Note: This review contains significant spoilers.
Battlestar Galactica: "Daybreak, Part 1"
As the residents and crew of the battlestar Galactica pack up to abandon the ship and strip it for parts, Adama realizes he must use the ship for one final mission.
Air date: 3/13/2009 (USA)
Written by Ronald D. Moore
Directed by Michael Rymer
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"I know what you are. You're my daughter. Don't forget it." -- Adama to Kara
The byzantine complexity that is the mythos of "Battlestar Galactica"ultimately, in the first hour of the three-hour series finale, comes down to agrand gesture of spectacular simplicity. Adama draws a red line down the middleof the hangar deck and asks everyone to make a choice. If you choose yes, youstand on this side of the line. If you choose no, you stand on that side of theline. It could not be more simple. It also could not be more difficult.
To choose yes might very well mean to choose death. "Battlestar Galactica" --despite its complex mythos, its prophecy of a cyclical pattern of repetition,its characters who are pulled by the apparent hand of destiny, and thepossibility of a Higher Power Orchestrating Everything -- is nevertheless stilla series about making choices. Everyone has to choose what they believe, andwhat they're willing to do in pursuit of that belief.
To review "Daybreak, Part 1" is to review the first act of a three-act play: Amore inconclusive exercise may not be possible, especially when you considerthat "Daybreak" was obviously designed from the outset to be viewed in a singlesitting. Because it's three hours long, Sci Fi had little choice but to split itacross two air dates. (And thank the Gods this series is ending before I have tostart calling the network by its forthcoming moniker, "SyFy." Corporate idiots.)To rate it on the rating scale would be pointless. A reader suggested recentlythat I simply drop the star system. Not a bad idea, but rating scales exist fora simple reason: They're fun. I'm not going to give up the star system because,well, I don't want to.
I am, however, withholding a rating on "Daybreak" until its conclusion, because(1) it's my prerogative, and (2) what, honestly, is the point of ratingone-third of a series finale? "Daybreak, Part 1" does not end on a question orcliffhanger; it merely stops at an act-out when time expires. The structure,which features numerous flashbacks with setup sans payoff, is in many casesinconclusive. Thus so will be this review. (Future Jammer speaking: If you'rereading this review based on watching a DVD set where "Daybreak" is combinedinto the single finale it was intended to be, I apologize for the split review-- but also pat myself on the back for being a prophet capable of predicting thefuture.)
"Daybreak" announces up front that This Is The End with arty opening shots of agalaxy, a planet, flowing water, a bird. The story opens on Caprica before thefall of civilization, and there are some beautiful CGI shots of Caprica Citythat go a long way toward selling the notion that this was a real city inhabitedby millions of lives. (One also cannot escape the sense that these flashbacksalso serve as an implied reminder that after BSG ends, the story's universe willbe reborn here via the prequel spinoff "Caprica.")
In some cases, the flashbacks inform the present characters. In others, theydon't, because the full picture is not yet apparent. For example: Adama is in ameeting with a man who is trying to persuade him to do something Adama doesn'twant to do. The man tells him: "It's one hour of your life. Look, sometimesthere are things you just gotta do." And that's it. We don't know yet what thismeans. Ditto goes for flashbacks involving Kara meeting her boyfriend's brotherfor the first time, for dinner in Kara's apartment. Zak is the boyfriend, andLee is the brother. Lee later ends up at home drunk, chasing a pigeon out of hishouse. What does it mean? Don't know.
Other flashbacks, however, are more immediately informative. Baltar has justrecently started dating Caprica Six. Would-be sex in the back of a limo isinterrupted when Baltar gets a phone call and must rush back to his father'shouse. Their relationship is ... strained. We see here that Baltar is animpossible man, but his father is even more impossible. Their histrionics here Ifelt were overplayed. Endless shouting works better in scenes where you knowwhat the score is, which we don't here.
The interesting point is the way Caprica Six -- who was apparently just a casualdate before Baltar's battle with his dad -- burrows her way into Baltar's life.He didn't necessarily care to have anything more to do with her, until she tellshim that she found a solution to his father's living arrangements. It wasn'tsimply sex and ego-stroking that Six used to get into Baltar's world (he couldfind plenty of both from others); it was by solving a very specific problem inBaltar's life. Maybe if Baltar's father isn't such a pain in the ass on thatparticular night, Six has to find someone else to exploit in her role in theCylon holocaust.
The most compelling, character-informing thread here is Roslin's. We see howhappy she is with her two younger sisters after one's baby shower. It's a Laurawe truly have not seen before. Later, there's a scene where the police informher that her sisters and father have been killed by a drunk driver. Boom.Instantly, she's alone. Life is devastatingly changed forever. And we realizethat, really, for Laura, the apocalypse happened on that day. Her life wouldreset a few months later (when asked to join Adar's presidential campaign), butas something else -- not what she thinks of as *her* life, I suspect. The attackon the Colonies was a horrific day, but by then all of Laura's personal loss hadalready happened. Society simply caught up with her.
The effect of these flashbacks is to establish an oddly bittersweet tone as weenter the final story of the series. Sweet in the sense that lives are beinglived in a world very much like ours, and that in this unique-for-BSG place (thefading past) society actually moves and breathes. Bitter in that, well, we knowthis is all about to come to a very abrupt end. Billions who are alive todaywill soon not be. Ignorance is bliss; these people have no clue what awaitsthem. And for that reason, no scene that takes place in the flashbacks can beseen as anything but a precursor to tragedy.
The flashbacks are intercut with the drama in the present, which involves thecrew moving off the ship and stripping it for parts. There's a simple momentthat made me realize the power of fiction (and the medium of serial televisionin particular) once we've let it seep into the routine of our lives. It's ascene where Adama is packing boxes in his quarters. For this entire series we'vewatched scenes in Adama's quarters, and now it has no furniture. Just stacks ofboxes. We've all had that last look around an empty house or apartment or dormroom before moving out for good. For Galactica, this serves as that moment. Iremember several years back when the last of my grandparents died. My family hadto go through the house and clean out what was left for the estate sale.Someday, all that's going to be left of any of us is a bunch of crap in a housethat needs to be sorted through and discarded, hopefully by our children. Thepeople in the fleet who want Galactica's parts may seem like vultures, but whatelse is there to do? Galactica is dead, and it's the only member of anorgan-donor program.
Life must go on. The baseship will protect the fleet, a search for a home willcontinue, and the emerging government will attempt to function. Baltar wants aseat at the table on behalf of his flock of constituents. Lee initiallydismisses him out of hand, but Baltar makes an eloquent, even humble, appeal toLee on behalf of looking to the future. Lee cuts to the heart of the matter, andit's damning in its irrefutability, even by Baltar himself: The man has neverdone anything truly selfless in his life, so why should anyone trust him ofaltruism now? (Meanwhile, Head Six is sure Baltar will be key in the nearfuture: "Humanity's final chapter is about to be written, and you are itsauthor.")
Tyrol is in the brig, predictably hard hit by Boomer's betrayal. He's ready towrite off all the Sharons and Cylons as creatures of cruel deception, "becausewe made them that way." I found it especially interesting that Helo is the guytrying to reach out and provide Tyrol with some perspective. After all, it'slargely Tyrol's fault that Hera was taken (and now sits in the middle of theCylon colony, where Cavil is prepared to run invasive procedures on her). YetHelo maintains a level of understanding toward Tyrol because they both loved aversion of the same woman.
The story's turning point comes with the smallest of realizations, when Adamasees Hera's picture on the memorial wall. In that moment, he realizes that hecan't let it go. He must act. Much like when he faced the grim odds for therescue at New Caprica, he realizes he must make a moral rather than practicaldecision. So he goes with Kara to see Anders 2.0 to find out where Hera has beentaken. How Anders knows this, I have no idea. The story does not begin toexplain it. (Instead, we get a flashback to Anders on the Colonies, where we seea typical athlete's interview evolve into something more substantive -- ameditation on experiencing "perfection.") But this scene isn't about "plot";it's about the character moment when Adama tells a very lost and tormented Karathat he knows what she is: She's his daughter.
So now we're at the moment with the red line on the hangar deck. Adama asks forvolunteers for a mission to rescue Hera from the Cylon colony. It may very wellbe a suicide mission. But it's a mission he will not be denied. Anyone who wantsto go, including the mutineers or any civilian, can go. All they have to do iscross the red line. Baltar gets his opportunity to cross the line. He can prove tohimself and everyone else that he *can* make a selfless act. But he can't bringhimself to it. The truth is that he is a man who, above all else, wants to live.And I understand his choice, in all its selfishness. Altruism is a greatquality. But are you willing to die to harbor it?
The unforgettable image I will take from this episode, above all others, is whenRoslin crosses that line. Here is a woman so ill, so frail, that she can barelywalk. She shakes with every step. *But she is going.* Roslin's determination andcourage in this moment was so moving, so emotional -- such a victorious scene oftriumphant will -- that I just lost it. This BSG viewer wept at the screen. As asingle moment of poignancy, it equals anything I can remember on this series.
"Daybreak" is clearly not afraid of grand gestures. I eagerly await theconclusion of "Battlestar Galactica." Just as much as I fear the fates that mayawait these characters.
Copyright 2009, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
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