Saturday, April 5, 2008

He That Believeth in Me - Battlestar Season Four Premier

Battlestar Galactica’s season premier last night was titled “He That Believeth in Me,” a quote from John 11:25. In fine style, the episode plays on the whole verse from which this quote is drawn, which reads (in the old King James): “Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” This episode is all about death and resurrection, and sets an excellent beginning to the final season of this great show (eh hem, Spoiler warning!)

Season three was by no means my favorite (I still think the first season was the best), but towards the end they built up to a number of very interesting developments, most notably the apparent death of Kara Thrace (Starbuck), the trial and acquittal of arch-traitor and Cylon-sympathizer Gaius Baltar, and the climactic revelation of four of the final five Cylons paired with the sudden reappearance of Starbuck, all set to a rousing rendition of “All Along the Watchtower.” It was brilliant, and left us plenty to contemplate over the last thirteen months.

After the long wait, I was certainly hoping for something spectacular for the premier, but unfortunately I think there was a bit too much anticipation. It was a good episode, but not their best. Barbara Nicolosi complains that they tried to do too much too fast, and I think she is right. There was a lot there, but we had to fly past all of it. I’ve been dying for a good old-fashioned space battle, but the one that began this episode was over too quickly. It may have been climactic, but it didn’t feel at all heroic, and they certainly could have done more to play up Ander’s choice to throw himself into his first battle as a Cylon, before he was spared having to fight it. The moment when the raider scanned and recognized him was great though, raising all kinds of questions about the nature of Cylons’ ultimate “plan.” Cathode Tan suggests this proves the Cylons may not be pursuing humanity’s destruction at all, but rather see themselves as the (divine) instrument of humanity's purification:

There has been a lot of indication that the race sees themselves as essentially the hand of God. Here - it is practically the only explanation. It's not that they're out to exterminate the entire human race, they're playing their part in man's morality play. They're the flood to God's Noah.

I think this is a very interesting possibility, though (like everything on BSG) it raises difficult questions. After all, if we think their near annihilation of the twelve colonies is horrific even if it were the will of God, can we say anything different about the original Noah? After all, in both cases humanity is just as flawed after the flood as before. Still, I have to appreciate how they continue to build a genuinely interesting theistic worldview into the story, and that leads to the two most interesting features of the premier:

First is the return of Kara. Barbara is right that they raced through this much too quickly. Starbuck went from telling Admiral Adama that they were going the wrong way, to confronting President Roslin with a gun, in no time at all. It felt very rushed, but it does set up an excellent question for this season to explore. We still don’t know who the final Cylon is, but it seems to me that Kara and Roslin are the two best candidates for the job (Gaius is too obvious, it would be anticlimactic and would make nonsense of his relationship with Caprica Six), so it will be interesting to see how they draw out the question of which one of them is right about the path they should take. In short, this is the question highlighted by the episode’s title: is Kara’s return a true resurrection, or merely another Cylon reincarnation?

But the resurrection theme didn’t end with Kara. The most interesting aspect of the episode was its treatment of Gaius. I was glad to see them return to season one form by including a genuine miracle in the healing of the boy (even if it was clichéd and obvious), but what I really appreciated was how they insisted on combining their exploration of resurrection with its essential pair: self-sacrifice.

Gaius is a sleaze ball, and the cult that springs up around him is nearly incomprehensible, but he seemed to reach a definite turning point in praying that God would take his life in place of the boy’s. He seemed to finally recognize his own wickedness in admitting that he truly does deserve to die, and that made his subsequent near death experience all the more intriguing. It will be very interesting to see whether he lives up to this new-found selflessness, or if he quickly reverts to his old narcissism. As always, Gaius and Six are hardly the people I want representing Christianity, but this connection between sacrifice and resurrection is exactly right, and I can’t wait to see how they play it out in the rest of the season.


Anonymous said...

Gaius doesn't represent Christianity, he represents Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet who had a harem of wives.

Ken Brown said...

Perhaps, perhaps; in fact I don't think he represents any particular earthly figure, but regardless he is the one most apt to be seen as a Christian, and don't forget the Last Supper picture, with the Six as Jesus and Gaius as the Beloved Disciple....

WGA Member said...

BSG Ex Producer Ron Brown said in a recent interview that the final cylon is not Starbuck, Roslin or Adama.

I'm thinking that leaves Baltar or Lee. If it is anybody else it is too minor a character for us to care. Unless they are going to build a minor character into a major one in this season - somebody like Dee or Gaeta - but I think that would be a cop-out.

I'm going with Baltar. How else would he have the Caprica 6 model in his head the whole time if she isn't programmed in?

Ken Brown said...

Not Starbuck, Roslin or Adama, eh? Frankly, I'm surprised he would say that it's neither Starbuck nor Roslin (I generally avoid spoilers, so I hadn't heard that). It takes some of the mystery out, but it certainly does add intruige to Starbuck's apparent resurrection.

If it's not any of them... Baltar still seems like a huge cop-out to me - he is much more interesting as a human - but Lee would be a good choice, especially if he were programmed to do something terrible, but Starbuck helped him to avoid it (it would take a lot of explaining how Adama could be unaware of his son being a Cylon though - perhaps something happened to him back on that Cylon outpost 40 years ago so that he would have Cylon children? But then Zack would have been a 13th... Oi, we'll have to wait and see I guess!).

Carmen Andres said...

i was so disappointed to be so, well, disappointed in this episode, ack. i'm glad to see i'm not the only one - and that you and barbara have written about it - i'll have to do a post linking to you guys. here's hoping next week is back on track!

Ken Brown said...

I think that after a year hiatus, they just had too much to set up for the final season (should have been 2 hours perhaps). I'm guessing it will improve as they move into more focused episodes, but even if this wasn't one of their best, it was better than a lot of other shows are all the time!