NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Three: “Hero”

The truth hurts, Bulldog, but it’s better to know the truth than to live a lie.

Air Date: 17/11/2006

Director: Michael Rymer

Writer: David Eick

Synopsis: Adama is stunned when a pilot he thought lost years before the Cylon attack suddenly re-appears, but the reunion is tinged with secret regret. Colonel Tigh’s descent into an alcohol fueled self-hatred reaches the tipping point. Biers undertakes a risky experiment.

Review

For the first time in a good long while – maybe since “Home (Part Two)” – we have a full-on Adama episode, where Olmos takes centre stage properly. The theme is shadows from the past, this time in human form. BSG delights in having its characters have to confront things that they’ve done way back when – in fact you could say that “the time comes when you can’t hide from the things that you’ve done anymore” – as we have seen with Starbuck in “Act Of Contrition”, Apollo in “Black Market”, Roslin in “Epiphanies” and Baltar in, well, every episode he’s been in. Now it’s Adama’s turn.

“Hero” was an episode I wasn’t thrilled about when I first watched it, but I do admit that I had more time for it on this occasion. I think part of the reason is that Eick and Rymer do a really good job of teasing out Adama’s shame and the reasons for it, rather than handling it clumsily. We know the moment he meets Bulldog again that something is fundamentally wrong, something Roslin picks up on. Just what that something is is expertly allowed to come to the fore naturally. There is a succession of possible reasons why Adama seems to be in such a maelstrom. Is it regret at the black-ops mission that started the whole thing in the first place? Is it guilt at thinking Bulldog dead when he wasn’t? Is it queasiness at the realisation that he fired a missile at his own man? Any one of these options would prove fallow ground for drama, but instead BSG decides to go in a different direction, one somewhat unexpected.

“Hero” asks us to basically wonder if Adama is responsible for the Cylon attack. This seems a bit of a stretch really, given the enormity of what the audience knows from episodes like “Downloaded”, but from the perspective of what Adama knows, I suppose it is very believable. After all, there seems to be no other inciting incident other than what Adama oversaw, and for someone in his position such thinking, combined with a healthy dose of survival guilt, is bound to produce the sort of maudlin pity party that we witness with Apollo. It’s also produced other things, like his obsessive need to protect his crew members, as we saw in “You Can’t Go Home Again”.

But Adama isn’t the sort of guy to sit there and wallow. He doesn’t second guess, even if he regrets. He tries to fix things instead, even if he makes mistakes sometimes in the process – see “The Farm” and “Home (Part One)” – and that’s what he tries here. He’s trying to fix things by being the military leader of the Fleet that he needs to be, and he tries to fix things with Bulldog even while being weighed down with the guilt of what really happened. He even plays along with Roslin’s pantomime at the end of the episode, knowing that the honour he is receiving is not something he feels worthy of, but that the act of receiving it is more important than himself.

Which is what the episode really comes down to: is Adama a hero? Is Bulldog, for his arranged escape? Is Tigh, for rescuing Adama in the nick of time? Just what is a hero exactly? Do the good things in a life outweigh the bad? “Hero” offers us no answers really, ending in a rather pragmatic way: Adama and Tigh drinking to forget, and Bulldog no longer really part of the military. Despite his best efforts, Adama hasn’t really fixed all that much. Instead, he simply soldiers on, like everybody else in the Fleet has to. The time for him to stop running from the things that he did came, and he’s survived the experience, not unlike how humanity has just about survived their experience with the Cylons, so far. Sometimes, that’s enough. But “Hero” does make us take a very different look at William Adama, and wonder if he really is the paragon we previously thought he was. That’ll be important for some stuff coming later this season.

Bulldog is curiously sidelined a bit in this episode, considering the whole thing should really be about him. His story seems to be about the difference between surviving and living: the first is all he was doing among the Cylons, now he has to find a way to get past what happened to him and do the second. Oh, and do it without killing anyone. For all of “Hero” Bulldog really is still a prisoner, only instead of actual bars it’s some mental ones that have been thrown up. It isn’t enough that he escaped, he feels that he has to have beaten the Cylons at their own game, to have engineered his own springing in the face of their contempt. The idea that the opposite might be the case, and that he is an unwitting pawn in another demented Cylon parlour game, is something that he just cannot comprehend. For too long he’s been a prisoner waiting for the opportunity get out, but the institutionalisation that has occurred means he has work to do in coming to terms with what happened.

At first this manifests itself in a desire for revenge on Adama for the perceived betrayal, which is understandable, but true reconciliation with himself will need far more work: he takes the first steps in both departing the military at the end of the episode, but also in accepting that it remains a part of him. It’s a pity that we never get to see Bulldog again so we can follow up on his progress: one of the key flaws of “Hero” really isn’t anything to do with the episode but more that Bulldog comes and goes in the space of that episode.

A little less than Adama, “Hero” is a Tigh story, as we get our first look at the “one-eyed drunk” since Adama essentially confined him to quarters in “Torn”. Tigh goes through a marked change throughout the episode. At first he seems positively gleeful at Adama’s predicament, practically laughing at him in their first encounter as he realises the awkward position the Admiral is in. Later, he seems to have little regrets about revealing the enormity of the truth to Bulldog, and in many ways he’s right: Adama might want to try and fix things, but he takes his time in doing so.

From there “Hero” starts moving towards a reconciliation though, as if Tigh realises that he has helped propel things too far along the road to calamity. In this, comparative scenes of him and Adama at the helm of the Valkyrie help to make the point, that these two have been a team far longer than they have been apart. In the Valkyrie scenes Tigh acts like something of a conscience for Adama, urging him not to follow the pragmatic course; in a sort of meta way, this narrative shift seems to propel Tigh in the present day along the path of fulfilling the same role, an unlikely saviour here to tell it like it is and get everyone to realise the enormity of the situation.

In so doing he experiences something of a revelation himself, on the nature of the self-hatred that has been burning him up inside. Hogan does some of his best ever work after Tigh subdues Bulldog, in a monologue that touches on preferring a positive fantasy over a hard truth, on how soldiers must come to realise their expendability to the military machine and how getting played for a sap hurts the soul by removing someones innate dignity. Brilliantly, Tigh then outlines how the feeling of shame and self-disgust becomes addictive, in essence coming to realise just what kind of hole he has allowed himself to be buried in. The realisation brings hope, and hard work ahead, and it’s some of the best single-episode character progression of the entire run of this show.

Over with the Cylons, Biers takes true centre stage for the first time over Baltar, and we get another unsettling insight into the vagaries of Cylon psychology. Biers appears to have begun some manner of sexual relationship with both Baltar and Caprica Six, which sort of fits after the way she reacted to Baltar’s monologue in “A Measure Of Salvation” but with its limited exploration here seems a little tawdry for BSG. I’ve said it before about the use of sexuality with the Cylons, that there are times when it crosses the line into titillation, and I feel like this throwaway nod to Biers, Baltar and Caprica having a threesome fits that bill.

Much more compelling is Biers’ new obsession with death, and the space in-between life and resurrection for the Cylons. She orders a Centurion to shoot her in the head and then erase the act of doing so, and the glances from the Cylons in the Resurrection Ship indicate pretty clearly that what Biers has done is not OK. Baltar indicated before that Biers’ questioning of her faith was something she inevitably hated herself for doing, so an exploration of just what death is for the Cylons would appear to be a larger taboo. Just why is unclear, but it may be because of what Biers gets to see in the space in-between: “something beautiful, miraculous”. It’s not hard to imagine that Biers is seeing, or at least thinks she is seeing, the very face of God. Another Cylon fracture seems inevitable.

It behooves me at this point to take a bit about the cinematography of “Hero” which stands out compared to some other episodes of Season Three. I could talk about any number of examples of the way that Michael Rymer tries to bring the episode to life: the use of overexposure for flashbacks to the past and also in Biers’ vision; the Dutch angle for Bulldog’s memories of his Cylon captivity; the unique fade-out transition shots that the show only rarely will use elsewhere; the in and out zooms on Bulldog’s face as he remembers the torment that he went through; the way that certain cuts tie Adama to Biers, both going through a certain kind of self-inflicted trial by fire.

“Hero” is an episode where Rymer was seemingly given the leave to get a bit experimental, and while certain aspects of his work are not new to BSG – like the overexposure in flashbacks – the whole of them really does make “Hero” pop. There are times when the cinema verite style of BSG works really well, but it’s undeniable that it makes the visual art of televised story-telling a little more challenging. “Hero” is an example of BSG breaking out and showing that it can be more than 98% static shots and reasonable cuts. In line with the larger success of the episode – one, as said, that I wasn’t overly fond of the first time that I watched it, but which I have a greater appreciation for now – the visual element of “Hero” insures that this interim period between New Caprica and the mid-season two-parter is not being wasted.

I beat them. Do you understand? I beat them at their own game.

Notes

-Another simple title here, but this one works: from the off it asks the question of just what a hero is.

-This is actually Eick’s last singular writing credit for the show, though I imagine he was at least partially involved in many, many more.

-Interesting opening here, titled “In the beginning” and recapping the events of the Miniseries. The biblical phrasing and the amount of re-treading were a little unnecessary for me, coming off like the show was more interested in new viewers being caught up than the ones who have been around or a while.

-Bulldog is played very well by Carl Lumbly, who has been all over, but whom I know best as the Martian Manhunter from the Bruce Timm Justice League.

-Roslin decides to put a portrait of Baltar left over from his administration over the toilet. I presume this is a nod to the story of George Washington’s portrait being placed in a British toilet, as told memorably in Spielberg’s Lincoln.

-It strikes me as a bit much that they need to give Adama a medal so that the Fleet has “something to feel good about”. Doesn’t a large portion of the Fleet not have a huge amount of time for the military?

-I love Olmos’ reaction when he recognises Bulldog’s voice over he radio. It’s like he’s trying to decide if he’s hearing a ghost

-The image of Bulldog falling out of the Raider, with the goo attached, is very much a rebirth thing I think. Almost clumsy in a way actually.

-Bulldog’s shaky salute is pitched perfectly, as he isn’t really sure the person he is saluting is actually real.

-The count is up one here, reflecting Bulldog’s arrival.

-It seems that after all the fuss over the Cylon detector in Season One, Doc Cottle has come up with something similar in Season Three, that clears Bulldog lickety split.

-Important note from Cottle on how Bulldog seems OK: “…physically anyway”.

-A great visual of Bulldog devouring noodles in Adama’s quarters, that emphasises how long he has been away from Colonial society, and crafts a link between him and Adama, who eat noodles much the same way in “33”.

-I like Bulldog’s gallows humour at being asked how he escaped: “The accommodations were lousy, the service was slow, and after awhile I felt the institution no longer had anything to offer me. So I left.”

-Adama bites back with some repartee that actually gives us some vulgarity: “Thought maybe the Cylons had beaten the bullshit attitude out of you.”

-Having to listen to a Biers model bang the bars on Bulldog’s cell for a few seconds was enough, and if consistent it would be an unthinkable auditory torture.

-How did Bulldog find the Fleet? A deleted scene outlines that the Raider had pre-programmed coordinates that Bulldog was able to try, but missing that info in the TV version makes for some head scratching.

-“Krypter, krypter, krypter” as a mayday call is an invention for the show. It was used before in the Miniseries.

-The Battlestar Valkyrie seems to be a smaller class of ship, perhaps designed for these kinds of quieter missions. The name indicates some kind of tie between Colonial society and Norse mythology, similar to the Ragnar Anchorage from the Miniseries, but this is never elaborated upon.

-I do love that it Roslin sees the lie in Adama’s eyes. She doesn’t push it too much though.

-Biers has a vision of herself on Galactica, that is suitably unnerving. I’m not sure what the point of it is: she seem to have a desire to experience death in this episode, but in the dream she doesn’t want to die.

-Oh man, Tigh’s repeated “I see it” as he essentially plays with his reduced vision. Chilling.

-Adama comes to Tigh like the former XO is some kind of priest he can confess to. It’s not the first time Adama has sought out unlikely people he can poor his heart out to, with Athena the previous #1 target.

-We have another example here, after “Act Of Contrition” and “Scar”, of BSG showcasing a melding of grief and lust, this time in the manner in which Tigh mourns while remembering intimate moments with Ellen. It’s a hang-up of these writers I think.

-An interesting visual choice, putting Ellen’s dress next to a presumably loaded gun. Is the idea that Tigh is contemplating a final end?

-Tigh is so, so bitter when the subject of Adama comes up with Bulldog: “He still does his share of ass covering”.

-Oh, the emotion Olmos is able to get into a simple sentence. “I shot him down.”

-I have to credit Olmos a lot in really getting across that Adama fully believes he is responsible for the Cylon attack. The tears are perfectly judged at the right moment.

-Continuity error of the episode: Adama is wearing his Admiral’s insignia during the Valkyrie flashbacks.

-The “Stealthstar” looks very much like a souped up version of the Blackbird, like the same model was used with some bells and whistles attached.

-You can take it as granted that this portion of the episode gets some of its basis from Gary Powers and his U2 crash.

-Love that shot of the missile streaking towards the Stealthstar from behind.

-“Surviving can be its own death sentence”. Rarely were truer words spoken on BSG, as this can arguably be applied to every human character.

-“I started it”. Adama’s whole character can be seen as defined by those words, an emotional cancer that must have been gnawing at him for a while.

-In Tigh’s absence, Apollo briefly steps in as Adama’s confessor, but this is an emotional crisis beyond him.

-Baltar has got his jacket back, somewhere. I wonder what small talk he is engaging the other Cylons with?

-We get our return to the Kobol opera house, with “Passacaglia”, for the first time in a while here, as Biers intrudes on Baltar’s vision from “Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Part Two)”. Still good to see/hear both things.

-What a line to sum up where Biers’ headspace is: “There is something beautiful, miraculous, between life and death”.

-I do like that it is Starbuck who figures it out, in a manner that calls back to her own experience flying a “friendly” Raider in “You Can’t Go Home Again”, her examination of guncam footage in “Scar” and her analytics in “The Captain’s Hand”.

-I do have to wonder why Starbuck goes to Tigh with her information. Why not Adama directly? Why not Lee? After “Torn” you’d figure Tigh would be persona non grata on Galactica.

-Of course, we have to talk at some point about the weakness of the episode, which is how the various aspects of the Cylon plan are bonkers. They keep Bulldog alive for years in the off chance he might be useful? They send him to the Fleet assuming his manner of getting there will not be deemed suspicious? They assume he will find out on his own the truth of the botched black ops mission, and that his reaction will be murderous? On and on it goes. Some deleted scenes addressed this, but the TV version of “Hero” suffers from serious fridge logic.

-Tigh’s description of self-hate as an addictive force, “a bottle that never runs dry” you can “keep reaching for…over and over again” is one the most brilliant pieces of writing in the show’s run.

-Adama’s resignation letter, if you are able to freeze frame the episode, takes direct responsibility for starting this second Cylon War as a consequence of the black-ops mission, and names Apollo as the new Commander. In the first case it underlines how strongly Adama feels about the issue, and in the second underlines Adama’s confidence in his son since the events of “Exodus (Part Two)”.

-Roslin’s simple explanation is great: a total rejection of Adama’s all too easy burden of guilt, and an claim that the Cylon attack probably came from a thousand different things.

-Adama’s penance is brutally efficient in its own way. He has to remain a paragon, even though he doesn’t think he deserves to be. As he said in “Final Cut”, “Nobody takes a walk. They all gotta live with it. “

-That smile that Adama puts on at the ceremony. I could try for a million years and not be able to get such a perfect example of pride, guilt and shame mixed together in one facial expression.

-I remember it was Helo in “Precipice” that talked about how important symbols are for the lives that everyone is leading. This ceremony, the medal, the sashes, it all speaks to that. Adama’s penance is to become one of those symbols.

-Another continuity error here: we get the medal scene with Adama in full dress, then he’s back in his regular uniform to say goodbye to Bulldog, then back in full dress for his meeting with Tigh. I presume the original order of the scenes changed.

-Adama and Tigh know each other very, very well, and the end of “Hero” captures that wonderfully. Tigh knows Adama needs the companionship of his presence right now and Adama knows Tigh needs the excuse to speak about what happened on New Caprica.

-“I could use a drink” says Tigh, an obvious alcoholic. But Adama knows that they won’t get to fully repair their relationship if he plays the stickler now: “Me too”.

Overall Verdict: As stated above, “Hero” was an episode I didn’t always have a lot of time for. I got caught up in the ridiculous nature of the Cylon plot, and didn’t fully appreciate the Adama drama for what it was. Looking at it now I see a cleverly presented multi-layered plot-line, that offers a suitably excellent character examination of Adama, Tigh and Bulldog, progressing plots and sub-plots in all three cases, and I suppose we could lump Biers into the mix too. The episode looks great, and I think should be considered one of the stand-out standalone episodes of the entire show.

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7 Responses to NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Three: “Hero”

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