Air Date: 10/03/2006
Director: Michael Rymer
Writers: Anne Cofell Saunders & Mark Verheiden
Synopsis: The Fleet goes to the polls with the election on a knife edge, enough that one camp attempts under-handed means to secure a win. The Cylons deliver a message to Roslin and Adama. One year later, humanity comes to a fateful reckoning.
After the set-up of “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part One)”, the election is the largest part of this episode, though it takes a while for that to become apparent, before it completely takes over the narrative. Things have been flipped decisively, and Roslin stares defeat in the face. She tries two different things to arrest the slide, that reflect either side of her Presidential personality. First, she plays the politician, trying to reason with Baltar and get him to agree to a compromise that will essentially see the New Caprica issue tabled. Secondly, she shows her ruthlessness as she goes for the metaphorical jugular of his relationship with a Six. But the problem is that she’s running out of time, leverage and credibility: in the first instance she overestimates Baltar’s adherence to logic, and in the second she has no proof. Baltar later remarks that Roslin is “not corrupt” and “not dishonest”, based on what he knows of her, an opinion probably fed by this last isolated interaction. But he’s wrong.
It’s hard to look at BSG’s depiction of electoral fraud and not think that there are allusions being made to the 2000 American Presidential election and everything that came with it. It can be easy to forget but that was a moment that traumatised a generation, and it was reflected in many examples of media that came later. The difference here is that the person perpetrating the fraud in this case is nominally the hero of the entire affair, and to a certain, conflicted, extent, the audience is rooting for her to succeed. Tory Foster’s plan to steal the election is a shocking demonstration of just how far Roslin is willing to go. Splitting the Fleet up in “The Farm” could be easily viewed as a legitimate response to an unlawful military coup of civilian authority: this is a flat-out crime, a bid to subvert the democratic process because Roslin knows better.
That it comes with the collaboration of elements of the military, just adds to the shocking duplicity of the whole thing. We might remember that Zarek warned against a military coup in “Colonial Day” and was right, and he’s also pointed out how close Roslin is to the military. Here he calls out the fakery, and is right again. I pick on Zarek as his whole status is a great example of the moral shades of grey that BSG just immerses itself in, where characters are well-rounded, nuanced, face hard choices and make difficult decisions, something that is at its near peak in terms of effective drama and characterisation in “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part Two)”: it’s a world where the terrorist is the defender of democracy, where the heroic lone survivor President is fabricating votes, where the rightfully elected man is a traitor and where the one-time instigator of a military coup is the only one who can make sure democracy doesn’t die.
The scene where Adama fulfills that role, confronting Roslin for what she has done, is among the most critical in the entire show. Roslin makes her pitch to the Admiral: that maintaining the correct course for humanity justifies electoral fraud. Adama could look the other way, and I’m sure the temptation to do so would be enormous. But even though he knows that the choice of Baltar by the people is the wrong one, he stands firm on the sanctity of the electoral process. In a way this is Roslin’s fault: the experience of the coup and everything that happened with it has probably convinced Adama more than anything that civil government exists for a reason, and the principle of consent by the governed exists for a reason.
But more than that, it’s here that the deeper relationship between the two, the very understanding that marked the early scenes of “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part One)” that the two shared, really comes to the fore. Adama knows Roslin quite well at this point, and he knows she can’t go through with it. She might protest otherwise, and maybe she would be able to bury the guilt deep enough to function, but it wouldn’t be enough. After the holocaust, after the coup, after the death of Billy in “Sacrifice”, undertaking this course would destroy her inside. Roslin isn’t willing to admit that, but Adama is there to check her. It’s like the two have switched roles from events that took place in “Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Part Two)” or “Home (Part Two)”. Adama talks Roslin down, and comforts her. But he won’t allow the fraud. This begins another key plot thread that we will cover in greater detail in the future, namely Adama’s guilt for the entire New Caprica situation.
The other side of the Presidential coin is Baltar, though he is so much a passenger here he seems less a President-Elect and more of a kite going wherever Zarek, Head Six, Gina or Adama want to put him. We get another great example of his childishness in his conference with Roslin, where he is insulted by her appeals to his patriotism. He acts like his patriotism is just fine, but in reality he’s annoyed at such an emotional, illogical manner of approaching him. All throughout this plot-line his efforts to become President have only been at their height when he has that ego-driven motivation, indicating a very shallow man prone to making very important decisions for the wrong reasons. You can see that when he feels the need to remind Roslin that he saved her life in “Epiphanies”.
But the other reason why he did all of this becomes more clear after he wins the election, and we get his last twisted interaction with Gina. Baltar actually thinks the two can be together in some capacity as a result of him being President, which is simply bonkers. But, like the voters of the Fleet, this isn’t what Gaius wants to hear. It seems very much that his efforts to become President were at least partially based on fulfilling this desire to be with Gina, and to make her into the lover he thinks he lost back on the Colonies. Call it a desire for companionship, call it a childish infatuation, call it lust dressed up as something more than it is. But it showcases Baltar’s weakness once again.
We also have to consider Gina in these moments, and why she does what she does. Having previously, in “Resurrection Ship (Part Two)” expressed a desire for a final death, she now seems to have come back to her mission, as outlined in “Epiphanies”. So she commits suicide seemingly as a means of trying to destroy as much of the Fleet as she can, and inadvertently seals New Caprica’s eventual fate in the process. This seems like a revenge-based thing for me. Having gone as far as she can in getting a Cylon sympathiser elected President, it’s one last stab she can make at the species that abused and assaulted her repeatedly. Her last night with Baltar I’m less sure of: is she looking for physical comfort before her last act, or manipulating Baltar into staying true to the course that will prove most destructive for humanity by dangling the prospect of a relationship through the sexual act? We’ll never know. What we do know is the devastating effect this has on Baltar, seeing his Six substitute gone just like the first.
Though she falls out of it for a good portion of the second half, “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part Two)” is also a Starbuck episode, one that she opens and closes with some of BSG’s most famous lines. Surrounded by Centurions, Anders asks Starbuck what they are supposed to do now, and she replies with the near iconic, “The same thing we always do. Fight ’em till we can’t”. It’s an echo of the philosophy she outlined in “Valley Of Darkness”, where the fight itself is all Thrace has left and even at the point of getting something more, in the form of Anders, she is still wedded to that idea. If necessary Thrace will take her own life to avoid a return to a past – whether it is the Farm or Caprica in general – because all she still has to do is to look forward.
At least until she gets back to the Fleet. In her scene with Anders in the pilots quarters, Starbuck displays a drunken delirium that is at first a little charming – seeing her so amazingly happy, the burden of Anders’ memory released – but then rapidly turns into something else where Apollo appears. There’s a return to the self-destruction of “Scar” in it all. The way Starbuck is all over Anders physically when Lee is present, and her surprisingly nasty comments about Dee, gives the impression that she is still enamored with Apollo and is almost flaunting her relationship with Anders to annoy him. In that moment a lot of the pain that Thrace has been dealing with in Season Two falls away and means less, but I don’t meant that in a bad way: more like it becomes clear that whatever affection Starbuck has for Anders, she’s still not over Apollo. Resolving that quandary is going to be what really frees her you feel.
Then there is Cavil, revealed to be a Cylon and now acting as a mouthpiece for an unexpectedly cynical aspect of the Cylon race. The Caprica variety announces to a stunned Roslin and Adama that they have made a mistake and have evacuated the Colonies, a result of a seemingly successful cultural revolution that was hinted at in “Downloaded”. This is a tantalising idea from a narrative standpoint, even if BSG will change course within the hour. The Cylons have always had a plan, but now the plan has changed.
Much more interesting in these exchanges though is Cavil himself. His philosophy is engrossing: he exposits a rejection of the Cylon tendency to merely replicate humanity, something we saw a lot of in “Downloaded”. Cavil puts it beautifully here by saying that the Cylons “hijacked” humanity’s destiny, and it’s time for them to instead pursue their own path. For him this means an embrace of being a “machine”, something Cavil is going to come back to again before the end. Moreover, he flat-out states his own belief that there is no God, which is very unique to the Cylons we have seen thus far, opening up another fascinating potential angle for future exploration. Stockwell might have the best single-story appearance of the shows run, from an acting perspective, in both parts of “Lay Down Your Burdens”: seeing both copies speaking to each other, finishing each others thoughts, is surreal, in a very intriguing way. And that sense of weariness, and of hating just about everybody, is it makes him a very intriguing character to follow.
We need to take a moment here to discuss the brief resolution to the Tyrol/Cally sub-plot that takes up a few scenes of the episode. Cally, in love with the Chief, forgives him very quickly for the vicious assault he perpetrated. It’s a case of love trumping all, but any viewer will be forgiven for finding this sticking in the craw a little bit. Tyrol may not have been in his right mind when he battered Cally, but it seems insufficient for his punishment for that action to be a guilty conscience. Having taken plenty of time to examine Tyrol in the aftermath of the incident BSG shortchanges Cally significantly, reducing her to an insubstantial character who exists only to alleviate Tyrol’s guilt and then, well, we’ll see.
And then Baltar puts his head down, and when he raises it up 12 months have past. The “One Year Later” decision was certainly a ballsy one, Ronald D. Moore and David Eick deciding, essentially, to skip over a large degree of potential narrative complications and dump the audience into new and very unfamiliar territory in an instant. The potential for disconnect, an off-putting plot shock and a sense of robbery in the audience was quite high. But in this, the extra time that “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part Two)” had was absolutely critical. If the “One Year Later” section had been just a five minutes or less glimpse at the future of the Colonials, it may very well have back-fired, but instead BSG opts for something a bit more fleshed out. In so doing, it manages to make the last twenty or so minutes of the episode some of the most remarkable and well-written of the entire shows run, which in a stroke made the third season some of the biggest “must-watch” TV in history.
I don’t want to spend too much time on this section, lest it become an entire entry of it’s own, but I will hit on the key points. We get to see, pretty brilliantly, how much of a disaster Baltar is as President: feckless, lazy, uncaring and just a shipwreck of a man. He’s a disappointment to just about everyone, even the guy with the mancrush on him in the form of Gaeta. He’s just the head of the snake though: there’s a rot everyone on New Caprica, from the shanty town that humanity lives in, to the lack of vital medicine, to the state of the Fleet in orbit. Both the Galactica and the Pegasus are ghost ships in many ways, with the flickering lights in one of the Galactica’s corridors enough to make the point that standards have slipped.
But it’s there in characters too, and far beyond the mess that is Baltar. Adama doesn’t seem unduly bothered by the sloppiness on Galactica, happy to let Tigh go. Apollo has gained a lot of weight. He and Starbuck have had some manner of decisive break, and it’s enough that Dee isn’t entirely happy to hear from her either. Anders is deathly ill, and Starbuck is helpless to improve his condition. Even in a positive context, things seem fundamentally off, such as when Starbuck shares an embrace with Tigh, or that fact that Cally is now pregnant with her abusers child. New Caprica, and its orbit, are miserable looking places, where the characters we have come to know seem caught in a limbo of changed circumstances and dynamics. If New Caprica is a test from on high, it’s one that humanity is failing.
And then comes Judgement Day. The arrival of the Cylons necessitates more hard choices, with the Fleet leaving – notable that Lee wants to jump away more then his father – and Baltar choosing to immediately surrender. It also raises some questions: after Cavil’s pronouncement that “human and Cylon will now go their separate ways”, what are they doing back together (the fact that we don’t see Cavil, or Biers, here might be telling)? One suspects Caprica Six’s desire to reunite with Baltar might be at the heart of that, but the answer, if it comes, will have to wait for a little while. As much as this is the triumph of the Cylon, it’s the final pathetic collapse of the Baltar administration into true irrelevancy, the man who led humanity into the jaws of their enemies.
For now it’s enough to see lines of Centurions walking down the street – a nod to numerous enemy occupations, though one suspects Rymer is going more for 2003 Baghdad than 1940 Paris – to make the point. Humanity lost the war before it even started in the Miniseries, but now they have been totally defeated. Or so it might seem. Starbuck’s final word on what is occurring indicates that the Colonials aren’t going into subservience quietly: that’s a fitting end to a season that has seen humanity rage against the dying of the light in so many ways, and leaves us wanting more.
-There’s a 42 minute episode version of this episode that aired in some markets that Moore describes as “almost incomprehensible”.
-“Lay Down Your Burdens (Part Two)” is somewhat unique in the show in that it has no prologue, evidence perhaps that it is a bit of a brute force cut-up for a larger narrative.
-The count is suddenly down 29, a steep drop from “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part One)” where the loss of one Raptor accounted for presumably four people. Who knows where the other 25 came from.
-Cally cuts off Tyrol’s supplication very quickly with three magic words: “I forgive you”. It’s powerful, but is it too easy,
-The look that Tyrol gives Cally here is amazing: a mix of surprise, shame, refusal. Douglas is an unsung hero of this episode, essentially appearing in only three scenes.
-The ceasefire that occurs on Caprica is fairly momentous, even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time: it’s the victory of Caprica Six and Boomer in action.
-Thrace isn’t messing around, demonstrating visually to Anders what she means when she suggests a pact in the event of imminent capture: “You do me and I’ll do you”.
-I love the look at a frustrated Roslin, seeing the election slip away from her. Particularly notable is how she refers to New Caprica just as “the planet”.
-Foster, in a deadly series tone of voice, assures Roslin that there is always a “back-up plan”. At this point we might not fully realise what that is, but it’s clearly nothing orthodox.
-We should briefly mention here the timeline problems of this two-parter, with the election stuff, the Caprica rescue mission and Tyrol’s interactions with Cavil all taking place in timescales that are impossible to reconcile. The entire second season suffers from what fans call the “season two timeline discontinuity”, with months of the Fleet’s existence unacknowledged.
-Great cut to Colonial One here, as we move from the Caprica Cavil to the Fleet Cavil having a religious moment with Roslin.
-The conference between Roslin and Baltar is real cloak-and-daggers stuff. They even reduced the lighting in the Admiral’s quarters.
-Love Baltar’s snark as he refers to Roslin’s “pedestrian methods” of getting the two together.
-Appeals to patriotism really are the wrong way to go with Baltar. As he said all the way back in the Miniseries, “I am not on anybody’s side”.
-Roslin’s final card is to bring up her knowledge of Baltar and Six, but it is a weak card to play. The President has nothing really, just a blurry memory. This is an effort to scare Baltar into acquiescence, and it doesn’t work.
-I do love the dichotomy between Head Six’s almost panicked “She knows” and Baltar’s deliberately calm reaction to the accusation.
-Adama and Starbuck embrace after her return in a manner that suggests their father/daughter surrogate relationship is long since healed.
-Case in point: Adama meeting Anders is a lot like a girl’s father meeting her boyfriend for the first time. At least he is Cool Dad about it.
-“Code Blue” is apparently a term used by the Colonial military to demonstrate as quickly as possible that a Cylon has been identified. In the real world it refers to a critical medical emergency where moving the patient is impossible.
-Love Caprica Cavil’s sarcastic opening with Adama: “Take me to your leader”. You can read much in that: in aping the line of an alien invader, Cavil marks himself as separate from humanity, part of the message he has come to relate.
-Sharon doesn’t mess around when confronted about her silence over Cavil: “Maybe I wanted him to come and blow up the whole ship”. She follows this up by literally dropping the mike, or phone rather.
-Oh, the unspoken tension when Anders and Apollo are sharing a room. Lee has never looked quite so awkward, a reflection of his own unresolved feelings.
-Starbuck starts off teasing in a bad natured way – “When are you going to get yourself a girl?” – but then gets truly nasty by sneeringly asking if Apollo is “still fraking Dualla”. She’s drunk, but this sentiment has some real roots.
-I love Bamber’s pained look of disgust at what he is seeing in Starbuck and Anders, and then that hesitant walk away from them. A lot said without saying anything.
-The Fleet Cavil protests his innocence until he sees his brother in the cell, in a brilliant moment: “Oh…well…OK then”.
-Cavil puts the problem with the Cylon identity crisis brilliantly when he declares “We became what we beheld”.
-Cavil isn’t just an atheist, he’s fairly militant about it too: “Supernatural divinities are the primitive’s answer for why the sun goes down at night.”
-The election count indicates a huge portion of the Fleet are voters: 46’530 votes are counted, roughly 94% of the population. They need to start having babies.
-The board on Colonial One does apparently contain the full list of ships in the Fleet, with a bunch that never appear in any other capacity.
-Why does Tigh engage with “the back-up plan”? We might recall his comments on Baltar back in “Scattered” when he referred to him as “that shady son of a bitch”.
-The reaction of the press to the final vote count – initial confusion more than anything – indicates the flaw in the plan: Tory should have made it tighter.
-I did like Zarek’s brief nod to his past, as he recalls his own experience with elections: “Most honest, a few fixed”.
-Adama is wary about what has just occurred, and says to Roslin: “Are you as shocked as I am?” He’s looking for reassurance, and doesn’t get it.
-Gaeta spots the fraud, and makes his decision. It’s for all the right reasons, but it will haunt him before this episode is even over.
-I love Olmos’ work as he hears Gaeta’s accusation. He gets across without words how Adama knows instantly what he is being told is true.
-Adama is dumbfounded by Roslin’s confession: His “You tried to steal an election?” is the question of someone who can’t fully grasp what is being said to him.
-Roslin’s pitch to Adama is based mostly on the scriptures and that they are “real”, but that’s the wrong tack to take with the Admiral, who has long been established as not exactly onboard with such literalism.
-Adama’s choice in confronting Roslin is accompanied by a variation of the “Adama and Roslin” theme called “Roslin Confesses”. That tune still gets me every time.
-“You won’t do it…you’ll die inside”. Adama knows this would eat Roslin up, she just needs the right guiding hand to put her right again.
-Adama says that they will just have to live with the election result, which harks back to his words to Tyrol at the conclusion of “Litmus”: such a state of affair is punishment enough for Roslin.
-Roslin tries one more time to get through to Adama: “It’s the wrong choice”. But the Admiral is unmoving. “Yes it is”, and that’s all.
-Baltar’s reaction to being told that he has won is a mixture of genuine shock and annoyance, and I love that Callis plays it as primarily anger, not happiness. It’s another affront to the character, not an immediate call for celebration.
-Adama very pointedly calls Baltar “Doctor” and Baltar very pointedly tells him the appropriate title is now “President Elect”. He knows Adama won’t respect him as President.
-Baltar orders Adama to set a course for New Caprica here, but he isn’t the President yet. Surely such orders should wait until his inauguration?
-As Baltar looks at Gina, we see brief flashes of her in the Pegasus brig. I assume that’s her remembrance, since Baltar would presumably not want to think of her that way. Steeling herself up maybe.
-Baltar is lost in pure fantasy, telling Gina that New Caprica is “our chance to be together again”. Again? The smell of Vertigo off this is very strong.
-What follows is a remarkable sex scene, where Gina and Baltar take part in what we could call a dark communion. It’s like a stamp on Baltar’s betrayal, where Gina voluntarily becomes more like the Six he knew. The music for this section is even called “Dark Union”.
-Like other men unsuited to be President, Baltar has an executive order all lined up for just after assuming office. He’s all about the media moment: there’s nothing of substance there.
-This announcement appears to be the fulfillment of Gina’s mission as she listens, naked, to the broadcast. It’s all she was waiting for, indicating settlement on this crappy planet, as much as Baltar as President, was the point.
-Cloud Nine’s destruction is a spectacular effect, that seems to take out a good portion of the Fleet. Debris flies into the camera, knocking and cracking it, not unlike a similar shot in the opening scenes of the Miniseries.
-You would think there would be some manner of deeper investigation into what happened, that might uncover the trips Baltar was making to Cloud Nine, but it never appears to come up again. The official result is just “Cylon agents stole the nuke from Baltar’s lab”.
-Adama and Baltar are apples and oranges, with the new President clearly intimidated. The way he asks if the Admiral would like some tea, like he’s pretending to be Roslin, is really pathetic.
-Baltar’s tears in this moment are probably less to do with the disaster that has just unfolded and more to do with the loss of Gina.
-Adama tests the waters by telling Baltar “You’re not listening” when it comes to the prioritisation of settlement. This gets a little fire going in Gaius, as he parrots Roslin from “Epiphanies”: “I don’t have to, I’m the President.”
-Baltar is left alone in his office, power not the victory he hoped it would be, and a zoom in on him is the perfect transition for the “One Year Later”. What a moment that is.
-Gaeta has apparently stepped into the role of being some kind of political aide for Baltar, the Billy to his Roslin I suppose. That makes sense, given their prior relationship.
-We might note here that Roslin’s survivor count has been replaced by…a portrait of Baltar. A very nice touch.
-Baltar notes that he has to face issues with a “Peoples Council” along with the Quorum of Twelve. Is this some kind of larger legislative body that the Fleet lacked?
-Baltar’s line about the number of Cylon attacks in his Presidency is straight out of the mouth of George W. Bush playbook of missing the point.
-Some nice establishing shots, with a grainy filter, of a ghostly Galactica, its deck and hallways empty of people.
-Adama is now sporting a mustache, as we saw in the flashback portions of “Scattered”. I understand Olmos usually wears one, and it looks good on him.
-“Time to pack it in Saul” says Adama, with a tone of wearied resignation, but also a bit of acceptance. I think Adama is happy to be letting Tigh go, but the undercurrent of malaise is there too.
-The population count for New Caprica is 39’192. Taking some reasonable guesses for the personnel needed to man the Fleet, we can assume somewhere in the region of 5’000-7’000 people were killed by the Cloud Nine explosion.
-Our first impression of the New Caprica colony is one that will remain: a wet, shambling shanty town.
-A little bit of a clumsy exposition line when Starbuck tells Anders that she “married a moron”.
-The nature of the Starbuck/Apollo schism will go unremarked upon for now. Tigh offers only a “That was a long time ago”. I mean, it could only have been a year, but whatever it was it was major.
-Tyrol’s speech is taken almost verbatim from one delivered by activist Mario Savio in 1964. The writers even consulted Savio’s widow to make sure she was OK with it.
-Roslin is New Caprica’s resident schoolteacher, and it would make sense that she would slip back into that kind of role. It’s something useful for her to do.
-Our first look at Hera here since “Downloaded”. Interesting that Roslin is keeping her close, perhaps with an eye on future events. She’s also in the same crib we previously saw her in in Baltar’s visions.
-I’ll admit, I had forgotten about, well, Fat Lee. Bamber did not actually put on the weight, but the make-up/fat suit work was pretty good, and it’s a great way of emphasising the slipping of standards.
-“It’s for you” says Dee. “Who is it?” asks Lee. An annoyed pause as Dee just adds “It’s for you”. Nothing else needs to be said to get the picture: Dee doesn’t want her husband talking to Starbuck.
-I like that the Cylon basestars don’t all just appear at once, they’re initially just glitchy DRADIS contacts. Dee understands immediately though: “They found us”.
-Helo has remained on the Galactica, presumably to stay close to Sharon, and I guess is the new XO?
-Adama has to choose at the end of the episode, with humanity’s fate in the balance again. Just like he did in the Miniseries, the choice is to run.
-Adama makes sure to say, to himself more than anyone, that “We’ll be back” as the Fleet departs New Caprica. This is presumably as nod to General MacArthur’s “I shall return” upon evacuating the Philippines in 1942.
-I love Gaeta’s switch from “Mr President” to “Gaius” as he tries to get through to a boozed-up Baltar.
-Gotta love the image of Head Six in the Presidential chair, gleefully declaring it to be “Judgement Day”. It’s the moment she’s been waiting for since the end of “Downloaded”.
-Caprica Six is smart enough to know she shouldn’t openly announce that she knew Baltar, but limits herself to an emotional “We know who you are…we know you very well”. Great performance here from Helfer.
-Even at this moment of his greatest failure, Baltar strays into the theatrical, announcing himself, his position and his surrender in a somewhat bombastic way.
-We close, to a certain degree, on how we opened Season Two, with Starbuck against the world. What do the Colonials do now? “Fight em till we can’t”.
Overall Verdict: “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part Two)” is a bit ungainly and could do with more consistency regards how it jumps from plot to plot for large stretches, and the way it sidelines Cally is unfortunate. But other than that it is hard to fault. The election drama, the character evolution of Starbuck and then the unforgettable jump to “One Year Later”, it all works really well. There are few TV shows that could pull a cliffhanger as good as that done here, and even now I can’t wait to jump back in when we reach BSG’s third season. I’ll be starting that journey off in two weeks.
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