Air Date: 08/12/2006
Director: Michael Nankin
Writer: Jane Espenson
Synopsis: With the Fleet threatened by a crippling food shortage, Galactica’s pilots are tested to the utmost when asked to lead ships through a radiation-filled star cluster to find new supplies. Baltar joins D’Anna in exploring what lies between life and death in Cylon resurrection.
In “The Passage” we go back to the “crisis of the week” format that BSG was dominated with in its first season, and it’s another shortage to go with the lack of water in “Water” and fuel in “The Hand Of God”. This one is pretty serious of its own accord, with the Fleet suddenly running dangerously short on food and the only way to get some more being to go through a hellish ride through a star cluster. The set-up is very quick and to the point here, with BSG and Espenson seemingly not too concerned with the ins-and-outs about how we have gotten to this state of affairs. The sight of the pilots literally eating crumbs in their dormitory is probably all that’s really needed.
The episode’s crisis proceeds through a number of pretty decent set-pieces revolving around the pilots guiding the Fleet, a ship at time, through the star cluster. I think it’s a good marriage of science-fiction visuals – done pretty much on the cheap really, but not in a manner that effects the quality of the episode – with very potent story-telling. We’ve been told before how the pilots are the “Guardians Of The Fleet” but we haven’t actually got to see very much of them as a unit in Season Three: I suppose the last pilot episode proper we got was “Scar”. Well, “The Passage” really does put that idea up close and personal to the viewer, as once again all that’s left of humanity finds its fate in the hands of a very small number of people. The tension builds and builds as we see more physical and mental strain on every pilot, with a highlight of the episode being a short montage as they react to their fourth flight through the star cluster, collapsing in various states of exhaustion, sickness and despair. It’s a callback I think to the kind of show the original BSG was and what this version probably expected to be more of originally. “The Passage” could probably have gotten away with a more general look at the pilots as the main character of the episode, but does choose to zero in on one person especially: I’ll get to that in a sec, but I think it was the better choice, imbuing the various crises of the episode with a bit more human drama, and the final crisis especially.
But I find it very hard, on this particular viewing, to get beyond some of the gaping holes that appear at the heart of the overall premise. Let’s do it in the form of a Jonathan Frakes-esque interrogation: so Galactica produces all of the Fleet’s food? What does it produce? What happened to Baltar’s estimates about the Fleet’s dietary needs in “Water”? The fouled processors can’t be cleaned? Were they sabotaged? Why can’t the Fleet go around the star cluster, is it really much further than the jumps required to get back to the Colonies, as discussed in “Pegasus (Extended)”, as an example? Why can’t one ship make the trip forward and back, then give the necessary jump destination to the rest of the Fleet? Why do the ships of the Fleet need the Raptors to give them the next jump coordinates in the middle of the cluster? Why does Galactica need to go with them every time? Are they going to have to do this whole thing in reverse once they leave this system? Why do they have to wait until the whole Fleet is there to start harvesting? How can a livable planet like the one they are travelling to exist in such a star cluster? Why not consider it for settlement?
And so on and so forth. “The Passage” is a better episode if you are able to buy into what it is selling, and I’ll admit that the first few watchthroughs of BSG this was easier for me. But now, thinking more critically, it’s harder to swallow. This is the perils of TV sci-fi of course: you only have 42 minutes, and if you want to make something worth watching you have to make use of your set-up time as well as you can. Getting bogged down in the science is ill-advised. But, I’ll admit, there’s a shallowness in what is presented as the crisis here.
Turning back to the details of “The Passage” though, this is a Kat episode. This is the most we’ve seen of her since “Scar”, with her temporary elevation to CAG during the first four episodes of Season Three something BSG didn’t spend a great deal of time on. Here, the main point would appear to be about where she is at the start of the episode and where she is at the end. At the start she’s in a relatively good place: a senior member of Galactica’s pilots, with a good relationship with most around her, up to and including Admiral Adama. Indeed, it is this unseen relationship that is pivotal to what occurs, with Katraine exhibiting something close to a childlike respect for Adama in the mid-point conversation with Starbuck.
But then the past catches up with Kat, just as it did for Starbuck in “Act Of Contrition” and Apollo in “Black Market”. She isn’t who she said she was, and much of “The Passage” is dedicated to Kat’s mission to become worthy of being the person she has become, and not just a smuggler. She does this by demonstrating the change that has come about in her: in being that “Guardian Of The Fleet”, in saving the ship she was put as the guardian of, and doing so, knowingly, at the cost of her own life. It’s an extreme act of penance, but one that comes with a degree of catharsis. In the process, Kat leaves “Sasha” behind completely, and ends her life, on her own terms, as Louanne Katraine.
I suppose we only get snippets of what the deal is between her and “Enzo”, but we get enough to fill in the blanks I suppose: they were smugglers, they were lovers and they were both halves of what seems like a fairly toxic relationship. This is part of a certain aloofness in the episode that I didn’t like, with Enzo seemingly a very manipulative character, an antagonist force, only for Kat to have sex with him ahead of her final mission. Perhaps she knew she was going to her death and just wanted that sense of companionship before she went, though one would have thought that radiation poisoning would have robbed her of the urge. Or maybe that was not meant to be a scene taken literally. Either way, I did not think that it added much.
Was it worth killing Kat off? The episode mines some powerful drama from the idea, and gives the character a sense of closure. Moreover, it can be argued that Kat is a little superfluous to the plot, especially after “Scar”: BSG doesn’t need two Starbuck’s long-term might well have been the thinking, and I’m unaware that there was any issue with Luciana Carro as there had been with Paul Campbell ahead of Billy’s death in “Sacrifice”. Kat was apparently not intended, with her creation, to be anything other than a one-episode character for “Act Of Contrition”, so it may just have been natural for the writers to get what drama they could from the character before she got over-played and became just another bystander.
I want to give some specific attention to those final scenes, which are real heartbreakers. First we get the reconciliation with Starbuck, the two fully “good” with each other after so much back and forth over the course of the series’ run. That BSG chooses to show Starbuck’s sorrow in the form of her gifting Kat a means to end her life was an excellent choice: Thrace isn’t the kind of person for big showy displays of emotion, as we saw in “Unfinished Business”, but this act is more than enough to give us the idea that she feels genuine remorse for Kat’s death and for, perhaps, her own part in being a motivating factor.
Oh, but Adama. He’s been an unseen figure for Kat in this episode, just a distant parent that she doesn’t want to let down, but here he proves himself every bit worthy of that admiration. He essentially absolves Kat of her sins by refusing to even listen to whatever confession she was going to make, and reminding her that it is the person she was in death that will define her, and not the person that she was years ago (there was a deleted scene filmed for “Exodus (Part Two)” where Adama would infer he already knew about Kat’s past, and didn’t care). This isn’t a new turn for Adama either: as far back as “Water” he’s been telling people to stop second-guessing themselves and leave the past in the past.
Then he literally pulls up a chair to stay with Kat through these dire last moments. In the last episode Adama warned the crew that he could not let himself get too close to them, but we can forgive him this: it isn’t as if Kat is going to be around long enough to make him regret it. The final words between the two are very touching, as Adama tells Kat about how he and his wife always wanted a daughter, with an unspoken insinuation that Kat has done more than enough to be considered, like Starbuck, as a surrogate daughter of sorts to Adama. More than all of Adama’s actions in “Unfinished Business”, or other episodes of a similar theme like “You Can’t Go Home Again” or “Home (Part Two)”, these are the scenes that really make you appreciate the character, as a leader and as a father.
There’s time for a little bit else in the episode, and I want to give a bit of space to Tigh. He returns to active duty in a touching moment within the CIC, but I’ll admit I felt that the episode lacked something in how it went from there. It seemed like Tigh was being set-up for a sub-plot – perhaps he could have been involved in Kat’s double life coming to light, or something – but all he has else in the episode is an admittedly amusing scene with him and Adama. That moment runs the gambit from funny to delirious, as the two laugh like maniacs over a very bad joke, presumably under the effect of the food shortage themselves. But it’s not really enough to keep the Tigh stuff ticking over properly.
That leaves only the Cylons, where we get to see Baltar tagging along on D’Anna’s experimentations with death, or at least the wider investigation of it. I like this plotline a bit more with Baltar’s involvement, just because he will always add that nice sense of duplicity to everything: after all, his real motivation in trying to figure out the identities of the Final Five is purely self-interest. He tries to dress it up in grandiose terms, of how he would “stop being a traitor to one set of people, and be a hero to another”, but all it is at the end of the day is that Baltar wants to know if he’s a Cylon so he can advance his own game at the expense of others (and if he can do something about the self-loathing that took him over on New Caprica into the bargain than all the better). If Baltar was to be outed as a Final Five Cylon, he might be able to leverage that into a position of power among the other seven, something not obviously stated here but certainly hinted at.
It can be hard to remember, looking back, how much the discourse around BSG at the time was dominated by who the Final Five were going to turn out to be. On what is a third or fourth re-watch, it seems positively side-lined as a plot point, getting only a few minutes in the episode here, and some of those few minutes dedicated to showing how the Cylons are able to wind up in the same place as the Colonials for the following two-parter (as an aside, Baltar figures out the riddle of the Hybrid way, way too quickly). There’s still no sense that the eventual revelation of who the Final Five are is something that the show was really building towards properly, but then again you could also take the Cylon fleet stuff as more about D’Anna and her somewhat insane quest. In the next episode the two collide, as Colonial and Cylon come back into each others orbit again.
-Carro apparently found out her character was dying on the phone when a housemate who received the script and read through it noted to her that it ended with her photo being put on the memorial wall. Yikes. I’ve never understood how things like that are allowed to happen.
-I always liked this title, which is simple, direct and evocative, without being lazy.
-Nankin back for the first time since directing “Scar”. Espenson makes her single credit writing debut here, having made her name before with various Joss Whedon’s shows
-The “Previously on…” for this one is quite lengthy, as if they were worried they were picking up new viewers episode by episode.
-They don’t really go too much into why the situation is what it is here, but someone frakked-up bad at some point, contaminating food processors with spoiled material.
-A cut segment apparently explained that the Fleet has been cloning meat cells to make food, and that it is this system that has been contaminated.
-I like Helo here, trying to be an optimistic voice about Athena but also very clearly a worried husband.
-Starbuck is annoyed enough to get a little vulgar when it’s suggested Kat gave her last protein bar to Cottle: “Yeah, right after I gave him head”.
-“The Passage” sees the return of the radiation badges that were a prop of some note in Season One for Helo and Athena, and they remain a cool idea to get across visually the unseen peril the pilots are in.
-The count is down two from “Unfinished Business”, which are unseen deaths (I assume no one was killed in the ring!)
-A very sudden, and frankly jarring, cut from the main titles occurs here to the Cylon fleet, and “Battlestar Sonatica”. It’s a consequence of the need for gaps to facilitate TV ads I suppose.
-I love Baltar’s analogy of the Cylons being “like fleas on a cat” when it comes to the “living” basestar.
-I like the physical effects for the Raptor wrecked by radiation exposure, literally cooked.
-We’ve seen it before from Apollo, but there’s a great example here of his lack of care for Cylons, even if they are on the Colonials’ side: “She’s a Cylon. She can handle a radiation dose that big.”
-Another recurring trait is Apollo as Mr Negative, who exists in planning scenes almost exclusively to shoot down ideas and make complaints. Just as the last time we saw this, in “Precipice”, it’s his father who comes up with solutions.
-I liked Kat demonstrating an expertise on stims, it was an effective way to call back to her problem with them in “Flight Of The Phoenix” without it being too much of a hammer blow.
-Dee is given the not very fun task of telling the civilians boarding Galactica that there is no food on the ship, and if they were told there was any it was a lie. What a job to get shafted with.
-We meet Enzo here, played by G. Patrick Currie. You might know him as the recurring antagonist “Fifth” of Stargate SG-1, where he once appeared in an episode with Tahmoh Penikett.
-Enzo does put the theme of the episode a bit bluntly when he asks Kat “Do they know who you really are?”
-Bit of an odd line from Baltar I always thought, as he comments on the “dried goo in your hair” with D’Anna. Really? We can’t come up with a better word than “goo”?
-I loved that the episode gave us the time to see Tigh awkwardly prepping his uniform before he stepped into CIC.
-The applause Tigh gets is heartwarming, though it isn’t as gung-ho as that which Adama got in “The Farm”. We might also note that Gaeta doesn’t clap, perhaps remembering the events of “Collaborators”.
-The neon jump key makes a re-appearance here, for the first time since the Miniseries I think? A lot of re-used props in this episode. I’m not complaining, I think it’s cool.
-Apollo blurts out “I can’t see anything!” as soon as he jumps, like he’s genuinely surprised. He literally told the pilots this was going to be a problem.
-Good job from Bodie Olmos in getting across the sense of panicked despair in Hot Dog as he’s forced to leave his ship behind. He’s the one who will have to live with it.
-The Adriatic is certainly a bit of a loss, as it is one of the few civilian ships of the Fleet that had offensive capabilities, as outlined in “Home (Part One)”.
-The music here is an under-stated but decent tune called “Kat’s Sacrifice” that has a horn section that doesn’t usually get as much play as percussion in McCreary’s orchestra.
-Love this brief montage of wrecked pilots emerging from their Raptors, flopping down, throwing up, getting angry and generally looking like they have reached the breaking point.
-Tigh mentions here that there are “100 Marines too weak to work, 200 more about to drop”. This would indicate between Galactica and the transferred Pegasus contingent there are over 300 Marines, which seems a lot for a ship like Galactica. For comparisons sake, the most a US Navy Aircraft Carrier would have at any given time would be less than 100.
-“I hear they’re still eating paper. Is that true?” “No. Paper shortage.” It gets me every time man.
-D’Anna’s sketch of her vision of the Final Five doesn’t really give us many clues, which is the point I suppose. The images are pretty ghostly, and pretty creepy too. Reminded me of the Banshee from Darby O’Gill & The Little People.
-I do find Starbuck’s theory that Kat and her smuggler ilk might have been responsible for the Cylon infiltration of society a bit much. I don’t think they needed that much help.
-Starbuck and Kat get a little too face to face here really, with Thrace so close to Kat it felt positively off-putting.
-The Hybrid has a line here that you’d have to strain to hear but is a bit of fourth-wall breaking: “Throughout history the nexus between man and machine has spun some of the most dramatic compelling and entertaining fiction.”
-A bit of a hard-to-reconcile bit of universe padding here, where Baltar refers to the husband of Hera as “Jupiter”. BSG has repeatedly used the name “Zeus” for the King of the Gods, and this is the first instance of the Roman version. It’s probably so they can use the term “the Eye of Jupiter” and have it mean something more to the audience.
-Classic sign of radiation poisoning, maybe so much that it can be considered a trope, as Kat starts losing hair.
-The brief montage sequence here is a little strangely presented, and I’m still not convinced the depiction of Kat hooking up with Enzo is really needed for the episode.
-Love Edward James Olmos’ quiet “Damn” as he realises that Kat hasn’t made the jump with them.
-“Galactica, Kat…Mission accomplished”. And there was much rejoicing.
-I love Kat literally throwing her hands up in triumph as she exits the Raptor, one last exhortation of victory, before she falls over in a heap.
-Starbuck’s last gift to Kat is oh so appropriate really, and I really like Sackoff’s performance when she gives it, stuttering, unsure of what to say. But there isn’t anything to say really.
-Adama’s last gift is a really potent one, with Kat granted the title of CAG despite not being able to live to enjoy it. I really like that Adama was moved to do that, what Kat has done deserves the kind of reward no-one can give, but this is something.
-Adama’s last lesson to Kat is that it is one’s actions that truly signify whether they are a good person or not. In her time with Galactica, and especially as CAG, Kat did well on that score. It’s a shame we don’t get to see much of her in that role, as it seems to have made an impression on Adama.
-I also love that, after Starbuck ran from the reality of Kat’s imminent death, Adama pulls up a chair and stays. Now that’s a father figure.
-And it’s good that Adama’s opinion of Kat as a daughter is inferred, rather than bluntly stated, as he discusses how he always wanted a daughter: “Yeah, three’s a good round number”.
-Good callback at the end as Starbuck puts Kat’s picture up on the Wall of Remembrance next to “Riley’s girlfriend”, a significant plot point from the episode “Scar”.
Overall Verdict: I enjoyed this episode for the most part. There’s some glaring holes in the nature of its premise, but once you get beyond that you have a fairly powerful character journey for Kat, that culminates in some of the show’s hardest hitting scenes. The sub-plots offer little really and could have been excised entirely, but Kat, and the performance of Carro, is enough to get “The Passage” by.
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