Saturday, January 17, 2009

Am I a Cylon? (BSG Spoilers Ahoy)

For those of you that didn't watch the premiere of Battlestar Galactica season 4.5 last night, it's probably a good idea to go away now if you don't want to be spoiled.

I mean, if you're a fan of the show, there's no way you missed the episode "Sometimes a Great Notion" last night, right?

Okay, last chance.

Well, here we go then.


In reading non-spoilerific previews and articles about the final eppys of BSG, there was a recurrent theme present. Most everyone agreed that if we thought previous seasons had been "dark," we ain't seen nothing yet. And the first outing of 2009 certainly lived up to that.

Within seconds of the show starting, we had the "previously on" montage, and I was surprised that it featured Dualla. I mean, yes, Dualla was a recognizable character. She played a part in the love quadrangle that wouldn't die (with Lee, Kara and Sam). Before that, had been Billy's girlfriend up to the point he was killed, and was regularly featured in CIC, but I wouldn't have put her front and center in the show's overarching mythology. So what did it mean that she was shown in the previouslies, along with all the core cast? In regular TV shorthand, I thought this meant the producers were telegraphing that Dualla would turn out to be the 5th and final Cylon. And when we spent roughly the first half of the ep with her, gradually reconnecting with Lee and trying to put a "sunny face" on the apocalyptic situation the crew found themselves in with the discovery of a nuked and scorched Earth, I thought for sure this was a way of "re-introducing" the character only to show us at the end that she would be the final Cylon. I almost got distracted from the show at hand, pondering what this meant and being slightly disappointed in the eventual reveal.


Turns out, this was a very skillful bit of sleight of hand. Dualla was not the final Cylon, but was instead meant to put a tragic, and very real, face on the shattered dreams of the fleet. Dee had lost Billy. Dee had lost Lee in the most humiliating way possible. And the only thing she (and probably many in the fleet) had to live for was the idea that they would find Earth. And the 13th colony. And hope. However, what they found wasn't a dream. What they found was a barren, radioactive wasteland, devoid of life and hope. Somewhere on the flight back to the Galactica, Dee just checked out emotionally. Decided that she simply couldn't go on this way and live in a world without hope. She wanted to make her last day a good one, and she embraced Lee, and gave him the support he needed to step up in a time where the other leaders in the fleet were too devastated to do anything. That done, she and Lee had a delightful dinner, and she went back to her cabin, neatly hung up her locket and ring, and blew her frakkin' brains out.


That was about as brutal to watch play out as you might expect. But with a show known for flaying your emotions, we weren't done yet. Not by a long shot. There were three more devastating gut punches (and that's before we even get to the reveal of the final Cylon):

Watching Laura Roslin become completely spiritually destroyed by the fool's gold that was Earth (and the prophecy that the "dying leader would take them there"). Her arrival back on the Galactica, with the entire deck waiting on her words of wisdom or encouragement, only to watch her shake her head in disillusionment and run away, unable to speak or face the truth, was haunting. Her scenes with Bill, where she was burning the prophecies, page at a time, and her later fetal position withdrawal, clutching only a small sprig of greenery from Earth, were equally, and tragically, mesmerizing.

Where Laura retreated into herself, Bill decided to take action. He grabbed a crewman's sidearm and marched resolutely through the corridors of the Galactica, all the while the ship was going to hell (I loved the ancillary depictions of chaos, with the crew fighting all while our eyes were locked on Adama from behind). He entered Tigh's cabin, and tried to commit suicide by Cylon, goading, in the most vile ways imaginable, his oldest and dearest friend to shoot him. That he used Ellen to make his point only underscored what would come later. This was a master class of acting, and Olmos and Hogan knocked this out of the park, without a shred of vanity in their performances.

And finally, we had Starbuck searching Earth for the transmission signal that led them there in the first place. What she found was perplexingly horrific: the wreckage of her Viper that had disappeared during the previous season, before she mysteriously popped up out of nowhere in the S3 finale promising to lead the fleet to Earth. But not only was it the wreckage of the same Viper that had seemingly blown up in "Maelstrom," it also contained a body. Her body. Even Kara's creepy Cylon stalker and philosophical tour guide, Leoben, was freaked the fuck out by this, running away from her and leaving her to scream "What am I?" Later, she burned "her own" body, Viking-style, wondering, like us, what the hell this means.

Amidst the emotional carnage, we learned a few other things:
  • Earth was nuked and destroyed about 2,000 years ago. As you will recall, the original 12 colonies also had a cataclysm around 2,000 years ago.
  • All the bodies found on Earth appear to be Cylon. So was the entire "lost tribe" made up entirely of Cylons? Does that mean that all life on Earth was Cylon? Does this mean I'm a Cylon? Could this mean that perhaps, the "original" life form was Cylon, and that the "humans" were the creation? Since Cylons are the monotheists on the show, could this mean that the ideas we understand as an "afterlife" (and "heaven and hell"), are in some way related to their resurrecting and downloading?
  • Also, they found what appeared to be the remains of a Cylon centurion. But it looks more like the "old school" TV show centurion that the "reimagined" TV show centurion. Interesting.
  • Three of the final four Cylons (Anders, Tory, Chief) started to remember "past lives" on Earth, just before the apocalypse. Were they, in some conscious form, actually there? And what is their connection to the four that are with the fleet now?

And then, of course, we get to the big finish. Ellen Tigh is the Final Cylon.

I am so thrilled that BSG didn't drag this out, "who shot JR" style, over the remaining episodes. The reveal couldn't possibly live up to the hype at this point, and I'd much rather spend the remaining episodes of the finest show on TV examining the "why" and impact of it all, rather than waiting on a name. I have to admit, I didn't see that one coming (I thought it would be Zak Adama). The last scene was beautifully played, with Tigh walking out into the ocean. Was he finally cracking, also? Going out into the ocean, like the foxes referenced in the story he and Bill discussed in their drunken conversation over loaded firearms, to die and get carried away by the currents? Or did he "sense" some connective tissue just below the surface of the water that drew him there? Or maybe both? But just like the Tory, Anders and Tyrol, Tigh had a flash of his previous life on Earth, too. And this time he was there with Ellen, holding her in his arms just before the nuclear devastation. And she told him with confidence that they would be reborn, and together, again.

So what did you think, BSGers? Emotionally crippling and dark enough for you? I thought it was an unbelievably harrowing and unflinching hour of television.

Mo Ryan of the Chicago Trib has an in-depth interview with Ron Moore, and David Weddle and Bradley Thompson (the writers of the ep) here, and it's a must-read. I didn't realize until I read this where the title of the episode came from, even though I read the book in college (I followed up Kesey's "Cuckoo's Nest" with this, and was disappointed, actually). After watching "Sometimes a Great Notion," the title, taken from the Leadbelly song "Goodnight Irene," makes a lot of sense:
Sometimes I live in the country
Sometimes I live in the town
Sometimes I get a great notion
To jump into the river an’ drown


  1. A myriad of puzzling questions, but the two most puzzling to me--

    Who/What is Starbuck -- All the Cylon models are accounted for, so WTH?

    And, I found the comment about the Centurion model found on Earth interesting -- That it was an unknown model -- could have some later significance.

    Great show, though.

  2. What a brillant return for the best show on television-lots to think about as the series winds down. And that suicide-just wow.
    After it was over my wife worried about anybody coming to BSG through this episode. So dark and down right heart breaking they may never watch another episode.
    P.S. From the Mentalist a couple of episodes back-Asking Simon, "How can you be so cold?" Simon answers, hint of a smile, "Practice".