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

Oh…I really am an idiot, aren’t I?

Air Date: 10/02/2006

Director: Reynaldo Villalobos

Writer: Anne Cofell Saunders

Synopsis: Apollo, Dee and Billy confront the nature of the triangle they are a part of, but a resolution is put on hold when the three are caught up in a hostage-taking by a militant group demanding Sharon Valerii be handed over to them. On Galactica, Adama considers if he has gotten too close to the Cylon prisoner.

Review

In “Sacrifice”, BSG takes a step into the realm of action thriller, perhaps in a bid to improve upon what they tried and failed to do in “Black Market”, with a love triangle to provide the human drama at the heart of the excitement. The end result is an episode that feels like a bit of a hack job in too many ways: it works, except when it doesn’t. The separate parts of “Sacrifice” – the interaction between Billy, Dee and Apollo on the one hand, the hostage takeover on the other, Starbuck’s crisis and even the Adama/Sharon stuff elsewhere – are all great, but when you try and put them all together the result is less an appetising gumbo and more of a unpalatable mix of uncomplimentary flavours. Lets go through it.

Part of the problem is that the episode doesn’t have a main character, that singular obvious focus to try and pull things together. For me, probably just because I tend to sympathise with the politics nerd, I tend to look to Billy. There’s some new aspects of him in “Sacrifice” that are worth examining, along with some well-worn ones. I mean stuff like his idealism – such as when he urges Roslin to be straight with the Fleet regards Sharon, or his slightly soppy proposal to Dee – which have never gone away, but now mixed with a new confidence, exemplified when he talks straight to Adama about the danger that Sharon poses. He’s grown up a bit since all this started, what with the coup, his role in “Home (Part Two)” and everything, and he’s starting to feel more at ease with being, essentially, the right hand man to power.

I really thought that this confidence comes out nicely when he confronts Dee in Cloud Nine. A weaker character would have flown into a rage, made a scene, turned vicious. But Billy is quiet, assured to a degree, when he admonishes Dee: “You should have told me about this”. Seeing Billy react to what we can perceive as a betrayal – I do anyway, please see below – is the real emotional core of the episode, and it’s a shame we really only get to see one moment of this.

Billy briefly falls back into the old pattern of well-meaning subservience as he comforts Dee over an injured Apollo, but his new found sense of confidence soon leads to a dark ending. Dee asks the question directly about Billy thinking he has something to prove, and we can well imagine that his desperate grab for that gun had at least a partial goal of re-affirming his masculinity in the face of his would-be betrothed going out with an obvious alpha male archetype (lets also not forget his mortifying mistake with the gun in “Valley Of Darkness”). I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a death wish, but it’s a reckless, and ultimately fatal, choice, that is in keeping with the character that we see in “Sacrifice”. That is, Billy is perhaps a bit tired of being just the President’s weedy hanger-on, and in a moment of high physical and emotional stress, lets that sentiment carry him too far. He started standing up for himself, so I guess he had to go. But it wasn’t that simple.

Killing off Billy was a consequence of issues with Paul Campbell. He had missed several episodes earlier in the season while off filming other projects, something he was able to do because he wasn’t under contract. When he repeatedly put off signing an offered five year deal, the decision was taken out of his hands. It sounds harsh, but I remember reading that a huge number of the cast were in a similar situation at the end of Season One, and there were genuine fears that they could all end up unavailable. I think killing Billy off was a better choice than having him just vanish, and it’s hard to judge the whole thing too harshly given the circumstances (if I was to be harsh, I would say it’s brutally sudden and the latest in a line of convenient deaths this season, ala Cain in “Resurrection Ship (Part Two)” and Fisk in “Black Market”). At least his death frees up Dee and Apollo to forward their story, gives Roslin some pathos and there was always the chance he would return as a Cylon.

What about the end of the Billy/Dee relationship? It’s heartbreaking, though at least has an established basis in the cause with the Dee/Apollo stuff. For me, Dee is fundamentally in the wrong: perhaps Billy has misinterpreted the seriousness of their relationship, but that’s something Dee should have been conscious of, and been willing to deal with, before embarking on this sojourn with Apollo. Dee seems annoyed when Billy says “You let me propose to you”, but he doesn’t mean she actively facilitated it, he means she knew Billy was more invested in the relationship than she was, but she refused to have that conversation with him. Wanting an open relationship is no sin, but you have to tell the other person. Dee comes across as strangely manipulative in parts of this episode, refusing Billy’s proposal but seemingly not ending their relationship, and then casually discussing it in a bar with Apollo later. It would be one thing if she just wanted Apollo, but she appears to want her cake and eat it too in that sense. In he end, the decision is largely taken away from her, and her final tears may well be more for a badly injured Apollo than for a dead Billy.

The Abinell group is a similar sort of thing to the “Demand Peace” movement of “Epiphanies” or the mafia in “Black Market”, in that it is an aspect of the civilian fleet that has a lot of potential, but it doesn’t realise that potential. Sesha, for me, represents the sort of blind rage about the holocaust that we haven’t actually seen a lot of, demanding explanations for the unexplainable. You know the kind: not being able to deal with sudden emotional turmoil and lashing out instead. Demand Peace funneled that into an illogical effort to make friends of the Cylons, but Sesha goes the other way, demonstrating a hatred of Cylons so fierce that she has to turn the military into the enemy in the absence of any Cylons to actually kill. And of course it’s all a cover for the despair she feels at the death of her husband, something she refuses to acknowledge. There’s a fascinating character, and a group in all that, which I feel could have done with more episodes. An armed militia that is in full-on conspiracy mode? Maybe it was 15 or so years too early for BSG. But instead they become just another enemy of the week, just like Peace Now and Phelan’s mob, which is frustrating.

The other main part of the episode is the internal battle over Sharon. Adama is getting closer and closer to her, to the general unhappiness of Roslin and Tigh. Tigh is especially vehement that the Cylon cannot be trusted, and identifies one of Adama’s possible weaknesses, that his nostalgia for a time when she was a beloved pilot is clouding his judgement. Adama here has to make a pretty huge call, in either handing over his prisoner or playing a game of chance with his sons life. He chooses the later and it works out, but the larger questions about Sharon remain unresolved. Her unwillingness to betray Cylon agents in the Fleet is a pretty major sticking point, and I can’t say that it is one that I buy very easily: she’s come this far after all. “Sacrifice” leaves this plot point unresolved, which is fine, ahead of what I remember is a larger resolution in a few episodes time. As it is, Adama trusts Sharon, but there are a few lives that are the cost in “Sacrifice”.

Taking all these things separately you have what seems like a solid enough episode, but as stated, the mix doesn’t work that well. More than that I was struck by the multitude of small errors – the dud action film lines, the focus on Ellen Tigh too much of the time, the suddenly more noticable absence of characters like Baltar and Six – which indicate an episode that just wasn’t thought through very well. There are other, bigger, things as well, like the sense that we are taking steps back with the Apollo and Starbuck characters when we literally spent the last two episodes moving them forward. “Sacrifice” was forced upon the production team in a way, but I don’t feel that they handled the problem all that well, with a story and character beats that don’t reflect the better work done in the first half of Season Two.

What I want? This is not about what I want.

Notes

-Man, the titles in the latter half of Season Two have gotten really weak haven’t they?

– Villalobos known mostly for his cinematography work down the years, with this episode his only BSG directing credit. Not sure he was the best choice for the job.

-Sesha’s document she is typing up – “Cylon MO” – notes “Sleep Deprivation” (“33”), “Resource Targeting (“Water”) and “Suicide Bombing” (“Litmus”). Nice to see that stuff influencing later thoughts.

-Real “Pepe Silvia” feel off this scene, missing only the bits of string to connect the bits of paper together. Maybe they should have called this one “The Valerii Conspiracy”

-Billy takes it to Adama big time in the prologue, displaying a confidence that seems strange (and getting a withering stare in response), but it makes more sense with what happens next.

-Oh, the desperation we can see in Billy’s face as he realises that Dee is not going to accept his proposal. It’s all in the eyes. Great performance from Campbell.

-Apollo and Dee clean up well for their date. McClure looks stunning in that dress, and I wonder if she’s consciously or unconsciously aping Starbuck from “Colonial Day”.

-“I don’t know what to make of me and Billy” is an infuriating line from Dee, said with far too much casualness considering she’s in the process of breaking his heart.

-Sesha Abinell is played by Dana Delaney, whom I know best from her DC animation VA work. She’s great here, doing her damnedest with what could have been a very one note character,

-The count is down three, reflecting the deaths of Reilly, BB and Jo-Jo in “Scar”.

-Oh, that pained look of realisation on Bily’s face as he twigs what Apollo is doing with Dee. “You can pinpoint the exact second is heart rips in half”.

-Love Apollo’s reaction to Ellen Tigh’s shallow musings on how “people like us” don’t fit with monogamy: “Us?”

-Gotta ask: when Apollo sees Sesha with the concealed gun, why doesn’t he head out the front door with Ellen and/or Dee?

-In seeking information on likely Cylon ambush points, Adama asks Sharon about “wormholes”. That seems like a very Star Trekkian use of that term, like these things just exist naturally in space, and it doesn’t fit at all here.

-Stupid Ellen #1: She decides to make herself the centre of attention again by exposing herself to the hostage-takers, and puts Apollo in danger at the same time.

-I’ll admit I rolled my eyes when we find out that Starbuck and a group of marines are already on Cloud Nine. How convenient!

-Starbuck actually says “Lock and load” here. What happened to this script?

-Using Dee to get Apollo to drop his gun is ice cold, and a nice way to establish how far Sesha was willing to go.

-Stupid Ellen #2: “Give her the Cylon!”. Way to remove any scrap of leverage you might have.

-Abinell claims there is “concrete evidence” that the Colonial government was infiltrated by Cylons. Is she just talking nonsense, or is there actual evidence that this occurred? Should Baltar be worried?

-Adama and Tigh’s understanding, about how they can’t give up Sharon, is reached very quickly, which was a nice nod to the nature of their relationship. Early drafts had them coming to blows over Ellen being in peril, which would have been a bad choice in my opinion, not unlike the original plans for “Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down”.

-Hmm, is it sexist to think that someone should take one look at Kara Thrace in engineers overalls and think something is up? Perhaps.

-Stupid Ellen #3: Giving away Starbuck. She’s really insufferable in this episode, but I guess that is the point.

-The shoot-out is a pretty good action scene to a point, it captures the required sense of chaos pretty nicely, but I felt it got a little silly by the end. Could do with less of the Starbuck duel-wielding.

-Shooting Lee points to Starbuck not being quite the unstoppable badass she thinks she is, as outlined extensively in “Scar”. Remember when she described herself as “the best shot, in and out of the cockpit” in “Bastille Day”? Not anymore she’s not.

-Minor visual flaw in the episode, as Starbuck heads out of the Cloud Nine shoot out we see a muzzle flash on her gun but it clearly doesn’t recoil.

-I love that Billy hesitates when Dee asks him to help stop Apollo’s bleeding, and we might think it’s because of some well-deserved hate towards Lee, but it’s actually because there’s a guy pointing a gun in his direction.

-“I think it was me” Starbuck says, well into another crisis of confidence. Didn’t we just deal with this sub-plot in the last episode? It almost feels like the running order is wrong.

-Love the opening of the conversion between Adama and Sharon, where they are just staring at each other. So much to unpack there, and words aren’t required.

-Sharon says she won’t give up Cylon agents in the Fleet, if asked. “That, I believe” says Adama. In an episode where knowing if they can trust Sharon is at the core of the issue, Adama has to settle for a base level of such things.

-Billy isn’t having it when he hears justifications for the hostage taking, comparing his brothers death on the Colonies with the death of Sesha’s husband: “They’re all good men”, and Billy didn’t start pointing guns at people after he died.

-Sesha and Adama repeat their earlier debate over the phone again, and it really did feel like the episode was just stalling for time at that point.

-I’ll admit, even on a fourth or fifth re-watch, when a gun is put to Ellen’s head I still immediately think “Do it!” She’s that annoying here.

-Adama’s solution is a little ingenious I admit, but Sesha should really see that the Boomer corpse has been dead for some time.

-Adama is unusually cold with Starbuck, but I suppose she did just shoot his son.

-The truth behind Sesha’s desire to kill Sharon is clear when she comes face-to-face with her, with the emotional manner of her putting a bullet in a corpse. It was always about revenge.

-The final shootout matches the editing of the first, with a bit more blood. Initially it doesn’t seem like Billy is hit that badly, but he was dead the moment he hit the floor. He doesn’t even get any final words.

-Adama holds his sons hand as the medics arrive, reaffirming their bond physically, after it was pulled apart a bit in “Black Market”.

-I love Roslin’s “It wasn’t worth it”, so full of anger and yet carrying that hint of the President not believing what she is saying. Just so frustrated and lashing out. Very human.

-Roslin breaks down a little bit at the sight of Billy’s body, almost falling over, and the way she went about fixing his hair was heartbreaking.

-One thing that we needed to see coming out of this that we never got to: Roslin taking Apollo to task for dating Dee when he knew she was still involved with Billy. Or does she just never find out? I imagine it would piss her off.

-“Hell of a vacation”. Man the quippy action hero lines really do land with a thud throughout.

-Dee remembers Apollo’s brush with nihilism in “Resurrection Ship (Part Two)”, and won’t tolerate a repeat: “You have to stay. You have to really stay”. This time it’s Starbuck watching from the doorway.

-The final shots of the episode, with a familiar but unheard for a while Cylon theme playing over them, seem designed to make us question Sharon’s motives more going forward. I can’t recall if BSG really ran with that ball, but we’ll see.

Overall Verdict: Chalk this one down as an episode that I enjoyed more on previous watches, and less when I got into the nuts and bolts of the thing. The best parts of the episode don’t have the required focus, there’s another instance of good ideas not being explored enough and the efforts to craft an action-thriller results in devolving character arcs and awkward scripting. The second half of Season Two has had its good and bad episodes already, and this ranks somewhere in the middle.

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4 Responses to NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Two: “Sacrifice”

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  3. Pingback: NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Two: “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part One)” | Never Felt Better

  4. Pingback: NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Two: “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part Two)” | Never Felt Better

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