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

I owe my life to Gaius Baltar and the decision he made that day. And so does Laura Roslin.

Air Date: 18/03/2007

Director: Michael Rymer

Writer: Michael Taylor

Synopsis: Baltar’s trial begins, with numerous revelations swaying the possible outcome. Apollo and Adama come to a definitive divide. Several people begin experiencing strange music no one else can hear.

Review

The title here is fairly apropos isn’t it? We stand at a crossroads in so many ways here. For the Fleet that we have followed for so long, the next step on the road to Earth is just a few short FTL jumps away, while the Cylons that were last seen in “Rapture” are just behind them again. Numerous characters stand on the brink of a massive or fundamental change, with choices to be made that will be defining: Apollo on whether he will continue his military role or merge into civilian life, even as he picks sides in the trial; Baltar between his very real self and the Messiah he is being proclaimed as; Tigh, getting sucked into the vortex of alcohol and self-hatred once again; Adama, over the ways in which his relationship to his son may be reaching an important roadstop; and Roslin, now once again contemplating the role of a dying leader. Helo may lay it on a bit too thick at the episodes conclusion, but he’s not wrong when he sees the hint of major change in the offing.

But it is also a crossroads in a more meta way, because the show generally is at a tipping point of quality. The third season has been, to speak somewhat harshly, hit-and-miss, with a number of lacklustre efforts. The events of “Maelstrom” hint at a deeper problem within the writers room, and does not indicate that the fourth and final season will be able to offer satisfying conclusions to the myriad of dangling plot threads. A season finale is always going to be tied to the idea of where a show is going: “Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Part Two)” and “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part Two)” were spectacular examples of such things, but the opening of this story brings to mind the memory that Season Four is going to struggle. Does the rot start here?

It’s all about the trial of course, filmed in long-takes and showing the kind of polish that comes when such things are done properly. It’s framed from the off as a battle between emotion and pragmatism, where the prosecution is wielding motivations of grief and revenge against a more cynical defence based on Baltar’s lack of options. Our prosecuting attorney, Cassidy, seems a little out of her depth, chosen more due to the lack of other options (something she hints at early) than anything else, and her recourse to a very gaudy manner of attacking Baltar reflects this. Her opening pitch to the jury is based entirely around the number of people who died on New Caprica, and not really on proving that it was Baltar who is responsible.

Lampkin, in response, bites back with a bit of his own sense of the dramatic – flat-out shouting at Roslin, and claiming that Baltar saved the human race in his actions – but also with some cold, hard logic: in a choice between surrender or death, Baltar merely picked the option that insured humanity’s continued survival. From the off Lampkin is shown up as the superior courtroom operator: Cassidy can tug at the heartstrings, but that’s all she’s got in this episode, with Lampkin’s better sense of the dramatic combined ably with his ability to both tear down witnesses and utilise the X-factor that is Lee Adama.

From a viewing perspective, the trial is interesting for a number of reasons, not least that we are drawn to the compelling character of Lampkin even as we may be disgusted by what he is trying to accomplish. But for me it was primarily in seeing how Baltar’s defence can handle the reality that their client is innocent of the charges, and we know this, but they have to convince everyone else. And I mean that: Baltar appears to have been charged with responsibility for the deaths of everyone on New Caprica, and it’s plainly ridiculous to consider him guilty of that when you are in full possession of the facts as a viewer is. He was elected to his position, despite his opponent trying to steal the vote, he surrendered to an overwhelming military force, he signed death warrants with a literal gun to his head in “Exodus (Part One)” and was clearly just a puppet figurehead of a Cylon-run occupation. Baltar’s real crime seems to be that he wasn’t willing to put idealistic thoughts of resistance upfront by allowing himself to be killed when the Cylons arrived.

Of course we have to also match this with the reality that Baltar had an (unknowing) hand in humanity’s destruction on the Colonies, but that isn’t what he has been charged with here. He’s innocent, and the drama of this finale is seeing how the defence can convince everyone else that this trainwreck of a human being isn’t guilty of this particular set of charges. In the end Lampkin’s strategy seems to be to work others into a fever pitch and then let Lee Adama deliver the coup de grace: the biggest one of all is yet to come.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, let’s zero back in on one aspect of the trial. For the first time in a while we have a focus on Tigh, and it’s an ugly epilogue for the events that occurred in “Exodus (Part One)” and which had him in the vortex in “Collaborators”, “Torn” and “Hero”. He allows himself to be manipulated into what we can only call an alcohol-fuelled depressive episode by the taunting words of Caprica Six (though, a reasonable question can be asked as to why she is doing so), after she successfully manages to get him to first lose his cool and attack her, and then allow her to hit him back with no reaction. Her manipulation, guided by the seemingly all-seeing hand of Head Baltar, is enough that it leaves Tigh feeling confused, humiliated and then hopelessly reliant on alcohol. Oh, and there’s the pesky issue of the strange music he is hearing.

I’ve said it before, as far back as my thoughts on episodes like “Fragged” and “Resistance”, but Tigh is a fundamentally weak man, whose best qualities are evident only in certain kinds of crisis. This isn’t one of them and the final outcome is absolutely awful for him: an embarrassing appearance at the trial, where he is self-evidently drunk, and admits that he would basically say anything to get a guilty verdict for Baltar. He makes himself look bad, makes Adama look bad, and calls the entire trial into disrepute. It’s a seriously low moment, and this from a guy who seemed to be back on the right track in “The Eye Of Jupiter”.

Tigh’s ridiculous state in the witness box gives Lampkin another chance to prove his quality, and he does it by destroying him. In line with what we said about Lampkin in “The Son Also Rises”, we see here the power of his perception: he knows straight away that Ellen is the key to discrediting Tigh, and only needs a little push from Apollo to realise Tigh was probably involved in her death. From there he just needs to bait Tigh along, springing the “Have you been drinking today Colonel?” line in an ad hoc manner to really throw him off guard, then land the killer blow by demanding to know how Ellen really died.

That leaves the case against Baltar, in “Crossroads (Part One)” anyway, hinging on Roslin, but she gets destroyed in a different way. This time it’s Apollo pulling the trigger, though it is Lampkin giving him the leeway to do so. It’s much the same as Tigh really, and a sign that Apollo is learning from Lampkin: he sets her up, gives the President just enough rope with which to hang herself, then forces her to admit that she’s on drugs and, oh yes, dying.

The first two witnesses that the prosecution put forth to prove their case are, in the first instance, drunk and harbouring a grudge based on their own actions, and in the second instance currently taking a drug that provokes hallucinations, and also carries a grudge that pre-dates New Caprica. In other words, on the basis solely of “Crossroads (Part One)”, the prosecution has no case, just an emotional pitch to lay all the sins of New Caprica on one man. As a courtroom drama – and hey, there’s another new sub-genre for BSG to dabble in – I think it works really well, as this unorthodox underdog strikes blow after blow.

Which brings us on nicely to Apollo himself. At the start of the episode he is a man with a foot in two camps, in the military and in this legal quagmire. His drama in the episode, for me anyway, was in determining just what power primarily is motivating him to do what he does, which is nothing less than to throw away his military career and relationship with his father, as well as land a not insignificant blow to the state in the process.

Is it idealism? That is certainly want Lampkin seems to think, as he convinces Apollo to share what he knows about Roslin on the grounds that, no matter how much of a scumbag Baltar is, he deserves legal representation that will not shirk from using awkward facts in his defence. Lee certainly puts up an impressive façade on this point if nothing else, making the argument to Dee that he is bound by his own ethics even as she walks away from him.

Is it revenge? After all, the moment when Adama unloads on his son is so brutal, so full of invective, that it hard to imagine Lee being any kind of a realistic character if he didn’t proceed at least partly on the basis of sticking it to the old man. The Admiral goes way, way too far in dressing down his son for the supposed crime of facilitating Tigh’s humiliation on the stand, calling into disrepute his honesty, bravery and integrity, then doubles down on it when Apollo hands over his military emblems. The insult is so raw, so potent, that the decision by Apollo to go after Roslin in the way that he does has to have a measure of payback to it.

But there is another factor, and I really think it might just be a sense of tiredness for Apollo. The moment when Roslin pleads with him not to do what he is about to do, followed by a condescending retort that she feels sorry for him – for the apparent act of asking reasonable questions in a court of law Roslin has made every effort to be slated – is the last straw for Apollo. You can see it on his face. This is a man who is tired: of taking orders, of being treated as a tool, of having his faith in the system challenged ever and anon, of having to do the hard work in establishing some form of relationship with his father and seeing it come to nothing, of the whole thing with Starbuck, of maybe even being manipulated by Lampkin. In that moment Apollo really does act for himself I feel, in pursuing what he understands as justice, even if in doing so he’s burying Roslin and her administration. He just can’t take being the person he was before anymore, when all it got him was being called “a liar and a coward” by his father and a broken marriage. There’s no going back either, as Dee’s departure makes clear if nothing else. And this movement will have one large crescendo, as we will see.

Lastly of course there is the issue of those strange snippets of music that are appearing in the ears of certain characters, coming out of radios and the walls that only they can hear (and even more noticeable in an episode with a sparsity of score elsewhere). Looking back it’s all too obvious what the Music (capital M very deliberate there) foreshadows really, as by this point in the show’s narrative there remains that one key mystery to be revealed, and there are only so many reasons a group of characters should be having a shared hallucination like this. In the moment all you can do is draw the connections, and the thing that comes to mind most obviously is simple disintegration: the three characters who are sharing the notes are in various stages of current or recent emotional collapse, whether is is Tigh over the memories of Ellen and his behaviour at the trial, Sam because of his recent bereavement or Tory for reasons that aren’t made very clear. As I recall this connecting thread will end being more coincidence than anything, but it interesting looking back. The Music and what it portends is only a small part of the episode, but being the final point gives us an understated but tantalising cliff-hanger ahead of the season finale.

And there is just a certain sense of dread building. The Music is the big part of that, but there’s people treating Baltar like a God, father-and-son at each others throats, the President dying and a major roadmark about to be reached imminently: it’s all building up and up. This episode delivers us to the titular choice: now which way is everyone going to go?

She was his world. Of course he only realised that when she was gone.

Notes

-This is as plain an episode title as you can get, and is one of the last of the straightforward ones: Season Four will err towards quotations.

-This is the first episode that has no opening sequence, and no main titles, and thus no updated survivor count. Presumably it would be down two.

-You can see Christ allegories in the way Hera is chased in this vision by her mother, a prophet and an angelic representation, who might all want different things for her.

-We are reminded again here, maybe a bit too obviously, that it has been a while – months I suppose – since the Fleet had contact with the Cylons. It’s all a bit too easy.

-Our first hints of what the community of BSG fans simply dubbed “the Music” comes out of a radio Tigh is listening to, and at first it would be easy to dismiss it as his drunken delusions. But then Sam hears it too…

-Speaking of, while it is not commented on at all, Sam has apparently signed up as a pilot.

-It comes a little out of left-field, and you have to be immediately struck by how dishevelled Tory Foster looks in her first scene. It’s odd for her.

-Another aspect of the farce that is this trial is that Tory is seemingly trying to get the crime that Baltar has been charged with upgraded to full-on holocaust collaborator the day before the trial starts. This is kangaroo level.

-The woman who shows up in Baltar’s cell is played by Keegan Connor Tracey, whom I remember fondly for the under-watched and underrated Jake 2.0. She’s been all over the TV sci-fi world, from Stargate to The Twilight Zone.

-Baltar’s not in the mood for religion: “I’m not God, the God, or God of any derivation thereof”. But you can tell the ego is a little massaged by the encounter.

-The count given by Cassidy here in terms of those that settled on New Caprica in “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part Two) compared to those that escaped in “Exodus (Part Two)” broadly matches previous estimates, though with a contradiction in terms of how it reflects military numbers.

-The trial is being recorded and broadcast on the wireless for the whole Fleet to hear. One might question the wisdom of that, given how high tensions are running.

-Quite the opening line from Lampkin, but one that really does grab the attention: “We’d like to change our plea to guilty”.

-Lampkin knows just when to raise the volume himself, doing so to emphasise the right points. Like his “Laura Roslin would have seen us all dead, victims of a battle we had no hope in winning”.

-A recurrence here of a visual motif we’ve seen so much it’s practically a joke: a Cylon missile just misses its target by inches when it jumps away.

-Roslin loses her temper at being questioned about the proposal to interrogate Caprica Six: “Just do it!”. Something is slipping there.

-The focus on the thermos Roslin drinks from in this scene maybe gives the game away a bit too early, but I suppose is a decent enough bit of foreshadowing.

-Head Baltar has very little respect for Tigh: “Don’t be intimidated by him”. And why should she be?

-Tigh loves getting into minor scrapes with people doesn’t he? Starbuck (the Miniseries), Apollo (“Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Part Two)”), Palladino (“Final Cut”), Conor (“Collaborators”), Bulldog (“Hero”), Helo (“The Woman King”), now Caprica Six, it builds and builds.

-Baltar realises that Tigh is wasted: “My gods, he’s drunk”. Lampkin is notably reserved in response, maybe feeling just an ounce of pity for Tigh’s sad state: “…Yes”.

-Tigh maintains a pride in ordering the suicide bombing in “Occupation”, and it’s notable that nobody seems to think his actions in that regard worthy of any inquiry or censure.

-Oh, the panicked and humiliated look on Tigh’s face as he splutters “I had a drink, I haven’t been drinking”. He was functioning in Season One, but no more.

-Tigh sticks the dagger in his own testimony by flat out admitting he would say anything to see Baltar killed: that he is essentially admitting a willingness to perjure himself also goes unremarked upon it seems.

-It’s just one small moment, but the way that Seelix is cosying up to Sam speaks for itself.

-Roslin’s testimony is fairly damning upon her initial questioning, with the seeming slam dunk of Baltar’s signature on a death list of Cylon victims. It’s curious that Lampkin seems to have no prepared response.

-A classic exchange between Apollo and Lampkin on whether Lee has something on Roslin: “It’s probably not even true”. “I like it already”.

-Apollo describes Baltar as “low-life pond scum”, but even he deserves a fair trial. This exchange reminds me that, bar a scene shared in “Black Market”, I don’t think Apollo and Baltar have much in the way of interactions.

-Tigh isn’t just drunk, he is falling down drunk. This really is a new rock bottom for him.

-If the exchanges in regards the jumps the Fleet are making on their way to the Ionian Nebula are to be believed, the Fleet is averaging three jumps a day, which isn’t too shabby really.

-Apollo’s plan to lure the Cylons down the wrong path isn’t half bad. It seems obvious to say, but Lee’s a smarter guy than he might appear.

-Adama has the chance to climb down when challenged by Lee’s “Are you calling me a liar?” but just leans in with one of the most devastating lines in the shows run: “I’m calling you a liar and a coward”.

-It comes to integrity for the two Adama’s, with Apollo refusing to serve under a man who questions his, and his father refusing to tolerate an officer who doesn’t have any. Now, you can call that an impasse.

-Apollo looks good in a suit anyway, and makes no bones about being a civilian: “It’s Mr now”.

-I always love Lampkin as the prosecution argues against Apollo’s like of questioning of Roslin: “If the court will grant us just a little latitude?”

-The Adama death stare is back and in full effect during this moment. If looks could kill…

-Roslin knows Apollo has her dead to rights when he starts talking about camalla, but is composed enough to offer just a “Hmm” in the first instance.

-She really does not want this to come out, and it’s almost strange to see Roslin as this pleading woman: “Please don’t do this”.

-Roslin reminds Apollo of their first meeting way back in the Miniseries when she “liked the sound” of his callsign. No more of that, as all she has to say in this moment, when Lee has become an enemy, is “I am so sorry for you now”.

-The look on Apollo’s face in response is something else though, just sheer determination. He’s had it.

-Adama’s attempted intervention here obviously calls back to his decision to kill an inquiry in “Litmus”, but he doesn’t get his way here. This is a civil trial at the very least. He stops short of using Marines to break it up, but the look on Adama’s face, like he’s been smacked, is one for the ages.

-Roslin isn’t going down without some form of fight though, needling Apollo into concluding his line of questioning: “Finish what you started”.

-“I am taking camalla because my cancer has returned”. And just like that we revert back to a pre-“Epiphanies” state of affairs with Roslin, which I would question a little bit as a plot point.

-The limits of idealism are pretty clear as Lee tries and fails to stop Dee from leaving. It’s just the wrong route to take with her, a woman who has seen some of Apollo’s self-destructive tendencies before and isn’t willing to take a front-row seat this time.

-We must remember that Dee has had a part to play in all this, having been involved in the effort to steal the election for Roslin. When she says the system is broken and needs to be torn down, she’s saying it as someone who helped land a huge blow to that system.

-Tory flies off the handle in the press conference. Her part of the episode has been understated, but she grabs our attention by telling the press corps that they can “find another carcass to pick over”.

-“How long do you have to live?” Roslin is asked. She bites back the same question, but I’d say it’s pretty relevant.

-Roslin dresses Tory down pretty firmly in the aftermath, in a manner we are unused to, suggesting that she might get replaced by “someone who can run a brush through her hair once a week”. There’s a lack of empathy there that reflects Roslin’s change of mood recently.

-Helo is back as XO, which calls attention again to a lack of officers onboard. With Tigh, Apollo, Starbuck and Kelly not available for whatever reason, we go from Admiral Adama to Captain Agathon and then…? Presumably Gaeta and Dee, or Athena of all people.

-“Right” says Gaeta to the suggestion that Tigh will be back soon. Gaeta’s never going to get past what happened in “Collaborators”.

-Helo’s dialogue relating that “a storm’s coming” is honestly a little trite, and it even comes with a sting from “Storming New Caprica” to make the point.

-“It’s in the frakking ship!” “Crossroads (Part One)” ends on a rather haunting and strange note, as Tigh begins to lose what’s left of his mind.

Overall Verdict: “Crossroads (Part One)” is one off those sleeper episodes in my estimation, a really good example of what BSG can bring to the table that sort of slips under the radar owing to its status as the first part in a story more concretely expanded upon and rounded out by the conclusion. The trial scenes are excellent, the moment between Lee and his father is an enormous highlight and the episode creates a sense of movement on plotlines – through the approach to the Ionian Nebula, Roslin’s cancer and the Music – that the second half of Season Three could really use more of. Things have been built-up, now we’ll see if the culminating point can top it off.

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

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