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[BSG] Jammer's Review: "Sometimes a Great Notion"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Note: This review contains significant spoilers. ... Battlestar Galactica: Sometimes a Great Notion The crew of Galactica investigates its biggest
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 23, 2009
      Note: This review contains significant spoilers.

      Battlestar Galactica: "Sometimes a Great Notion"

      The crew of Galactica investigates its biggest discoveries yet
      concerning Earth, which deal a crushing blow to the morale of the
      fleet and its leaders.

      Air date: 1/16/2009 (USA)
      Written by Bradley Thompson & David Weddle
      Directed by Michael Nankin

      Rating out of 4: ****

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

      "Sometimes a Great Notion" is a true companion episode to the final
      shot of "Revelations." There is a great deal of information supplied
      by this story, with several more secrets revealed about Earth --
      enough to really get the speculative juices flowing -- but there is
      no plot in the conventional sense. This is a character piece, marked
      by stellar performances, that takes the final shot of "Revelations"
      and depicts its fallout for the hour's duration. "Revelations"
      provided the big reveal, and "Notion" compellingly, vividly,
      devastatingly documents the consequences.

      As I said before, Earth is not going to save these people. Indeed,
      quite the contrary: From the evidence here, it might hasten their
      demise, because finding it as a barren, uninhabitable wasteland has
      now stripped away the one thing that has kept many people in this
      fleet going: hope. Hope that the journey had a destination and that
      their unremitting daily hell would one day end.

      The episode opens with a series of simple, powerful shots that
      stretch out the emotions of the final minute of "Revelations" --
      characters wordlessly looking at the landscape of a destroyed
      Manhattan-like city on the opposite side of a riverfront. They sift
      helplessly through rubble, ruins, and dirt. Dee finds a child's game
      of jacks, and she just loses it. "Let's get outta here," Adama
      eventually grumbles. When Roslin gets back to Galactica, words
      completely fail. There's nothing she can say to express this kind of
      crushing disappointment, and no way to spin it into anything remotely
      positive. So she says nothing. She just walks away.

      On the planet surface, investigations continue. It's here that we get
      the most intriguing new facts about Earth and how it fits into the
      mythos. Surveys show that the planet was nuked about 2,000 years ago.
      The metallic head of an ancient Centurion is found -- and it's a
      model not known to the Cylons. And in the biggest twist yet, analysis
      of skeletal remains reveals that the people who lived here were all
      Cylons. Yes, the Pythian-prophesied 13th Tribe of Kobol were
      *Cylons*. They came to this planet and called it Earth.

      What does this mean??? That's right -- three question marks. And I
      never use more than one (because it's bad form). The possibilities
      put forth by what's shown here are tantalizing. If the 13th Tribe
      were all Cylons, does that perhaps hint at the reasons for the
      original exodus from Kobol 3,600 years ago? Which in turn led to the
      formation of the 12 Colonies? And then there's the fact that the 13th
      Tribe was destroyed 2,000 years ago in its own nuclear holocaust,
      presumably by the Centurions that they created, but, well, maybe not.

      Here's a theory that occurred to me, although one that might be
      quickly debunked: What if *everyone* is a Cylon? What's the
      difference, exactly, between a human and a humanoid Cylon?

      Forget that for now. How about this: There's an assumption that the
      seven non-Final-Five humanoid Cylons somehow evolved, within 40
      years, from the Centurions that were created by man. But what if they
      didn't? What if they are a completely different race that originated
      from the 13th Tribe? Or at the very least evolved because of some
      mysterious interaction with survivors of the 13th Tribe? I could go
      on like this for some time. (Ironically, this isn't even what this
      episode is really about.)

      We also get some more clues about the Final Five. Being on Earth
      gives them flashes of 2,000-year-old memories. Tyrol sees a black
      burn mark on a wall. It's what's left of himself; he remembers being
      blown up, right here, in a nuclear blast. Creepy. Anders remembers
      playing the Cylon cover of "All Along the Watchtower." While I don't
      believe for a second that he could, as he does here, find a partially
      intact musical instrument just inches below the dirt after 2,000
      years, it's still intriguing as all hell: "That song that switched us
      on -- I played it." How did the Final Five, who were on Earth 2,000
      years ago, get to the Colonies with these repressed memories?

      Then there's Kara. She and Leoben track down the signal that led the
      fleet to Earth, and this builds our slow realization of an inevitable
      conclusion. In a creepy sequence, Kara finds her own decomposed body
      in the destroyed cockpit of her Viper. Her dog tags are still around
      the corpse's neck. Yes, she really *did* die at the end
      of "Maelstrom." It was one thing to watch Kara blow up and then come
      back amid an air of mystery. It's quite another thing when we
      actually see her body -- when *she* sees her body. There's something
      deeply unsettling about the way the corpse is just ... there --
      providing an austere, incontrovertible fact that now forces her to
      deal with the reality she has maybe known all along. *"If that's me
      lying there, what am I?!"*

      Leoben, usually the confident prophet with all the handy answers, is
      speechless. He backs away slowly, like he's afraid of what Kara might
      actually be, since she's clearly not what he was sure she was. "I was
      wrong," he says. "About everything." You've never seen Leoben this
      lost, and you realize here that the revelations on Earth are going to
      affect the Cylons every bit as much as the Colonials. Later, in a
      nicely photographed and edited sequence, Kara builds herself a
      funeral pyre. Wrap you brain around *that*.

      But I've still not gotten to the real meat of "Notion," which is in
      watching things go to hell in a handbasket on Galactica. Take, for
      example, Roslin burning the Book of Pythia and skipping her cancer
      therapy. Basically, she has given up. She is broken. She curses the
      fact that Adama ever listened to her about Earth, about anything.
      Mary McDonnell's performance is devastating. Roslin's emotional
      state? "Dire" might be the word.

      Then there's Dee. The sudden refocus on Dualla and Lee and their
      relationship had me initially perplexed: Is her sudden prominence
      here a setup because she's the final Cylon? No. Something else
      entirely. Her action here represents the ultimate act of surrender,
      while at the same time the ultimate act of taking control of what may
      be the only thing she, or anyone, has any control over -- the ending
      of her life. In the show's most truly shocking moment that I didn't
      see coming, Dee puts a gun to her head and pulls the trigger. It's
      all the more jarring because she seems so happy just before she does

      This works as raw shock value, but it works for reasons beyond that.
      It works because it rings true psychologically and because it says
      something about hope and loss, about limits and the human ability to
      cope. This series is not afraid of killing off prominent characters,
      and in this case it has chosen its moment aptly. This woman has
      decided she has simply had enough. She's done.

      The fallout's fallout: Lee and Adama in the morgue, pondering why Dee
      would do this. Adama is unabashedly drunk (and it's a brilliant
      performance; Edward James Olmos nails the confluence of emotions as
      filtered through a believable alcoholic haze). He offers Lee a drink.
      Lee refuses, and look at that steely resolve in his eye. Alcohol is
      not going to be his solution. Then again, there are no solutions.

      Then there's that superb shot that follows Adama through the
      corridors on his way to Tigh's quarters, as the ship spins utterly
      out of control. People huddle in the hallways in despair and apathy.
      Two men are in a fight, and Adama doesn't even acknowledge
      them. "FRAK EARTH" is spray-painted on the wall. The best word here,
      again, is "dire." If this is not Galactica hitting bottom, I fear
      what we may see in upcoming episodes.

      This leads to the hour's dramatic showpiece, where Adama attempts to
      commit suicide-by-Tigh. It's a masterpiece of depicting the entropy
      of the fleet via the microcosm of these two old friends. The cavalier
      sense of drunk Adama ("Sit down, Cylon!") is entertaining in its
      weird, offbeat way (mostly because you can enjoy the rawness of the
      performance), but it quickly turns into a very tense, painful,
      dangerous, sad situation. Adama says awful things to Tigh, and
      ultimately turns his bile toward Ellen, the one subject he knows will
      provoke a reaction in Tigh. He *wants* Tigh to shoot him. Olmos goes
      all-out in a performance of unfiltered ugliness. Just look at that
      mug, for crissakes.

      And how about that Tigh? Once again, this guy's the epitome of
      awesomeness, taking the higher road in the interest of the fleet and
      talking sense into Adama when he most needs it. I wanted to cheer
      him. If an argument needs to be made that Adama and Tigh's friendship
      should survive Tigh's outing as a Cylon, that argument is right here,
      because Tigh has this guy's back when things are at their bleakest.
      Adama hits bottom, Tigh talks him through it, and there's a sense
      that maybe, for now, the corner has been turned. Adama subsequently
      makes a speech to attempt to bring some solace to the fleet.

      If I'm burying the lead here in saying that we also find out Ellen is
      the final Cylon -- well, that's because the episode itself buries the
      lead. Maybe because it's not really the point and never should've
      been. Ellen's reveal doesn't play as a shocking revelation so much as
      another piece of character development for Tigh. I think it's a wise
      choice to reveal this now and in this manner. It defuses our
      expectations and instead invites us to ponder its meaning. Tigh has a
      flashback to 2,000 years ago on Earth. Ellen was his wife then, too,
      just before the nukes went off. "Everything's in place," she told
      him. "We'll be reborn together."

      So Cylon resurrection was apparently invented by the 13th Tribe two
      millennia ago. What does it mean that Ellen and Saul Tigh have had a
      relationship that has spanned (at least) two lifetimes? There must be
      a special significance to that, and to them. Everything has happened
      before, and will happen again. It's just unclear exactly
      what "everything" is. "Sometimes a Great Notion" demonstrates that
      this series is about its characters and their personal mysteries. The
      story value of the final Cylon is not in who it is. It's going to be
      in why it is -- and its part in the larger, ever-expanding BSG mythos.

      Copyright 2009, 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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