NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Three: “Exodus (Part One)”

You will hold her in your arms, and you’ll know for the first time what it is to feel true love. But you’ll lose everything you’ve done here.

Air Date: 13/10/2006

Director: Félix Enríquez Alcalá

Writers: Bradley Thompson and David Weddle

Synopsis: Things start coming to a head on New Caprica, as the Resistance deals with a betrayal and Sharon makes a play for the needed launch keys. Biers is prompted to investigate Hera’s supposed death after some prophetic dreams. Galactica makes its final preparations ahead of the rescue mission.

Review

“Exodus (Part One)” has the really unenviable task of setting up the gigantic blow-off to the New Caprica arc that is coming next, so it has to get a degree of set-up for a lot of characters and plots out of the way. Having to do so, as well as sorting out the cliffhanger from “Precipice” means that the episode feels a little all over the place, jumping between plot-lines – the Tigh stuff, the Hera stuff (with Roslin’s inclusion), Sharon’s plan, Starbuck and Leoben, Baltar, the Fleet – in a hectic manner and never able to get any kind of firm throughline going. Like film studios have found to their cost later (see Deathly Hallows and Mockingjay for the perils of split installments with pacing problems), BSG struggles to make this first half of the “Exodus” storyline a decent episode of its own accord.

There’s no bigger example than the first 15 minutes, the rough length of time it takes to recap “Precipice” and get a conclusion to the double firefights that occurred at the end of that episode. The action is mostly fine (see below for some more thoughts), but is stretched out to a degree that is unhelpful to the episodes rhythm. By the time we get to the needed resolution, a third of “Exodus (Part One)” has elapsed, and there is so much else that the episode hasn’t even started to cover.

I’ll admit I kind of expected more of the Tigh plot in this episode, and I suspect it was the big victim of what I outlined above. We really only get two scenes for it here, one where Anders discovers the betrayal and one where Ellen is confronted about it. Considering the enormity of that which her actions represent, and the inevitable consequences – once the Colonel fully realises them, which we don’t get to see here – it felt to me like one of the juicier bits of drama that the first two episodes of the season was setting up gets left at the wayside a bit. I wonder if there could have been some more stuff mined out of the Ellen character, where she tries to manipulate her way out of the accusation or something, but no. But we’re getting a hell of a moment between the Tigh’s pretty soon.

The episode finds its most obvious spine with Biers, who takes on the role of representative of the Cylons for this section of the narrative. We’re back to Hera again who, minus a brief glimpse in “Occupation”, has been curiously absent from Season Three so far. Biers’ prophetic dreams take her to an “oracle”, our first look at BSG’s attempt to take this ancient tradition and make it new, and it is an interesting experience. The mysticism we would expect is there, the foreboding prophecies as well, but also a certain groundedness: this oracle wants some caramel to help the bitter hallucinogenics go down better, and is literally scrabbling a living out of rocks. It’s through this character that we get our first inkling that the Colonial and Cylon religions are not incompatible, with the oracle declaring that the Cylon God “speaks through me”.

This stand-out moment is just part of Biers’ larger odyssey, as she comes to realise that Hera’s death in “Downloaded” was faked. “Exodus (Part One)” leads us to this point in a believable enough way, well, once you accept the other-worldly nature of the push that Biers gets. She did once have a cover as an investigative journalist after all, and the scene where she gets to needle Cottle about what happened in “Downloaded” is great in terms of getting admittance without anything verbal. Roslin’s plot, to keep Hera and her adoptive mother hidden, is a house of cards that will crumble to the ground eventually, and one wonders how the former President can possible think otherwise. For now it adds something more to the sub-plots of the Cylons and Sharon, who having gotten back to the pinnacle of being a Colonial officer by gaining trust, is soon to have that foundation destroyed not through her own doing.

If we saw a potential avenue for survival for Baltar in his brief stand and then re-union with Head Six in “Precipice”, then in “Exodus (Part One)” we once again seem him at his worst. In just one real scene we get a picture of a man who is totally lost, the normal vestiges of his personality – his charm, confidence, genteel appearance, sexual ability even – stripped away from him. The situation has gotten so bad that he even exudes something close to hate for Caprica Six, the very person that he basically ran for President for, if we accept the idea that Gina was Caprica Six to him. It’s to her that he sarcastically runs down how far he has fallen, discussing sanitation supplies with “one of the Dorals”. But she’s all he has at the same time, as he pathetically asks her to stay with him despite his invective. Later in the episode he briefly interjects on a Cylon pow-wow to suggest that the occupation isn’t worth it for the occupiers, a sentiment we will explore in more detail in the next episode: but in the way he says it here the sentiment once again ties into his own self-loathing, as he practically dares Doral to put a gun to his head again, only this time he should pull the trigger. It’s very hard to see a way out for Baltar that doesn’t involve a bullet to the head I suppose, self-inflicted or not, with his avenues for redemption all but closed up.

The Leoben/Starbuck experiment continues apace, and kind of hits a bit of a brick-wall in narrative terms in “Exodus (Part One)”. Again I think it’s an example of there being perhaps three-and-a-half episodes worth of plot – the establishing of things, the introduction of Kacey, Starbuck’s escape, with the “half” perhaps to flesh out the middle section – being put into four episodes of television, and there has to be lack of substance in one of those episodes as a result. “Exodus (Part One) is that episode. What we get is a little monologue from Thrace as she apologises to Kacey for what happened in “Precipice”, and BSG tries to draw a deeper connection between the two of them. But it’s happening too fast, and Starbuck transferring to the mode of a mother too quickly, for it to really land in the way that it needs to. A single short scene in the front half of an uneven episode makes this sub-plot easily lost in the morass.

Which brings us to the Fleet, which may only play a minor part in affairs, but which easily makes up some of the best emotional storytelling of the episode. The goodbyes being shared are enough to get the eyes welling up a bit: Dee and Helo; the larger crews of Pegasus and Galactica, pledging to remain “always together”; and of course the Admiral and the Commander. What was a toxic relationship has swing around again to one of mutual respect, between Apollo’s acceptance that the return to New Caprica is simply something that his father has to do, and Adama’s acceptance that Lee is the best man to safeguard what’s left of humanity if everything should go wrong. The same person who told Apollo to get his “fat ass” out of his quarters in “Occupation” isn’t the same man who orders a salute for the Commander of Pegasus here. It might be let down slightly by Apollo’s continued weight issues, that never look more jarring than when he returns the salute to his father, but it’s still a powerful bit of reconciliation, that ties in nicely to similar moments in the Miniseries, “The Hand Of God” and “Home (Part Two)”.

What’s left from there is simple anticipation, in the pilot ready room, in Adama’s quarters and then CIC, the waiting to see if the mission is a go or not. Alcala does a really good job of capturing that sense of tension wordlessly, as the Galactica crew allows themselves to get all pent up ahead of word if their operation is viable before it has even gotten started. The way Adama punches his desk when the green light comes is exhilarating enough. Then comes his speech. We get a few of those in the course of BSG and aside from his very last I have to say that this is my favourite, a well-rehearsed but pitch perfect appeal to bravado and heroism, that sets the stage brilliantly for what is to come. “Exodus (Part One)” struggles a lot in what it needs to get done, but in these sections at least it is an excellent demonstration of militaria matched to science-fiction. Now, just how are the Colonials going to pull this off?

I’m getting old. I’m a little slow. But I’ll be there.

Notes

-The title is, of course, the fourth book of the Bible, a common shorthand nowadays for departure or leavetaking. Can we call this a spoiler?

-This is Alcala’s directorial debut with the show, and we’ll see his work again. He’s a journeyman TV director who has worked on a lot of stuff, perhaps most notably E.R., Criminal Minds and Madame Secretary.

-The disjointed feeling for “Exodus (Part One)” is not helped by extended recaps that occur twice in the episode, with minutes of footage from “Precipice” re-shown.

-“One hour earlier”, drink!

-We get to see Tigh without the eyepatch, and it is good make-up/CGI work, very unnerving.

-Between our look at him in “Precipice” and here, Tyrol has found the time to have a total shave. There was apparently some kind of mess-up with Aaron Douglass’ shooting schedule with his scenes shot with weeks in-between.

-I do like this look of Tigh in command, making sure that Tyrol doesn’t lose his head and thinking practically of what needs to be done to save Cally. He’s not a Colonel for no reason.

-Tyrol is joined by former deck crew member Seelix for the rescue attempt, she last being seen in “Flight Of The Phoenix”.

-There’s a discrepancy here in Cally’s flight from the execution site: in “Precipice” she slides down a small ravine before running, here she’s on flat land from the start. “Precipice” also showed her still running when the shooting started, whereas here she is tackled to the ground just beforehand.

-The resulting firefight is shot in a confusing, hectic manner, which might be intentional, and helps to cover the difficult-to-swallow idea that four lightly armed Resistance fighters could destroy what looks like a numerically superior force of Centurions and NCP.

-I do like seeing some of the Colonial Marines get to show off, which they do here with an RPG attack that wipes out a Centurion patrol.

-The Marine leader in question is Sgt Mathias, played by Eileen Pedde, who will re-occur in a few episodes. As far as I am aware she’s the only named Marine for the rest of the show’s run.

-Jammer escapes, having been originally marked for death in an earlier draft of the ambush. Moore thought of a better use for that plot point, as we’ll see.

-Resistance fighter Charlie Connor debuts here, played by Ryan Robbins. Robbins previously played the Colonial Officer killed on Armistice Station at the very start of the Miniseries.

-I like that Anders, who has gotten good at this insurgency game, knows immediately what happened when he sees the map presented to him.

-A bit of a weird line from Zarek when Roslin pulls him onto a hole for cover: “Been a while since I had a woman throw me to the ground”. They weren’t thinking about a romance plot for these two were they?

-Seelix wishes Cavil a slow trip to “Download City” which is a very human term I really like.

-Biers’ dream is marked by harsh overexposure of light, which honestly is a visual cue that BSG perhaps goes to a bit too often to get across a sense of unreality.

-A brilliant way of illustrating Baltar’s miserable state of existence: an apparent case of erectile dysfunction. For a guy like him that so values his sexual prowess, this is a real rock bottom moment.

-Baltar’s “How was your day at the office?” is one of the most bitterly delivered lines in the entire series, and kudos to Callis for really getting across the invective in it.

-Caprica Six really does hit the nail on the head by describing Baltar as being trapped in a “well of self-hatred”. Baltar has always loved himself more than anyone, but he hates himself more than anyone else too.

-I do note that they have somehow gotten a four poster bed into Colonial One for these two. Benefits of power I guess.

-Kacey grasps Starbuck’s finger, and you have to imagine that this kind of heartstring pulling might also have some kind of origin in Leoben.

-The Oracle actor is Amanda Plummer, and she does a great job in this once-off appearance, really making the character stand-out hugely in just a few minutes of screen-time.

-Oracles have been mentioned before, in the context of Pythia and Tyrol’s mother, but it’s not clear if their role is always to be, well, prophecy merchants.

-The chamalla that the oracle is taking here appears to be in a granular form, enough that at first I thought she was licking up smelling salts.

-Dee is eyeing up Helo on the flight deck, which he interprets as looking at him like “we’re never gonna see each other again.” I always thought she was being flirtatious actually.

-Considering how precious the resource must be in the circumstances, that is a staggering waste of salt for the departure ceremony on the flight deck.

-I do like the religious words said by both crews as they depart, an ode to unwavering bonds even in the face of physical separation: “Their enemies will divide them. Their colonies broken in the fiery chasm of space. Their shining days renounced by a multitude of dark sacrifices. Yet, still they will remain, always together.”

-As Adama and Apollo share their last conversation, we get the strains of “Admiral And Commander”, a lyricless, sometimes quiet and sometimes booming, variation of “Wander My Friends”.

-Apollo offers a slightly sarcastic “Yeah right” when told to seek Earth if the Galactica fails to make the rendezvous in time. Adama is fairly clear cut in response: “I’ll see you at the rendezvous point.”

-“Don’t make me cry”. Your going to get me going Bill.

-There are two things on New Caprica that have plenty of tolerance for Cylons anyway, as we see with Biers: dogs and doctors.

-I said before that Cottle is a bad liar, and that shows here again, as he stumbles in making his excuses about the cremation of Hera.

-The Cavil who is left lying at the execution site has a gruesome fate, forced to kill himself by slicing through an artery with a spent shell casing. Again, note the absence of moral qualms over suicide.

-An interesting complication for Cylon resurrection: Cavil indicates it gets more painful every time.

-A Doral notes that the Cylons are willing to nuke New Caprica if things get too bad, which would appear to indicate the religiously moral motivations for their arrival are not things they are very tied to.

-A neat touch, albeit a tad illogical: Sharon refuses to leave her dog tags behind on her subterfuge mission, as she has worked too hard for them.

-I little clunky when Roslin describes Hera as “the shape of things to come”. Is that another divinely inspired thought, or just a nod to Bear McCreary’s soundtrack?

-It’s not a bad plan that the Colonials have, to strike multiple targets at once and get people on their ships and jumping away in the chaos that will follow. But it will need something special to really work. Boy will it.

-I’ll admit that Ellen’s frantic “It was all for you Saul” made me think of The Omen.

-An interesting juxtaposition of Ellen’s line “Don’t you see that?” with Tigh’s one-eyed face. Reminds me of Xander in a late episode of Buffy, similarly missing an eye: “I’m trying to see your point, but it must be a little to my left”.

-I think this is our first look at Cylon computer access, with the hands and the weird water-based input device, that will become a staple of the rest of the show.

-This episode would appear to confirm the idea explicitly that Cylons can tell individual models apart. And that Centurions can’t.

-Biers’ pitch to Sharon is such a seductive one, the idea of getting to hold her baby again. Since the audience knows the truth this doesn’t come across as devilish as it might otherwise have been.

-“Adama wouldn’t lie to me” says Sharon as she puts two bullets in Biers, but within seconds she’s raising her doubts to Tyrol. The best lies are once that mix lies with truth.

-Love that image of Adama slamming his table, no music, no preamble, no words. Just that motion and that look his face. Olmos remains incredible.

-Some good words for another scene though, simple and effective, as Racetrack and Kat get the call in the ready room. “It’s on”.

-Adama’s speech, that puts the focus outward of the self on the people of the larger unit, naturally calls to mind the story of the paratrooper’s response to being asked by his grandson if he was a hero in the war. “No, but I served in a company of heroes”.

-It also calls to mind the Achilles choice, of going to war and finding memory eternal in a battlefield death, or a refusal of the call followed by historical oblivion

-I really like Adama’s speech overall, which rejects fatalism of any kind, insisting that not only will they succeed, but one day they’ll all get to glory in the achievement with their children and grandchildren. Given the odds, and the thoughts of not making it that must be rampant, it’s the perfect speech to make.

Overall Verdict: This episode has plenty of problems, and might well be one of the most awkwardly edited and unwieldy episodes of the entire run. It takes too long to resolve the cliffhanger from the previous story, and then there is too much to cram into the roughly 30 minutes of running time that is left. “Exodus (Part One)” has plenty of powerful moments that mark it out, not least the scenes in the Fleet, but it feels very much like we’re getting stuff out of the way that needs to be gotten out of the way. This four episode arc reaches its conclusion next: perhaps “Exodus (Part One)” with all of its flaws, is a necessary evil before we reach that climax.

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

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12 Responses to NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Three: “Exodus (Part One)”

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