NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Two: “Valley Of Darkness”

Everyone I know is fighting to get back what they had. And I’m fighting ’cause I don’t know how to do anything else.

Air Date: 22/07/2005

Director: Michael Rymer

Writer: David Weddle and Bradley Thompson

Synopsis: The Galactica is flung into a new crisis when the ship is boarded by a Cylon raiding party, with Apollo the only one standing in the way of disaster. Tyrol faces a gut wrenching moment on Kobol. Helo and Starbuck seek shelter on Caprica.

Review

Moving on from “Scattered”, one of things I like about BSG is the way it manages to dodge the threat of becoming a procedural-type show where every episode is just about a new problem and things get stale. I’ve used the phrase “Crisis of the week” a few times in relation to BSG, so it would be easy for you to settle in to watch an episode and be thinking “Well, what’s going to go wrong this week?” BSG dodges the criticism because the crises, so far, have all managed to be unique enough in their presentation, and in the execution of the solution, to belay it. We’ve gone from various shades of resource shortage, to a political crisis to a scattered Fleet, but now we have another single-episode problem whose singular nature is both captivating and very frightening, summed up by Kelly’s deeply foreboding line early on: “We’ve been boarded”.

I mean, perhaps you have to put a bit of thought into it to see how enormous a problem this is, before we get to any notions of the Cylons taking control of Galactica’s guns. Take away the few Marines and the pilots, and the Galactica is staffed by hundreds, if not thousands, of combat rookies, who haven’t the first clue about fighting Centurions. And that’s before you realise that only a certain type of ammunition would be useful anyway. The Centurions might be few, but there’s very little standing between them and wiping out a huge, if not complete, proportion of Galactica’s crew. And it isn’t like those crew members are easily replaced either. The Galactica is a ship that depends on its pilots and point defence guns to stop this from happening, because they are terribly vulnerable if Cylons get onboard. That’s the reality, and that’s why Kelly looks horrified at the idea.

And “horrified” is the right word, because in “Valley Of Darkness” BSG becomes a horror narrative in many ways, having previously dipped its toes in such sub-genres as criminal investigation, survival, screwball comedy and political drama. It’s another strength of the show that it can transition in and out of these frameworks, and do it well. The first Cylon kill is pure jump-scare: this towering metal demon coming out of the darkness, gutting a pilot, and then setting off in pursuit of others, seemingly invulnerable. Turning the lights off adds to the atmosphere greatly, as does the sounds of distant gunfire and screaming, something the show would pull again in the mutiny of Season Four, making you fear more the absence of an enemy than their presence. From jumpscare to atmospheric to body horror we go, as suddenly Galactica is strewn with the remains of the Centurion rampage, with even the survivors left shell-shocked. Like any good horror story the various inhabitants all see themselves coming together towards the conclusion, and the final confrontation with the Centurions, while a more traditional gunfight, also has significant horror elements, right down to that final terrifying charge and leap at Apollo. “Valley Of Darkness” is a legitimately scary episode, one where the usual stability of Galactica is inverted and characters are placed in legitimate peril.

Strangely enough, for me the key character arc of the episode is not Apollo, or Roslin, but the Billy/Dee relationship. The episode opens with the two having something of a schism: Billy admits he hasn’t been giving the relationship the attention it deserves, Dee is critical of Billy’s role in fermenting mutiny (and, as he may have realised, pumping her for information on Adama in “Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down”). Dee actually gets quite vicious here in terms of criticising Billy’s motives, but it fits. Billy thinks there might still be worth in the relationship, but it doesn’t seem likely. It’s a simple set-up, but adds something to the later drama.

Dee is a little bit of a passenger later on, shell-shocked by the Centurions and ushered along by Billy in the final act, mostly a witness to the larger battle. In a way the character point of that battle for Billy is as a means of proving himself to her in some way, as a guy who can be counted on to be capable in a crisis. He does that in terms of getting Dee back from her PTSD state, but not so much when he foolishly fires his gun when he doesn’t have to, drawing the attention of the Cylons. Dee reasserts herself a bit after this, taking the gun off of Billy after previously telling him when to turn the safety on and off.

The episode ends with the two of them reconciled, in a cute medbay scene. Obviously the brush with mortality that Dee has experienced has focused her mind a bit, and perhaps shown her that Billy is worth more consideration. It’s not the best foundation for a relationship, and that will be reflected later in Season Two. But for now getting to see Billy and Dee make it through the action and get this quiet, romantic moment with each other is a nice catharsis.

“Valley Of Darkness” still has time, despite the life-and-death peril on Galactica, to take a tour around the universe, and I feel it is to the credit of the writers that such a tour does not detract from the carnage happening on Galactica. On Caprica we get some very interesting scenes with Helo and Starbuck, that don’t advance the plot hugely but which are some of the most significant for either character thus far. Helo has had his world shattered twice over, and only now is beginning to realise that he may not have been the survival expert or lover that he thought he was, lambasting himself in a short monologue where the fragile remains of his ego creek and totter. Even Starbuck, waving a gun in his face in the previous episode, has to give him a break, perhaps mindful of her own romantic mistakes recently.

For Starbuck, we get a glimpse into her life outside of the military here, and it may not be quite what we expected. She lives in a rats nest of an apartment, one where she felt fine writing libertine poems on the walls alongside curious mandalas. The place feels like the stereotype of an artists commune, with ties to Thrace’s past in the form of the music she plays, a piece by her father, and to the future, in the car that she and Helo discover. Starbuck has her own monologue here, and it’s undoubtedly the verbal highlight of the episode: she outlines how crappy the place they are sitting in is, and her realisation that she had precious little to be excited about on the Colonies. Where everyone around here seems to be mourning their loss from the Cylon attack, she just keeps going because that’s all she can do. She’s a woman without roots or an anchor: backwards is just a bad apartment, a dead fiancee and no family, so all she can do is look forward. The very last words of this season are going to come back to this theme with Kara, and we’ll see it in the middle with Pegasus too: finding purpose where there appears to be none.

Over on Kobol, the plot is still split between the general party and Baltar. The good doctor has a rather unpleasant, although slightly ridiculous, dream of Adama murdering the child he is supposed to be protecting, the second instance in this show of infanticide being used as a plot point. It’s all a bit much, as is the idea that Baltar could be the protector of anything. Even here he demonstrates his lack of care, even for himself, wondering away from the main group where he discovers an ancient site of some kind of slaughter. Head Six is continuing her apparent mission to turn Baltar on the military and maybe the entire human race while she is at it, but things are getting a bit too obtuse in some ways now I feel. There is a sense that this is the key plot of BSG – and I suppose that is going to turn out to be the case, in a few ways – but giving it a single scene per episode isn’t really helping that feeling.

The continuing plight of the other survivors on Kobol provides “Valley Of Darkness” with some of its more emotional drama, in a series of really great scenes that are more of an actors showcase than anything else in the episode. Cally and Tyrol share a highly emotional moment in the aftermath of Tarn’s death that speaks to the incredible pressure they are both under; Crashdown and Tyrol come close to another verbal sparring session over the Lt’s command; and Tyrol is forced to help one of his own men head into the great beyond with less pain than if it were allowed to happen naturally. Kobol, despite the lush greenery, has rapidly become a purgatory of sorts, filled with very real blood, pain and death, as well as visions of a past history that was much the same. And there is no rescue coming just yet.

The ending of the episode sees an uneasy truce of sorts settle between Tigh and Apollo, with Apollo insisting that, as soon as his father awakens, he’ll decide what to do with both of them. It’s a good full stop on the episode, which ends with the people in all of its sub-plots awaiting deliverance or judgement in different measures, stuck in a sort of limbo until the largest question of all, leadership of the Fleet, is resolved one way or another. They have passed through a valley of the shadow of death in this episode, but rescue or redemption is going to have a wait a little while longer.

Marines, let’s get toaster shopping.

Notes

-“Valley Of Darkness” had a bit of a troubled production, with loads of deleted scenes, and arguments over the darker moments. The Cylon boarding party is actually a fill-in thing, meant to help “Scattered”, whose script was too long in its first iterations, be split into two episodes.

-The title is a fairly obvious reference to this translation of Psalm 23: “Though I walk in the valley of darkness, I fear no evil, for you are with me”. The phrase has a general meaning of a spiritual, emotional or dangerous time in our lives. A more common translation would be “the valley of the shadow of death”, but that’s a bit wordy for an episode title.

-It’s almost a shock to be reminded that Billy and Dee had a relationship in the opening moments here, but not so shocking to see Dee place her loyalty to the ship and its crew over Billy, pointedly criticising his part in fermenting mutiny.

-This episode employs frequent location titles, which seems distracting at first, but given the samey nature of the various places in Galactica that we see is probably a good call.

-Centurions are looking a lot better in Season Two, and we quickly establish one of their few weaknesses: HE rounds. Obviously they have been upgrading a bit.

-If you listen closely during this opening encounter, you can hear Kat’s Luciana Carro exclaim “Jesus!” Whoops.

-With the computer system in bits, the crew are forced to rely on written orders and updates, making the battle with the Centurions seem like an America Civil War engagement.

-We’re down one in the count of the opening title, which I presume is “Flyboy”, the pilot killed by the Centurion. The Galactica seemingly got out of “Scattered” with no dead.

-Interesting that when the proverbial hits the fan, Apollo secures the President first. Even in this crisis his loyalty is to one place.

-Love Apollo’s advice to Billy about guns, upon being told Billy’s only experience is with, essentially, a toy: “Real ones just make a bigger noise”.

-I can’t speak highly enough of the set-up for the Centurion boarding party, which is so simple yet so deadly: use the ship’s back-up systems to vent the crew and then take control of the guns. It’s a huge weakness of the Battlestar’s, perhaps reflective, in this case, of how old Galactica is.

-There’s a deleted scene here that could so with inclusion in my opinion, another flashback where a younger Adama and Tigh discuss a similar situation Adama experienced during the war, where 2000 people were killed. That’s how Tigh knows what the Centurions are doing, but the scene is great not for that, but for Tigh’s traumatised recollection of having to fight Centurions hand-to-hand: “You know that Centurions have a stink? It’s like machine oil. To this day, I get a whiff of grease or oil, I almost lose my lunch.”

-Baltar’s dream seems less like one of his own making and more like some kind of manipulation from on high, to sow distrust between him and the military.

-The music here, “Baltar’s Dream” is a banger from McCreary again, another proto-version of what would become “Storming New Caprica”

-Seriously though, Adama the baby killer is just flat-out ridiculous, an image that I can’t help but laugh whenever I see it, it’s just so overdone.

-We do get a scene on Kobol’s alleged human sacrifice here, that was initially planned for “Scattered”. I’m unsure what to make of it exactly, in terms of Head Six’s explanation: part of it feels like a bit convenient in terms of what she wants Baltar to become. Could it just be another illusion? No one else in the Kobol party sees them after all.

-Jammer, remember him? Last seen in “Litmus” I believe. Is he the senior deckhand in Tyrol’s absence? For Galactica’s sake I hope not.

-Starbuck’s apartment is a mess alright, very much a bohemian artists’s place of residence. A few things catch the eye like the poem (see below) and the painting next to it, of circles within circles. Did the writers always plan for this mandala to be plot pivotal?

The poem reads: “Methodically smoking my cigarette, Every breath I breathe out the day. With every delicious sip, I drink away the night, Stroking my hair to, The beat of his heart, Watching a boy turn into a man”. It’s a wistful piece, nodding to a hedonistic lifestyle and with a reference, perhaps, to Zak Adama at the conclusion.

-The song Starbuck plays isn’t a McCreary creation, it’s a tune called “Metamorphosis One” by pianist Philip Glass, made back in 1988. Eerie piece.

-Kara pulls on that battered old coat like a safety blanket, and Sackoff shows her chops again here, demonstrating perfectly how tired Starbuck must be. You can feel the exhaustion radiating off of her, and it makes you think that she might not have had any proper rest since before “Colonial Day”.

-Roslin knows how best to get through to Dee, and she starts responding when Billy uses her rank. Even in this instance her ties to military life as an identity are apparent.

-Brief, and I think final, mention of Sgt Hadrian, leading a party of Marines against the raiding party. Presumably she was sprung from her confinement at the end of “Litmus” then, and maybe she died here.

-Cally and Tyrol have a moment where, for the first time, we get an inkling of the feelings Cally might have for the Chief, in her fear that he might zone out after Tarn’s death. I think Nicki Clyne may have ad-libbed “mother-frakker” for this scene?

-Tyrol and Crashdown use the “flash” and “thunder” challenge/passwords. It’s a little jarring, because those are terms used by the US military in Europe during the Second World War for those situations, though to be completely accurate Tyrol should say “welcome”, the countersign, after Crashdown says “thunder”.

-Crashdown asks where Tarn is, and Tyrol tosses him the dogtag without a word. It’s a brilliant dismissive action that sums up Tyrol’s opinion of the Lt.

-Tyrol loses it here, and who can blame him? Losing Tarn was bad enough, but now that sacrifice seems especially pointless with Socinus about to breath his last. Tyrol, a man used to things he can fix, is left asking “For what?” in despair.

-They still find the time to showcase some of Crashdown’s weakness in this moment, as he washes his hands of any decision on Socinus’ fate: “He’s your man Chief”.

-Tyrol steps up and euthanises Socinus, giving him the false impression that they have been rescued as he does so. It’s a pretty heartbreaking moment, and gives us a new level of respect for the Chief and what he is capable of.

-Dee isn’t so out of it that she isn’t able to give Billy some very good advice, if he’s storing his gun in the front of his trousers: “Might want to turn the safety on”.

-Rapidly in succession the three Galactica plots – Apollo and his party, Roslin and hers, the CIC – all say “aft damage control” one after the other, and it’s very distracting.

-In a bid to comfort Jammer, Apollo tells him that “sometimes you have to roll a hard six”. It sounds weak coming out of his mouth, as he admits he’s stealing the line from his father. It’s craps lingo by the way: going for a “hard six” is the equivalent of a 9/1 bet, one of the most unlikely in that game, and usually sought as a desperation move by gamblers down on their luck.

-I love that Rymer takes the time to have just a little bit of a silent waiting period before the Centurions show up at aft damage control, to really let the dread sink in and the tension rise.

-The resulting gunfight is a quick and brutal affair, where the Centurions look truly scary and things are given a great chaotic character. The CGI budget really is going fast early on.

-Of course Apollo does get to have his hero moment, coming out of cover to give an almost point blank shot to the head of the last charging Centurion, something that did look really cool.

-Jammer’s “They don’t look so big now” is an understandable bit of euphoria-induced bravado, and is matched nicely with the more seasoned Apollo’s “They look plenty big to me” as he sees to the dead.

-Roslin survives a brush with a few Cylon bullets, something that will only aid in any efforts to have her appear like a divinely protected emissary of the Gods.

-You know, intergalactic universes like BSG so frequently ignore the idea of personal transport, that I still find it odd, re-watching for the fourth or fifth time, the idea of Helo and Starbuck finding a car.

-There’s an awkward moment around the bedside of Adama, where Roslin brings up the fact that she now has to go back to a cell. “Valley Of Darkness” is an episode where that larger crisis is seemingly forgotten, but now we come right back to it.

-“Thank the Gods I didn’t have kids”. After the titular darkness, the episode has the time for one last bit of dark levity, and boy has it earned it.

-One unanswered question coming out of “Valley Of Darkness”: what happens to the Heavy Raider parked in the landing pod? Is it too damaged for the Colonials to use? Did the Centurions destroy it themselves?

Overall Verdict: Though it has a very different tone, “Valley Of Darkness” is a good Part Two to “Scattered”, maintaining the crisis-hit feeling of the Fleet, and advancing, even in small ways, the plots of the various other groups throughout the galaxy. It works as an exploration of the horror genre, has one of Katee Sackhoff’s stand-out acting moments of the show, and certainly leaves you hungry for more.

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 Two: “Valley Of Darkness”

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