Friday, February 27, 2009
Battlestar Galactica: "Someone to Watch Over Me"
This was a damn good episode (at least for one with no Baltar)!
[This weeks music, by a guest from the Galactic Water-cooler]
[The "so say we all" Blog Carnival is up here]
With only three shows left, things finally seem like they are beginning to tie together and the show feels again like it is moving towards a well thought-out ending that ties up all the loose ends... but boy are there still a lot of loose ends. The show has had so many cryptic predictions of events to come, dreams of the Opera House, cryptic prophesies from hybrids in goo tubs, etc.. Then there were the mysterious "head" characters that Baltar and the Cylons see, they seems to be manipulative and in contact with some hidden source of information.
What frustrated me about the last episode, Deadlock, was that it didn't seem to move the final end game story forward, but instead added more loose ends. Though I might be proven wrong about that. Adding to that frustration was the knowledge that the writers had winged it through much of the series. People had been calling them out on apparent errors. The writers seemed to have retrofitted a missing 7th Cylon, Daniel, because the Boomer/Athena was model number 8. Caprica-6 used to have a Head-Baltar which apparently they've forgotten about. They apparently changed Tyrol's son into Hot Dog's bastard because they needed there to only be one half-Cylon. If they've made any more errors, they will not be able to retrofit anything now.
However, in this episode things do seem to be rapidly moving towards an ending that does pick up all the loose threads and ties them together, though few of those loose ends actually got tied this time... but at least they finally got picked up and used.
There were basically two stories in this episode, one involving Starbuck and the other involving Boomer. The Boomer story is the one that seems to be driving the end game plot while the Starbuck story remained cryptic and ultimately unresolved and leaving us with only a tiny bit more information than we had before. Yet it was the Starbuck story that was the real emotional and story worthy triumph of this episode. And a lot of the credit for that goes to Bear McCreary who has three detailed posts on his blog about working on this episode:
Bear's blog may eventually become required reading for the next generation of TV and film composers. The blog should probably be re-packaged as a book and and used as text in music schools for any classes that might be about film and TV composition (do such things exist?). Maybe Bear intends to teach one and is trying to use his blog to attract students?
The Starbuck storyline:
The episode begins with the Starbuck storyline. A close-up on a pair of hands as they remove a red velvet covering to reveal a set of warped and yellowed piano keys, and then the hands start to play and they cut to a montage of Starbuck’s repetitive and dreary daily routine while the piano music continues. After the intro we are shown Starbuck in the bar, drinking away her pain and confusion, and listening to the same guy play piano.
Starbuck has some huge loose ends hanging over her. Her viper blew up back in season three and, presumed dead, she somehow came back to life and to the Fleet piloting a factory-fresh Viper. Then the Cylons get spooky feelings about her viper and then Starbuck found a signal on one the vipers instruments that led them to Earth, which turned out to be a radioactive wasteland. And there on Earth, presumably light years from where her old viper blew up, she finds that old viper and her charred body with dog-tags still attached.
How any of that could possibly be is a mystery, a loose end that needs explaining. So far, little light has been shed on that mystery. Only a tiny bit was shown in this episode.
Starbuck got annoyed at the piano player for continuing to play "the same Lame-Ass Song." The guy looks up from the piano and tells her that he's trying to compose a sonata. Their conversation eventually leads them to talking about their life stories. It turns out that the piano player is a lot like Starbuck's father who was also a piano player and Starbuck has flashbacks of taking piano lessons from her dad. A happy memory of her father. They are of course dealing us some clues that this guy is her father.
But for some reason, in spite of all the speculation, it didn't really hit me that this was where they were going until Starbuck had a nightmare about walking through an empty hangar deck towards a young girl who seemed to be her childhood self from the flashbacks. I've been calling it the "Phantom of the Opera" scene because that old movie had this famous unmasking scene:
However, Starbuck's nightmare also uses a bit from Psycho, and Psycho also borrowed from "Phantom of the Opera":
When Starbuck spins the child's chair around we see the charred skull of Starbuck with her viper helmet on, something like the Psycho scene. At that point the piano player had a stronger emotional connection to Starbuck's childhood and to the mystery of what had happened to her after her viper blew up. I was even starting to suspect that I'd hear "All Along the Watchtower" by then. Nothing says you're a Cylon like finding one of your old dead bodies and they had just reminded us that this had indeed happened to Starbuck.
I think they should have had the young girl playing a version of "All along the Watchtower" or the "Final Four" theme and underlined that Cylon aspect for us. We've been strongly suspecting that Starbuck is Cylon ever since she found her body on Earth, and even before that. Bear said he had planned on scoring the scene with something like "Chopin-Meets-John-Zorn-Meets-Trent-Reznor." Oh, I wish he had. Alas, Bear felt that the cliche of a kid playing a creepy song had been done to death in horror films and that the child-like simplicity of the young actresses' real playing was more spooky and unnerving. Well, yea, kids playing spooky tunes is a cliche, but so was the whole Phantom of the Opera nightmare scene. The way to transcend cliche isn't always to run away from the cliche elements but rather to infuse them with a new layer of meaning they've never had before.
One of the elements of Starbuck's storyline that did catch me by surprise was Hera's "star drawing," just a line of dots. The drawing turned out to be a musical score, and it was supposedly "All along the Watchtower." That reveal would have still been a surprise and having heard it in a nightmare previously would have given it more emotional resonance, making the reveal even more chilling I suspect. It also would have linked childhood Starbuck to Hera more strongly. Perhaps Hera's drawing should have been in the lap of the girl in Starbuck's nightmare?
Toward the end of the episode, when Starbuck began to play Hera's score, Saul Tigh was in the bar and he recognized the music that switched him on. The music picked up percussion and other instruments as rocking version of the Final Four theme played (it wasn't Watchtower at that point). Next, Tory says, "That’s the song" and then Starbuck finally recognizes her father as her father. Tigh rushes up to the piano and asks where she heard that song, Starbuck looks to her dad as she begins to explain, but her dad isn't there, he was just a "head-dad." Starbuck had played the music all by herself.
Bear and the writers had worried that the audience would guess too early about Starbuck’s dad. I don't think this was as big a deal as they feared. Bear saw on his own blog that fans had speculated that he would be Starbuck's father. We didn't need to be completely surprised by the revelation. Guessing isn't certainty. The trick is to load our guessing and speculation with foreboding and make us fear and hope for that very reveal. It's not mere surprise that makes for a chill.
The Boomer storyline:
The episode’s other major plot line was the Boomer story which was weaved in and around Starbuck's story. It began when Tyrol learned that the Cylons wanted to execute Boomer for her role in the Cylon Civil War. Tyrol had just informed Adama that the Cylon silly putty they've been using to fill the cracks in Galactica's hull wasn't going to hold the ship together for much longer (no wonder he wanted to leave Galactica in Deadlock). Then one of the sixes dropped the news bomb, they wanted Boomer for a trial.
Tyrol eventually decides to break her out of the brig. There was a lot of good stuff here, Tyrol being taken into Boomer's projected fantasy of domestic life and freaking out, then his remembering her with lots of flashbacks, etc., but I'm not going to recap all that. You'll read about it elsewhere if you want. The point is that Tyrol got used by all that. Boomer was still on Cavil's side and before she left Galactica she frakked Helo while Athena, tied up in a closet, watched and then Boomer stole Hera from some daycare center. Tyrol even unknowingly helped Boomer carry the crate with Hera in it onto the raptor.
Some comments I've read show that some people are having a hard time buying that Boomer has become "evil" because Boomer fought for humanity in Downloaded, she argued for the Cylons to stop being butchers on New Caprica and she was unwittingly used as a sleeper agent in the first season and she tried to commit suicide to protect the fleet. So, how is she now a bad guy? Boomer turned into a villain seems out of character to some fans.
I suspect one clue to her motives was in Tyrol's flashbacks. There was a scene where Tyrol told her that, I paraphrase, "you're a machine. You don't have feelings, you have software." I think Boomer took that to heart. Remember what Cavil was teaching her -- how to be more of a machine. She repeated Cavil's rhetoric about humanity and Cylons to Ellen. Boomer would also realize that, even if she wanted to go back, she'd never be accepted by the other Cylons nor by many of the humans.
Now she can easily steal babies and sleep with Helo. She not only treats her own "illusory" humanity coldly, she treats other people's humanity coldly too. To her, it's not just her own Cylon feelings that are an illusion, but human feelings too. Thus she seems to have no more sympathy for human beings.
Oh, and what she just did to Tyrol. What a gut punch for him. If the road to hell is paved with good intentions then Tyrol just paved himself a four lane highway down into the freezing seventh circle of Hell.
By the end of the episode the two stories are put together when Ellen figures out that Boomer had been set up by Cavil all along. It was his intention from the beginning to use Boomer to steal Hera. And Hera is somehow connected to whatever force is manipulating them because of the music score she had drawn.
And then there was Sam Anders:
Another scene I should mention is that Starbuck checked on Sam Anders in sickbay. Sam's brainwaves have gotten weird. The Doc says he is in a comma, but the harmonic complexity of those brainwave patterns looked familiar to me. I think they might herald a chronic case of Deus Ex Machina accompanied by another acute bout of exposition-dumpitis.