“Deadlock,” written by Jane Espenson and directed by Robert Young, offered up the best and worst of Battlestar Galactica. Characters changed their minds on a dime in seemingly unrealistic ways (seriously, WHAT IS UP WITH TYROL (Aaron Douglas) this half-season?). The writers pulled Baltar’s (James Callis) strings a little too obliquely to force him into YET ANOTHER crazy new persona (with only a handful of episodes? Really?). And there was a long, probably too soapy plotline that was still pretty terrific just because of the layers and layers and layers of backstory that were laid onto it. I see the fandom is largely unkind to “Deadlock,” if not outright hostile, and, yeah, this episode both feels like a waste of time with only four episodes left AND strangely rushed, as though a lot of plot had to be telescoped, since there are only four episodes left and the show has bigger questions to answer than whether Tigh (Michael Hogan) ends up with Ellen (Kate Vernon) or Caprica Six (Tricia Helfer). But, Hell’s bells, sometimes you watch a show like Battlestar for the simple pleasures, and seeing Hogan act the piss out of that monologue about the love he feels for women and then collapse weeping in Adama’s (Edward James Olmos) arms was pretty damn pleasurable, even if the episode, overall, prompted a long, long period of head-scratching.
I’ve speculated before that the Battlestar writers are interested in their mythology, but probably not as interested as their fans are. The “road to Earth” plotline was always handled rather perfunctorily, and in this arc, the writers seem more fascinated by Tigh and Ellen’s undying love than by specifically nailing down just how, exactly, Ellen rediscovered resurrection technology back on Earth. Shows with complex mythologies often foster love-hate relationships with fans because, as interesting as everyone may find it to examine the relationships between the characters, these shows tend to have big questions at their center, which leads to the fan demand for either more questions or big revelations. I suspect a lot of the fan anger over this one will stem from how last week’s episode was ALL big revelations (delivered in one, massive infodump) and THIS episode was almost entirely character stuff. Part of the problem was that the love triangle of Tigh, Ellen and Caprica just felt a little silly when compared to the monumental questions hanging over these people.
To be fair, Hogan, Vernon and Helfer acted the shit out of this storyline (I say that very scientifically). Similarly, it was fascinating to discover how Ellen’s perceptions skewed and warped as she was back around her husband of millennia. Sure, Tigh says he was thinking of Ellen when he was sleeping with Caprica, but to her, it was just a mental cheat to get with the pretty blonde. Similarly, where Tigh saw a beautiful woman, Ellen saw one of their creations, raising all sorts of icky connotations for her. Certainly Tigh didn’t KNOW any of this, but rationality has rarely entered the picture when it comes to love, particularly with the Tighs, who seem as dedicated to tearing each other apart as they are to their love. I have quite a few BSG-aficionado friends who just roll their eyes every time Ellen turns up, since her story arcs so rarely intersect with the main plot (until now, obviously), but the self-destructiveness of her relationship with Tigh has always illuminated both characters, throwing Tigh’s sheer loyalty to Adama and the fleet into a new relief. At least the Galactica, after all, wouldn’t cheat on him.
But now that the whole love story is so central to the entire being of the show, it’s taken on new dimensions that make it seem a bit disappointing when it falls back into its old rhythms. To be fair, there’s a point to be made here about how, even when the world is crumbling around you and even when you’ve realized you’re essentially a race of gods to a species struggling to be born, old, petty grievances will raise their head. If it seemed as though Ellen was a slightly different person when she was having her odd conversation with Cavil (Dean Stockwell) last week, “Deadlock” just shows that she can be a queen/goddess to some, but she’ll always be “herself” around Tigh. She wears her royalty just a bit uneasily, so it’s a relief to see her husband, even as she learns that he’s conceived a child with another Cylon, both a miracle to her and a bitter disappointment. For, you see, we’ve been led to believe that Cylons can only conceive when they’re in love.
This whole “in love” conceit has always been the goofiest damn thing on Galactica (and this is a show with nonsense-talking human-robot hybrids who live in tanks). It’s one of those things I suspect will be explained in the weeks to come, but it’s also the thing I least expect to have explained convincingly. Yes, yes, I know, the immortal power of love and all that, but with the wide-ranging cosmos of the Battlestar universe, where references to classical mythology rest comfortably alongside plot points from the Book of Mormon, a very 20th-century notion of the “power of love” has always rested a bit uneasily amongst the other plot points. That said, it seems entirely possible that the show is setting us up to see that BECAUSE Tigh and Ellen could never conceive, despite their, indeed, eternal love, twoo wuv is not necessarily the way Cylons conceive. Maybe it has more to do with the plans of the One True God or with Simon’s experiments or something like that. Whatever. It’s still the one thing I expect to cringe at in the finale.
All that said, the scene where Ellen, Tigh and Caprica bounced off of each other, as Ellen expertly pressed his buttons about where his REAL loyalties lie (with Adama, natch), was compelling TV, shrugging off the malaise that populated a lot of the rest of the episode, leading into the gut-wrenching moment when Caprica loses her baby, Liam. I’m generally not a fan of convenient TV miscarriages, which, more often than not, let the producers get the drama of a pregnancy without having to deal with the headache of writing a baby into the show. But here, the baby was less a baby and more a symbol of the future of a whole species. When Cottle (Donnelly Rhodes) cannot save Liam, even as Caprica begs him to cut the baby out of her, the whole thing takes on the grand feeling of tragedy the Final Five storyline has skirted up against time after time without ever really crossing over into it. Tigh and Ellen’s petty struggles have unraveled plenty of good things in their lives, but now, for the first time, they realize who they truly are, and they actually destroy their people’s next, best hope at a future and the only hope they have to leave the fleet and strike out on their Cylon own, since there’s little chance Athena (Grace Park) and Helo (Tahmoh Penikett, which ... where has HE been?) will take Hera and jaunt off with them.
If a lot of this storyline worked in spite of itself, though (and, seriously, watch Hogan in that monologue where he tells Caprica how he feels as she’s close to losing their baby and then, again, when he goes to Adama at the episode’s end), it still had a central, niggling problem. Just last week, our Final Five Cylons were eagerly dissecting every little dispatch the wounded Anders (Michael Trucco, spending tonight in a coma) was able to give them about their lives on Earth and how they came to the Twelve Colonies at the start of the series. Tonight, they were willing to get derailed by the love triangle and abruptly discuss whether or not they should go off with the other Cylons to start anew. Sure, there’s danger for the Cylons in the fleet, and the alliance is still relatively untested, but the motivations here felt a bit flimsy, particularly for Tyrol, who’s all but become a cipher since the fleet landed on Earth, as though there are a number of storylines left on the cutting room floor for the guy. The Final Five know MOST of the story, but they don’t know ALL of it, and even if it’s not time for US to know all of it (or even if the rest of the story is either redundant or so boring that we would rather NOT hear it), it would be easy enough to have, say, Tyrol interrupt the latest Tigh squabbles to say, “No, listen, I want to know how we rediscovered resurrection technology” or something and get shot down. It’s one thing if that’s the last thing Ellen wants to talk about. It’s another if no one else just seems all that curious about it in the first place.
There were other good bits and pieces in this episode like Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) nursing a drink and seemingly really WANTING to be a Cylon or at least SOMEthing special. Starbuck’s been mostly backgrounded this half of the season, since she discovered her own corpse on Earth, but the recent turns that she really kind of feels adrift since finding that body but also since finding out she WASN’T the final Cylon have been compelling, and they should explode in the weeks to come. The tossed-away storyline about the Galactica taking on the Cylon tech that will allow it to repair itself to face whatever else is coming its way was fitfully compelling too, particularly as it let us see some Sixes and some Eights get all working women of the world on us and as it kept the episode solidly grounded in what seems to be the major theme of this final batch of episodes: How do you keep going when you have nothing in your future but uncertainty and unease?
The Baltar storyline, though, was a mess. To be fair, it feels like something that’s a setup for what’s to come. Why else would Head Six return after being gone so long? But Baltar’s cult was so fascinating in the first half of the season precisely because you could never nail down whether he believed what he was feeding his followers or if he simply was doing this as a way to stay one more step ahead of things. If he wasn’t quite sure of what he was doing at first, though, with Head Six’s help, he slowly gained a confidence and a clarity that made him seem as though he was born to be a religious leader. Sadly, in the coup episodes, Baltar too easily tossed aside what he had built for his own safety, and instead of indicating that perhaps he had been overwhelmed by his intense need to survive, the show continues to suggest that he’s only in the religious thing for what it can bring HIM, and that whoever is controlling Head Six is just using him as a conduit for whatever it wants to say. Also, a peek into the civilian life of the fleet (returning to the slummier sections of things with a visit to Dogsville) just feels a little unneeded this late in the game. As a brief plot point in Season Three? Sure. But as a major new development at this point in the final run of episodes? I don’t know that it feels organic, particularly when it leads to Adama randomly giving Baltar’s cult more guns than they’ll know what to do with. The Galactica writers can be guilty at times of jerking some of the characters around to get to a point they need them to be at, and, clearly, Baltar’s going to need a militia soon enough, so Adama’s going to have to go against much of his better judgment to arm the guy. Sure, the fleet is severely depopulated, thanks to the coup, but wouldn’t that be just as much of an incentive to deputize a few of the residents of Dogsville itself? The whole thing didn’t make a lick of sense.
Still, though, the rest of the episode, scattered as it was, suggested that what’s to come is going to be about old grudges resurfacing and new friendships facing struggle. Tigh and Anders may have the right idea that the only survival for Cylons and humans will come if they band together, but it’s not going to be a peace that’s won this easily, and with the Cylons sticking photos of THEIR dead on the beloved wall of photos, it seems likely that the path toward the future is a darkly uncertain one.
Some other thoughts:
1. Espenson will be one of the primary show-runners on the upcoming Galactica spinoff, Caprica, and I think she’s a good fit for what I’ve heard of that project. For one thing, her sense of humor has occasionally felt a bit out-of-place on the grim Galactica, even if she got a few great lines into this evening’s episode. I particularly liked Tyrol asking if they could maybe discuss the Cylons leaving the humans INSTEAD of watching Ellen and Tigh fight. It wasn’t QUITE someone probing Ellen for information, but it was close enough to be a great laugh line.
2. I’ve seen complaints from some that this episode is the worst of the season (or even the series!), but this season has already given us the deeply odd “Sine Qua Non,” so those complaints, obviously, are wrong. (And this is to say nothing of “The Woman King” or “Black Market.”)
3. Sci-Fi, if you’re going to make a movie called Alien vs. Hunter and populate it with spider-like aliens, the least you can do is have them face off with a deer hunter clad in fluorescent orange.
4. I’ve spoken very little about Bear McCreary’s music this half-season, so far, but that’s because it’s so reliably good that it truly takes something unusual or remarkable to command my attention. The price of excellence!
5. This week’s speculation question: Just who IS Head Six speaking for? I’ve long thought she was a manifestation of Baltar’s subconscious, but the fact that Caprica Six had a Head Baltar, at least for a while, and that Baltar once saw him seems to put all of that to rest. So who or what is doing the talking? Please don’t let it be a supercomputer. It’s ALWAYS a supercomputer.