“A Disquiet Follows My Soul” is probably going to piss off a lot of Battlestar Galactica fans, especially coming this late in the show’s run. Many of the big plot developments occur offscreen and are only alluded to, the episode tries to shove us into the point-of-view of the members of the fleet instead of our heroes, and the whole thing is more of a grim mood piece about a species giving up without its leaders instead of the razzle-dazzle space opera we’re used to.
But while I don’t think this is an essential Battlestar or even one of its 10 or 20 best episodes ever, I do really admire the hell out of it without ever quite coming around to loving it. One of the things that makes Battlestar so good and also so occasionally maddening is that it rarely gives the audience exactly what they want, only giving it to us after a long period of dragging us through a bramble patch of what it thinks we need. This can lead to some enervating television (much of the back half of season three), but it also makes for some truly terrific television, such as this season’s “Faith,” which was nothing less than a long dissertation on the afterlife with a sci-fi action plot shunted off to the side. It was good television precisely BECAUSE it didn’t do what we wanted but, rather, what the BSG crew was interested in pursuing. Battlestar, like all good television series, is an uneasy mix of artistry and commercial appeal, but it’s also about as personal a statement as you’re likely to find on television, thanks to everything series developer Ron Moore and his cast and crew seem to believe about human nature.
“Disquiet” was a more direct personal statement than usual from Moore, since it’s the first episode he’s written and directed (after a decades-long career in entertainment, this is Moore’s very first directorial credit). Of all of the Battlestar writers, Moore is usually the most interested in seeing just how much can be left out of the story and still let the audience catch up, and he leaves a surprising amount out of “Disquiet,” instead being more interested in moody little character scenes that show us just where the fleet is emotionally now that Earth has been discovered to be in utter ruin. For example, we find out that Tigh (Michael Hogan) has told a few people that his dead wife was the final Cylon model, but we only find it out when Lee (Jamie Bamber) lets slip with a “she” in a press conference, rather than directly seeing Tigh tell anyone. As exciting as this kind of storytelling can be, Moore probably should have let us see Tyrol (Aaron Douglas) begin to side with his Cylon brethren over the humans (even if both groups are allied). It’s the kind of scene that would be interesting to see and might shed new light on a character who plays things pretty close to the vest, and just having Tyrol talk about what the Cylons want (with more pronoun confusion) feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. Now just watch every episode from now on feature long scenes of Tyrol chilling with the other Cylons.
In his past scripts for the series, Moore has always been very fascinated with physical processes. In my very first Battlestar review for House Next Door (of the third season premiere), I talked at length about how that episode used close-ups of people just existing in a moment and DOING things to create a singular mood (of oppression) that drove the rest of the episode. Moore really returns to that notion here, opening with a long montage of Adama (Edward James Olmos) getting ready for his day, brushing his teeth and so on, then walking through his ship, picking up litter and trying to restore order to a world that’s slowly spinning into chaos. He goes from there into a shot of Tigh and Six’s (Tricia Helfer) baby’s sonogram that seems to last forever (I actually thought my DVR had frozen), nicely encapsulating the huge weight parents feel at seeing how abruptly their worlds shift when they see their child for the first time but also recentering the series’s mythology, in a way, on this spawn of Cylon and Cylon (which has the potential to completely rewrite the series’s cosmology).
Moore centers nearly every scene around these physical processes. We first see how freaked out and frustrated Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) is when we watch her struggle to choke down her algae salad. We get long, hazy shots of Roslin’s (Mary McDonnell) feet pounding through the hallways of the Galactica as she lets go of responsibility and tries to embrace what’s left of her rapidly ending life (these shots seemed to be very subtly slowed down—not blatant slow motion, but just a few frames per second more to give a dreamlike sensation). When we see Baltar (James Callis, sadly underused in these last two episodes) for the only time in this episode, it’s to watch him give a sermon where he angrily turns on the God he was preaching about just a few episodes ago, but even this scene is shot somewhat unconventionally, focusing at length on the recording process for the sermon, from the microphone Baltar uses to the reel-to-reel tapes he’s recording on to the audience taking in his words. The whole episode is filled with these little moments that suggest this is part of Moore’s modus operandi. We are what we do, he seems to be suggesting, not what we say we are. Adama is a man who suggests that he is a good leader, the kind of man people should be listening to, but he’s also a man who brushes his teeth, who picks up litter. And, indeed, that’s part of WHY he’s a good leader—BECAUSE he makes sure his ship is clean and worthy of his command. Similarly, Starbuck is a very good pilot, but every time we see her in this episode, she seems one frazzled nerve away from another complete breakdown. Roslin has been trying very hard to hold back her humanity in many ways as the series has gone on, but now all she wants is to let all of that humanity out. She wants to run, she wants to feel pain, and she wants to make love to Adama (as she does in the lovely closing scene of the episode, which is shot perhaps a bit too literally—Adama and Roslin are framed almost too explicitly as a circle of light in the darkness—but is a nicely composed moment nonetheless).
My favorite thing about this episode was how ably it put us in the mindset of everyone in the fleet who’s not one of our heroes without really leaving our heroes, using, instead, Zarek (Richard Hatch) and Gaeta (Alessandro Juliani) as surrogates for the rest of the fleet. It seems obvious, in retrospect, that everyone else would be skeptical of the uneasy alliance Lee forged with the Cylons at the end of “Revelations,” but most shows would skip right past this and assume that the leaders of the fleet eased everyone’s concerns. On Battlestar, because Roslin has largely abandoned her post (in favor of the aforementioned living-life-while-she-still-has-it plan) and because, let’s not forget, the Cylons killed billions and billions of people to start off the series. There’s really no way most of the fleet would just suddenly be OK with them without serious prompting from leaders like Roslin and Adama. In the absence of Roslin, though, Zarek is fomenting suspicion (and he seems to be planning a mutiny with Gaeta, who is apparently the latest character-I’ve-never-liked who the series is trying to reclaim), and Adama’s seemingly singlehanded decisions to install Cylon technology aboard human ships and more firmly cement the alliance with the Cylons are just creating even more talking points FOR that suspicion. (I should probably note that this is not a general human-Cylon alliance; apparently, Brother Cavil (Dean Stockwell) and the shreds of the old Cylon society are still prowling the cosmos, and when they show up, things look to go from bad to worse.)
If I was really fond of this episode, there was one plot development that kept me from wholly embracing it. Moore is insistent in this interview with Maureen Ryan that the revelation that Tyrol’s son from his marriage to my beloved Cally (Nicki Clyne) was actually not his doesn’t mean that Cally cheated on him, but it still seems like even more heaping on of perils for Cally, who always seemed to be forced to go through some awful stuff throughout the run of the series and now has to have her name besmirched even in death. For shame! That said, while it makes sense that Moore and his writers would want Hera to be the only human-Cylon hybrid, just tossing out that Hot Dog is ACTUALLY the father of Tyrol’s son feels a little abrupt. It’s a little too much of a writer’s solution to a conundrum that’s not possible to solve very elegantly, even if it did lead to a well-shot fistfight between Tyrol and Hot Dog. There was potential to draw parallels here between Tigh’s impending fatherhood and Tyrol feeling his own sense of fatherhood slipping away, but they were never terribly worked out outside of the scene in the medical ward where Cottle (Donnelly Rhodes) shows Tigh and Six the sonogram and then later has to treat Tyrol’s son. From there, things just sort of fall into a scene where Tyrol tells Hot Dog what it’s like to be a dad, and while it’s a nice little scene, it’s hard to not fight off the impulse that that’s it.
Again, I suspect many of you will have found this episode irksome, but I’d ask you to rewatch and reconsider. There’s plenty here to love, including a lot of stuff I haven’t touched on, like the way Sackhoff plays the scene where Gaeta tries to rub salt in Starbuck’s wounds (“Rimshot!” is a new comic highlight of the series) or how ably Moore gets the extras to suggest the utter chaos that the Adamas of the fleet are just barely able to hold back. I suspect this was ultimately a “setting things in motion” episode, where we got to see the beginnings of many plots that will carry through to the end of the season and series, but it was an elegantly constructed one all around and a fine directorial debut for Moore.
• God bless the Sci-Fi Channel’s Saturday movies for having the best titles in the business. I know I shouldn’t WANT to see it, but there’s really no way that I’m not going to watch at least five minutes of this weekend’s Raptor Planet when I pass it on the dial. A planet? Of RAPTORS? Sold.
• On the other hand, why doesn’t Sci-Fi have an HD service? Or, more to the point, if they do, why doesn’t Charter carry it? Why do I have all of these HD channels I’ll never, ever watch, Charter, when it would just be so much easier to give me things I’d actually watch, like Sci-Fi or FX or USA (say what you will, but half the fun of Burn Notice is seeing how purty it is in HD)? BSG just looks kinda drab in standard-def after you’ve seen it in high-def. It’s really a series that benefits from that extra level of display quality.
• Ratings for the season premiere last week were strong. At this point in the show’s run, it doesn’t really matter, but it’s interesting that the series has actually improved on its dismal season three showing (when it was almost canceled) simply because it’s drawing to a close.
• Last week’s episode was very, very dark. This one was too, but there were flashes of the old, sly BSG humor, which was a welcome return, whether it came from off-the-cuff lines or from the look of utter terror on Tigh’s face when confronted with the sonogram.
• Mary McDonnell, obviously, is foxy, but I was impressed with just how good she looked bald. It’s not a look most people can pull off.
• This week’s speculation (or, rather, here’s what I would do if I were writing this): Tigh, Ellen and the others in the final five have returned numerous times since they first made their plan on Earth 2,000 years ago, but every time, their plans have fallen apart in one way or another. Hence, “All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again.” Though in this light, Lee saying “But it doesn’t have to happen again” in “Revelations” becomes one of the most important lines in the series.