NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Two: “The Farm”

 Gotta keep that reproductive system in great shape. It’s your most valuable asset these days.

Air Date: 12/08/2005

Director: Rod Hardy

Writer: Carla Robinson

Synopsis: After getting shot in a Cylon ambush, Starbuck wakes up in what is claimed to be a resistance hospital, but she soon starts having doubts about her doctor. The divide in the Fleet gets larger as Adama returns to command and Roslin tries to lead humanity back to Kobol.

Review

We’ve seen BSG tackle plenty of subgenres in its run so far, and in “The Farm” it adds to its repertoire yet again. This episode delves pretty definitively into the realms of psychological and body horror in its main plotline, and in so doing marks itself out as one of the most nakedly political episodes, in terms of what must be perceived as commentary on real-world issues, in the shows run thus far.

The set-up is nice and simple, with Starbuck confined to a hospital where things aren’t quite adding up. The script does a good job in the first half of the episode at making us unsure as to whether the Simon character is being honest about his humanity or his reasons for why the hospital is so quiet, or why Anders isn’t around. Up to then the issue is tense, but it could easily turn out that an under stress Kara is being paranoid.

But then the topic of conversation turns to motherhood, and it all starts to get down to a new layer of unnerving. Simon talks about Starbuck’s reproductive abilities in a cold, analytical manner that is deeply unsettling, all but painting her as an entity that is primarily useful only for its method of making new members of the human race. He even gives her what is implied to be a gynecological exam, just so we can add the vision of him directly inspecting said reproductive hardware. Combined with the already existent psychological screwjob – making out that Anders is dead, bringing up Starbuck’s abusive family history – it makes one think, pretty easily, that Carla Robinson’s script is a direct attack on the forces in the real world that would treat women as beings whose bodily autonomy comes with conditions and whose role as reproducers outstrips other rights, responsibilities or duties. Starbuck represents individual rights and autonomy against Simon’s male created and enforced regulations of the human body.

And that’s before we come to the reality of the titular “farm”, and things become much clearer on that front. This is a world where women exist only to be breeders, and their own humanity is very much secondary, if it is granted any importance at all. It’s an horrific visage, and one can’t help but think there’s a little bit of a Handmaid’s Tale aspect to it, with “The Farm” serving as a chilling glimpse into a possible future, where women’s rights when it comes to their own physical being are stripped away from them entirely.

This is the first time I have watched this episode since the 2019 referendum in Ireland that stripped the prohibition against abortion from our Constitution, and living through that campaign has opened my eyes a bit on the issue. It’s much clearer to me now what Robinson and BSG are trying to say here, and it resonates hugely. Before this was just a bit of Kronenberg-esque body horror that shocked, but which I shrugged it off as science fiction fantasy. Now, I see it as something more: a good use of the sci-fi sphere of storytelling to reflect the faults in our society through an exaggerated presentation of where such thinking inevitable leads. In the end women like Starbuck would rather die than be violated in the manner that the Cylons violate them here, and would rather euthanise those doomed to such a fate, a powerful statement of both female resistance to such drastic biopolitics, and female solidarity with each other in the face of the same.

Recently, there has been a slight turn towards engendering sympathy for certain parts of the Cylon position but that is flung decidedly out the window in “The Farm”. The sheer horror of what is happening on Caprica is utterly repulsive: it puts the Cylons firmly back in the flat-out antagonist position. Was this a wise choice? I suppose we can look at it in terms of factions – the Sharon/Helo experiment seems to indicate there are multiple approaches to this Cylon “problem” as seen in “Litmus” – but it is hard to reconcile any idea of “Cylons and humanity are more alike than unlike” as the opening and closing shots of “Resistance” seemed to want us to think, with what we see in “The Farm”. The Cylons have enacted a nuclear holocaust, and now they treat the survivors as sub-human breeding machines. Sharon’s very lame sounding attempts at justification, a mix of religious compulsion and “It’s not that bad really” excuses, sound awful coming out of her mouth. At the end of the day, it is difficult to imagine any real justification that does not stick in the craw, and I may feel more negatively about the Cylons going forward than I remember feeling before.

Katee Sackoff gives one of the great BSG performances here, and nearly all of it from a hospital bed. She bounces so well off of Rick Worthy in their back-and-forths, runs the gauntlet in terms of her sarcastic retorts and emotional outbursts, and imbues the discovery of the Cylon breeding experiments with just the right amount of disgust and terror. But outside of that it’s almost uplifting to see her exchanging genuine affection with Anders at the beginning, the sort of freeing sexual experience, without the lingering emotional maelstrom that occurred with Lee in “Kobal’s Last Gleaming (Part One)” or the strange revenge-lay type thing she had with Baltar, that allows her to find some degree of actual happiness. It goes beyond that too, as we see in Starbuck’s reaction to the news that Anders is dead, and in her reluctance to leave Caprica when the opportunity arises. In “Valley Of Darkness” we saw a Starbuck that expanded on how she had little left to fight for, having no firm ties on the Colonies and little active direction in life. Now, in Anders, she has found it. She tells him that she’s “coming back” and we believe her: Starbuck has discovered something worth fighting for, and also something to lose. Sackoff sells it all perfectly.

In the Fleet, we get to see Zeus’ return to Olympus as Adama retakes command. It’s a joyous moment but, as the episode progresses, we begin to slowly see the problems happening with the man. Externally there is no real change with what is happening in the Fleet: martial law appears to be maintained, the civilian government is non-existent and Roslin remains a fugitive. Adama is set on his course in that regard and while he is a much surer hand on the wheel than Tigh, he doesn’t appear too interested in healing the schism in the Fleet.

It becomes clear after Adama’s conversation with Tyrol that the ghost of Boomer is haunting him. At the start of the episode we see the emotion of the moment when he retakes command and is once again with the crew that he considers family, but it was one of that family that put two bullets in him. Like Javert scrambling for answers when a convict turns out to be moral, Adama is having trouble reconciling his familial affection for Valerii with her betrayal, and that dichotomy is leaving him in a tailspin of self-doubt. That might explain how Adama starts veering towards dictatorial actions here, searching the Fleet at gunpoint, decrying Roslin’s movement as “crap” and being happy to see anyone “stupid enough” to follow her gone.

Adama is self-aware enough to know that he has a problem, and being a direct sort of man confronts that problem directly. The sight of Boomer’s corpse is enough to get it all flooding out, and his breakdown is a powerful moment, expertly captured by Olmos. This is the most we’ve see of Adama in terms of outward displays, and while it is still private it’s shocking in many ways. The man sobs like a child in the face of seeing his entire world crashing down, in realising that someone he loved tried to kill him, and perhaps realising, even subconsciously, of how it is starting to effect him. He’s angry and in mourning at the same time, and how is one to reconcile such emotions?

Next to that, what is happening in the Fleet seems comparatively tame, but it is an important part of the episode all the same. We see the first signs of Zarek attempting to turn the situation to his own advantage in trying to get Apollo to denounce his father. On the other side of things Roslin walks further into the role of a prophet, at first contemplating such an act only in terms of its expediency, but then coming to understand the true responsibility of it. Roslin is no longer just President: she’s a manifestation of the will of deities to people. It’s something that she has embraced over the last few episodes, but when she is confronted with the reality, with people literally kneeling in her presence, it’s a bit of a shock. It goes back to Adama’s words in the Miniseries again: the time comes when you can’t run from the things you’ve done anymore. Roslin accepting her Pythian role has opened a theological can of worms, and in the aftermath of an apocalypse the consequences will be significant.

It’s something that I don’t really talk about too much I find, so I wanted to set aside some space for some of this episodes visuals. “The Farm” does a lot with very little, in the best traditions of TV sci-fi: the opening ambush does without an extended gunfight but makes do with some trippy camera work focused on a wounded Starbuck; the hospital room she is confined in is bare, but then there are the disorientating effects with the bright lights and how the minimalist approach to trappings draws your eyes to them more; the odd combination of woman and machine for the actual farm, which maximises the sense of the strange; and the final combat scene is decent also, for what it is. Hardy does good work here, in an episode that makes the very best of a limited lot, never forcing you out of the suspension of disbelief.

 There are things we don’t say often enough. Things like what we mean to one another. All of you mean a lot to me. I just want you to know that.

Notes

-The title is fairly self-explanatory I would say. When I first read it I thought it would turn out to be some variation on “buying it”, but boy was I wrong.

-I love Anders’ room in the resistance’s high school HQ, some office that has seen its various bric-a-brac shoved to the side to make room for a cot. It actually does look like a room with a very different intended purpose that has been requisitioned.

-Having spent the Miniseries and 17 subsequent episodes in his flight suit, Helo finally gets a change of clothes in “The Farm”. I’d say that was a relief for Penikott.

-As Kara slips into unconsciousness, we get a slight variation of the “Kobol’s Last Gleaming” theme. Perhaps meant to represent Kara’s mission calling to her?

-The count is down four from “Resistance”. Presumably this reflects the four civilians killed on the Gideon, but interestingly this means that Boomer was not included either because she wasn’t human or because she can’t actually die.

-The brief previews of the episode return in “The Farm” and I’ve just found out from the Galactica wiki that the technical term for these is apparently “blipverts”.

-I love the chant of “Adama” as the Old Man comes back to the CIC. It’s just an explosion of joy. I wonder how Tigh is feeling.

-Interesting to see Baltar in the CIC, not exactly looking very enthusiastic about Adama’s return. He’s presumably thinking on the matter in terms of his own advancement: he remains Vice-President of a non-existent government.

-Adama’s speech is short and sweet, reflecting his own connection to the crew and his occasional inability to get the words out. His thoughts on how the crew are essentially a family resonates though, given his later behavior towards a member of that family.

-Gaeta has trouble knowing what to call the Roslin faction. When he risks “the former President”, Tigh provides the answer: “the fugitives”. As far as the military is concerned, Roslin is a criminal.

-The Fleet resistance meets in a meat locker to avoid detection. There’s a great deleted scene where Apollo outlines why it’s so perfect, as its quarry constitutes the last steaks in the universe, and is, by extension, one of the most protected parts of the Fleet.

-It’s clear in the course of his aborted criticism of his father that Apollo isn’t a full-on believer just yet. He has doubts, and can’t bring himself to bury Adama in the manner asked.

-Have to give props to Rick Worthy for his performance here, he’s able to tread a fine line between “slightly sarcastic Doctor” and “creepy psychopath” quite nicely. I think he ends up being the least used Cylon actor, which is a shame.

-As Simon messes with Starbuck’s head, our focus is more and more on the glaringly bright lights coming from the rooms window. One can’t help but think of TNG’s “Chain Of Command and the way a gaoler used light as a disorientation method. Moore was a contributor to that two-parter, though I don’t know if he had a hand in the famous torture scenes.

-Tyrol comes to see Adama about Cally, but Adama doesn’t seem to really care, preferring to talk about Boomer. It strikes me that Adama must see Tyrol as the only one who can truly understand the level of betrayal Adama is feeling.

-Cally is given a month in the brig for improperly discharging a weapon. The implication is clear: killing a Cylon isn’t murder, and will not be treated as such.

-Adama’s prophecy, that Tyrol will see Boomer again, sounds very eerie coming out of Olmos’ mouth, but I guess that is the idea. I don’t really recall Tyrol and Boomer having much in terms of interactions later in the show?

-Simon’s description of radiation sickness is actually very accurate. Allow me to transcribe a more elongated speech from HBO’s Chernobyl: “The skin blisters, turns red, then black. This is followed by a latency period. The immediate effects subside. The patient appears to be recovering. Healthy, even. But they aren’t. This usually only lasts for a day or two…Then the cellular damage begins to manifest. The bone marrow dies, the immune system fails, the organs and soft tissue begin to decompose. The arteries and veins spill open like sieves, to the point where you can’t even administer morphine for the pain, which is unimaginable. And then three days to three weeks, you are dead.”

-The exam that Starbuck gets from Simon is only hinted at I suppose, but it does still make you a tad queasy. I do think it adds something to the episode though, shining more of a light on Simon’s obsession of reproduction as a women’s primary value.

-Starbuck insists she is not some baby-making commodity, but a Viper pilot. Simon sarcastically points out that they don’t have any Vipers. He might be right, but the subtext of a male authority figure belittling a woman’s experience and sense of worth when she rejects the idea of motherhood is at the heart of “The Farm”.

-Simon, twisting the knife a little, brings up fractures from Starbuck’s childhood that are evident on her bones. What was it Leoben said, in “Flesh And Bone”? “You were raised by a woman who thought suffering was good for the soul, so you suffered.”

-Adama lets the mask slip for a split second early, as he smashes a clipboard with Roslin’s call to arms on it. It’s unlike him, and a bit of a scary moment.

-The crew of the Astral Queen seek Roslin’s blessing, and despite her concern, she has to give it. There’s an element here of “laying on of hands”, as if Roslin, aside from being a prophet, has some measure of divine power in her own right.

-Penikott has a dubbed in line for the scene where Helo, Anders and the others return to the ambush site that I thought was a bit obvious. In fact, that whole scene was superfluous, and could have been cut to keep the “Is Simon a Cylon?” plot going for a few minutes longer.

-Roslin’s signal turns out to be a flare fired from the Astral Queen, but isn’t there a reasonable chance that it might be missed by some ships? Anyway, seems like a bit of a Biblical riff again, a light in the heavens to guide the way to salvation.

-Adama’s doubt becomes plainly obvious as he waits to see how much of the Fleet is going to jump away with Roslin. It’s not in words but in the look on his face. He thinks he’s so right when it comes to the President, but he’s realising a lot of what’s left of humanity don’t agree.

-Starbuck hears Simon call her by that callsign, and all I could think was The Great Escape: “Good luck.” “Thank you.”

-Starbuck’s slaying of Simon is another moment of sudden brutal physical violence, that has rapidly become a calling card for BSG. Here I’m struck by the extent of the blood splatter, which is significant for network TV.

-The actual farm is such a messed-up set-piece that it’s only when looking for it that you might notice how cheap the set looks, so I suppose that is a production win. Starbuck’s destruction of the machines seems like at least a partial homage to a similar scene in Alien: Resurrection, a film with comparable themes on bodily autonomy and reproductive rights.

-“The Farm” makes you think the Simon who confronts Kara outside the hospital is the same one who was treating her, but unless there is a resurrection facility on-site and he got dressed quick, I don’t think this is possible. Of course it might just be a different one, and perhaps Starbuck was being “treated” by multiple copies.

-There’s a retcon here as the 24 ships that follow Roslin is described as “a third of the Fleet”. There was only 40 or so ships that appeared at the Ragnar Anchorage in “Part Two” of the Miniseries.

-Olmos really brings it in his final scene. His sobbing showcases a new side of Adama, and is a brilliant cap to this episodes mini-arc for him.

-One of God’s commandants, and one that the Cylons seem to focus on a lot, is “Be fruitful”. Presumably this is a nod to Genesis 1:28 – “And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply…” – but interesting that it is a commandant, which in the Christian tradition is more of a cast-iron rule of living (most of them being “Do not” type things) as opposed to a more general aspect of the faith.

-Helo appears to have found a measure of reconciliation with his fate as a Cylon guinea pig anyway, though there is a clear discomfort in him as he explains the nature of that experiment to Starbuck. A very awkward return to the Fleet is coming.

-Helo reminds us of Starbuck’s second scar, but she doesn’t want to know what it might have been about. But I think, relative to its position on her body, we might be able to take a very uncomfortable guess. I believe this doesn’t come up again until Season Three.

-“Go find Earth”. Anders’ reminding of Starbuck’s higher mission is a nice way to temporarily sunder their relationship, a word of hope in otherwise desperate surrounds, and an indication that there might be something more to life now than a war without any chance of victory.

-Starbuck leaves her dog tags with Anders, which as a totem for her inevitable return works really well.

-The brilliant, heartrending violin piece that closes the episode is Bear McCreary’s “A Promise To Return”, a wonderful example of two seemingly discordant themes melding together to make great music (so it’s perfect as a theme for Starbuck and Anders). It was initially dubbed “Saying Goodbye” but was renamed after the lead violinist who performed it, Ludvig Gurdland, was hit by a car and left permanently brain-damaged. The newly titled song is dedicated to him.

Overall Verdict: “The Farm” is an episode I think a lot more of today that I did the first few times I watched it, when I focused too much on its horror elements to the detriment of what I believe it was trying to say. Both aspects of the dual plot are great, it has some of the best visual work of the series thus far and in Sackoff and Olmos the episode has some of BSG’s stand-out acting moments of its entire run. I’m taken enough by this episode in this watch that I would rank it among the show’s very best.

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9 Responses to NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Two: “The Farm”

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