NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Four: “Escape Velocity”

You were the breath in my lungs, the blood in my veins, the light in my eye, and now that breath is gone.

Air Date: 25/04/2008

Director: Edward James Olmos

Writer: Jane Espenson

Synopsis: Tyrol struggles in the aftermath of Cally’s death, leading to an enormous blow-out with Adama. Tigh’s interrogation of Caprica Six crosses a line. When Baltar’s cult is targeted by a militant group, his reaction begins a political crisis.


In “He That Believeth In Me” I talked about “the collapse”: the manner in which the structures of the Fleet, military and civil, were starting to erode. “Escape Velocity” kicks that feeling into overdrive. In the episode we get further signs of democracy crumbling, the introduction of a vicious religious war, people’s persona’s starting to fracture and a sense that the military chain of command is really beginning to become secondary for a lot of people. It’s an important transition, but not one that I think the episode carries off that well: what we see, especially in comparison to the previous episode, is a jumble of things.

There’s a lot going on in “Escape Velocity” – too much, as I will discuss – so it can be hard to know where to start. Cally’s descent was undoubtedly the main plot of “The Ties That Bind”, so I guess it is apropos if we start with the aftermath of her death, which naturally focuses on Tyrol. There are large parts of “Escape Velocity” that I don’t really like, but I can’t find much fault with this plot line: as an examination of the emotional storm that can erupt after a bereavement, it’s pitch perfect.

Of course it’s not just the bereavement for Tyrol, it’s this continual effort to grasp the fact that he is a Cylon, and that there is no aspect of his past that he can now completely trust. Now he’s a widower, expected to adopt the proper mourning rituals and tolerate the different way that he is treated by all around him, from the Admiral to the deck hands. Unfortunately, it’s a sad reality that many of us have had to deal with the aftermath of a suicide, as Cally’s death is being treated by others, and I can tell you that the conflicting range of emotions is difficult to deal with. There’s sadness of course, but there’s also guilt that you weren’t able to do more, and anger at the person who is gone for doing what they did, and that is a poisonous blend. Match it up with an identity crisis of enormous proportions, and you have a recipe for a flameout.

Aaron Douglas is fantastic in this episode, “Escape Velocity” is truly his best work on BSG so far, and there have been some fantastic episodes for him as an actor: “Litmus”, “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part One)”, “Dirty Hands”, etc. I loved his performance here as Tyrol goes through the different stages, from practical shock, through to overworking himself as what you have to assume is some form of twisted self-harm, all the way down to what occurs at the episode’s conclusion. It’s searingly real, this very male trait of bottling up negative emotions, trying to proceed as if things can be normal and then turning that fiery ball on the people trying to help you. It’s not difficult to see that this is a similar road to the one that Cally went on, and with memories of how things conclude for Tyrol resurfacing in my head, I can see that the endpoint is being pointed to here.

That final rant though. I just loved it, it’s such a pitch-perfect explosion from the character. He starts by reminding Adama of the Admiral’s apparent disdain for Cally in “Dirty Hands”, then brings up his love for Boomer that was thwarted by the most exceptional of circumstances and it all just flows from there: the idea that he settled for Cally, a vicious diatribe against her apparent character faults and a plea for punishment. It’s hard to know how true Tyrol’s words are, coming as they are from a deeply distressed place, but I tend to think there’s honesty there: delivered with a bluntness designed to hurt Adama of course, but honesty nonetheless. Tyrol and Cally’s relationship was hitting the rocks for a while, all the way back to “Occupation”, and of course it started from a very negative place. And despite what he said about getting over Boomer in “Resurrection Ship (Part Two)”, we never really explored if that had become a reality. Since “A Day In The Life”, the Tyrol we have seen is a man getting progressively more tired of the role he has been assigned – Deck Chief, husband, father, union leader – that he can’t seem to get free of. As he says, “it’s fine, but you know what? It’s not”. I get that feeling. Tyrol is left as a broken down man at the conclusion, and I can’t wait to see where we go with him from here.

Far less good is the true beginning of the Tigh/Caprica Six plot, that I recall hating the first time I went through Season Four. I’m just not sure that I see the point of any it: it really feels like they had nothing for these characters to do, so flung them together in this very strange sub-plot. I know they want something for every member of the Five to do, but this feels especially contrived, and goes to extremes that push the boundary for ridiculousness.

It starts with Tigh seeing Ellen where Caprica Six is, and you could write a book on the psychological implications of that alone. It proceeds to a discussion on just what a Cylon is, echoing previous discussions from episodes like “Flesh And Bone”, “Home (Part One)” or “Downloaded”. This is all well and good I suppose, and I like the idea of Tigh approaching his Cylon nature from the perspective of wanting a way to “turn off” his guilt. But around the time that Tigh starts imagining Caprica’s thoughts on her relationship with Baltar as Ellen talking about him, things take a very weird turn. Tigh essentially seeks some manner of absolution for his sins, manifesting his guilt over Ellen into this confession with Six. She responds by going on about the power of love to bring human and Cylon together, and the cleansing power of pain. We proceed with her beating on Tigh as a practical demonstration, which then proceeds into implied sex instead.

What the hell is this, honestly? A plotline where Tigh and Caprica get close by discussing the nature of the Cylon relative to humans, and Tigh’s pain over Ellen, would be one thing, but we go from that to two very different physical interactions so quickly that your head spins. Is Caprica serious in her use of violence and sex as a means of healing Tigh, or is she playing some demented game with him? Does Tigh really not get how bad of an idea this is? Is Tigh ever going to be anything more than the man who killed Ellen in “Exodus (Part Two)”? I just hate this honestly, and it’s hard to see it going to a productive place, narrative-wise.

Adama and Roslin take up a good part of the episode, though in a much messier fashion than “The Ties That Bind”. It’s just a little all over the place here, the way we jump from Roslin approaching Baltar one-on-one to a return to the political drama onboard Colonial One. A theme of continuing deterioration is evident, as the Admiral and the President try desperately to stay on top of things as they fall apart in the Fleet, I just didn’t feel it was done as well as it could have been done.

Maybe it’s just that I need to get used to this changed version of Roslin. We’ve gone over the growing tyranny in her before, and that is present in “Escape Velocity” for sure. How else could you describe a law that restricts the right of assembly, or the manner in which she delivers a very tired sounding speech to the Quorum where she rails again a former political opponent? Apollo described what was left of humanity as “a gang” in “Crossroads (Part Two)”, and Roslin seems to have embraced that idea, with rules to be made on the fly and dissent not to be tolerated.. In all that we can once again see the plain reality that Roslin is never going to get over what happened in New Caprica, with her quest to revenge herself on Baltar such an enormous part of the latter half of Season Three. It goes a bit further in “Escape Velocity” really, with Roslin’s words to the Quorum almost an admonition of the democratic process that cost her the Presidency in “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part Two)”. There’s a contempt there that isn’t pleasant to see, and perhaps has been rushed through a bit too much.

But the bigger thing for me is the sense that Roslin is giving up. She’s getting treatments for her cancer yes, but they are just a delay, no matter what Adama thinks. She’s thinking about the future, but in the sense of what will happen once she’s gone. It’s seen in the way she advises Adama on what kind of funeral she would like, and in her somewhat strange confrontation with Baltar. There, her argument seems to be that she would just like to have a quiet final few days, because after that her troubles would be over: and wouldn’t it be nice if Baltar could respect that? The sense of fatigue is evident, but it’s still a little hard to swallow, that she’s giving up and just seeking some ease from her political opponents. This is Laura Roslin after all. The way she promoted Adama in “Resurrection Ship (Part Two)” was a similar kind of thing, but this is far more advanced, and you do still feel a better job could have been done exploring this change. We learned Roslin was dying again six episode ago, but only started to really explore what that meant three episodes ago. That she now just wants “a quiet little death” doesn’t feel right.

If there is a main focus of the episode, I suppose that it has to be Baltar. The man who was content to be a sexual idol of the cultists grows a bit in the course of this one, and we can see that right from the off. When Tory comes to visit him and espouse some of her own philosophy – wherein she implies that becoming one with God results in a being incapable of doing wrong, something that comes from a very self-centred place – he’s resistant to the idea, and not just because she has her hand on his testicles. The notion of “being perfect” as a means of justifying amorality (“bad becomes good”), combined with Tory’s apparent credo of superiority through strength, is not exactly what Baltar seems to have had in mind for his cult. He’s had a hand in creating some monsters here, and in “Escape Velocity” Baltar starts to lose control of them, and the larger situation..

As Head Six says, the “Old Gods are fighting back”. The fightback can be seen physically through the “Sons of Ares” of course, a sort of militant sect of the Colonial religion dedicated to violent action against heretics. But we see it other ways too, like the elderly cult member still praying to figurines of the Kobol pantheon, or in the simple fact that nobody onboard Galactica seems to want to say anything in monotheism’s defence, not really. The monotheists need more than just a totem who likes having sex with them, they need their prophet to actually be that kind of religious leader, someone who will defend the faith of “the One” in the face of hostility and turn it into something that is more than just an embrace of sensation.

The signs of growth are there in the manner in which Baltar rejects Head Six’s usual buttering up, in favour of suddenly becoming a leader, the kind of decisive take-no-prisoners kind he probably dreamed of being when he was President. He has followers here that already revere him, but in this aggressive stand against the hostility of the rest of the Fleet, they find someone to truly love and respect. Baltar’s transformation is sudden – maybe too sudden – but remarkable: the way he disrupts the service of the Kobol religion seems to have obvious allusions to Christ in the Temple, and it only gets more obvious from there.

Baltar suddenly seems hellbent on something approximating a religious war, with himself as the designated martyr to rally the faithful. How else can we view his actions at the conclusion, where he willingly – well, somewhat – takes repeated physical abuse from a Marine, in the apparent expectation that God will intervene to save him? We’ve gotten so used to seeing a Baltar who says whatever he needs to say to get ahead, but this does seem genuinely different.

The episode culminates in Baltar’s outlining of his own apparent beliefs, which paraphrase’s Tory’s earlier sentiments, and carries with it ties to a sort-of Calvinest philosophy. Where Tory seemed to use the idea of human perfection as a cipher for her growing opinion of her own superiority to the rest of humanity, Baltar takes a slightly different tack, emphasising more that every individual is worthy of God’s love, and thus must be perfect. This can perhaps be taken as meaning that one’s actions are not without sin, but that every one is capable of receiving God’s love regardless. It’s like a form of Christianity without the taint of “Original Sin” I suppose. It’s one that really bigs up the individual worshipper as something divine, which plays very well to the abused people of the Fleet for whom life has become such a misery and whose experience must point to being a cursed people.

There’s a good comparison between his sermon and what we see of the larger Kobol faith in the episode: the “old Gods” seem like they are presented as distant figures with their basis in stories that are hard to accept, whose interactions with humanity are based primarily in a one-sided worship. Baltar’s One God in comparison resides within each human being and offers a love that is a balm to the soul, and comes without preconditions of worship or sacrifice. The episode concludes with Baltar in a stronger position than he started the episode, now a true leader of this cult demonstrating supernatural powers, and not just its character-less centrepiece.

But speaking more generally on the quality of “Escape Velocity”, I have to give it a negative rating. I enjoyed the Tyrol plot and the Baltar plot, but the stuff with Tigh and Roslin was not just weak, but actively debilitating to the episode. Moreover it doesn’t mesh all of these plots well at all: as stated, “Escape Velocity” feels like an unpalatable jumble, an episode that jumps from narrative to narrative without enough of a throughline, and fills in perceived gaps with storylines that just don’t work. An episode with more time for Tyrol or Baltar would have worked better, especially if it came at the expense of Tigh and Caprica Six. “Escape Velocity” is the first weak episode of Season Four, which hopefully is not a sign of things to come.

People have room in their hearts for one great belief. You or the old Gods. Which one will it be?


-“Escape velocity” is the speed needed to be removed from gravitational forces. I’m not sure of the relevance here, other than a vague sense of people trying to escape certain circumstances.

-Edward James Omos returns to direct for the first time since “Taking A Break From All Your Worries”, but like “Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down”, this one isn’t a good representation of his work.

-Colonial funerals seem fairly regimented, with the loved ones of the deceased called upon to say specific words, which seems harsh to me.

-Maybe that’s because Tyrol obviously doesn’t believe the words he is saying, especially in terms of being re-united in an afterlife. This is a great showing from Aaron Douglas, and it starts here.

-Roslin appears to have moved towards a degree of acceptance of her fate, commenting on Cally’s funeral service positively and telling Adama “I want you to know what I like”. That she expects the Admiral to handle her funeral – and perhaps say the words Tyrol is saying – is telling.

-It is very strange seeing Ellen Tigh in the Caprica Six dress, even if it is just a projection of Tigh’s.

-Tigh apparently knows how to change a diaper/nappy? Where did he pick up that skill?

-Tory suggests that Tyrol can just shut down his guilt, in a manner that calls to mind the flicking of a switch. She’s not just embracing her Cylon nature, she’s embracing the Cavil philosophy of being a machine.

-More subtlety out the window as Tigh urges Tyrol to “Be a man” about his grief.

-The count is down one, reflecting Cally’s death.

-Another segment of “The Cult Of Baltar” plays over this opening scene there, but now more xylophone heavy. I still like it.

-Tory engages in something approximating light S&M with Baltar, mixing an implied handjob with hair plucking. Can we call this a continuation of her new experimentation, plus an embrace of that overt Cylon sexuality we have seen so many times before? It’s certainly different to the tears we saw in “Six Of One”.

-The “Sons of Ares” can be chalked up as another idea along the lines of the Peace movement of “Epiphanies” and Phelan’s mafia of “Black Market” that is potentially fascinating as a long-term plot point, but which never appears again as I recall. I’m given to understand the original plan was for Zarek to have some kind of role in their direction.

-While the CGI is a little iffy, I like this look at EVA workers on the flight deck. Presumably that’s an important job we don’t see much of.

-This is the third time Racetrack and Skulls have had bad luck in their Raptor, with an FTL mis-jump in “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part One)” and sabotaged fuel in “Dirty Hands”.

-I like the CGI of the Raptor slamming into the deck nose first. There’s a lot of destruction there, and we know Galactica can’t take much of that anymore.

-Baltar appears to be giving a statement to a Marine, dressed not unlike Sgt Hadrian in “Litmus”, so they are perhaps still responsible for this kind of law and order stuff on Galactica.

-Head Six seems to inaugurate a religious war with the words “Old Gods die hard”. Baltar perhaps has not fully realised what his Cult and its growth means.

-“You’re only human” as a comfort is, predictably, what really sets Tyrol off. It’s one of the few times those kinds of lines work for me.

-Head Six attempts to stoke Baltar’s ego, but for once this doesn’t seem to be the right tack: “What are you talking about? It’s not about that at all. It’s about this.” “This” being the people of the Cult. Baltar appears to actually be growing a bit.

-Head Six looks genuinely moved by Baltar’s speech to his followers. She’s so used to seeing him as someone who needs to be nurtured and placated through praise and sex, this must come as a bit of a shock.

-Baltar doesn’t hold back regards “the old gods”, declaring Zeus “a serial rapist” and mocking the idea of “healing wounds with the blood of Gorgons”. We’ll never really get into the nitty-gritty of Colonial religion, but it is interesting that these aspects of the Ancient Greek pantheon have apparently been retained.

-Baltar twice uses the words “Hideous old witch” to describe the officiant here, which seems strange considering she doesn’t seem that old.

-The Cult members draw a symbol on the walls that is apparently meant to be a simplified representation of a gull, denoting grace and unity.

-It says something about Adama’s mindset that, when talking to Roslin, he mentions his favourite book is one that he has never finished: “I like it so much, I don’t want it to be over.”

-“Nobody’s talking” says Adama on the Sons of Ares, which is quite concerning: no one has anything to say about a rogue group of soldiers attacking people in the halls of Galactica?

-I love Roslin’s description of Baltar’s Cult: “Girly groupie sex whatever they are”

-Tigh’s question to Caprica Six is fairly loaded: one suspects when he asks how she lives with killing billions of people he might be wondering if he should be feeling guilty.

-Caprica Six tells Tigh that she has “veins, not wires”, but Tigh himself witnessed the grey area of that topic, when Sharon interfaced with Galactica’s computers via her veins in “Flight Of The Phoenix”.

-“Are you asking for absolution?” This line appears to mimic the Guardian Hybrid from Razor, but Caprica Six has never appeared to have a God complex.

-Baltar asks Roslin if she’s arrived to strip-search him again, referencing “Dirty Hands”. That was a particularly low moment for the President.

-Roslin needs to get through to Baltar about the reality of her condition fast, and does this by bluntly telling him that her hair is not real. It’s appropriate I suppose, given Baltar’s general treatment of women as aesthetic beings.

-The looks Tyrol is getting at the bar, before a word has even been said, are brilliant. People don’t know what to say, but they know an explosion is imminent.

-Not unlike Tigh earlier, Tyrol briefly projects something that isn’t real, imagining Adama referring to Cally as the “mother of a half-breed abomination”. Like Cally, the unreality is becoming apparent.

-I do love Tyrol’s stinging rejoinder to Adama on Cally, that the Admiral was willing to have her shot in “Dirty Hands”. It’s not something Adama has ever had to account for.

-Tyrol’s rant, it’s just outstanding, the perfect end result of all the negative things inside Tyrol’s head and that have been happening to him. He’s just had it, going all the way back to the life with Boomer he was denied.

-I love Olmos’ performance here. The look of sheer hurt on his face as Tyrol goes on is outstanding.

-A slightly odd turn of phrase, as Tyrol indicates that Cally smelled like cabbage. Um, how?

-I liked that Adama is remarkably restrained during this, giving Tyrol more than one opportunity to walk away. I also liked that his restraint has limits, and when he can’t take anymore Tyrol becomes just a screw-up no longer fit to work on the flight deck, all sympathy forgotten.

-Love that slow pan-out as Tyrol is left alone, in more ways than one. We can’t even tell if he regrets what has come to pass.

-In the Quorum, Apollo really does seem to have stepped up, acting very much like a leader of the opposition. It strikes me that, with Caprica having the largest population left, his role might be extremely important.

-There’s mention by the Quorum of a Mithratic off-shoot of Colonial religion in this scene. Mithra/Mithras was an Iranian deity later suborned by Romans, and that particular cult was a rival of early Christianity before being eliminated in the 4th century. The implication here is that it is a similar monotheistic faith to what Baltar espouses, but that’s all we, frustratingly, get.

-Roslin’s mask slips decidedly here, as she openly derides the idea of legitimate political dissent representing a victory for “we, the people”. Stopping Baltar from gaining any power overrides any democratic obligation.

-Tigh really doesn’t like a Baltar comparison in this moment, coming out of Ellen’s body. It’s just another layer to how strange this all is.

-Caprica Six tempts Tigh with the idea of being able to turn off his pain, but it’s not as simple as flicking a switch. Instead it’s amore visceral form of substitution, with physical pain as an escape.

-We won’t get many looks at Tigh’s face without the eye patch, and it’s always striking when we do see it. Getting beyond New Caprica is not something he can do, when it is staring him in the face in every mirror.

-The image of a Marine counting the number of people allowed into an interior space obviously has some unintentional allusions when viewed nowadays. It’s uncomfortable seeing that figure in at least somewhat of an antagonist role.

-The martyr moment for Baltar is well constructed, taking punishment and then getting miraculously saved: only it can all be explained away through logic. It’ll make him more powerful though.

-The beatdown of Baltar is pretty brutal, and quite unjustified. He’s not really threatening anyone is he?

-In another example of Head Six transitioning into the physical word, she appears to literally puppet Baltar in this scene, holding him up in a manner that looks really unnatural in shots where she can’t be seen.

-Baltar suggests Apollo has helped him because “Your God compels you”. This is new in a way, the insistence that his God is Lee’s God.

-Adama and Roslin are on the same page when it comes to Apollo: “He’s done what he thinks is right. Well yeah, he’s Lee”. We, and they, have seen this all before in “Bastille Day”, “Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Part Two)”, “Black Market” and “Crossroads (Part One)”.

-Roslin seems to take on the role of being some kind of mentor to Lee here, which is a bit of a stretch to put it mildly.

-I’m not sure what kind of book Searider Falcon is, it doesn’t seem like a detective novel from these words. But it’s certainly potent, the idea of the narrator sitting on a broken boat thinking about the woman he loves.

-Before Baltar is even finished talking he has attracted new disciples, namely a very tired looking Tyrol. His words have a natural draw.

-Humanity as perfection is the kind of idea that many religions would find heretical. It doesn’t really allow for much in the way of traditional devotion to an outside force, instead associating that force with humanity directly. You can see why conservative powers would balk.

-This brief look at Starbuck and Sam sets up things for the next episode a bit I suppose, but isn’t really necessary.

-The Cult is enraptured here. There’s looks on some of their faces that can only be described as quasi-sexual. The psychological element to all this is fascinating.

-Baltar’s finale is powerful, I’ll give him that. “He loves you because you are perfect. You are perfect just as you are. We are all perfect just as we are.”

Overall Verdict: I’m not a huge fan of “Escape Velocity”. There’s a lot going on, it feels very messy, and this is all the more irritating when the previous episode did such a good job with a similar task of balance. One of the four sub-plots is very unwelcome, and some of the character changes elsewhere have been done too fast to palatable. There is still plenty of stuff happening elsewhere that is of a decent standard, but Season Four needs to be capable with the various spinning plates. Meanwhile, across the universe…

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7 Responses to NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Four: “Escape Velocity”

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