NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Two: “Pegasus”

It’s like a dream.

Air Date: 23/09/2005

Director: Michael Rymer

Writer: Anne Cofell Saunders

Synopsis: The Fleet is elated when they discover another surviving Battlestar, the Pegasus, commanded by the stern Admiral Cain. But joy soon turns to rancor as the reality of what the Pegasus is becomes clear.

Review

There are times, if I am writing a review or critical analysis of something I have seen many times, when the exercise can feel a little self-defeating, in terms of how it can affect your original appreciation for the thing in question. Not so this time. “Pegasus” is an utterly brilliant piece of science-fiction television, and writing about it only makes me appreciate it more. It’s good to be reminded of just how great this show is, and “Pegasus”, only the first part of a three-episode arc, does that in spades. Lots to talk about here, so this will be a long one.

It all starts off so well, which is part of the genius of the episode: after nearly 25 entries of heartbreak, death and general misery, an unexpected surprise occurs as it turns out there is another Battlestar out there, nearly 2’000 unlooked for additions to whats left of humanity, who come with more Vipers, more guns, more everything. The moment when the unidentified blip on the DRADIS console is revealed to be the Pegasus is a stunning one, and we really can buy the joy and overwhelming happiness that floods through the hallways of Galactica. Both Adama’s call it a “dream” but really it is a miracle in many ways, and is treated as such. New characters, new friends, reinforcements and relief, it’s a lot of the things that the crew were conscious of lacking in “Final Cut” and facing the breaking point over in “Flight Of The Phoenix”. Having that happiness on-screen has a big impact on a viewer I think, it has a certain intoxicating effect having gone so long without much of it.

But then things start to turn. The build is very good, even with so much packed into 42 minutes here. It starts with little things, like Cain’s condescension to the Galactica crew when she steps onboard (see below). It grows when we hear Fisk’s tale about the former XO getting shot, and then see Apollo getting dressed down by the Pegasus CAG. The Fleet doesn’t get any benefits from Pegasus’ presence at all. Its deck chief is revealed to be a civilian from a ship Pegasus encountered, but we hear no more about it. On and on it goes, before we start hitting the really heavy stuff, that I will take in turn in just a moment. It suffices to say that Rymer and Cofell Saunders do a really good job of making sure that the villainy associated with so much of the Pegasus is not something that just gets revealed in a big shocking twist, but is instead slowly shown to the audience, piece-by-piece, for maximum unnervement.

The truth is that, even in these moments, the Pegasus is being shown as a mirror, darkly, for the Galactica. Its hyped-up, super militaristic, recklessly immoral character is what the Galactica could have been, if Adama decided to hell with Roslin back at the Ragnar Anchorage in the Miniseries, or to leave her third of the Fleet at Kobol in “Home, (Part One)”. Galactica lost its discipline but kept its humanity, while the Pegasus did the complete opposite. Without that political check, without that buzzing in the ear about limitations and proportionality and prioritising the survival of the human species, then Adama could well have been a Cain. The Pegasus has gone it alone, and while we are yet to fully see the reality of what that meant, and what the Pegasus did in its time alone, we’re left in no doubt as to what it is meant to represent: the antithesis of the Roslin/Adama led Fleet.

It’s here that we have to talk a bit about Admiral Cain. Michelle Forbes does such a good job with her, the human personification of how that initial joy turns to dread, then outright conflict. She doesn’t grow or change in the course of the episode, but our perception of her certainly does. Her formality is beyond what we have experienced with Adama and Tigh, and is a suitable shield for the secretly weak character that becomes plainly obvious behind it. I say “weak” to describe Cain’s emotional frailty, that is think is more clear the more I watch this episode. The way she describes what happened in the Scorpia Shipyards it would seem she panicked without anything else to do, and then fled: regardless of the appropriateness of the action, it would seem turning tail has haunted her, and she has responded by instituting this arch-militaristic fervour in her and her crew.

It’s war carried out for war’s sake – something that we will, of course, see much more of in time – and while it might have been the Clausewitzian ideal, it’s a moral wasteland at the same time. Whatever happened on the Scylla, the treatment of the Gina character – which will have a very personal tie to Cain, as we will see – and then the treatment of the civilian Fleet and the poor relations with the Galactica, they all point to a woman who has a inferiority in her, a weakness in character, that she is desperate to deflect.

This comes out big time in her final scene sharing a room with Adama, when she goes beyond the point of reasonable criticism and just begins punching down on the man. Earlier Adama waved away Tigh’s concern at what the Pegasus has been up to by arguing about needed context, but here Cain betrays his reasonable attitude by ignoring the Galactica’s context entirely. Adama has had some doubts up to that point – see below – but this is the moment when he realises that Cain simply doesn’t understand, or maybe doesn’t want to understand, the reality of the situation that humanity finds itself in. I think in the course of this dressing down she criticises nearly every officer on Galactica, never once seeming to consider that there simply isn’t many of them left.

The bottom line is that Adama and Cain have different definitions for what a crew is. For Adama it’s family, as we have seen in his reaction to Boomer’s betrayal in “The Farm”, in his interaction with Dee in “Home (Part One)”, in the way that he treats Starbuck as a surrogate daughter. For Cain crew are expendable ends, to be used, moved around and discarded as she sees fit, and if those ends want to indulge in some civilian murder and prisoner abuse then so be it. The next to last straw for Adama is Cain attempting to override his philosophy with hers, by breaking the Galactica family, first in terms of the integration of the crews, and then by sentencing Helo and Tyrol to death. That is something that Adama simply will not contemplate, and his opposition only needs that last push to turn into open rebellion.

Before we get into where all of that leads, we have to talk about the two worst on-screen instances of the Pegasus’ crimes, the first of which allows Baltar to come back into the central narrative very concretely. The victim that he has to treat, who doesn’t even get a name in this episode, is not the real focus, it’s all on Baltar, and Callis does a really good job with him here. The power-hungry lothario is hit for six by the reality of what he faces in the Pegasus brig: a victim of torture and sexual assault, whose only ally is in him.

On the surface it seems entirely positive, as he works to improve Gina’s conditions and comes close to an open admonition of Admiral Cain on the topic. There’s an honesty to him in “Pegasus” that we arguably haven’t seen before. But this is Baltar. He never does anything that isn’t in his interest, and the only side he remains on is his own. Here, even as he works to help Gina, his manipulator aspects are clear, as he convinces Cain to go with his method of working with captured Cylons and banishes Head Six. Yes, he retains the humanity and moral centre to be horrified and unnerved by what happens with Gina, but we always have to remember what’s at the back of his mind, which is some variation of “What could this Cylon prisoner do for me down the line?”

Of course we can’t move on from this without briefly mentioning Baltar’s final act monologue, when the emotion of what he is saying overwhelms him. If it is a performance, it’s a hell of a performance, as he ties his treatment of Gina into his love for Six, and I mean full-on can’t-stop-thinking-about-her love. It’s like coming into contact with a physical representation of Six – one that isn’t actively trying to destroy him, like Shelly Godfrey was in “Six Degrees Of Separation” – brings home to him the depth of the connection he actually has with Six. Baltar isn’t a total amoral monster, and has the capability to make those kinds of connections, but we cannot forget that he only, when it comes right down to it, looks out for Gaius.

From here, we have to move onto the rape scene, or rather the attempted rape scene: the extended edition goes a different way with this moment, but I will discuss that when I get to it. The depiction of rape is not an unworthy thing in fiction, not something that should always be shied away from, but it is something that must have a very clear purpose to the forwarding of a narrative, to the growth and evolution of characters. In essence, it should not just be present for shock value or titillation. The TV version of “Pegasus” actually swerves away from the full on depiction of such an assault, with Helo and Tyrol preventing, rather than interrupting, it, but regardless I think that the depiction of rape in “Pegasus” is done well in the first instance, but not so much in the second. We’ve seen the aftermath of the Pegasus’ treatment of Cylon prisoners in Gina, but here we are forced to see the present reality of such things, and I do think this is important. Galactica and Pegasus are imminently to be set against in each other in what amounts to a brief civil war in the Fleet, and it’s important from a narrative perspective that we fully understand the dark mirror that the Pegasus is, an antagonist force whose moral compass has long since been abandoned. The attempted rape scene does that.

In character terms it has a more limited use: Tyrol’s efforts to protect Sharon showcase how far he has come since the start of “Flight Of The Phoenix”, and that’s a worthy demonstration, but Sharon is just a victim within the confines of “Pegasus” and as far as I remember her own reaction to this assault is not a major part of any subsequent episodes. Given how the extended version goes farther with the same end-result, that makes the rape scene something I take a mostly dim view on: at the end of the day it is too important of a plot point for its effects on the victim to be left to the imagination like this. The aftermath is more about what happens to the men involved which means that, in the case of the Sharon character, “Pegasus” comes close to exploitative in its depiction of rape. This is a flaw I can forgive I suppose, but it is regrettable.

“Pegasus” culminates in one of the best closing sequences of any TV episode I have seen, as Adama decides his doubts outweigh his loyalty to rank when it becomes clear that Cain has no regard for due process within military circles. More important, she’s trying to break up the family Adama has worked so hard to keep together, and that isn’t gong to fly. This could have been an season’s arc of built-up tension, but I think “Pegasus” handles it very well in terms of fast-forwarding us to the decisive point within an hour, when Cain moves to literally kill some of the Galactica crew. There follows a brilliantly tense conversation between the respective characters, Rymer’s camera circling around them in unison, as they both refuse to pull back from the brink. As respective squadrons of Vipers hurtle towards each other, Adama rejects any claims he is making a mistake, with a grim, determined insistence that he is going to keep his family, and his crew, together. It’s such a powerful moment, the perfect cap to the build-up of tensions that the episode has showcased. The resulting cliffhanger, one of the best poised in television history, leaves us begging for a resolution.

I don’t take orders from you.

Notes

-Cofell Saunders steps into the writers role here for the first, but far from the last, time, and does a bang-up job.

-This episode, and the larger three-part arc, comes from the Original Series’ story “The Living Legend”, where Cain was played by Lloyd Bridges. There are plenty of similarities between the two plots, but the 2005 version is, to put it lightly, significantly darker.

-Adama twice uses the term “Sit rep” in the opening scene. This is military truncation of “Situation report”, a nice two syllable way of asking “What is going on?”

-What a moment when that voice comes over the com: “This is the Battlestar Pegasus…”

-Bear McCreary’s score gets off to a great start in the opening scenes with his piece “Pegasus”, an unusually dreamy, uplifting tune, that reflects the astonishment and joy in finding the new Battlestar.

-Apollo’s words are apt “It’s like a dream”. Adama agrees: “It is a dream”.

-I really like the design of the Pegasus: obviously similar to Galactica, but bigger in every respect, from engines to guns. The mirror effect is obvious even there, with the Pegasus like Galactica on militarised steroids.

-The count goes up, in by far the most substantial fashion it will ever go up, by 1’752 which, by extension, can be taken as the crew total for the Pegasus.

-I love how genuinely excited the Galactica crew is to assemble in the flight pod to greet the Pegasus delegation, it’s like an extension of the happiness at the end of “Flight Of The Phoenix”.

-You can pinpoint the moment when things start to turn, and for me it’s Cain’s “Welcome back to the Colonial Fleet” line. There’s a certain putdown in that, a claiming of a position of dominance, that is understated but present.

-And to make the point visually, in the very next shot we see the two ships in formation, but the Pegasus flies over Galactica, overshadowing it, in a way that you could easily define as predatory.

-A neat production note I never noticed: Adama only looks people he respects in the eye. He does it a lot for Cain here.

-Cain outlines the disaster at “the Scorpion Shipyards” where a huge portion of the Colonial Fleet was wiped out in an instant. This reminds me of discussions of how many aircraft carriers should ever be in one place at a given time, which was the subject of some debate in 2014 when five of the US Navy’s ended up in the Norfolk Base at one time.

-The way that Cain outlines what “a blind jump” is here made me think the first time watching it that we would see such an event before the end of the story arc, but as far as I am aware it isn’t until the very final episode of the show that we see such a thing.

-Oh, the venom hidden underneath the words “I’m sure” that Cain says when Adama insists that the President has come a long way. Forbes is good at delivering the icy verbals when she needs to.

-It’s clear that Fisk, ably played by Graham Beckel, is fairly traumatised by what he’s gone through on the Pegasus. It’s a great jump from his seeming relief at spilling his guts to Tigh, to suddenly acting like he was just joking.

-As Cain takes command of the Fleet and leaves Galactica, Adama gives her one trailing look. It’s very subtle, a good way of showing the doubts that the Commander is already starting to have.

-Not sure I understand the Galactica pilot’s objections to “keeping score”. I’d say that’s a pretty standard thing in air forces since they were invented.

-I never liked Apollo namedropping his father in his argument with the Pegasus CAG, which rightly gets the response of “Daddy’s boy”. It’s weird that Lee would try and use that connection to win an argument.

-Laird, played by Vincent Gale, will be a minor character of note going forward, but for now serves as an unsettling question mark for what the Pegasus crew have been doing since the Cylon attack. Just two words from Laird to describe how he was picked up from the Scylla – “Things happened” – is enough to cause a degree of dread.

-I like that Tigh has a very good nose for when someone is covering something up, maybe because he’s done a bit of it himself, or he just knows how drunk men spilling their guts sound like.

-Adama’s “context” conversation with Tigh is great, as he makes the comparison between Cain’s apparent shooting of her former XO with the destruction of the Olympic Carrier in “33”. Context does matter, but there’s an unspoken addition to his doubts as he mocks the idea of Pegasus being compelled to share their logs.

-Tricia Helfer as Head Six has only a small part in this episode, but she does great, moving from the usual jabbing taunts to abject horror when she sees Gina. She seems genuinely stunned when she sees her, which indicates the characters’ omniscience has limits.

-Such a great body movement that conveys so much, is Baltar wincing and covering his nose when Gina’s cell is opened.

-Baltar pushes it as far as he can with Cain, with a brutally simple analogy: “Simply put, Admiral, you have already used the stick. It’s time to use a carrot.” “Pegasus” casts a rightfully dim view on torture as a useful activity, at the height of the Bush years.

-Cain is surprised at the lack of a hard sell needed for Adama in terms of a joint attack on a Cylon fleet, which betrays her poor character judgement. She thinks Adama is a craven for running from the Colonies, but he’s anything but.

-“Pegasus” doesn’t linger too much on it, but the audience will be intrigued by the unidentified ship the Colonials are gearing up to take shot at. The reality of what it is is well hidden here.

-Cain loses Adama so quickly, betraying another character flaw: an inability to criticise properly. Having complimented him at the start of the scene, she ends up calling into question everything he’s done since the attack. It’s unworthy of a leader.

-Oof, that final look from Adama to Cain as their conversation comes to a close. The definition of “death glare”.

-“You’re officers, act like it”. Those words, send by Adama to Starbuck and Apollo, are really an attempt by the Commander to convince himself to follow Cain’s lead, and sound suitably unconvincing.

-Starbuck will not get onboard with the formality of the Pegasus, giving her blunt appraisal of Stinger’s plan for reconnaissance: “Your plan sucks”.

-The rape-bragging douche bros who make Helo and Tyrol twig what is about to happen to Sharon are “Vireem” and “Gage” and are a picture-perfect example of the toxic masculinity that Cain has happily created, more than willing to sexual assault a prisoner, and then brag about it to other women afterwards. Ronald D. Moore refers to the pair as the “Yee-Haw Boys”.

-Cally reacts negatively to what Vireem and Gage are saying, but you can imagine it’s less to do with concern for Sharon and more her own personal experience with sexual assault in “Bastille Day”.

-Like that slow-mo of Thorne hitting the bolt hard, just so we understand that he’s a goner. Have fun down there buddy.

-It’s good to see some of Adama’s actions getting consequences here, as Cain rejects his idea of an independent investigation into Helo and Tyrol’s “murder” of Thorne since the Commander just broke up the last one they had, in “Litmus”. That’s a good cause-and-effect, even if it’s obvious Cain is coming at the whole thing from a position of bad faith.

-More love for Bear McCreary in the last Baltar/Gina scene, with his “The Cylon Prisoner” adding something great to the moment. It’s a wispy affair featuring an off-tune guitar to emphasise the broken nature of Gina, that calls to mind David Newman’s theme for River in Serenity.

-A very romantic way for Baltar to describe the nature of his relationship with Head Six: “I have quite literally never stopped thinking about her”.

-Baltar ends with a very powerful declarative statement, tying his identity into his goal to help Gina: “My name is Gaius Baltar, and I’m here to help you”. The delivery from Callis is top-notch.

-In a reversal of what occurred in “The Farm”, this time Cally goes to bat for the Chief. The conversation is less obtuse than that which Adama and Tyrol had though, but the scene makes a deeper connection between Cally and the Chief.

-Love that look Olmos pulls when Tigh informs him that the court martial is already over, a pained wince. It’s clear Adama has hoped there could be a way out of it, but with that facial expression we know that he is facing the frustration of knowing he has very few options left.

-Is Cain’s sentence correct? Arguably, yes: the two men have killed an officer in a time of war, and Cain has the power to pass sentence, even a harsh one. Then again, that argument is based on Cain being on “detached service”, ie, away from regular military and civilian commands, which she most certainly isn’t. This statement would seem to confirm Cain does not consider Roslin to be a legitimate President. Regardless, the sentence isn’t right. Humanity is on the brink, and losing two men for the enforcement of military justice is an asinine refusal to accept that reality.

-Bear McCreary had already done enough in “Pegasus” to mark it out as a fine example of his work, but then we get “Prelude To War”, a stirring, exhilarating mix of rapid strings and thumping drums, that might be the best tune of the show so far. “Pegasus” is a masterpiece of score.

-That being said, it’s important to note its likely influence: Philip Glass’s “November 25: Morning” from the movie Mishima: A Life In Four Chapters. Glass’s work was previously featured in “Valley Of Darkness”.

-“Call it whatever you like, I’m getting my men”. “You are making such a mistake” “…I’m getting my men”. Chills, every time.

-“Pegasus”, the mid-season finale, ends on a cliffhanger, but one I think that the show earns: a genuinely hard-to-see-beyond confrontation, the explosion of a conflict that has been built from almost minute one of the episode.

Overall Verdict: “Pegasus” has that one flaw that mars it a bit in how it approaches its most controversial scene, or rather how it fails to approach it in the aftermath, but that’s the worst I could say about it. Everything else, the performances, the script, the character evolution, the CGI, the music, the cinematography, it’s BSG firing on every cylinder. It’s another easy addition to the shows tier of top-level episodes, and whets the appetite hugely for the second half of the second season.

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

This entry was posted in Battlestar Galactica, Reviews, TV/Movies and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Two: “Pegasus”

  1. Pingback: NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica: Index | Never Felt Better

  2. Pingback: NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Two: “Pegasus (Extended)” | Never Felt Better

  3. Pingback: NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Two: “Resurrection Ship (Part One)” | Never Felt Better

  4. Pingback: NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Two: “Resurrection Ship (Part Two)” | Never Felt Better

  5. Pingback: NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Two: “Epiphanies” | Never Felt Better

  6. Pingback: NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Two: “Black Market” | Never Felt Better

  7. Pingback: NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Two: “The Captain’s Hand” | Never Felt Better

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s