Review: Ferry

A short review this week, as NFB is on annual leave and off on a staycation.

Ferry

Trailer

Love at first sight.

Amsterdam based enforcer Ferry (Frank Lammers) is tasked by kingpin Brink (Hub Stapel) to find the men responsible for the shooting of his son in a botched robbery, and kill them. His mission takes him to Brabant where he grew up, but his eagerness to comply with his orders is complicated by his encounter with Danielle (Elise Schaap), with whom he engages in a sudden love affair, ignorant of her connection to the killers.

I didn’t even known when I started watching this that Ferry was a prequel movie for the Netflix series Undercover, so colour me ignorant. In truth my main motive in giving it a look was as an experiment in subtitles: having constantly felt that Netflix struggles with that art, I watched the dubbed version of Ferry, with English subtitles below as a means of seeing just which was better for getting across what needed to get across. The results were decidedly mixed: while the English voice actors gave the film the required emotional delivery in the dialogue that so often trumps words, it frequently seemed that it was missing the point of what director Cecilia Verheyden intended: the best example is perhaps how the term “southerners” in the subtitles, used in a derogatory fashion, is replaced with more vague and less geographical epitaphs in the spoken dialogue.

But I digress. What we have here is essentially a fairly standard crime story, not dissimilar to the Irish Calm With Horses from 2020, but which is elevated by the strength of the performances and the uniqueness of the setting. When you get right down to it Ferry is just a revenge plot, as the mafia hitman tries to kill the people who wronged his crime family. There is violence, some twists and turns, an inevitable betrayal, etc. This could be very forgettable fare destined for the back of the streaming queue. But I did feel oddly connected to Ferry. Lammers, playing the title character as a sort of gentle giant (without the usual stupidity that comes with the archetype: Ferry could have been a detective in another story) is oddly engaging, especially when he comes into the orbit of bubbly camp-dweller Danielle. The unlikely romance between the two is buyable thanks largely to Schaap’s performance, as the film takes its time getting the two together and then hooking them up: of course a fairly big complication reveals itself in time, that drives much of the tension of the third act.

That third act is probably the film’s weakest leg, as we go from a much more enjoyable middle section to what has to be described as a fairly generic conclusion, one where the tie-in to Undercover harms rather than aids the production, preventing Ferry from being its own thing. But I’ll admit that it keep me onboard for the duration, and Undercover is something that I might be tempted to check-out at some point, provided I get written guarantees that nothing bad happens to Danielle – she just seems too nice. Recommended.

(All images are copyright of Netflix).

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NFB Watches Wrestling #63: Raw (08/04/2002)

OK, let’s try this brand split idea again: that means you aren’t supposed to be here Vince. It’s the 8th April 2002 and we’re in the America West Arena of Phoenix, Arizona for episode #463 of WWF Raw! Your main event tonight: Stone Cold takes on Scott Hall to help determine Raw’s #1 contender for the Undisputed Title! Scott Hall? Really?

Attitude splash, and a video package sums up the situation with the main title programme, ending with the Triple H/Hogan showdown. Considering neither is going to be here tonight this feels a bit odd as a opener. “Across The Nation”, pyro and JR/King welcome us to Phoenix. They tell us that Undertaker and Stone Cold are upset about the title situation, just in time for Undertaker to ride his bike to the ring.

The Deadman looks a tad miffed alright. He wants someone to explain whats going on to him (well, basically a bunch of men pretend to fight. Oh, he means about last week’s announcement). He sums things up for what will be the third time already, as the crowd “whats” along, and he even proclaims the situation “bullshit”, which doesn’t get a bleep for whatever reason. Whoops. He refuses to leave the ring until somebody explains how all of this has come to pass, and this brings out Ric Flair.

He’ll give Taker an explanation: he was too ambitious on his first day. McMahon did have the right to make the Backlash championship match, and it feels weird that they don’t try and pin this on some McMahon underhandedness, Flair just looks like a moron. He tells Taker he will get to make the Championship match after Backlash, but Mean Mark isn’t buying it, calling the Nature Boy a “no-good son of a bitch”. He thinks Flair is holding a grudge from his Mania beatdown, but adds that Ric can make it up to him by making him the next #1 contender “for the championship match after Backlash”, which is just awkward phrasing.

Before the Deadman can make good on threats to re-live Wrestlemania, shattered glass heralds the arrival of Steve Austin. After going up all four corners he drinks in the crowd heat for a moment before summing up the situation again to lots of “what”. He describes Taker’s “stupid” bandana, tattoos, clothes and boots, which seems a little childish for Austin. He mocks Undertaker’s pretensions at being dead and riding a bike. Austin’s watch tells him that Flair needs to make a decision, and infers strongly the answer is “Stone Cold”. Crowd super happy with the opportunities to “what”.

Flair hums and haws, says Taker has been threatening him non-stop and interfering in his matches, while Austin stunned him last week (Austin smiles an awesome crooked smile). He’s not Vince, and anyone who puts their hands on him will have hell to pay. There will be two #1 contender matches tonight: Taker against RVD, and Austin against Hall. Why Hall? Why not Kane or The Big Show? Apparently only Taker and Austin can actually win #1 contender status here, which seems dumb. Anyway, Taker proclaims Flair “full of crap”, demands his #1 contender status, mocks “cueball”, and that produces a brief fistfight. Taker knocked out of the ring, Flair beats a retreat and the refs intervene. This segment ran a bit long, but I did like Flair’s reasoning and unwillingness to let things go regards assaults on him. He fails to adequately explain how things are going to end up with two #1 contender matches though. Two big matches lined up, but only feeling happy about one of them.

After the break, the Bubba singles run continues.

Bubba Ray Dudley (c) vs Booker T (WWF Hardcore Championship)

Man, what’s Booker doing in the Hardcore division? The Bookerman on the mike beforehand, to say that people don’t want to see a Hardcore match, they paid their money to see a Spinarooni. He indulges the crowd as his theme music starts again, and asks what Bubba has in response. Dudley demands some funky music “for this white boy”, and proceeds to give us some awesome “Dad at a wedding” moves, before Booker attacks.

Strikes, and T clotheslined out. Whip reverse sends Booker into the steps, and Bubba rolls him in before grabbing some goodies from under the ring. Back in, dodges a lid shot and hits a reverse suplex for two. “We want tables”, naturally. Scoop Slam, but nobody home on a top rope Vader Bomb. Side kick from Booker, then boots in the corner. Bubba back with rights, but T able to get a knee to the gut. Scissors Kick, but no pin, I thought that was his finisher? Instead some trashcan shots to the head, but Bubba able to counter back with a Samoan Drop. Shots and chops, clothesline, another Scoop Slam, elbow drops, then an falling axe-handle. Getting lots of offence, and the insane look in his eyes can only mean one thing. A table put into the ring, but then Bubba takes a spinebuster. T sets up the table, is setting Bubba up on it, when Goldust suddenly arrives. Lid shot to the back of Booker, followed up with a DDT. Goldust looking to make a move on Bubba, but countered into a powerbomb through a table, and that will be a pin in just under four.

Winner (and still WWF Hardcore Champion): Bubba Ray Dudley, again being made to look at a higher level than previous.

Verdict: Normal hardcore action. Nice to see Bubba hanging with mid-tier guys like Booker, but again not sure how long it will last. Goldust turning up was a bit silly, as was Bubba pinning him to win. Why not just take off?

Bubba graces us with a few more dance moves up the ramp before we get out first ad for Backlash, focusing on the main event. Another ad for that terrible Drowning Pool Triple H song, and then Coach is with Trish backstage. We get to see the end of the, ahem, gimmick match with Terri and the subsequent Molly Holly attack. Stratus faces Molly tonight, and Trish says she’s pissed and will show Molly how pissed tonight. Great, OK. Suddenly William Regal is here, dismisses Trish and her matches, and tries to turn attention to his upcoming title match with Spike Dudley. Trish reminds Regal that Spike pinned him last week, and that sets the Euro Champ off. He insists that the loss was an accident, just like Spike was to his mother “and an abortion to society”. Jesus Christ. Regal says he will turn Spike into a vegetable. Way to both freak me out a bit and take the spotlight off of Trish.

Elsewhere, Terri, now an interviewer apparently, is with Kane, who is flicking through the Divas calendar. “Just because I have a burnt face, doesn’t mean the rest of my parts aren’t working”. What has happened to Kane recently? First that promo on Smackdown, now a masturbation joke? I mean, I’m not opposed, it’s just not really him. Terri notes that Kane has been approaching life differently, and Kane replies that he has been inspired by the fan support of his “Kaneenites”. He now knows that freaks are cool, name-drops the local sports team for cheap heat, and looks forward to his match with X-Pac tonight. “Just like the lion roars, and the chicken clucks, it’s a simple fact of life: X-Pac sucks!” Good stuff, I like what I am going to call Komedy Kane.

Elsewhere elsewhere, X-Pac gets ready for his match with the other members of the nWo. He says he wants to face Kane alone, and Hall and Nash acquiesce. Out of earshot, they call X-Pac a “giant killer”. No inference that they will show up anyway, but I have a funny feeling. That match is next.

X-Pac vs Kane (Falls Count Anywhere)

This feels like it could have been a PPV match, with the right build. Pac with the advantage to start, strikes in the corner, with one jumping head kick that looked a little stiff. Kane back with his own strikes, and a similarly brutal looking big boot. Press Slam, and X-Pac clotheslined to the outside. Quickly into the crowd, and I guess we’re heading to the back. Nice overhead pan shot of the two guys moving through the crowd, and we do indeed end up backstage.

Kane in control, Pac being flung into things, but suddenly Hall and Nash are here with pipes. Kane beaten down, Pac joins in with a chair shot to the head, and that’s enough for the pin in just under two.

Winner: X-Pac, and is this the first actual nWo win since their return?

Verdict: So short it was essentially meaningless. The stip seemed to exist just to get Kane pinned, and he wouldn’t have many shorter losses in his career.

Pac decides to add another chair shot, and I’m assuming (and hoping) that it’s angled in such a way that it doesn’t make contact. He rips off Kane’s mask, but makes sure we don’t see his face, before Bradshaw arrives to chase the nWo away. BradKane! KaneShaw!

After the break we get a replay of the end of the FCA match, and then we see EMT’s tending to Kane with Bradshaw. Elsewhere, X-Pac wears Kane’s mask in a mocking fashion, until Flair turns up, unhappy. He gives out, and decides to suspend Nash indefinitely (“without pay!”). Nash threatens to sue Flair (because that is so badass. These chumps aren’t a “New World Order”, they’re grumpy old men). Anyway, Nash has a arm injury and this time it appears to have been real, so this is how they are writing him out. He’ll be back in a few months.

William Regal (c) vs Spike Dudley (WWF European Championship)

A recap of last weeks match as Regal walks to the ring. He pulls the same shenanigans this time around, distracting the ref with the clumsy drop of knucks, before secreting another pair in the turnbuckle. While he’s not looking though Spike rushes down, grabs the knucks and brains Regal with them in the back of the head. Bell rings, Spike covers, and that’s it in seconds.

Winner (and new WWF European Champion): Spike Dudley, in what might be the fastest title match in WWF history.

Verdict: I liked Regal getting his comeuppance here, and Spike showing his smarts, the match itself was a non-entity and I suppose doesn’t do this belt many favours.

Spike gets the belt and heads to the back quick, as Regal remains KO’ed. We get a replay of the whole match, as commentary expresses their astonishment. Backstage, Coach grabs Spike, just as he is congratulated by Tommy Dreamer, Jacqueline and Big Show (remember that tag team?). They all celebrate by pouring stuff on Coach. Last to rock up is Bubba Ray, who clasps hands with Spike in what I assume is a mending of fences since the Invasion storyline. Genuinely nice moment. New Dudley Boyz?

After the break, the first of two #1 contender matches tonight, the nature of which has still not been explained.

Rob Van Dam vs The Undertaker (non-title) (#1 Contenders Match For The WWF Undisputed World Championship)

Van Dam being the IC holder seemingly meaningless here, in the then most current example of WWF treating that belt as a trinket when it suits them. This really could have been a PPV feud. Taker starts out hard with shots that drive Van Dam back, then a rope choke, then knees to the gut. Corner clothesline gets two, more shots, but eventually Van Dam gets a foot up, but only so he can stumble into a Sidewalk Slam for two. Stomps, to the apron, elbows to the face, boots then Taker goes for a leg drop but nobody home. Baseball Slide from RVD, then an asai moonsault from the apron. Van Dam able to lay in some kicks next to the announce table, but Undertaker back quick enough with a knee. Looking for Snake Eyes into the ringpost, but Van Dam out and gets the shove.

Back in, and RVD hits a rubbish looking springboard kick for two, real “didn’t get all of it” (“a glancing blow” is what JR says). Rolling Thunder, to the top, but crotched before any thoughts of a Five Star. Taker follows him up, and nails a top rope superplex for a big bounce. Only two though. Taker drops an elbow on Van Dam’s head, a little rough, but only two again. Deadman looks annoyed, grabs a chair from ringside, scares Hebner into falling over, but then walks into a Van Daminator! So rare we get to see that in WWF/E. Looking for the Five Star, but instead RVD launches himself onto a suddenly appearing Eddie Guerrero. Guerrero driven off, Van Dam in, walks into a chokeslam, but only two off a delayed cover. Undertaker looks stunned. Looking for The Last Ride, Van Dam out, kick takes Taker’s leg out, top rope head kick, back to the top, now hits the Five Star Frog Splash, but as the ref checks on Taker Guerrero nails Van Dam with the title belt, then goes back to writhing in agony on the floor. Can’t wait for that to be a face move. Very slow cover, and again Van Dam kicks out, man they are putting him over huge. But he’s still not ever going to beat Taker, and The Last Ride finishes it nine on the dot.

Winner (and new #1 Contender for the WWF Undisputed World Championship): The Undertaker, getting people (he likes) over like always.

Verdict: Started slow, then got a hell of a lot better. Last few minutes were golden. Van Dam looked great in defeat, Taker gets to move on, and the RVD/Eddie feud was well served.

Taker jaws with the crowd as Guerrero smirks from the ramp. After the break we get a replay of what just happened, before Jazz turns up at commentary sporting a large shiner to her left eye, which JR tells us occurred at the hands of Trish Stratus at a house show. Jazz stays silent despite any entreaties for her to talk. Backstage, Terri is with Molly (JR throws to this by calling her “Coach”). Molly says the superhero gimmick was holding her down, and she’s sick of seeing bikini matches. Terri counters that Molly must just be jealous of the “more desirable” divas. Ugh. Molly insists she is just as desirable. Please, spare me this. Enough to say that Molly is taking the Ivory role in the womens division.

Trish Stratus vs Molly Holly

Trish meets Molly on the ramp, into the apron and then into the ring. Strikes and chops into the corner, corner flip but Holly lands on her feet, only to eat a drop-kick. Molly takes a break on the outside, as Jazz keeps staring silently. Holly is taking a full-on powder before she gets dragged back to the ring. Holly back with shots and chops of her own, then a nasty kick to the head and a running clothesline. Prone chokes, hard whip to the corner, then a double reverse handstand elbow, always awesome. Jazz still isn’t talking as Molly puts in a beatdown, despite Jerry’s entreaties. I wouldn’t talk to him either.

Trish prone, Molly heads to the top, but crotched, and Trish able to hit that handstand rana on Molly from the top. She’s then out to confront Jazz, Holly tries to attack from behind, Stratus goes for the Stratusfaction off the apron but Jazz nails her with the Womens Title belt in the process. Somewhere in the middle the ref was distracted, Molly rolls Trish in, backslide pin, and that’s it in just over four.

Winner: Molly Holly, so I guess she’s the new #1 contender?

Verdict: Fine as womens TV matches for the era go, with the finish a little bit overdone.

Jazz remains silent on commentary as Holly storms off. JR decides to just run-down the established card for Backlash, which by now consists of only one match, the Undisputed Title bout.

Backstage, Brock Lesnar is with Paul Heyman. Heyman says Phoenix is the worst audience in the world, with bad sports teams, and they won’t respect Lesnar’s power. He urges Lesnar to not attack the fans, and to focus on his in-ring performance. A bit weak as far as Heyman work goes. An ad for WWF house shows, a look at the outside of the arena where some random people mug for the camera and that next encounter is up.

Out comes the future Beast with Dangerously and jeez, Lesnar’s music is really awful here, pure generic trash. JR informs us that Heyman is officially Lesnar’s agent. Heyman on the mike, soaks in the crowd boos for his insulting of the local sports team, and he’s happy to wait, because they can do anything they damn well please. He wants to educate us on some Lesnar facts as to why he has Heyman in his corner. He groomed Stone Cold and The Undertaker, turned ECW into what it was and was the progenitor of Attitude. He can spot “the Next Big Thing”, and we have ourselves a moniker. Brock’s an NCAA Heavyweight Champion, he’s invincible, invulnerable, indestructible, impervious and the reigning, defending, undisputed, and oh wait, no.

As proof of what Heyman is saying, he queues up a highlight reel of Lesnar’s run of destruction, which has a particular focus on his annihilation of the Hardy’s last week. Heyman runs down some of Lesnar’s victims, and suddenly the Hardy’s are here through the crowd to attack from behind. Beatdown, Lesnar set-up, but he catches Jeff on the Poetry In Motion attempt and flings him out over the top, then gives Matt a Press Slam to the same effect. The Hardy’s come back with chairs, Lesnar still able to fight them them off, but when he tries to set Matt up for a powerbomb he gets nailed in the face by a Jeff chair shot, now that looked like it would rattle some teeth. Matt adds another unprotected hit, and Lesnar, still standing, does retreat to the ramp as Heyman convinces him to withdraw. The Hardy’s left standing tall. We have ourselves a feud, but man were those chair shots really necessary? They looked scary, even if Lesnar took them like a champ.

Now a good time to note that this is just after Lita damaged her neck to the point of needing significant surgery a few days before, while filming a scene for the TV show Dark Angel (she was asked to give a hurricanrana to an untrained stunt women, and guess what happened?). She won’t be wrestling for over a year, but I think she might make a few appearances here and there. Damn shame, not least because the division could really have used her, it’s thin as anything at this point.

After the break, we have ourselves yet another Smackdown campaign mode match.

Mr Perfect vs The Big Show

Why are these two going at it? Perfect on the attack, but Show no-selling and back with his own super hard chop that sends Perfect out. Another added on the apron, then Show comes out to fling Hennig back in. Perfect looking a little lost for ideas, and gets destroyed with a clothesline. Show avoids a ref bump on a dodged charge, and Perfect able to just about hit the Perfect Plex after, but only for two. Bad sign when people are kicking out of your finisher. Show ditches the spandex straps, Showstopper Chokeslam, and that will most definitely be it in just just over 90 seconds.

Winner: Show, and you would think they were pushing him up the card based on this wouldn’t you?

Verdict: A squash you would not expect in this slot. What’s Perfect’s role here? He’s too experienced to be this kind of enhancement talent.

Backstage Austin heads to Flair’s office, but the Nature Boy isn’t home. Stone Cold decides to take Flair’s chair to put his feet up and wait it out.

After another ad for Backlash (featuring one match!) and the Divas Calendar, JR and Lawler sum up the entire title picture situation again and we get a replay with highlights of the Austin/Taker/Flair segment earlier, then the Taker/RVD match. Backstage, Flair turns up to stop Austin from throwing his pens away. Austin wants to know what the story is with these #1 contender matches. Flair clarifies that if Austin wins the second match he will face Undertaker at Backlash. Why not just say that at the start of all this? That match will be up next.

Scott Hall w/X-Pac vs Stone Cold Steve Austin (#1 Contender For The WWF Undisputed World Championship)

Austin attacks the moment he is in the ring. Let’s see if Hall has more than one move in his arsenal this time. Stone Cold dominating with strikes and chops, then choking Hall with his jacket, which Hebner only barely intervenes on. Hall on the ropes, and gets a sit down splash. Scoop Slam, two. Awkward wrist-lock into a clothesline, and Hall looks rough. To the outside, more chops, but Hall finally gets in a few strikes for his first offence. Back in, whip into the corner where it looked like Hall wasn’t sure if he was meant to reverse. Finally gets some room by dodging a charge and sending Austin to the outside. Ref distracted, Pac and Austin are brawling, but Austin gets the upper hand and puts Pac into the barricade.

Back to Hall, sent into the ringsteps, then back in. Looking for the Stunner, but Hall out of it. The most one-sided main event of this run so far, but Hall able to get some space with a sneaky low blow that Hebner misses. Austin kicked out so Pac can lay in some shots with Hebner again looking the other way. Hall putting in the beatdown, avoids an Austin comeback momentarily with a clothesline counter to a hiptoss. Sleeper for a bit, and a bad moment where Hall falls to one knee when Austin goes for the reverse suplex, and has to be awkwardly lifted back up to a standing position to get the move done. Hall on the ropes again, but avoids another sit down splash.

Hall to the second rope, but gets a shot to the gut off an axe-handle attempt. Double clothesline spot leaves both men on the mat. Pac gets in another shot, but that doesn’t stop Austin getting a takedown followed by mounted strikes. Terrible Lou Thesz Press where Hall just crumpled, Pac knocked off the apron, but when Austin goes for the Stunner he gets pushed into Hebner. Spinebuster to Hall, and another to Pac. Suddenly the Undertaker is here! He lays in some shots, hits a chokeslam, and suddenly Bradshaw is here too. Shots to Taker, he gets clotheslined out, and they starts brawling at ringside. The Ministry of Darkness has exploded! In the ring Hall gets a cover, but Austin out after a slow two. Taker and Bradshaw fight through the crowd and out of our minds.

Hall hits his Fallaway Slam (drink!) and in the process Hebner gets taken out again. Hall and Pac beating down Austin, and now out comes Flair. I was expecting Kane. He pulls X-Pac off of Austin, Hall goes for the Razor’s Edge, we all know he isn’t capable of it, and he takes a back body-drop instead. Stunner to X-Pac, another oversold Stunner to Hall, and Hebner has recovered enough to count the fall in just over nine-and-a-half.

Winner (and I suppose co-#1 Contender for the WWF Undisputed World Championship): Stone Cold. Not bad for your first match after a two week no-show.

Verdict: Rubbish, and Nitro-esque in the way it devolved into run-in after run-in. Hall looks apathetic, and a bit dangerous, in the ring.

Flair raises Austin’s hand and immediately takes a Stunner, to JR’s shock. Austin celebrates with beer as we close up.

Best Match: Taker/Van Dam by a country mile, could stand to see more of those two in the ring.

Best Wrestler: Austin, for getting something half-way legible out of a terrible Hall.

Worst Match: Kane/X-Pac promised a bit and delivered very little.

Worst Wrestler: Get Hall out of the ring before he hurts somebody.

Overall Verdict: An uneven episode in a lot of respects. One good match, a lot of average stuff or lower around it. Feels like Raw needs a bit more in terms of concrete feuds to be building around.

To view more entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Two: “Final Cut”

We all want this fleet to survive.

Air Date: 09/09/2005

Director: Robert M. Young

Writer: Mark Verheiden

Synopsis: With tensions over the Gideon massacre still at boiling point, Roslin and Adama allow a documentarian onboard Galactica in a bid to show the human side of the military to the Fleet. Colonel Tigh becomes the subject of death threats.

Review

“Final Cut” appears to be an episode that’s meant to be a bit of a coda to the previous seven, insofar as the events of it are a reaction to the coup and the Gideon massacre of “Resistance” specifically, while being separated by time. The Fleet is riven by tensions over the military coup that was enacted, and the fact that no-one has been formally punished for what happened on the Gideon: there’s a need for some truth and reconciliation I suppose, but the way that the Fleet’s leaders go about providing it seem a bit confusing in retrospect, all part of an episode that sometimes feels like a bit of a muddle. I’ll get to it.

Watching “Final Cut” this time around, one of the things that struck me was a comparison to “33”, insofar as there really wasn’t a main character of the episode, excepting perhaps D’Anna Biers herself. Instead, much like in “33”, the crew in general is that character, with the episode seeking to expand upon their overall tensions, fears, failures and successes. It’s been a while since we have really focused in on that: on how the Galactica crew is the last line between humanity and extinction, and there’s no breaks, no reinforcements, no relief. When Dee says that things never get easier, “they get harder”, at the conclusion, we believe her, just as we believe the idea that not losing anyone in a skirmish with the Cylons can be counted as a good day.

Galactica’s is a crew right on the edge, with various members slipping badly. The joy of finding the road to Earth is pretty much gone, with “Final Cut” very much a “back to basics” idea. Kat is only the most obvious example: the various snapshots of Biers’ documentary are illuminating for every person, be they Dee traumatised by her last interaction with her father, Gaeta smoking or Tigh’s whole deal. As far as I remember the next episode really delves into that sense of fatigue and deterioration in standards, but “Final Cut” gives a good enough picture all of its own. I believe a lot of these snapshots are ad-libbed, with the actors encouraged to add to their characters backstories of their own volition: it comes off well here.

The thing is, “Final Cut” has the opportunity to be an interesting look at just what documentary is, but on that score I’m not sure that I think much of the episode. Biers’ film seems a bit predictable in a lot of ways but I suppose given the final scene revelation that may well have been the point. Seeing “Final Cut” unfold as both an in-universe narrative and through different glimpses of the Biers’ end product gives the entire affair a bit of an uneven feel, even if the snapshots of various crew-members are very interesting for what they show. But for the episode, I’m not sure what Biers’ presence in the CIC does for the Raider crisis in terms of making it more engaging, or for the confrontation in Tigh’s quarters. This kind of presence aboard Galactica, at the risk of sounding obvious, seems intrusive, when that presence isn’t really having a significant impact on what we are seeing unfold. Biers and her cameraman are just there, and I didn’t feel as engaged in their documentarian effort as I thought I would have.

Lots of shows have done this kind of idea – SG-1’s “Heroes”, M*A*S*H’s “The Interview”, E.R’s “The Ambush” spring to mind straight away – but I really felt like the potential isn’t explored enough with Biers. The brief glimpses of her getting more involved – like when she catches the sight of a pregnant Sharon, or figures out before everyone else who the person harassing Tigh is – go by too quickly. The possibility of getting some sort of discussion on the philosophical aspects of documentary, of how the author of documentaries change the subject through their own experience of it and framing of the narrative, goes largely a begging.

That brings us to Biers, who as I said seems to constitute the only real character arc of the episode. Lucy Lawless’ casting made a bit of a stir at the time as I recall, like any time the main character of an iconic TV show turning up on another one would. She is quite good here, injecting Biers with the just the right amount of journalistic fervour and genuine idealism ahead of the swerve of the final scene that deliciously undercuts it all. We really do come to believe that she’s only after an honest look at what the military of the Fleet is, even if her attempts to frame the story at the very beginning would indicate otherwise.

Biers brings up the idea of a more long-term resistance to the current regime in the Fleet, a movement that recognises the precarious position of humanity but still wants people to be held accountable for their actions. She spars with Adama on the issue of just what patriotism is, and whether people being forced to live with their mistakes, as Tigh is, is enough punishment for the sins they have committed. Of course, there’s no real resolution to this plot line: the Gideon incidence goes unpunished by the end, and I’m not sure it’s even brought up again after this. The outrage and unhappiness that Biers represents is a fleeting thing, that fades away as quickly as her own reservations about the military seem to.

That comes ahead of the revelation that Biers is a Cylon, which caught me and many others totally off guard on a first watch. Going by Boomer’s claim that there are eight Cylon agents in the Fleet, Biers would seem to constitute the fifth one of those, after Boomer, the Doral of “Litmus”, Leoben in “Flesh And Bone” and Shelly Godfrey in “Six Degrees Of Separation”. She’s also the sixth Cylon model to be revealed, with just one more of the “Seven” to go, though we didn’t know it at the time. It’s a good choice really, and puts Biers’ actions throughout the episode in a totally new light: an explosive takedown of the military may have been subverted by the need to protect a pregnant Sharon, and Biers played it as such. I have nostalgia for the days when BSG was new and the reveal of who was a Cylon was a very major thing: looking back with hindsight such things seem far more obvious.

The other focus, if the episode has one, is Tigh. He knows that he has sins to pay for, as he appears at first just uncomfortable being on camera, and later outright abusive towards Biers. There’s a measure of guilt there for sure, beyond the brash “I’d do it again” sentiment he exudes publicly, and its something that Tigh does not appear capable of dealing with. The guilt manifests a physical danger in the form of a vengeful Palladino for Tigh to be set against, but I find the much more interesting thing to ponder just how the Colonel will settle the account in his own head.

All the while he keeps getting manipulated by outside forces. There’s Ellen of course, back to being the worst. There’s Biers, whose use of alcohol to try and get at Tigh is a low point for both characters. Even Adama is trying to get Tigh to dance to his tune, by sending him off the ship for a bit. I can imagine such things beginning to weigh quite heavily. When the end result of Tigh’s actions confronts him directly at the conclusion, he displays an almost suicidal ideation, putting his head to the gun and encouraging Palladino to pull the trigger. It could just be bravado, or maybe Tigh really might want out, just a little bit. Facing down his attacker is still a strong moment for him, separate to the whispering and manipulations of others: we can take it very much as Tigh facing down the lingering negative feelings he has over his time in command. If its going to destroy him it can go ahead and do it, but Tigh won’t be held back by it anymore.

Overall though, I really struggled with one. It’s a bit all over the place with so much going on: Biers making her documentary, with all of the interviews, the encounter with Sharon, the little headlocks with Adama, the finale. Then there’s Tigh and the manipulations from Ellen and the attempt on his life and the attack by Palladino. There’s Apollo and Starbuck sparring a little bit, there’s Tyrol’s confrontation with Kat, there’s Sharon’s medical emergency, there’s Baltar and Head Six angling for publicity, there’s Kat’s drug-induced meltdown and then there’s the various snapshots and how those characters all get additional scenes. And then a huge plot-critical reveal at the end. I think 22 named characters, with lines, appear in this episode and it’s just too much. It leads to some strange holes in the story, like how nobody actually seems that bothered that the XO of the ship is getting death threats (Ronald D.Moore has himself admitted this sub-plot is below the expected level). Maybe a two parter could have worked better with this many characters and the need to accommodate them all? It leaves “Final Cut” feeling swollen, uneven, tonally jarring and swinging between plots and characters so quickly that it never finds its feet. While it is redeemed somewhat by Lawless’ magnetic performance, it’s Season Two’s first less-than-brilliant episode.

Always the proud soldier. Taking the heat because it’s honorable. When are you gonna realise, we’re all alone out here?

Notes

-Young back in the directors chair after the excellent “Six Degrees Of Separation”, a suitable choice given his background as a documentarian. Verheidan a guy known for a lot of comic book adaptations, who had worked on Smallville before this: he also played a big part in the under-rated, and under-watched, Falling Skies.

-Lawless’ casting came as a bit of surprise, as she hadn’t been up to much in the years beforehand: Xena had ended in 2001, and aside from the odd guest spot here and there her most prominent role after hanging up the breastplate had been a recurring part in an ill-fated Tarzan TV show. Biers served as a bit of a revival for her

-The little kid who walks up to the camera asking about his dad is a bit much really. Reminds of of the Trolly Problem recreations in The Good Place.

-Very important distinction between Roslin and Adama in their first meeting with Biers: the President tries to work a bit of charm, the Commander is extremely direct is asking where she got the offending tape. Good cop, bad cop in a way.

-Nice bit of continuity in that Colonial TV’s have the corners shaved off as well. But still, what is the point?

-“From the darkness you must fall”. Not sure what the poetry of Katalis is based on, though the name might come from the Roman Catallus.

-One bit of very unnecessary dialogue, is Tigh reading the message scrawled on his mirror. It’s right there in big letters, we didn’t need Hogan’s narration.

-The count is down two, reflecting the death of Meier and the unnamed Zarek crony in “Home (Part Two)”.

-I do like the magazines Adama is reading, the sort of waiting room distraction whose worth has become immeasurable in the current circumstances. Adama knows they are too valuable to throw away.

-I do like Starbuck’s playfulness after showcasing her knowledge of the poem written on Tigh’s mirror: “Can I be a suspect again, please?”

-I also like the little glimpse of Palledino in his rack, looking a tad sullen but otherwise dismissable on a first glance.

-In the latest instance of “Wait, isn’t this set 100’000 years ago?”, Apollo refers to the play-acting pilots as “Tweedledum and Tweedledee”.

-The first snapshot is Dee, talking about how she joined the military looking to find something to believe in, over the objections of her father. Would that sort of strained familial relationship explain her attachment to Adama?

-I do love Baltar’s obvious angling for an interview, that crosses the line from subtle to obvious amazingly fast.

-“This one can help us”. Head Six presumably knows Biers is a Cylon – I mean, she knows everything it seems – but this line is less like foreshadowing and more like distraction on that score: at the time it made Biers being a Cylon almost too obvious.

-Apollo’s snapshot is one of the most rehearsed, although I think its more of a speech about the pilots needing respect that Lee has had in his head for a very long time than something he thought up just for this. He’s the most in tune with using the camera to defend those under his command, which fits.

-I like Tyrol being able to figure out an issue with a Viper because, well, “something doesn’t feel right”.

-Adama sends Tigh to be a representative to the Quorum of Twelve which, given what happened in “Fragged” seems like a remarkably bad idea.

-I liked the Marine being interviewed pointing out the scar he got on the Gideon. It adds to the sense that it wasn’t as straightforward a massacre as it might have appeared.

-Man, the effects for the Raptor malfunction are lame, just some steam and a few sparks. The idea that Tigh was moments from disaster just doesn’t come across.

-Ellen is back to her manipulative best in “Final Cut”, here playing to Tigh’s martyr complex, and lingering sense of unfair treatment.

-Racetrack’s snapshot is pretty brief, but important in the context of some of the actions her character undertakes later in the show. Of all of the Galactica crew, I’m not sure anyone else exhibits such an obvious fanatical hatred of Cylons as she does here.

-Helo’s snapshot is all about what isn’t said. Turning “the human part of you” off “in the field” isn’t something he can do, and he has all of Season One’s events to prove it. It’s an interesting choice of words too, considering the popular perception of Cylons.

-Then we get Gaeta’s snapshot, which is fascinating. The prim, proper officer is suddenly looking messy, smoking and talking about his love of alcohol. He also exhibits a stunning ennui, disparaging his obsession with his military role, and wondering if there is more to life. There’d a lot under the surface of Felix Gaeta, and we’ve barely touched any of it.

-Biers’ use of alcohol to try and loosen Tigh up is pretty manipulative, and unethical. But he’s stupid to not see through it quickly. You’d think he’d be used to it with his wife.

-Starbuck training with the bag makes her look so powerful. Perhaps important to do after seeing her so weak and helpless in “The Farm”.

-Adama certainly thinks enough has been done about what happened on the Gideon: “We all have to live with it”. Emphasis on the “we” I think: perhaps the Commander blames himself for not being around to prevent it.

-Kat’s snapshot is intermingled nicely with her meltdown in the Viper, her wide-eyed joy at describing the euphoria of flying contrasting with her brush with death when she can’t land the thing properly. She is another one to keep an eye on going forward.

-We get a look at what Captain Kelly actually does here, which is being the Landing Signals Officer, or LSO, basically the officer in charge of flight operations. It would explain why he is rarely seen elsewhere.

-I liked the lack of security around Sharon with Cottle, the urgency of her condition basically making it impossible, leading to a fairly large breach.

-Adama and Biers vie in the aftermath over what constitutes patriotism in the Fleet. The old combat between freedom and security plays out yet again, but Adama appears to have the upper hand here.

-Head Six isn’t kidding around, directing Baltar to tell Biers why he “deserves to lead this Fleet”. While we have had an inkling of this before, it’s the first time we’ve seen her make this naked a pronouncement on pushing Baltar into the Presidency.

-Genuinely great comedy moment as Baltar insists the blaring sound is a “false alarm”, just as Gaeta’s voice declares that Cylon Raiders are incoming.

-Dee explains that “CBDR” means “Constant Bearing, Decreasing Range”, a very wordy way of saying “collision course”. This is a real nautical term, but doesn’t appear to have much use in military circles.

-The second Dee snapshot is genuinely heartbreaking, like any relationship fracture that comes without catharsis, and ties back again into why she might treat Adama as a surrogate father figure.

-I love the exchange between Biers and Dee in the CIC: “Should I be scared?” “I am”. Lawless seals it with a suddenly fearful look. It’s good to be reminded that it would take a single Raider slipping through the net to bring Galactica to disaster.

-I’ve always thought that the radio chatter of the Viper pilots engaging with the Raiders is a bit of a homage to the radio chatter of the X/Y-Wings at the end of A New Hope. Missing a real stand-out “It came from behind!” line though.

-Never liked Adama’s “Yes!” when the Vipers take care of the Raiders. Felt very forced. Is the character playing to the camera?

-The reveal of Palladino as the secret threat is fine I suppose. Perhaps if we had seen more of the character over the course of the last 20 episodes it might have meant more.

-You can’t fault Tigh’s courage in this instance, as he literally faces Palladino down. Compare to his less sturdy reaction to getting a gun pointed at him by Apollo in “Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Part Two)”: in this instance his need to atone a bit might propel him on.

-I like Tigh’s admonition of Palladino’s actions, differentiating them from the things that he is responsible for: “The Gideon was an accident, this is a choice”.

-And Palladino was never seen again. Does his spend the rest of the trip on the Astral Queen? Earlier drafts had him shooting himself, but the network nixed that idea.

-Kat’s second snapshot is another powerful one, as she reckons with both the shame of her stim use and how she has only increased the pressure on the other pilots. There’s a good reminder here that there is no relief and no replacements coming: it might not be as bad as “33”, but it’s not far off.

-Adama’s approval of the documentary draws a line under his dispute with Biers. He’s a man who values honesty, and her film is that: “Warts and all”.

-Interesting note in Biers’ final narration, that nobody from the Galactica crew has resigned.

-I love the final shot of the documentary, with Viper pilots walking by Galactica’s janitor. Reminds me of the “Clone Cadets/ARC Troopers” two-parter of The Clone Wars.

-The music played at the end of Biers documentary is, in RDM canon, the national anthem of the Colonies, but it’s really a beefed-up version of the the original Battlestar Galactica theme tune. Not the first time it’s been used either, we heard it in the ceremony scene of the Miniseries’ “Part One”.

-I’m not super fond of the way that we cut between the episode and the documentary, but I do like the transition from Colonial One to documentary to the cinema on Caprica. It was a really inspired shift in perspectives.

-The twist is very good I will admit, tieing in nicely to the sudden arrival of those Cylon Raiders. It throws lots of enticing questions, but as I recall we never find out what happens to this specific “D’Anna Biers”.

-Biers proclaims Sharon’s pregnancy “a miracle of God”, as if we needed any more confirmation that she is a Cylon. Still a cool line to end the episode on though.

Overall Verdict: “Final Cut” is not as good as I remember, with too many characters, too many ideas, just far too much going on. It’s easily the weakest episode of the second season so far, though in Biers it has a silver lining, one of the last major characters of the show to be introduced, and done so in a memorable fashion. BSG feels a little listless between the ending of the schism arc and the arrival of Pegasus, but we’ll see if the second episode of the interim period is any better.

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Ireland’s Wars: Beal Na mBlath

The ambush that killed Michael Collins remains an emotive moment in Irish military history. It’s been immortalised on the page and on screen, Irish political parties continue to give speeches at the spot every year, the man’s grave is a place of pilgrimage. It has come to represent the great tragedy that was the Civil War, boiled down to a single engagement, a single shot, a single death. It is rare in my study of the Civil War that I will have the occasion to give much attention to any such firefight that had such a low death toll, but what happened on that stretch of country road on the 22nd August 1922 is more than worthy of greater consideration. It is the great “what if” of 20th century Ireland, and pointed the way to a more bitterly fought conflict, with everything that came out of that.

Collins had largely set aside his political appointments – Chairman of the Cabinet of the provisional government, and Minister of Finance – in July, so he could focus on being the designated “Commander-in-Chief” of the National Army. In reality he served both a political and military role regardless of his exact title, directing operations nationwide with the assistance of his immediate subordinates like Richard Mulcahy and Eoin O’Duffy, while maintaining an extensive influence over the running of the provisional government. Most members of the cabinet and of the military leadership deferred to Collins on nearly all matters, with his role at this time described as a kind of “generalissmo”. The National Army was Collins’ army to a very large extent: he took a leading role in the recruitment of former British Army officers to key roles and in the appointment of the regional commands, though it is arguable how much influence he had on events in the field. Arthur Griffith remained the nominal political head of the provisional government, but he and Collins were on poor enough terms, the rift over “the Pact” never fully healed – and the “President of Dail Eireann” did not do much to combat Collins on most things. It was Collins who prorogued a meeting of the Dail until a later time owing to the ongoing hostilities, a move that some writing later have characterised as a dictatorial act.

On the 11th August Collins departed Dublin to undertake a tour of Munster, and more specifically the South-Western Command. There were numerous reasons for Collins to undertake this trip: to inspect the National Army in the area; the further his understanding of the military situation and to make whatever orders in that regard that there were to make; to secure sums of money that members of the anti-Treaty side had placed various banks; to get a greater feel for the situation “on the ground”, especially regards the opinions of the civilian population; and last, but most certainly not least, to engage with the possibility that a settlement to conclude the war might be reached with the senior figures of the IRA.

Surviving pictures of the time tend to show Collins at the peak of his powers, looking prim and proper in an immaculate National Army uniform, striding confidently around the country. But in reality according to many who observed Collins at the time the Commander was under a huge deal of stress, and was displaying a depressed mentality that bordered on the nihilistic. He had never been especially religious, but attended Mass more regularly during the Civil War (though this may have been more at the urging of his fiancee, Kitty Kiernan, whom he was due to marry in November). As gung ho as Collins was about ending the war as quickly as possible, he seems to have been genuinely distraught that things had ever gotten to the point of violence in the first place, and was acutely aware of the danger he was in. Collins made more than one premonition of his death since the signing of the Treaty, and throughout these early stages of the Civil War he and his immediate bodyguards had to be aware of a number of aborted or stalled efforts to kill him by die hard republicans.

Collins’ mood would not have been improved by a number of deaths that occurred in early August. On the 1st Harry Boland, one-time a very close friend of Collins before the Treaty split, died from wounds sustained during an encounter with National Army soldiers in Skerries several days before: it is unclear whether this was an unofficial assassination or just a botched arrest. A popular story went round that some of Boland’s last words were “Have they got Mick Collins yet?”: Collins, in correspondence with Kiernan, refused to believe this, but was clearly upset at the circumstances, whereby he knew he would be unwelcome at Boland’s funeral. In the early weeks the casualties the National Army incurred at Kilmallock, and perhaps more pertinently that the Dublin Guard took in their Kerry campaign, would presumably also have had a huge influence on Collins. On a larger level, the sudden passing of Arthur Griffith on the 12th came as a huge shock. Griffith, chronically stressed, overworked and suffering from tonsillitis, collapsed from a cerebral hemorrhage that morning and died shortly afterwards, aged only 51. This circumstance forced Collins to temporarily abandon his tour of Munster so he could attend the funeral and presumably make political arrangements: Griffith was not immediately replaced in his role as President of the Dail, owing to it not sitting, so Collins was now undisputedly the man in sole charge of the provisional government and the entire pro-Treaty faction.

On the 20th Collins resumed his tour of Munster, travelling into the heart of the anti-Treaty faction in the form of Cork. He was warned off from doing so by multiple people close to him, who felt the danger was enormous. Collins would famously, or perhaps infamously, insist that he would not be killed in his “own county” and this may be taken more as bravado rather than underestimation. In truth, it appears that Collins was very deliberately heading into such dangerous territory in the hope that he could meet with key anti-Treaty leaders. He wanted peace, though it is debatable just what form that peace could possibly take.

In some of his last writings Collins enunciated to a limited extent in terms of what he was willing to offer. He wanted the anti-Treaty IRA to disarm and go home, where they would be allowed their political opinions and rights, but they would have to be willing to accept “the People’s verdict”. It is hard to know how republican leaders would have reacted to such a general proposal, but it is unlikely to have been persuasive enough all on its own. Collins, as he always did, was hoping that his established relationship with these men, that network of contacts he had built up over years since he had first come to major prominence in Frongach, might yet prevent further bloodshed. As part of this he was opposed to an enlargement of the military effort in Munster, specifically O’Duffy’s plan to institute sweeps of the countryside.

Collins had been attempting to reach out to people on the other side for a little while around that time, but this was more concrete. He met with Florence O’Donoghue and Sean Hegarty, members of the “Neutral IRA” in Cork on the 21st, with an eye to arranging a meeting with Liam Deasy as soon as possible: Deasy would later claim he was due to meet with Collins on the 23rd, and he may well have been open to the ideas that Collins was selling. On the morning of the 22nd, Collins, accompanied by Emmet Dalton, set out from Cork City in a convoy of vehicles, for the nominal purpose of inspecting National Army outposts in the west of the county, and calling on members of Collins’ family, though perhaps he was also hoping to meet with republican leaders.

At some point in the outgoing trip the convoy passed through a small village roughly 10-15 km’s north-west of Bandon named Beal na mBlath, a name that can be loosely translated as “Mouth of Flowers” or “Mouth of Blossoms”. The road near the village snaked through a valley, with heights on either side. The convoy briefly stopped in this area to ask for directions from a man who they thought was a local, Dinny Long. Long was in fact a member of the IRA, acting as a sentry for a meeting of the Cork No. 2 Brigade leadership – that included Deasy, Tom Hales and many other key officers – that was happening nearby. It was somewhat foolhardy for Collins’ group, the man himself easily identifiable, to advertise their presence in this way, and Collins would pay for it. Once the convoy was on its way Long alerted his comrades at the unexpected opportunity that had fallen into their laps. They immediately arranged for the road to be blockaded and then covered by an ambush party, in the event that the convoy took the same route back to Cork City later that day.

The convoy did duly go back that way, and was in the vicinity of Beal na mBlath after 8PM, allegedly after driving through two other attempted ambushes elsewhere in Cork. The ambushing party of around 20 to 25 men, which had stationed itself in the heights north of a turn of the road, had actually given up on the project, with most of its members, including Deasy, retiring to a nearby pub. When the sound of engines could be heard in the distance, the few left who had been uninstalling a mine were rapidly joined by whomever could get there in a new position further down the road. With the road blockaded the convoy was forced to slow, and as soon as it had stopped they came under fire.

The resulting engagement appears to have lasted around half an hour, which is curious in itself: there seems to have been no clear reason why Collins ordered his men to engage the enemy for this length of time. Dalton would later claim he had ordered the convoy to push through and drive on, but was superseded by the C-in-C, who wanted to fight it out with the ambushers. The convoy may possibly have been able to force its way past the blockade and drive away, or may just have been backed up in the attempt. For the vast majority of the exchange there were no casualties incurred: the IRA had sufficient cover in the hills, and the National Army soldiers were able to hunker down behind their vehicles and grass banks next to the road. The convoy’s machine gun was delayed in firing owing to a jamming issue, but once it did the balance of firepower was greatly swung in the direction of the pro-Treaty soldiers. Anti-Treaty Volunteers had difficult raising their heads to be able to fire.

After some time of these exchanges, there was a lull in the firing, as ammunition was changed for the National Army and the IRA, low on ammo, limited their shots. Some of the attacking party had also left the area, doubtless thinking that furthering the engagement served no purpose. At this point Collins is said to have left the cover of an armoured car and walked a certain distance down the road in the direction of Bandon, seemingly firing at the enemy as he went. In some accounts – they are contradictory, and some were only related decades after the events in question – Collins went as far as to be out of sight around a bend in the road, though it’s unclear why he would do this. Perhaps he felt that the IRA were on the run, and was happy to engage in a limited pursuit. We will never know.

At this point Collins was hit, with a bullet leaving a gaping wound on the back of his neck. How exactly this happened has been the subject of extensive debate: a volunteer named Denis “Sonny” O’Neill is popularly attributed as the shooter, having previously served as a sniper in the British Army (and he had met Collins several times over the previous few years). A detailed examination of accounts and the terrain, like that undertaken by historian Meda Ryan, has more popularised the theory that Collins may have been the unfortunate victim of a ricochet fragment, the exact origin of which is impossible to know for certain. Either way, Collins received a fatal wound. It’s not certain exactly how quickly Collins died, but it seems unlikely he was still alive when the convoy left the site a few minutes later. A motorbike rider who helped move Collins’ body to a vehicle was the only other casualty of the engagement, hit in the neck as he helped his commander, though he survived. The convoy rapidly left the scene, as did the IRA. The postponed Brigade meeting resumed nearby, with a report that indicated there had been no casualties on either side at the ambush. Somewhat ironically, the meeting agreed that an honourable peace would be more agreeable than continuing the conflict.

The nature of the ambush, in the differing accounts of survivors and the infamy of it, has meant that it has become easy fodder for various lines of conspiracy theory, that generally attempt to get across the idea that Collins was murdered by a member of the convoy. Prime targets for such speculation include Jock McPeak, who manned the machine gun on the armoured car: a British Army veteran, he would later defect to the anti-Treaty side. Emmet Dalton has also been the subject of such scrutiny, with much made of different, contradictory, accounts that he would later give of the events in question. Motivation for an apparent murder of Collins is generally described as being on the foot of British manipulations. There is little to really say about such things, other than to state that the evidence for them is, at best, hearsay, and at worst completely nonsensical: the British government would hardly have wanted to kill the Treaty’s biggest supporter, and the idea that Collins could have been killed by his own side and this not getting out somehow stretches credibility. The truth is far more likely to be the simple reality that he was killed by an anti-Treaty Volunteer while fighting against an ambush he should not have been fighting against.

The ambush itself bears little study from a military perspective. The National Army blundered repeatedly in the build-up: in revealing their position and VIP to people they could not trust, in following the same route on their return journey as they had used when outbound and in choosing to engage the ambushers when they had the opportunity to withdraw. The first instance was careless, the second incompetent, while the third appears to have been a result of Collins’ own attitude. It must be remembered that Collins had little practical experience of tactical engagements, beyond what limited fighting he had seen or taken part in during 1916, which may explain his unwise choice to fight it out. It’s tempting to also look at the morose attitude that had marked him in those final weeks, and posit the engagement served as the sort of activity to buoy his flagging spirits, but this is pure conjecture. On the other side the IRA laid the ambush correctly and were able to enact the attack despite limited numbers and the confusion of the sudden convoy arrival, which was to their credit, and they were able to disengage without casualties: on another day the whole affair would have been little more than a footnote in the history of the period, the day Michael Collins narrowly missed a bullet.

Collins was taken to a nearby village where a priest was called to deliver the Sacraments: according to Dalton emotions were so high that when the priest left to retrieve the needed oils a soldier misinterpreted this as the priest refusing to perform the rite, and was only narrowly prevented from shooting him in the back. A torturous journey to Cork City through the night followed, with the convoy getting lost in the back roads of the countryside, and at one point having to abandon some vehicles that got bogged down in fields. A doctor at the British Military Hospital in the city concluded that Collins had bee hit by a “dum-dum” bullet, but there is no record of an official postmortem or autopsy being performed. A lack of telephone connection to Dublin meant that news of the death had to be relayed frst by telegraph to New York, then London then back to the capital. Dalton restrained local soldiers who wanted to set out on a mission of revenge, and aside from increased patrols in the Beal na mBlath area there was no reprisal (three republicans killed in Clondalkin at the time is considered a lone example).

One of the curious aspects of the whole affair was the presence of Eamon de Valera near Beal na mBlath that day. De Valera was travelling with Liam Deasy having spent time in the HQ of Liam Lynch, and passed through not far from the place where Collins was shot. This has led a popular narrative to emerge that Collins was in the area to meet with de Valera, and that de Valera had a hand in what happened to his former comrade. There is little to back-up either assertion. De Valera’s presence in the general area appears to have been little more than mere coincidence, and there has never been any hard evidence presented that he and Collins were supposed to meet. Collins would probably have been aware that “Dev” was not the person to get in contact with in terms of arranging a peace deal, with the former leader of the Dail having little to no influence over the direction of the anti-Treaty movement. For that reason also, the idea that de Valera arranged or ordered Collins’ assassination is similarly faulty. When informed of Collins’ death, de Valera was observed reacting in a devastated manner, stating the belief that the killing now made peace impossible:  “My God, it is too bad; there is no hope for it now”.

He was not the only one to react that way, though it is important not to romanticise the aftermath of Collins’ death becoming public knowledge. The idea that both sides of the Treaty divide were “temporarily united in grief” as Neil Jordan’s biopic put it, is true only to a very partial extent. His funeral in Dublin was a massive affair, with Collins’ body carried on one of the gun carriages used for the attack on the Four Courts, but it did not come with any pause in the hostilities of the Civil War. As noted de Valera was seemingly devastated by Collins’ passing, and plenty of other anti-Treaty figures, including Tom Barry, recorded mournful feelings, but others were happy to celebrate the death of a man they deemed their chief adversary in the conflict. Beyond emotional feelings of revenge for the perceived architect of the hated Treaty, there may well have been hopes that the provisional government could waver absent its key figurehead. But if the IRA thought that the war had reached a turning point with the death of Collins they were to be disappointed.

One consequence of Collins’ death was a break-up of his roles, so that the civil and military portions of the pro-Treaty faction now got distinct leaders. Many thought that Richard Mulcahy, who won a great deal of praise for his conciliatory message to the Army after the death was announced and efforts to prevent reprisals, could step-up to inherit the full remit of Collins’ powers, but when the Dail finally did meet in September, W.T. Cosgrave was selected to become the new Chairman of the Provisional Government, with Mulcahy taking command of the National Army alongside the Defence portfolio. In truth much of the directing work of this new cabinet fell to Kevin O’Higgins, the Minister of Justice, but Cosgrave was a solid, calming influence at a time when such things were badly required.

And they were very much required. Collins’ death came in a new stage of the Civil War, with the anti-Treaty side turning to guerrilla warfare wholesale, and already finding a great deal of success. The provisional government, having to turn from fighting a conventional war to an unconventional one in a rapid space of time, now also had to deal with enormous changes of leadership. Moreover, the death of Collins, despite those efforts to try and rein in emotional responses, was going to have its effect too: a man who wanted peace had been removed from the equation, and replaced by those who now found their attitudes towards the enemy hardened, along with a commitment to end the conflict with nothing less than a total military victory. This is the true legacy of what happened that August evening in the countryside of Cork: the Irish Civil War was about to get worse.

To read the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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NFB Listens To Number Ones: “Head And Heart” – Joel Corry (feat. MNEK)

I’m one of those only slightly older people, fogeys I believe we can be called, who is maybe just a single generation away from being the exact demographic that this kind of song is aimed at, so it’s the perfect example of “What has happened to music?” sentiment. I can recognise the good in this song. It’s undeniably memorable, and liable to stick in your head after you hear it (one can’t help but think of “Catchy Song” from The Lego Movie 2, where the catchiness is the point of the exercise). But the reason it does that is because of how ridiculously simple it is. You could call it just repeating sounds as opposed to lyrics: MNEK spends most of his time going “Bum bum ba bum” in what is a very short song.

Aside from that it’s just the kind of electronica layers that people foolishly think they could do themselves with a basic music program, and even though a moments consideration makes you realise how arrogant that sounds, the thought still lingers: this feels like something an algorithm could come up with given enough samples to work from. I often think the intricacies of these songs, like how some of those layers are implemented or how minor alterations in transition are done, are just lost on me and 99% of the audience, who aren’t really listening to what is pounding out of the danceclub speakers loud enough to deafen anyone within a square-mile radius.

But this is what the kids like these days, the kind of electric beats, kick and bass with simple lyrics that go well with club scenes – and not your smartphone, rather crucially, for the song’s longevity – where the point isn’t really to come with masterpieces of music, it’s to come up with something that is easy to dance too, easy to sing along with and liable to get crowds of people going fast. Undoubtedly “Head And Heart” does that, which is why it was #1 in Ireland for five weeks last summer. But that doesn’t mean that I have to like it.

Of course, I have several songs like this in my “Liked” list actually, because they’re good for a running playlist if nothing else. But I think this is not the best example of this kind of house layer cake really: the lyrics are plainly limited, the chorus sounds are frankly a little lazy and the surrounding beats are nothing you would not have heard a million times before. I think that Jax Jones’ “Breathe” is a better example of what Corry was going for, because of its more thought out lyrics: this old fogey isn’t buying what Corry is selling, and is fine with that. I do like the music video though, a clever ode to the power of positive thinking, so there’s that at least. Now, does anyone know how to get “Bum bum ba bum” out of your head?

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Review: In The Heights

In The Heights

Trailer

Lights up.

Well, I don’t think that I could have higher expectations for a movie than this one. Last year I decided that the filmed version of Hamilton was my #1 choice for the entire year, a reflection on what I could accurately call my obsession with Lin-Manual Miranda’s masterpiece. The music, the characters, the themes, and the melding of all of them into this one powerful package, it was a two-and-a-half hours of sheer artistic perfection, something I do not say lightly.

But before there was Hamilton there was In The Heights, Miranda’s other highly-acclaimed musical, and one with, arguably, a much more personal connection to the man. In The Heights was something I was aware of purely through Spotify, but what I heard I liked: a sweeping musical journey through one of the more culturally unique parts of a culturally unique city, even if it was perhaps more rooted in a no-longer-existent nostalgic past. A film version, starring one of the major reasons Hamilton was so good, was always going to attract the eye. Moreover, I can’t be the only one thinking that the whole production could be viewed as a bit of a trial run for seeing Hamilton get a more traditional film adaptation. Was In The Heights another musical phenomenon from Miranda, or the earlier work that was just prelude to greatness?

Bodega owner Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) contemplates life in the Washington Heights area of New York City, with its many diverse residents: Taxi-company owner Kevin (Jimmy Smits) who is selling off his business bit-by-bit to finance the Stanford education his high-achieving daughter Nina (Leslie Grace), ignorant of her miserable feelings on the matter; Kevin’s employee Benny (Corey Hawkins) who yearns to make a name for himself in business while pursuing Nina romantically; Daniela (Daphne Rubin-Vega), Carla (Stephanie Beatriz) and Cuca (Dascha Polanco) who are moving their hair salon on account of growing gentrification; and Claudia (Olga Merediz), the community’s unofficial grandmother who remembers her Cuban heritage while watching the neighbourhood change around her. Usnavi himself dreams of returning to his native homeland of the Dominican Republic with his cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), when not mooning over would-be downtown fashion designer Vanessa (Melissa Barrera): over the course of a few heatwave-filled days, the community ponders where they are, where they want to be and who they want to be with.

In The Heights is a fun piece of work no doubt, a refreshingly evocative look at minority life in the United States, that is fully sure of itself and the kinds of things that it wants to portray. It does a brilliant job in hooking you in very early, and is able to just about keep you engaged all the way to the end. It has its issues, as I will get into, but this is the kind of film that I think should be required watching in this day and age, for its efforts to marry appreciation of tight-knit community with a melding pot of culture.

There is a lot to unpack here, as you might well expect for a film this long (pro tip: if you’re film is over two hours, consider a five minute intermission. If it’s over 2.5, it should be required). The good is that In The Heights is able to present a dazzling kaleidoscope of story, taking in a great many characters all with their own troubles and romances and dreams, marrying them to song and dance in a way that is, in all of their own merits, fantastically entertaining. Usnavi’s dreams of going back to a home he barely remembers, Kevin and Nina’s disputes over her future, Claudia’s past clashing with what is left of her future, these are all narratives that In The Heights does a very good job of setting up and following up on in the course of its lengthy running time. There’s aspirations, there’s heartbreak, there’s traditional romance and heaps of sexual tension, even slapstick comedy gets a look in with the battle of the piragua man with Mr Softee. Most of all there is a story about the importance of community and finding ones tribe: something we could all stand to be reminded of occasionally. Things unfold more as a series of individual vignettes then as a overtly connected narrative, but In The Heights is able to sustain itself for a lengthy time with that kind of structure.

This adaptation makes the wise choice to update things a little, changing the song order around a bit and introducing two new developments to its plot, namely a discussion on DACA as it pertains to Washington Heights’ undocumented, and casual racism experienced by its inhabitants when outside of the bubble. The first change is certainly a worthy update to add since the time of the stage musical’s debut – 2007 – and adds a needed political element to make the film resonate a bit more with an audience that has spent four years dealing with an racist President. The second also worked a lot for me: instead of Nina flunking out of Stanford because she has to work two jobs to pay her way, she’s instead driven out by microaggressions of a racial nature. The idea of someone so used to the vibrant community that is this Washington Heights floundering in an environment where ignorant white people assume she is a waitress and/or a thief, rings very true to me, and I think adds something much more sympathetic to the Nina character (who can otherwise seem like a one-note daughter/girlfriend). A few nods here and there to the perils of gentrification – a heartbreaking scene sees Claudia unable to afford the services of a brand new dry cleaners that has just opened up in the area – also serve to make the point of the importance of that kind of community.

The problem that In The Heights has, and what really hamstrings it drastically, is the manner in which it just runs out of momentum around halfway through. The film reaches what appears at first glance to be a perfect “Turn Into Third Act” set-piece with a nightclub-based sequence, but this occurs halfway through a near 160 minute running time: everything that happens afterwards is mostly just drawn-out reaction to the events of that sequence, and In The Heights thus spends a great deal of time just spinning its wheels. The second half contains a lot of scenes (and a lot of songs) that are mostly about the various sub-plots getting a satisfying conclusion, while the main perils of the story vanish into the ether. We go from wondering how the various characters and their own narratives will play-out to sort of waiting for the conclusion, which is very far away. In The Heights never loses you, but it does come close enough that you will wonder why some additional shaving could not have been done.

You still ain’t got no skills.

That, and there are a few of the many, many characters that start to grate on you the more that time passes. Chief among them is Vanessa. I don’t know what it is about seeing the characters, as opposed to just hearing them, but Vanessa comes off really badly in this adaptation. In a world filled with people who are pro-active, positive-thinking, or are dealing with the kind of big-issue problems that justify a degree of mopiness, she instead comes off as rather annoying with a downbeat, cynical attitude. I don’t really have the space to get into it in too much detail, but it suffices to say that In The Heights wants you to recognise and appreciate Vanessa for her ambition, for the way that Usnavi views her, for her artistic talent, but I think all too easily you will instead see mopiness when the road to those ambitions have roadblocks, a degree of emotional manipulation played out several times over with Usnavi and an artistic talent that we just don’t see enough of. She also has some of the biggest clunkers in terms of lines, not least a repeated refrain that the Heights’ denizens are “powerless” during the blackout (it’s a metaphor idiot!). Other characters have similar issues, lacking the time and space to let their redeeming qualities out enough: Kevin in his over-protectiveness, Benny in his commitment to his work that goes too far, etc, etc.

The ensemble cast does an excellent job here all the same. Ramos proved his acting and singing chops for productions like in his excellent work on Hamilton, and really steps into the Usnavi role – once held by Miranda of course, who takes a smaller, arguably superfluous, role of a piragua seller in this one – with aplomb. There’s a lot of work that’s required there, as a main character, as a one-man chorus, as a love interest, as a surrogate father, but Ramos is able for it, with oodles of charm in every bright smile. Others have less time but make no less of an impact: stand-outs for me were Diaz as Sonny (bringing a lot of depth to that character with the new material), Merediz as Claudia (her “Paciencia Y Fe” is probably the stand-out musical performance of the film) and Hawkins as Benny, a guy who lacks much of his own agency, but works his way into other peoples plots and songs effectively.

It’s a musical so I need to spend a bit of time talking about the music. Things start off with a bang with the titular song, which comes close to “Alexander Hamilton” in terms of getting needed exposition out of the way quick and in an entertaining manner. Things follow on quickly: Nina’s despair in “Breathe” the ode to female gossip in “No Me Diga”, Vanessa’ dreams outlined in “It Won’t Be Long Now” all good “I Want” examples. Things really kick into gear with the excellent set-piece of “96’000” as the neigbourhood wonders about a lottery win, and then a more focused affair between Benny and Nina in “When You’re Home”. A nightclub and a blackout form a really well choreographed song-and-dance number to take us to the end of what should be Act One, and In The Heights is hopping.

The less good on the musical front, in line with some of what I said earlier, is mostly in the back half of proceedings, when In The Heights starts to slow down and struggle more with marrying song to narrative progression, a problem Miranda decisively eliminated in Hamilton. Claudia’s “Paciencia Y Fe” is a really well put-together exploration of the emigrant experience in America, and its emotional conclusion towers above some of what follows, like the somewhat forced “Carnaval del Barrio” or the Usnavi/Vanessa focused “Champagne” which really didn’t fit right and didn’t set-up the “Finale” song well enough. In-between is “When The Sun Goes Down”, probably the best of the more quiet songs in the show, replete with the most unique of cinematography.

John Chu’s production is wonderfully directed though. Chu, with a background in musicals, dance and minority filmmaking, is a good choice I feel, and he does his level best to bring this vision of Washington Heights to life. The tight editing and choreography of the title track sets us up nicely, and there follows a number of really breathtaking visuals moments: the blackout montage following the naked sexuality of the nightclub sequence; Claudia’s deathbed remembrance of her life, transposed to the reality of the New York subway; Benny and Nina’s dance on the side of an apartment block. Obviously it is the music that really brings In The Heights to where it needs to be, but I did appreciate Chu’s work a lot, and the many production details in make-up and costuming that ensured every character and location popped just right, whether it is Usnavi’s bodega or Vanessa’s art studio.

I came out of In The Heights very much thinking more of it than I do right now I suppose: it’s not a film that does very well with long-term thinking. That’s because it struggles with its pacing in the second-half, having front loaded the opening hour with its best songs. Some of the characters could be more ingratiating, and of all the films to submit to the current trend of excessive running times, this is one that needs an intermission most of all. But there is still so much good here, that I think decisively outweighs the bad. The cast is great, the songs are brilliant, the film looks spectacular and it gives us a diverse space to tell an interesting story, with much-needed examination of themes related to the undocumented and to minorities more generally. This may well have been the arena where Miranda honed his craft ahead of hitting all of the right notes with Hamilton, and as such it has its issues: but it is still a fine example of musical-on-film, that anyone can find something to enjoy in. Recommended.

I geddit.

(All images are copyright of Warner Bros. Pictures).

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NFB Watches Wrestling #62: Smackdown (04/04/2002)

The future is now with this brand’s first proper show of the split era. It’s the 4th April 2002 (filmed on the 2nd) and we’re in the Blue Cross Arena of Rochester, New York for episode #137 of WWF Smackdown! Your main event tonight: The Rock vs Chris Jericho have yet another match!

Attitude splash (still) and Vince is relaxing on a couch in his office. He says Flair named Undertaker as the #1 contender on Raw, but the board of directors decided whoever won the coin toss for the #1 draft pick would also get to name the #1 contender for the first brand split era PPV, and he’ll be doing that tonight. Hang on, the coin toss was Vince’s ad-hoc idea after the brand split was announced, the “board of directors” had nothing to do with it. This is a bit of a retcon. I’ll go into what some of the thinking behind this about-face might have been later.

“Beautiful People”, puro, and we are welcomed to Rochester by Michael Cole and Tazz: the King is dead, long live Brooklyn. They announce Edge will face Kurt Angle later, before Angle comes to the ring. He’s out here to tell us that he’s willing to face HHH at Backlash. The crowd is in “what” mode, and Angle decides that, despite being “dissed” by them, he will list the reasons why he deserves the title shot. He’s beaten Triple H a lot, he’s an Olympic gold medalist, he’s adored by children and senior citizens worldwide (“especially the sick ones”) and he has 26 more reasons to get through before Chris Jericho suddenly appears.

Y2J says he never got a one-on-one rematch for the title, and he declares that he is not a has-been, obviously trying to set the crowd of which he does successfully, though I think they are chanting “asshole”. He’s taking that championship opportunity. Angle, in a moment of genuinely clever wordplay, says Jericho’s opportunity “already has-been completed”. Jericho reminds Kurt the last time they met Jericho beat him (Rebellion 2001 I think) and further suggests that they have a match tonight for the title shot. They shake on it, and the roof comes off the place for The Rock.

“Finally”, and this crowd is nuclear. No one deserves a shot more than him…wait, maybe there is someone else. The crowd bites with “Hogan” chants. Rock knows he’ll get a title shot in future, milks in the “Hogan” chants a bit more, thinks they should give the Backlash shot to a legend, an icon, and hilariously Angle thanks The Rock for his support. Rock cuts him off to announce he meant Hulk Hogan, and Jericho looks outraged. Y2J and Angle both get the “It doesn’t matter…” treatment when they protest. Rock adds that this is “the People’s Show”, and whips the crowd into giving their sheep-like support for “Hogan”. Cole declares it “unanimous”, but I heard one guy chanting “Angle”. “If you smell…” and that’ll do it for a pretty entertaining opening segment, that only mildly outstayed its welcome. A little sad to see Rock trotted out to cover Hogan’s elevation though.

Backstage, Albert and Scotty 2 Hotty confab before their title shot, and both proclaim their readiness. I had completely forgotten they were a tag team.

Billy & Chuck (c) w/Rico vs Albert & Scotty 2 Hotty (WWF Tag Team Championships)

Albert and S2H got the “already in the ring” treatment after the break, so I don’t fancy their chances, but at least they are new challengers. Scotty and Chuck to start, Chuck with shots, flip chain, and Scot gets a neckbreaker for one. In going for the tag Chuck makes extended contact with Billy’s groin, “hilariously”. Billy in, floors Scotty off a few clotheslines, and Chuck gets in a beatdown off an Albert distraction. Chuck in legally, takes some slaps, comes back looking for a powerslam, Scotty out and nails a superkick.

Hot tag to Albert, clears house, rolling powerslam to Billy, Chuck put out, corner splash to Billy. Tag to S2H, Rico onto the apron and Albert leaves the ring to pursue, only to get floored by Chuck. In the ring Scotty hits a Tornado DDT, no count as the ref is distracted, Rico in to nail a spinning heel kick, and Billy gets the 1, 2, 3, in just over three.

Winners (and still WWF Tag Team Champions): Billy & Chuck, who are fighting champions if nothing else.

Verdict: Standard TV tag where they just cut out the opening act.

Albert confronts Rico after, Scotty gets the bulldog, looking for the Worm, but then Albert nails him with a pump kick, and you can literally hear the air leave the room. Extended beatdown ending with a Baldo Bomb, with typical “You were holding me back!” jawing, as Cole brilliantly claims “These guys were like brothers!” Yeah, I’m sure. Heel Albert is not going to be up to much, I have a feeling.

Backstage, Mark Lloyd waits to speak to Mr McMahon. After the break, out comes Vince, who is confused about who Lloyd is. Has he decided who the #1 contender is? McMahon could care less about the public, because he knows what they want better than they do. It’s a bigger deal than Mania, and that’s why Triple H is going to defend against…Hulk Hogan! Weird promo, considering what it was leading up to.

So, what was the story here? Honestly, I think that McMahon was smart enough to know that the Hogan love-in had a time limit, and they should make hay while the crowds were hot for him. That meant Taker getting bumped, which I’m sure he was just delighted about, and Hogan getting elevated to the main event despite doing nothing in kayfabe to deserve it. They could have at least let him win a #1 contenders match or something, but nothing doing. The way in which they do it here screams disorganised, with Rock’s endorsement meant as a cover for how quickly it is all being done.

Elsewhere, Jericho is outraged. He confronts The Rock, claims Hogan has never done anything in this business, a bit of a stretch, and he couldn’t even beat Rock (true). Jericho runs down all the time he has beaten The Rock, and Rock suggests he do it again tonight. Y2J agrees, and we have a main event. These two wouldn’t stop wrestling each other in the latter half of 2001/early 2002, so I can take or leave this to be honest.

Christian vs Diamond Dallas Page

A Wrestlemania rematch, sans title, and it actually gets a video package for some reason. This one recaps Christian’s temper tantrums, Page’s efforts to be a spiritual advisor, Christian’s sudden but inevitable betrayal and Christian’s loss at Mania. There were some developments since, you know? No idea why this match needed this, when the Mania match didn’t have anything.

DDP gives a smile, dodges a strike and back with his own. Leapfrog chains, and Christian flipped over and then clotheslined out, and the crowd pops for Page. Gets dropped on the ropes as Christian comes back in, Side Russian Leg-Sweep gets two, then a brief resthold. Page looking for the flip again, transitions into a pin for two, thats countered into a Christian pin for two, then Page counters again into an Electric Chair Drop, very nice sequence. Dueling strikes, discus clothesline from Page, then the sit-out powerbomb for two. Christian no-selling, up to hit a reverse backbreaker for two. Page with an elbow to the face on a corner charge, but Christian able to hang onto the rope to avoid a Diamond Cutter attempt. Page with a roll-up for two, then the Reverse DDT from Christian for two. That’s enough to set-off the temper tantrum, to Tazz’s genuine-sounding dismay. DDP goes to assist, thumb to the eye, Unprettier, and that’s it in just under three-and-a-half.

Winner: That sneaky Christian.

Verdict: Was good for what it was, these two can go. I like Christian playing possum with the tantrums.

Christian runs off celebrating his successful deception.

Backstage, Kurt Angle is talking to himself, remonstrating on McMahon’s decision for the Backlash main event. Edge walks up, and has a peace offering for Angle, some old pictures he just found in his attic, of Angle’s successfull moments in wrestling. Unbeknownst to Angle, they have captions on the other side, such as “You Suck”, “Yes, I Do Suck”, “And I’m A Dork”, “It’s True” and “P.S., I Have No Testicles”. Edge walks off, and Angle is, naturally, upset when he discovers the truth. A little childish, but I’ll take it, it’s like that Wayne’s World bit “This man has no penis, I have proof”.

Elsewhere, the Game walks through the hallways. After the break he heads to the ring, because he has a match to sell. He outlines the situation regards the changing Backlash main event, basically recapping everything we have seen so far tonight. He understands the Deadman might be upset (I’ll bet he was) but the title is going nowhere, and when Triple H is done with Hogan he’ll be waiting for Taker. I bet Levesque wasn’t too pleased about this situation either. Only room for one piranha in this company.

Anyway, this brings Hogan out, and he’s back in his red and yellow, which even heel Tazz appreciates. Straight away though, he gives us “He don’t sweat the Game, he knows the Game is on his game”, which is probably the call of the night. Crowd is red-hot for Hogan, as you would expect. These two are such well-known backstage politikers I’m surprised they don’t bring out podiums and just have a debate. Hulk says he was just as surprised as Hunter was to hear Vince’s announcement. I still think a title run might have been a condition of his return. He recaps his feats at Wrestlemania I, III, 18, and man there is a big gap there isn’t there? Hulkamania is back, brother. If the fans believe in him, and believe that he deserves a shot, he’s going to take it. The crowd agrees.

HHH says it’ll be an honour to be in the ring with Hogan, but a little part of him will be sad, because he’s going to have hurt someone he’s looked up to his whole life. Think we’re seeing the start of a heel turn here. Triple H won’t hesitate for one second, and Hogan is just another obstacle to be run down. Nice subtle reference to the vehicular manslaughter attempt on Austin there. Crowd remains hot for Hogan. Nothing will come between the Game and his title because, brother, he’s the Game, etc. Triple H goes to leave, but Hogan wants the last word, because of course he does. Hulkamania is going to rise-up, whatchagonnado, etc. Staredown. Crowd very, very into this, and I suppose it would make me somewhat interested in seeing Backlash’s main event, if only because I want HHH back where he belongs, as the bad guy.

Commentary hypes the next match, on after the break.

Edge vs Kurt Angle

The contrasting sponsors of Tobacco is Whacko and Footlocker bring you this one. Angle in hot, and Edge beaten down. Back with a spinning heel kick, before he walks into a huge German Suplex, two. Chops in the corner, belly-to-belly throw, looking for the Angle Slam, Edge out and hits his facebuster for some time. Shots, dodges a clothesline, fallback slam for two. Angle tied up in the ropes, Edge taunts him, and hits two spears on a trapped Angle, which do look kind of brutal. Angle to the outside, grabs a chair, but intercepted by Edge before he can use it, though the chair is still in the ring. Um, ref? Edge hits a back body-drop when they are back in the ring, but when he tries to follow-up with a spear Angle has the chair as a shield, Bret Hart-on-Goldberg style. The ref has seen enough in just over three.

Winner (by DQ): Edge, the wacky prankster.

Verdict: Nice preview for whats to come, with a sadly inevitable non-finish. Spear spot was cool.

Angle tries to brain Edge with the chair but the future main event mainstay dodges and Angle beats a retreat. Cole promises us that we haven’t heard the last of this one. Well of course.

Backstage, Torrie Wilson is oiling up for some reason when Billy Kidman rocks up. He’s happy to be back, and while he knows Wilson, his ex/hated rival in WCW, will be there, he’s going for the Cruiserweight Title. They hug, just as Tajiri arrives. He is outraged in Japanese, and insists on a cheek kiss from Torrie, followed by a lip one. Que a cheeky smile to Kidman. Love this. Obvious heel turn coming between these two guys.

Tajiri (c) w/Torrie Wilson vs Billy Kidman (WWF Cruiserweight Championship)

Lock-up, elbow-lock from Kidman countered into a drop, then a nice rana. Kidman back with his own, a few dodged heel kicks, tosses, and both men equally matched. Kidman tries a clothesline, but nobody home but Tajiri’s boot. Springboard moonsault on Kidman after he vacates the ring to only a mild pop, back in, but Tajiri eats a drop-kick off a top-rope nothing. Back with a spinning heel kick for two, looking for the Tornado DDT but Kidman counters into a powerbomb, nice. Kidman to the top, looking for the Shooting Star but no water in the pool. Superkick from Tajiri as a follow-up, but only a near-fall. The Champ looking for the Tarantula, but Kidman able to dump him off and to the outside. Back in, looking for it again, this time successfully, but then he gets distracted seeing that Wilson is holding the title belt for some reason. Kidman sneaks up, roll-up with a deep pin, and that’s enough in just under three-and-a-half.

Winner (and new WWF Cruiserweight Champion): Billy Kidman, so I guess we know who is getting the heel turn.

Verdict: Perfectly serviceable cruiserweight action, it just wasn’t long enough for a title match with a change.

Kidman walks off in triumph and Tajiri gets on the mike. Here we go. He seemingly demands Wilson enter the ring, he gives out in Japanese to well-placed “what” chants, Torrie looks freaked, and we even get a bleep from the network, so must have been bad. Tajiri walks off, so I assume Torrie has been dumped. “It was an innocent mistake!” cries Cole. Aren’t they always?

Backstage, Vince complains about Maven losing the Hardcore Title to Smackdown, and he is pretty red-faced too. Pan out to reveal that McMahon is talking to Bob Holly, who is tasked with exacting some retribution on Maven. Holly remarks that if he had been a trainer on Tough Enough 1, Maven wouldn’t have lasted five minutes. He might have been literally killed mate, considering some of the BS Holly got up to on later seasons. Holly leaves to prepare for that encounter, and in walks Stacy Keibler. He insists she calls him “Vince” because both shows need to be run by horny old men. She’s here to offer her services to McMahon as an “executive assistant”, after enjoying his thoughts on “intellectual sperm” on Monday night. Odds on that Vince wrote this himself, and probably insisted on Stacy grabbing his arm too. Vince leads Stacy to his casting couch as we go to break.

After the break, Vince makes a show of adjusting his clothes with Keibler nowhere in sight, just in case you weren’t feeling bad enough about your niche hobby tonight. In walks D-Von Dudley of all people. He complains about the Dudley split happening over Vince and Flair’s feud “and so on and so forth”. Wow, D-Von is struggling. Vince insists he wanted Bubba too, but is hoping D-Von is ready to step up. He tells him to get out of his office until he figures out who he is, ie, get a gimmick change.

Elsewhere, Maven is with Al Snow. Snow runs down the highlights of Maven’s career thus far, and says that Maven should be happy about the “ass-whopping” he is about to get tonight, as a year ago he’d have to venture into the darkest part of town to have a similar experience. Oh Al. “Remember, God is always with you, and you’re sure as hell going to need him tonight buddy”. I love Snow’s pep talks.

Maven vs Hardcore Holly

Genuinely concerned for Maven here, but at least, with 15 minutes and a main event left, it will be short. Lock-up, Maven dodges a hard chop and lands a spinning heel kick for two. Holly back with shots into the corner, chops. “Hes mean, he hates everybody, I love Holly” says Tazz. Maven hung up on the ropes for a kick to the stomach, Inverted Atomic Drop, clotheslines, sweet drop-kick (Holly had one of the best in the business), Scoop Slam, to the top, but gets the boot on a top-rope nothing. Maven to the top to land a missile drop-kick for two, Holly straight back up to hit the Alabama Slam for the 1, 2, 3 in just over two.

Winner: whocares (congrats if you get that, fellow member of the Glahgah community)

Verdict: Very short, and Holly was relatively restrained, so I guess I can’t complain too much.

Cole and Tazz recap the events that led to tonight’s main event, and we get the full replay of Rock and Y2J’s encounter backstage. The Rock heads to the ring and after the break we get to it.

Chris Jericho vs The Rock

Cole plugs that Jericho’s band, Fozzy, will be playing at WWF New York tomorrow. I can’t believe they have been around that long. Jericho rushes to meet Rock on the ramp, but the Brahma Bull gets the advantage quick. Jericho thrown into the side of the ring, the smackdown laid, and the two end up in the crowd for some brawling. Jericho hip-tossed into ringside, but then avoids a clothesline, takedown, and Rock catapulted into the ringpost. Now into the ring and things start officially.

Y2J on top, screaming “I’m not a has-been!” between shots and chops. Rock comes back with his own, but then cut-off with a spinning heel kick for two. Mounted strikes, then some standing ones. Jericho to the top as the crowd comes alive for Rock, but the crowd can’t prevent a missile drop-kick, for two. Big suplex, Hogan-esque standing pin for two. (“Arrogant idiot” says an outraged Cole). Rock trying to come back, Jericho with a takedown, but Rock to the ropes before he gets put in the Walls. Jericho back to the top, but crotched for his troubles. The Rock up after Jericho, and hits a second-rope superplex, both men down. Good energy to this one, as both guys pull out the greatest hits after 20 encounters in the last six months.

Rock flooring Jericho with big shots, belly-to-belly throw, DDT, two. Electric offence has the crowd going. Rock dodges a running clothesline, and Tim White takes it instead. Rock puts in the Sharpshooter, no ref, and here comes Kurt Angle anyway. He gets smackdowned and out of the ring, only for Rock to then get floored by Jericho. Y2J teasing the People’s Elbow, Rock kips up, spinebuster, and now The Rock looks for the People’s Elbow, only to get cut off by Angle. Angle Slam, Jericho into the cover, slow count and Rock out at two. Edge arrives to take on Angle, and they brawl at ringside and then into the crowd as security struggle to keep people back.

Back in the ring, both men are down as White counts, but both up at eight. Rock with big rights, looking for the Rock Bottom, Jericho out and nails a bulldog. Looks for the Lionsault (that Tazz incorrectly calls a moonsault, come on man), knees up, Rock Bottom and that’ll be all in just over seven-and-a-half.

Winner: The Rock “who gets the Chris Jericho monkey off his back”. Thanks Cole.

Verdict: Good stuff, one of their better encounters honestly, maybe because it was shorter than usual. The interference didn’t ruin it either.

Must have been very short on time as the show ends very quick afterwards.

Best Match: I guess I will give it to the main event, which was a fun TV match that managed to avoid a sense of staleness it had no right avoiding really.

Best Wrestler: Kurt pulled double duty tonight in his own match and the main event, and looked great in both instances.

Worst Match: Holly/Maven seemed like an excuse to just batter the new guy, even if the end result wasn’t too bad.

Worst Wrestler: I know he’s able to pivot into A-Train from here, but Albert is one of the least impressive big guys on the roster right now.

Overall Verdict: This was good fun, no very disappointing matches and the main event popped. A sense of progression towards Backlash too, with a title match and one big feud in Angle/Edge. It feels like Smackdown is on surer footing than Raw really.

To view more entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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NFB Re-Watches Battlestar Galactica Season Two: “Home (Part Two)”

The scriptures say that when the 13th tribe landed on Earth, they looked up into the heavens and they saw their 12 brothers.

Air Date: 26/08/2005

Director: Jeff Woolnough

Writer: Ronald D. Moore

Synopsis: On Kobol, the expedition to the surface continues towards the Tomb of Athena, but tensions among the participants threaten to boil over. In the Fleet, Adama decides to go about reuniting humanity personally.

Review

Like “Home (Part One)”, this episode revolves around the duel axis of Adama and Roslin, with a very important pivot point at their reunion. Adama is a new man in some ways in the first half of the episode: taking responsibility for his own actions in the past and for the reunification of the Fleet. The decision to take the reconciliatory course at the end of the last episode has clearly been a purifying experience in some ways, helping to banish the self-doubt, rage and weakness that has clouded him since his recovery. The Commander we see here is infinitely more sure of himself. He makes jokes with Billy, he hugs his son, he smiles. Dee’s words are his new touchstone, as he confidently declares that there will be no more bloodshed and no more losses: something he’ll be seeing to himself. The very mood of the show appears to lift with this new, renewed, guiding force at the helm.

That reconciliation is one of the most powerful in the run of BSG. The way that Adama embraces Apollo harks back to “Part Two” of the Miniseries, but just as cathartic is his unspoken reunion with Starbuck, she tremulous at the idea of again meeting the man with whom her last interaction was resoundingly negative. Adama though is just happy that she’s alive, and this too harks back to a previous moment, in “You Can’t Go Home Again”. For all that happened in “Kobol’s Last Gleaming (Part Two)” there’s a real sense in this instance of heads being unfogged. There’s no recriminations, no (abject) supplication. It’s like everyone, on either side of the divide, suddenly realises how stupid and unnecessary it all was, the crap that led to this schism.

Then Sharon comes into frame and for a few critical moments Adama is once again the person he was in the last few episodes. That rage was tamed but not extinguished: the flood of emotions that occurs when he comes, as he must see it, face-to-face with his attacker is too much for Adama to control. Seeing him literally try and choke the life out of Sharon is still shocking all the same, especially in contrast to the more positive emotions on display moments earlier. She seems to reference Adama’s speech in “Part One” of the Miniseries here when she says “And you ask why?” Why is humanity worth saving when this is their true nature exposed? Adama, compelled by this, his surrogate family and his own physical weakness, relents, but we are left in no doubt as to the power of the man’s anger.

Adama comes to the reconciliation directly with Roslin, and the real reunification of the Fleet occurs in that remarkably quiet moment, as the two just sit on the surface of Kobol and talk. Adama forgives Roslin – or rather, “Laura” rather notable – for her previous actions, and it’s clear enough that it’s less the fermenting of mutiny and more the broken promise to him personally. That indicates a smallness in Adama’s character, but a smallness that he is willing to try and make up for now. He doesn’t argue the point when she doesn’t reciprocate the forgiveness. The two discuss that fateful decision to cut and run from the Colonies, with Roslin second-guessing herself but Adama is more than comforting or magnanimous here: he tells the President that if she hadn’t pushed him to take the Fleet and run, they’d all be dead. In effect he acts as an absolver of sorts for Roslin, by placing her decisions and knowledge above his own on this most critical of topics.

Over on the resistance side, there is a lot happening. There’s one scene where the characters here take a breath, and they are literally sitting in their respective sub-plots: Roslin on her own reading her scriptures like a drowning man grabbing a lifebuoy; Zarek and Meier plotting his ascendancy in the Fleet; Starbuck and Apollo ruminating on Sharon; and Helo and Sharon talking about the immediate future. Despite the fact that it’s only half the episode, it’s a well-written medley of competing motivations and desires, as we wait for the inevitable explosion to come.

Roslin is the main focus of course. For the first part of this episode she’s really bereft, having lost Elosha and consumed by a single-minded obsession of finding the tomb. It’s strange to say but I had almost forgotten her cancer diagnosis until you see the physical toll that the trek through Kobol takes on her. This does make me think that the obsession with finding the tomb has both a religious and a personal significance: Roslin’s desire to live might be tied, in her own mind, with fulfilling her religious mission. It’s all she can focus on, manifesting as she clings to the prophecies and ignores Starbuck’s revelation that there are still people alive on the Colonies.

The return of Billy into her life brings us full circle from their separation in “Resistance”. I’m not a huge fan of that whole plot wrinkle, but it does give us two great scenes in this episode, the one in the Raptor where Billy’s worth to the President is made clear, and their reunion, which allows Roslin to have that reconciliatory moment that Adama has with his son. Afterwards she’s more like herself, like finding the non-literal rock that is Billy has helped to anchor her somewhat. This helps her to come to a manner of understanding with Adama, though she is strong enough to not make apologies for her own behavior, in response to Adama’s offer of forgiveness.

The end result is the reunification of the Fleet, the happy marriage again of the civil and the military and Roslin being acclaimed by the crew of the Galactica, with Adama’s encouragement. I understand the writing team has described “Home (Part Two)” as the true ending of the overall Season One arc, like that season was really meant to be 20 episodes with an end point here. That does sort of fit looking back, as the rest of Season Two, bar some of the events of the next episode, are going to move on rather decisively from the schism.

The other major thing to discuss on Kobol is Sharon. There are nice moments – her and Helo get to actually be a couple, to the extent that it actually feels a bit weird – and some not so nice moments – like, well, everything else in the episode – as she begins a long and winding road to gaining the trust of the Colonials. She’s the cipher for a number of interesting plot points and twists here: being a religious expert and symbolising the Cylon takeover of the Colonial faith; a reunion with Tyrol that brings up all kinds of uncomfortable feelings; plotting murder with Zarek’s mini-faction; and coming face-to-face with Adama, a few weeks after a copy tried to kill him.

In all of this Sharon, and to an extent Helo, have to confront the reality of what life back in the Fleet is going to be. Another Sharon was shot there and the perpetrator barely punished for it; it isn’t going to be a glorious homecoming, and in a way Sharon ending up inside a cell is about as good as things could turn out. The road there is full of literal whispers and manipulation, as she decides the only way to get through to Adama is a dramatic gesture, albeit a very manufactured one. She has the chance to kill Adama and doesn’t take it, and actually saves his sons life in the process of demonstrating this: about as much as she can possibly do, though given her propensity for whispers and backroom dealing in this episode it doesn’t conclusively prove that she’s on the side of the angels just yet.

From there we come to the Tomb of Athena. As mentioned last time it’s a case of BSG dipping its toes in Indiana Jones-esque narratives, and the episode has that sort of mysterious feeling. The answer – discussed a little bit below – defies rational explanation to a large degree, indicating again the clear influence of unknowable powers in the lives of the characters, but does achieve the end result: the road to Earth laid out. The Colonials have a general direction to go, which suddenly gives their plight and the entire show a clear purpose, now that we are no longer tied to Adama’s lie. It’s remarkable in a way how little talk of Earth and its location has been a part of BSG up to now, but that’s changed. We won’t get to another marker on the journey for a while yet, but there is a final point to aim at.

We can’t move on without touching on the Baltar/Six stuff, which is amazing. Only a show this well-written could introduce what we have to view as basically a screwball comedy sub-plot to an otherwise remarkably serious episode, and have it work because there’s just enough drama in it to take the edge off the yucks. Baltar, a real glutton for punishment, commits some light heresy in again questioning Head Six and once again he gets punished for it in the form of another head wrecking test. Baltar’s serial refusal to respect Six’s faith is starting to become less of a persistent character trait and more of a plot convenience, but who am I to criticise when it means we get a great Tricia Helfer performance as “Normal Six”, taunting Baltar with the possibility that he really is just crazy. Interestingly, and perhaps we should call this a criticism, this is a test that Baltar doesn’t seem to pass, it just ends. He doesn’t supplicate himself, he doesn’t beg God’s forgiveness, Six just turns back to her red dress self when Sharon is brought onboard.

Separate to the events of the episode, this is the first time I feel comfortable commenting on the show’s long-term continuity. “Home (Part Two)” gives us the first serious way-marker on the road to Earth, the journey to which is meant to be the entire point of the exercise. But in so doing it creates a plot hole that becomes clear when the Colonials reach “Earth” and the planet later known as Earth. What the Kobol expedition sees is the Zodiac as it appears in the night sky of our Earth, but that’s not BSG’s Earth: that’s the irradiated planet discovered halfway through Season Four. Unless it’s cosmically very close to the real Earth, this makes no sense. Moreover, the constellations as seen in the Tomb of Athena are as they are now, in the early 21st century, and not as they would have looked 100’000 years ago, when BSG is meant to take place.

You can come up with explanations for this but the simple truth, as confirmed by members of the writers team and scientific advisors, is that the show wasn’t plotted out far enough in advance for this to be caught. It will not be the last time that this is going to come up as a talking point, but is the first major example. The manner in which BSG got more convoluted and twisted in knots as it went on is something I will have to reckon with in time. For now, we always have Season Two.

Our strength and our only hope as a people, is to remain undivided.

Notes

-Interesting to see the director and writers changing from “Part One” to “Part Two”. I would guess “Home” wasn’t originally designed as such.

-Bit of an unnecessary addition to the “Previously on…” footage. As Boomer gets shot, we hear someone shout “Cally shot Sharon!”. Yeah, I think we got it.

-An excellent contrast throughout the prologue section, as we go between Kobol and Adama’s quarters, the latters’ comments on the maps corresponding to whats happening on the planet.

-Roslin is literally holding her copy of the scriptures to her heart, with the look of someone who doesn’t have much left to cling to.

-Great visual of that book by the way, covered partly in what I have to assume is Elosha’s blood. What was that about the cost of visiting Kobol again?

-Also of note in the prologue, members of the Galactica crew slipping back into using Roslin’s political title.

-Where the members of the Fleet were at odds with each other in so many ways, this opening scenes makes clear the change: we have Adama, Tigh, Gaeta and Tyrol calmly going over what happened on Kobol and the plan now, with no sense of tension or differences.

-The count is down three, reflecting the deaths of Elosha, at least one of Zarek’s men in the gunfight of “Home (Part One)” and one other elsewhere? Or did he lose two men?

-At first I thought the sight of a naked Six, straddling a chair ala Christine Keeler, was a bit much, but it turns into a wonderful juxtaposition when she changes to Normal Six: tracksuit, ponytail, a little less make-up. A jarring and engaging contrast from the overly sexualised being she usually is.

-I love Baltar’s sarcastic guessing at what the next calamity is going to be: “The ships gonna blow up! No, damn, damn, done that one, done that one!”

-Nice change of perspective in the cell where we see Baltar conversing with an empty chair, to maximise the idea that he might just be crazy.

-Adama cuts Billy’s self-doubt off with a fairly major statement on Roslin’s opinion: “She thinks you’ll be President one day”.

-I do love Adama’s addition at the end of the conversation, regards Billy being compared to the former President: “Don’t let it go to your head. Adar was a moron”. I suppose Adama, a military man who has seen the Cylons wipe out said military, might have a negative opinion of the guy in charge.

-Sharon outlines that she has Boomer’s memories of being onboard Galactica. How does this work? Does Cylon resurrection technology also allow for the transmission of memories and experiences? If that’s the case, could another Boomer somewhere get access to Sharon’s memories, or does it have to by consent?

-I am strangely tickled by Sharon’s pedantic explanation of the correct use of “farther” and “further”. Maybe because it’s a rare moment of levity from that character and Helo. They seem more like a couple in such moments.

-Sharon also knows the sex of her baby, another little Cylon trick. It’s a very nice moment where she reveals this to Helo, with him temporarily stunned and her good-naturedly wallowing in her knowledge.

-James Callis is back to his comedy best in parts of this episode. His Baltar reacts to Doc Cottle’s “Will you stop going crazy?” with a deranged sounding “I’m not crazy!” and pitch perfect crazy eyes.

-When we first see Adama on Kobol, he’s standing there like a God almost: on a height from the others, steely gaze, weapon in hand. He barks an order at Apollo, and Lee obeys. It’s a very powerful image.

-It’s undercut pretty beautifully as he draws in Lee for a hug, and that sets off a cavalcade of such embraces. An equally powerful image.

-“I want you to die”. Now that’s a brutally blunt delivery of a major motivating factor for Adama.

-One thing I did note this time: Helo doesn’t point a gun at Adama when he has Sharon by the throat, when he had no hesitation doing so with Apollo. A sign of the respect Helo has for the Old Man perhaps?

-“Laura, I forgive you”. “Thank you Bill, didn’t ask for it”. A brilliant exchange that so quickly establishes a new dynamic for the two of them.

-Tyrol doesn’t have much to do here, but he does take a very awkward hug from Sharon. Now this kind of “reunion” must be a headwrecker.

-In a repeat of words he said to Apollo in “Water”, Adama states bluntly that he’s in no mood to second guess the decision to flee the Colonies: “It was the right call then, and it’s the right call now…I would be dead. My son would be dead.” His support for Roslin in a moment of her doubt is important.

-“Trust me. Trust us.” Sharon asks Helo to put their relationship in a position of primacy, and it works out.

-The shooting is the one brief moment of action in the episode, and I do find it confusingly framed every time I see it. Something about the order of events seems off to me, like it was re-edited out of the original intention.

-Zarek is genuinely heartbroken with the death of Meier, and there’s probably a good bit unsaid there in terms of how long they were together. Good performance from Hatch, and Remar: “I just wanted to see you get your due”.

-The tomb itself is perhaps a little barren in terms of what you might expect, just a few smashed statue props, which might be considered a little odd as its supposedly been sealed for a long time.

-The music gets a bit strange in the tomb, McCreary giving us something akin to a atmospheric horror beat, before the door closes and the lights go out.

-We never get an explanation for what happens in the tomb. Is it an extremely advanced hologram, or have the people inside been literally transported to Earth? Given the possibility of an actual deity being involved, the latter isn’t as far fetched as it seems I suppose, but given some of the unlikely aspects of what they see there, I’m thinking hologram.

-Moore has indicated the Cylons were meant to attack at the tomb, and in the process it would have been destroyed, thus stopping the Cylons from following. Like a lot else, cut for time.

-I have to compliment Sackoff’s performance when Starbuck twigs where they are, with a joyous look of realisation: “We’re standing on it”.

-It’s neat for a real astronomical waypoint in the form of the Lagoon nebulae to be something for the Colonials to head toward. Makes up for the fact that it is misidentified as being “in” the wrong constellation, and the fact that you can’t see all of the Zodiac from one spot on Earth.

-Adama gives the Lagoon nebulae the scientific designation “M8”, which is the same as it has here in the real world: also a bit of a strange plot hole.

-We move swiftly back to Galactica, where we have a ceremony that seems like a declaration of peace. The crew assembled like this in front of a stage promotes thoughts of the USS Missouri in 1945.

-“The gods will lift those that lift each other” seems to be a variation of “God helps those who help themselves”, a phrase commonly mis-attributed to the Bible but which was existent over 400 years before the birth of Christ. Indeed, some of the oldest versions are Ancient Greek, appropriately enough for BSG: Euripedes’ work includes the line “Try first thyself, and after call in God; For to the worker God himself lends aid.”

-Very good moment where Adama refuses to let Roslin take the stage without a mass acclamation, in the form of a building slow clap. We might think that more than a few of the Galactica crew may not have a huge fondness for Roslin after what happened over the past few weeks, but they’ll follow Adama’s lead.

-Another nice moment for Helo and Sharon at the close of the episode, where they get to reaffirm their commitment to each other, despite their new, somewhat separated, circumstances.

-Seems like Head Six is as affronted by the Sharon’s as the one on Caprica was. Is this just a continuing trend in the relationship between the models? Or is it just this Sharon in particular that gets Six’ goat?

-“The end of the human race” Knowing that Head Six speaks in riddles, this presumably does not mean a literal end, but what does it mean then?

Overall Verdict: “Home (Part Two)” gives us a suitably impressive conclusion to this two-parter, and to the larger plot of the Fleet schism. The wider narrative is given a big push forward, the episode abounds with great performance and great character-driven conflict, it even has room for some humour in it. I would class this as being in the very top tier of BSG episodes, and it certainly whets the appetite for the continuation of the journey to Earth.

To read more entries in this series, click here to go the index.

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Ireland’s Wars: The Guerrilla Civil War Begins

The conventional phase of the Irish Civil War is generally held to have taken place between the opening assault on the Four Courts on the 28th June and the order from Liam Lynch for the IRA still in being to abandon whatever positions they still held and form into columns, given on the 11th August. In those six or so weeks, the anti-Treaty faction had seen their efforts to hold territory undone at nearly every turn, by a relentless National Army advance. The republicans simply did not have the men, equipment, experience or attitude to fight that kind of war successfully. They were not a regular military force. What they were better at was guerrilla warfare, and that is what the Irish Civil War would now become, from the 11th August 1922, all the way to its accepted ending point in May of the following year. In this entry I want to take the time to give a brief outline of how things stood in mid-August of 1922 for both sides, ahead of the continuation of hostilities.

In terms of the situation in the ground, the provisional government had a great deal of what we can call apparent dominance. They controlled all of Ireland’s city’s and nearly all of its towns (a few isolated towns, especially in Western Connacht, were still in the anti-Treaty sides hands in the later stages of August). They controlled ports, railways, key transport links. They had military forces garrisoned in every part of the country, with substantial units especially in Munster following the fighting there. They had ever growing numbers of soldiers, armoured cars, artillery. They had the support of the majority of the press, the Church, and the mostly clandestine assistance of the British political leadership and military.

But in many ways, pro-Treaty dominance was shallow. They controlled urban areas, but huge parts of the Irish countryside lacked any kind of significant provisional government presence, with the National Army actively withdrawing from some towns and villages in parts of Connacht owing to a lack of men. This allowed the IRA to survive their conventional defeat and, as we will see, thrive to a certain extent in the following period of time. Control of transport options like the railways was impacted by inability to prevent them from being targetted by IRA units, as will also be seen soon. They had a greater number of men but, as was the case in the first few months of the war, many of these were barely trained, had no guns or uniforms and were very unsuited to fighting the kind of asymmetric war they were about to be asked to fight.

The anti-Treaty side had taken a significant beating during the conventional Civil War, but it was not a defeated entity. The strategy of holding ground had proved a sorry failure, but now republicans had an opportunity to fall back on the tactics that had seen them achieve so much during the War of Independence. The problem was the amount of men they had to do this with, which is hard to pin down: general estimates hold that the IRA had nearly 13’000 men at the start of the Civil War, and if true this number would have decreased sharply by August, with most of the reliable men and units in Munster still. But coming to a number of effectives is essentially impossible, as individual anti-Treaty units were of indeterminate size and not every man willing to be counted as a “die-hard” had the weapons to prove it. Ammunition and guns were in short supply, demoralisation was still an enormous problem and question marks about the leadership ability of the IRA’s officers and higher leadership remained. If they were going to succeed now, they needed a more concrete strategic direction.

But what was that direction, for both sides? For the provisional government, things remained more or less the same. Militarily, the aim was for the war to be brought to a winning position as soon as possible, through the destruction of the IRA as a fighting force. That meant seeking the enemy out and destroying him, but it would also mean reducing his supports one-by-one, through engagement with, and if necessary domination of, the civilian population. Politically, the provisional government aimed to establish itself as the sole legitimate body of control over the entire country, assembling a Dail, allowing for local government and from there successfully enact the Irish Free State into being.

Things were more nebulous for the IRA. They still lacked a serious political wing, though Eamon de Valera would try to jumpstart one before the end of the year. So it was primarily a military movement still, one that was dedicated to the vague idea of “the Republic”. But how to achieve that republic, how to defeat the enemy beyond scattered engagements with no unified direction, these were questions that were yet to be answered. Lynch and his officers hoped that they could now enact an insurgency the equal of what had occurred between 1919 and 1921, and bring the provisional government to heel that way. But without that political alternative, it very much looked like an armed group seeking power and control for themselves, with governmental forms only to be considered once the IRA was in a position to implement them (if they wanted to). The opinion of the people was not one that was respected, with Lynch and others expecting, rather hopefully, that they would get onside with the anti-Treaty in time. This couod occur if the same control of the Irish countryside as the IRA was able to enact in 1919 and 1920 was done again in 1922, and the provisional government bled into destruction.

On a smaller scale, there was a degree of direction. Local commands were ordered to start setting up ASU’s – flying columns – at various levels, using only the best, most reliable of men. Just like during the War of Independence, these Volunteers were to live and operate “on the run”, undertaking attacks on the enemy mostly of their own initiative. There was some resistance in some parts, with certain officers believing that it would be better to widen the net and set-up such columns on a divisional basis, with smaller units incapable of properly supporting such a structure. But, in the short-term at least, this turn to guerrilla tactics and the push to get columns formed and operating, would provide dividends for the anti-Treaty side.

That short-term advantage was also going to be fed by the problems that the National Army had. The limited training and frequent ill-discipline of its soldiers were things that could be deflected in the few weeks that the conventional Civil War took place, but now that a new type of conflict was starting they could not be so easily dismissed. Instead of being a regular military force fighting another military force that was at least partly regular, the National Army was going to be called upon to be partly an occupying army, and partly a counter-insurgency tool, who would need to project the provisional governments power and legitimacy over the civilian population of the country, while also attempting to seek out and destroy an enemy who was no longer willing to hold ground and buildings and wait to be attacked. It was to be a job that, for the next few weeks and months, the National Army would demonstrate its complete inadequacy with, especially in parts of Munster.

Over the course of the coming weeks we will look at various aspects of the guerrilla Civil War: the initial anti-Treaty successes, the improvements of the pro-Treaty counter-insurgency campaign, the execution policy, all the way up to its eventual end and what came after. But we must begin with, arguably, the most famous singular engagement of the entire Irish revolutionary period, and perhaps in the entirety of Irish history. It was late August 1922, and Michael Collins was about to to make his final journey.

To read the rest of the entries in this series, click here to go to the index.

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NFB Listens To Number Ones: “You Raise Me Up” – Westlife

Even if you hate the term “boy band” with a hot fiery passion, it’s hard to not feel a little stirred by this, ready to rush out and hug your parents or priest or dog after listening to it, or whatever is happening in the music video I guess. It helps that it isn’t really a boy band king of song. Starting slow, adding some very Irish-sounding strings, eventually a choir and hitting the right balance of peaks and valleys from verse to repeated chorus, this is the perfect feel-good tune really. The fact that the lyrics are very bland, or that it’s surprisingly easy to mistake it for “Flying Without Wings”, is something you really only realise when you actually listen to them with some thought, and only if you don’t get carried away by the sweeping apogee and the quiet epilogue. Hell, the song just repeats its chorus for the better part of three minutes, but it doesn’t matter. Throw in a moody black-and-white music video featuring lots of gazing off-screen and it’s no surprise it was one of the bands biggest songs, topping the Irish charts for six weeks in September/October 2005.

The band objected to being asked to record the cover – the original is by Norwegian/Irish band Secret Garden, with whom Westlife have occasionally performed – on the grounds that it was a “church song”, and I do get that: the religious imagery is pretty clear from start to finish (it’s practically the song version of the “footsteps in the sand” meme). But of course that’s what makes the song a bit of a crossover hit I suppose, as it’s the kind of ballad that can appeal to a lot of people. The “You” can be just about anybody (one of the song’s weaknesses when you think more about it: just who is this meant for?), and it’s the kind of song that can be played over inspirational videos from now until the trumpets sound.

It’s also one of the reasons why this song has had the kind of chart success the band has rarely been able to replicate internationally, getting high up on the lists from Scotland to South Korea. And it’s the perfect song for a band like Westlife that, like so many others of their general genre, did their best work with covers of material of a quality they couldn’t hope to come up with themselves. That perhaps sounds overly-harsh, but I don’t doubt the strength of their voices, which are required to do a lot of work in “You Raise Me Up”. I do think Josh Groban did it better – and he has a harder job to do, singing the thing on his own – but this is essentially one of only two Westlife songs I can reasonably stand (“Uptown Girl” is the other one, I think they did a decent job with it and the video is perfect 00’s nonsense). Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go find my parents/girlfriend/priest/dog/whatever.

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