      In short, after this happens, everything will be different. The
      question is how.

      If "The Hub" has a flaw, it's that its scenes cut away from
      themselves to other threads and these transitions don't always feel
      organic. Crosscutting typically isn't a problem on this series (and
      it happens all the time), but here, when there's a major space
      battle, it has to be done with extreme care, and I thought that some
      of this at times felt like explosivus interruptus. The transition
      that cuts away from the battle to Baltar standing in a corridor,
      talking to a Centurion, has an odd momentum-killing quality. We go
      instantly from the macro to the micro: The Cylons are about to lose
      their resurrection ability, and Baltar is giving a religious
      monologue to a robot.

      And yet there's something hilariously perfect about Baltar pointing
      out to a Centurion that it's the low man on the totem pole -- a
      slave, in fact -- and preaching to it the word of God. Baltar's
      evangelical mandate apparently now includes toasters. (Reminding me:
      We've heard "skinjob" a lot lately; "toaster" not so much). The
      fallout from the Centurions' sentience inhibitors being removed
      in "Six of One" hasn't been explored; I hope the issue returns in
      future episodes. Perhaps this is a hint of such.

      Baltar is seriously wounded when the wall explodes behind him, and
      the only one on hand to treat him is Roslin, and this leads to a
      particularly intriguing scene. Roslin bandages him, and Baltar uses
      this opportunity to explain to her his enlightenment of faith.

      The evolution of Baltar from an atheist to the leading voice of the
      monotheistic movement has been quite a journey. If I wasn't quite
      convinced by it in "Escape Velocity," I most definitely am now. This
      is a true character journey that finds a way to connect the dots.
      Baltar even uses faith as a way to wash away his past sins (and
      perhaps that was one reason that necessitated his conversion: so he
      could forgive himself). In demonstrating that notion he finally
      confesses to Roslin his biggest sin of all -- that he gave up the
      access codes that allowed the Cylons to destroy the Colonies. Bang.
      Cards on the table. He juxtaposes himself to a Noah-like flood as
      described in Colonial scriptures: "Nobody blames the flood. The flood
      is a force of nature. Through the flood, mankind is rejuvenated and
      born again. I was not a flood. I blamed myself. God made the man that
      made that choice. God made us all perfect."

      Hearing this is too much for Roslin, and she has a key decision here
      where she decides that Gaius Baltar must die to pay for his sins. She
      is prepared to let him bleed to death. She won't kill Baltar, but she
      won't save him, either. Is this the same as putting Baltar in the
      hands of God?

      In Roslin's final vision, Elosha tells her that doling out death
      penalties cannot be done case by case. Roslin watches herself die,
      and sees the devastation it causes Adama. It's a powerful scene and
      it informs not only her epiphany about her relationship with Adama,
      but also her decision to make an about-face and save Baltar.
      Fascinating stuff. Watch Roslin's desperation as she tries to save
      Baltar, and avert her own massive sin.

      Lastly, the Adama/Roslin relationship pays of here in wonderful
      fashion. Simply put, they love each other, and finally that fact is
      embraced and acknowledged. As a payoff, this is a revelation, and
      I'll tell you why. Love that is fully earned, so that you get true
      buy-in from the audience, is really hard to depict adequately on the
      screen. Really, really hard. Dysfunctional romances and coy trifles
      are a dime a dozen. But the kind of grown-up, mature, comfortable,
      trusting, fully complementing, intellectually aligned relationship
      that is Adama and Roslin -- it's a big deal to pull off convincingly.
      This is a relationship that has been built on hours of nuanced
      storytelling and terrific performances by Edward James Olmos and Mary
      McDonnell, and when it comes together like it does in this final
      moment, it must be singled out for praise.

      --
      Footnote: I couldn't shoehorn this naturally into the general
      discussion, but I still wanted to mention the episode's big fake-out,
      when D'Anna tells Roslin that she's the final Cylon and then has a
      good laugh over the lie. Even the music plays along. Fun stuff,
      albeit cheeky.

      -----
      Copyright 2009, 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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