NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Four: “Someone To Watch Over Me”

What about that song? That song he taught you. The one that makes you happy and sad at the same time. Play that for me.

Air Date: 27/02/2009

Director: Michael Nankin

Writer: David Weddle & Bradley Thompson

Synopsis: Starbuck seeks to ease her anguish over her own life and Anders in an unlikely dual composition with a piano playing stranger in Joe’s Bar. Tyrol reaches out to an imprisoned Boomer, getting a glimpse of the life he could have had.

Review

This is an episode about people being stuck in cycles, with Starbuck and Tyrol taking on the mantle of being our main examples. It’s also the really important starting point for the show’s last act, and in being that it attempts to begin a process whereby the albatross of “Starbuck’s Destiny” finally starts to make some sense. It’s very important then, especially coming as it does, directly after the drek that was “Deadlock”. Someone To Watch Ove Me” is a definite improvement, but there are still some issues here.

I do love that opening montage where Starbuck is showcased vividly in terms of her own cycle and the way in which she is mired, which in its structure makes one think of the kind of confluence-heavy montage openings of “Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Part One)” and “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part One)”. Not unlike similar ideas as shown in episodes like “33” and “Flight Of The Phoenix”, we see the mental health-eroding nature of routine and monotony: all Starbuck has to fill her time right now is the same speech and the same mission, re-iterated day in and day out: find a new planet to live on. Going with this is her recurring visits to a seemingly braindead Anders, with the result so similar each time that Cottle has to start encouraging her to ease off on them: even by the end of the episode and the revelations that come with it, Starbuck will continue those visits, and only grow more attached to a husband she previously seemed to have very little time for.

The deeper problem seems to be that Starbuck simply doesn’t have a firm identity anymore. She lost that in “Sometimes A Great Notion”, when she found her charred corpse on Earth. Now, not knowing what she is exactly, she is unable to ground herself and seek any kind of higher purpose in her existence. To that end she exhibits signs of rejecting her past – or maybe we should say Thrace’s past, since whomever Starbuck is now it is not the same person we knew before “Maelstrom” – in eschewing Helo’s gift of her former possessions and the way she keeps coming back to the whiskey bottle. Much like in “Maelstrom”, this is a look at a woman who is simply not all there anymore, and in other circumstances you would be getting quite worried about: we’ve come a long way from “He That Believeth In Me” in some respects, but Starbuck is no further along in discovering just what she was sent back for exactly.

Enter the Piano Man, for lack of a better title. Starbuck needs someone to bounce off of if “Someone To Watch Over Me” is going to be anything other than a sob fest, and the usual suspects – Anders, Helo, Apollo – aren’t available for whatever reason. So she, and we, get it in the form of what appears to be a civilian using the piano in Joe’s Bar to compose something, that Thrace strikes up a back-and-forth with, initially over music, and then other things. In the Piano Man Starbuck finds a seemingly new party that she can open up to about what is plaguing her, and an outlet for other things as well.

I think it is important, all talk of the Cycle aside, that we get to see Starbuck be creative in this sub-plot. We’ve been watching her fall into this pit of despair and self-destruction since her miraculous return in “Crossroads (Part Two)”, that it would be easy to forget that Thrace is something of an artist, as we first found out in “Valley Of Darkness”. There’s probably never been a point in her life where she needs that kind of outlet more. In becoming a joint composer with Piano Man on this piece of music, Starbuck gets to briefly ascend beyond being the work-a-day CAG stuck in a rut, more than the wife grieving a husband who seems more dead than alive, and more than just an incomprehensible enigma who can’t let go of the image of a charred skull. There is healing in all of this before we get to the big stuff.

Not unlike the plot with her mother in “Maelstrom”, “Someone To Watch Over Me” allows Starbuck the opportunity to come to grips with her relationship and memories of an absent father figure, a musician she took revenge on by giving up music. As much as her abusive mother, that absence most have been the major formative aspect of Kara’s upbringing, a gaping hole of love and affection she has never been able to fill. It isn’t to the credit of BSG that it only brings all of this up here, but I appreciated the story that the episode was trying to tell, and the method it was trying to employ to get Thrace to where she needed to be. While it is obvious long before the Piano Man vanishes, the revelation that he is Starbuck’s father, or at least some kind of aspect of him, is a far more palatable way to draw Thrace back into the depths of the Cycle and its destined path than anything else we have seen so far in Season Four.

Perhaps it can be considered something of a convenient addition to the lore that Starbuck and her father are the people behind the Music, something, not unlike large parts of “No Exit”, that I suspect was come up with on the fly rather than as some sort of great pre-planned arc of revelations. The scene where the Piano Man starts off that tune, and Starbuck hesitatingly comes in to form that familiar melody, was great, with Sackoff doing much better in the performance of this strangely cathartic moment than with any of her “crazy” scenes earlier in the season. Obviously we don’t know just what the Piano Man is – is he the ghost of Dreilide Thrace, an angelic presence ala Head Six and Head Baltar, or maybe God himself? – but the enigma of that question is offset by the this powerful emotional moment where Starbuck remembers a positive interaction with her father, and gets to reconcile her need for love and purpose with his absence previous in her life. Where we go from here regards Starbuck’s Destiny, or the Music, or Hera’s involvement in all of this – see below for more thoughts on that – is up in the air. But at least I can say that I am interested, and far more interested in answering that question than anything to do with the Final Five recently.

The other person stuck in a cycle and looking for a new purpose is Tyrol, and like Starbuck he too ends up looking to the past. It is a long time to go back to the Tyrol/Boomer plotline, that was last explored to any great degree in “Resurrection Ship (Part Two)” when Tyrol claimed to be done with the whole thing. We know, from episodes like “Lay Down Your Burdens (Part Two)”, “Taking A Break From All Your Worries” and “Escape Velocity” that he’s never been able to fully get beyond the hang-up, but it has been a distant thing. Now, years removed, it’s front and centre again. It’s a bold choice, and needs to be carried off really smoothly if the show is to avoid accusations of going back to the well too many times. Thankfully, “Someone To Watch Over Me” is able to do just that.

Tyrol has long since been losing his grip on whatever connection to humanity he had, as exemplified by his quick vote to abandon the Fleet in “Deadlock”. But he also doesn’t seem fully able to get onboard with his Cylon nature either, a situation exacerbated when the rebel Cylon leadership announce their intention to put Boomer on trial and execute her for her “treason” with Cavil. Caught between the two extremes, Tyrol is left in the middle, a man without an identity, and looking for anything to grasp onto. What he finds is a very dangerous, and subtly toxic, form of nostalgia for a time long past.

I’ll get into Boomer’s side of things in just a sec, but for now I want to note how Tyrol finds himself positively luxuriating in the idea of a life with her, and with their daughter (it’s unclear how “real” this girl is: Tyrol’s reaction at the end of the episode indicates she might have been less an ethereal vision, and more of a complex entity). The projection that Boomer allows him into is the perfect form of escapism: from the drudgery of the repair job, from the life without attachment, from the lack of purpose. With Boomer, in the house that she has built and in this strange alternative history that she has created, Tyrol gets to have everything he really wants: a life worth living, a love to share and an identity as a husband and father. It works so well on him that Tyrol is willing to abandon his sense of propriety and all but beg Roslin not to hand Boomer over to the Cylons, and then prompts him to go even further. It’s obvious that he still loves Boomer, but he lets that love and this escapism blind him.

For all of his foolishness in helping Boomer, it’s difficult not to feel sympathy for Tyrol in these moments: the man really has lost just about everything over the course of BSG, so we should perhaps be understanding of how he reacts when presented with a vision of what might have been if things had gone differently. That’s maybe why the final moments of the episode are so heart-breaking: aside from being shown up as the worst kind of dupe, Tyrol is once again left with nothing, nothing but an empty house in a projection that is not even his, even this nostalgia-fuelled vision betraying him. The consequences of his actions are to come, but it’s hard not to see Tyrol as a ticking time bomb of negativity, driven by this laundry list of losses suffered.

The other side of the coin is this brilliantly orchestrated seduction by Boomer, now revealed to be an agent provocateur, presumably “rescuing” Ellen as part of a Cavil plot to kidnap Hera. But the brilliance of it isn’t in the ways in which Boomer gets inside Tyrol’s head, it’s in the shades of grey as to how much of it she means and doesn’t mean. Her projection of a happy life with Tyrol on Picon, complete with a child, is exactly what the Chief needs to see in order to get wrapped around her finger, and it does work very quickly, but by the end it is made clear enough that Boomer’s feelings for Tyrol are not manufactured: she really does seem to love him, and tries to take him with her, it’s just that she loves the Cylons more. Her heart-to-hearts, her joking nature, the tantalising glimpse of what once was, they all point to a character who is very good at getting what she wants out of someone like Tyrol, but that innate vulnerability, and regret, remains. Only BSG could take a child snatcher and make her sympathetic even in the act of child snatching.

Still, Boomer’s plan is brutal. We’ve come a long way from the woman who tried to change Cylon society in its totality on New Caprica as a means of making good with humanity. Kidnapping Hera is one thing, knocking Athena down is another. But to add a sexual encounter with an unrealising Helo, while Athena watches unable to intervene, is another level of cruelty entirely, perhaps some measure of personal vengeance against Athena for having the life Boomer wanted on Galactica. Of course Boomer wants to keep her charade going, but one feels she could have found a way out of that bathroom without giving in to Helo’s advances: the layers of twisted psychology to her whole arc in this episode pile up and up. As I said, it is hard for me to view Boomer as a flat-out antagonist, despite all of her immoral actions, she’s just been through far too much for that kind of blanket description. But that still doesn’t mean I want her to get away with this most vicious of strikes against the Agathons. I just wish that things could have worked out better for her, a victim of her nature and of Cavil’s theatrics as much as anything else. Still, watching her play so many people like a fiddle here is something else, and this betrayal of Tyrol is up there with anything similar depicted in the course of the show.

Boomer’s plot brings Hera back into the forefront of the narrative in a big way, pretty much for the first time since “Rapture”. It has been easy to forget about her and her supposed importance, when the only inkling of that importance was the strangely constructed and presented visions shared by Athena, Caprica Six and Roslin towards the end of Season Three. Here, the Cycle converge on Hera once again, as she is revealed to be have been the point, all along, for Boomer’s visit to the Fleet. Having failed to get the secret of resurrection out of Ellen, Cavil seemingly wants to have a closer look at a more natural way of doing it. The Cylons had that opportunity for much of Season Three though, so what will have changed?

Maybe it’s just that Hera is plugged into something otherworldly. We’ve seen glimpses of that, such as in her creepy drawings of Six in “Guess What’s Coming To Dinner?”, but here it really does seem as if the Cycle has leaped into her head, giving her the inspiration to write down the notes of the Music and then put them in Starbuck’s hands. Do the notes, and the Music, have any deeper significance from what we have experienced so far? What is Hera’s connection? Is she more than just the miracle of a hybrid child of human and Cylon, and instead a link to some deeper mystery? We will find out eventually of course, but I appreciated the effort to set-up Hera’s part in the finale here, even if, like the Piano Man, it does seem like a hasty addition to the canon, as opposed to something more well thought out.

And throughout all of this drama, there is the impending dread being created by Galactica itself. The lights flicker, the groans repeat, the ship even gives everyone a very unnerving shake at one point. The repairs are ongoing, but more and more are made to seem like a waste of time: when Tyrol indicates that Galactica has only a few more FTL jumps left in her, it might come as a bit of a shock, but only in so far as the ticking clock that we already knew was going has been limited to a very short time. This episode and the previous two have seen a very gradual sense of grim acceptance entering Adama’s character as it pertains to the ship: before Boomer gets her last vicious kick in, Galactica was already on its knees, its lifespan now to be measured in weeks, or maybe days.

But it’s that kick that you feel is going to be the decisive blow of course. There’s a question to be asked about the science behind the set-up and how it’s only coming up now, but the effect cannot be similarly interrogated: Boomer does a number on an already ailing ship, sending shockwaves down its damaged superstructure. Viewers, and Adama, can’t be so naïve as to think this is anything other than a fatal blow to a ship that was already on life support. It’s a brilliant conclusion to the episode, tying Boomer’s betrayal of Tyrol to a larger treason against the ship that once harboured her: in doing what she has done, Boomer might as well have just shot Adama again. That’s the level we are talking. You can’t have a show called Battlestar Galactica without the Battlestar Galactica. And we might not have the old girl for much longer.

All the things that I said about us. I meant them with all my heart.

Notes

-The title comes from the Oh, Kay musical song, which has as its themes love and acceptance.

-The opening montage is to “Elegy”, a downbeat piano piece from Bear McCreary that really gets at the heart of depression arising from repetition.

-Starbuck is seemingly the CAG again, though that isn’t made expressly clear. Helo has a commiserate rank of course, but I think Viper pilots get priority.

-On the foot of my thoughts on Adama and toothpaste in “A Disquiet Follows My Soul”, Starbuck offers the prize for finding a liveable planet: “the last tube of toothpaste in the universe”. The Fleet really is running out of the essentials, and one imagines dental problems actually becoming an issue.

-At Joe’s Starbuck appears to be slightly burning her palm with her lighter. We can add “self-harm” to the list of red flags then,

-Tyrol’s answer to the question of how many FTL jumps Galactica has left in her is not re-assuring: “Until the hull caves in”.

-The Cylons have gotten their representative on a new Quorum, and it’s a Six named Sonja. Would love to know how she was picked.

-A bit of a noticeable change from the usual visual style of BSG when Tyrol hears of the Cylon intentions towards Boomer, a slow zoom-in that is very stylised.

-The count remains unchanged for the second episode in a row, which I think is the only time that ever happens.

-Whatever is happening to Galactica is now bad enough to cause what I would call “shipquakes” through the superstructure, and I’m not really sure what could be doing that?

-I like that Cottle dismisses the Final Five, what’s left of them anyway, from Anders bedside. We need a break from them after last time.

-The Piano Man is apparently named “Slick” in the script, though I don’t see him being called that anywhere. He actually did appear briefly in the background during a scene in “Deadlock”.

-I do like that we get to see the Piano Man stumble over his music and express frustration. The piece comes together bit-by-bit, which reflects the healing nature of the interaction with Starbuck.

-Like this montage of flashbacks for Tyrol, as he remembers lying with Boomer in “Litmus”, their final brutal interactions in “Resistance” and his own thoughts on settling for someone else in “Escape Velocity”.

-Hera says “Thank you” when Starbuck compliments her drawing, which I think is her very first words?

-At first glance it’s hard to guess what Hera’s drawing is meant to be. Thrace guesses stars, and it is as good a guess as any.

-Boomer couches her actions on New Caprica as “a way to set things right” after her betrayal of humanity, but the way she went about it on that planet was a bit demented.

-“We both know who we are now”. I think Boomer’s implication – that she and Tyrol have an avenue to be together now her Cylon nature is a shared thing – is made clear.

-The Picon house in Boomer’s projection looks pretty similar to the Adama home in “A Day In The Life”, but I can’t find confirmation it is the same location.

-The Piano Man asks for Starbuck’s thoughts on his latest work. Gotta love the response: “It’s longer…a lot of notes”.

-Starbuck’s sense of loss becomes clear as she talks about her feelings of the music: “It’s like losing someone that you care about. Their car pulls away. You chase them. But they’re going too fast.”

-Tyrol is unable to handle the claims there’s nothing to be done about Boomer, and I love Douglas’ “can’t can’t can’t CAN’T!” in response. He’s starting to lose it.

-“We’re all in hell” is the only thing Tigh can muster up in the face of Tyrol’s complaints. No sign of Caprica Six in this episode, but he and Ellen seem to be getting along just fine.

-Very subtle, but effective, shift as we go back to Tyrol and Boomer: the Chief is now smiling and telling jokes, suddenly happy to dive head first into the nostalgia.

-The notches on the wall for the imaginary child are a nice touch by Boomer I will admit.

-The music here is “Dreilide Thrace Sonata No. 1”, and it won’t be the last time we hear it. We might be reminded of the piece we heard in “Valley Of Darkness” that was depicted as being from Starbuck’s father, though in actuality it is a Philip Glass composition.

-Douglas does a great job with Tyrol’s reaction to all of this, a feeling of total joy in the escapism of it.

-“My Dad used to play” is the line that will set the connection off in your head of course, but they had to start crafting the allusion somewhere.

-As an aside, the name of Starbuck’s father, “Dreilide”, means “Third eye” in German. A pretty obvious reference to seeing otherworldly things there.

-In her dreams, Starbuck sees herself playing in the negative space of a white void, which is certainly a startling picture.

-Better perhaps is seeing herself, or rather a younger version of herself, playing in the hanger deck, only to turn out to be the charred skeleton we saw before. Yeesh.

-Thrace has gotten very comfortable, very quickly, with the Piano Man, which is telling, opening up to him about her status as a copy of a dead woman and asking what it means. She knows this is her father, subconsciously anyway, and is confessing in a sense.

-The Piano Man tells Starbuck what she really needs to hear: “Just because you don’t know your direction, doesn’t mean you don’t have one”.

-Roslin really does lay down the law to Tyrol in their scene together. He seems to play on their positive interaction at the end of “Dirty Hands” but she’s having none of it, seemingly as aware of the threat that Boomer poses as anyone.

As Tyrol carries out his reckless plan, braining an Eight and switching her with Boomer, we get excerpts again from “Dreilide Thrace Sonato No. 1”. Its discordance fits the scene pretty well.

-“My gods, you’re just like my father”. We could really do without this line, couldn’t we?

-Like this look of Boomer walking the halls of Galactica with purpose, not unlike the excellent final shots of “Water”.

-At the end of her rant about her father’s abandonment of her and her mother, Starbuck seems to finally twig what is happening. She’s a few minutes behind the audience.

-I remember at the time a lot of people claiming that Starbuck’s father must have been Daniel, the artistic Cylon model mentioned in “No Exit”, but of course that made no sense: in that episode it was noted the whole line was wiped out a very long time ago.

-It’s grim, this look at a semi-conscious Athena forced to witness her husband’s unintended infidelity. “Someone To Watch Over Me” briefly becomes a Twilight Zone-esque identity horror.

-Of course Hera’s drawing is of musical notes, it’s obvious when they are put side by side. But what does this all mean?

-This specific recitation of the Music is from the track “Kara Remembers”. I like the way we slowly build to the recognition that it is the Music. Sackoff can actually play at least a bit of piano, and helped perform this section of music for the So Say We All live show of the score.

-I think this is our first and only look at the previously mentioned Galactica daycare? Seems awfully small for that many kids.

-Nice call back with the trunk Boomer is using to cart Hera around, I presume the same one Helo had put Starbuck’s reclaimed stuff in earlier.

-Combined with the look in the eyes and the delivery of “I meant them with all of my heart” in a situation where she doesn’t need to lie anymore, I think we can take it as given that Boomer retains real feelings for Tyrol.

-Boomer gets one last kiss with Tyrol, which adds yet another bit of heartbreak to the whole affair. She doesn’t have to do this, but she has picked her side.

-Grim, the image of Athena stumbling into the briefing room half-naked and wounded. Was the head right next door or something?

-That scream that Athena lets out is something else. There’s a lot of anguish in that sound.

-I like that Adama attempts to play a ruse of his own with Boomer to get her to stand down, before just talking to her directly. He’s not stupid.

-This is the first time we hear that FTL jumps cause “spatial disruption” which is a strain on the ships undertaking them and any other ship in the vicinity. This would explain the way the Raptors and Vipers get pushed back when the tylium ship jumps in “A Disquiet Follows My Soul”. It raises some questions, such as why Cylons, who have such accurate point-to-point FTL tech, haven’t weaponised the idea.

-The scenes of damage here are pure Star Trek stuff, with random sparks and bric-a-brak flying, but I think it does work.

-It’s the port side that Boomer damages, and that’s taken a pounding before: it suffered a missile strike in the Miniseries, the breach in “Water” and, as noted but not seen, explosive decompression in “Exodus (Part Two)”. Hence why what seems like a small enough hit might be a much bigger deal.

-Roslin seems to realise more fully than anyone just what this damage to Galactica means. It’s almost like she’s the one who is wounded in this moment.

-Douglas maybe overeggs Tyrol’s response as he realises what Boomer has done, but I guess it is forgivable in an otherwise very strong performance.

-In this moment of trial, Starbuck goes back to Anders, perhaps seeing more purpose in the visits than she previously had. The question of the Music remains hanging.

-It’s quite a heartbreaking close for the episode, Tyrol hunting fruitlessly around the empty house of Boomers projection. He’ll never find what he is looking for, in more ways than one.

Overall Verdict: “Someone To Watch Over Me” is a strong episode, anchored by the twin points of an interesting new wrinkle to Starbuck and her never-ending destiny, and in Tyrol’s exploration of what might have been with Boomer. Both plots are carried out well, and augmented by the continued drama over the integrity of Galactica itself. We can start to see the outline of a finale to everything in this episode, one far more plateable than that presented in “Deadlock”: we’ll see if BSG can keep it up. Not many episodes left now.

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6 Responses to NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Four: “Someone To Watch Over Me”

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