NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season One: “Water”

People are getting crazy…

Air Date: 25/10/2004

Director: Marita Grabiak

Writer: Ronald D. Moore

Themes: Personas, Survival, New Relationships

Synopsis: An act of sabotage aboard Galactica leaves the Fleet without water, leading to a desperate search for an alternative supply. Boomer suspects she may have been involved without even realising it, and draws Tyrol into her efforts to avoid culpability.

Review

From out of the less character-orientated “33” we move pretty swiftly to the more focused “Water”, and the major character in question is Boomer. Our last proper glimpse of her was the revelation that she was a Cylon at the end of the Miniseries’ “Part Two” and the season long plot of seeing what we know become what all the characters know starts here. She book-ends the episode in segments that ring more than a little like a horror story: becoming conscious suddenly in the possession of deadly weapons with no idea how you got them or what you have done with them, and closing out by walking with a eerie mechanical purpose, not entirely in control of what you are doing. This is “Water” in a nutshell: an episode about not really knowing who you really are, and taking on different personas as the need requires. The possibility of losing yourself naturally becomes quite large.

The Boomer stuff, that inevitably sucks in Chief Tyrol, is a head-wrecker of a plot, and the beginning of a long-running identity crisis narrative. Through the performance of a panicked Grace Park, an easily manipulated Aaron Douglas, the rhythm heavy score of Bear McCreary and some great cinematography, we’re treated to a really good introduction to both the danger of Boomer not being in full control of herself, and the tension of trying to keep it all under-wraps. Very cleverly, Moore and Grabiak make sure to leave open the possibility that Boomer is able to break through her programming – or maybe not, see below – so that she is not entirely a villain. We’re thus able to see Boomer sympathetically in her persona as a scared woman who doesn’t understand what is happening to her, but also as a threat, a delicious medley in terms of potential drama. Poor love-struck Tyrol is a little less sympathetic, all too ready to take everything Boomer has to say at face value, to the point where we might start to question the quality of the writing there a tad. But, then again, Tyrol is in love and one thing that BSG will come back to before the end is that love blinds.

There are plenty of other examples in the episode, most notably Adama and Roslin. Things start out with both of them engaging in an incorrect course owing to misunderstanding the other, adopting a needlessly formal persona because they think it’s what the other wants. It’s nice to see when things become more informal between the two, in a very well written scene in Adama’s quarters where he gifts her some books, another step on the road to a thaw between them. Again, there is a build-up here so the relationship can come crashing down at the end of this season, but it is effective at least. It wouldn’t be the best if the President and the Commander were at each other’s throats for 13 episodes.

Part of the problem between the two here is regards policing of the Fleet, especially when riots start breaking out over water. Roslin wants military support, and Adama is hesitant, for good reason. Even here we can talk about personas and roles: Adama sees policing as a role that his military shouldn’t do, as it will only cause them to treat civilians as an enemy. But needs must. There’s plenty of foreshadowing in this, albeit we can only see it with a bit of hindsight, in the situation that the Fleet will find itself at the beginning of the second season, with Adama’s military coup and the later institution of martial law. Adama’s very firm commitment to the traditional rule of law, as outlined clearly here, gets turned on its head, so how committed is he really?

Baltar is also enjoying a bit of persona shift in this episode, which makes sure to give him and Head Six ample time for more abstract musings, this time on the nature of feminine beauty in another wonderful headspace scene. Callis’ glee at recounting the first time he lied to a woman – whom he subsequently slept with, but of course – is matched by Six’s twisted interest in the same subject, as she winds Baltar around her finger and then gets in a few jabs. It’s impossible to understate what these moments bring to the show. What’s just as good is seeing the so far nervous, frantic and slightly weird Baltar suddenly get the opportunity to morph back into the suave elite persona he had back on Caprica, as he engages in a bit of pointed flirting with Starbuck, in sequences that serve little in the way of plot, yet, but are very entertaining nonetheless.

Lastly, there is Apollo and Roslin. Apollo doesn’t have much to do in this episode, other than be the bridge between his father and the President in terms of what they should expect from the other. In terms of personas and switching them, Apollo seems the most honest about who he wants to be and what he doesn’t want to be: still fretting about the Olympic Carrier decision, willing to explain to Roslin why his father is pulling out all the stops, being honest with her in the scene near the conclusion, etc. Roslin is also a person who knows when she has to ask for help, able to stand down from the persona of being a commanding Presidential figure (like in a moment where she gives Billy romantic advise: his efforts to enact that kind of persona don’t go as well). This relationship is also building to a suitable conclusion at the end of the first season, so goes hand-in-hand with that of Adama and Roslin.

In terms of the actual procedure of the episode, I did find “Water” enjoyable. It’s good to re-emphasise the extremely precarious position of the Fleet, totally dependent on Galactica for protection and for the basics, through the water crisis that erupts with the explosion. Humanity is in a fight for its survival, and things like food and water are as critical as avoiding the Cylons. So good are the writers at getting this concept across, and weaving it in effectively to the drama with Boomer, that the tension of the episode comes down to whether a pilot is going to notice something on a computer monitor, and it is actually tense. No need for space battles or anything else like them.

We can’t forget Cylon-occupied Caprica either of course. There’s only two scenes of Helo and Sharon, but they were executed well. We’re peaking behind the curtain as an audience in these scenes, and there is something very interesting in understanding the manipulation that Helo is being subjected to, in the practical set-up – the Centurions finding the Raptor, the need to find more anti-radiation meds – and emotionally, as Sharon plays the shy, bashful love interest that Helo obviously wants her to be. Park really is great in both roles in this episode, here playing a character playing a character – or perhaps we should say a persona again – in the subtle glances and longing air. Already, in just two episodes of the TV show proper, we are seeing a lot of entangling webs getting weaved.

Civilians don’t like hearing they can’t take a bath or wash their clothes or drink more than a thimble a day.

Notes

-As a title, “Water” is brutally simple, perhaps meant to match the simplicity of the crisis that the Fleet finds itself in.

-“Water” includes what will become the customary “Previously on Battlestar Galactica” opening, which contains the simple, concise explanation of the Cylons that I love so much: they’re creation by man, their quest to be more human, etc.

-Oh, and “they have a Plan” with a capital “P”. But just what is the Plan?

-“33” opened with a ticking clock, and “Water” keeps the rhythmic trend going with an opening based around drips coming off of Boomer.

BSG’s proper opening theme, a version of the Gayatri Mantra, is first used here, and I always thought its mournfulness was perfectly pitched for this show. It was apparently Edward James Olmos of all people who brought it to the crew’s attention.

-Tigh is the picture of a functioning alcoholic: someone with a semblance of control over their addiction, but not nearly as much control as they think. The way he marks off fingers of whiskey early on here is a very clever scene, all control and yet lack of control.

-The perfect difference between Apollo and his father: Apollo waxes lyrical on how they have to be responsible for their decisions, and strive to make the best ones that they can, in reference to the Olympic Carrier. Adama’s response is “That was three days ago”.

-The Adama/Roslin misunderstanding is a really great part of the episode, the two tripping over themselves to play this ridiculous game just because they think it is what the other wants.

-“Water” gives us a little bit of a day in the life of Galactica which is briefly interesting, most notably in how one of the standard routines is re-supplying some of the Fleet’s ships with water.

-Billy and Dee are adorable in this one: Billy, having been gently scolded by Roslin earlier about how he talks to women, decides to tell a bemused Dee “I like your hair”. There was clenching let me tell you.

-An important part of the episode is how quickly Tyrol is willing to buy into the idea that Boomer is totally innocent. He’s happy to delude himself, and concoct a fantasy that she’s some maligned party. It’s an important aspect of his character.

-Man, those EVA suits donned by the deck crew look very cheap, like hazmat gear with a few bells and whistles attached.

-We do get a glimpse at the count in Roslin’s office, and it’s down 15 from when we last saw it in “33”. We can presumably chalk that down to more corrected counts or people wounded who expired between episodes.

-Great scene where Roslin and Adama exhibit different styles of wanting reports from people. When Roslin requests that Lt Gaeta give his best guess on something, he looks paralyzed. Adama explains he doesn’t like his officers to guess, but Roslin presses on. Adama doesn’t even look up when he gives a quiet “Take a guess Mr Gaeta”. There’s a lot unsaid with those words.

-The Fleet’s needs, as outlined by Baltar, are fairly huge in terms of water, meat, vegetables and fruit, running to many tonnes per week. It’s a bit of a plot-hole really: how exactly does the Fleet keep going for as long as it does, given that the first real stop-off for major re-supply won’t be until the end of season two?

-Baltar’s daydream is a nice way to move him back into the role of an uber-confident pick-up artist, regaling Six with his tales of sexual conquest. It’s like his ego is injecting confidence back into him.

-While they had a scene together in the Miniseries, this is the real start of the Baltar/Gaeta relationship, that will go all the way to the death of one of them. Starts off with the comically brilliant line from Six here of “You have a friend!”

-Gotta love Adama’s lecture on the nature of the police and the military, and how they can’t be one and the same. A hard lesson, that Tigh will learn in the second season. And that Americans have been learning over and over again.

-So creepy, yet effective, that sleeper agent Boomer is literally incapable of seeing the H2O indicators in front of her.

-It can be argued that Boomer doesn’t blow the Raptor up because she subconsciously knows it wouldn’t work out: the Fleet would just send someone to find out what happened, and discover the water anyway. Better to let them have it and remain as a sleeper. Or perhaps I’m giving the programming too much specific credit.

-Helo and Sharon share a moment in the rain, but I always hated that set, it seemed so obviously fabricated. I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t even outside.

-Roslin emparts to Apollo the lesson she has taken from the Olympic Carrier, a ship whose name she is now carrying with her, as a reminder of what they’ve lost and the responsibility of hard choices. It’s a nice way of doing it, and re-emphasises the connection between the two.

-That closing shot (and shots) of Boomer walking mechanically through the decks of Galactica is a brilliant one, and it’s rare I’ve seen an episode of TV end better.

-“Water” had a fair bit of cut content, including a whole sub-plot involving Boxey getting involved in Boomer’s efforts to hide the truth. Probably for the best it was cut, it would not have added much.

Overall Verdict: BSG continues strongly, now getting into the meat and bones of its character drama. Some great elaboration of relationships and strong scene-setting or later in the shows run accompany a decent episodic plot of the latest Fleet crisis. We are getting to know this show and its inhabitants a lot better at this stage.

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

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8 Responses to NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season One: “Water”

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