NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Two: “Final Cut”

We all want this fleet to survive.

Air Date: 09/09/2005

Director: Robert M. Young

Writer: Mark Verheiden

Synopsis: With tensions over the Gideon massacre still at boiling point, Roslin and Adama allow a documentarian onboard Galactica in a bid to show the human side of the military to the Fleet. Colonel Tigh becomes the subject of death threats.

Review

“Final Cut” appears to be an episode that’s meant to be a bit of a coda to the previous seven, insofar as the events of it are a reaction to the coup and the Gideon massacre of “Resistance” specifically, while being separated by time. The Fleet is riven by tensions over the military coup that was enacted, and the fact that no-one has been formally punished for what happened on the Gideon: there’s a need for some truth and reconciliation I suppose, but the way that the Fleet’s leaders go about providing it seem a bit confusing in retrospect, all part of an episode that sometimes feels like a bit of a muddle. I’ll get to it.

Watching “Final Cut” this time around, one of the things that struck me was a comparison to “33”, insofar as there really wasn’t a main character of the episode, excepting perhaps D’Anna Biers herself. Instead, much like in “33”, the crew in general is that character, with the episode seeking to expand upon their overall tensions, fears, failures and successes. It’s been a while since we have really focused in on that: on how the Galactica crew is the last line between humanity and extinction, and there’s no breaks, no reinforcements, no relief. When Dee says that things never get easier, “they get harder”, at the conclusion, we believe her, just as we believe the idea that not losing anyone in a skirmish with the Cylons can be counted as a good day.

Galactica’s is a crew right on the edge, with various members slipping badly. The joy of finding the road to Earth is pretty much gone, with “Final Cut” very much a “back to basics” idea. Kat is only the most obvious example: the various snapshots of Biers’ documentary are illuminating for every person, be they Dee traumatised by her last interaction with her father, Gaeta smoking or Tigh’s whole deal. As far as I remember the next episode really delves into that sense of fatigue and deterioration in standards, but “Final Cut” gives a good enough picture all of its own. I believe a lot of these snapshots are ad-libbed, with the actors encouraged to add to their characters backstories of their own volition: it comes off well here.

The thing is, “Final Cut” has the opportunity to be an interesting look at just what documentary is, but on that score I’m not sure that I think much of the episode. Biers’ film seems a bit predictable in a lot of ways but I suppose given the final scene revelation that may well have been the point. Seeing “Final Cut” unfold as both an in-universe narrative and through different glimpses of the Biers’ end product gives the entire affair a bit of an uneven feel, even if the snapshots of various crew-members are very interesting for what they show. But for the episode, I’m not sure what Biers’ presence in the CIC does for the Raider crisis in terms of making it more engaging, or for the confrontation in Tigh’s quarters. This kind of presence aboard Galactica, at the risk of sounding obvious, seems intrusive, when that presence isn’t really having a significant impact on what we are seeing unfold. Biers and her cameraman are just there, and I didn’t feel as engaged in their documentarian effort as I thought I would have.

Lots of shows have done this kind of idea – SG-1’s “Heroes”, M*A*S*H’s “The Interview”, E.R’s “The Ambush” spring to mind straight away – but I really felt like the potential isn’t explored enough with Biers. The brief glimpses of her getting more involved – like when she catches the sight of a pregnant Sharon, or figures out before everyone else who the person harassing Tigh is – go by too quickly. The possibility of getting some sort of discussion on the philosophical aspects of documentary, of how the author of documentaries change the subject through their own experience of it and framing of the narrative, goes largely a begging.

That brings us to Biers, who as I said seems to constitute the only real character arc of the episode. Lucy Lawless’ casting made a bit of a stir at the time as I recall, like any time the main character of an iconic TV show turning up on another one would. She is quite good here, injecting Biers with the just the right amount of journalistic fervour and genuine idealism ahead of the swerve of the final scene that deliciously undercuts it all. We really do come to believe that she’s only after an honest look at what the military of the Fleet is, even if her attempts to frame the story at the very beginning would indicate otherwise.

Biers brings up the idea of a more long-term resistance to the current regime in the Fleet, a movement that recognises the precarious position of humanity but still wants people to be held accountable for their actions. She spars with Adama on the issue of just what patriotism is, and whether people being forced to live with their mistakes, as Tigh is, is enough punishment for the sins they have committed. Of course, there’s no real resolution to this plot line: the Gideon incidence goes unpunished by the end, and I’m not sure it’s even brought up again after this. The outrage and unhappiness that Biers represents is a fleeting thing, that fades away as quickly as her own reservations about the military seem to.

That comes ahead of the revelation that Biers is a Cylon, which caught me and many others totally off guard on a first watch. Going by Boomer’s claim that there are eight Cylon agents in the Fleet, Biers would seem to constitute the fifth one of those, after Boomer, the Doral of “Litmus”, Leoben in “Flesh And Bone” and Shelly Godfrey in “Six Degrees Of Separation”. She’s also the sixth Cylon model to be revealed, with just one more of the “Seven” to go, though we didn’t know it at the time. It’s a good choice really, and puts Biers’ actions throughout the episode in a totally new light: an explosive takedown of the military may have been subverted by the need to protect a pregnant Sharon, and Biers played it as such. I have nostalgia for the days when BSG was new and the reveal of who was a Cylon was a very major thing: looking back with hindsight such things seem far more obvious.

The other focus, if the episode has one, is Tigh. He knows that he has sins to pay for, as he appears at first just uncomfortable being on camera, and later outright abusive towards Biers. There’s a measure of guilt there for sure, beyond the brash “I’d do it again” sentiment he exudes publicly, and its something that Tigh does not appear capable of dealing with. The guilt manifests a physical danger in the form of a vengeful Palladino for Tigh to be set against, but I find the much more interesting thing to ponder just how the Colonel will settle the account in his own head.

All the while he keeps getting manipulated by outside forces. There’s Ellen of course, back to being the worst. There’s Biers, whose use of alcohol to try and get at Tigh is a low point for both characters. Even Adama is trying to get Tigh to dance to his tune, by sending him off the ship for a bit. I can imagine such things beginning to weigh quite heavily. When the end result of Tigh’s actions confronts him directly at the conclusion, he displays an almost suicidal ideation, putting his head to the gun and encouraging Palladino to pull the trigger. It could just be bravado, or maybe Tigh really might want out, just a little bit. Facing down his attacker is still a strong moment for him, separate to the whispering and manipulations of others: we can take it very much as Tigh facing down the lingering negative feelings he has over his time in command. If its going to destroy him it can go ahead and do it, but Tigh won’t be held back by it anymore.

Overall though, I really struggled with one. It’s a bit all over the place with so much going on: Biers making her documentary, with all of the interviews, the encounter with Sharon, the little headlocks with Adama, the finale. Then there’s Tigh and the manipulations from Ellen and the attempt on his life and the attack by Palladino. There’s Apollo and Starbuck sparring a little bit, there’s Tyrol’s confrontation with Kat, there’s Sharon’s medical emergency, there’s Baltar and Head Six angling for publicity, there’s Kat’s drug-induced meltdown and then there’s the various snapshots and how those characters all get additional scenes. And then a huge plot-critical reveal at the end. I think 22 named characters, with lines, appear in this episode and it’s just too much. It leads to some strange holes in the story, like how nobody actually seems that bothered that the XO of the ship is getting death threats (Ronald D.Moore has himself admitted this sub-plot is below the expected level). Maybe a two parter could have worked better with this many characters and the need to accommodate them all? It leaves “Final Cut” feeling swollen, uneven, tonally jarring and swinging between plots and characters so quickly that it never finds its feet. While it is redeemed somewhat by Lawless’ magnetic performance, it’s Season Two’s first less-than-brilliant episode.

Always the proud soldier. Taking the heat because it’s honorable. When are you gonna realise, we’re all alone out here?

Notes

-Young back in the directors chair after the excellent “Six Degrees Of Separation”, a suitable choice given his background as a documentarian. Verheidan a guy known for a lot of comic book adaptations, who had worked on Smallville before this: he also played a big part in the under-rated, and under-watched, Falling Skies.

-Lawless’ casting came as a bit of surprise, as she hadn’t been up to much in the years beforehand: Xena had ended in 2001, and aside from the odd guest spot here and there her most prominent role after hanging up the breastplate had been a recurring part in an ill-fated Tarzan TV show. Biers served as a bit of a revival for her

-The little kid who walks up to the camera asking about his dad is a bit much really. Reminds of of the Trolly Problem recreations in The Good Place.

-Very important distinction between Roslin and Adama in their first meeting with Biers: the President tries to work a bit of charm, the Commander is extremely direct is asking where she got the offending tape. Good cop, bad cop in a way.

-Nice bit of continuity in that Colonial TV’s have the corners shaved off as well. But still, what is the point?

-“From the darkness you must fall”. Not sure what the poetry of Katalis is based on, though the name might come from the Roman Catallus.

-One bit of very unnecessary dialogue, is Tigh reading the message scrawled on his mirror. It’s right there in big letters, we didn’t need Hogan’s narration.

-The count is down two, reflecting the death of Meier and the unnamed Zarek crony in “Home (Part Two)”.

-I do like the magazines Adama is reading, the sort of waiting room distraction whose worth has become immeasurable in the current circumstances. Adama knows they are too valuable to throw away.

-I do like Starbuck’s playfulness after showcasing her knowledge of the poem written on Tigh’s mirror: “Can I be a suspect again, please?”

-I also like the little glimpse of Palledino in his rack, looking a tad sullen but otherwise dismissable on a first glance.

-In the latest instance of “Wait, isn’t this set 100’000 years ago?”, Apollo refers to the play-acting pilots as “Tweedledum and Tweedledee”.

-The first snapshot is Dee, talking about how she joined the military looking to find something to believe in, over the objections of her father. Would that sort of strained familial relationship explain her attachment to Adama?

-I do love Baltar’s obvious angling for an interview, that crosses the line from subtle to obvious amazingly fast.

-“This one can help us”. Head Six presumably knows Biers is a Cylon – I mean, she knows everything it seems – but this line is less like foreshadowing and more like distraction on that score: at the time it made Biers being a Cylon almost too obvious.

-Apollo’s snapshot is one of the most rehearsed, although I think its more of a speech about the pilots needing respect that Lee has had in his head for a very long time than something he thought up just for this. He’s the most in tune with using the camera to defend those under his command, which fits.

-I like Tyrol being able to figure out an issue with a Viper because, well, “something doesn’t feel right”.

-Adama sends Tigh to be a representative to the Quorum of Twelve which, given what happened in “Fragged” seems like a remarkably bad idea.

-I liked the Marine being interviewed pointing out the scar he got on the Gideon. It adds to the sense that it wasn’t as straightforward a massacre as it might have appeared.

-Man, the effects for the Raptor malfunction are lame, just some steam and a few sparks. The idea that Tigh was moments from disaster just doesn’t come across.

-Ellen is back to her manipulative best in “Final Cut”, here playing to Tigh’s martyr complex, and lingering sense of unfair treatment.

-Racetrack’s snapshot is pretty brief, but important in the context of some of the actions her character undertakes later in the show. Of all of the Galactica crew, I’m not sure anyone else exhibits such an obvious fanatical hatred of Cylons as she does here.

-Helo’s snapshot is all about what isn’t said. Turning “the human part of you” off “in the field” isn’t something he can do, and he has all of Season One’s events to prove it. It’s an interesting choice of words too, considering the popular perception of Cylons.

-Then we get Gaeta’s snapshot, which is fascinating. The prim, proper officer is suddenly looking messy, smoking and talking about his love of alcohol. He also exhibits a stunning ennui, disparaging his obsession with his military role, and wondering if there is more to life. There’d a lot under the surface of Felix Gaeta, and we’ve barely touched any of it.

-Biers’ use of alcohol to try and loosen Tigh up is pretty manipulative, and unethical. But he’s stupid to not see through it quickly. You’d think he’d be used to it with his wife.

-Starbuck training with the bag makes her look so powerful. Perhaps important to do after seeing her so weak and helpless in “The Farm”.

-Adama certainly thinks enough has been done about what happened on the Gideon: “We all have to live with it”. Emphasis on the “we” I think: perhaps the Commander blames himself for not being around to prevent it.

-Kat’s snapshot is intermingled nicely with her meltdown in the Viper, her wide-eyed joy at describing the euphoria of flying contrasting with her brush with death when she can’t land the thing properly. She is another one to keep an eye on going forward.

-We get a look at what Captain Kelly actually does here, which is being the Landing Signals Officer, or LSO, basically the officer in charge of flight operations. It would explain why he is rarely seen elsewhere.

-I liked the lack of security around Sharon with Cottle, the urgency of her condition basically making it impossible, leading to a fairly large breach.

-Adama and Biers vie in the aftermath over what constitutes patriotism in the Fleet. The old combat between freedom and security plays out yet again, but Adama appears to have the upper hand here.

-Head Six isn’t kidding around, directing Baltar to tell Biers why he “deserves to lead this Fleet”. While we have had an inkling of this before, it’s the first time we’ve seen her make this naked a pronouncement on pushing Baltar into the Presidency.

-Genuinely great comedy moment as Baltar insists the blaring sound is a “false alarm”, just as Gaeta’s voice declares that Cylon Raiders are incoming.

-Dee explains that “CBDR” means “Constant Bearing, Decreasing Range”, a very wordy way of saying “collision course”. This is a real nautical term, but doesn’t appear to have much use in military circles.

-The second Dee snapshot is genuinely heartbreaking, like any relationship fracture that comes without catharsis, and ties back again into why she might treat Adama as a surrogate father figure.

-I love the exchange between Biers and Dee in the CIC: “Should I be scared?” “I am”. Lawless seals it with a suddenly fearful look. It’s good to be reminded that it would take a single Raider slipping through the net to bring Galactica to disaster.

-I’ve always thought that the radio chatter of the Viper pilots engaging with the Raiders is a bit of a homage to the radio chatter of the X/Y-Wings at the end of A New Hope. Missing a real stand-out “It came from behind!” line though.

-Never liked Adama’s “Yes!” when the Vipers take care of the Raiders. Felt very forced. Is the character playing to the camera?

-The reveal of Palladino as the secret threat is fine I suppose. Perhaps if we had seen more of the character over the course of the last 20 episodes it might have meant more.

-You can’t fault Tigh’s courage in this instance, as he literally faces Palladino down. Compare to his less sturdy reaction to getting a gun pointed at him by Apollo in “Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Part Two)”: in this instance his need to atone a bit might propel him on.

-I like Tigh’s admonition of Palladino’s actions, differentiating them from the things that he is responsible for: “The Gideon was an accident, this is a choice”.

-And Palladino was never seen again. Does his spend the rest of the trip on the Astral Queen? Earlier drafts had him shooting himself, but the network nixed that idea.

-Kat’s second snapshot is another powerful one, as she reckons with both the shame of her stim use and how she has only increased the pressure on the other pilots. There’s a good reminder here that there is no relief and no replacements coming: it might not be as bad as “33”, but it’s not far off.

-Adama’s approval of the documentary draws a line under his dispute with Biers. He’s a man who values honesty, and her film is that: “Warts and all”.

-Interesting note in Biers’ final narration, that nobody from the Galactica crew has resigned.

-I love the final shot of the documentary, with Viper pilots walking by Galactica’s janitor. Reminds me of the “Clone Cadets/ARC Troopers” two-parter of The Clone Wars.

-The music played at the end of Biers documentary is, in RDM canon, the national anthem of the Colonies, but it’s really a beefed-up version of the the original Battlestar Galactica theme tune. Not the first time it’s been used either, we heard it in the ceremony scene of the Miniseries’ “Part One”.

-I’m not super fond of the way that we cut between the episode and the documentary, but I do like the transition from Colonial One to documentary to the cinema on Caprica. It was a really inspired shift in perspectives.

-The twist is very good I will admit, tieing in nicely to the sudden arrival of those Cylon Raiders. It throws lots of enticing questions, but as I recall we never find out what happens to this specific “D’Anna Biers”.

-Biers proclaims Sharon’s pregnancy “a miracle of God”, as if we needed any more confirmation that she is a Cylon. Still a cool line to end the episode on though.

Overall Verdict: “Final Cut” is not as good as I remember, with too many characters, too many ideas, just far too much going on. It’s easily the weakest episode of the second season so far, though in Biers it has a silver lining, one of the last major characters of the show to be introduced, and done so in a memorable fashion. BSG feels a little listless between the ending of the schism arc and the arrival of Pegasus, but we’ll see if the second episode of the interim period is any better.

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6 Responses to NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Two: “Final Cut”

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