NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season One – “Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Part One)”

Would you miss me, sir?

Air Date: 17/01/2005

Director: Michael Rymer

Writer: David Eick & Ronald D. Moore

Synopsis: Amid a plethora of inter-personal conflicts that are coming to a head, the Fleet suddenly discovers Kobol, the mythical birthplace of humanity. On Caprica, Helo confronts the truth about Sharon.

Review

Before we can say anything else about this episode, we have to talk about the opening confluence in the prologue of “Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Part One)”. It’s a thing of absolute beauty: a pitch perfect montage between nearly all of BSG’s major character conflicts of the first season (the only person missing really is Roslin), backed by some of Bear McCreary’s very best music. It sets the finale two-parter up brilliantly, running the gambit between the intense kinetic energy of the two Adama’s sparring, the sexual tension of Starbuck and Baltar, Helo’s nightmare on Caprica and Boomer’s despair. I am not over-stating it when I say that it is one of the best sequences in the entire show, with a rhythm and pace that, dance-like (or, rather, opera-like I suppose) is a supreme triumph for the actors, director, writers and composer of the show.

There’s a lot of threads to look at here, and we’ll start with Baltar, if only because his little crisis takes up a larger proportion of the episode than others and, in a way, he’s the main character of the overall finale. He finally gets his way with Starbuck, though it certainly didn’t seem like that was going to happen, but uh oh: in the moment when he is re-asserting himself as the pre-holocaust ladies man who can have any woman he wants, he gets humiliated. I love Head Six’s description of Baltar’s self destructive response as “common”: she genuinely expected more from the man seemingly hand-picked as God’s personal instrument then to get so worked up over a sexual misfortune.

But I suppose it is about more than just the fact that a woman he was making love to was thinking about someone else, though for someone like Baltar this blow to the ego is not insubstantial. I think it’s also a reminder that, for a short moment, Baltar was on top of the metaphorical world again: in the limelight, hobnobbing with power players, engaging in illicit sexual encounters. With Starbuck, he’s brought crashing down, reminded that he’s just some guy nowadays, albeit a smart one. Then he’s expected to go to President school with Roslin, where he’s getting a tedious instruction into what political life in the Fleet really is. The breakdown is spectacular, but not a surprise. The idea that he might actually love Starbuck is too far for me: no, I think it’s just an infatuation, driven on now by the singularly infuriating idea that she might prefer another man to him. You always want what you can’t have.

All of this – the rejection, the drinking, the physical violence from a scorned Six – culminates in what must be considered Baltar’s most evil act of the show thus far, more evil even than fingering Doral in the Miniseries: essentially advising Boomer to commit suicide. Baltar does so out of self-preservation primarily, thinking that Boomer must be at the heart of whatever new plan the Cylons have that Head Six has told him about. But I think there is also a degree of transference happening. Baltar feels guilt for what happened on the Colonies, and self-hatred for what has happened with Starbuck, and a general despair at his current station in life: when he talks to Boomer about how “Life can be a curse” I think he’s talking about how such a statement relates to him. His kiss to Boomer is like an absolution, him telling her it’s OK to pull the trigger because it’s what he really wants to do but perhaps doesn’t have the courage to actually accomplish. Baltar is in a pit in “Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Part One)”, and that’s before he ends up crashing on the titular planet.

On the other side of the Presidential ticket is Roslin, who is trying to enact that most depressing part of dealing with a terminal illness: trying to make a plan for when you are not around anymore. The only problem is that the guy in line to succeed her is, ahem, erratic at best and relations with the military are starting to disintegrate. Her frustration at the way that events are turning is palpable. This, in combination with her illness, easily leads to a recourse to the miraculous, in this case the Pythian prophecies. Characters react in many different ways – Adama’s gentle rebuttal, Billy’s irritation, Starbuck’s anger – but Roslin holds firm to her course. This eventually leads her to take desperate measures, but we can’t claim that she hasn’t picked a path and not stuck with it. It’s what is to come that is the hard part.

In some ways, the episodes’ focus on Starbuck is a little surprising: she hasn’t really had this kind of spotlight since “You Can’t Go Home Again”. Here we see her, as she describes it herself, as “a screw-up”, who chooses to have a sexual encounter with Baltar for no good reason, when she remains hung-up on Apollo. And it is the Apollo part of things that is the most important really. The actually quite serious implications of a serving military officer banging the Vice-President – imagine that happening in the real world – is really only a brief thing that people focus on, it’s the more emotional negativity that is more concerning.

Throughout the episode, Thrace rapidly becomes alienated from everyone that she has even the slightest connection to. She sleeps with Baltar, the guy she has been flirting off-and-on with, and ruins it with a careless mid-passion faux-pas. She literally punches Apollo, then undermines him as an officer, then can only offer a sorry apology (and we’ll get to his faults in a sec). She confronts Adama, her father figure, and comes to realise that he is as liable to let her down and lie to her as anyone else. This last one, a relationship-defining betrayal in many ways, is the last straw for Starbuck. No more screw-ups: she decides to do what her gut tells her to do, and put her faith, literally, in the President. The schism between Starbuck and Adama comes ahead of the larger schism that will becomes manifest in the next episode.

There are a few other sub-plots worth mentioning. Apollo doesn’t cover himself in glory here, acting in an extremely petulant and childish manner on several occasions, when his authority is undermined and when whatever future relationship he might have with Starbuck is put under threat: indeed, it isn’t unlike the “common” behaviour of Baltar, despite the fact that Apollo is on the other side of that sexual misfortune. Like Starbuck I suppose, Apollo is spending the episode contemplating an apparent flaw in his character, in this case that he is unwilling to “lose control” and trust his instincts: in the next episode, we’re going to see him try and rectify that.

Then there is Boomer. In some ways this sudden look at her reaching the end of her tolerance for life rings a bit strange after our last look at her happily dancing with Gaeta at the end of “Colonial Day”, but on the other hand, if you are at all familiar with how depression works, such swings aren’t all that surprising (BSG will pull that again with Dee, in stunning fashion, in the fourth season). Boomer has become totally lost here, without a relationship anchor in the form of Tyrol, unsure of her own mental stability and having no-one she can turn to. The one person she does encounter at a critical moment is actively invested in eliminating her as a threat. Losing what connections she has left is going to lead to a decisive shift in Boomer’s life very, very shortly.

That just leaves Caprica, where Helo is also in a high-pressure state with very little in the way of directions to turn. The revelations of the “Colonial Day” were just too much, too fast, and everything that he has gone through over the last few weeks comes crashing down on top of him. The fact that he goes as far as shooting Sharon is proof of that, and in how what happens next – him holding her at gunpoint as part of a farcical scheme to get off the planet – makes no sense. But, how can we blame him: Helo reached the breaking point a while ago, and I liked Penikot’s portrayal of that kind of mental state.

One last note to say that I think the twin crises of the episode, the crash on Kobol and Starbuck absconding with the Raider, are very well-handled. They add that precious little bit of additional spice to what is occurring, without coming to dominate the narrative. The scene of the crash is very well orchestrated, pointing to some juicy drama in the next episode, and the slow build to Starbuck jumping away pays off very nicely in her last bitter conversation with Adama. The episode starts very strong and ends very strong: things are looking very interesting as we head into the finale.

How can you love her, Gaius?

Notes

-The title is presumably a reference to the American national anthem and the line “What so proudly we hailed, at the twilight’s last gleaming”. I’ve always wondered about it in this context: is it a reference to how humanity has returned to Kobol just as American troops see the flag again as they saw it the previous night? Or is it a nod to Kobol’s permanence in the cycle, like the American flag at the Siege of Baltimore? Or a reference to how this is to be Kobol’s last contribution to this cycle?

-Not sure the “Previously on…” needed Boomer’s literally saying “I’m a Cylon” on footage of Helo seeing the Sharon copy.

-A quick word on the music that plays over that stunning prologue, which is Bear McCreary’s “Passacaglia”. It’s a wonderful piece, just captivating in its simplicity, and I think it’s up there with “Prelude To War”, “The Shape Of Things To Come”, “Storming New Caprica” and “Wander My Friends” for my favourite part of the overall BSG score.

-Not the last time we are going to see boxing on BSG as a means of letting characters with problems get into it physically.

-I’m not entirely sure, but I think in the early part of the prologue sex scene it is actually Jamie Bamber on top of Sackoff, but later it suddenly turns into Callis, like we’re viewing the act from Starbuck’s imagination.

-Kara calls out Lee’s name just as the real one gets knocked down by Adama. A metaphorical and literal punch.

-Similarly, a wonderful choice to frame Sharon and Boomer’s suicidal inclinations against each other in the same moment, light years apart, just like the similar framing of the sex scene with Boomer’s freak-out on Galactica.

-“I thought we were just sparring.” “That’s why you don’t win.” Adama gets his inner Yoda on.

-What a moment with Head Six, silent for once, glaring at Baltar after his tryst with Starbuck. Not unlike her catching Baltar in bed with someone else in the Miniseries.

-We’re back to games of cards in the mess, only this time it’s a very warped set-up, with Baltar heavily inebriated. Callis does great as the comedically insulted Doctor putting himself up against Apollo in his head.

-Callis works overtime to really sell Baltar having two conversations at once in the President’s office. Responding to a lecture from Roslin in a way that answers Six’s questioning of his fidelity: only our Gaius could pull it off.

-Love McDonnell and Helfer’s stereo delivery of “Plaything?”. Amazing work.

-Boomer and Crashdown’s jump to a new system comes dangerously close to Kobol, introducing the idea that it is possible to jump inside matter, though in so doing you essentially destroy yourself (could we call it annihilation in the scientific sense?). It’ll come back in a plot point towards the end of Season Two as I recall.

-“It’s not Earth. It’s more important than that”. Nice ominous line from Boomer.

-When Apollo finds out about Starbuck and Baltar, he really goes for the jugular, describing her as “a pilot who can’t keep her pants on”. We might remember Adama’s dressing down of Tyrol in “Litmus” as the man “who couldn’t keep his fly zipped”, but Apollo, whose motivation is so beneath him in saying it, lacks anything like the same aura.

-Apollo and Starbuck, from 0 to 60 in as many milliseconds, go as far as punching each other in a fairly shocking moment. It’s the same scene from “Act Of Contrition”, only taken one step further.

-I liked that Roslin’s hallucinations aren’t confined just to stuff she sees that is present in a room with her, but in photographs where she sees things that others don’t. It adds to the idea that these are more than just drug-induced visions.

-I volunteer with a crisis text line, and I can’t think of a more terrible phrase to say to a suicidal person than “There are worse things than death”.

-Tyrol’s salute to Boomer is one of the saddest moments of the show, when whatever was left of their relationship vanishes into a haze of military formality.

-The way that Adama responds to Roslin’s religiously-motivated plea seems very rehearsed to me, like he’s been there before. Adama isn’t a religious man, but he has enough decorum not to shut the President down completely.

-Socinus is out of the brig anyway, though nothing is made of it here. As I recall there is a deleted scene where Tyrol dresses him down upon his release for what happened in “Litmus”.

-In fact this episode has a load of deleted material, including a last scene of Boxey (where Boomer inadvertently points a gun at him), some Tigh/Ellen drama and Baltar telling Six to leave him alone when he travels to Kobol.

-Things turn on a dime with the sudden appearance of the Cylons over Kobol, which gives us some unexpected excitement, as well as nixing any awkward questions about whether the Fleet should settle there.

-The crash is a great sequence, one where the crew make the absolute best use of the limited sets that they have.

-Military formality is a tragedy in this episode, as we see with Boomer and Tyrol, and then again when Apollo demands it from Starbuck.

-Billy isn’t having it with Roslin’s plan, but has to be pushed by her to be clear – she presumably needs to hear it herself – so it means even more when he declares her motivations to be “a drug induced vision of prophecy”. Billy’s the politico we all know who is into the functions of government more than politics, and can’t contemplate them crashing down over something so illogical.

-Roslin’s pitch to Starbuck is a very considered thing. I remember their moment of closeness in “The Hand Of God” when I watch this scene, and am taken by how determined Roslin is to get her message across, which includes destroying the Adama/Starbuck relationship.

-Case in point, perhaps the best delivered line of the episode: “He made it up”.

-Adama is really, really bad at lying. His “Hard to say” when asked how long it is going to take to get to Earth is rather pathetic in many ways, the answer of a man desperate for the conversation to end.

-I love that look of disgust that passes over Sackoff’s face as she realises that Roslin was right about Adama, lasting just long enough that we can register it, but not so long that Adama realises he’s been rumbled.

-Still, Adama isn’t actually sorry. His final challenge to Starbuck makes that clear. In some ways the conflict between them stems from both being very determined people, once they get the bit between their teeth.

-The last lines set things up very nicely for the second part: “Where the hell did she go?” “…Home.”

Overall Verdict: I suppose that one most take both parts of “Kobol’s Last Gleaming” together before they give a final appraisal of the story being told, but “Part One” is good enough. Its got heaps of brilliant character drama, great production on every level, the cast having really gotten to grips with their roles and sets things up is a very engaging way for the finale. This is another of BSG’s great episodes.

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8 Responses to NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season One – “Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Part One)”

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