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[BSG] Jammer's Review: "No Exit"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Note: This review contains significant spoilers. ... Battlestar Galactica: No Exit Ellen resurrects in the Cylon fleet and engages in an extended war of
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 24, 2009
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      Note: This review contains significant spoilers.

      -----
      Battlestar Galactica: "No Exit"

      Ellen resurrects in the Cylon fleet and engages in an extended war of
      words with Cavil. Anders suffers a serious brain injury, causing a
      flood of memories from Earth to return to him.

      Air date: 2/13/2009 (USA)
      Written by Ryan Mottesheard
      Directed by Gwyneth Horder-Payton

      Rating out of 4: ****

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      -----

      If I had to guess what the title "No Exit" means, it's that there's
      no known exit from the cycle of destruction that the children of
      Kobol have gone through, and presumably will continue to go through.
      All of this has happened before, and it will happen again. The famous
      proverb says that those who cannot remember the past are doomed to
      repeat it. In the case of the children of Kobol, they may all be
      doomed regardless -- but there may perhaps (repeat: perhaps) be hope,
      because the past has been preserved in the fragmented memories of the
      Final Five.

      "No Exit" may contain more information, confirmation, revelations,
      and answers than any singular episode of "Battlestar Galactica" ever
      made. This is a hard-core mythology episode, wall-to-wall with
      explanations and exposition, some of which is imparted at breakneck
      speed. I was riveted by nearly every minute of it. This episode may
      not have the visceral impact of an episode like "The Oath," but it
      compensates for that with a pure assault of details that will make
      your brain explode at the possibilities. This is fascinating material
      that does no less than reveal (or confirm) nearly every remaining
      secret involving the mysteries of the Tribes of Kobol. (That is,
      until the rug is ripped out from under us by whatever twist comes
      next.)

      Let it be said, the issues that weren't dealt with regarding the
      mutiny at the end of "Blood on the Scales" do not get sufficiently
      addressed here, in my view. And if they don't before it's all over,
      that will be a mark against the season at large, but mostly
      against "Blood on the Scales." But I will not hold that against "No
      Exit," which proceeds full-speed-ahead toward the end of the series,
      and does so very effectively.

      The story information pummels us on two fronts. On one front, we have
      Anders, who was shot in the head and has a bullet lodged in his
      brain. While being prepped for brain surgery to remove the bullet,
      his memory from his long-ago days on Earth comes rushing back. He
      tells Kara, "I remember everything."

      On the other front, we see what happened to Ellen Tigh, the last of
      the Final Five, after Saul poisoned her in "Exodus, Part 2." She was
      downloaded and resurrected aboard a Cylon ship, where she had an
      extended dialog (to the tune of 18 months) with Cavil.

      Both storylines are equally fascinating and equally jam-packed with
      answers, answers, answers. The beauty of all this is how it grows
      logically from what's already been established. BSG's mythology, I'm
      finding, is pretty much rock-solid. I think the secret to success is
      that the mythology basically plays fair with us. Even through all the
      twists and turns and curveballs the writers have thrown at us, the
      mythology has not egregiously violated any rule that came before. It
      has merely added new rules and puzzle pieces on top of what was
      there. The result is a tapestry that, miraculously, makes perfect
      sense when you step back and look at the big picture. What we see
      in "No Exit" doesn't come so much as a shock as the next logical
      progression and reasonable development of many threads whose
      groundwork had been clearly established, most recently in "Sometimes
      a Great Notion."

      And yet it's still a thrill to watch it all unfold. This is an hour
      filled with aha moments. When we learn, for example that the
      evolution of the Centurions was accelerated during their 40-year
      absence after leaving the Colonies because they came in contact with
      the Final Five, it makes sense. It fills in a gap that seemed
      somewhat inevitable -- so much so that I had guessed it in my review
      of "Notion." It was guessable precisely because it's based on a solid
      foundation where logic does in fact apply.

      Ellen's storyline picks up from her resurrection POV (a process that,
      visually, owes plenty to the "Matrix" films), and is brilliantly
      realized as a concept and as performed by Kate Vernon: She's at first
      horrified and lets out anguished shrieks, but then gradually becomes
      calm as she processes the memories now resupplied to her. She
      suddenly knows who and what she is. It's an intriguing
      transformation, sold with zero words.

      But first, let's put all the cards on the table in a nutshell of the
      overall mythic chronology: The 13 Tribes left Kobol 3,600 years ago
      after a war between man and Cylon. The 13th Tribe -- all biological
      humanoid Cylons -- went to Earth; the other 12 founded the Colonies.
      The 13th Tribe, who were capable of biological procreation, built
      their own mechanized Cylons and were destroyed in a holocaust 2,000
      years ago. Just before that holocaust, however, the Final Five were
      warned and reassembled the ancient technology of resurrection
      ("organic memory transfer") before the bombs fell. This technology
      was originally invented long before, on Kobol.

      The Final Five were resurrected on a ship orbiting Earth just after
      the holocaust; they then embarked on a journey to the Colonies to
      prevent the same fate (an uprising of persecuted Centurions), from
      befalling the 12 Colonies. Because they didn't have FTL technology
      and instead employed some other method of near-light-speed travel,
      the effects of relativity (or whatever; I'm not a physicist) caused
      time to slow down, and they aged only a short time while 2,000 years
      passed. By the time the Final Five met the Colonial Centurions, the
      first Cylon War had already happened and the Centurions had left the
      Colonies. The Final Five tried to teach the Centurions, who were
      already experimenting with humanoid Cylons (hence the Hybrids) how to
      embrace human qualities and agreed to help them construct the
      humanoid Cylons in exchange for a promise of peace between Cylon and
      human. But something went horribly wrong.

      That "something" is the crux of the drama here (apart from the reams
      of information). What went wrong is that after the humanoid Cylons
      were constructed, Model No. 1 (Cavil), whose given name was John,
      rebelled and killed the Final Five. When they downloaded, he blocked
      their real memories, gave them human identities, and put them on the
      Colonies, where his plan for revenge (the "Cylon Plan"?) subjected
      them to the fate of humanity. When they survived the holocaust of the
      12 Colonies, he put the Final Five through still more games, which
      neatly explains why so many of these people have suffered such
      hardships, like Saul being tortured on New Caprica. He did this out
      of a need to prove a point, so that when the Final Five eventually
      did return to the Cylons and regained their memories, they would see
      he was right all along about the distastefulness of humanity.

      My, what a neat, tidy package this is. I would call it contrived --
      but that word has such a negative connotation. Or perhaps we should
      simply embrace the word. Of course this is contrived. Truthfully, the
      whole series is a contrivance -- but a bold and brilliant one.

      Ellen's dialog with Cavil is intriguing. She and the other Final Five
      created him and the other seven humanoid Cylons (yes, seven; more on
      that in a moment). Indeed, Ellen thought of John/Cavil as one of her
      children. But Cavil views his existence only as a bad joke. He is a
      bitter, self-loathing creature who savagely hates humanity in no
      small part because he hates the limitations that being created in
      their image has brought him personally. His identity problems have
      left him twisted and evil. Some of Cavil's speeches reminded me of
      Agent Smith in the first "Matrix" movie, who also hated being cursed
      to live as a human when he believed himself to be a far superior AI
      being.

      Cavil has great intelligence, but he also reveals a great deal of
      emotional immaturity. In a sense, he is a petulant child who has
      greatly abused his power in terrible ways. When you consider that
      Ellen created Cavil in the image of her father, and thinks of her as
      a son, and that Cavil knew this (and at the time she didn't) while
      having sex with her on New Caprica -- well, that's just twisted and
      demented and disgusting and wrong. It constitutes a deviously sick
      joke of bizarre logic that seems all the more appropriate because
      Cavil thinks of himself as a machine, and of humanity as beneath him.
      And Ellen's presence here brings out the worst in him, even as she
      tries to offer him forgiveness and a road to redemption and assures
      him that she still loves him. Perhaps she even blames herself for all
      he's done.

      The dialog here is great stuff. It's not simply exposition (although
      exposition certainly is a big part of it). It's also philosophy and
      psychology, and provocative science fiction. It's storytelling that
      examines the concept of an AI that cannot come to grips with the fact
      that it was designed with limitations, and instead took the worst of
      its given human emotions and became Wrath unleashed, which had
      catastrophic consequences for humanity.

      Cavil says he wanted "justice" for what the humans did to the
      Centurions, but I think it goes even deeper than that, into the
      depths of his own self-loathing. The Final Five intended to stop the
      Centurions from destroying the 12 Colonies, but instead they may have
      hastened it. This notion of culpability is echoed elsewhere in the
      episode when Tigh and Tory argue over who's to blame for the cycle of
      destruction. Tory wants to blame the humans, because, well, the
      humans on Kobol made the Cylons, so it always goes back to the
      humans. You might as well argue about the chicken and the egg. Tigh
      is quite ready to own up to responsibility and move forward: "Maybe
      we share the guilt with the humans, but we don't just get to shove it
      off on them."

      We also learn about a mysterious 13th Cylon. Again, the notion of a
      13th Cylon seems inevitable in retrospect, if for no other reason
      than because of a need to balance the narrative scales. Just as the
      12 Colonies were missing their 13th sister tribe, the 12 Cylon models
      are missing their 13th sibling. That Cylon was named Daniel, and was
      destroyed when Cavil intentionally corrupted the genetic material of
      all the Daniel copies. I can't shake the feeling that Daniel's
      destruction has something to do with what Kara is. After all, there's
      long been speculation she might be a Cylon. Could it be she was the
      phoenix that rose from Daniel's ashes? This is an intriguing hint,
      and I'm dying to know where it's going.

      If there's a problem with the structure of the Ellen/Cavil dialog
      (and it's a minor one), it's that it purports to take place over the
      course of the full 18 months that Ellen has been away from the fleet.
      For that matter, I'm often left slightly lost about the amount of
      time that passes in the course of a BSG season. This episode also
      alleges that four months has already passed since the resurrection
      hub was destroyed in "The Hub." I don't know how that's possible,
      unless a lot of time -- nearly the entire four months, really -- went
      by off-screen in between "Sometimes a Great Notion" and "A Disquiet
      Follows My Soul." By my
      estimation, "Revelations," "Notion," "Disquiet," "Oath," and "Blood
      on the Scales" collectively only account for a few days, and this
      episode picks up only minutes or hours after "Blood." (I was
      similarly confused by Caprica Six's claim that there's been no
      alcohol around Tigh's quarters for weeks. Has she even *been* in his
      quarters for weeks? This again must come down to how long went by off-
      screen just before "Disquiet.")

      Worth noting is that not everything was orchestrated by the Final
      Five and/or by Cavil. The role of D'Anna seeing the faces of the
      Five, as well as the "All Along the Watchtower" song, were not
      planted in anyone's programming. Ellen argues they must've been
      orchestrated by the One True God, which, as it happens, was a concept
      that the Final Five learned from the Colonial Centurions; Ellen
      believed that it was through God that peace could be attained and the
      cycle of destruction broken, so she passed it on to the humanoid
      Cylons.

      After months of fencing, the turn in the Cavil/Ellen story comes when
      the hub is destroyed and Cavil wants Ellen to help build a new one.
      She says she needs all of the Final Five in order to do it. He
      threatens to probe her brain for answers. Cavil has by this point
      shown a capability to rise to any level of demonstrative villainy.
      It's finally at this point that Boomer, Cavil's own student, helps
      Ellen escape. (If you watch closely, the seed for this was planted at
      the outset, when Ellen asked Boomer to watch closely and make up her
      own mind.)

      The Ellen/Tigh dialog runs parallel with the equally compelling
      adventure in breathless revelations from Anders. There's so much
      information racing through Anders, and he tries to impart it to Kara
      and the other Final Four as fast as he can. It's exciting and at the
      same time excruciating, because it's clear just how much medical
      danger Anders is in.

      Again, the vast amount of exposition is wisely anchored to an
      emotional dilemma, namely Kara's tough spot where she wants answers
      as much as anyone (particularly the answer of whether she's the 13th
      Cylon), but has to play the role of the sensible wife and protect
      Sam's medical interests. Katee Sackhoff grounds these scenes in
      humanity, showing the emotional toll this takes.

      At a key moment, when time has run out, Anders urgently tells
      Tigh: "Stay with the fleet!" Could Tigh's Cylon baby be the salvation
      that breaks the cycle? And after Anders' surgery is successful, but
      his brain activity stops, what does that mean? It's as if his
      consciousness has tried to download out of his head, and has
      inexplicably gone missing.

      The third tier to the plot is about Galactica itself. Turns out that
      crack Tyrol found in the FTL room was merely the tip of the iceberg.
      Below decks there are cracks everywhere, and deep structural problems
      with the ship's main support beams. The ship is a ticking time bomb
      that could "fold like a book" at any moment. The metal of the ship is
      disintegrating everywhere because of old age, wear and tear. Adama,
      ever the pragmatist, restores Tyrol as chief and charges him with
      fixing the problem. But the only workable solution Tyrol comes up
      with is a Cylon technology: an organic resin that can grow into the
      metal and strengthen it.

      I gotta tell you: This gave me a bad feeling in my gut. Very bad.
      We're this close to the end of the series, and Galactica is on the
      verge of structural collapse, and the only cure may be worse than the
      disease. Adama has a bad feeling about it too. He balks initially and
      strenuously. But like everything else around him, options have
      dwindled. Doing nothing isn't an option. Meanwhile, Adama's drinking
      and pill-popping only seem to be getting more dire. When Adama is
      drinking more than Tigh, that can't be good. This plot, more than
      anything, filled me with intense unease.

      "No Exit" seems to describe the dilemma of all these people. Either
      doomed by their natures into repeating their mistakes, or doomed by
      fate while trying not to.

      --
      Some bulleted footnotes:

      * Roslin grieves for the Quorum on Colonial One, which is about the
      only fallout shown regarding the mutiny storyline. I could've gone
      for more navel-gazing and at least a hint at what happened to
      Racetrack, Seelix, et al, but we don't get it here. We also don't get
      Roslin resuming her role as president. She says she will keep the
      title, but wants Lee to remain as de facto president. Will there even
      be a government from here on out?

      * I dug the new "Cylons were created by man" opening. Nicely done,
      and much better than the similar previous openings. When it
      says, "One was sacrificed," the suggestion is that it was Ellen, but
      as it turns out, I think the one they were actually referring to was
      Daniel.

      * When Boomer is brought in by Cavil to be an audience to his and
      Ellen's war of wills, and it's clear Cavil is sleeping with Boomer,
      Ellen says: "What about the swirl? Has he taught you that yet?"

      * "Daily Show" Resident Expert John Hodgeman is the fleet's resident
      brain surgeon. Worth a grin.

      * For the record, the 13 Cylon models: (1) Cavil, (2) Leoben, (3)
      D'Anna, (4) Simon, (5) Doral, (6) Six, (7) Daniel, (8) Sharon, and
      the Final Five, who are not numbered. When they labeled Sharon as No.
      8, I wonder if the writers had any clue where this would end up. My
      guess is no. Very clever how they have filled in the blanks.

      -----
      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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