NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Four: “Faith”

Like it or not, we have to work with the Colonials. That means, Kara sees the Hybrid. Or you can kiss your asses goodbye.

Air Date: 09/05/2008

Director: Michael Nankin

Writer: Seamus Kevin Fahey

Synopsis: After a bloody resolution to the mutiny on the Demetrius, Starbuck leads a team to the rebel basestar seeking answers from the Hybrid. Continuing her cancer treatments, Roslin meets a woman with the same diagnosis who is close to the end.

Review

“Faith” very much wears its heart on its sleeve. It’s an episode about the different kinds of faith and belief that people have, and how they can be tested, changed or evolved. Starbuck has her destiny, or perhaps we can just call it her gut feeling, something she holds onto so tight she is willing to look past awful compromises in order to pursue it. Helo has his belief in his wife and the military, and its ability to get a mission accomplished. Sam still believes in his wife, and still believes that following her into the gaping maw of the Cylons is his only option. Back in the Fleet, Emily Kowalski has come into a new faith, that there is a positive afterlife waiting for her when she leaves her current existence. Adama, as always, believes in people, be they Starbuck or Roslin.

But there are challenges too. Jean, the medic, has a practical faith in Starbuck based on Thrace’s history, but it is a faith that leads Jean to her death. Athena is presented with a scenario where her model reaches out to her with a belief that borders on the Messiah-like, and rejects it. And Roslin is presented with a challenge to her currently nihilistic viewpoint of there perhaps being nothing but an “abyss” beyond death, and how she will need to have some measure of blind faith to get past this. At times “Faith” can seem like a bit of a jumble of ideas, but it aids its cause by having a throughline that it sticks to.

First things first though, we have to take about the resolution of the cliffhanger given to us by “The Road Less Traveled”. And, like much of my opinion of the Starbuck related stuff from that episode, I really don’t like it at all. Things escalate to a fever pitch, and someone pulls a gun. All well and good. That gun gets fired, and Gaeta takes the hit, with Sam left looking like a really powerful mixture of adrenaline-fuelled and remorseful in the moment. Even better. But then the drama of the whole thing gets undercut severely by Starbuck stepping in and giving us a middle ground that cuts the Gordian Knot presented by the cliffhanger, by saying she’ll head to the basestar in an available Raptor, and the Demetrius can just stay where it is and jump back to the Fleet when the time for the mission is up.

Seriously? Why is this only being brought up as an option now? Why doesn’t Starbuck consider it earlier, why doesn’t Helo suggest it? Why is it that “The Road Less Traveled” presents us what seems like a binary choice to build up the tension of the moment, only for “Faith” to pull this out of nowhere and make a mockery of the tension created? We’re back to “Starbuck is crazy”, but nobody is covering themselves in glory here, with numerous characters in a position to defuse the situation by suggesting the course that they all end up taking. I really think this is telling of a certain deterioration in the writers room, that this manner of resolution is written up.

Let’s take the resulting sojourn to the basestar from the perspective of the Colonials first. There’s three characters to note here, leaving aside the “She’s here to get killed” Jean Barolay. Starbuck is coming to the fulfilment of her mission, and I hope I’m not too wide of the mark to note that there were moments when she seemed to be more like the old Starbuck once she got on the basestar. Maybe it was just that the manic energy that has marked the character from “He That Believeth In Me” was less prevalent, which I welcomed. Perhaps less welcome is her role as a recurring compromiser here, sometimes in the face of monstrous actions. The most potent is her apparent willingness to let Jean be murdered without any recompense, with Athena of all people asking why she is happy to let that stand. But at least a Starbuck with a single-minded mission to speak to the Hybrid is better than “crazy” Starbuck whose actions undermine all the work that has been done with her thus far.

Sam is the one straying close to some manner of mental break, but at least in his case we have had a hell of a lot more time to build up to the moment. After the truly awful outcome of the mutiny where Sam seriously wounds another officer – which will have long-reaching consequences few can foresee – he also has to deal with being the first on the scene when Baroley is killed, and given she has been with him for a very long time it’s understandable that Sam would snap a bit. There’s only so far any psyche can be pushed, and Sam has been through the ringer in this season already. Now he’s graduating to being a guy who is just a little too quick to point a gun at his problems, even if in the second case depicted here it’s probably justified. Where we go from here with Sam, once we get back to the Fleet, is genuinely fascinating to me, as all four of the Five we have met so far deteriorate in their own way.

That leaves Athena, who gets her own Christ arc in one episode. While it was a little overdone I did find myself appreciating it a bit: the way that she has become a figure of adulation for the Eights, the manner in which she quickly tells them where to go when it comes to helping them betray others, and her final rejection of the kind of role that Boomer and Caprica Six happily took up in “Downloaded”, as individuals within the hive. A dying Eight literally holds out her hand to Athena, seeking something – absolution we might call it? – but Athena isn’t interested. Aside from the malcontent role she has taken up while on the Demetrius, Athena is a member of the Colonial military, and has worked very hard to get that position. She’s all in on that, and isn’t going to be swayed by some airy words from the model she once identified with.

On the other side of the equation are the Cylons, and we do get some fascinating glimpses at some of the aspects of what is now a fracturing society. “Faith” seems to indicate that a tendency towards betrayal just seems to be innate to the Cylon character: Leoben continues to stir the pot, the Eights’ try and get Athena to help them against the Sixes, one of the Six’s kills a Colonial even as they try to organise a truce and even the Centurions are opening fire at the humanoid models. They just can’t seem to help themselves: like the proverbial scorpion, treason is in their nature. We might remember that the very moment of Cylon self-awareness came with a violent uprising against their creators. They can’t hold their own alliance of models together, even sub-divided as it is here: what hope does this proposed truce between human and rebel Cylon actually have? It will require a basic change of nature to succeed, and it isn’t clear if the Cylons are actually capable of that.

The other thing is the sheer trauma they are experiencing, years into this running conflict with humanity. The rebel Cylons have both the built-up weight of numerous deaths and resurrections in some instances matched to their current reality, where resurrection is off the table and death is permanent. The Six who gets euthanised in this episode is at the centre of the best scene: unable to live with herself after she was killed on New Caprica, unable to let it go, the scar of what occurred robbing her of any joy in life or desire to keep existing. Even revenge doesn’t do anything for her. It’s nothing new to the show to suggest that resurrection is not the death-defying miracle it was made out to be initially, with the trauma of the passing still very real. But we never see the consequences in quite as blunt terms as we do here. If “Faith” does nothing else, it reminds us that the war between human and Cylon, from the bombs of the Miniseries all the way up to the the battle of “He That Believeth In Me”, is not some subtle thing the Cylons are able to let slide off their backs. And of course the cyclical nature of human/Cylon violence is evident yet again, though in this case the Natalie character is prepared to take part just to secure the needed alliance.

The real beating heart of the episode is the material dedicated to Roslin who, contemplating the end, meets a woman a little further on that same road. Emily is a bit of a convenient method for Roslin to be able to talk out her fears and expectations of death, but I still really enjoyed this interaction all the same. Roslin gets both a warning of what is coming down the line for her, but also a measure of hope. Their interactions, running the gambit between hostile to deeply connective, are a suitably deep meditation on death and what comes after.

Roslin, very naturally, is scared of what’s coming, remembering the undignified way that her mother passed and the terror that comes with the expectation that there is nothing waiting for you when you do pass. The President hasn’t allowed herself to show that fear before now, not even in “Epiphanies” when she got to the very brink of death, but it’s very much present in her thinking. “Faith” seems to tie this into the rise of Baltar’s cult in a way, and we can perhaps see it as Roslin doubting her own beliefs in the face of an ever more popular alternative.

There follows a brilliant conversation where Roslin and Emily brush on important topics, not least a conflict between literal and non-literal interpretation of the scriptures, that wouldn’t be out of place in any church in the real world. Roslin briefly tries to rally against the idea of the One God, but her argument holds little weight when put against a faith that insists Aphrodite herself comes to collect the deceased. Even if Roslin argues that such things are metaphors, she undercuts herself when remarking that her own mother was so terrified at her end, a terror Roslin shared when it appeared the “Fields of Elysium” were not opening up. And maybe everything that has happened since Rosin anointed herself as the “dying leader” of Pythia is making her second guess her own destiny.

What Emily offers Roslin in response is a very comforting vision, and here BSG takes things to new places. Roslin has had deathbed visions before of course, and other visions besides, ones dedicated to prophecy and destiny. But this is different. It’s personal, meant for her, and carries it with no messages of doom, no strange glimpses of things that will come to pass. She’ll cross the river, and be re-united with her loved ones. There’s ambiguity about whether this is a true vision of what comes next, or whether she is just mimicking a dream that Emily described so vividly, but I tend to think that the dying leader is getting a slight bit of less ominous foreshadowing. She’s not ready to go just yet, but she now has less fear of the moment coming. Emily will reach the other bank, but not today for Roslin.

If “Faith” can say nothing else, it at least points a bit more clearly to the road ahead, after a few episodes where the grand finale of BSG could be perceived as very much stuck in place. Starbuck has finally heard the same prophy that we all got in Razor, and the show doesn’t hang around in terms of characters picking it apart and coming to the conclusion of what they need to do next. The eerie insistence that Thrace is going to lead humanity to its end remains unnerving, but is easily interpreted in a positive way (not that Starbuck does that). At the end of it all we have a means for humanity and the Cylons to actually get on with the business of finding Earth.

At the conclusion of the episode Adama’s sums up the ways that he has attempted to buy-in to the idea of Earth recently, not least letting Starbuck go on her desperate mission, but it wasn’t any of that that made him really believe in the idea. That was all Roslin. She might have stumbled with her faith, but it is renewed now, and it is strong enough to bring Adama, a man who made up the idea of Earth in the Miniseries, along for the ride. Season Four has fluttered around a bit with what it is doing with the Final Five, with Starbuck, with Roslin, but Earth, the promised land, is at least back in the crosshairs.

You made me believe.

Notes

-For a season with episode titles full of meaning, this one has to be the bluntest.

-I’m not sure what part of McCreary’s score work the music in the opening is, but I like it, it’s like a faster-paced version of “Prelude To War”.

-While the conclusion of “The Road Less Traveled” showed the crew of the Demetrius seemingly all resolved against Starbuck to some extent, here Sam alters course drastically, which I did not like.

-Sam’s been a resistance fighter and is now a Viper pilot, but he’s never had to use a gun to make someone stand down before. Hence his decision to shoot Gaeta in the leg, ignorant of the myriad of ways this is far more complicated a choice than “non-lethal”.

-Love Gaeta’s repeated “What the frak!?” screams, it’s a perfect representation of the kind of shock such a wound incurs.

-Seelix (I think) throws a nasty comment Athena’s way here, saying “Let the Cylon go” as if she is naturally more expendable. Obviously the acceptance of her by the crew is not uniform.

-The timer set-up on the Demetrius DRADIS seems like a callback to similar timer used in “33” and “You Can’t Go Home Again”.

-The count is down one, reflecting the death of Mathias.

-Bald Roslin is presented here in a very matter-of-factly kind of way, I think to emphasise that it has been the norm for a little while.

-Roslin notes that Tory has changed recently, having gotten past her crisis that we saw in “Crossroads (Part One)”. She’s apparently been able to pivot this renewed confidence as a return to the person she was in episodes like “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part Two)”, and nothing else.

-Here’s a question: why not jump with a Raptor back to the Fleet with Gaeta? Or with the Demetrius, and then jump back to the rendezvous point? There are ways out of this problem that are not properly explored, with the insistence that the Raptor doesn’t have enough fuel making no sense at all.

-Leoben just can’t help himself, telling Athena that the “Eight’s talk about you all the time” in front of other Colonials. Stop stirring the pot man, do you want an alliance or not?

-She’s been such a part of the furniture that I had to be reminded that Jean Barolay has been around for a while, first appearing as a member of the Caprican Resistance in “Downloaded”.

-The wreckage of the battle we saw in “The Ties That Bind” indicates a total slaughter, and I liked the effect of Cylon ordinance going off.

-“Don’t let Cottle take my leg”. Gaeta may not be a veteran of up-close combat – not even on New Caprica in “Exodus (Part Two)” I think – but he’s not stupid. He knows how bad this is, and if there is one unifying fear among soldiers, beyond death, it’s mutilation.

-I do like that Helo doesn’t make any promises, saying only that he will be staying till the timer reaches zero. He’s smart enough to see what is coming.

-Leoben describes Starbuck’s connection to her destiny as “hearing music”, and all we were missing was a meaningful glance towards Sam.

-The comet of Starbuck’s paintings is revealed, as the stricken basestar leaving a trail behind it above a gas giant. I guess that’s a good inversion of what we would have expected.

-We get a sudden cliffhanger here as the Raptor gets into trouble and hits debris, and I wouldn’t say that the episode really needed it. Or maybe I’m just getting tired of seeing Raptor’s get into trouble, the last time was only a few episodes ago.

-Cylon airlocks are accomplished through the use of biological membranes, which make a very disgusting noise.

-Athena’s encounter with the rows of Eights in this moment is presumably a callback to Boomer’s similar encounter in “Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Part Two)”. Very different outcome though.

-Athena’s mission statement as she rejects the Eight’s plea for help is a defiant rejection of the Cylon mindset: …you pick your side and you stick. You don’t cut and run when things get ugly. Otherwise you’ll never have anything.”

-Two nods to Shakespeare very quickly in Baltar’s broadcast, referring to “this mortal coil” and “the undiscovered country”, both part of the famous Act Three, Scene One monologue of Hamlet.

-Emily is played by Nana Visitor, best known to us as Kira Nerys from DS9. She’s fantastic in this episode, enough to say it’s her best work post-DS9.

-While unstated here, Emily’s second name is “Kowalski”, which is Polish. There are plenty of Earth names in BSG of course, but this one naturally stands out as especially odd.

-Roslin has a very obvious arrogance in her these days, and just knows better when she tries to turn off Baltar’s broadcast. But this is one woman she isn’t going to browbeat.

-Cylon’s just have a predilection for betrayal, don’t they? Athena isn’t off the Raptor 10 seconds and they’re trying to embroil her in plots.

-Love that moment of Sam and the Cylon interface, with Anders both tempted and fearful of doing the obvious.

-“You killed me” says this Six to Jean, and it’s like a question and an accusation all in one go.

-Sam breaks a bit in the moment after Jean is killed, and I did love Trucco’s interpretation of a man pushed just a little too far.

-“I did nothing to her” this Six proclaims. Only, she did. The annihilation of the Colonies cannot be so easily dismissed. It doesn’t mean she deserved to be drowned in a septic tank, but let’s not act as if any Cylon is without stain.

-The trauma of the Cylon really is unique. Ever since Cavil informed us that resurrection gets more painful every time in “Exodus (Part Two)”, we’ve been building to a moment like this.

-Natalie gives the traumatised Six a full mouth kiss, which we might call a kiss of death. The vibes are undoubtedly incestuous, and just add to the idea of warped Cylon sexuality.

-She then refers glibly to “human justice”, of “blood for blood”, which is rich coming from a Cylon really. What was the attack on the Colonies, if not a massive, disproportionate retaliation?

-Emily gives Roslin the gift of a shawl, apparently made by someone on another ship. It’s a touching gesture, and I’ll admit I’m fascinated by the idea of someone doing this as a hobby/business somewhere in the Fleet.

-It’s hard to find much in the way of sense for this particular set of Hybrid utterances, though I think the “toy soldier” who becomes “pliant” might be a reference to Adama at the conclusion.

-Emily’s description of the “other side” is idyllic, peaceful, serene. It’s just what you want really.

-Emily describes an unseen “presence” in this vision, that presumably corresponds to the One God. This might be the only time a non-Cylon figure actually seems to indicate an interaction, and it’s positive: “Don’t be scared, Emily. I’m with you. Hold my hand and we’ll cross over together.”

-Baltar’s appeal to people remains of the insidious kind. Here his version of a very peaceful transition to the afterlife seems tailor-made for people like Emily.

-We get a few cutaways to the Demetrius during the course of “Faith”, and I think they do add something to thee episode, just in terms of raising tension.

-The Hybrid scream is something else, a strange mix of the biological and mechanical. Presumably it’s getting an extra input of air to explain how it can last so long.

-The centurion is set off enough by this scream that it opens fire on the humanoid Cylons, indicating it identifies more with the mechanical entities.

-“The missing three will give you the five”. Great phrasing there. It’s a nod to D’Anna of course, but I think also you could take it as Tory, Tyrol and Tigh being the “missing three”, with Sam presumably the odd one out because he’s standing in front of the Hybrid, who will give us the fifth and last Cylon.

-The President maintains a certain zero-sum game by declaring that Baltar’s God is “the Cylon God”, in a way that indicates this makes unworthy of worship. But that’s a weak argument really, if we’re acknowledging the entity exists.

-She brings up her mothers battle with cancer here, something that was first mentioned in “Act Of Contrition”.

-Roslin’s memories of her mothers final days are heart-breaking, but very real. It’s a terrible thing, to see the indignities that people can be subjected to with wasting illnesses, and how they can become a key part of the memory of such things.

-I do appreciate the comeback though, as Emily tells Roslin that it was she who was terrified, and potentially not her mother. We do tend to project feelings all too easily.

-There is a deleted scene that I think fits in around here, where an Eight asks Athena how she has lived without resurrection for so long, and Athena tells her it makes life worth living more. Perhaps it would have helped the following scene, in terms of drawing a further line between Athena and the other Cylons.

-Sam knows what it means to see people die – truly die, not resurrect – and remarks upon this very simply in consideration of the mortally wounded Eight: “She’s looking past us”.

-Said Eight reaches out to Athena in this dying moment, asking for forgiveness. It’s a very religious moment, tying into the Emily/Laura conversation on Galactica, but Athena refuses the call.

-Sam steps in here to provide comfort to the dying Eight, and we might even say that he is stepping in with his people

-The collected group, not unlike previous prophecies as depicted in “The Passage”, maybe figure out the prophecy given by the Hybrid a bit too quickly. It’s not much of a prophecy if it doesn’t need a bit of interpretation.

-The bright colours of “the other side” contrast sharply with Galactica’s medbay, that’s for sure, in this vision that Roslin has. That’s the point of course.

-“I’m not ready”. Roslin might have had a large part of her attention on the hereafter recently, but here she makes a decisive choice to not accept her impending death as Emily does.

-And of course when she wakes up, it’s to the sound of Baltar preaching on the wireless. I guess he must be on to something.

-Great use of increasing tempo in the music as the countdown reaches its conclusion, positively Hanz Zimmer-like.

-I love Helo’s anger as the clock ticks to zero. He knows what he has to do, but that doesn’t mean he can keep the lid on his frustration.

-I don’t know who tells Helo “She’s gone” here, it might be Seelix maybe? It’s a heartless thing to say to him anyway. It’s not some soldier, it’s his wife.

-It’s palpable relief when the basestar jumps in with a few seconds to spare. Helo had faith in his wife to get the job done, and it is rewarded here.

-In response to Adama waxing lyrical about Apollo’s absence and the whole thing with Starbuck and her crew, Roslin says “I’m right here”. She is a solid presence in Adama’s life. That can count for a lot.

Overall Verdict: “Faith” has its problems, with its resolution to the opening cliffhanger extremely weak and some continuing issues with Starbuck and other characters. But other aspects are very strong. I really enjoyed the scenes between Roslin and Emily, the stuff with Sam, Athena, Helo, even the small part given to Adama. There’s just those few elements that prevent “Faith” from being a stand-out. Season Four continues to be a bit hit-and-miss, but this episode points the way to a deeper progression that might make up for some of those shortfalls.

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6 Responses to NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Four: “Faith”

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