NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Four: “Guess What’s Coming To Dinner?”

We began to realize that for our existence to hold any value, it must end. To live meaningful lives, we must die and not return.

Air Date: 16/05/2008

Director: Wayne Rose

Writer: Michael Angeli

Synopsis: The arrival of the rebel basestar to the Fleet creates a political crisis, even as a landmark joint operation is proposed that would end Cylon ability to resurrect. The visions shared by Roslin, Caprica Six and Athena lead to a violent outcome.

Review

This is another episode that, frankly, can seem like a bit of a muddle, and Season Four has too many of those already. There’s a lot going on, and a lot that “Guess What’s Coming To Dinner?” is trying to get across, and it doesn’t always work. But when it does it makes BSG seem fresh and exciting, and is a suitable riposte to the feeling that we are stuck in a mode where the show’s writers are struggling with the weight of the task that has been appointed to them, with too much destiny to fulfil.

Things do start off really well, and this is an episode that makes the point that setting the tone properly from the off goes a long way. While nodded to a bit too much in the opening, I do like the crisis that develops when the rebel basestar jumps into the middle of the Fleet without the Demetrius, with the Fleet reacting as you would expect. It’s something different for this show and even if you are left wondering why the Colonials on the basestar can’t use the Raptor radio to contact Galactica, there is undoubtedly something very affecting in watching the Fleet panic, then send Vipers streaming towards the basestar, all while the Demetrius tries to get its FTL sorted. There’s spectacle to it, but also an important bit of character progression as Tigh reveals a little too much about himself. I focus on this because I think the last few episodes have been fairly action-lite, but BSG returns to form when it gets back to that kind of sci-fi.

Beyond that we quickly get into the central plot of the episode, which I will generously dub “making friends”. It’s not the first time we’ve had a human/Cylon conference – it was one of the best scenes of “The Eye Of Jupiter” – so it perhaps lacks a bit of an edge, but the meeting between Roslin/Adama and Natalie was a very nicely put together set-piece. Both sides have a hell of a distance to bridge, and I appreciated that Natalie gets right down to brass tacks in a bid to span that distance: sheer, simple revenge. Removing the Cylon ability to resurrect as a possibility is a little convenient, but I can’t imagine much else acting as a motivating force with similar results. Natalie understands the human mind pretty well I think, and knows that the only way to get to being in an “enemy of my enemy is my friend” situation is by giving the Colonials a hell of a shot at that enemy.

From there we go into an engaging mirror image, as both sides of this erstwhile alliance start making plots against the other. I said in my thoughts on “Faith” that it seemed like betrayal was innate in the Cylons. Well, after “Guess What’s Coming To Dinner?” it is only fair that I say the same must be true of the Colonials, at least as it pertains to the Cylons. Natalie gets Adama’s word early on that he will stick to their deal, which should mean a hell of a lot coming from him. But very soon after this the Admiral and the President are all too content to start down a Darth Vader-esque path of altering the deal, and suggesting people should pray they don’t alter it any further. Adama has made deals with Cylons before, in episodes like “Flight Of The Phoenix”, and held to them, but here he seems to act as if the Cylons are very much an enemy to whom he is under no obligation to deal with in good faith. We might view this as a sign of his increasing closeness to Roslin, whose interactions with Cylons have always carried a measure of deception, from her spacing of Leoben in “Flesh And Bone”, to her order of Athena’s execution in “Home (Part One)” to the way she toys with the infected in “A Measure Of Salvation”. He puts up very little resistance to the secret addendum to the deal.

Of course the Cylons respond in kind. You can see that Natalie wants to make this alliance work, and acknowledges that the burden of proving trust perhaps lies more on the Cylon side. But the rank hostility of the Fleet’s military and government is very hard to ignore. We must remember that the proposed military operation is one that will gain the Colonials much and the rebel Cylons very little, in practical terms anyway: in such circumstances it is understandable that contingencies to preserve the intangible gains will have to be made. Caroline’s pitch to the Quorum is based on the idea that the rebels want to embrace mortality, but one suspects that if they could have Earth and the means to resurrect they wouldn’t say no. The episode ends with the plans of both sides yet to be fulfilled but with the possibility very real: it makes one think of the ending of “Resurrection Ship (Part One)” and the twin assassination plans that were left dangling, unfulfilled but all too dangerous. “Guess What’s Coming To Dinner?” doesn’t have the exact same sense of tension, but I think the episode does a good job in building up the layers of distrust and the possible consequences of the same. The reality of not trusting someone because they don’t trust you fits pretty well into the cyclical nature of this universe.

For the first time in a little while – maybe since “He That Believeth In Me” really – we have an episode here where it really feels like what I like to refer to as the “Four of Five” actually all have something to do, each in their own little ways, which I really liked. “Guess What’s Coming To Dinner?” is the first episode where it feels like the group is on the brink of being exposed, and that moment is not far off coming you have to think. The episode could have gotten away with just showing how they all each react to that circumstance, and with Tigh and Tory there is a little bit of that.

But instead, we get more. Tigh has his moment at the start of the episode, and the sure signs that Adama is starting to wonder about him just a little bit: he knows him too well to be able to dismiss this gut instinct that saved the day as just that. Tory has her icy confrontation with Roslin, then her later pillow talk with Baltar, with she now being placed in the kind of awkward position her temperament is unlikely to tolerate. Anders has his guilt over Gaeta, which continues to add to the strain that he is under mentally, something now becoming more and more outwardly obvious. And Tyrol is suddenly catapulted into the middle of the episode’s climax, providing a twist of irony in a confrontation between two Cylons that is partially over finding out the identity of the Five. None of it dominates the episode, none of it overstays its welcome: I wish the first half of Season Four had more episodes that were able to fit in the Four of Five like this, with simple but effective characterisation.

The other major individual of the episode is undoubtedly Roslin, who is being tested on all fronts: with her allies, with her various enemies and with her health. It’s a time for clearing the decks in many ways, hence her early interaction with Tory where Foster’s relationship with Baltar is made the topic of conversation. Roslin really goes for the jugular with Tory: it would be easy to just dismiss her, but instead Roslin determines to try and use her, using language in the process that is remarkably aggressive and more than a little obnoxious. Considering what Tory knows about the President, and given what we know about Tory’s change of outlook recently (to the point of being capable of committing murder), we know that this move is probably quite ill-advised from the President, but it isn’t like Roslin has been making only sound decisions recently.

In the political sphere, Roslin continues to maintain a growing contempt for democratic institutions, only reluctantly engaging with the Quorum, and that only after Apollo basically begs her to throw them a bone. Her words are fairly scathing when it comes to that body, referring to “the neediness of 12 perpetually unhappy representatives.” It’s only natural that a woman of Roslin’s limited time might feel this way, but she’s the head of the government: her attitude here simple isn’t good enough. Apollo is the the other extreme, demonstrating a continually idealistic viewpoint of public office that doesn’t fit the times, but he’s looking more and more like a viable alternative to Roslin. At least he has respect for what amounts to the Colonial legislature, and more often than not lately that same legislature is looking squarely at him when Roslin isn’t doing her job.

It’s Baltar of all people who puts it into words the best, as he deflects Tory’s criticism of his public pronouncement on Roslin’s shared visions. Roslin has become a hypocrite in the way she is rejecting the traditions of government, a liar in how she is concealing her efforts to consolidate power with her and her office and too often attempts to shield her support for secret missions (one where someone Baltar has obviously complicated feelings for was badly wounded) and the undermining of due process by appealing to a very specific form of patriotism. Now, she’s demonstrating an eerie connection with Cylons and getting huffy when it is brought into the light. One feels we are getting closer and closer to the possibility of Roslin no longer being tenable as a President, but any such transition is bound to be difficult.

It all swirls into what I will call a twin confluence at the episodes conclusion. I’ve said before that I am not an enormous fan of this whole “shared visions” thing between Roslin, Athena and Caprica Six, it always felt like a means to let the destiny side of BSG spin its wheels for the required number of episodes, but here it actually does come to a head in an interesting kind of way. It’s partly the way that others outside of the three, namely Starbuck, Baltar and Tyrol, get sucked into the vortex, it’s partly because of the way the episode is able to take the concept and then split the parts into two separate plotlines, with Roslin on the basestar and with Natalie/Athena on Galactica. There’s ingenuity in all of it, and while we will have to see if it leads anywhere productive, the set-up was very well done.

So we have Roslin forced to acknowledge the destiny-adjacent Baltar, and the possibility of them having to deal with the other in a life-or-death crisis, and we have Athena’s choice on Galactica which creates its own drama. Initially I thought that what Athena does was hard to defend, seeming remarkably extreme in the wider environment, but upon reflection the plot point grows on me. Athena has been through a lot in BSG, and has had more than her fair share of brushes with destiny as it pertains to her daughter. But Hera is not a game piece in a cosmic chess match to her, she’s her flesh-and-blood. And she’ll defend that flesh-and-blood, even in the face of an apparent pre-destination so strong the signs of it are bleeding into other characters’ dreams. That’s what her shooting of Natalie meant to me anyway: a sign that Athena has had enough of the universe trying to tell her what will and what will not happen with her daughter. She’s taking a big risk in her actions, with consequences she can’t foresee. But I appreciated the power behind it, in terms of that stand against God or gods. At the same moment the President, Baltar and a lot of the military are jumped away for mysterious reasons, and in line with the unique crisis of the opening the episode has a pretty decent conclusion.

All that is left to talk about really is the sad case of Lt Felix Gaeta. It’s kind of impossible to not feel that he has become the true victim of the sheer inhumanity that life in this Fleet is, in this war, in this universe. Gaeta really didn’t do anything wrong on the Demetrius when you get right down to it, and his reward was to get shot in the leg by a moron who didn’t know what that actually meant, and then have vital medical care delayed for the better part of a day as his compatriots waited around for their deranged leader to fulfil her mission of destiny. Now, he loses that leg. It’s striking how Gaeta demands that he remain conscious for the amputation, which I think speaks to his desire to have the act, if it has been forced on him, undertaken on his terms. He couldn’t stop the bullet, but he can take a bit of fleeting control here.

Gaeta has a lot to be traumatised by. Physically, he has undergone an ordeal that can be described as life-changing without hyperbole. The person who inflicted this ordeal on him is seemingly not to be reprimanded for the act, at least not as far as we can see. And this comes after a storm of a time for him, that has seen him attempt to murder a prisoner in “Taking A Break From All Your Worries” and then perjure himself in a court of law in “Crossroads (Part Two)”. His response to all of this is to sing: a mournful ballad whose tune and lyrics speak to a terrible tragedy, and a desperate effort to undo what has been done. The time is going to come, and sooner than many would like, when Gaeta will not be satisfied with just singing his pain away. And as of right now, who could blame him?

You are never gonna take my child.

Notes

-The title is a play on the 1967 film Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner, about an inter-racial couple dealing with the reaction of their respective parents to their engagement. I’m not sure it’s the best thing for the Cylons to be a “what” in this case, but it’s a clever title otherwise.

-Wayne Rose is back as director for the first time since “Dirty Hands”. That was a better episode, but only just when you come right down to it.

-Lee complains about how hard it is to get in to see Roslin, and she responds icily with “I’m sure you’re quite happy to stay”. And she isn’t wrong. I do feel that Apollo has more political ambition than he lets on.

-Of course he remains a populist, very much “of the people, by the people, for the people” in all of his pronouncements. In a way it’s like Baltar, but much purer. Or naïve if you prefer.

-Starbuck isn’t making any promises to the rebel Cylons, suggesting that she has no idea if the Fleet will “feed you or frak you”. Nice bit of implied sexual violence there, wonderful.

-Here’s a question: why not let Demetrius jump back to the Fleet first, and then follow?

-There’s an obvious tension as the Demetrius queues up its FTL drive, from the music to the countdown. It’s clear that something is going to go wrong.

-I love the visual of ships of the Fleet having to dodge out of the way of the basestar, it really adds to the sense of chaos in that moment.

-“Weapons hold!” It’s not the first time Tigh has made a life-saving order in the CIC of his own volition – see “Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down” for a big example, but this is extraordinary. He knows it too, it’s just too much of a coincidence.

-Love that look that Adama gives Tigh here. He knows there is something strange going on.

-The count is down two, reflecting the deaths of Jean Barolay and Emily Kowalkski in the last episode.

-“Which one of them shot Gaeta?” asks Tigh of the rebel Cylons. I guess it’s meant to feel ironic, but the Cylons did actually kill a Colonial. That never gets brought up again it seems.

-I like that Adama is taking notes at this meeting with a pen and paper. Very simple, but a neat touch.

-First we are hearing of the “Resurrection Hub”, which doesn’t sit right really. It’s like “Death Star 2” in a way.

-Natalie doesn’t waste any time when trying to pitch an alliance to the Colonials: “Vengeance” is the one word she needs.

-Not unlike me, Adama isn’t easily buying the idea of the Hub. It’s just too tempting of an idea isn’t it?

-Once again, for like the sixth time, it’s Racetrack and Skulls that get to discover the vital MacGuffin in their Raptor.

-The “Hub” has a cool look though, an extension on previously seen Cylon designs.

-Our pan over Cottle/s surgical instruments here is deliberately ghoulish, with the sense they are depicted more as instruments of torture pretty prevalent.

-Tigh continues to reach new levels of irony, describing a successful hit on the Hub as meaning “Billions of skin jobs lose their bath privileges”. Is the process of Cylon resurrection well known enough that it has garnered such a moniker?

-I like the use of the phrase “Mortal enemies” here, emphasis on “mortal”.

-The sight of Colonials on the basestar in these numbers is quite strange. The CGI backdrop could be a bit better too.

-Zarek doesn’t have much time for Roslin’s conciliatory message on Cylon/Colonial cooperation, devolving into “Blah, blah, blah” in his narration. It’s a little catty for him, which is telling.

-And in the same scene, everyone is suddenly looking at Apollo for answers. Is this a sign that he is seen as close to Roslin, or that people are just naturally looking to him for leadership?

-Sam is clearly dealing with his own mental trauma. His repeated “He sings” as he describes Gaeta is a sign off that, a toneless mantra wherein Anders betrays his inability to deal with the weight of events.

-“You’re sleeping with him right?” That sound you’re hearing is off a multitude of jaws clenching all at once.

-“Your friendship and your trust mean…” “…Frak”. This would indicate “frak” is a singular phrase, like “shit” not “fuck”. If it was the opposite Roslin should presumably say “frak all”.

-Roslin is at her vindictive best as she insists that Try is going to get information from Baltar “on your knees praying or just on your knees”. This would make her the second person to attempt to pimp Tory out for her own ends, right?

-“Gaeta’s Lament” is an interesting little tune, that remained me a bit of “She Moved Through The Fair”. The lyrics involve the singer asking for three wishes: that an unnamed “she” be spared pain, find true love and “wake” in exchange for the singer’s life. It was written by Michael Angeli, with McCreary providing the music. Juliani is trained as a singer, and his performance is wonderful.

-I’m not sure what a vote of no confidence in Roslin actually means coming from the Quorum. Roslin’s reaction indicates that it is quite serious, would it mean she has to resign or something like that? Like a loss of supply in a parliamentary system maybe?

-Apollo’s assessment of the Quorum’s reaction to the emergency jump is pretty chilling: “They were empty”. The danger doesn’t mean anything anymore. It’s another glimpse of the disintegration of the Fleet.

-The spark certainly seems to be gone for Baltar and Tory. The aftermath of this particular bout of lovemaking lacks any kind of affection, with Foster looking annoyed at her predicament. Or is the implication that have just gone to bed and are now doing nothing?

-Baltar’s assessment of Roslin is brutal. We might remember the man who insisted that Roslin was fundamentally honest in “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part Two)”. Now she’s a hypocrite, a liar and a threat to democracy.

-While they are there to guard against anything untoward from Natalie, it remains eerie to see Roslin flanked by Marines within a political context.

-Interesting, Natalie’s thoughts on the Cylon sense of time being effected by resurrection. When you have that option, the idea of days, weeks, months, years must start to have less bearing than they would otherwise.

-Starbuck gets to join in with all of the visions with a few flashes during Natalie’s speech, and can we just move along from this please? I suppose it does at least give us an alternative to the “harbinger of death” line, indicating it may be connected to the loss of Cylon resurrection.

-Baltar makes a fleeting visit to the medbay to see Gaeta, but does not approach him. Are we take this as a sign that he has gotten past Gaeta’s efforts to have convicted in “Crossroads (Part Two)”?

-The addition of Baltar to the visions is more of a return to what we se previously of him in the opera house – all the way back in “Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Part Two)” – but at least propels this plot along.

-Man, how creepy is Hera’s “Bye bye” in this scene? Are we take it from this that the child is expecting to leave?

-Roslin and Starbuck appear to be reconciled, at least somewhat. What occurred in “Six Of One” appears to have been forgotten anyway.

-Hera’s Six drawings…the creepy just keeps building up and up with this little girl, huh?

-There are some bad extras in some of the scenes near the conclusion, like those that maybe don’t move out of the way of the Centurions properly.

-Tyrol has seemingly been demoted to basic maintenance work after his meltdown in “Escape Velocity”. Given how banged up Galactica is, that might be a more important job than we realise.

-I don’t think that Athena and Tyrol have had any interaction since “Resurrection Ship (Part Two)”, right? It’s always going to be strange seeing the two together, given Tyrol’s past relationship with Boomer.

-Athena’s choice is direct and unmistakable: she shoots Natalie because she thinks it is the only thing she can protect her daughter in that moment.

-It was always a bit orgasmic, but the Hybrid jump that occurs at the end of this episode is especially so.

-We close on Gaeta’s mournful song, and while it is difficult to apply the lyrics to the situation at hand, it certainly imbues the conclusion with the right sense of dread and foreboding.

Overall Verdict: I think I came around a bit on “Guess What’s Coming To Dinner?” in the course of writing this review. There’s definitely problems here, with the biggest being the sense that there is too much going on in the episode, especially in its last ten minutes. A lot of plot lines get some progression here, or in some cases a jump start. But generally I appreciate the narrative of the Colonials and the Cylons being so unable to trust the other that they are enacting plans of betrayal very quickly, I like that the Four of Five all get stuff to do and I think that the Athena plot that closes the episode is strong. If we proceed on the basis that Season Four is better the longer you think about it, that won’t be the worst outcome. We’ll see.

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5 Responses to NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Four: “Guess What’s Coming To Dinner?”

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