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

To know the face of God is to know madness.

Air Date: 21/01/2007

Director: Michael Rymer

Writer: Bradley Thompson & David Weddle

Synopsis: As Apollo and Anders try to hold off the Centurions long enough for Tyrol to find the Eye of Jupiter, Dee is ordered to attempt an unlikely rescue mission. Athena goes to extreme lengths to be re-united with her daughter. D’Anna and Baltar move to discover the identity of the Final Five.

Review

“Rapture” is a disappointment. After all of the good work done in setting-up and executing the story beats of this arc in “The Eye Of Jupiter”, which I really do think is an excellent episode, the effort is largely wasted in the pay-off. “Rapture” is frustratingly insubstantial in a lot of ways, an episode where BSG, I would argue for the first time in its run, falls back on spectacle to try and cover gaps in its story-telling. The only problem, aside from the inherent difficulty in using gunfights over drama, is that the spectacle isn’t actually all that good.

To talk on it in a very general manner, the episode has some serious structural issues. The first half has far too much in the way of re-capping of events, with the very real feeling that the narrative has frozen for a period once the cliffhangers are resolved. We’re left waiting around as the Colonials on the surface prepare for an attack, Tyrol looks for the Eye (this stuff especially seems very superfluous), Biers and Baltar look for the Eye and Adama and Roslin twiddle their thumbs. This is then made worse by the poor pay-offs for that waiting, as the action scenes of the episode suffer from bad CGI and less-than-stellar framing. The race-against-time at the conclusion suffers from both of these things, and is the last piece of an ugly puzzle. “Rapture” is the third second part episode of the season, and it’s undoubtedly the worst.

Let’s start with the general “in orbit” side of things. The stuff on Galactica is nothing much really, especially when we move from Athena on the ship to Athena on the basestar. Adama and Roslin are left doing essentially nothing in a few scenes, the confrontations with D’Anna and the narrative beats involving Hera left in the dust. I suppose this could be considered a natural consequence of the set-up, but I still found it too insubstantial: once he puts his nukes away Olmos is reduced down to reacting to other plot-lines happening far away, in a story where he really should be at the centre of things in a more substantial manner. I suppose what I mean is that the Admiral and the President, after having some of the best scenes of “The Eye Of Jupiter”, are too passive in “Rapture”, which isn’t OK given the gaps that appear all over the rest of the episode.

Probably the best part of the episode are those sections that involve Athena. Her plan to rescue Hera has a sort of demented genius to it, a clever way of turning the Cylon process of resurrection into an espionage/infiltration tool, and we get a really great scene featuring her and Helo where her husband is the man who has to be the executioner. This is BSG at its best in terms of marrying sci-fi concepts like the ability to download a consciousness into a new body with a very human drama in terms of a man being asked by his wife to shoot her dead, in order to save their child. Then we get an even better scene between Adama, Roslin and Helo, where we get to see a rare glimpse of a truly angry Helo: unlike Adama, he isn’t going to just give the President the silent treatment, and the moment where Adama, as gently as possible, restrains him from any physical action is probably the episodes best.

“Rapture” might have been better served leaning into the idea presented when Athena resurrects, that the revelation of Hera’s existence has caused her to turn on humanity, but we don’t really get too much of that really, and in a way this makes the Cylons on the basestar look a tad foolish. But that’s alright. Athena’s rescue of Hera is perhaps a little easy, but BSG gets past that with the inclusion of Caprica Six in said rescue attempt, and her subsequent arrival on Galactica.

But lets focus instead on a different part of this sub-plot, which is part two of the Boomer/Athena interaction. The truth is we haven’t really gotten to see all that much of Boomer since “Downloaded”, but there’s a lot of fertile ground that could be used there: here is a woman who can’t possibly be in her right mind, pulled between two different poles in terms of humanity and the Cylons, who saw her effort to craft a middle ground on New Caprica destroyed, and who is now seemingly fated to look after the offspring of what she has to view as a defective model of her own kind. The potential for mental problems in such a scenario is huge, and we get a bit of that here when Boomer, pushed to the edge, threatens to kill Hera. And all in the presence of Caprica Six, the woman who sent her down that path. These sections of the plot made me want to see a lot more of that character going forward. We’ll have to see.

Down on the algae planet, things are much less interesting. The delicious soap opera romance square of “The Eye Of Jupiter” is abandoned save for the interactions between Dee and Starbuck, with Lee put in the extremely awkward position of getting his wife to rescue the woman he’s cheating on her with, to appease the husband of the woman he is cheating with (if you follow). That stuff is great, with Dee’s anger at Starbuck mixing wonderfully with her duty to try and save the pilot. But everything else on the planet is at the heart of why I don’t rate “Rapture” that high. It’s here that the episode tries to set-off a big action finale for the two-parter in a series of gunfights with the Centurions, but they don’t work at all well, a consequence of really piss-poor CGI and not especially great action cinematography. That’s ahead of the actual finale, featuring a supernova that creates a storm, and that’s just silly really, as silly as Tyrol’s few scenes on the planet, that amount to him shouting in a Temple. I think back to a similar set-up in “Fragged” that was carried off really well, and wonder what has happened in the meantime.

The interactions between Sam and Apollo are pretty much non-existent after the first three minutes of the episode, and any confrontation between the two, or larger discussion on Sam’s status as a leader as compared to Apollo, is left to the side. “The Eye Of Jupiter” did such a good job of setting up these simmering tensions and giving us scenarios where those tensions came to a head, but then the conclusion just can’t find anything really satisfying to do with them. Instead, the episode ends with us back on a default position: with the two married couples back in each others arms, and looking at each other regretfully. It’s been a while since I dived into the second half of Season Three, but my expectations for a final resolution to all this stuff coming that will be any good are low.

Over to the Cylons then. The story here is just the most obvious case of what is a long-running plotline I suppose, ever since “Downloaded”: individuality as a threat to the Cylon collective. Once upon a time D’Anna was the champion of what was essentially a Cylon hive mind, now her model is the one embracing sole action. There’s a bit of a Messiah complex developing here, with Biers’ destiny seemingly over-riding any obligations she has to the other six models when it comes to decision making. This sort of narrative was pretty inevitable with the Cylons really, so it comes as no surprise that a fracture is forming.

The first blow in what will become an all-out Civil War is struck by Cavil here, and of course it is Cavil. He might profess a desire to maintain Cylon unity, but there’s only room for one “first among equals” in this machine race, and that’s him. Parts of his characterisation in this episode trouble me (see below) but not the closing scene, where he quietly removes D’Anna from the picture, brilliantly done. He skewers Biers’ “messianic conviction”, the kind of thing that a practically agnostic Cavil has absolutely no time for, and removes a threat to his position with a calculating ease. Biers, for her part, doesn’t seem to care all that much. It’s like a twisted mirror image of the secular Adama with the prophetic Roslin on Galactica I suppose, only here it’s more of a zero sum game.

Baltar’s involvement is the wild card of the whole thing. It seems to be a deliberate obtuse choice to showcase his motivations as blurry here: it’s genuinely hard to know if he’s a true believer in D’Anna’s visions of a destiny for the two of them whether he’s just in it to find out if he is a Cylon to satisfy his own curiosity, or if he has designs on becoming some sort of leader to the Cylons. This is all par for the course with Baltar of course, he’s always been a slimy individual who delights in making people second guess him, but I’ll admit in “Rapture” it got a little tiresome. The moment when he seems to indicate to Head Six that he is manipulating D’Anna was cool, but then things changed. If nothing else is consistent about Baltar it’s his own sense of self-preservation: it’s why he goes along with Head Six so many times in episodes like “Six Degrees Of Separation” or “Fragged”, it’s why he surrenders to the Cylons in “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part Two)” it’s why he suddenly shakes off his death wish in “Exodus (Part Two)”. But here that sense seems to be written out of him, as he professes a simple desire to find out if he is a Cylon “before I die”. I think Baltar is the kind of person who would never go down to the algae planet if he really thought he might not make it back, so his depiction in “Rapture” doesn’t work for me.

The last thing to talk about, in plot terms anyway, is “the cycle”, by which I mean the larger plot of the show. It’s no secret that at this point the writing team was starting to struggle with the longer-term narrative, having planned things out only to a certain stage. Events to come in Season Three are going to show that more vividly, but I do feel like we have seen the cracks appearing in episodes after New Caprica, and “Rapture” represents a moment when those cracks became very noticeable. After the tomb in “Home (Part Two)” sent the Colonials in one direction we’ve come to a seemingly random waypoint in terms of the algae planet, and have now been sent scurrying off towards another stellar waypoint. The sense of sameyness is starting to become apparent, as we wonder what is going to happen at the “Ionian Nebula”: will there be another tomb, another arrow in a different direction? And how many times are we going to have to do this?

The writers attempt to get past this with a new emphasis on Starbuck and her role in the cycle, portrayed here through the link between her paintings on Caprica, as seen in “Valley Of Darkness”, and the mandala in the Temple of Five. Even that’s iffy looking back, as it was a pattern that Sackhoff herself added to the set without direction, that the writers later decided to incorporate. Given the end point, which is Exhibit A in the accusations of BSG losing the run of itself with plot choices, I looked on this with an undeniable sense of dread, as the talk of “destiny” starts us down a path where narrative forks were created and followed less because it suited a grader arc, and more because of shock value and short-term gains. Starbuck is a character we can’t really be on the best of terms with right now, yet BSG see’s fit to slide back into the idea of her being some kind of chosen one all on her own. Perhaps I’ll think better of the subsequent journey his time, but perhaps not.

This is supposed to be happening. That’s it. I was staring at it the whole time.

Notes

-The title refers to the Christian belief in a moment in the end-times when the true believers will ascend to heaven. Not sure how it fits, but I suppose with D’Anna in the end?

-A bit of a clumsy ADR line for Roslin here, to remind us of the stakes at the start: “Are we prepared to sacrifice Lee?”

-Battlestar’s seemingly operate on a “two-man-rule” system for nuclear arms, with the XO’s assent required along with the CO. This is similar to real-life US practice, though for land-based ICBM’s four keys are needed, and three in submarines.

-I never liked that Cavil seemingly changed his mind here, declaring the Eye too valuable to risk in a game of chicken with Adama. After all, if the Eye is destroyed the Cylons can then take out Galactica, and go about looking for Earth the long way, as he previously suggested.

-Lee’s solution to the problem on the ground is delightfully twisted, and one I did not expect: to send the wife he’s cheating on to rescue the wife of the man she’s cheating on. I’m going to need a board and some strings.

-I love Cavil’s horror at what Biers has done: “We made a decision”. It’s an instant moment of putting “We” against “I”.

-The D’Anna heading to the planet is the one we’ve been following with Baltar, but is she functionally the same as the D’Anna in the basestar? That does undercut the “individuality as threat” theme a little bit.

-Oh, the frustration and the exhaustion in Dee’s voice when she agrees to Lee’s order to “attempt rescue” of Captain Thrace: “Yes sir”.

-I love Stockwell’s understated reaction to what has just occurred: “That is not a good sign my friends”.

-Athena’s solution to the problem is an elegant mix of very smart and very brutal, and I love the pep talk she has to give to Helo ahead of her execution.

-The moment of her death is well handled too, with a flash of a muzzle and a horrific blood splash on the wall behind. Agathon’s wail of despair afterwards is the last piece of the puzzle.

-The count is down one from “The Eye Of Jupiter” which apparently reflects an unseen death.

-The teaser montage is one of the worst for spoiling too much of the episode, right down to Galactica fleeing the supernova.

-Adama’s logic of Athena’s presence among the Cylons being a threat to the Fleet is put nicely against Helo’s emotional response. I think Olmos’ ability to go from emotional to logical with the character is an under-rated part of his performance.

-I love that moment when Adama puts a restraining hand, albeit a gentle one, on Helo as he squares up the President. He knows just how Helo is feeling, and wants to defuse things, not escalate them.

-It’s a bit rich for Roslin to proclaim that “There’s plenty of blame to through around”. This all started with her.

-Also important to note in this scene is that Adama is seemingly unable to look at Roslin in the eyes. We’ve seen this before: if he respects you, he will look you in the eyes.

-Dee’s wingman gets killed, and one of the few camera bits I liked in this episode is her panicked look around at the heights, with no shooter visible.

-Lawless and Callis are very obviously not in an outdoor location for this section of the episode, which looks really shoddy.

-The first example of Baltar talking to two people at once in a while here, as he responds “Yes, I know” to D’Anna’s profession of gratitude when he’s really responding to Head Six’s reminder that he is the chosen one, not her. Always cool to see.

-I do like that Anders shuts down criticism of Apollo from his people. He’s smart enough to know that such dissension is not useful at this particular moment.

-The Centurion CGI was on an upward trend for a while, but it’s back to Season One levels here. The models don’t meld into the live-action environment well at all.

-The ground combat scenes were cut and edited a lot apparently, with post-production crews unhappy with what was shot. The end result is not good.

-Sackhoff does good work to show Starbuck in pain, trying desperately not to cry out: a point of pride, but also presumably so she doesn’t tip off any nearby Cylons.

-“My husband ordered me to risk my life for yours”. I’ve said it before, but I love the way McClure deals with these lines. Just snippy enough without being overwrought.

-A little silly, the idea of Hera knowing that Athena is her mother. This seems to tip Boomer over the edge too.

-The Cylons insisted that “We tried everything” when it comes to an ill Hera, but are surprised when Athena points out what appears to be an obvious intestinal issue. OK then.

-Pretty clever of Athena to go down the religious route with Caprica as she tries to get Hera off the ship: “God will never forgive you”.

-The irony of Caprica Six killing Boomer as she threatens to break Hera’s neck, after doing the same to a child in the Miniseries, is not lost on me.

-The combat with the Centurions is rife with some shaky cam framing, which really comes off as a cheap way of getting past the other problems in these sequences.

-“He won’t cheat” says Starbuck to Dee. So, is her definition of cheating one that involves Lee divorcing Dee, and not him actively engaged in a emotional and sexual affair while remaining married? That is a stupid definition.

-Starbuck gets a little out of it with the painkillers, and sums up her current plotlines succinctly: “I love Sam, I hate Sam. I love Lee, I hate Lee. Gods, I have to cheat just to keep the pieces all nice and neat.”

-How did Biers, Baltar and this Cavil get past the Colonial lines to get inside the Temple? Or were the Colonials only defending one line of advance?

-Tyrol hesitates at the critical moment, which appears to be the best that “Rapture” can come up with in terms of concluding his arc. It isn’t good enough, and there’s no follow-up.

-So, the star goes supernova and this makes a storm break out on the algae planet? What?

-Baltar kills again here, and I was surprised not as much was made of the moment, given how pregnant his two previous instances were, with Crashdown in “Fragged” and the Six model in “Torn”.

-We’re back in the Opera House for D’Anna’s revelation, with the show unwilling to let go of the shooting location.

-I think the music here is just a section of “The Temple of Five” that was used in “The Eye Of Jupiter”. “Rapture” is the first in a lot of episodes in the back half of Season Three that feature little to no original music.

-It’s all a bit Raiders Of The Lost Ark as the Temple of Five “activates” with a beam of light. Are we to think that some supernatural power has placed D’Anna into this vision? Or is it some kind of computer projection, ala Cylon technology?

-Lawless does a great job portraying shock and surprise at who the Final Five are. It would make you wonder just what would shock her this much.

-Though, I’m reasonably sure those aren’t the actors playing the actual Final Five in those robes.

-Considering the eventual reveal of the Final Five, is Biers supposed to know who they are at this point? I suppose you could make an argument for four of them, but what about Foster?

-“You were right…” says Biers to Baltar before she dies. But about what?

-Tyrol enjoys being the one to point a gun at Baltar anyway: “Welcome home Mr President”.

-So, what exactly are those meteors meant to be? Has the supernova somehow thrown them into the algae planets’ atmosphere?

-Why can’t the Raptors jump to the Fleet’s coordinates themselves? Wouldn’t it be easier to relay the coordinates to them on the ground so they don’t have to race back to Galactica?

-Some differing hugs back on the flight deck. Apollo seems heartfelt when he embraces Dee, but her not so much.

-We’ve seen plenty of Six on Galactica of course, between Shelly Godfrey and Head Six, but it’s something else to see Caprica there.

-I do love Baltar in the body bag. Apparently some studio heads didn’t like that image, but I think it’s rather clever.

-I do like that Helo connects the dots when it comes to the image in the Temple. Plenty of fans had figured it out beforehand though.

-The mandala is a pretty simple pattern really, but unique enough that it can be easily compared top what Starbuck painted in her apartment (and to the planetary Eye of Jupiter of course).

-Oh, all this talk about “destiny”. Biers has a destiny, Baltar has a destiny, Hera has a destiny, Starbuck has a destiny. The word is losing all meaning.

-Cavil really does appear as an angel of death here, dressed in black against Biers’ over-exposed angelic-ness.

-I love Cavil’s dismissal of Biers’ “messianic conviction”. He’s a machine, and that’s all there is to it.

-D’Anna’s words here indicate that the Cylons don’t know who programmed them or why, which is interesting. And doesn’t make a huge amount of sense, given what comes later.

-“Boxing” is something that was noted as a possibility for Cylons in “Downloaded” but here we see it actually happen, and it is a literal bit of storage, albeit with a Cylon twist.

-Is this facility we see at the end of the episode on a basestar, or some other Cylon storage place?

Overall Verdict: As stated, “Rapture” is a serious disappointment, after what I would deem a big high point in the previous episode. It’s hard not to see the problems that would engulf the show for the rest of its run as starting here, but it’s undeniable for me: “Rapture” is the worst episode of the show since “Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down”, but the sin is greater since “Rapture” is so plot-pivotal. The plots set-up in the first part are not concluded satisfactorily, the action beats are poor and too much or the episode feels like people standing around waiting for something to happen. The Athena stuff redeems it to a partial extent, but too much of things otherwise are surprisingly sub-par, by the standards of this show. It’s a bad omen, as we move into territory that has a decidedly iffy reputation.

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8 Responses to NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Three: “Rapture”

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