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

She’s dying, and she knows it.

Air Date: 20/01/2006

Director: Rod Hardy

Writers: Joel Anderson Thompson

Synopsis: On the verge of death, Roslin remembers her last day on Caprica before the attack as she makes a fateful decision on Sharon’s pregnancy. Baltar struggles as he prepares to assume the Presidency, while the Fleet is suddenly racked by attacks from a Cylon sympathiser movement.

Review

The President was a bit sidelined for much of the Pegasus trilogy, especially the final part of it. But in “Epiphanies” we do get to learn a bit more about Roslin and her backstory, as BSG squares up to the possibility of her leaving the stage. The result, due in part to some of the other things happening at the same time, is an unfortunately uneven episode.

Much of Roslin’s material takes place in the past, on the eve of the Cylon attack depicted in the Miniseries. As Secretary of Education she tries to defuse a teachers strike that has turned violent, while engaging in some manner of romantic relationship with President Adar. This stuff is fine for what it is, but it isn’t until the end of the episode that it comes to have a point. The idea seems to be that Roslin is willing to reach out to “Demand Peace” because of the lesson she learned from Adar when he refused to reach out and talk to the striking teachers, but that seems just a bit too on the nose for me. Adar is suitably characterised as an image-obsessed spinner here, but he’s not wrong when he says he has to think about the precedent being set for the next strike, and the the next and so on. Roslin, acting as her own authority in some ways, bulldozes through his Presidential platform and seems shocked when she isn’t patted on the back for it. And equating what happened on Caprica to what happens in the Fleet is a bit of a stretch, to put it mildly, and the whole thing is hurt further by the way that Demand Peace sort of vanish from the narrative going forward.

We do learn a bit about Roslin though. She’s always been an independent thinker, and someone who will fight her own corner when she needs to: even at the end here, with Adar essentially sacking her, she essentially tells him that she won’t go quietly. The relationship with the President is a bit wishy-washy in its depiction though: one has to question the point as it pertains to the larger narrative. BSG will swing back to this suddenly at the very end of the shows run in another flashback, the idea that Roslin makes bad choices romantically, and I didn’t like it then and I don’t like it here. Not because it is an unworthy plot-point, but because it isn’t used to its full potential.

More importantly for that grander narrative is the connection Roslin makes out of the Caprica flashbacks and her successful battle with her cancer: that Baltar was involved with a Cylon on Caprica. Of course the titular epiphany comes from a fever dream experienced on a literal deathbed, so there is a limit to what Roslin can do with this realisation, but it does add a nice little bit of spice to future episodes, as the President realises that her right-hand man might be more than he appears to be.

Roslin’s imminent demise ties into what we might call her last crisis, wherein she decides that Sharon’s pregnancy be terminated. The reason given is that some odd things in the fetus’ blood might pose a threat to the Fleet, and Adama goes along with this, albeit without any huge enthusiasm. This is a plot point I have never really liked, in line with some thoughts below on that whole blood thing. What possible threat to the Fleet could the baby carry? What is the idea here: that Sharon is going to give birth to some kind of monstrous creature? I would have liked there to be more elaboration on that point. Regardless, Roslin’s act comes across as an all-too-sudden bit of demagoguery, more cruel, petty and illogical than the stoic decision of a dying leader. I might have had more time for it as a plot point if they had leaned into it as a sort of final act of revenge against the Cylon race from Roslin than the way it was presented as some kind of pragmatic sanction. That at least might tie into her treatment of Sharon in “Home (Part One)”.

At least this decision gives Helo and Sharon the chance for some good moments. Sharon as a character has been marked very strongly by a sense of control of her emotions since we were first introduced to her: I think, bar her minor freakout in “Flight Of The Phoenix” and her more understandable reaction to the events of “Pegasus”, she’s been the kind of character not prone to large-scale displays of emotion. That ends here, but in a way that makes sense, as her desire to protect her unborn child manifests itself as a manic preference for self-harm and then a violent attempt to fight off the Marines who come to take her for the procedure.

In acting terms, you have to give it to Tahmoh Penikott. Really he’s had very little to do since “Home (Part Two)” but I love what he is able to bring here, in this disturbingly quiet, but very focused, resistance to what Roslin orders and Adama tries to carry out. His scene with Adama early on is so riven with despair that it’s palpable, and then Helo decides to make a literal stand, putting himself between Adama and the termination of his daughter with his hand on his gun. I really did enjoy these moments, where Helo is able to be shown as a steadfast character whose commitment to his family comes above anything else. It’s something above and beyond what we have seen from him recently. Intervening to stop a sexual assault is one thing, but this is Helo planting his flag in a more considered manner.

The other parts of the episode is dedicated to Baltar, and the continuing push-and-pull he has jumped into between Gina and Head Six. It’s a battle for Baltar’s soul – and heart – that only one side is fully aware they are fighting, and it is fascinating seeing Baltar’s reaction to all of it, between trying to play nice with Head Six and trying to play things a bit too nice with Gina. I said in my last review that Baltar seems to be treating Gina as his chance for redemption, but here she is just a solely romantic figure to him. He appears, in a contrivance that calls to mind Vertigo, to have conflated Gina with the Six he was involved with on Caprica, and now expects that Gina will conform to his idea of what the relationship will be. This manifests in a truly hard-to-watch scene where Baltar attempts to initiate a physical relationship, which Gina is not interested in, yet.

Dealing with that rejection – and Gina’s sudden turn to being an agent provocateur again – is only half of Baltar’s problems in “Epiphanies”, as he also finds himself on the verge of becoming President. The thought still carries more terror than anticipation for Baltar, who signed up for the VP gig in “Colonial Day” without much in the way of thought for the larger responsibilities, and even with Head Six’s goading is obviously less in love with the idea than you would expect. As such, we can buy the ideas of the choice that he makes, to reject both Head Six’s desire for him to gain power so he can protect the unborn child of Sharon and Gina’s prodding for him to gain power so he can basically destroy the Fleet, and to instead come up with a miracle for Roslin.

More interesting maybe is another choice that Baltar makes, at the conclusion of the episode. After reading Roslin’s intended final message to him, which is positively overflowing with backhanded compliments, he changes and seems to be more set on opposing Roslin. His ego, inflated hugely by his saving of the President, has been hit hard, and if there is one thing that Baltar is never going to react well to it is a blow to his ego. His anger at Roslin’s perceived demonstration of mistrust is almost childish, and plays perfectly into the hands of a manipulative Head Six: if there’s one way to get Baltar out to destroy Roslin, it’s to convince him it is purely in his own self-interest to do so.

That leads us to “Demand Peace”. The idea of a Cylon sympathiser group in the Fleet isn’t too difficult to swallow, if for no other reason than it is presented more as a group opposed to the military. That, and we don’t really ever see much of life in the Fleet, so Gina’a assertion that the civilian population is ready to turn on the military wholesale with the right prodding could be correct. Our last proper time in the Fleet was in “Final Cut”, and that episode did indicate some simmering resentment. There’s potential here for some really good drama.

But what is hard to swallow is the introduction of Demand Peace and then ten minutes later the same group enacting a suicide bombing. Things accelerate way too quickly in that regard, and whats worse as far as I remember this is the only real appearance of the group. This makes them seem like a hastily thought up stopgap to explain Gina’s safe harbour, and that isn’t so good for a show like BSG, that would kind of try and do something similar in the fourth season as I recall, only elongated out. The idea of Baltar handing Demand Peace a nuclear bomb, even if we were to look at it from an angle of trying to ingratiate himself with Gina, seems a step too far in plot terms. In the end, they simply aren’t substantial enough to be seen as anything other than an odd inclusion.

That’s just one example of many. “Epiphanies” is an awkward episode in so many ways, with a lot of plot holes and odd decisions. The stand-out is the magic blood that is somehow able to cure Roslin’s breast cancer, a mess of science-fiction that has no place in a show like BSG, but there are others: Gina suddenly being right back in Team Cylon after her previous efforts to help destroy the Resurrection Ship; Demand Peace not recognising Gina, presumably a highly wanted fugitive after the killing of Cain, as a Cylon because she is wearing a pair of glasses; Baltar’s being able to meet a Cylon on Cloud Nine with no-one noticing where he has gone; the whole thing with the nuke at the end; and I could go on. The episode doesn’t balance its many plot-lines as well as it could, and ignores some really important things, like Apollo’s PTSD, too much. There’s a lot set-up in “Epiphanies” meant to be paid off later, so in that respect it’s a bit of a necessary evil, but coming after the series’ strongest story-arc to date in the last three episodes, it has to be considered a fairly stark drop.

They wanna be afraid of something? Yeah? Just let them come.

Notes

-Hardy back in the directors chair after the excellent “The Farm” earlier this season. Thompson was a season two staff writer as I recall, and this is his only episode where he got a singular writing credit.

-The harsh lighting on Roslin in the opening, and the over-exposure in the flashbacks, is a nice touch to make clear where in the timeline we are.

-The count is down six from “Resurrection Ship (Part Two)”. Admiral Cain and the marine guard killed by Gina account for two of those, the other four are presumably casualties of the battle depicted in that episode: a pretty light bill, all things considered.

-We get what I think is our only look at President Adar here, and the impression is not of a man you would want leading the Colonies with the Cylons attacking. He seems self-serving, manipulative in all the wrong ways and weak.

-Adar is played by Colm Feore, an actor I have always really liked, and he does a good job with only two scenes here.

-Roslin exhibits some nice gallows humour as she observes Adama and Baltar spar over what to do in the aftermath of her imminent death: “Plenty of time for that soon enough”.

-Baltar gets called out here for being too close to his Cylon subject, with Roslin unintentionally mimicking words from Admiral Cain in the extended edition of “Pegasus”. I’m sure that mimicry sets off alarm bells in Baltar’s head.

-Adama has no time for Baltar’s usual brand of manic pestering, and reminds him he is about to become President with a hell of a put down: “Act like you can handle it”.

-Love the visual of Baltar getting dragged around the Galactica hallways by something only he can see. Haven’t done something like that in a while, not since “Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Part Two)” I think.

-At times “Epiphanies” starts to have the feeling of a clip show, the way we flashback to previous scenes, a feeling I had strongly as we remember Baltar’s conversation with Adama in “Bastille Day”.

-I did love Edward James Olmos’ performance in the scene where he informs Helo about the planned termination. You can tell Adama doesn’t believe the words himself. The way he cuts things off when Helo proudly declares himself a father is telling: you can well-imagine that Zak Adama is in the mind at that moment.

-Tigh and Apollo are at each others throats briefly in a scene here, which came a little out of left field for me. I don’t think they have interacted since the mutiny?

-I’ve said this before about the Fleet, but is there some kind of service industry operating? Demand Peace have been able to make some nice looking pamphlets.

-I don’t know if Demand Peace have a specific inspiration. The pacifist ideology seems like anti-Vietnam War groups of the 60s/70s, specifically the SDS or “the Mobe”.

-Sharon’s protest is brutal television, not quite on a par with the sexual assault of “Pegasus”, but not too far off it really.

-“Epiphanies” carries the shows second example of suicide bombing, after the events of “Litmus”. It won’t be the last either. Such deaths were common enough in Iraq at the time, and BSG’s approach is one of many examples from media at the time trying to make sense of it.

-Tigh allows a satisfied smirk to go over his face as Adama gets physical with the leader of Demand Peace. Little creepy: Adama is all business despite his anger, but Tigh appears to be enjoying the spectacle.

-Billy’s distaste for Baltar sitting at Roslin’s desk is palpable, even if he puts on as good a show at politeness as possible. Haven’t seen much of Billy lately actually, and won’t see much more of him either.

-The music here is “Epiphanies”, which is a take on some of the traditional mysticism themes, making them a tad darker in tone. I quite like it, one of Bear McCreary’s more understated themes.

-How does Baltar get away with this visit to Cloud Nine? Surely such journeys must be logged in some ways, and as the man about to be President surely he has some manner of guard assigned?

-Oof, that interaction between Baltar and Gina, it’s positively slimey. It starts off cringeworthy with Baltar’s words, and ends violently. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I will say it again: Baltar isn’t as good at this as he thinks he is.

-They apparently wanted Gina to kiss Baltar in “Resurrection Ship (Part Two)” but Tricia Helfer objected on the grounds a recent survivor of sexual abuse wouldn’t do such a thing. I wonder if this scene is an effort to course correct by showing a more likely outcome of such a scenario.

-The revelation of Roslin’s romantic relationship with Adar calls to mind some Roslin comments in the Miniseries: “he had a way about him… you just couldn’t say ‘no’ to him.”

-In the flashbacks, you get a sense that Roslin is less annoyed at Adar’s refusal to countenance talks, and more at the fact that he expected her to fail at the engagement with the unions. Being underestimated can be an insult.

-It’s a measure of how desperate Adama is that he solicits prayers from the Galactica crew for Roslin. He isn’t a religious man, but he’s willing to try anything.

-I did like the scene where Sharon is overpowered by the Marines, fighting back all the way, it was nicely stylised and not overwrought.

-The standoff in the hallway is great stuff, the best scene in the episode I would say, just for sheer “How are they going to resolve this?” tension. We fully believe Helo is about to point a gun at Adama.

-The fetus having no blood type makes little sense, but there is a similar phenomenon in the real world, namely Rh-null blood, so rare only 43 confirmed instances of people having it have been recorded. Its rarity, and potential application because of its lack of antigens in life-threatening circumstances, have led it to be dubbed “golden blood”.

-In this case, the blood goes beyond anything like that, and displays properties that cross over into the realm of magic, being able to attack and destroy breast cancer, that had advanced to the point that the patient was literally near death, and all without damaging healthy tissue. Reminds me of Star Trek Into Darkness and its own version of magic blood. A more fleshed out explanation involving stem cells was filmed, but discarded.

-I did like the brief interjection from Doc Cottle, positing that it might just be Roslin’s time to go. He’s a straightforward man with little time for Baltar’s super-science.

-Placed side by side with Sharon for the transfusion, it’s hard to get away from the idea that Roslin is taking part in some form of warped communion with the Cylon. That’s going to be hard for her to deal with in future, you would think.

-Roslin points at Baltar, which he takes as a good thing. It was a little on the nose as a visual, was she about to say “J’Accuse!”?

-Roslin in the wheelchair has FDR vibes of course, and she is firmly back in charge, resolving the issue with Demand Peace – for the moment anyway – decisively and with authority.

-Good look at a happy Baltar at the end, cigar in hand and the hero of the day one more time. I love Callis in these moments, supremely confident and sure of himself.

-Head Six asks Baltar, on Gina, “Do you love her?”. She’s done that before, with Starbuck, and gotten only a snarky response. Here, Baltar just ignores her. Answer enough.

-Roslin’s letter to Baltar is a real tradition among US Presidents, and many of them have been made public recently. They tend to be strong on platitudes, but are generally gracious: Roslin’s is something else.

-The fridge logic builds and builds about it the cliffhanger ending: how does Baltar get the nuke to the Demand Peace leader? How is he able to leave Galactica with it, in a container that inexplicably isn’t checked? How is it not detected later? Too many questions with not enough answers.

Overall Verdict: “Epiphanies” has some good ideas, but ultimately feels too much like the writers are trying to claw their way out of some narrative dead-ends, in the way that Roslin’s cancer is resolved, or how Demand Peace become a single episode antagonist. There is some good stuff with Sharon and Helo, with Baltar and Gina, even with Roslin, but “Epiphanies” feels too uneven in too many respects, an episode that demonstrates that Season Two is not the constant slamdunk some commonly remember it as. And worse is to come.

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

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