Note: This review contains significant spoilers.
Battlestar Galactica: "Islanded in a Stream of Stars"
The battlestar Galactica faces an uncertain future as Adama comes to the slow realization that the ship may be beyond repair and no longer capable of defending the fleet.
Air date: 3/6/2009 (USA)
Written by Michael Taylor
Directed by Edward James Olmos
Rating out of 4: ***1/2
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"I've had it up to here with destiny, prophecy, with God, or the Gods. Look where it's left us -- the ass end to nowhere. Nearly half of our people are gone, Earth a worthless cinder, and I can't even walk down the halls of my ship without wondering if I'm going to catch a bullet for getting us into this mess."
"Islanded in a Stream of Stars" is a contemplative meditation on death that's light on plot and heavy on characterization. In its quiet and foreboding way, it is riveting. As the calm before what must be the inevitable storm (part one of the finale airs next week), "Islanded" does exactly what it sets out to do. It reminds us that death can be a slow and gradual process that is devastating precisely because it is both inevitable and apparent. Is it better to go out with a sudden surprised bang, or a prolonged all-too-aware whimper?
In this case, the one dying is Galactica herself, who is in its painful death throes right alongside Roslin, as if they share a fate that's tied together. As we approach the end of Galactica the series, it would seem we've already reached the end of Galactica the battlestar. If there is going to be another major confrontation between the Colonials and Cavil's Cylons, it will apparently not be fought by this ship. Galactica creaks and groans and feels as if it might disintegrate at any moment. The shockwave from Boomer's FTL jump only further weakened an already hurting ship (even if we've never before seen evidence that an FTL jump could cause this sort of potential destruction; so it goes). The installation of the organic resin, undertaken by a massive repair effort for weeks, has apparently done little if any good. Structural collapse of the ship seems, at this point, a foregone conclusion; it's just a matter of when. An engineer says the ship has at most five FTL jumps before there's a 90 percent chance of structural collapse. (This begs the episode's biggest unanswered question: Where's Tyrol? He's conspicuously absent -- neither seen nor mentioned. Has he been cashiered off-screen for his involvement in "Someone's" mess?)
The new civilian government, now in place, is arguing over who will get the leftovers when Galactica is eventually stripped for parts. Sonja, the Six copy who is the Cylon representative in the council, wants to know when Adama will transfer his personnel and command over to the baseship. And there's a harrowing early sequence where a work detail, representing the last real hope in trying to repair the ship, faces a catastrophe when a hole in the hull causes the chamber to decompress. Dozens are killed. As a failed repair effort, it may be the last straw.
The episode is about, among other things, Adama's refusal to accept the inevitable, which is best put into words when Helo says, "This ship is dead!" I saw an article where Ron Moore said that the decline and slow death of Galactica serves as an emotional parallel to us as viewers not wanting this series to inevitably, before our eyes, go away. He's right; it's a good meta-allegory. It might seem expected that Galactica could be destroyed in the series' final episodes. But what seems more natural -- and, paradoxically, less expected -- is the notion that Galactica might die a gradual death before our eyes -- one that is foreseen and gives the characters the time and forethought to put up an effort to (futilely) stop it from happening ... much like Laura Roslin the cancer patient.
Laura, by the way, is back in sickbay, for what one cannot help but think might be the last time. Once again, Bill reads to her. These scenes comprise an emotional texture to an episode that is, really, all about texture. They have a discussion about that day on New Caprica (see "Unfinished Business") where the concept of "home" seemed actually possible. Laura says that the last few months, aboard Galactica with Bill, have made her feel at home more than any other time in her life. Home is not about where you are, but who you're with.
"Must be tough saying goodbye to both of your women at once," she notes. If Adama (or anyone, for that matter), survives to the end of the series, he will have lost so much it may be too much to bear. Roslin pleads with Adama to face reality before it's too late: "I know you love this ship. You probably love her more than you love me. Bill, if you don't get us off this ship you may lose both of us at the same time. Why don't you give us a chance?"
Of course, there are plenty of other goings-on here. For one, we've got the return of the Opera House, which has shown itself once again to Roslin, Athena, and Caprica Six. (It was noted in a line of Roslin's dialog in "Deadlock": What does it mean that there were no Opera House visions during Caprica Six's pregnancy?) In the case of Athena, the visions might very well be driving her mad. It doesn't help that it's a reminder of the fact that her daughter has been stolen from her. She can barely stand the sight of her husband, whose error in the mistaken Boomer identity led, in part, to Hera's kidnapping.
Hera, of course, is especially significant. With Tyrol's kid actually turning out to be Hot Dog's, and with Caprica Six's miscarriage, Hera is the only part-Cylon child left. Not to mention the fact that she wrote the notes to The Song. So we must go after her, because she's "the key" to everything, right? Adama isn't so keen about that; he's had enough of prophecy and destiny, which has mostly had bad results. (Then again, without prophecy and destiny, these characters might've had equally bad results. It wouldn't have changed the fact that the dark-centric Ron Moore is the God pulling the strings.)
Ellen says Boomer most likely took Hera to the mysterious Cylon colony, their home that we've never seen. It takes some pressing to get Adama to commit even a Raptor to make a recon trip to the colony's last known location, which, as it turns out, Cavil moved. (It's worth noting that the Cylons don't want to be found any more than the humans wanted to be found on New Caprica. When you have your entire civilization to protect, you seal your borders.)
There's excellent character work here for Tigh and Ellen, who argue over the merits of being Cylons. Ellen wants him to invest in Hera as the future of the Cylon race, but Tigh still, after everything, is a Colonial military officer, period. His people are the people of Galactica. He might even be more stubborn about his commitment to the uniform than Adama. I love that about him. It speaks to a stubborn moral code that cannot be shaken, despite every indication that there is something out there that should trump it. This is a man who has an identity and will be damned if anyone's gonna take it away. Although, when Tigh coldly remarks that he had a child who died, Ellen has a point worth thinking about: "You're wrong, Saul. You had *millions*." Because they created the Cylon skinjobs.
An Eight lies dying in sickbay. She wants Tigh to hold her hand, because she just wants a chance to meet her father. Emotionally, it's an intriguing moment. Tigh resists because he doesn't feel he deserves the God treatment. Intellectually, the scene is intriguing because the Eight's dying words are, without any context, "too much confusion." Whoa. Even the children of the Five have The Song buried in their minds.
Meanwhile, we've got Baltar, still out there on the radio preaching notions that continue to draw a sizable audience (as evidenced by the council member who asks Lee what Baltar has to say about a situation that Baltar has absolutely nothing to do with). Baltar keeps talking about the "angels" he sees in the form of Head Six. The thing about Baltar is that you never know where his psychological confusion ends and his BS begins. At this point, I believe that he believes Head Six could be an angel. But I also think he uses that tenuous belief as an excuse to say things on the radio that will get him the biggest audience possible.
There's a brief scene where Baltar encounters Caprica Six for the first time in a long time. Since the second half of season three when they've both been on Galactica, I think this might be the first time, unless you count the whole issue regarding the pen during his trial. It's fair to say the whole Caprica Six/Baltar relationship has been eschewed by the writers in favor of the Tigh/Six relationship this season. That might not have been a bad idea, but I'm still glad to see the relationship finally revisited here, where she basically rejects him on the basis of her belief that she has fundamentally changed and he has not. This realization wounds Baltar fairly significantly.
And then there's poor Samuel "Persistent Vegetative State" Anders. Out of a last-ditch hope, the Cylons have hooked him up to Galactica's computer like a Hybrid, and apparently even Cottle has given up and agreed to drop any objections. This is one of those situations where it might've been useful to have more details as to how we got here (or perhaps not, since I honestly have no desire for technobabble explanations), but the writers of late have been more interested in joining situations in progress. What's important here is how Anders has essentially become a zombie who occasionally talks like a Hybrid and will probably never recover to become a person. Kara goes in to do the equivalent of pulling him off life support (via a bullet) before strange events intercede. It can't be good that now even Anders is calling Kara "the harbinger of death." And how about the way Anders' eyes blink in unison with the flickering lights? Bizarre.
And then Helo. He begs Adama to let him take a Raptor to look for his daughter on what would obviously be a fruitless suicide mission. Adama can't let him do it, and it's a great example of reason trumping emotion. That emotion is raw and searing. Helo's anguish is palpable and immediate even as you can see he's doing his absolute best to contain it. It's a painful scene, made all the more interesting when Helo turns the tables and tells Adama that he's every bit as guilty for not being able to let logic prevail. There's nothing that can be done for Hera, but nor is the case for Galactica -- and Adama, like Helo, is clinging to baseless hope above all else.
Also, there's a line here that I must comment on: Just how many times in the course of the series has Adama looked at one of his officers, given them a directive and then solemnly asked, "Do you understand?" It's happened so often that I have little doubt it's an ongoing in-joke among the writers. I had to finally mention it after all these years, seeing as I'm running out of chances.
Boomer. She's taking kidnapped Hera to the mysterious Cylon colony. Along the way, she relents and tries to comfort Hera, even inviting the toddler to her Cylon-projected house of comfort, which brings a certain amount of calm to Hera (who is able to perform Cylon projection). Eventually, Boomer arrives at the colony, which is good for some impressively imagined CGI shots. When Boomer turns Hera over to Cavil, it tears Boomer up, and we see just how deeply conflicted Boomer as a person is. She's been all over the map since "Downloaded." How did she become such a disciple of Cavil, and what will her role be in these final episodes?
I said at the outset that this episode was a meditation on death. Take, for example, the multi-tiered approach to the funeral for those who died in the work detail. Adama's service is very military oriented, very secular -- whereas, on the other hand, the Cylons' and Baltar's services are more spiritual and religious. It's an interesting contrast. But it's not as interesting as the meditation on death by those who have died before.
Kara. She asks Baltar to run an analysis on her former self's dog tags to get to the truth of what finding her body on Earth actually meant. Baltar confirms with scientific evidence that Kara did, in fact, die there. The implications of Baltar outing Kara after the funeral service are fascinating. On a character level it's very Baltar -- self-serving, wrong-headed, classic grandstanding. But it also presents scenarios for those out there looking for hope. If Kara could cross over and resurrect, could anyone potentially have that ability? I mentioned earlier this season the possibility that anyone could be a "Cylon"; maybe all that means is that you resurrected via technology rather than having children. This seems to be what Baltar is hinting at here. But ... if indeed Kara is the daughter of Seventh Cylon Daniel, well then she's a hybrid and all bets are off. Either way, it's intriguing.
What's key is that this plot point finds a 100 percent character moment between Kara and Lee, where he basically tells Kara that no matter what she is or how she came back, it doesn't matter. He's here, she's here, they're alive, and she can feel it when he touches her. That's what matters. I absolutely loved the moment where Kara is able to find her peace in this madness: The grin of calm serenity and acceptance on her face says more than dozens of lines of dialog ever could. And then she puts a picture of herself on the memorial wall. It's simultaneously a moment of tragic melancholy and joyous victory. Starbuck may have died, but she lives again because she can accept that fact.
It's one of many great moments. "Islanded" is sold on its performances and texture, right down to its final scenes of Adama's acceptance that Galactica cannot continue on its mission. He concedes that fact in a dramatic, private, emotional breakdown where he throws paint at a wall. It's an actor's showpiece, and one that works, but far more effective is the scene where Adama tells Tigh that it's time to abandon the ship. Tigh's initial reaction is perfect: "No! I can't let you do this. I won't!" If there's one man who might hold onto Galactica longer than Adama, it's Tigh.
You know, when BSG is over, what I'm probably going to miss more than anything is the friendship between Adama and Tigh. Here are two men who have been through everything. They've been through the most fundamental reanalyses of who they thought they were. And yet they know who they are. They are each other's friends. They have each other's backs no matter what. In a world where you can't take anything for granted, that means something.
Copyright 2009, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
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