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

I shouldn’t need to spout the words.

Air Date: 20/02/2009

Director: Robert M. Young

Writer: Jane Espenson

Synopsis: Ellen returns to the Fleet, with her arrival propelling a personal crisis with Tigh and Caprica Six. Baltar attempts to take control of the Cult once more, finding unexpected opposition and opportunity. The Final Five consider abandoning the Fleet.

Review

OK, let’s get this over with.

“Deadlock” is a crash back to Earth for BSG, the first flat-out bad episode of the show since “The Road Less Traveled”, and it all comes down, once again, to Ellen Tigh. She’s a character at the heart of a story that just does not work, where the overuse of the word “love” makes me think of a line from John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines and a character who demands that word from an SO: “You need a robot that says nothing but ‘I love you'”. It’s “love” this and “love “that, as BSG devolves into the worst kind of soap opera. It’s done that before, most effectively in “The Eye Of Jupiter” but in this instance it doesn’t work at all, maybe because the base layer is a plotline I never thought was a good idea in the first place and because one of the characters involved is someone I don’t want to see anymore.

I really, really do not need a love triangle consisting of Tigh, Ellen and Caprica Six. I especially don’t need one where the Ellen of “No Exit” just seems to vanish, replaced by the same old Ellen we knew before, a woman who gets a thrill out of turning the screw emotionally wherever she gets a chance, and making Tigh, and everyone else for that matter, dance to her tune. That Tigh just goes back to her as quickly as he does, having sex in the briefing room while he decides not to say anything about his other relationship, is bad enough, but then we get Ellen torturing Caprica Six with that knowledge, as well as getting into shouting matches with Tigh over Caprica’s pregnancy. The way that Ellen focuses in on Caprica’s pregnancy as a betrayal she needs to get back at Tigh and Caprica for, rather than keep looking at the bigger picture of what it means and what is happening in the Fleet, just makes “Deadlock” a very difficult watch: she votes for the Cylons to abandon the Fleet solely as a means of hurting Tigh, which is just such a ridiculous plot point when you think about it. The catty, unpleasant Ellen of the first two seasons – I think of “Sacrifice” where I counted three distinct moments where she caused disaster through her grating characterisation – is just not watchable in this role as one of the most important characters in the show.

I feel like telling the writers to pick a lane with Ellen: she can’t be both the woman who spent 18 months going back-and-forth with Cavil in a subtle verbal battle on the nature of Cylon existence, and this petty, nasty, low creature. It really is just a total about face, and not a welcome one. And then it gets worse with the slop of a finale where, after stressing Caprica Six to the point of triggering a miscarriage, or so it seemed to me, Ellen and Tigh are seemingly reconciled near the moment of the baby’s passing. All the while, these characters prattle on about “love” like it’s some kind of measurable entity that Tigh needs to show the right amount of to Caprica. When the Cylons were first going on about this idea back in Season One it seemed understood that it was a religious gambit, but here it’s like they think Cottle is measuring “Liam” for a love count of some kind. There’s just no aspect of this triangle that I enjoyed watching or found entertaining, or in any way vital: indeed I feel that the entire Caprica Six pregnancy arc has been a mistake, and part of me suspects that the miscarriage suffered here may well have been a course correction. If it allows us to move on past this must awful version of Ellen, and this insipid back-and-forth between her and Tigh, then at least there will be that. I suppose this plotline does give us a few very good scenes, especially the last, between Tigh and Adama, and isn’t it crazy that I have to praise that in a story that features a woman losing an unborn baby?

The main aspect of this plot should be the debate of the title, wherein the Final Five agree to vote on whether they should stay with the Fleet or leave it to its fate. It’s an interesting question, even if the idea that they all agree to be bound by a vote is a little hard to swallow in the case of Tigh. Tigh, who identifies the most strongly with humanity, of course votes to stay, and there is little to examine into that. Tory votes to leave, and that too is an accurate reflection of her journey through Season Four. Anders doesn’t get to vote here, but made clear his preference in “No Exit”: he too, I think, identifies with humanity more than the others, but more than that his brush with an understanding of the Cycle has given him an urgent need to remain with the Fleet and see it out. Tyrol is more interesting really, very quickly voting to leave, despite his recent re-instatement in the Fleet military. With the situation over his son apparently resolved, there appears to be very little left tying him to humanity: no wife, no child, doesn’t look like many friends. In that respect I suppose it makes sense, but I would have liked at least a bit more hesitancy in the decision.

It all comes down to Ellen, conveniently, and as part of her demented personal vendetta she votes to leave, setting off one of the most painful to watch sections of the episode. She dresses up her nonsense as a means of protecting the “pure” Cylon child in Caprica’s womb, casually dismissing the existence of Hera in the process. Tigh counters with a righteous and frankly long past due dismissal of the idea that the Final Five all have to conform to a majority decision, and Ellen’s “petty and vile” line of thinking. Of course it’s all just nastiness from Ellen, a means of trying to break Tigh and Caprica Six apart, and I just can’t keep writing about this sub-plot. It’s just awful, an unpalatable sauce on top of what should have been a juicy steak.

On Caprica Six, she gets a fair proportion of the episode, but it’s just all over the place. She gets assaulted in Dogsville, and it isn’t made clear why she was even there in the first place. She shares a very strange scene with Roslin where the President feels compelled too apologise to her for that assault, before bringing up the visions they previously shared: I thought Roslin was done with all of that “farce” as she said in “A Disquiet Follows My Soul”? She gets into it with Ellen where the two are basically fighting over the safety of her unborn child and the love of Saul Tigh, in a scene where Tricia Helfer honestly looked as much at sea as she has ever been in the entire shows run, and who can blame her: Six has been turned into a completely different character with such things. Yes, the miscarriage scenes will touch even the stoniest of hearts just a little, but I really do feel as if not enough was done to build up to such a moment properly. Caprica Six is one of the most important characters in the show, and from “Escape Velocity” to here, she’s been wasted in this dead end of a sub-plot.

Thank God for Gaius Baltar then, whose time returning to the Cult gives “Deadlock” an interesting, if slightly contrived, sub-plot to distract from everything else. Baltar, having cut and run in “The Oath”, comes back to the harem, and finds, to his horror, that “the sheep have a new shepherd”. Indeed, the Cult has actually become a little divided: between those who still have a great deal of time for Baltar’s supposed message of brotherly love for all those in the Fleet, and those who prefer Paulla’s somewhat more cynical view of taking power for themselves and adopting a defensive posture. Baltar comes to realise that the inferior minds he has been leading, or so he surely thinks of them, really do latch on to whomever shows authority in his absence.

His gambit to regain control is to suddenly become a man of the people in a much larger sense than before, reaching out to the unconverted and showering his potential apostles with food. In essence, Baltar shores up his own power with some short-term actions of benevolence, which looks good when framed against Paulla’s unwillingness to help those in need, regardless of her practical reasons for doing so. People appreciate a charitable man, even if the charity in question is not sustainable and arguably not very wise. Baltar will always seemingly find a way to turn his talent for the theatrical and his aura of the divine to ways that will do him good and leave rivals in the ha’penny place. He even knows when to to go along with Paulla’s way, and when to stick the knife into her.

Baltar’s higher motivations for doing all of this remain in question, with him expressing a happy feeling when giving, but one couched in very selfish terms: the act is all about the satisfaction it seems to give him, a satisfaction tied to how he is perceived by those he is giving too. Baltar is never going to be purely good person really, and this is as good as we will see on that score: doing good things for those who deserve it, as long as it benefits him in some way. No surprise to see that it is Head Six pulling the strings in that regard, with Baltar’s dalliance with heresy in “A Disquiet Follows My Soul”, and the extended version of the same story, now banished as she regains some control.

Tied into this plot is the fraught situation in Dogsville, where the civilian population is increasingly left to police themselves, with predictable results. The collapse may have been stalled somewhat by the defeat of Gaeta’s mutiny in “Blood On The Scales”, but the signs of it are all back again in our look at something approximating a food riot, a lack of marines and guns being openly shown on the deck by toughs out to literally steal the food from babies’ mouths. Such things put a temporary kibosh on Baltar’s plan to be the man who feeds the people, but then it also gives him an opportunity to become so much more.

When Baltar goes to the nominal powers that be in the Fleet and warns them that the situation in Dogsville is prelude to a full-on revolution, we know that they are not idle words in any way, shape or form. Despondent people will only take so much, and if Galactica lacks enough marines to hand out food without it being stolen, then who knows what could happen. Baltar’s solution is one that would have been unthinkable only a few short episodes ago, but now makes a warped form of sense: for his Cult to become an armed security force, who will make sure food goes where it needs to go. That Adama both shamefully washes his hands of the situation in Dosgsville and legitimises Baltar’s Cult in the same instance is the price that he has to pay, and even if it means that there will be less stealing of food the final image of the plot – the Cult swooning over the assault rifles they have been handed – is a disturbing one. One has to admire Baltar though: he starts “Deadlock” on the outs, facing a rival with a big hold on the Cult, and ends it back in control, the rival neutered, and now at the head of what we have to call an armed militia with fringe religious motivations. Where do we go from there?

The last part of the episode worth talking about revolves around Adama’s growing concern about just what Galactica itself is becoming. In “No Exit” he made the call that he would do whatever it took to save the physically disintegrating ship, but in “Deadlock” we see a man still in turmoil over this decision, disgusted by the “resin” the Cylons are pumping into its supports and looking distinctly unconvinced at the repairs that are being attempted everywhere.

The problem isn’t just physical, it’s in what this move to merge Cylon biological technology with Galactica represents, which is little more than a “blended” ship. Cylons are already operating on Galactica as pilots, now as de facto engineers, and their FTL technology has been used to upgrade all the ships in the Fleet, or at least I presume so. They are walking around the hallways of Galactica freely. Adama is not so far gone with his approval of the Cylon alliance that he is happy with such a state of affairs, and his hesitancy with the nature of the repairs reflects that unhappiness. It takes Baltar of all people to really put the question to him: is he going to be satisfied with Galactica becoming a ship that is both Colonial and Cylon?

In the end Adama continues the fightback against this prospect by endorsing Baltar’s “last human solution” to the Dogsville problem, but he can’t even get to the end of the episode without realising it is a losing battle: as soon as he sees Cylons using the memorial hallway in the same manner as humans do, both he and Roslin realise the futility of fighting against the idea of a blended ship. It’s already blended: in the struts and bulkheads that are now being held together by Cylon science, and in a crew who are partaking of the same rituals of remembrance and sorrow. But that doesn’t mean that the question has been resolved exactly, either with Galactica physically, or with Galactica’s soul.

No, the only thing worse than being leader of this lot would be being one of them.

Notes

-The title seems to indicate that the Cylon dilemma over whether to leave the Fleet or not will be the main plot. It is not.

-The Cylon “resin” is some dodgy looking stuff, tar-like and unpleasant.

-I think this is our first look at Dogsville since “Maelstrom”? Things haven’t improved much, with food riots a common occurrence.

-Why is Caprica Six in Dogsville at the start? Is she lining up for food? I would have assumed as the paramour of an officer she wouldn’t need to do that.

-“I don’t trust that machine” says Tigh about the monitor for his unborn child, and he’s cognizant enough to give a wry smile at the irony.

-As indicated by Adama later, “Liam” is indeed a shortened form of “William”, from Germanic origins.

-Interesting that both Vipers and Heavy Raiders intercept the Raptor. Is this co-ordinated or are the Cylons just joining in?

-Starbuck says over the radio that the Cylon onboard is “a Sharon”. Adama replies softly “An Eight”. He’s wisely putting the walls up straight away.

-A pertinent question never asked: how does Boomer find the Fleet? Do the Cavil-led Cylons know where it is?

-I suppose it is intentional that our first glimpse of Ellen shows off a lot of leg, with I presume an intentional nod to her entrance in “Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down”. The sudden reversion to the old character begins there.

-I love Hot Dog’s almost meta commentary on what he sees: “How many dead chicks are out there?”

-Tyrol now seemingly has the ability to identify specific Cylon models, ID’ing Boomer with just a gaze into the eyes.

-The count is unchanged, for once.

-Now Adama is walking around with a flask of alcohol. That gets a wearied look from Roslin.

-Ellen points out that the Five represent the only survivors of a planetary holocaust, which is a sobering way of looking at it.

-Adama’s look back as he leaves the room is very telling, full of concern and foreboding. As far back as “Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down” he’s had serious reservations of what Ellen means for Tigh.

-The demented aspect of Tigh’s sexual hang-ups continues as he now sees Six when having sex with Ellen.

-Gotta love Baltar’s hesitant return to the Cult, waiting for just the right moment to announce his arrival. Ever the showman.

-Also gotta love Baltar’s faux-outrage at Paulla’s contempt: “Abandoned!?”

-Baltar sees things slipping away from him very quickly, and tires desperately to get ahead of criticisms of his departure: “I knew if I stayed away you’d find the strength”.

-Ellen isn’t messing around as she has a very pointed conversation with Tigh: “Who’d you frak?”. She does not like the answer, which brings up similar Oedipal issues as we saw between her and Cavil.

-Tigh attempts to explain how he kept seeing Ellen whenever he had sex with Caprica, and she hilariously complains about being Tigh’s “mental porn”.

-Cottle leaves the Cylons alone with Anders with the sarcastic warning of “Don’t unplug anything”.

-The Six in this scene describes the group as “the Cylon family”, which is a new one. Not much of a family it has to be said.

-I’m right onboard with Tyrol’s reaction to Ellen and Tigh’s embarrassing spat, suggesting that they get back to the slightly more important issue of whether the Cylons should leave the Fleet.

-This “majority rule” idea is so stupid, the thought that someone like Tigh will abandon the Fleet just because Tory and Tyrol say he should.

-Baltar hasn’t lost his touch, swerving to avoid embarrassment when he meets a child called Gaius and is informed mid-sentence that he is named after his father: “I’m very flattered…to have the same name as his father”.

-He hasn’t lost that political touch either. The way he grandstands with this woman in this scene reminds me very much of his speech to the press lambasting Zarek in “Colonial Day”.

-Roslin’s apology to Caprica Six is just strange, a way for her to bring up visions that I thought she didn’t care about anymore. What’s with the 180 turn on this?

-Why is Starbuck carrying the bullet Cottle took out of Sam? Is this another totem for their relationship, like the dogtags that were so important in “The Farm” and “Downloaded”?

-There are multiple scenes in “Deadlock” of Adama just looking, distressed, at the repairs being carried out, and I guess the point is to lay the groundwork for the more fateful decision upcoming regards the ship.

-Oh, how I can do without Ellen using the words “making love”.

-I like Caprica’s refusal to flinch in the face of Ellen’s insinuations about her unborn baby: “No, it was a threat”. Wrong tack to take Ellen.

-Baltar’s charity is interrupted by a gang of toughs, who are led by G. Patrick Currie’s Enzo, making his only other appearance outside of “The Passage”.

-Enzo isn’t too impressed by the Cult’s show of pistols: “Ours our bigger”. I’d say the more potent thing is their willingness to use them.

-I mentioned last time that we have to consider the possibility of Adama being an alcoholic, and here he is drunk again. I’d say there’s hard evidence for it now.

-Drunk Tigh is in good form, claiming his “Great grandpa was a power sander”.

-“I see it”. Adama isn’t totally blind to what is happening, he’s just keeping quiet. The idea of a blended ship isn’t something he wants to confront openly just yet.

-Head Six asks the really pertinent question of Baltar, regards Paulla: “Do you think she’s giving them hope?” She knows that a blind grasp at optimism will trump cynical pessimism every time.

-Playing nice isn’t doing it for Baltar anymore, so he goes for the jugular with Paulla in front of the others with a parental-style takedown: “I am so disappointed in you”

-For the first time since “Escape Velocity” I think, Baltar finds himself being parroted by Head Six. It’s always amusing to see him recite her lines.

-Gotta love the delivery of “Guns! More guns! Bigger guns! Better guns!”

-Man, when did Tigh become the voice of reason in all of this nonsense? Here he warns the Cylons that opting for a “pure” Cylon future won’t work, and of course he’s right.

-Ellen’s “I’m sorry” at the top of this medbay scene made me literally say “Really?” out loud on this re-watch. It’s a jarring tonal shift from her attitude in the last scene.

-Tigh’s love monologue is a sloppy mess of different sentiments, which is a good reflection on the episode I suppose. It’s the rancid cheery on top of this whole experience.

-No, wait, it’s the moment when Tigh decides he buys into all of this “love will stop physical health problems” schtick when Liam flatlines: “That was me, I take it back, I’m sorry”.

-Adama just has no time for Baltar: “I’m going to the head, a little project I’ve been working on”.

-“Galactica is slipping away from you drop by drop”. Good line to get through to Adama from Baltar, cutting to the heart of the issue.

-Baltar brings up the possibility that Adama will need to bring Centurions to Galactica to enforce order, an idea that is actually the focus of deleted scenes between Adama and Roslin. It’s more than Adama can accept.

-Baltar offers up “the last human solution” to the problem presented, and I love the cut to him and the Cult fondling assault rifles. Really well done.

-Bit creepy, Tyrol gazing at a sleeping Boomer, but it is set-up for the following episode at least.

-A brief moment establishes that Anders isn’t entirely gone just yet, setting up a major part of the next few episodes.

-You have to be struck by Adama and Tigh embracing as they do at this moment of grief. Ellen wasn’t wrong about how strong the bond is between the two.

-I would imagine that any Cylon “use” of the memorial hallway would get torn down pretty quick by humans, so this moment perhaps doesn’t have the same impact for me that the writers intended.

-I do like the closing line though: “It’s already happened, hasn’t it?” Adama is behind the times it seems.

-One thing worth recording from Ronald D. Moore’s podcast notes on this episode is that the surviving mutineers have all apparently been imprisoned on the Astral Queen, though we’ll never get to see either that process or what that actually looks like.

Overall Verdict: “Deadlock” does some really good plot work regards Baltar and his Cult, and with Adama’s dilemma over the Galactica, and even merges those two plots together successfully at the conclusion. Everything else, this ridiculous Tigh family drama, is about as bad as BSG has ever been to watch, and I do not say that lightly. The stakes are just too high right now for any of this awful interpersonal stuff to land right. We’re heading into the final stretch of the show now, and we’ve just gone straight into a serious pothole of bad writing and performances that can’t rescue the bad writing. The car is wobbling, and needs to get put back on the straight-and-narrow real quick.

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

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