Battlestar Galactica & Caprica Reviews

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BSG - Season 4 - Episode 13

BSG - 4x13 - Sometimes a Great Notion - Originally Aired: 2009-1-16

My Rating - 8

Fan Rating Average - 5.75

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Synopsis
After the startling revelations of Episode 412, the fleet and its Cylon allies have united in a joint search for Earth. They encounter a devastated world where their expectations are shattered by events that echo down the millennia. Kara "Starbuck" Thrace learns that the dire predictions of the Ancient Hybrid (of "Razor") may be true about her.

Meanwhile, in the ruins of an ancient city, Saul Tigh, Galen Tyrol, Samuel Anders, and Tory Foster discover unsettling keys to their past.

The discovery of the wasteland planet casts doubt on the Prophecies of Pythia, and the whole belief system of the Colonials comes crashing down. President Laura Roslin's spirit is broken. Admiral William Adama finds solace in the bottle and turns his anger on Tigh, his old friend-turned-toaster, in an electrifying confrontation. For her part, Dualla gives her ex-husband, Lee Adama, a sense of purpose by urging him to fill the vacant leadership role and rekindle some small measure of hope in the despairing people of the fleet. [Blu-ray] [DVD]

Problems
None

Factoids
- During the writing of this season, there was a strike organized by the Writers Guild of America over compensation issues. This strike went on for quite a while and at the time there was a danger that this episode might have had to serve as the series finale. Thankfully, the strike ended and that was not necessary.
- This episode did not have an opening title sequence.
- Survivors, according to the whiteboard: 39650. Down fifteen, including Dee. (D'Anna killed at least one human in Revelations. There have probably been quite a few suicides besides Dee, too.)
- This episode's title comes from a blues song about contemplating suicide called "Goodnight, Irene." The singer contemplates suicide in the following lyrics: "Sometimes I get a great notion to jump in the river and drown."
- This episode establishes that habitable planets are most likely found in G, F, or K class star systems.

Remarkable Scenes
- Roslin: "We traded one nuked civilization for another."
- Roslin's inability to speak to the crowd in Galactica's hangar bay.
- Starbuck and Leoben discovering the wreckage of her viper.
- Dee to Hera: "You have no idea what's happened, do you? Today is just another day."
- The unearthing of a Cylon Centurion head and the subsequent revelation that all the humans on Earth were humanoid Cylons.
- Tyrol's memory living in pre-devastated Earth.
- Starbuck: "If my viper is splattered all over this planet, then who flew it here and what the hell did I fly back to Galactica?"
- Starbuck discovering her corpsified double.
- Starbuck: "Your hybrid told me something. Said that I was the harbinger of the death. That I would lead us all to our end." Leoben, creeped out: "She told you that?"
- Anders, Tyrol, and Tory discussing having lived on Earth.
- Anders: "That song that switched us on, I played it for a woman I loved."
- Tyrol, regarding a silhouette imprint on the ruins: "That was me. We died in a holocaust." Anders: "But why are we still alive? That happened 2000 years ago. How did we get to the colonies? Come to think that we were human? 2000 years is a long time to forget."
- Roslin burning her copy of the book of Pythia and wallowing in her own sadness and rage.
- Starbuck burning her corpsified double.
- Lee reciting his speech for Dee.
- Dee's sudden suicide.
- Lee: "She kissed me goodnight 45 minutes ago and there was joy in her eyes. So tell me why would she do this?" Adama: "I don't frakkin' know." Adama reaches for some liquor, offers it to Lee. Lee, staring blankly at his father: "No."
- An angry Adama walking the gauntlet of the corridors, apathetically passing by groups of depressed, angry, and violent people on his way to Tigh's quarters.
- Adama confronting Tigh in his quarters.
- Lee, all alone in Colonial One grimly updating the survivor count on the whiteboard. Down by one...
- Adama and Tigh retaking their posts in the CIC.
- Adama's speech addressing the fleet.
- Adama: "We will find a new home. This is a promise I intend to keep."
- Tigh's flashback to Earth, discovering that Ellen is the final Cylon.

My Review
Loneliness, isolation, devastation, despair, and suicide are the themes of this episode; a difficult burden to bear and dramatize well. Sometimes a Great Notion masterfully delivers on the exploration of how discovering a devastated Earth would truly impact these already emotionally precarious people while simultaneously managing to deliver yet more major revelations about the ongoing plot of the show.

Of course among the most powerful and memorable events of the episode is the suicide of Dee. The ever persistent cliche of a character who gets an inordinate amount of attention in the plot is most likely to die wiggles its way into this episode in full force, but the time spent on Dee mostly didn't tend feel to cliched or out of place.

Admittedly, there was some unnecessary foreshadowing at the beginning of the episode where we are inexplicably focusing on Dee digging up some children's toys in the beach ruins along with her half-breakdown while copiloting the raptor with Helo, but every scene afterward involving Dee was relevant and her presence justified due to its impact on a more important character.

The best piece of foreshadowing in fact occurred during her heart to heart with Lee in the pilots briefing room where Lee says to her, "I couldn't have done it without you, Dee" with regards to keeping humanity going while commanding the Pegasus. She responds, "you will this time too." This is the moment where the audience should have picked up on her plan to commit suicide while still allowing for Lee to be oblivious to it. The scene does a marvelous job of accomplishing both goals at the same time.

Yet, when she popped herself it was still a completely shocking moment. Not as gut-wrenching as how Cally met her end, but definitely among the most powerful assets of the episode. After events like these, there are bound to be a number of suicides in the fleet. Making one of them a character we've been living with for much of the show allows the effect to resonate far more clearly with the audience. As for why Dee, I think she was a solid choice to pay that dramatic toll. Examining her character's history, she lost a father whom she regrets never having made amends with, she lost Billy, she lost Lee, then she lost Earth. That was it for her. Her story is a microcosm for what was no doubt a flurry of similarly motivated suicides fleet-wide.

The most brilliant detail of the suicide of Dee is how just before she does it, she begins humming a piece of music, which then, after her death, is integrated into the musical score as Adama and Lee mourn her death. The composer Bear McCreary describes it thusly: "At this moment, you are hearing actress Kandyse McClure herself actually humming the Dualla Theme ... Dualla was humming her tune right before she killed herself, and I wanted to create the feeling that, somehow, her voice and that melody were imprinted on the universe like a bloodstain."

While Dee's suicide is powerful, what this episode is really about is how the fleet's four strongest current leaders manage to, or not to, rise to the occasion and press on despite such a devastating discovery. Laura Roslin loses her will to live and abandons her faith, Lee Adama and Colonel Tigh hang onto hope but lack direction, and Admiral Adama walks the full spectrum; going from total devastation, to infuriated anger, to suicidal tendencies, to finally getting it together and putting forth a solid, realistic plan to answer the episode's pressingly pertinent question: "What do we do now?"

The question of what must be done is the question Adama struggles with all throughout the episode but only is able to answer after some clear and obvious soul searching. Only after accepting Tigh for who and what he is and accepting Earth for what it was and what it became could Adama get it together, rise to the occasion, and lead his people once more.

So what do we do now? Where does Adama lead us? What is the answer to the episode's pressingly pertinent question? Adama decides to set out looking for a brand new star system with a habitable planet to settle on. What else could he do? The twelve colonies are all but uninhabitable, as is Earth, and the only two planets which are habitable that they know of (Kobol and New Caprica) are locations which Cavil's faction of the Cylons are no doubt patrolling. So they did the only thing left to do. Pack up and get back on the road in search of a new home.

Interestingly enough though, Adama invited his new Cylon rebel allies to join him on this journey. This seems to imply that Adama has finally learned the lesson of the show, a lesson it probably took confronting Colonel Tigh's Cylon nature to teach him. The lesson I described in my review of Revelations. These people are going to have to solve their own problems, work out their own differences, and make their own promised land.

But there is another component to this episode I've not discussed yet, which is the flurry of major long term plot revelations revealed here. Specifically, that Ellen Tigh is the last Cylon, there are two Starbucks and two of her viper, and that the 13th tribe of Earth was a tribe of Cylons. Unfortunately, there is little to say about any of this. These reveals are tantalizing enough to be interesting, but also vague enough to be annoying.

Simply stated, these reveals are consistent with the overarching thematic vagueness aesthetic the show has been abusing since the mid-third season. Just like too many episodes before this one, it raises more questions than answers. Among the most important is why was Earth destroyed? Why are there two Starbucks and two of her viper? How and why did the final five survive nuclear holocaust on Earth only to be obliviously reborn in the twelve colonies 2000 years later? Why were they "switched on" by Bob Dylan's, er, I mean Anders' song in the first place? What is their connection to Starbuck's viper? Why are the final five the only apparent survivors of the 13th tribe? Or were they?

Setting that aside for a moment, it's certainly worth noting that these revelations open up a lot of fascinating possibilities about the history of the Cylons. Tigh said that the 13th tribe were all Cylons, came to that planet, and called it Earth. This seems to imply that the 13th tribe were all Cylons before they came to Earth, but this seems implausible. If that were the case, then the Colonials would have knowledge of ancient Cylons in their recorded history.

A more plausible explanation is perhaps the Cylons were never invented by the twelve colonies in the first place. Maybe whoever supposedly invented them discovered Earth, excavated various Cylon technologies and slowly began trying to privatize them for various monetary and political purposes. Perhaps also that is how the final five ended up being reborn. Maybe their consciousnesses were stored on a recovered computer and their bodies recreated using the resurrection technology.

This is all speculation of course, but as I said, even with what little new exposition there all is in this episode, it opens up all sorts of fascinating possibilities.

While I found most of the exposition to be annoyingly lacking in detail and I felt that parts of the plot dragged on too slowly at the expense of more detailed exposition (Anders singing part of All Along the Watchtower was a particular groan-inducing moment), this style did in fact provide at least one stylized gem of incredible directing. When Roslin was burning her copy of the book of Pythia, the last lines of her scene are "burn... burn." The scene then transitions into Starbuck burning the body of her counterpart. This brooding aesthetic only served to enhance Starbuck's eerie deed. It's as if to say there is a shared loneliness and mortal fear of the unknown between these two characters.

Overall, this episode hits just shy of another perfect or near-perfect score. A bit less time focused on Dee and a bit more time focused on giving us clearer exposition on the history of the Cylons and just what the hell is going on with Starbuck would have made for a much more satisfying episode. Regardless though, this was an above average, outstanding piece.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From Dan on 2009-01-20 at 9:49pm:
    In many ways this episode was everything I could have expected after the greatness of "Revelations." It's hard to follow an ep like that, but the writers and actors pulled it off. Across the board great performances (contrast Sackhoff's reaction to the Starbuck corpse discovery with her frantic screaming in "Six of One" to get an idea of her range, for only one example) reminded me why it was worth it to wait so long for this series to resume.

    I agree that it's not BSG's best outing, largely because of the pacing issues you mentioned, but I have fewer issues with the way the writers are revealing the mysteries to us. I'm not watching just to catch the revelations, but I like that there are things that the characters don't understand going on. It's believable to me. In fact my favorite aspect of this is how amazed the Cylons are by the discoveries they find on Earth.

    I actually don't find it hard to believe there were Cylons on Kobol at all. The Colonials didn't think Kobol even existed in season 1, remember. They thought its existence was a myth. My suspicion is that Ellen actually wrote the Book of Pythia, and conveniently left out the part about the 13th tribe being Cylons. I've long wondered how Pythia knew about the 13th tribe's trek, and if she wrote about her real personal experience it makes more concrete sense than if she had a vision.

    How the final five were resurrected will be an interesting discovery I'm sure, and even if it's not, the scene in which Tyrol recalled his death on Earth was harrowing. Anders' "guitar playing" was wince-worthy though.
  • From Kethinov on 2009-01-21 at 7:02pm:
    The question is not whether or not it is believable but whether or not it is good storytelling. That is the question that all of my reviews hinge on.

    In my view, the number of deliberate mysteries is too high. When you have too many of them, the audience focuses more on trying to unravel mysteries than enjoying good drama.

    And remember, the plot need not reveal all the answers at once to the characters. The audience can be given some or most of the answers from the very first episode, but the characters can spend the entire series in ignorance. This is how much of season one worked, which was smashing.
  • From Dave on 2009-01-28 at 12:42am:
    "In my view, the number of deliberate mysteries is too high. When you have too many of them, the audience focuses more on trying to unravel mysteries than enjoying good drama"

    You must hate Lost then.
  • From Hugo Ahlenius on 2012-11-16 at 2:46pm:
    I did not like this ep at all, too much forced drama and conflict, and way too dragged out without any real sting to it. Dee's suicide was powerful and unexpected though.

    So why hasn't anyone asked D'Anna about the fifth cylon? Or why hasn't she told anyone?

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