NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Four: “Sometimes A Great Notion”

She kissed me good night 45 minutes ago, and there was joy in her eyes. So tell me, why would she do this?

Air Date: 16/01/09

Director: Michael Nankin

Writer: Bradley Thompson & David Weddle

Synopsis: The Fleet reels in the aftermath of finding Earth, as numerous figures confront the awful reality of what is on the planet’s surface. Apollo struggles to prevent a panic, but gets unexpected assistance from Dee.

Review

One of the key plot ideas of Season Four has been the growing collapse, of the Fleet structures, of military discipline, of certain characters. At the conclusion of “Revelations”, it seemed as if everything was going to be all worth it, only for the joy and hope of finding Earth to turn to ashes in an instant. Now, we deal with the aftermath, and the acceleration of the collapse that can only be considered an inevitable consequence. How can a military chain of command, an established political system of governance, a carefully crafted alliance between once-warring factions survive, in the face of the awful horror that is the reality of Earth?

The sense of despair that is all over “Sometimes A Great Notion” is very well carried off. There’s the obvious things, like Roslin burning the Pythian prophecies, and the more subtle things, like how the various members of Galactica’s crew stop adhering to the defined order. This is worse than the aftermath of the holocaust in the Miniseries, Adama’s brush with death after “Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Part Two)”, the divide of the Fleet in “The Farm”, the Cylon occupation of New Caprica. This is a deeper misery, one that is striking at the heart and soul of what is left of humanity. The drama of “Sometimes A Great Notion” is in seeing how everyone deals with this: some rise to the challenge, some fall down and others seek a way out.

Dee is an inspired choice of central character to guide us through all this. The episode gives D’Anna a little bit of time to play a similar role, but this is the Dee show through and through. She hasn’t really had this kind of focus since “Taking A Break Fromm All Your Worries”, but she’s never stopped being an important part of the Galactica landscape. Ever since her heart-to-heart with Adama in “Home (Part One)” Dee has been making a sizable impact: in “Revelations”, our exploration of how the Fleet processes this greatest of setbacks is focused through Dee’s experience, and it’s a brilliantly put together plot.

Once you view “Sometimes A Great Notion” through the prism of a person preparing for suicide, you come to realise how superb it is. Dee is numb on the Earth beach, then panicky in the Raptor back up, struggling to process everything and what it means for the future. From there, she appears to make a choice, one a first-time viewer won’t be conscious of until the end of the episode. She has decided to end her life, unwilling or unable to continue this gargantuan struggle through a universe where hopes and dreams are so easily crushed, and where a daily drudgery is her only reward. But she isn’t going to go without doing a few things first.

So she gets in her uniform and she goes about her day. She babysits for the Agathon’s, telling Hera with envy how the child has no idea what’s going on. It’s a nice moment, a pleasant bit of normality for her to relax into, sharing the idea of being blissfully ignorant of the larger heartbreak of the Fleet and being able to look forward to “just another day”. Then she meets Apollo, and chooses to be the person to inspire him a bit, reminding him of how they kept things together in the reduced New Caprica-era Fleet, something he can do again. In this we can perhaps see an effort to leave something behind her, in the form of a renewed and determined Apollo, who can help the Fleet when she is no longer in a position to. And then she decides to indulge herself, in the manner that we saw her do in “Sacrifice” and in the flashbacks of “Unfinished Business (Extended)”: putting on a nice dress, dolling herself up and going on a date with her husband, one which she proclaims to have been the “best fun” she has had in a while. Dee has stared into a figurative abyss where hope is no longer existent, and here she wants a reason to smile, a euphoria to enjoy, before she makes her final choice.

The suicide scene is shocking in the moment, but less so when you consider what we have seen. Dee becomes representative in the act, of a section of humanity that has reached their breaking point and has just enough lucidity left to make their final hours ones of positive interactions. That doesn’t make her choice any less heart-breaking, but there is perhaps a comfort in knowing that Dee was at least somewhat happy when she picked up that gun, a happiness that it would not have seemed possible to find if she decided to try and keep going. Depictions of suicide are always going to be things that will invoke a wide range of emotions, and where you come down on Dee’s mindset might well depend on your closeness to such an event in real life. You might disagree with my interpretation, and perhaps instead see a deeply wounded person who isn’t getting the support they really need. But that’s BSG. Hope has been at the heart of everything since Adama’s speech at the end of the Miniseries, and absent that hope it is difficult to begrudge someone this self-destructive act.

If Dee is representative of an high-emotion driven response to what has happened, then Roslin is something a bit different. She’s completely shattered by what is found on Earth, on a very deep level. It’s not just that the promise of humanity’s new home has turned out to be a lie, it’s that everything written down in the sacred texts has turned out to be a lie. Roslin has been at the centre of all of that, all of the destiny and “dying leader” stuff. She’s seen it first hand, in episodes like “Home (Part Two)” and “Rapture”. She was practically having a conversation with the One God in “The Hub”. It’s been built up and up in her head, and become intrinsically tied with her own existence.

So when it all comes for naught, we can understand what occurs with Roslin. The black pit she talked about in “Faith” opens up again, and where Dee responded with a collection of final acts ahead of an intended suicide, Roslin instead embraces this newly re-acquired nihilistic viewpoint and shuts down. She basically abandons her responsibilities as President. She burns the Pythian prophecies in a dramatic but very important act, and rejects Adama’s effort to comfort her. She also starts burning down her own life, refusing to continue her treatments, so in a way I suppose we could say that Roslin is undertaking a slower form of suicide. Very importantly, she also announces a belief that the choice made in the Miniseries – to turn and run in the face of the Cylon onslaught – was the wrong one, that they all would have been better off staying and dying there. She’s deconstructing every part of herself in other words, right down to the choices she made years ago. Our last glimpse of her is curled up in a foetal position as Adama gives his speech: we don’t get any firm indications that she is ready to snap out of it, but this dichotomy perhaps gives an indication of what might help her.

“Sometimes A Great Notion” leaves plenty of room for Starbuck, once again palling up with Leoben for a side adventure that still makes my skin crawl, and has since “The Road Less Traveled”. At least in this instance there is plenty going on to distract from it, namely discovering the truth of what occurred to her after “Maelstrom”. It seems she was somehow transported to Earth and crash landed there, and, oh yes, died in the process. Even Leoben, who among all the Cylons could be called the most unflappable, is so freaked out by the reality, and Thrace’s reveal that she is destined to lead everyone “to their end”, that he runs away from her (the Cylon reaction to all of this is perhaps too small a part of the episode).

So just what is Starbuck then, relative to what has only be revealed thus far? She’s not a Cylon, but that’s about as far as we know. Is she some kind of cosmically created clone of the old Kara Thrace, copied at the moment that Viper exploded? And all just to deliver a very vague way to a ruined planet? The finer details of the Cycle have never been clear, and it only seems to get more unclear. That seems especially the case, given that as some kind of angelic messenger Starbuck’s purpose has hit a dead end.

Dee responded to the horror by choosing to end her life, Roslin shut down and rejected the parts of herself that seemed intrinsic. Starbuck does some burning of her own, but a much more potent burning of what we have to describe as her former self. “Sometimes A Great Notion” doesn’t give us the space to know whether this is a cleansing act for Starbuck or a very dramatic display of denial, which at least will be an interesting thing for to explore in future episodes. But for now we are back to this swamp of a plot, which still amounts to only a little more than “Starbuck is crazy”, “Starbuck has a destiny” and “Yes Leoben, we should hang out more” none of which I can really describe as hugely appealing.

The Four of Five each get individual moments in “Sometimes A Great Notion” to mark themselves out, and in the case of Tigh some very important ones to forward the plot. Tyrol gets a glimpse of the person he apparently was on Earth 2’000 years beforehand, and from this brief look alone we see a very different kind of man to what Tyrol is currently: the effect on him is interesting in itself, he content to sit next to his blast shadow and wistfully remember. It’s implied that Sam and Tory were in a relationship, with Anders the composer of the Music; this reveal makes both uncomfortable, with Foster especially given her efforts to disassociate from humanity in the last episode. And Tigh gets the most interesting vision of all, a glimpse at the person he used to be and the person he used to be with, experienced as he wades out into that irradiated sea and perhaps contemplates death to at least some degree. The revelation that comes answers the key remaining question of the show’s run up to this point, namely Ellen as the identity of the final Cylon model. But in so doing, it just raises further questions as to the nature of Cylon resurrection, and how it got from Earth 2’000 years ago to the “modern” Cylons. That’s OK though: BSG needs something else to latch onto for the next ten episodes, and putting the identity question to bed helps with that at least. But there’s a hell of lot regards the Final Five and their existence on Earth that needs to be explained: I have not-so-great memories of the show’s efforts to do that, and I’m interested to see if it’s able to gazump me as the first half of Season Four has.

That leaves just Adama to talk about it. For the first part of the episode, he doesn’t seem to know what to do. He leaves Earth quickly and doesn’t go back. He tries to comfort Roslin, and gets nowhere. He ignores Tigh’s efforts to talk to him. While it is not a huge focus of the episode, it’s made clear that Adama just isn’t really processing what has occurred. It takes something much more personal in terms of hurt for him to have to confront the immense well of pain that is now lying at the heart of Galactica, and at the heart of himself.

We have to remember that Dee meant a lot to Adama. It was Dee who held his hand when he was shot in “Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Part Two)”. It was Dee, alone of the crew, who got through to him about the unacceptability of the Fleet schism in “Home (Part One)”. Adama commissioned her as an officer after the discovery of New Caprica, and thought enough of her to accept both her marriage to his son, and her promotion to XO of Pegasus. And while they haven’t shared any scenes in a while, the manner in which Adama reacts to Dee’s death in this episode is more than enough to show us how deep that connection was. Adama had a lot of surrogate children on Galactica – we might remember his last conversation with Kat in “The Passage” for example” – and Dee was very much one of those: she was not just a daughter-in-law.

So when Adama is confronted with the awfulness of her suicide, it’s understandable that something not too far from his meltdown in “Revelations” takes place. The sloppy drunkenness, the maudlin tone, the sense that he has collapsed internally, it is all there (Olmos, one again, is amazing in this role). Once again he’s placed opposite his son, with his son – who really has more cause to be torn apart by Dee’s death really – looking comparatively stable and functioning, steely eyed as he refuses the bottle. Adama has reached a critical tipping point with this latest tragedy, and he goes looking for a means to resolve it: one way or the other.

The means he stumbles into is his conversation with Tigh. It starts with both men at obvious cross-purposes: Tigh conciliatory, penitent, Adama angry, sarcastic, fuelled with bitterness. The Admiral isn’t really here to have a heart-to-heart with his XO, he’s here to goad him, and boy does he do his level best to do the goading. After barbs directed at Tigh’s Cylon nature and then some very low comments about Ellen, we get to the point where Tigh is pointing a gun at the Admiral’s head, while the Admiral does the same thing himself. It’s a very quick and shocking deterioration in the relationship between the two men, and thankfully Tigh – of all people, Tigh – is in a position to see things for what they are.

For Adama to have a death wish is the real low point for humanity. The President is already absent from the wheel, but now the person who personifies the military is contemplating an end to it all. But he doesn’t have it in him to pull the trigger, which is a critical point really: we can thus see this whole episode as a very dangerous tantrum, with Adama railing against all of the awful circumstances he has had to deal with in the last few days, and basically giving a brattish middle finger to the universe in response. It’s fuelled by grief, by his frustration with Roslin and more than anything really by that obvious over-indulgence with alcohol. That Tigh, a character synonymous with alcoholism, is the one to say that Adama has had enough, is very telling. He gets through to his friend with some blunt words, that call back to a similar speech from the same man in “Hero”, that appears to just about knock the right amount of sense into the Admiral.

He can’t shut down, like Roslin has. He can’t run away, like Leoben has. He can’t deny things, as Starbuck has. He can’t remove himself from the stage, as Dee has. He is too important, and he has to keep going. Not unlike some of his comments towards the conclusion of “Crossroads (Part Two)”, Adama decides to urge people to move on and put it all past them. Their ancestors were in a similar situation, and made it to a new home. They found a liveable planet before that wasn’t on Pythia’s roadmap. There are star systems to explore, and other potential homes out there to be found. Adama re-takes command in the CIC, still a little drunk in the very moment, but the leader that he has to be. He gives his orders – including the immediately controversial maintenance of the human/Cylon alliance – and the Fleet moves on. The healing, such as it is, starts with that action. But nothing is cured yet.

Don’t you ever want to stop fighting it, Colonel?

Notes

-The title comes from the Ken Kesey novel, which was itself inspired by the lyrics of the folk song “Goodnight, Irene”. “Sometimes I get a great notion / to jump in the river and drown.” It fits the episode in more ways than one.

-Even the water of the Earth tide looks dead in the opening shots, black and cold.

-It’s noteworthy in these opening shots that the ground party are all standing alone. Everyone is experiencing the horror in a solitary fashion.

-Dee’s mutterings as her Raptor returns to Galactica are heart-breaking, a quiet repeated mantra: “Just don’t give up, just don’t give up, just don’t fall apart.”

-The scene on the deck, there are no words to fully get across how awful it is. All of those expectant faces, waiting for good news. Waiting for hopes to be fulfilled.

-Roslin can’t bring herself to address the crowd even slightly. “Get me out of here” she whispers to Adama, who has to escort her away from the baying mass.

-The source of the signal the Fleet followed is Starbuck’s Viper, her original one, last seen blowing up in “Maelstrom”. We don’t need Leoben to tell us this is going nowhere good.

-The episode doesn’t linger on it, but it’s notable how Colonial and Cylon are working together on Earth in terms of digging up remains and testing them. Happy families, for now.

-The Earth Centurions are a good prop, similar enough to what we know to make the connection clear, but different enough to be, well different.

-The revelation that the 13th Tribe was Cylon is certainly a bit mind-bending. Did they live alongside humans on Kobol? Is this why they didn’t go to the Colonies?

-Apollo asks Roslin to take charge of the political ramifications, but she has nothing to say. Adama needs a favour from his son: “Carry the ball”.

-Nuclear shadows from objects, or people, caught in such a blast are a real phenomenon, with the most noteworthy example being “Human Shadow Etched in Stone” at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.

-Dee and Apollo might have had a marriage that was built on sand, but the connection between the two is never going to be closed. We saw that at the end of “Six Of One”, and we see it again here as she seeks him out.

-Dee is blunt in her advice regards what Lee should say to the Fleet: “Tell them the truth” Like her, she doesn’t think people need to be mollycoddled at this moment.

-Apollo basically asks Dee out on a date in this moment, and just like the final scenes of “Revelations”, you can delude yourself into thinking that it just might all be OK.

-Leoben and Kara don’t even acknowledge the terrible history between the two at any point, which is just a dreadful script choice. In 2022, it looks even worse.

-The Starbuck found in the Viper isn’t just dead from the crash, she’s cooked. It’s a good prop, and it’s good we only see it for a second.

-I’ll admit, I do like that Leoben becomes scared of Starbuck. He’s having his own crisis of faith, and this is his way of dealing with it.

-Anders thinks he wrote the Music for “a woman I loved”, and given the way Tory pops up here to back up this assertion, you get the feeling it was her. It’s been a while, but we have to remind ourselves that the two were getting sexual in “Crossroads (Part One)”.

-Burning the prophecies – essentially the same as someone burning a Bible to make a crude comparison – is a very powerful thing for Roslin to do. It’s a destruction of a lying past, that leaves only nothingness in its wake, reflective of where Roslin is at this moment.

-I’m really struck by Mary McDonnell’s performance in this scene. It would be easy for it to be hammy, but she makes it work, with limited dialogue and a limitation of emotion.

-“Burn…burn” is all that Roslin can say as she is left alone. It’s pretty haunting.

-Starbuck works hard to make a pyre, and sci-fi fans will of course think back to the conclusion of Episode VI. It’s a stunning visual image though, the fire against the black night and Thrace standing nearby.

-The music for this segment is “Funeral Pyre”, a mournful tune that sounds like a sadder version of “Resurrection Hub”. Kandyse McClure does some simple choral singing for it, and it works very well.

-Apollo’s speech to the Quorum, from his drunken memory of it, is actually pretty decent, framing the discovery of Earth as a means of breaking free from prophecy and pre-destination. I mean, it’s not that convincing, but it is as good as it could have been in the circumstances.

-It’s subtle, but we might notice that member of the deck crew sitting in this hallway, seemingly doing nothing. The collapse is evident in that.

-Dee’s final message is “Thank you for that”, for the fun night she has had with Apollo. It might be the most meaningful thing she’s ever said, because that night has made her ready to end her life. Still, she lingers at the door of the officer’s quarters, perhaps caught between maintaining the decision or inviting Lee in.

-Dee wants to “hang on” to the feeling of happiness that she has for as long as she can, perhaps as a means of steeling her resolve for what is about to happen.

-It’s another terrible shock to the system, when Dee brings that gun up to her temple and fires. It’s genuinely as big a surprise – bar “Revelations” – as BSG was ever able to pull, at least with me. Up to that point I thought the Dee plot was about humanity learning to go on with things.

-The reaction to Dee’s shooting is very well-handled, between the shock and the rather pathetic efforts of people to delude themselves that she needs a medic. The focus on Gaeta in all this is far more important than we might realise at the time.

-I like how Adama’s state in the morgue isn’t clear, until he answers Apollo’s query as to why Dee would have done what she did: a slurred “I don’t frakking know”.

-Adama offers the bottle, but Apollo rejects it, a good moment for Lee. He’s seen how far his father fell just one episode ago.

-The first of two important non-verbal ques for Gaeta in this episode as Apollo leaves the morgue. He’s looking for answers but not getting any.

-Echoing the conversation that the two had in “Home (Part One)”, Adama tells Dee’s corpse “I let you down”.

-Adama’s march through the corridors is a rare break from the cinema verite style, and what we see is mesmerising in all the wrong ways: crewmembers openly weep, brawl, drink, graffiti or sit around looking despondent in the hallways, a truly hellish vista. One person puts her hands in her pockets as the Admiral passes. It’s all broken down. The sequence is one of the most memorable of the entire show.

-Adama slams the gun down on Tigh’s desk, and you have to imagine this is meant to be a call-back to a similar moment in “Torn”.

-“Sit down, Cylon”. You know straight away this is not going to be a pleasant conversation.

-Adama ask bitterly if Tigh had been “programmed…to be my friend”. In his head Tigh’s Cylon nature still constitutes a betrayal, or at least an attack by an outside force.

-Adama really does go right for the sorest spot in this moment though, describing when Ellen allegedly came on to him as Tigh’s dead wife being “like a dog in heat”. It’s a nasty recitation of a gutter memory.

-What unfolds is a bizarre form of Mexican stand-off, with Adama threatening to shoot himself if Tigh doesn’t pull the trigger. Should we call it cowardly that Adama isn’t willing to do it himself?

-Tigh kills two birds with one stone when he refers to Adama’s mind state and abuse of alcohol: “I think we’ve both had enough”.

-Adama’s story of an uncle who used dogs to hunt foxes is a bit strange really, a tortured metaphor for his own potential desire to just lay down and stop trying. Given it’s a set-up for Tigh to literally wade into the sea at the conclusion it is a bit heavy-handed.

-In the end, the story seems to be Adama’s way of processing the mood of the Fleet: of being caught between continuing the struggle and accepting death. When put that bluntly Adama makes his choice.

-“And what are they gonna do without the old man here to lead them?” “Lead them where, Saul?” Isn’t that just the million dollar question now?

-We get a look at Apollo adjusting the survivor count at this point, our only look at it as the episode lacks main titles. Including Dee, it’s down 15. Taking away the crewmember D’Anna spaced in “Revelations”, that’s 13 unexplained deaths. Other suicides perhaps?

-Starbuck chooses not to reveal to anyone what she found down on Earth. More secrets is what the Fleet doesn’t really need right now, but I think this is one we can understand.

-Love that blunt graffiti outside the CIC: “Frak Earth”. Indeed.

-Adama’s orders are clear cut and unmistakable, lacking anything in the way of fluff: time to start looking at the right star systems for something else. No more crap about destined waymarkers.

-He also uses real-life classification for stars, which are based on temperature: F, G and K stars are those considered capable of supporting life. Our Sun is a G class.

-The second non-verbal que for Gaeta is the look we see on his face in this moment, which we could describe as a glower. Is it for the Admiral, the continued alliance with the Cylons, or both?

-Adama broadcasts to the Fleet and, like he did in the Miniseries, it’s a message of hope. Humanity did it before, and they can do it again.

-Very important is Adama’s final line here, that the discovery of a new home is “a promise I intend to keep”. That’s what will drive him now, not Earth, but keeping his word.

-D’Anna gets only a brief scene as a final goodbye to her and Lucy Lawless, where she embraces an inevitable death over a continuing struggle: “I’m getting off this merry-go-round”. The character perhaps deserved more, but absent the prophetical aspect of the show her relevance is limited.

-The Colonel does his own imitation of a fox and heads out to sea. Like others with Starbuck’s Viper, it seems like he has been “compelled” to do this.

-Tigh’s memory is the most vivid of those the Five experience, and I think is a good example of doing more with less: it’s a very basic set and a tight-in camera, but Hogan and Kate Vernon do what is required to make it work.

-“Ellen, you’re the fifth!” Did we really need this bit of explanatory dialogue?

Overall Verdict: This is a transition episode at heart, the needed aftermath after the devastating conclusion of what came before. But it is an extremely powerful bit of story-telling in its own right, one that explores brilliantly the effect of Earth’s discovery, and the varying ways in which people attempt to process what has occurred. It sets up the rest of the season very well, and I think can safely be considered another reason why Season Four is not the train wreck it has often been painted as being.

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9 Responses to NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Four: “Sometimes A Great Notion”

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