Review: See How They Run

See How They Run

Trailer

Three blind mice…

Life imitates art in the West End of 1950’s London when Leo Köpernick (Adrian Brody), the boorish director for a planned film adaptation of Agatha Christie’s murder-mystery play The Mousetrap, is found slain in the theatre. The detectives assigned to the case – human wreck Inspector Stoppard (Sam Rockwell) and eager-to-learn rookie Constable Stalker (Saoirse Ronan) – soon realise there are a great deal of suspects, ranging from the play’s star Richard Attenborough (Harris Dickinson) to easily offended writer Mervyn Cocker-Norris (David Oyelowo) and even the people who were on the wrong side of Köpernick’s sordid personal life. Someone is a killer and, as soon becomes clear, they are willing to kill again.

The combination of Kenneth Branagh’s Murder On The Orient Express and Rian Johnson’s Knives Out appears to have prompted something of a mini-renaissance in this genre, the classic-style of whodunit murder mystery, and Tom George’s See How They Run is a worthy addition to the canon of such stories. Working as both a sort of satire and love letter to the works of Agatha Christie, with a healthy dollop of Wes Anderson in various production details, it lacks the seriousness of Poirot and the sense of sublime detail of Blanc, but is still a very enjoyable look at some stock characters getting tangled up in a mystery with a lot of clues and a lot of potential killers. It’s a film to remind you that there is a lot of fun to be mined from this kind of premise, and a great opportunity to showcase various cast members.

It’s hard to walk the line between pisstake and reverential, but See How They Run manages to do it. A whodunnit about making whodunnit’s, it’s not a laugh riot by any means, but writer Mark Chappell and director Tom George are fully aware of the clichés at play in the Christie murder mystery, and are perfectly willing to call them out as ridiculous as they go. The clash between American Hollywood and British conservatism in art is showcased hilariously in the over-the-top back-and-forths between Brody and Oyelowo, and Ronan is sure to make even the stoniest heart smile whenever her Stalker jumps to a conclusion just a touch too early. At the same time there is an obvious respect for the murder mystery, and for Christie in particular – she even makes a brief third act appearance, played by Shirley Henderson – in terms of how those stories tend to fascinate and how they are among the timeless of tales.

The actual murder mystery of this particular movie unfolds well. The intricacy of Knives Out is not present, but there are enough twists and turns, false trails and incorrect assumptions of suspiciousness, that you are bound to be kept guessing, but not in a frustrated way. We see lots of interesting characters thrown into a veritable pressure cooker, and watching how they deal with it is entertaining in itself. The solution, when it comes, is one that ties into the subtext of See How They Run – insofar as it is the stated satire/love letter to Christie – while also making perfect sense in the story presented. The strength of the two leads in terms of both performance and character seals the deal, as does the humour: when informing Stoppard that Köpernick was killed with a pair of skis, Stalker adds “And it was all downhill from there” with the brilliant delivery of an old-school comedic farce.

It’s the cast that really sells it of course. The big names and capable hands come and go in a flash, all seemingly delighted to be in this kind of production, and if there is a film this year that really demonstrates the power of a well-casted ensemble, this is it. Rockwell excels as Stoppard, a Detective barely able to muster the enthusiasm to hide his alcoholism and dire personal life, and matches ably with Ronan, whose Stalker is able to merge the needed comedic beats of a slightly-too-enthusiastic newcomer to the streets with the somewhat more dramatic stuff (indeed, it is probably long past time that we acknowledged Ronan’s comedic chops, with this far from the first time that she has displayed them). Of the others the real stand-outs are Dickinson as Richard Attenborough (who did indeed star in the first performances of The Mousetrap), Oyelowo has the writer wo just can’t help but use 20 dollar words when a one dollar word will do (Stalker mis-reads her notes on him as “over-rated”, which he corrects as “celebrated”), and Brady himself, whose victim pops up repeatedly as a narrator and dream guide to Stoppard.

The visual style of George, known to this point mostly for a few BBC comedy and drama shows, is very influenced by Wes Anderson, and one will see the signs of the maestro of symmetry all over the place. It’s in the well constructed sets, the pans across flat backgrounds, the clever use of flashbacks and the showcase that is constructed for the enormous cast to do their thing (Anderson’s dialogue is not present, so those who despise him for that reason don’t have to stay away). At times George can get surprisingly inventive: a mid-film sequence where a knocked out Stoppard wonders around a Narnia-esque winter background and ends up talking to the victim for a bit is specially interesting. At all times See How They Run maintains its course between comedic send-up and deadly serious replication: in the manner in which Köpernick’s death is seen (a suitably shadowed killer, but with a very brutal edge), in the way the suspects are lined up (with humorous montages matched with an interesting look at the clash between British and Hollywood sensibilities), in the larger depiction of a colourful post-war Britain (there’s palpable relief, but also some palpable grief) and all the way to a literal parlour-room scene (inherently funny in how it has all been done before, but with a very serious edge too: not unlike the opening murder actually).

This genre will never be totally out of style of course, it just tends to change with the times. We all remember the glut of extremely dark serial killer mysteries that took over the big screen in the late 90’s for example, before the genre seemed to turn to horror in a large way in the decade after. The industries’ current penchant for nostalgia has allowed for a return to the classic though, and if the peak of this new wave is Knives Out, and if the sublime runner up is Kenneth Branagh’s Poirot, then we can make some room at the top of the pedestal for the likes of See How They Run: a very familiar beast in its plot, in its beats, in its efforts to showcase an ensemble of actors as if it were the kind of stage show it depicts in its running time, but also something willing to merge in the new and unexpected: namely the comedy, which never crosses the line into becoming all-out satirical or disrespectful to the likes of Christie and those that enjoy her. This is one to enjoy, and while it might not be the best murder mystery out there at the moment, it’s still a welcome continuation on current trends.

(All images are copyright of Searchlight Pictures).

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NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Four: “Islanded In A Stream Of Stars”

We’re abandoning ship

Air Date: 06/03/2009

Director: Edward James Olmos

Writer: Michael Taylor

Synopsis: In the aftermath of the damage inflicted by Boomer, the crew of Galactica struggle to keep the ship viable. Adama considers the future of the military and a potential rescue mission for Hera. Starbuck tries to find answers about who and what she is.

Review

“Islanded In A Stream Of Stars”, aside from being a mouthful of a title, is a strange episode, a real hodgepodge of ideas and plots, jumping between narrative and character and back again so much it’s easy to feel it a bit of a mess. Death is a throughline, and the meditation presented on that isn’t terrible, but the approaches per sub-plot are so different that it’s hard to feel that are connected properly. A lot has to get done here, ahead of the coming finale, and the episode tries to squeeze it all in, with less than 100% success. I still like the episode overall, but by now BSG, rather like the titular ship, is really straining under the weight of everything it is trying to accomplish, and might breakdown any second.

Galactica itself is in many ways the main focus of the episode. The ship is coming apart in the aftermath of “Someone To Watch Over Me”, and in more ways than one. Physically the tears, rents, holes, faulty wiring and instability has become so obvious that the ship’s status as being at the end of the road is now being openly talked about by crew. Following the latest disaster of its structural integrity in the beginning, a member of the deck crew is able to say that she has a “90% chance” of having only “five jumps left”, basically nothing in the grand cosmic level that we are playing on. And in a situation where FTL is required to find a new home, that makes Galactica more of a liability than anything else. This slow and gradual death is not what anyone would want for her.

But the ship is coming apart in a more figurative way as well. Members of the crew, and not just in the divide between human and Cylon, are at each others throats. The civilian Fleet, and its new government, are happy to devolve into the role of vultures tearing apart the carcass of Galactica for spare parts before Adama is even done with her, very quick to dismiss the ship as a lost cause (in fairness we haven’t really heard much from the civilian Fleet recently, not since “Sine Qua Non” really). Numerous individual characters are at sea aboard her, whether it is Adama wrestling with the decision of what to do with the ship, Helo and Athena lost in their despair and grief, Starbuck in her inability to understand what she is, or Baltar in the middle of another grand theological debate. That sense of sadness and melancholy permeates large parts of “Islanded In A Stream Of Stars”, the first episode where it really feels as if BSG is heading towards an ending.

But then in some other ways, everything is also coming together. At the beginning of the episode human and Cylon argue about repairs, but then the same Cylon saves the same human from death. Tigh is embraced as a father of the Cylon race by an Eight, an experience that moves him to a certain degree. Both sides of the divide on ship hold their own funeral ceremonies, and it’s impossible not to be struck by the similarities. In essence, the alliance is now maturing into something more than just a brief union of coincidence, and into the blended environment that was spoken about in “Deadlock”. In amidst all of the drudgery, the despair and the anguish over Galactica, there is hope also.

Roslin, whose deterioration ties in to that of the ship, perhaps puts it best when she talks about the meaning of home, and how the term is much more nebulous than we might realise. Home is not a place, it’s a feeling: the sentiment is undoubtedly trite, but if Roslin can find the first real home of her existence onboard Galactica, then it is possible that the humans and Cylons of the Fleet can also find a home in circumstances they are unused to. For the military, that might well have to be the rebel basestar, but it possible. Galactica is not the be all and end all of existence in the Fleet. It is the little moments of cooperation and reconciliation that pave the way for a greater unity, one that is going to be a requirement in the days to come.

And there is still some degree of hope for Galactica. Anders essentially fuses with the ship in some way, helped by the Cylon tech now buried inside her, and if we can accept that Anders is more than the braindead individual he was left as at the end of “No Exit”, then we might also accept that his link to the Galactica might mean a way for her to continue on, even if that continuing on is only to perform one last great service for the Fleet. Even first time viewers will know that Galactica is not just going to be left behind, and with the strength of the Cylon alliance and the ability potentially imported by the merging of Galactica with Sam, there’s potential there for more than just five jumps and a mothballing.

From a more character focused perspective, the person I tend to focus on the most in this episode is Adama. At the beginning, he gives a very stern summation of his current feelings towards the idea of “destiny”, which has left he and his crew in one of their most precarious positions: his anger is palpable, but of course it isn’t just to do with the Cycle and all that comes with it. Roslin sums it up nicely when she suggests Adama is upset because two of his women are about to leave him: Roslin herself, who has taken a turn for the worse, and Galactica.

It’s hard to underestimate just how much Galactica means to Adama. It’s his command, his home, his family. For the better part of four years now being the CO of the ship has been an enormous part of his identity, and even if that role took an enormous blow during the events of “The Oath” and “Blood On The Scales” it’s still who he is. He was reluctant to let the Cylons attempt to save the ship with their resin, and acquiesced out of sheer desperation, but his unease with the situation has been evident ever since that decision was made.

It’s Roslin who probably does the most to get through to Adama. He’s certainly not going to hear what he needs to hear from Tigh, who is still mired in a depressed state with only Ellen for company. He does hear it from Helo, but in such an angry fashion that it is easy to dismiss. It’s Roslin who has to step up, which is not an easy thing when she really is facing into the final stretch of her own existence now. She acknowledges that Adama may love Galactica more than he loves her, but he is going to lose both of them: all that is left for Adama is to decide the manner in which he is going to lose the ship. Home is a word: the feeling that we ascribe to it can be applied to whatever place we feel it is right to ascribe it to. Roslin has found herself able to do that with Galactica, because of Adama: now Adama needs to prepare himself to say it for somewhere else. Adama has always been in a degree of denial about Roslin’s illness, and that’s being replicated with Galactica: I suppose it is fitting and proper that it is she who squares the circle in Adama’s mind and gets him to come to his senses.

In closing scenes that perhaps get a bit too dramatic and call back a bit too much to the breakdown that we saw in “Revelations”, Adama practically attacks the wall in his quarters with white paint, but there is no whitewashing the reality of what is happening to Galactica away. We can easily imagine that his desperation in this moment is a reflection of Roslin’s imminent death too. He has this moment of weakness, and then Adama makes his decision. Galactica will be decommissioned. Tigh is stunned to hear the call, but also readily accepts it once the decision is made. That’s how bad things have gotten. Galactica and Roslin are both heading towards their finales, and those close to them have accepted that. All that remains is just what that finale is going to look like exactly.

After the experience with whatever exactly the Piano Man was in “Someone To Watch Over Me” Starbuck has roused herself somewhat from the malaise that has effected her since “Sometimes A Great Notion”, and seems set on taking more pro-active action to discover what it is she is back in existence to do. The first step is seemingly with Sam, with Starbuck deciding that she has seen enough of him in his current state. Her choice to pull a gun on him is a little shocking, and I think ties into my feelings of unevenness that I think “Islanded In A Stream Of Stars” has: this kind of moment is something you spend at least a whole episode building up to, not a few minutes and one short monologue. Thrace wants to remember her husband as he was, and not as he is now, a strange amalgam of biological and technological, but he takes that decision out of her hands by suddenly speaking and demonstrating a sentience we did not think was possible. Kara is seemingly barking up the wrong tree in all this: in trying to come to a conclusion on Anders, she might think she can head towards a conclusion on herself, but that is not how these things really work.

Take two then, and the lucky contestant for the second round is one Gaius Baltar. Having heard the would-be messiah wax lyrical about angels taking on the form of “nearest and dearest” she decides to push him a little bit, and then hands over the means to determining her fate to him in the form of the dog tags she took off her own corpse in “Sometimes A Great Notion”. I’m not really sure what it is Thrace is really pursuing here: she already knows what she found down on Earth, does she really need Baltar to confirm it for her? Does she think that might have been some kind of strange hallucination? It’s a bad decision anyway, feeding into Baltar’s assumed role of an all-knowing power with his finger on the pulse of the divine (more on that in a sec).

Getting outed by Baltar seems to give Starbuck a new perspective on things, and she goes back to Anders again. She compares their respective states, and decides that she must accept that the old version of her, the one that blew up in “Maelstrom” is gone for good, just as the old Sam is gone for good. All that’s left is to move forward, and find the direction that the Piano Man indicated she still had. That has something to do with the Music. Reconciled with her existence as some form of living waymarker, and willing to further accept Anders’ similar role, Starbuck commits to figuring it all out with him, no more flashy, dramatic dealing out of finality involved. We’ve seen a lot of peaks and valleys with Starbuck down the years, and moments of healing – like, say, in “You Can’t Go Home Again” or “Scar” – that ended up being false ones. Here, we can only hope that this commitment to looking ahead instead of looking back will finally bring Starbuck, and Sam I suppose, some measure of peace.

The strangest part of the episode might be the material dedicated to Baltar, and in truth he might suffer the most from the large amount of cut material I will review in the extended edition of this episode next week. He has an awkward interaction with Caprica Six near the beginning, one where his past examples of faithlessness and general aura of untrustworthiness prevent him from making any kind of real emotional connection. It seems very late in the day to be putting these two back inside each other’s orbits, though I did appreciate the sense of weight to this interaction, of two people who have been through so much to the point where any meaningful chance for the two to have some manner of relationship, even one based on an expression of sympathy, seems lost.

But then the episode abandons this potentially quite interesting plotline in favour of putting Baltar into the realm of “Starbuck’s Destiny”. Thrace is taken by Baltar’s pronouncements on angels, and lets him have the chance to examine blood from her charred Earthbound corpse. Baltar duly does some study, and discovers said blood does come from necrotic flesh. Just why Starbuck would so this, and trust Baltar of all people with this secret, is beyond me. She perhaps thinks that his apparent interaction with “angels” might be an avenue for her to explore regards discovering what she is, but this is Baltar: the man never willingly walked by an opportunity to boost his own power, popularity and ego.

Hence this extremely odd scene near the conclusion. It isn’t that I don’t get what is happening: Baltar decides that Thrace’s existence serves his ends and his faith, and is willing to publicly pronounce the details in order to get what he needs. Starbuck is upset about this. All well and good. Bu the framing of it is something I have always found strange: the manner in which Baltar decides the aftermath of a funeral is the best time and place to do this; the fact that he is allowed to waffle on for so long without anyone intervening; Starbuck’s oddly restrained reaction (see below) and the sense that Callis isn’t quite sure what he wants to get across from the character in this moment, with Baltar exhibiting different shades of pompousness but also regret. I’ll be interested to see if the extended cut can make more sense of all of this, but for now I find Baltar’s part of “Islanded In A Stream Of Stars” hard to fully grasp.

The last plot of the episode to talk about is far and away from Galactica, adding to the uneven feel of “Islanded In A Stream Of Stars”. Boomer flees with Hera, and even while Hera’s actual mother goes into some kind of grief-stricken paralysis – an under explored plot, but I understand we’ll see more of it next time – the other Eight has to deal with the reality of what she has done.

The first reaction is frustration and anger. Leaving Tyrol behind, knowing the retribution he is likely to face, feeds into it of course, but we have been here before with Boomer and Hera. Boomer threatened to break her neck in “Rapture”, fed up with being saddled with a child that was not hers, and she isn’t all that far from such a position here either. But Hera breaks through the angry façade that encapsulates Boomer, and before you can say “regrets”, Boomer is clearly starting to have second thoughts about all this. Hera is more than just a MacGuffin, she’s a person, and when she demonstrates her ability to project, she shows Boomer that she is more of a Cylon than Boomer might have given her credit for.

In something of a warped moment Boomer draws Hera into her own projections, and Hera almost takes over from the imaginary child that featured in the home she shared with Tyrol. In essence, Boomer tries to make Hera her daughter, and if the act was initially done as a means of subduing a captive, it quickly becomes apparent that there is a greater emotional resonance to it. We’ve seen what Boomer wants in “Someone To Watch Over Me”: a life with someone she loves, a home and a family. We’ve seen her method of striking out at those who already have such things while wearing her face. Here, we see her efforts to merge those two extremes: creating a fantasy world where she replaces Athena as Hera’s mother. The act does not speak well of her of course, but allows for the possibility of a future redemption, indicated in her obviously queasy feelings when handing Hera over to Cavil. A lot of coming together around Hera Agathon, as we barrel towards the endpoint for BSG.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt truly at home until these last few months here with you.

Notes

-The title is a quotation from the Henry Beston book The Outermost House: “For a moment of night we have a glimpse of ourselves and of our world islanded in its stream of stars— pilgrims of mortality, voyaging between horizons across eternal seas of space and time.”

-Olmos back behind the camera for the third time, and a replacement for Frank Darabont of all people, who was down to direct this one before a scheduling problem.

-The models in the mission room make a welcome return with Hera using them for the proper purpose. I suppose we might see some foreshadowing of the finale in her smashing a Cylon vessel with Galactica.

-An interesting early look at dissension in the ranks that we haven’t seen before, with a Six going toe-to-toe with a Colonial in a very snarky manner.

-We get a bit more info on “the Colony”, first mentioned in “No Exit”, in this early scene. It seems to be the main Cylon laboratory, and maybe a de facto capital of sorts.

-You gotta love Sackoff’s pitch perfect performance as Starbuck tries to explain to Adama the nature of what has happened with the Music: she knows how ridiculous it all sounds, and knows the Admiral isn’t going to be receptive, and her awkwardness reflects that.

-Adama’s response is so good, a potent rejection of destiny, that I feel like I just have to repeat it here in full: “I’ve had it up to here with destiny, prophecy, with God or the Gods. Look where it’s left us: the ass end of nowhere; nearly half of our people are gone; Earth, a worthless cinder; and I can’t even walk down the halls of my ship without wondering if I’m gonna catch a bullet for getting us into this mess.”

-The aftermath of “Someone To Watch Over Me” for the Agathon marriage doesn’t get much focus here, but we do get Helo’s fraught efforts to speak to his wife: “Look at me…look at me…you hate me don’t you?”

-And we’re back to the shared visions. I really don’t like the way the show bounces in and out of this plot device, it honestly makes it all seem like a time filler.

-Some dire visual effects for the scene with the vacuum into space. Obviously the show is saving up for the finale, but they could have done better than this.

-The sacrifice of this Six is very important, as it ties the commitment of the Cylons to the maintenance of Galactica. At least one of them can now be said to have died in the process of trying to repair the ship.

-The count is down 35, presumably all victims of Boomer’s FTL attack in “Someone To Watch Over Me”. The Cylon dead are presumably not counted.

-The Leobens are apparently referring to the most recent damage to Galactica as “the proverbial straw” which is a little callous really.

-Our first, and indeed only as I recall, look at the “Quorum of Ships Captains” in this episode. It was a noble idea, but the downside is that instead of a dozen voices, Apollo has to deal with several dozens.

-“Some people, and I use the term loosely…” I suppose it is good to be reminded that acceptance of the Cylon alliance only goes so far.

-The Quorum starts picking over the carcass of Galactica very fast, starting with Fenner, last seen in “Dirty Hands”. I think this reflects the constant antipathy of the civilian Fleet towards the military to some degree.

-I absolutely love Bamber’s delivery of Apollo’s response to the question of what Gaius Baltar thinks of all this: “Gaius Baltar!?”

-Baltar declares that the angels he has seen appear “in the guise of those nearest and dearest to us”. That tracks for Head Six, but of course there is also Head Baltar. The ego is never too far distant with this guy is it?

-Baltar seems genuinely hurt when his offer of support to Caprica Six is interpreted as an offer to join his “harem”: “That’s not what I….” is all he is able to get out before he seems to decide there’s no point going on. A reconciliation between these two seems far off.

-Caprica herself sums this all up by casting doubt on Baltar’s religiosity compared to her own experiences: “You haven’t changed, I have”.

-Not unlike the way in which a dying Eight reached out to Anders in “Faith”, another reaches out to Tigh in this episode, thanking him for giving her the chance to “meet my father before I die”.

-And of course the Eight’s final words are “…too much confusion” which seems a little on the nose.

-Boomer goes to threatening Hera very quickly, and we’re right back to “Rapture” when their previous relationship could charitably be described as “fractious”.

-Tigh is unequivocal about what he considers his “family”: Adama and the crew of Galactica. In the aftermath of “Deadlock” he’s rejecting anything to do with his Cylon nature.

-Ellen’s pitch to Tigh is in stark contrast to where she stood in “Deadlock”, and thank the Gods for that, huh? Now she’s all about rescuing Hera, who represents the only real future for the Cylons.

-A little trite, Ellen’s response to Tigh’s insistence that his no more living children after the death of Liam: “You’re wrong Saul. You have millions”. Are there really millions of Cylons left?

-I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised that Hera can project. I suppose the surprise is more that a child is capable of it.

-Baltar takes the time to shave, which has always had a deeper meaning in BSG. Perhaps here it symbolises his continuing efforts to be more than the conman in charge of a Cult.

-Worth a laugh, Baltar’s deadpan admittance that he sees angels with “alarming regularity” as he glances at Head Six.

-Very Matrix-like, the red symbols trailing down the room where Anders has been taken.

-Starbuck calls back to the moment in “He That Believeth In Me” where she said she would shoot Sam if she ever found out he was a Cylon, and I’ll admit I still didn’t see the gun pull coming.

-Anders launches into the Hybrid speak upon his “activation” in this moment, culminating in a robotic repeat of the “You are the harbinger of death Kara Thrace…” line. It’s very creepy, and speaks to the idea that the Sam we knew is gone for good.

-The lights flicker on Galactica in line with Sam’s blinks, which honestly came off a bit more comedic for me than anything else.

-Adama reads what I assume is another gumshoe detective novel, but one line is notable in the context of his dilemma with Galactica: “But when something’s wrong, something’s out of place, you notice.”

-Still not made very clear, but more convinced than ever that what Roslin is smoking in this scene is meant be something akin to marijuana.

-Roslin goes back to the dream she had of a cabin on New Caprica, from “Unfinished Business”. Moments of maudlin sentimentality like this have been rare from her, but one can hardly begrudge it.

-I think our very last look at Baltar as a scientist in this episode, lab coat and all. How long has it been? I suppose “Epiphanies” maybe?

-Anders suddenly becomes something of a threat to the ship, controlling its ability to jump. Hence the shut down, but not before out first utterance, since “The Road Less Traveled” I think, of “All of this has happened before, all of this will happen again”.

-Regards that, Anders is also heard to say “There’s a hole in my bucket” which is a reference to the song of the same name, suitably about a circular problem of fixing a holed bucket but requiring something to hold water in which to do so.

-Penikott really brings it in the scene with Adama. It reminds me of their hallway confrontation in “Epiphanies”, the sense of desperation seeping through.

-“She’s gone”. Adama is unusually blunt with Helo, but I suppose it fits. He doesn’t have the time to coddle him.

-Helo is having none of Adama’s advice to “Let it go” and goes for the most hurtful thing he can think of: “You want me to let it go? You’re the one who can’t let go…This ship is dead, my daughter might still be alive!”

-A nice mix of the respective funerals for the fallen follows, which on the Cylon side includes the “Prayer to the Cloud of Unknowing” we have heard before regards permanent death.

-The Cylons also use an infinity symbol here, which I think is the first time we have seen such a thing. As I recall this comes up again in Caprica.

-Baltar’s preaching in this moment just seems so bizarre to me. He just takes over the aftermath of a funeral and no one tries to even interrupt him until he’s basically finished.

-Never liked that slap Starbuck gives to Baltar. She would be more of a punch person I would have thought.

-I like Apollo’s summation of Starbuck’s current existence, rounding off every beat with a “Don’t care”.

-Apollo and Starbuck share a nice moment where Lee insists that he being Lee and she being Kara is all that matters, but I could do without the pregnant exchange of looks. BSG would have been better off abandoning this simmering romantic tension ages ago, but can’t seem to let it go.

-A very important moment of reconciliation occurs when Starbuck puts her own photo up in the memorial hallway. She’s letting go of whatever she used to be, and focusing more on what’s to come.

-Our first look at the Colony late on, and while it’s not the complete picture, it is interesting. Even by Cylon standards it seems a bizarre structure, with a heavy emphasis on biological architecture (I’m sure Cavil loves that). That said, you can spot the older model of Cylon Raider in the background of shots.

-Cavil tells Hera that she will have “new playmates pretty soon”. Is it suggesting she’ll be cloned, or otherwise replicated?

-Adama suddenly takes off his Admirals pips in the hallway, like he doesn’t feel he should be wearing them anymore. I’m not sure why: is this perhaps symbolic of him shedding his military persona to make a more logical decision about the ship?

-It’s very on the nose, Adama’s failing efforts to whitewash his quarters, but I suppose it does fit.

-Starbuck decides that she is done running from her destiny or trying to figure out her identity, and will take the next steps with Sam. It’s a nice moment, as intimate an instance that the two can still have.

-“We’re abandoning ship, Tigh”. Adama rarely refers to Tigh as just that, it’s usually “Saul” or “Colonel”. I presume he does this to really emphasise the importance of the order.

-I’m not sure we really need to see Adama buttering up Tigh, by dubbing him “the finest officer” he’s ever served with. Is her really though? I can think of half-a-dozen reason why he isn’t.

-In a bit of unique framing, we get to view Adama and Tigh on a sofa, side by side, from their height. The effect is very memorable, almost framing the fate of the entire ship in the form of these two old men.

-“She was a grand old lady”. “The grandest.” Suitably, the short piece that plays here is “Grand Old Lady”, a reduced take on “Wander My Friends”.

Overall Verdict: I have mixed feelings about “Islanded In A Stream Of Stars”, an episode that feels fundamentally muddled in a lot of ways, with a variety of plots and sub-plots that don’t fit into each other as well as they might. But I would still say it has more good than bad, with the Adama material and symbolic aspects of Galactica’s move towards decommissioning in the good category, and Baltar’s plot in the bad. But of course the other cut of the episode is significantly longer, and we will be looking at that cut next time.

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Ireland’s Wars: U-Boats Off Ireland

Irish territory was a battleground during the Second World War, in different ways. That can be seen in the way that Irish land was bombed by the German Luftwaffe on multiple occasions, or in how German spies were implanted in Ireland in efforts to improve the German position there. It can be seen in the various travails of the Irish mercantile marine, or in the complicated diplomatic maneuvering that accompanied the Dublin government’s status of neutrality. But there were others way too. A key aspect of the Second World War was the conflict at sea, specifically the war-long Battle of the Atlantic. In this, Allied and Axis navies vied with each other to see who could sink the most shipping, or sink the most belligerent vessels. The defining weapon-of-war for this campaign was undoubtedly the German U-boat, and from the start of the war to its finish, combat between these submarines and their enemies occurred in and around Irish waters.

The Battle of the Atlantic was a tonnage war: on the Allied side it was about protecting the transport of supplies that Britain needed to maintain its war effort, and on the Axis side it was about disrupting that effort. As we have already seen, the true battleground was largely around civilian shipping, that the Kriegsmarine, and to a lesser extent the navy of Italy, went about sinking as much of as they could. In response, the Allies formed convoys, civilian ships escorted by fleets of military vessels of various sizes. For the vast majority of the war, the contest ebbed back and forth, with the Germans sometimes sinking so much material that it could not be affect daily life in Britain and other places, and at other times the Kriegsmarine being forced to back off from the arena owing to the large amount of losses they were suffering.

At the heart of it, indeed the German’s main offensive option in the Atlantic, was the U-boat. Germany had been experimenting with submarine technology since the mid 19th century, but it wasn’t until the First World War that the “Unterseeboot” became really prominent. Though half of the U-boat fleet involved in that conflict was lost, the sinkings that they inflicted terrorised many in Britain, who invented convoy tactics as a counteraction. It’s no surprise that the Treaty of Versailles expressly forbade the building of German submarines, and perhaps no surprise either that it was of the many tenets of that treaty that the Nazi’s were more than happy to break. By the time the Second World War started Germany was able to employ over 60 U-boats, and many more would be built over the next few years. The capture of French ports such as Lorient in 1940 extended their operating range into the Atlantic, and the early years of the conflict were a bountiful time, as the submarines operated outside of the range of Allied air cover. Allied innovations in sonar were countered by the creation of “wolfpacks”, U-boats that attacked in groups; the Axis achieved enormous victories during the so-called “happy times” of late 1940 and early 1942.

But why should there have been such a significant amount of U-boat activity off of Irish shores? It was not, as some ill-advised people may think, because U-boats were finding succor in Irish ports. No, the answer was much simpler: Allied shipping, going to and from America or other places, still routinely travelled close to or straight through Irish territorial waters. In such circumstances, it was inevitable that German vessels would travel into the same waters in search of targets. Irish neutrality stood against such things of course, but without the requisite naval power to back that neutrality up with force, then all the Irish could do about German operations in their waters were diplomatic complaints. Sea lanes within patches of water like the Irish Sea could be positively groaning with Allied shipping going back and forth between Ireland and Britain, or to the other places, so would always attract U-boat captains looking to increase the amount of sunken tonnage they could claim responsibility for. We have already seen, in the case of the mercantile marine of Ireland, the many instances where Irish ships were victims.

As such, there were numerous incidents of combat between U-boats and Allied navies during the war, and several known examples of U-boats being sunk, off the Irish coastline. Such combat was a miserable tense affair for either party: U-boat service tended to be marked by extremely lengthy periods of boredom followed by brief moments of sheer terror, while Allied warships would spend a great deal of time fruitlessly searching for a target that they couldn’t pinpoint. The moment of decision, when it came, tended to be very quick, whether it was the successful detonation of a torpedo, or being caught by anti-submarine weapons. U-boats, when spotted, were vulnerable, and there are numerous cases of Allied ships simply ramming them when they got the chance. There was little chance of escape from such submarines when they received damage, and many of the U-boats lost during the war are recorded as having gone down with all hands.

A brief outline of the known U-boat wrecks in or around Irish waters may be instructive. In or around the 28th November 1940, U-104, which had only had time to sink two merchant ships in its brief operational history, disappeared north-west of Tory Island, and is considered to be a victim of a minefield that had been laid in that region only a few weeks before. U-772, on only its second patrol and without any sinkings to her name, was destroyed by depth charges, explosives designed to be dropped from ships that would detonate at a certain depth, dropped by the HMS Nyasaland off the coast of Cork on the 21st September 1944. U-1051 was sunk by a combination of depth charges and ramming in the Irish Sea in January 1945 before U-1172 suffered the same fate off the coast of Wexford a day later: U-boats were fragile vessels in many ways, and not especially quick when on the surface, and could rarely stand up to such impacts from bigger ships. A convoy of frigates sunk U-1014 off the Derry coast in February 1945 and in the same month U-1276, after sinking the corvette HMS Vervain, was destroyed by the sloop HMS Amethyst off Waterford. U-272 was sunk by a mine off Wexford in April, shortly before the end of the war. There were other examples, of U-boats rammed, mined, destroyed by depth charges or scuttled rather than be captured, with a preponderance of wrecks forming off Irish shores in the final months of the war: evidence of the way that the war was going.

In the later years of the war, the U-boat threat diminished sharply. The Allies counter-submarine tactics had evolved rapidly, and just about every facet of the conflict at sea – aerial cover, the number of surface ships employed, convoy movements, technological innovations, the ability to replace destroyed submarines – had all turned against the Germans. Spotted U-boats began to be swamped by Allied naval vessels, and the Kriegsmarine leadership had little option but to order a withdrawal from the deep Atlantic: hence the high radius of U-boat sinkings in and around Ireland in 1945, with the Battle of the Atlantic largely decided by the end of 1943. The German Navy could do little to stave off defeat in the larger war as things wound down, though Karl Donitz would remain high enough in Hitler’s estimation to be his designated successor after the formers suicide.

The coastline of Ireland remains somewhat littered with sunken ships from various wars, and among them are several U-boats of the Second World War. Some have been popular diving locations for many years now. The wrecks remain a potent reminder of that period of conflict, when German ingenuity below the waves met Allied fortitude above it, with the Allies eventually overcoming their foe. The fact that such things happened where they did is proof that Ireland’s neutrality was often not worth the paper it was written on, and shows that the island was more deeply involved in the war than some fully realise.

Having discussed this, we now move on to a more controversial topic, where the connections between Ireland and Germany were once again in the spotlight. While the number was tiny compared to those who were involved in the Allied war effort, there were still a number of Irish people who fought for, or actively aided the German war machine, and they will be the subject of the next entry.

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Review: Samaritan

Samaritan

Trailer

The ultimate supervillain: time.

Decades after the apparent death of superhero Samaritan in battle with his villainous brother Nemesis, Granite City struggles with a socio-economic crisis that has people ready to riot. 13-year-old Sam (Javan Walton), obsessed with Samaritan and rumours he might still be alive, comes to believe that garbageman Joe (Sylvester Stallone) is him after a short encounter with local hoodlums. With gang leader Cyrus (Pilou Asbæk) ready to take on the mantle of Nemesis and the city about to blow, Sam tries to bring Samaritan back to life.

I can take a stupid movie. I can take a smart movie. I can take a smart movie acting stupider than it is. But I cannot take a stupid movie acting smarter than it is. That’s what Samaritan is: a movie that just oozes with the feeling that it is re-inventing the wheel, taking the most bland genre going right now and turning it into creative gold. The reality is more like Samaritan has taken a well-worn idea (the director is on record as being especially inspired by the vastly superior Unbreakable, and it shows), dusted it off, and put Sylvester Stallone in it, and hoped the latter aspect would be enough to get us praising it.

We’ve been here before, with other streaming services. The idea of making a superhero movie at a fraction of the price of those that entitles like Marvel Studios put out, with the difference in spectacle made up by the apparent strength of the concept, is nothing new: I think of Code 8, and Project Power or Fast Color are just a few examples. But the key is the concept, and if that falls down the whole thing falls down. The concept of Samaritan, whose writers are obviously very familiar with the likes of The Dark Knight Returns and any number of Taken-esque “old man beats up young ruffians” films (We Hate Movies has the best description for these: “geezer-pleasers”), is nothing all that special, and is overly-reliant on the star power contained within the lead.

Watching Stallone act his way, just about, through a growing connection with the young boy across the street and, spoiler, back into the role of a superpowered hero, is honestly not all that interesting. It’s too predictable, and at times needlessly saccharine. Before you can say “single-parent-family” young Sam is using Joe as a surrogate father and before you can say “Isn’t this the sub-plot of Creed?” old Joe is finding reasons to be more than just a garbageman by the example of young Sam. It helps that there is a city in crisis, and a nefarious villain, along with his motely crew of henchmen, to punch around a bit. But it’s all been done before, and done better.

It’s actually with the villain, that Pilou Asbæk does his absolute best with, that Samaritan will garner any kind of genuine interest I feel. It’s through Asbæk’s Cyrus that the film presents the idea that Nemesis, the long-thought-dead supervillain to Samaritan’s superhero, was actually the protagonist of that battle, a Robin Hood-type who attempted to upset a tyrannical status quo in favour of the little guy, through any means necessary. If superhero films, especially the MCU variety, have a subtextual problem nowadays it is in their depiction of a world where deviations from the norm and attempts to upset the “system” are portrayed in very negative terms, and efforts to protect the same are heroic: only Black Panther perhaps has come close to a nuanced take on that very issue, with other films happy to portray causes you could link to things like resource control (Infinity War), uneven standards of justice (Multiverse Of Madness), and opposition to religious fundamentalism (Love And Thunder) as stuff only the bad guys are interested in. Samaritan, to its credit, attempts to play around with that idea, and in the end Stallone’s character doesn’t really do anything to try and stop the rioting that engulfs the city on the part of its underprivileged 99%: but Samaritan only goes so far with this actually fascinating premise. A proper superhero film capable of being pushed that would tackle it is long overdue.

Instead Samaritan resorts to type after toying with this idea. Stallone just isn’t into this script, and largely sleepwalks his way through it: he’s never been a brilliant actor, but you can always tell when he is engaged and when he is not. Walton is better, but he’s a young child actor getting to be in a superhero movie with Stallone: why wouldn’t he? A bland colour palette and expectational cinematography perhaps aids rather than detracts from the setting, that is meant to get across the blandness and dead end nature of American life at the lower end of the scale, but this is still, nominally, a superhero movie: it has to do more to catch the eye than the odd grenade going off.

Samaritan winds down into something that is a cross between Taken and John Wick, just without the required dynamism in presentation. One notable twist contained within the finale is something anyone with any experience in this genre will see coming a mile away, and lands like the figurative dead cat, too late in the picture to be anything other than a momentary jolt to a story in danger of flatlining. Samaritan leaves things open for further adventures with Stallone as this character, but I suspect this may well turn out to be a one-and-done. Samaritan isn’t stupid exactly, it must definitely is not smart. But it is a film that thinks it is smart, when it’s really something worse than stupid: exceptionally unexceptional. If Amazon Prime is placing its bets on features like this, it’s perhaps no wonder they have spent a lot more time and money on the TV shows. Not recommended.

(All images are copyright of Amazon Prime).

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NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Four: “Someone To Watch Over Me”

What about that song? That song he taught you. The one that makes you happy and sad at the same time. Play that for me.

Air Date: 27/02/2009

Director: Michael Nankin

Writer: David Weddle & Bradley Thompson

Synopsis: Starbuck seeks to ease her anguish over her own life and Anders in an unlikely dual composition with a piano playing stranger in Joe’s Bar. Tyrol reaches out to an imprisoned Boomer, getting a glimpse of the life he could have had.

Review

This is an episode about people being stuck in cycles, with Starbuck and Tyrol taking on the mantle of being our main examples. It’s also the really important starting point for the show’s last act, and in being that it attempts to begin a process whereby the albatross of “Starbuck’s Destiny” finally starts to make some sense. It’s very important then, especially coming as it does, directly after the drek that was “Deadlock”. Someone To Watch Ove Me” is a definite improvement, but there are still some issues here.

I do love that opening montage where Starbuck is showcased vividly in terms of her own cycle and the way in which she is mired, which in its structure makes one think of the kind of confluence-heavy montage openings of “Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Part One)” and “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part One)”. Not unlike similar ideas as shown in episodes like “33” and “Flight Of The Phoenix”, we see the mental health-eroding nature of routine and monotony: all Starbuck has to fill her time right now is the same speech and the same mission, re-iterated day in and day out: find a new planet to live on. Going with this is her recurring visits to a seemingly braindead Anders, with the result so similar each time that Cottle has to start encouraging her to ease off on them: even by the end of the episode and the revelations that come with it, Starbuck will continue those visits, and only grow more attached to a husband she previously seemed to have very little time for.

The deeper problem seems to be that Starbuck simply doesn’t have a firm identity anymore. She lost that in “Sometimes A Great Notion”, when she found her charred corpse on Earth. Now, not knowing what she is exactly, she is unable to ground herself and seek any kind of higher purpose in her existence. To that end she exhibits signs of rejecting her past – or maybe we should say Thrace’s past, since whomever Starbuck is now it is not the same person we knew before “Maelstrom” – in eschewing Helo’s gift of her former possessions and the way she keeps coming back to the whiskey bottle. Much like in “Maelstrom”, this is a look at a woman who is simply not all there anymore, and in other circumstances you would be getting quite worried about: we’ve come a long way from “He That Believeth In Me” in some respects, but Starbuck is no further along in discovering just what she was sent back for exactly.

Enter the Piano Man, for lack of a better title. Starbuck needs someone to bounce off of if “Someone To Watch Over Me” is going to be anything other than a sob fest, and the usual suspects – Anders, Helo, Apollo – aren’t available for whatever reason. So she, and we, get it in the form of what appears to be a civilian using the piano in Joe’s Bar to compose something, that Thrace strikes up a back-and-forth with, initially over music, and then other things. In the Piano Man Starbuck finds a seemingly new party that she can open up to about what is plaguing her, and an outlet for other things as well.

I think it is important, all talk of the Cycle aside, that we get to see Starbuck be creative in this sub-plot. We’ve been watching her fall into this pit of despair and self-destruction since her miraculous return in “Crossroads (Part Two)”, that it would be easy to forget that Thrace is something of an artist, as we first found out in “Valley Of Darkness”. There’s probably never been a point in her life where she needs that kind of outlet more. In becoming a joint composer with Piano Man on this piece of music, Starbuck gets to briefly ascend beyond being the work-a-day CAG stuck in a rut, more than the wife grieving a husband who seems more dead than alive, and more than just an incomprehensible enigma who can’t let go of the image of a charred skull. There is healing in all of this before we get to the big stuff.

Not unlike the plot with her mother in “Maelstrom”, “Someone To Watch Over Me” allows Starbuck the opportunity to come to grips with her relationship and memories of an absent father figure, a musician she took revenge on by giving up music. As much as her abusive mother, that absence most have been the major formative aspect of Kara’s upbringing, a gaping hole of love and affection she has never been able to fill. It isn’t to the credit of BSG that it only brings all of this up here, but I appreciated the story that the episode was trying to tell, and the method it was trying to employ to get Thrace to where she needed to be. While it is obvious long before the Piano Man vanishes, the revelation that he is Starbuck’s father, or at least some kind of aspect of him, is a far more palatable way to draw Thrace back into the depths of the Cycle and its destined path than anything else we have seen so far in Season Four.

Perhaps it can be considered something of a convenient addition to the lore that Starbuck and her father are the people behind the Music, something, not unlike large parts of “No Exit”, that I suspect was come up with on the fly rather than as some sort of great pre-planned arc of revelations. The scene where the Piano Man starts off that tune, and Starbuck hesitatingly comes in to form that familiar melody, was great, with Sackoff doing much better in the performance of this strangely cathartic moment than with any of her “crazy” scenes earlier in the season. Obviously we don’t know just what the Piano Man is – is he the ghost of Dreilide Thrace, an angelic presence ala Head Six and Head Baltar, or maybe God himself? – but the enigma of that question is offset by the this powerful emotional moment where Starbuck remembers a positive interaction with her father, and gets to reconcile her need for love and purpose with his absence previous in her life. Where we go from here regards Starbuck’s Destiny, or the Music, or Hera’s involvement in all of this – see below for more thoughts on that – is up in the air. But at least I can say that I am interested, and far more interested in answering that question than anything to do with the Final Five recently.

The other person stuck in a cycle and looking for a new purpose is Tyrol, and like Starbuck he too ends up looking to the past. It is a long time to go back to the Tyrol/Boomer plotline, that was last explored to any great degree in “Resurrection Ship (Part Two)” when Tyrol claimed to be done with the whole thing. We know, from episodes like “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part Two)”, “Taking A Break From All Your Worries” and “Escape Velocity” that he’s never been able to fully get beyond the hang-up, but it has been a distant thing. Now, years removed, it’s front and centre again. It’s a bold choice, and needs to be carried off really smoothly if the show is to avoid accusations of going back to the well too many times. Thankfully, “Someone To Watch Over Me” is able to do just that.

Tyrol has long since been losing his grip on whatever connection to humanity he had, as exemplified by his quick vote to abandon the Fleet in “Deadlock”. But he also doesn’t seem fully able to get onboard with his Cylon nature either, a situation exacerbated when the rebel Cylon leadership announce their intention to put Boomer on trial and execute her for her “treason” with Cavil. Caught between the two extremes, Tyrol is left in the middle, a man without an identity, and looking for anything to grasp onto. What he finds is a very dangerous, and subtly toxic, form of nostalgia for a time long past.

I’ll get into Boomer’s side of things in just a sec, but for now I want to note how Tyrol finds himself positively luxuriating in the idea of a life with her, and with their daughter (it’s unclear how “real” this girl is: Tyrol’s reaction at the end of the episode indicates she might have been less an ethereal vision, and more of a complex entity). The projection that Boomer allows him into is the perfect form of escapism: from the drudgery of the repair job, from the life without attachment, from the lack of purpose. With Boomer, in the house that she has built and in this strange alternative history that she has created, Tyrol gets to have everything he really wants: a life worth living, a love to share and an identity as a husband and father. It works so well on him that Tyrol is willing to abandon his sense of propriety and all but beg Roslin not to hand Boomer over to the Cylons, and then prompts him to go even further. It’s obvious that he still loves Boomer, but he lets that love and this escapism blind him.

For all of his foolishness in helping Boomer, it’s difficult not to feel sympathy for Tyrol in these moments: the man really has lost just about everything over the course of BSG, so we should perhaps be understanding of how he reacts when presented with a vision of what might have been if things had gone differently. That’s maybe why the final moments of the episode are so heart-breaking: aside from being shown up as the worst kind of dupe, Tyrol is once again left with nothing, nothing but an empty house in a projection that is not even his, even this nostalgia-fuelled vision betraying him. The consequences of his actions are to come, but it’s hard not to see Tyrol as a ticking time bomb of negativity, driven by this laundry list of losses suffered.

The other side of the coin is this brilliantly orchestrated seduction by Boomer, now revealed to be an agent provocateur, presumably “rescuing” Ellen as part of a Cavil plot to kidnap Hera. But the brilliance of it isn’t in the ways in which Boomer gets inside Tyrol’s head, it’s in the shades of grey as to how much of it she means and doesn’t mean. Her projection of a happy life with Tyrol on Picon, complete with a child, is exactly what the Chief needs to see in order to get wrapped around her finger, and it does work very quickly, but by the end it is made clear enough that Boomer’s feelings for Tyrol are not manufactured: she really does seem to love him, and tries to take him with her, it’s just that she loves the Cylons more. Her heart-to-hearts, her joking nature, the tantalising glimpse of what once was, they all point to a character who is very good at getting what she wants out of someone like Tyrol, but that innate vulnerability, and regret, remains. Only BSG could take a child snatcher and make her sympathetic even in the act of child snatching.

Still, Boomer’s plan is brutal. We’ve come a long way from the woman who tried to change Cylon society in its totality on New Caprica as a means of making good with humanity. Kidnapping Hera is one thing, knocking Athena down is another. But to add a sexual encounter with an unrealising Helo, while Athena watches unable to intervene, is another level of cruelty entirely, perhaps some measure of personal vengeance against Athena for having the life Boomer wanted on Galactica. Of course Boomer wants to keep her charade going, but one feels she could have found a way out of that bathroom without giving in to Helo’s advances: the layers of twisted psychology to her whole arc in this episode pile up and up. As I said, it is hard for me to view Boomer as a flat-out antagonist, despite all of her immoral actions, she’s just been through far too much for that kind of blanket description. But that still doesn’t mean I want her to get away with this most vicious of strikes against the Agathons. I just wish that things could have worked out better for her, a victim of her nature and of Cavil’s theatrics as much as anything else. Still, watching her play so many people like a fiddle here is something else, and this betrayal of Tyrol is up there with anything similar depicted in the course of the show.

Boomer’s plot brings Hera back into the forefront of the narrative in a big way, pretty much for the first time since “Rapture”. It has been easy to forget about her and her supposed importance, when the only inkling of that importance was the strangely constructed and presented visions shared by Athena, Caprica Six and Roslin towards the end of Season Three. Here, the Cycle converge on Hera once again, as she is revealed to be have been the point, all along, for Boomer’s visit to the Fleet. Having failed to get the secret of resurrection out of Ellen, Cavil seemingly wants to have a closer look at a more natural way of doing it. The Cylons had that opportunity for much of Season Three though, so what will have changed?

Maybe it’s just that Hera is plugged into something otherworldly. We’ve seen glimpses of that, such as in her creepy drawings of Six in “Guess What’s Coming To Dinner?”, but here it really does seem as if the Cycle has leaped into her head, giving her the inspiration to write down the notes of the Music and then put them in Starbuck’s hands. Do the notes, and the Music, have any deeper significance from what we have experienced so far? What is Hera’s connection? Is she more than just the miracle of a hybrid child of human and Cylon, and instead a link to some deeper mystery? We will find out eventually of course, but I appreciated the effort to set-up Hera’s part in the finale here, even if, like the Piano Man, it does seem like a hasty addition to the canon, as opposed to something more well thought out.

And throughout all of this drama, there is the impending dread being created by Galactica itself. The lights flicker, the groans repeat, the ship even gives everyone a very unnerving shake at one point. The repairs are ongoing, but more and more are made to seem like a waste of time: when Tyrol indicates that Galactica has only a few more FTL jumps left in her, it might come as a bit of a shock, but only in so far as the ticking clock that we already knew was going has been limited to a very short time. This episode and the previous two have seen a very gradual sense of grim acceptance entering Adama’s character as it pertains to the ship: before Boomer gets her last vicious kick in, Galactica was already on its knees, its lifespan now to be measured in weeks, or maybe days.

But it’s that kick that you feel is going to be the decisive blow of course. There’s a question to be asked about the science behind the set-up and how it’s only coming up now, but the effect cannot be similarly interrogated: Boomer does a number on an already ailing ship, sending shockwaves down its damaged superstructure. Viewers, and Adama, can’t be so naïve as to think this is anything other than a fatal blow to a ship that was already on life support. It’s a brilliant conclusion to the episode, tying Boomer’s betrayal of Tyrol to a larger treason against the ship that once harboured her: in doing what she has done, Boomer might as well have just shot Adama again. That’s the level we are talking. You can’t have a show called Battlestar Galactica without the Battlestar Galactica. And we might not have the old girl for much longer.

All the things that I said about us. I meant them with all my heart.

Notes

-The title comes from the Oh, Kay musical song, which has as its themes love and acceptance.

-The opening montage is to “Elegy”, a downbeat piano piece from Bear McCreary that really gets at the heart of depression arising from repetition.

-Starbuck is seemingly the CAG again, though that isn’t made expressly clear. Helo has a commiserate rank of course, but I think Viper pilots get priority.

-On the foot of my thoughts on Adama and toothpaste in “A Disquiet Follows My Soul”, Starbuck offers the prize for finding a liveable planet: “the last tube of toothpaste in the universe”. The Fleet really is running out of the essentials, and one imagines dental problems actually becoming an issue.

-At Joe’s Starbuck appears to be slightly burning her palm with her lighter. We can add “self-harm” to the list of red flags then,

-Tyrol’s answer to the question of how many FTL jumps Galactica has left in her is not re-assuring: “Until the hull caves in”.

-The Cylons have gotten their representative on a new Quorum, and it’s a Six named Sonja. Would love to know how she was picked.

-A bit of a noticeable change from the usual visual style of BSG when Tyrol hears of the Cylon intentions towards Boomer, a slow zoom-in that is very stylised.

-The count remains unchanged for the second episode in a row, which I think is the only time that ever happens.

-Whatever is happening to Galactica is now bad enough to cause what I would call “shipquakes” through the superstructure, and I’m not really sure what could be doing that?

-I like that Cottle dismisses the Final Five, what’s left of them anyway, from Anders bedside. We need a break from them after last time.

-The Piano Man is apparently named “Slick” in the script, though I don’t see him being called that anywhere. He actually did appear briefly in the background during a scene in “Deadlock”.

-I do like that we get to see the Piano Man stumble over his music and express frustration. The piece comes together bit-by-bit, which reflects the healing nature of the interaction with Starbuck.

-Like this montage of flashbacks for Tyrol, as he remembers lying with Boomer in “Litmus”, their final brutal interactions in “Resistance” and his own thoughts on settling for someone else in “Escape Velocity”.

-Hera says “Thank you” when Starbuck compliments her drawing, which I think is her very first words?

-At first glance it’s hard to guess what Hera’s drawing is meant to be. Thrace guesses stars, and it is as good a guess as any.

-Boomer couches her actions on New Caprica as “a way to set things right” after her betrayal of humanity, but the way she went about it on that planet was a bit demented.

-“We both know who we are now”. I think Boomer’s implication – that she and Tyrol have an avenue to be together now her Cylon nature is a shared thing – is made clear.

-The Picon house in Boomer’s projection looks pretty similar to the Adama home in “A Day In The Life”, but I can’t find confirmation it is the same location.

-The Piano Man asks for Starbuck’s thoughts on his latest work. Gotta love the response: “It’s longer…a lot of notes”.

-Starbuck’s sense of loss becomes clear as she talks about her feelings of the music: “It’s like losing someone that you care about. Their car pulls away. You chase them. But they’re going too fast.”

-Tyrol is unable to handle the claims there’s nothing to be done about Boomer, and I love Douglas’ “can’t can’t can’t CAN’T!” in response. He’s starting to lose it.

-“We’re all in hell” is the only thing Tigh can muster up in the face of Tyrol’s complaints. No sign of Caprica Six in this episode, but he and Ellen seem to be getting along just fine.

-Very subtle, but effective, shift as we go back to Tyrol and Boomer: the Chief is now smiling and telling jokes, suddenly happy to dive head first into the nostalgia.

-The notches on the wall for the imaginary child are a nice touch by Boomer I will admit.

-The music here is “Dreilide Thrace Sonata No. 1”, and it won’t be the last time we hear it. We might be reminded of the piece we heard in “Valley Of Darkness” that was depicted as being from Starbuck’s father, though in actuality it is a Philip Glass composition.

-Douglas does a great job with Tyrol’s reaction to all of this, a feeling of total joy in the escapism of it.

-“My Dad used to play” is the line that will set the connection off in your head of course, but they had to start crafting the allusion somewhere.

-As an aside, the name of Starbuck’s father, “Dreilide”, means “Third eye” in German. A pretty obvious reference to seeing otherworldly things there.

-In her dreams, Starbuck sees herself playing in the negative space of a white void, which is certainly a startling picture.

-Better perhaps is seeing herself, or rather a younger version of herself, playing in the hanger deck, only to turn out to be the charred skeleton we saw before. Yeesh.

-Thrace has gotten very comfortable, very quickly, with the Piano Man, which is telling, opening up to him about her status as a copy of a dead woman and asking what it means. She knows this is her father, subconsciously anyway, and is confessing in a sense.

-The Piano Man tells Starbuck what she really needs to hear: “Just because you don’t know your direction, doesn’t mean you don’t have one”.

-Roslin really does lay down the law to Tyrol in their scene together. He seems to play on their positive interaction at the end of “Dirty Hands” but she’s having none of it, seemingly as aware of the threat that Boomer poses as anyone.

As Tyrol carries out his reckless plan, braining an Eight and switching her with Boomer, we get excerpts again from “Dreilide Thrace Sonato No. 1”. Its discordance fits the scene pretty well.

-“My gods, you’re just like my father”. We could really do without this line, couldn’t we?

-Like this look of Boomer walking the halls of Galactica with purpose, not unlike the excellent final shots of “Water”.

-At the end of her rant about her father’s abandonment of her and her mother, Starbuck seems to finally twig what is happening. She’s a few minutes behind the audience.

-I remember at the time a lot of people claiming that Starbuck’s father must have been Daniel, the artistic Cylon model mentioned in “No Exit”, but of course that made no sense: in that episode it was noted the whole line was wiped out a very long time ago.

-It’s grim, this look at a semi-conscious Athena forced to witness her husband’s unintended infidelity. “Someone To Watch Over Me” briefly becomes a Twilight Zone-esque identity horror.

-Of course Hera’s drawing is of musical notes, it’s obvious when they are put side by side. But what does this all mean?

-This specific recitation of the Music is from the track “Kara Remembers”. I like the way we slowly build to the recognition that it is the Music. Sackoff can actually play at least a bit of piano, and helped perform this section of music for the So Say We All live show of the score.

-I think this is our first and only look at the previously mentioned Galactica daycare? Seems awfully small for that many kids.

-Nice call back with the trunk Boomer is using to cart Hera around, I presume the same one Helo had put Starbuck’s reclaimed stuff in earlier.

-Combined with the look in the eyes and the delivery of “I meant them with all of my heart” in a situation where she doesn’t need to lie anymore, I think we can take it as given that Boomer retains real feelings for Tyrol.

-Boomer gets one last kiss with Tyrol, which adds yet another bit of heartbreak to the whole affair. She doesn’t have to do this, but she has picked her side.

-Grim, the image of Athena stumbling into the briefing room half-naked and wounded. Was the head right next door or something?

-That scream that Athena lets out is something else. There’s a lot of anguish in that sound.

-I like that Adama attempts to play a ruse of his own with Boomer to get her to stand down, before just talking to her directly. He’s not stupid.

-This is the first time we hear that FTL jumps cause “spatial disruption” which is a strain on the ships undertaking them and any other ship in the vicinity. This would explain the way the Raptors and Vipers get pushed back when the tylium ship jumps in “A Disquiet Follows My Soul”. It raises some questions, such as why Cylons, who have such accurate point-to-point FTL tech, haven’t weaponised the idea.

-The scenes of damage here are pure Star Trek stuff, with random sparks and bric-a-brak flying, but I think it does work.

-It’s the port side that Boomer damages, and that’s taken a pounding before: it suffered a missile strike in the Miniseries, the breach in “Water” and, as noted but not seen, explosive decompression in “Exodus (Part Two)”. Hence why what seems like a small enough hit might be a much bigger deal.

-Roslin seems to realise more fully than anyone just what this damage to Galactica means. It’s almost like she’s the one who is wounded in this moment.

-Douglas maybe overeggs Tyrol’s response as he realises what Boomer has done, but I guess it is forgivable in an otherwise very strong performance.

-In this moment of trial, Starbuck goes back to Anders, perhaps seeing more purpose in the visits than she previously had. The question of the Music remains hanging.

-It’s quite a heartbreaking close for the episode, Tyrol hunting fruitlessly around the empty house of Boomers projection. He’ll never find what he is looking for, in more ways than one.

Overall Verdict: “Someone To Watch Over Me” is a strong episode, anchored by the twin points of an interesting new wrinkle to Starbuck and her never-ending destiny, and in Tyrol’s exploration of what might have been with Boomer. Both plots are carried out well, and augmented by the continued drama over the integrity of Galactica itself. We can start to see the outline of a finale to everything in this episode, one far more plateable than that presented in “Deadlock”: we’ll see if BSG can keep it up. Not many episodes left now.

To read more entries in this series, click here to go the index.

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Ireland’s Wars: The Second World War In 1944

1944 opened with the Allies in a very strong position on every front, but still with a number of difficult obstacles between them and a final victory over the Axis. In the East, Russian advances were being bought with an enormous expense of blood for every stretch of ground and urban area. In Italy, the Allies were now advancing straight into the teeth of a formidable array of defensive positions. Preparations for the opening of a new front in France were ongoing, but had no guarantee of success. And in the Pacific Allied island hoping was only getting bloodier as an exercise. By the end of the year Allied victory was being measured in months instead of years in terms of likelihood: Irish named regiments were at the heart of many arenas where that state of affairs was made solid as an inevitability.

The battle for Italy continued, and was only getting harder. On the 22nd January 1944 the Allies attempted to bypass the imposing defences of the German “Winter Line” and make possible a direct strike on Rome with an amphibious landing at Anzio. Several Irish named regiments would be involved, in what became an infamous Allied quagmire. The initial landings were largely uncontested but the commander, American John P. Lucas, choose to consolidate the initial beachhead and dig-in rather than move more aggressively, and allowed his counterpart, Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, to throw every available unit he had into the area, surrounding the beachhead from adjacent high ground. The result was a grim and costly effort for the Allies to first withstand a near constant artillery barrage, and then to manage a breakout.

Among the Irish named regiments engaged at Anzio were the 1st battalion of the Irish Guards, the 1st battalion of the London Irish and the 2nd battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. The fighting in the area was frequently quite brutal, with the Allies forced to set-up defensive positions in swampland and other flooded areas, and from there fend off repeated German attacks. On one occasion elements of the Irish Guards were cut off from the rest of the beachhead following a withdrawal, and were forced to fight their way back to their own lines: their losses would eventually become so high that the unit would be withdrawn to Britain and be designated as a training battalion. The London Irish, who had been moved to Anzio in February, suffered hugely in a succession of desperate actions, eventually listing over 600 casualties. The Skins faired somewhat better, put into the thick of the fighting in March and being located in a more secure part of the overall position, but still had to take part in vicious fighting. The Allies, under new leadership, would not be able to breakout from the Anzio area until May: controversially, Allied units would be ordered to take an undefended Rome, accomplished in early June, rather than support attacks against German positions elsewhere, which would have disastrous consequences.

The other part of the Italian campaign during 1944 were the efforts to breach the German defensive lines criss-crossing the country. The first were the fortifications of the Winter Line, which had as a major strongpoint the heights of Monte Cassino. Numerous Irish named regiments were engaged there and at other positions around the Winter Line, that would take the better part of six months to break. The Irish Brigade units were in the thick of the fighting repeatedly, especially in the third and fourth assaults on the heights. It was a miserable battle for the Allies, advancing uphill, with limited armour support and immense difficulties in re-supply. Time and again the German defenders threw back attacks from their well-prepared positions, and time-and-again the British units were obliged to keep up the offensive. Irish Brigade regiments were among those involved in the very last push on the summit, though it would elements of the Polish Corps that would be first to gain that objective.

With this portion of the Winter Line finally taken, the Allies pushed on, advancing to the next German defensive system, the Hitler Line, though the actions of General Mark Clark in focusing on the capture of Rome meant that the majority of the German troops in the area were able to withdraw to safety. The North Irish Horse, now equipped with American Sherman tanks, were thrown into the fray here, and took over 60% casualties in terms of tanks lost in assaulting a number of villages and other positions. The casualties incurred in trying to take Cassino, and in the operations north of he Winter Line immediately afterward, were so great that the 6th battalion of the Skins ceased to exist, merging with the 2nd that had fought at Anzio. After the Hitler Line was taken, again with great loss, the Allies ran into the Gothic Line, an immense series of fortifications in the north of Italy, that they would spend most of the rest of the war attempting to get past. For all of the damage and delay that the Axis were able to inflict, with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, London Irish and Royal Irish Rifles among those infantry units that had taken such hurt, the situation in Italy was now becoming slowly untenable, but it would not be until the clearing of Winter weather and the Spring of 1945 before the final end was going to come.

But of course so much of what was happening in Italy was deemed, then and since, as a sideshow to the efforts the Allies were making to liberate France and open up the long awaited additional front to the west. 1944 is synonymous with the D-Day landings that took place on the Normandy coast on June 6th of that year: over five designated beaches, and in a mass of parachute and glider drops behind, and with the backing of an enormous aerial and naval bombardment, tens of thousands of Allied troops established a foothold before beginning a difficult effort to expand that foothold and break out of the surrounding area. On the day of the invasion itself the the 1st and 2nd battalions of the Royal Ulster Rifles were involved: the 1st landed in gliders as part of Operation Mallard, one of the most successful airborne operations that day, while the 2nd went ashore in good order with the 3rd Infantry Division at Sword Beach. The Antrim Fortress Royal Engineers, now designated as the 591 (Antrim) Parachute Squadron, were less fortunate, their landings over Normandy scattered by ground fire. The worst off of the Irish named regiments involved on D-Day were probably the companies of the Liverpool Irish that went ashore at Juno Beach, the targets for intense machine gun fire in sections: though Juno was secured, that day and in the weeks that followed the regiment suffered enough that it was quietly disbanded before the end of the year.

The fighting to establish and expand the beachhead was one thing, but there remained an entire country to liberate. Advancing through the Norman countryside was a difficult task, with hedgerows augmenting German defences and with the Allies struggling to land adequate supplies ahead of the fall of Cherbourg late in June. Infantry, including many of those units that had landed on the beaches, were obliged to stay in the thick of combat for weeks afterwards, crawling towards objectives some leaders had hoped would be taken on day one. German resistance, organised by Erwin Rommel, was predicated on the belief that the war would be lost if the Allied advance here was not turned back.

The tanks of the Royal Irish Hussars were thrown into he fray a few days after the initial landings, and helped to support numerous efforts to advance through the Norman countryside. The 2nd and 3rd battalions of the Irish Guards joined the Normandy fighting in late June, and were instrumental in the capturing of the towns Cagny and Vimont in mid-July: an incident with a supporting Guards tank ramming into an enemy Tiger when its own gun jammed is a well-remembered part of this combat. Towards the end of the month the Guards aided in the capture of the strategically invaluable heights at St Pincon, as the British moved to take advantage of the initial American breakout from Normandy. The tanks of the Royal Inniskilling Dragoon Guards, who had arrived in Normandy late in July, were also involved in this operation.

By August the Allies had done enough to break the German cordon and indeed trap a large number of enemy troops in Normandy, and the subsequent advance was as swift as it was deadly to the large number of Axis troops left scrambling. The 6th Airborne, which included the Royal Ulster Rifles, was part of a famously quick part of the advance, travelling over 70kms in only nine days, while tanks of the Hussars were often at the forefront of the Allies’ movements. Paris would be liberated before the end of August, and most of the rest of France rapidly followed. Several of the Irish named regiments were involved in this rapid advance, making it to the River Seine and then continuing on towards the Low Countries. Belgium was entered in September, and many now began to think that the battered German forces would not be able to hold on beyond the end of the year.

The effort to force this state of affairs revolved around Operation Market Garden, Bernard Montgomery’s very ambitious, and very controversial, scheme to secure a number of vital bridges and canal crossings through the Netherlands by means of parachute and glider drops, to be followed by a lightning fast advance of other Allied ground troops, thus opening the door for a further advance into North-Western Germany and on to Berlin. The Irish Guards had been among the first into Brussels on the 3rd of September and then among the first to hit the Dutch frontier a week later, and their 2nd battalion were now among those tasked with prosecuting the ground attack. After getting past initial resistance that was stronger than expected, the Guards were part of the forces that entered Eindhoven and later Nijmegen, before an advance onto Arnhem, the farthest objective where British paratroopers, cut off since their jump, spent a terrible week fighting a desperate battle to hold-out. The oncoming Allied forces, delayed by the stronger-than-expected German resistance, continual attacks along their line of supply by bypassed enemy units and difficulties in securing certain bridges, got to the vicinity of Arnhem too late, and could only aid in the partial withdrawal of the forces engaged there. The Rhine would not be breached before the end of 1944. Fighting on the Western Front would remain static through November and December, with Allied units engaged in thwarting limited German counter-attacks in parts of the Netherlands, before the sudden and unexpected assault through the Ardennes forest region that would become known as the Battle of the Bulge.

In the Pacific, the 69th “Fighting Irish” Regiment had spent most of the first half of the year recovering from the assault on Makin Island and preparing for future operations. The American island-hopping strategy continued apace, as did advances through the islands of South-East Asia, and in June of 1944 the focus fell on Saipan, of the Marianas Islands. US Marines went ashore on the 15th of June but ran into stiff resistance: a few days later the 69th was among Army units sent in from the “floating reserve”. For close to a full month the fighting raged as Allied forces pushed forward bit-by-bit, fighting Japanese soldiers in dense jungle and in fortified positions: natural barriers such as hills and canyons proved difficult to clear, and casualties were high. The 69th were among those that captured the infamous “Purple Heart Ridge” during this battle, among other accomplishments. Saipan was secure by mid-July, though the 69th and other units would be suppressing Japanese holdouts for weeks afterwards. Having taken heavy casualties, the 69th then went into reserve for rest and replenishing of its ranks. By the end of the year, the Allies had won further, enormous victories over the Japanese Navy that severely limited its ability to be a major factor in the continuing war, and had worked their advance as far as the islands of the Philippines. Now well within striking range of the Japanese home islands, a devastating aerial campaign reduced many Japanese cities to ashes, and worse was to come.

All the while, an enormous amount of fighting continued to be waged on the Eastern Front, as the Soviet Union pressed its huge advantage in numbers and the Germans held grimly on as best they could. Operation Bagration, an enormous “deep” offensive, smashed through German lines and inflicted over 400’000 casualties in a few weeks. This, married to other offensives, saw Soviet troops retake most of the Baltics, advance to the gates of Warsaw, knock Romania out of the war and make gains throughout the Balkans. By the end of the year they were on the verge of moving decisively into German territory itself, with any German defences more a matter of delay than any reasonable expectation of turning the tide. Time was running out for Hitler’s Germany, pressed from all sides: the only question now was what power was going to deliver the final blow.

Ireland would have watched all of these events with obvious interest, and an already with a mind for the post-war world. It was difficult to ignore the war, especially when German bombs fell on Dublin, or when Irish ships were sunk by the Kriegsmarine. It is the latter topic that we turn to again in our next entry, as we take a close look at U-boat activity in and around Irish territorial waters, and the many instances of U-boats that were sunk in the same.

To read the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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Review: Blackbird

Blackbird

Trailer

Shall we dance?

Ten years after retiring from the life of a spy after the death of his lover, Victor Blackley (Michael Flatley) runs a Barbadian hotel with close friend Nick (Ian Beattie). At the same time that a dangerous chemical formula his former comrades are searching for goes missing, Blackley welcomes two new guests: arms dealer Blake (Eric Roberts) and his fiancée Vivian (Nicole Evans), another member of Blackley’s former cell. The link between the two events will drag Blackley back into his previous espionage persona of the “Blackbird”.

A 2018 production that has become practically famous in the interim between then and its recent theatrical release, Michael Flatley’s Blackbird is an experience, that is for sure. The proportion of viewers entering into a screening of this one with serious expectations will undoubtedly be quite slight, and with good reason: 30 seconds of the trailer will be enough to tell you that you are about to see a cheap looking James Bond rip-off starring a man who simply cannot act. No, Blackbird see’s its attraction arive in being a prime and obvious example of “good bad” filmmaking, an Irish sibling of The Room, and on that score it delivers, and delivers repeatedly. But for the identity of the lead/writer/director this would probably be a nothing production of little notoriety, but in a shorter time than it takes to say “Riverdance”, Blackbird became something of an industry urban legend, a state of affairs fuelled by rumours of closed screenings and serially bad production values, and its fame upon release is well-earned.

If one is to speak seriously on the project for a while, it suffices to say that it is badly acted, badly written and badly directed. Hats off to Flatley then, who is responsible for all three states of affairs. The words “vanity project” have been thrown around a lot regards Blackbird, and it is honestly hard to think of anything else when you see Flatley, so in love with the idea of a tortured 007-type, struggle with even the most rudimentary of dialogue. That has been reduced to the point of simplicity, with most of his lines consisting of around four words, but even then Flatley just cannot convoy any emotion other than dour-faced. It was around maybe the 40 minute mark, when Flatley’s response to being told about the bad guy’s designated henchman was a curt and emotionless “He’s a serious unit” that I sort of lost it. There are plenty of others to encourage guffaws, not least Flatley in a confession box: “Bless me father, for I have sinned…and I’m about to sin again!” Flatley perhaps thinks he’s some kind of Gene Kelly-turned-Sean Connery, but he is not, as evidence by the way he says things like “I’m firing on all cylinders” as if he is an engine wheezing its way to a final breakdown.

This is a pleasure in watching bad acting of course, and any accusations of schadenfreude tend to go by the wayside when you consider the seedier aspect of proceedings, namely that Flatley is playing and writing a character who is irresistible to various women, most notably a young lounge singer (Mary Louise Kelly, who also contributes some decent crooning) at the hotel. In one remarkable scene she attempts to seduce Blackley, complete with partial nudity, only to get turned down flat. It’s rare nowadays that you see the tired old trope of the world weary action hero turning down sex for no reason, a remnant of a very old school kind of male-driven thinking that refusing sex is about as impressive an act that a man can pull off. The scene underlines the narcissism that touches every part of Blackbird, that makes it worthy of ridicule. Long past the point when Flatley seems more interested in making sure he is wearing the right hat, this one is a write-off.

Not that the rest of the cast is miles ahead of Flatley either, all taking their cues for how seriously they should treat the material from the leading man it seems. Eric Roberts, a man so used to bargain bin productions that you could practically use his name as an alternative description of such, is our villain, and sleepwalks his way through a multitude of awful scenes, not least a two minute turn when Blackbird shamelessly apes the poker sequence of Casino Royale, and the likes of Ian Bettie and Nicole Evans can’t do much more with a script this regrettable.

But what can anyone do with a story this bland, this unexceptional? The struggles of Flatley to act, the way the background extras can obviously be seen pretending to eat, the superfluous nude scenes, the unclear time setting (rotary phones are common, yet there are also snazzy laptops) they are all a cover for a ridiculous story that revolves around the, and how I wish I was kidding about the name, “Libyan death formula” and whether superspy Blackley can learn to forgive himself for the death of his former lover on a mission. There’s bits of every other Bond movie, a dollop of Casablanca and other, lesser, spy thrillers, to be found in every nook and cranny. There’s elements to play with there, but when the leading man can’t get across what needs to be gotten across with the tortured past (brought up in ridiculously drawn out flashback scenes where Flatley has enough to deal with in the tight leather jacket he chooses to wear in the jungle), and when the main plot looks cobbled together from the Broccoli cutting rom floor, there is nothing to really be done than laugh at some of the individual elements, whether it is Flatley’s failing efforts to convey anger or the moody sight of him attending a funeral in the rain that is undercut by him having his hat cocked.

Visually of course, it is dreadful. Once you take away the drone photography sections you are left with only the odd tracking shot to enliven the otherwise basic surroundings of Blocking 101, so that the required dynamism that a spy thriller has to have is completely missing. Remarkably shot on location in Barbados, Blackley’s hotel looks like a run down vacant building that has been enlivened with a few touches here and there, and hardly the Caribbean’s swankiest hotel. And the action sequences, such as they are, are of course worthless, with the climactic encounter especially risible in its use of drones to cover for the casts lack of panache, and a fistfight between Blackley and a henchman (the previously mentioned “serious unit”) so unbelievable that you’d rather George Lazenby play the part.

This film exists for two reasons. One, is because Michael Flatley had the money and the ego to make a James Bond knock-off with himself in the James Bond role, right down to filming the idea of him being irresistible to beautiful young women. The second, is because the people who underwrote its distribution could probably see the “good bad” potential, and if the cinema I was in is any indication, they were probably right. On just about every level, Blackbird is a filmmaking disaster: story, script, cast, cinematography, there’s very little there that rises above a 3/10 level tops. But the film is genuinely hilarious, especially when it doesn’t mean to be, and for that I imagine it might, in the confines of Ireland at the very least, get something of a cult following. For that reason, it is recommended.

(All images are copyright of Dance Lord Productions).

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NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Four: “Deadlock”

I shouldn’t need to spout the words.

Air Date: 20/02/2009

Director: Robert M. Young

Writer: Jane Espenson

Synopsis: Ellen returns to the Fleet, with her arrival propelling a personal crisis with Tigh and Caprica Six. Baltar attempts to take control of the Cult once more, finding unexpected opposition and opportunity. The Final Five consider abandoning the Fleet.

Review

OK, let’s get this over with.

“Deadlock” is a crash back to Earth for BSG, the first flat-out bad episode of the show since “The Road Less Traveled”, and it all comes down, once again, to Ellen Tigh. She’s a character at the heart of a story that just does not work, where the overuse of the word “love” makes me think of a line from John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines and a character who demands that word from an SO: “You need a robot that says nothing but ‘I love you'”. It’s “love” this and “love “that, as BSG devolves into the worst kind of soap opera. It’s done that before, most effectively in “The Eye Of Jupiter” but in this instance it doesn’t work at all, maybe because the base layer is a plotline I never thought was a good idea in the first place and because one of the characters involved is someone I don’t want to see anymore.

I really, really do not need a love triangle consisting of Tigh, Ellen and Caprica Six. I especially don’t need one where the Ellen of “No Exit” just seems to vanish, replaced by the same old Ellen we knew before, a woman who gets a thrill out of turning the screw emotionally wherever she gets a chance, and making Tigh, and everyone else for that matter, dance to her tune. That Tigh just goes back to her as quickly as he does, having sex in the briefing room while he decides not to say anything about his other relationship, is bad enough, but then we get Ellen torturing Caprica Six with that knowledge, as well as getting into shouting matches with Tigh over Caprica’s pregnancy. The way that Ellen focuses in on Caprica’s pregnancy as a betrayal she needs to get back at Tigh and Caprica for, rather than keep looking at the bigger picture of what it means and what is happening in the Fleet, just makes “Deadlock” a very difficult watch: she votes for the Cylons to abandon the Fleet solely as a means of hurting Tigh, which is just such a ridiculous plot point when you think about it. The catty, unpleasant Ellen of the first two seasons – I think of “Sacrifice” where I counted three distinct moments where she caused disaster through her grating characterisation – is just not watchable in this role as one of the most important characters in the show.

I feel like telling the writers to pick a lane with Ellen: she can’t be both the woman who spent 18 months going back-and-forth with Cavil in a subtle verbal battle on the nature of Cylon existence, and this petty, nasty, low creature. It really is just a total about face, and not a welcome one. And then it gets worse with the slop of a finale where, after stressing Caprica Six to the point of triggering a miscarriage, or so it seemed to me, Ellen and Tigh are seemingly reconciled near the moment of the baby’s passing. All the while, these characters prattle on about “love” like it’s some kind of measurable entity that Tigh needs to show the right amount of to Caprica. When the Cylons were first going on about this idea back in Season One it seemed understood that it was a religious gambit, but here it’s like they think Cottle is measuring “Liam” for a love count of some kind. There’s just no aspect of this triangle that I enjoyed watching or found entertaining, or in any way vital: indeed I feel that the entire Caprica Six pregnancy arc has been a mistake, and part of me suspects that the miscarriage suffered here may well have been a course correction. If it allows us to move on past this must awful version of Ellen, and this insipid back-and-forth between her and Tigh, then at least there will be that. I suppose this plotline does give us a few very good scenes, especially the last, between Tigh and Adama, and isn’t it crazy that I have to praise that in a story that features a woman losing an unborn baby?

The main aspect of this plot should be the debate of the title, wherein the Final Five agree to vote on whether they should stay with the Fleet or leave it to its fate. It’s an interesting question, even if the idea that they all agree to be bound by a vote is a little hard to swallow in the case of Tigh. Tigh, who identifies the most strongly with humanity, of course votes to stay, and there is little to examine into that. Tory votes to leave, and that too is an accurate reflection of her journey through Season Four. Anders doesn’t get to vote here, but made clear his preference in “No Exit”: he too, I think, identifies with humanity more than the others, but more than that his brush with an understanding of the Cycle has given him an urgent need to remain with the Fleet and see it out. Tyrol is more interesting really, very quickly voting to leave, despite his recent re-instatement in the Fleet military. With the situation over his son apparently resolved, there appears to be very little left tying him to humanity: no wife, no child, doesn’t look like many friends. In that respect I suppose it makes sense, but I would have liked at least a bit more hesitancy in the decision.

It all comes down to Ellen, conveniently, and as part of her demented personal vendetta she votes to leave, setting off one of the most painful to watch sections of the episode. She dresses up her nonsense as a means of protecting the “pure” Cylon child in Caprica’s womb, casually dismissing the existence of Hera in the process. Tigh counters with a righteous and frankly long past due dismissal of the idea that the Final Five all have to conform to a majority decision, and Ellen’s “petty and vile” line of thinking. Of course it’s all just nastiness from Ellen, a means of trying to break Tigh and Caprica Six apart, and I just can’t keep writing about this sub-plot. It’s just awful, an unpalatable sauce on top of what should have been a juicy steak.

On Caprica Six, she gets a fair proportion of the episode, but it’s just all over the place. She gets assaulted in Dogsville, and it isn’t made clear why she was even there in the first place. She shares a very strange scene with Roslin where the President feels compelled too apologise to her for that assault, before bringing up the visions they previously shared: I thought Roslin was done with all of that “farce” as she said in “A Disquiet Follows My Soul”? She gets into it with Ellen where the two are basically fighting over the safety of her unborn child and the love of Saul Tigh, in a scene where Tricia Helfer honestly looked as much at sea as she has ever been in the entire shows run, and who can blame her: Six has been turned into a completely different character with such things. Yes, the miscarriage scenes will touch even the stoniest of hearts just a little, but I really do feel as if not enough was done to build up to such a moment properly. Caprica Six is one of the most important characters in the show, and from “Escape Velocity” to here, she’s been wasted in this dead end of a sub-plot.

Thank God for Gaius Baltar then, whose time returning to the Cult gives “Deadlock” an interesting, if slightly contrived, sub-plot to distract from everything else. Baltar, having cut and run in “The Oath”, comes back to the harem, and finds, to his horror, that “the sheep have a new shepherd”. Indeed, the Cult has actually become a little divided: between those who still have a great deal of time for Baltar’s supposed message of brotherly love for all those in the Fleet, and those who prefer Paulla’s somewhat more cynical view of taking power for themselves and adopting a defensive posture. Baltar comes to realise that the inferior minds he has been leading, or so he surely thinks of them, really do latch on to whomever shows authority in his absence.

His gambit to regain control is to suddenly become a man of the people in a much larger sense than before, reaching out to the unconverted and showering his potential apostles with food. In essence, Baltar shores up his own power with some short-term actions of benevolence, which looks good when framed against Paulla’s unwillingness to help those in need, regardless of her practical reasons for doing so. People appreciate a charitable man, even if the charity in question is not sustainable and arguably not very wise. Baltar will always seemingly find a way to turn his talent for the theatrical and his aura of the divine to ways that will do him good and leave rivals in the ha’penny place. He even knows when to to go along with Paulla’s way, and when to stick the knife into her.

Baltar’s higher motivations for doing all of this remain in question, with him expressing a happy feeling when giving, but one couched in very selfish terms: the act is all about the satisfaction it seems to give him, a satisfaction tied to how he is perceived by those he is giving too. Baltar is never going to be purely good person really, and this is as good as we will see on that score: doing good things for those who deserve it, as long as it benefits him in some way. No surprise to see that it is Head Six pulling the strings in that regard, with Baltar’s dalliance with heresy in “A Disquiet Follows My Soul”, and the extended version of the same story, now banished as she regains some control.

Tied into this plot is the fraught situation in Dogsville, where the civilian population is increasingly left to police themselves, with predictable results. The collapse may have been stalled somewhat by the defeat of Gaeta’s mutiny in “Blood On The Scales”, but the signs of it are all back again in our look at something approximating a food riot, a lack of marines and guns being openly shown on the deck by toughs out to literally steal the food from babies’ mouths. Such things put a temporary kibosh on Baltar’s plan to be the man who feeds the people, but then it also gives him an opportunity to become so much more.

When Baltar goes to the nominal powers that be in the Fleet and warns them that the situation in Dogsville is prelude to a full-on revolution, we know that they are not idle words in any way, shape or form. Despondent people will only take so much, and if Galactica lacks enough marines to hand out food without it being stolen, then who knows what could happen. Baltar’s solution is one that would have been unthinkable only a few short episodes ago, but now makes a warped form of sense: for his Cult to become an armed security force, who will make sure food goes where it needs to go. That Adama both shamefully washes his hands of the situation in Dosgsville and legitimises Baltar’s Cult in the same instance is the price that he has to pay, and even if it means that there will be less stealing of food the final image of the plot – the Cult swooning over the assault rifles they have been handed – is a disturbing one. One has to admire Baltar though: he starts “Deadlock” on the outs, facing a rival with a big hold on the Cult, and ends it back in control, the rival neutered, and now at the head of what we have to call an armed militia with fringe religious motivations. Where do we go from there?

The last part of the episode worth talking about revolves around Adama’s growing concern about just what Galactica itself is becoming. In “No Exit” he made the call that he would do whatever it took to save the physically disintegrating ship, but in “Deadlock” we see a man still in turmoil over this decision, disgusted by the “resin” the Cylons are pumping into its supports and looking distinctly unconvinced at the repairs that are being attempted everywhere.

The problem isn’t just physical, it’s in what this move to merge Cylon biological technology with Galactica represents, which is little more than a “blended” ship. Cylons are already operating on Galactica as pilots, now as de facto engineers, and their FTL technology has been used to upgrade all the ships in the Fleet, or at least I presume so. They are walking around the hallways of Galactica freely. Adama is not so far gone with his approval of the Cylon alliance that he is happy with such a state of affairs, and his hesitancy with the nature of the repairs reflects that unhappiness. It takes Baltar of all people to really put the question to him: is he going to be satisfied with Galactica becoming a ship that is both Colonial and Cylon?

In the end Adama continues the fightback against this prospect by endorsing Baltar’s “last human solution” to the Dogsville problem, but he can’t even get to the end of the episode without realising it is a losing battle: as soon as he sees Cylons using the memorial hallway in the same manner as humans do, both he and Roslin realise the futility of fighting against the idea of a blended ship. It’s already blended: in the struts and bulkheads that are now being held together by Cylon science, and in a crew who are partaking of the same rituals of remembrance and sorrow. But that doesn’t mean that the question has been resolved exactly, either with Galactica physically, or with Galactica’s soul.

No, the only thing worse than being leader of this lot would be being one of them.

Notes

-The title seems to indicate that the Cylon dilemma over whether to leave the Fleet or not will be the main plot. It is not.

-The Cylon “resin” is some dodgy looking stuff, tar-like and unpleasant.

-I think this is our first look at Dogsville since “Maelstrom”? Things haven’t improved much, with food riots a common occurrence.

-Why is Caprica Six in Dogsville at the start? Is she lining up for food? I would have assumed as the paramour of an officer she wouldn’t need to do that.

-“I don’t trust that machine” says Tigh about the monitor for his unborn child, and he’s cognizant enough to give a wry smile at the irony.

-As indicated by Adama later, “Liam” is indeed a shortened form of “William”, from Germanic origins.

-Interesting that both Vipers and Heavy Raiders intercept the Raptor. Is this co-ordinated or are the Cylons just joining in?

-Starbuck says over the radio that the Cylon onboard is “a Sharon”. Adama replies softly “An Eight”. He’s wisely putting the walls up straight away.

-A pertinent question never asked: how does Boomer find the Fleet? Do the Cavil-led Cylons know where it is?

-I suppose it is intentional that our first glimpse of Ellen shows off a lot of leg, with I presume an intentional nod to her entrance in “Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down”. The sudden reversion to the old character begins there.

-I love Hot Dog’s almost meta commentary on what he sees: “How many dead chicks are out there?”

-Tyrol now seemingly has the ability to identify specific Cylon models, ID’ing Boomer with just a gaze into the eyes.

-The count is unchanged, for once.

-Now Adama is walking around with a flask of alcohol. That gets a wearied look from Roslin.

-Ellen points out that the Five represent the only survivors of a planetary holocaust, which is a sobering way of looking at it.

-Adama’s look back as he leaves the room is very telling, full of concern and foreboding. As far back as “Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down” he’s had serious reservations of what Ellen means for Tigh.

-The demented aspect of Tigh’s sexual hang-ups continues as he now sees Six when having sex with Ellen.

-Gotta love Baltar’s hesitant return to the Cult, waiting for just the right moment to announce his arrival. Ever the showman.

-Also gotta love Baltar’s faux-outrage at Paulla’s contempt: “Abandoned!?”

-Baltar sees things slipping away from him very quickly, and tires desperately to get ahead of criticisms of his departure: “I knew if I stayed away you’d find the strength”.

-Ellen isn’t messing around as she has a very pointed conversation with Tigh: “Who’d you frak?”. She does not like the answer, which brings up similar Oedipal issues as we saw between her and Cavil.

-Tigh attempts to explain how he kept seeing Ellen whenever he had sex with Caprica, and she hilariously complains about being Tigh’s “mental porn”.

-Cottle leaves the Cylons alone with Anders with the sarcastic warning of “Don’t unplug anything”.

-The Six in this scene describes the group as “the Cylon family”, which is a new one. Not much of a family it has to be said.

-I’m right onboard with Tyrol’s reaction to Ellen and Tigh’s embarrassing spat, suggesting that they get back to the slightly more important issue of whether the Cylons should leave the Fleet.

-This “majority rule” idea is so stupid, the thought that someone like Tigh will abandon the Fleet just because Tory and Tyrol say he should.

-Baltar hasn’t lost his touch, swerving to avoid embarrassment when he meets a child called Gaius and is informed mid-sentence that he is named after his father: “I’m very flattered…to have the same name as his father”.

-He hasn’t lost that political touch either. The way he grandstands with this woman in this scene reminds me very much of his speech to the press lambasting Zarek in “Colonial Day”.

-Roslin’s apology to Caprica Six is just strange, a way for her to bring up visions that I thought she didn’t care about anymore. What’s with the 180 turn on this?

-Why is Starbuck carrying the bullet Cottle took out of Sam? Is this another totem for their relationship, like the dogtags that were so important in “The Farm” and “Downloaded”?

-There are multiple scenes in “Deadlock” of Adama just looking, distressed, at the repairs being carried out, and I guess the point is to lay the groundwork for the more fateful decision upcoming regards the ship.

-Oh, how I can do without Ellen using the words “making love”.

-I like Caprica’s refusal to flinch in the face of Ellen’s insinuations about her unborn baby: “No, it was a threat”. Wrong tack to take Ellen.

-Baltar’s charity is interrupted by a gang of toughs, who are led by G. Patrick Currie’s Enzo, making his only other appearance outside of “The Passage”.

-Enzo isn’t too impressed by the Cult’s show of pistols: “Ours our bigger”. I’d say the more potent thing is their willingness to use them.

-I mentioned last time that we have to consider the possibility of Adama being an alcoholic, and here he is drunk again. I’d say there’s hard evidence for it now.

-Drunk Tigh is in good form, claiming his “Great grandpa was a power sander”.

-“I see it”. Adama isn’t totally blind to what is happening, he’s just keeping quiet. The idea of a blended ship isn’t something he wants to confront openly just yet.

-Head Six asks the really pertinent question of Baltar, regards Paulla: “Do you think she’s giving them hope?” She knows that a blind grasp at optimism will trump cynical pessimism every time.

-Playing nice isn’t doing it for Baltar anymore, so he goes for the jugular with Paulla in front of the others with a parental-style takedown: “I am so disappointed in you”

-For the first time since “Escape Velocity” I think, Baltar finds himself being parroted by Head Six. It’s always amusing to see him recite her lines.

-Gotta love the delivery of “Guns! More guns! Bigger guns! Better guns!”

-Man, when did Tigh become the voice of reason in all of this nonsense? Here he warns the Cylons that opting for a “pure” Cylon future won’t work, and of course he’s right.

-Ellen’s “I’m sorry” at the top of this medbay scene made me literally say “Really?” out loud on this re-watch. It’s a jarring tonal shift from her attitude in the last scene.

-Tigh’s love monologue is a sloppy mess of different sentiments, which is a good reflection on the episode I suppose. It’s the rancid cheery on top of this whole experience.

-No, wait, it’s the moment when Tigh decides he buys into all of this “love will stop physical health problems” schtick when Liam flatlines: “That was me, I take it back, I’m sorry”.

-Adama just has no time for Baltar: “I’m going to the head, a little project I’ve been working on”.

-“Galactica is slipping away from you drop by drop”. Good line to get through to Adama from Baltar, cutting to the heart of the issue.

-Baltar brings up the possibility that Adama will need to bring Centurions to Galactica to enforce order, an idea that is actually the focus of deleted scenes between Adama and Roslin. It’s more than Adama can accept.

-Baltar offers up “the last human solution” to the problem presented, and I love the cut to him and the Cult fondling assault rifles. Really well done.

-Bit creepy, Tyrol gazing at a sleeping Boomer, but it is set-up for the following episode at least.

-A brief moment establishes that Anders isn’t entirely gone just yet, setting up a major part of the next few episodes.

-You have to be struck by Adama and Tigh embracing as they do at this moment of grief. Ellen wasn’t wrong about how strong the bond is between the two.

-I would imagine that any Cylon “use” of the memorial hallway would get torn down pretty quick by humans, so this moment perhaps doesn’t have the same impact for me that the writers intended.

-I do like the closing line though: “It’s already happened, hasn’t it?” Adama is behind the times it seems.

-One thing worth recording from Ronald D. Moore’s podcast notes on this episode is that the surviving mutineers have all apparently been imprisoned on the Astral Queen, though we’ll never get to see either that process or what that actually looks like.

Overall Verdict: “Deadlock” does some really good plot work regards Baltar and his Cult, and with Adama’s dilemma over the Galactica, and even merges those two plots together successfully at the conclusion. Everything else, this ridiculous Tigh family drama, is about as bad as BSG has ever been to watch, and I do not say that lightly. The stakes are just too high right now for any of this awful interpersonal stuff to land right. We’re heading into the final stretch of the show now, and we’ve just gone straight into a serious pothole of bad writing and performances that can’t rescue the bad writing. The car is wobbling, and needs to get put back on the straight-and-narrow real quick.

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Ireland’s Wars: The Long Watch

One of the longest campaigns of the Second World War, one that perhaps encompassed the totality of the war as it pertained to Europe, was the Battle of the Atlantic. As had been the case in the First World War, British dependence on the sea as a means of trade and the importing of needed supplies meant that it was an avenue the German Kriegsmarine went all out to close off. The result was an escalating back and forth between some of the world’s most powerful navies, all striving to secure or deny sea lanes. Caught in the middle were the ships of various merchant marines, those civilian vessels and sailors tasked with the transport of goods and material needed for the war efforts or needed to keep their nations going. Neutral powers were no exceptions to this, and in this entry we will discuss the experience of the Irish mercantile marine of the Second World War, an experience that was steeped in loss and bloodshed. For those who experienced it, it was “The Long Watch”.

It is perhaps so blindingly obvious that it shouldn’t need to be said, but merchant shipping was very important to Ireland. Eamon de Valera may have committed himself and his government, in light of the Economic War, to a degree of self-sufficiency within the Irish economy, but he couldn’t alter the geographical reality: as a small island, Ireland was dependent on a degree of import and export to make money and to gain needed goods that it could not produce itself. Exports, with the United Kingdom as the main trading partner, were especially important, something we have already discussed in the context of Irish neutrality.

Yet despite this, the governments that existed between 1923 and the start of the Second World War had neglected the support and maintenance of Ireland’s mercantile fleet, whether because of economic contraction or outright negligence. When the Civil War ended 127 ships could claim to be part of that fleet, but the number reduced bit-by-bit, until only 56 could be said to be on the books in 1939. That number alone was not enough to keep Ireland supplied, and a dependence had grown on foreign owned ships to make up the shortfall, especially those registered in the United Kingdom. Predictably, this created a crisis when war was declared in September 1939, and suddenly many of those same foreign-registered ships that Ireland depended on for trade were withdrawn from that service, a situation complicated by the many instances of confused nationality. Some ships were owned by British companies but registered in Ireland, so awkward choices had to be made about what flag to fly (sometimes made even more awkward when some crewmembers refused to serve under a tricolour). Before one even considered the danger that now existed for ships of the Irish mercantile marine, the government had to suddenly go about making up for years of neglect, and rapidly attempt to increase the size of the fleet in the most trying of circumstances.

All of this comes ahead of an examination of just what life was like on those ships, which was a mixture of nerve-inducing boredom and moments of extreme terror. Irish ships did what they could to identify themselves to any belligerent power that was watching whether it was on the waves, below them or in the air. This meant large tricolour flags or the word “EIRE” painted on all decks and and all sides of the ship, to be illuminated at night as much as possible, with no blackout procedures. Such things helped to ward off attack, but were never a surety of safety. On plenty of occasions, warring powers would open fire on Irish ships, and on more than one occasion this was done deliberately. To be struck by a torpedo or bomb in the high seas meant a likely loss of the ship and a very good chance of being lost at sea, unless you were fortunate enough to be able to limp back to a port, make your way to a lifeboat or be otherwise rescued by a passerby: the latter often did not happen in regards the belligerent powers. The ability to stop such attacks through communication with the belligerent vessel was limited, and often failed to convince anyway. Neutrality was no great shield at sea, with Irish exports to Britain a convenient excuse for German U-boats found striking at Irish shipping, and mistaken identity a ready-made excuse for any power otherwise.

Early in the war, Irish merchant ships joined British convoys, for reasons of seemingly better protection and cheaper insurance options (the longer the war went, the harder it began for Irish ships to get adequately insured), but the experience proved difficult for both sides. As stated many Irish ships early in the conflict did not undertake to blackout lights, which made convoys more noticeable at night, and in practice the convoys proved not as capable of protecting merchants as was hoped. The case of the convoy dubbed “OG 71” , which sailed in August 1941, is instructive. Dubbed “the nightmare convoy” in the aftermath, it consisted of 23 merchant ships and 13 escorts. Two of the merchant ships, the Lanahrone and the Clonlara, were Irish vessels of the Limerick Steamship Company, carrying a cargo of British coal. Unable, or maybe unwilling, to blackout their lights, the two were placed in the centre of the convoy in an attempt to limit their visibility. The convoy was spotted a few days after leaving Liverpool by a Luftwaffe aircraft, and then set upon by a U-boat “wolfpack” operating out of Brest. Eight of the merchants and two of the escorts, at the cost of over 400 lives, would be lost. The Clonlara was one of the sunk merchants, taken by U-201 as it broke from the convoy and attempted to make it to Lisbon, with the loss of 19 lives. The Lanahrone did make it to Lisbon, along with nine others that refused to follow the convoy path to Gibraltar, at which only five of the merchants eventually arrived. The Lanahrone later joined another convoy going the other direction, in which nine merchant ships were lost, and the others spared because the attacking submarines ran out of torpedoes. Of course we cannot say for sure that the lights of the Irish vessels insured doom for the convoy, but they certainly did not increase its security. In the aftermath of OG 71 the practice of Irish ships sailing with British convoys gradually reduced, until by late the following year it had essentially ceased. One suspects that both sides of the arrangement would have reason to be pleased with such an outcome.

The example of these convoys gives an indication that the primary, though not only, threat to Irish shipping was from Germany, and specifically German U-boats. Karl Donitz, at the time the commander of the German U-boat arm and future commander of the entire Kriegsmarine (and the Nazi German state, at least for a very short time after Hitler’s death) specifically ordered his submarines to avoid neutral shipping and “Ireland in particular”, rightfully fearful that an unrestricted campaign that took in Irish targets would only serve to push Ireland closer to the Allied orbit. But in practice Irish vessels were often at the mercy of the individual U-boat captains. Sometimes they would knowingly attack an Irish ship because they knew or felt it was carrying goods to and from Britain. Sometimes they would fire on an Irish ship, and later claim it was flying a British flag. Sometimes they would surface next to Irish ships and demand to see papers confirming their registration (the latter sometimes leading to humorous incidents, such as when the 39-year-old Belfast born captain of the Irish Willow sent crew across to a waiting U-boat to explain the captain was too elderly to visit himself). Subsequent orders found on stricken U-boats confirmed that Donitz repeated his orders to respect Irish neutrality, but noted that determining the exact status of a ship within a blockade zone did not require any “special obligation”: in essence, German U-boats could fire on who they liked, and would suffer little to no censure for it as long as it was within defined areas of the sea. One Captain found to have torpedoed an Irish ship was deemed to have made “an understandable mistake” put down to being too “eager”.

The experience of the mercantile marine of Ireland during this period often focuses in an the MV Kerlogue as a prime example. The Kerlogue was a “coaster”, a relatively small, shallow-hulled ship whose primary purpose was not trips across seas or oceans, but instead transport of people and goods to and from different positions around the Irish coastline. It was crewed by just 11 men. The necessity of the Second World War forced the Kerlogue into service further and further away from Irish seas however, typically along a route that saw the ship deliver agricultural products to Britain, then British coal to Portugal, then American goods, often wheat, bought from Portuguese ports back to Ireland. The Kerlogue was to have numerous run-ins with the wa rin the course of its conflict career.

On the 2nd of April 1941, the Kerlogue was the nearest ship to an attacked British convoy, a few miles south of Wexford. An oil tanker had been destroyed with the loss of all hands, and the collier – a ship that transported coal – Wild Rose had been left badly damaged and with its lifeboats lost. The Kerlogue altered its course to assist and towed the Wild Rose back to Wexford where it was stranded on a beach, saving both the 13 crew, and the ship, which was later repaired in Dublin. Six months later, while undertaking a passage from Swansea to Rosslare, the Kerlogue struck a mine in Cardigan Bay, but survived without any lasting damage or fatalities.

Two years later in October 1943, while carrying a cargo of coal to Lisbon, the Kerlogue was circled by an RAAF flying boat, and seemingly misidentified as an enemy ship. Two hours later, fighters of the No. 307 Squadron, a Polish unit, attacked the Kerlogue, strafing her repeatedly for twenty minutes, injuring several crewmembers, including the Captain, before breaking off. The Kerlogue would later signal another flying boat for assistance, but were told none could be given. Bizarrely it was the cargo of coal that may have saved the ship, as the dense material helped to limit the full damage the British guns could have caused to the hull. The British would later make payments to the Kerlogue crew on the grounds that its Captain, Desmond Fortune, was regarded as a decent man who was willing to pass information to British ships, and the unfortunate victim of happenstance: British-crewed fighters may have been better placed to identify the Kerlogue.

Just over two months later, on the 29th December, a repaired Kerlogue was carrying a cargo of oranges from Lisbon to Dublin when they were signaled by a Luftwaffe aircraft with the message SOS. Following in the plane’s wake, the ship came upon the aftermath of what is known as the Battle of the Bay of Biscay: a German destroyer and two torpedo boats had been sunk, leaving 700 men dead in the water. The Kerlogue crew spent the next ten hours pulling survivors from the water, eventually getting in 168, who must have been crammed into every available space. Four would die onboard from injuries sustained. Using the cargo to prevent dehydration for the rescued men, the crew ignored twin requests to dock in France made by the Germans and in Fishguard made by the British and instead headed straight to Cobh, where the passengers were disembarked and went into internment. The Kerlogue crew received much praise from the Kriegsmarine for their action.

Another example of a ship worth exploring more is the Irish Oak. This was an American steamship that had been chartered upon the outbreak of the war, designed to carry wheat from North America, but had numerous difficulties owing to her poor condition and constant need for repairs: an incident where it was left behind by a convoy when its engine failed helped to contribute to Irish unease with convoys. The Oak was hit and sunk by torpedoes from U-607 in the Atlantic on the 15th May 1943, with all crewmembers getting off on lifeboats: the incident became hugely controversial. A British convoy was sailing nearby, and a question as to whether the British captain of the Irish Oak had notified the convoy of the U-boat’s presence has never been satisfactorily answered. Rumours that he hadn’t engendered outrage in the House of Commons, though it later emerged the convoy had been well aware of the presence of U-boats in the area; in Ireland, the rumours that he had prompted criticism of the government for allowing a non-national to helm an Irish vessel, who may subsequently have undone her neutral status and made her a legitimate target. The issue became a talking point of that years general election, and may have helped to contribute to Fianna Fail’s loss of seats.

The lasting impact of the war o the Irish mercantile marine was the sheer number of ships and men who were lost. The Munster, a passenger vessel that ran a nightly service between Ireland and Britain, was the first to be sunk by belligerent action, hitting a German-laid mine on the 7th February 1940: all of its crew and passengers escaped. The City of Limerick, a cargo/passenger ship, was sunk on the 15th of July with the loss of two crew, the victims of a German bomber: the remaining crew were rescued by a Belgian trawler. The Meath hit a mine in the Irish Sea on the 15th August, going down with wounds to three crewmembers. The Limerick was sunk with one crewmember dying by U-46 on the 4th September, perhaps as a result of mistaken identity, with some of the rescued crew forced to remain in German-occupied France for the remainder of the war. The Kerry Head survived one Luftwaffe attack in August of 1940 before succumbing to another on the 22nd October near the coast of Britain, with the loss of all 12 men aboard. The Ardmore disappeared in the Irish Sea in November 1940, and was only discovered on the seabed 55 years later, the victim of a mine that killed its 24 crew. The next month the Inisfallen, a passenger liner, stuck a mine and sank after leaving Liverpool, taking four crewmembers with her. The St Fintan, a collier, was sunk by German aircraft off the Welsh coast in April 1941, with the loss of nine lives. On the 2nd of June of the same year the transport ship City of Bremen, while carrying a cargo of grain, was attacked and sunk by a German aircraft; the crew were rescued by a Spanish trawler, with a Russian member of that crew going by “Paddy Murphy” when he disembarked in Franco’s Spain a few days later. On the 16th November 33 crew of the Irish Pine were killed when their ship was torpedoed by U-608 off Cape Breton Island. The Kyleclare suffered a similar fate, blown to smithereens by numerous U-boat torpedoes in the Atlantic with the loss of 18 in February 1943. Cymric and her crew of 11 vanished in February 1944. Other ships were lost in less violent ways as well of course, hitting rocks or being beached: the normal dangers of a maritime life had not ceased because of the war.

By 1945 the threat of German U-boats and planes had lessened significantly, as the Kriegsmarine found itself unable to make-up for increasingly heavy losses in the Atlantic and a lack of supplies available from territories being lost all over Europe, but things remained hazardous for the mercantile marine all the way up to the official end of the war in Europe. The loss rate speaks for itself: during the war, one in five of the sailors employed on Irish mercantile ships died during that service, a fatality rate that outstripped those being suffered by many belligerent navies during the conflict. For that sacrifice, the mercantile marine was able to do its part to keep Ireland going, and to insure that its political freedom to choose a course of neutrality was not removed owing to the pressures of blockade or a lack of adequate supply.

We will come back to the war at sea and its impact on Ireland again. For now, we move on, and back to the larger picture of the war. 1943 had seen Allied advances on all fronts give a clear indication that the war’s outcome was only going to go one way, and in 1944 the Allies were determined to press that advantage: through continuing offensives in Italy and the Far East, and through the opening of the long awaited second front in France. In all cases, soldiers of the Irish named regiments would be making an impact, and in many cases at an enormous cost in lives.

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Review – The Figo Affair: The Transfer That Changed Football

The Figo Affair: The Transfer That Changed Football

Trailer

Ninth circles, etc.

In 2000, the unthinkable occurred: only a short time after insisting he would not do so, Luis Figo, one of the most beloved players of Barcelona, signed a deal to join arch-rivals Real Madrid. The aftermath was ugly as Nou Camp fans united in a moment of almost total hatred for their former idol. The post-mortem was ugly too, as the various people involved – the player, his agent, journalists and respective club leaders – have never been able to come up with a conclusive timeline of events. Why did Figo do it? And was it as big a betrayal as it seemed?

It’s apropos that we should have a look at this one now, a week removed from the end of 2022’s Summer transfer market. The amount of money spent continent-wide, but especially in England, was once again at record levels, as the worlds most popular sport tripped over itself in pursuit of that one player, or players, who can transform everything. In a sport awash with storylines, nothing quite captures the imagination like a beloved player choosing to go work for the arch-rivals of the club he once represented: Sol Campbell, Roberto Baggio and Carlos Tevez are just some of those whose entire careers revolve around such a change of jerseys. But none of them, in terms of notoriety, comes close to Luis Figo’s transfer from Barca to Real Madrid in 2000. Fans of the game who had never watched a minute of Spanish football heard that news and dropped their jaws.

Luis Figo was a very special player, and if The Figo Affair ha a flaw it’s that they don’t do enough to really get across how special a player he was. He was a brilliant attacking midfielder, an accomposiehd goalscorer, and an established leader of any team that he played for. Roberto Carlos, one of the interviewees, puts it best when he says “to play against Luis Figo was misery”. It is not to be wondered at that some of the richest and most powerful clubs in the world during the late 90s and early 00’s would have been interested in his services. But why Real Madrid, of all the clubs?

Those expecting an answer other than that which Figo gave at the time and since might be disappointed by The Figo Affair, but the investigation is fascinating nonetheless. It was a time before social media and “in the know” nonsense infecting every aspect of similar sagas today, but still the will he/won’t he aspect of the drama dominated the Spanish public consciousness at that time. Ben Nicholas and David Tryhorn, they of 2021’s Pele (a lesser film, with The Figo Affair doing better at not becoming a veneration), craft a fairly complete portrait in terms of giving all of those involved at the time the chance to give their opinion, taking us on a helter skelter journey from club Presidential elections, to sensationalist tabloid interviews to the titular man himself, who sticks resolutely to the unsurprising line that he simply felt under-valued and under-appreciated by Barcelona, and the opposite when he got talking to Real.

The skulduggery is apparent elsewhere though, in the demented parlour games of agents (one admits to faking a phone call with his client in the presence of Real’s President, in order to jack up his own commission), the utilisation of press as a means of applying pressure and the unique situation in Real and Barca regards their leaderships, with Presidential candidates making signings of players they weren’t in a position to sign yet part of their election campaigns. The last part brings us to the towering figure of Florentino Perez, who gets his own separate introduction as a talking head, and as ever he appears cool, calm, collected and utterly unflappable in his recollection of how he was able to pull all of this off.

Strip everything right down to the bare bones, and The Figo Affair seems essentially to be a dispute about an employee. Said employee didn’t feel like he was paid enough by his employer, or given enough respect, and when the opportunity to go to a different company came along, one that could fulfil what he felt was his proper worth, he jumped. Put that way, there’s nothing remotely controversial about the transfer, and if describing a different industry you wouldn’t bat an eyelid. But this was Barca and Real, the two greatest enemies in sport: one the representation of regional self-identity, the memory of Spanish democracy pre-1936 and survival under fascism, and the other the representation of Spanish centralism, of Franco and of success achieved under all of the most favourable conditions. That, and the obscene amount of money involved – Figo’s transfer fee was the record at the time, though it was broken, by Real again, in less than a year when they bought Zidane – makes one think that it was all an ethical wasteland anyway. If Figo felt undervalued, he still didn’t have to go to Real Madrid. Those expecting apologies are not going to get them, and indeed Figo maintains to this day that his favourite Spanish club is Real Madrid: the rabid hatred, Emmanuel Goldstein-like, that he got at the time when he came back to the Nou Camp, and to this day from a lot of quarters, is not hard to understand, but is still remarkable in its re-presentation here.

Another thing that is notable is the way that all of these different stakeholders attempt to present themselves. More than one deems themselves to be, Tenet-like, “the protagonist” of the story. This is an interesting idea I suppose, one that calls back to the notion that everyone likes to present themselves as the hero of their own narrative. Everyone presents has their own version of the truth, and their own accusations of others lying: the justifications are plentiful, as are the dismissals of criticism. The final picture is a blurred one, and it seems as if this is a story that we are never really going to get a satisfying answer for: Barca fans are never going to get the admissions of guilt and shame they want out of Figo for one thing, even if the miserable look on his face at his Real Madrid unveiling certainly paints a picture of what he was thinking at the time (footage of an early training session in Madrid, where onlookers urge Figo to “cheer up”, are certainly eye-raising).

It all worked out for Figo of course. The majority of The Figo Affair is dedicated to this recordation-style of story-telling regards the transfer, and I appreciated the scope of the project in that regard, very little is left undisturbed and undocumented. But there is also appropriate time given to the aftermath: the positively dangerous atmosphere at the first game where Figo returned to the Nou Camp; Figo’s years of success at Real, which from a narrative standpoint feels strangely unsatisfying; and everything else that came out of that period, not least the aggrandisement of Perez, who remains Real Madrid President to this day (his counterpart at the time, Barca’s Joan Gaspart, was not so lucky).

In a larger sense, the Figo transfer really altered the picture of what money could do in football. It was probably inevitable really, but the money paid for Figo, and the so-called “galacticos” era that the transfer ushered in for Real Madrid, was certainly something that helped to progress and encourage the modern-state of footballing transfers where billions spent every Summer has become normal, and where such transfers serve both an on-pitch purpose but also a promotional one: Manchester United didn’t get Ronaldo back into the club last year just because he is a great footballer, as just one example. More than that, it was a moment where the ties between football and a greater pursuit of profit and success through the spending of outrageous sums became so apparent as to be an intrinsic part of the professional game: one can easily trace a line from the Figo affair all the way to the European Super League, and not just because Perez was instrumental in both situations. Perez himself helps to close off the documentary by stating that one’s career is “all about the money you make”: such a mercenary attitude is repulsive, but for many people involved in football brutally honest. The Figo Affair gives us a great view of the starting point, and is highly recommended.

(All images are copyright of Netflix).

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