NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Two: “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part One)”

Baltar is offering them what they want to hear, and you’re offering them a bitter reality.

Air Date: 03/03/2006

Director: Michael Rymer

Writer: Ronald D. Moore

Synopsis: The discovery of a habitable planet becomes the dominant issue of the imminent Presidential election, with a trailing Baltar proposing immediate colonisation. Starbuck launches a mission to Caprica in order to save the Resistance. Tyrol seeks religious counsel after perpetrating a savage assault.

Review

BSG reaches a fairly critical crossroads in “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part One)”, an episode that marks a huge shift in the narrative with the discovery of New Caprica, and to many fans constitutes the beginning of the end of the show’s high water mark. It’s a moody, frequently pessimistic piece of television in many respects, as if the creators know they’re heading into uncertain territory. And we’re only getting started.

The episode opens, in a manner so similar to “Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Part One)” that I feel it has to be intentional, with a confluence of characters and plot, an extended pre-titles prologue. There’s Roslin preparing for the debate with Adama, exhibiting an easy camaraderie that goes to the heart of their burgeoning relationship. There’s Baltar sparring with Head Six ahead of what he sees as his humiliation. There’s Starbuck, Helo, Sharon and Apollo at the fulcrum of Thrace fulfilling her promise from “The Farm”. And there’s Tyrol, caught in his own collapsing mental state and lashing out in a savage fashion. This confluence lacks the operatic quality of “Kobal’s Last Gleaming (Part One)”, reflecting the larger episodes more subdued feel, but does have plenty of through-lines. The most important is sudden, violent action, or negative emotional response: Tyrol’s assault of Cally, Head Six’s smashing of Baltar’s head, the pilots revulsion towards Sharon, even Roslin’s tearing of paper or breaking of pencils has a violent edge in a way. It points the way to a story where sudden changes in circumstance and the confrontation with them will be at the forefront. Something dark is coming.

There are three main threads to the episode, and the most important naturally is the coming decision on the leadership of the Fleet. BSG goes back into political drama mode concretely for the first time since “Colonial Day”, and at first you have to say that the result are a little unappealing. There’s inherent opportunities in having an election in the circumstances of the Fleet, in portraying this kind of normal democratic process in that kind of chaotic environment. But it needs the turn. At the outset there’s no real contest between Roslin and Baltar on a level playing field. She’s empowered, assured, experienced, whether it is in debates or on the campaign trial, though she is also dangerously overconfident and displaying a naivety about voters that echos Billy. Baltar is apathetic, hopeless and very much the kind of man who only ran for President to spite Roslin, but he’s also portrayed effectively as the kind of man who has no issue going for the jugular. We do get to see something fundamental to each character in these early moments, but to an extent it is just spinning wheels until the defining issue comes.

New Caprica’s discovery is a major moment in the larger story that BSG is telling. Right from the off, it is signified as the wrong turn: a tempting but incorrect path for humanity to take, the settling of which would constitute a rejection of Earth. Think the Israelites and the Golden Calf I suppose, with Baltar as chief false idol worshipper. The Fleet’s been on the run for nine months now, and the opportunity to find a way to leave that ragtag life behind and build – literally and figuratively – on terra firma must be an overwhelming feeling. But there’s also a feeling from the moment we see this planet, with its dreary colour palette and surrounded by cloudy ephemera, that there’s something fundamentally off about it. I don’t just mean physically, though it is made apparent very quickly that the place doesn’t have much going for it in that department, but I suppose spiritually: in a show where the higher power seems to delight in testing peoples faith, New Caprica seems like a test for humanity as a whole.

Politically it’s a dynamite addition to the electoral story, a huge issue that swings everything around. It’s somewhat heartbreaking to see Roslin caught on the losing side of this problem, intent as she is on Earth and unwilling to tolerate populist appeals to the masses. Baltar, who lacks the moral compass and qualms of Roslin, has no issue suddenly becoming New Caprica’s biggest cheerleader. Tory warns Roslin that people vote their hopes more than their fears and she’s right. 2020/21 has proven that a huge segment of our populations just do not have the capacity to handle an overabundance of misery in their lives, and will happily pretend that lies are truth if it offers a way out for them: Baltar, and the more savvy Zarek, tap into that inherent aspect of humanity here. The latter stages of the electoral drama in “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part One)” are for more satisfying to watch as a result, with a newly emboldened Baltar tapping into his media savvy persona to become this exuberant man of the people (Callis is outstanding, once again), and Roslin, trying to marry pragmatism on New Caprica’s reality with her theology, left spinning in his wake.

The other major plot of the episode revolves around the mission to Caprica, and Starbuck fulfilling the promise she made to Anders in “The Farm”. The science that allows this to happen is a tad convenient, but at least has its basis in previous events like “You Can’t Go Home Again” and “Flight Of The Phoenix”. You get past it quickly enough though, because I do think this sub-plot is executed really well: you have Kara’s very pregnant interaction with Apollo; Helo trying to get Sharon beyond her grief; Starbuck’s moment with Adama before they leave; and then the re-union itself. Lots of great moments, with a general theme of reconciliation and healing. God knows Starbuck could do with some of that, because she has been through the wringer since she left Caprica. At the base of everything – getting on the Cain train in “Resurrection Ship (Part Two)”, losing herself in “Scar”, the reckless bravado in “Sacrifice”, the command clashes in “The Captain’s Hand”, all of that regurgitated pain and anguish comes back to the absence of Anders and the unfulfilled promise she made. Now, in the process of fulfilling that promise, we see a more capable, confident and less self-destructive Kara Thrace.

Last of the trifecta of plots is Tyrol, his assault of Cally and his attempts to find some kind of peace with Cavil. We haven’t really seen much of Tyrol since “Resurrection Ship (Part Two)” which makes this sudden look at him as this damaged example of humanity a little jarring: he appears to have moved on from Boomer, but only insofar as his anxiety about Cylon’s has been transferred to thinking himself a Cylon. Of course, we will find out that he actually is, albeit I’m not sure that was the writers intention at this point: for now it’s an interesting line being drawn from suicidal ideation to “I’m a Cylon”. Tyrol, a blunt upfront kind of guy, can’t understand why else he would be having dreams where he kills himself. The way he assaults Cally is fairly horrific, and one does feel a little strange in seeing the reaction being him being sent for religious counselling, at his own request, and while this will be confronted more directly in the next episode, it does feel a little strange to see this brutal event side-lined in the aftermath. Such extreme battery needs more time, and BSG has priors in downsizing the importance of male-on-female assault.

But this plot-line is really all about the figure of Cavil, a character I love. His role as essentially a kind of leader of the Cylons is yet to be revealed, but he doesn’t need that to excel here. Stockwell is fantastic, hitting just the right notes as a tired priest who really doesn’t have much time for Tyrol’s self-hate, but whose deeper motivations are finding some traction. The way that Cavil undertakes his business is really great to watch: aside from him having just a fascinating back-and-forth with Tyrol, there is the strange camera angles, the manner in which he cuts down Colonial religion while appearing to adhere to it, the disorientation evident, it all builds and builds. For example, at one point he and Tyrol appear to swap chairs, and their conversation seems completely out of sync, time wise, with the plot-lines happening in the rest of the episode. Right now Cavil seems like a pretty once-off kind of character, a means for Tyrol to get from point A to point B in terms of his own problems, but there’s enough there to make us want to see more.

The episode closes on a less obvious confluence of plots, but some commonality in presentation. There are three varying degrees of cliffhanger: the election left on a knife edge after Baltar’s crushing performance in the latest debate, Starbuck and Anders under fire on Caprica, and even Tyrol facing the choice of continuing on the destructive path he is walking down or seeking “salvation” by reconciling, as best he can, with his deck crew. I suppose if we were to look into it in greater detail we would see three plots where the choice is between staying where you are, seemingly safe but really anything but – on New Caprica, outside the range of the Cylon mortars, emotionally isolated – or embracing some faith and taking what may seem like the riskier course: Earth, a way off of Caprica under fire, or trying to repair the seemingly unrepairable with Cally. It will be for the second part of this finale story to answer those questions, but they have been set-up very well.

This is our mission. It’s our duty to the people we left behind.

Notes

-The title sounds fairly biblical, but has no direct link to that text. The closest I can find is Matthew 11:28: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

-They seem to bring Rymer into the director’s chair for the really big moments, this being his return after both parts of “Resurrection Ship”.

-The “Previously on…” contains snippets from a whole scene of “Epiphanies” between Roslin and Starbuck that doesn’t exist anywhere else.

-Tyrol’s changed a bit from our glimpse of him in “Downloaded”: unshaven, sweaty, seemingly passed out in his boxers on the hanger deck. What’s happened there?

-It’s such a nice moment, Roslin and Adama sharing rituals to alleviate nerves: Roslin with her torn paper, Adama remembering his fathers penchant for breaking pencils. We haven’t seen much of these two together recently, and this is a great reminder of how close they have gotten.

-An old military drama cliche, but notable nonetheless: Starbuck gives the pilots the chance to back out from the mission to Caprica, and no one leaves.

-I like Baltar’s disdainful dismissal of Head Six’s insistence that he “have faith” as “the same old song…I’m getting a little tired of the melody”. What belief he had in a God appears to have been destroyed by the “death” of Hera.

-He also sarcastically refers to waiting for “the hand of God” to do something to save him, a overt nod to “The Hand Of God” when his faith was seemingly at its highest.

-With Cylon tech it will take only 10 jumps to make it back to the Colonies, significantly less than the hundreds Starbuck estimated in the extended version of “Pegasus”. The Colonials really are way behind.

-Our first look at Sharon in this episode is of a dazed and clearly unwell person. The trauma of losing a child is clearly quite fresh.

-There were unused scenes from this episode that Leah Cairns, playing Racetrack, asked to be filmed, where her character stares jealously at Sharon and Helo notices, part of an actor-driven backstory where Racetrack and Helo had a previous romantic encounter. It was all based on a fan-fiction story Cairns had read.

-It comes very quickly, which makes it all the more effective, when Head Six slams Baltar’s head into the table. She’s got less time for him since “Downloaded”, but he’s the horse she bet on.

-In a bit of foreshadowing that it is a little too on the nose, Apollo tells his pilots “if we find any rock with food and water, I’ll build you guys a bar.” I don’t think he ever does.

-We might note that Lee is also now wearing a wrist watch, presumably Barry Garner’s from “The Captain’s Hand”.

-The scene where the pilots listen to the debate is actually re-used footage of them watching Biers’ documentary in “Final Cut”.

-The opening barbs at the debate are delightfully vicious. I’m always struck especially by Roslin’s mocking Baltar’s insult as “the best you can come up with”: she has him right where she wants him.

-Sharon, in a foreboding frame of mind, suggests “Something dark is coming”, which also happens to be the name of the tune that plays over this opening sequence, a moody guitar-driven piece that shows McCrearey’s drive to be unique yet again.

-Tyrol’s assault is an utterly brutal moment. In truth he should probably have killed Cally. Somewhat curiously, it doesn’t appear as if he is ever punished for it.

-Douglas apparently did strike Clyne accidentally during the filming of this scene. Must have been a horrible one to shoot.

-The count remains as it was in “Downloaded”.

-A wonderful spinning camera introduces us to Cavil, and the angles will flip a bit as we go on with this sub-plot: right from the off Cavil is about disorientation and manipulation.

-And what a brilliantly sarcastic line early on from him: “Do you know how useful prayer is?” It’s not so far that we can’t just call it the words of a jaded priest, but insidious enough that Cavil as an antagonist force is hinted at.

-Apollo eats noodles with chopsticks in his quarters, just like his father did in “33”.

-“I hope you find him Kara”: Apollo gives Starbuck an awkward blessing for what she is trying to do, but there’s an unstated feeling that he has reservations about what the outcome might be.

-Zarek and Six share a bit of a common line in this one, both manipulating Baltar in different ways, and both backing the other up in doing so, even if Zarek doesn’t realise it. BSG has a thing about manipulators, and they tend to run together sometimes.

-A lump of Cylon organic tech is part of the lead Raptor, and it looks very disgusting, albeit quite unique.

-Starbuck makes sure to get on the radio and thank Adama for approving the mission before she goes. Like the opening confluence, this is also a nod to the corresponding Season One episode, where Starbuck departed the Fleet after a last radio message with Adama.

-Sharon’s motivations remain a little mysterious in this episode. She’s clearly hiding something behind that wall of trauma, and one suspects that the Colonial expectation that she remain a helpful prisoner is very misplaced.

-Tyrol’s nightmares are an interesting little hellscape, over-exposed (not unlike nuked-out Caprica) and with odd disorientating music. Dreams are something that BSG has previously used almost exclusively as a means of prophecy, but this seems like more traditional psychosis.

-Our first glimpse of New Caprica, and subsequent glimpses, sets the tone pretty quickly, which is for a desolate, cold looking rock.

-I didn’t like Racetrack’s mini-monologue where she talks about what New Caprica is in terms of being “livable”, it felt a bit too “explaining why this is important” to the audience.

-From what I’ve read, a planet should be able to exist as New Caprica does inside a nebula, as such cosmic phenomenon tend to be on a scale so vast you wouldn’t even realise you were in one if you were. Here though, it’s hard to understand how New Caprica gets enough sunlight to sustain life through the sci-fi space clouds that surround it.

-Things move fast around New Caprica: in the course of what seems like a minute we go from “This is a livable planet” to Dee and Gaeta casually discussing the wildlife found there. I understand the necessity for brevity, but it did feel very quick.

-Dee somewhat sarcastically refers to the barren New Caprica having “rivers of milk and honey”, presumably a nod to Exodus 3:8 – “So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey”. Appropriate in a way, given the title of a critical episode early in Season Three.

-A bored Baltar isn’t listening to Zarek talking about New Caprica, until Head Six tells him he’s about to win the election. I love Baltar’s sudden alert, polite, “I’m sorry, what were you saying Tom?”

-Zarek really does get it, in a way comparable to Tory in this episode. Getting people to dance to your tune is a matter of applying the right kind of pressure around the right emotional point, and for the Fleet that’s the possibility of getting to live on a planet with “solid ground under your feet and a real sky over your head.”

-I wonder if Richard Hatch insisted on Head Six calling Zarek a “smart sexy man”?

-Tory gives us the title of the two-parter in a prescient speech to Roslin, where she realises that the attraction of New Caprica goes beyond just wanting clean air and solid ground: people want to escape from their misery and fatigue.

-When Tyrol says “I’m not a Cylon”, I think Aaron Douglas does a really great job at getting across the lack of belief in that sentence.

-A really good bit of misdirection, both from the character and the writers, as Cavil sarcastically tells Tyrol that he can’t be a Cylon because “I’m a Cylon and I’ve never seen you at any of the meetings”. As I recall from “The Plan”, there are literal Cylon meetings.

-Nice cut for the last FTL jump to Caprica, as we go from space to atmosphere while remaining locked on the one ship.

-It’s been flagged as a possibility before, in “Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Part One)” but here it actually happens: it’s possible to FTL jump inside solid matter, but the act of doing so seemingly destroys that doing the jumping.

-I love Baltar’s energetic closing argument in the debate, that sounds great, with nods to FDR’s “fear itself” speech, but really is just empty platitudes about “living our lives”, meant to appeal to the most simplistic instincts. All it’s missing is the “for our children” from “Colonial Day”.

-The real sign that Roslin’s losing the election: the closing barbs between her and Baltar see’s her just curse at him and leave. It’s not like her.

-I love Helo’s solution to the problem of not knowing who the approaching figures are: “You have a Samuel Anders over there?”

-At least one more airing of “A Promise To Return” in the very emotional reunion scene on Caprica. Perhaps we can call this variation “A Promise Fulfilled”.

-The attack on the Caprica expedition is a little strange in presentation at first glance – they don’t appear to be bottled up in the area, so landing mortars in one direction shouldn’t be as big a problem as it appears – but all will be explained.

Overall Verdict: You can’t judge “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part One)” too much on its own merits because it really is a lot of set-up for the longer conclusion to come, but I did enjoy this episode for the most part. The curious lack of focus on Cally after the assault aside, there are some great narrative moments here, in all three plots. BSG runs the gauntlet from political, to military to personal drama here, and introduces vital new concepts and characters along the way. Roll on the finale, where something dark arrives.

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4 Responses to NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Two: “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part One)”

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

  3. Pingback: NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Three: “Occupation” | Never Felt Better

  4. Pingback: NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Three: “Collaborators” | Never Felt Better

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