Battlestar Galactica & Caprica Reviews

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BSG - Season 4 - Episode 01

BSG - 4x01 - Razor, Part 1 - Originally Aired: 2007-11-24

My Rating - 10

Fan Rating Average - 4.33

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Lee Adama's first mission as the commander of the battlestar Pegasus — and the harrowing tale of that ship's desperate fight for survival in the immediate aftermath of the Cylon's genocidal siege of the Twelve Colonies.

Lee Adama's new XO, Major Kendra Shaw, is plagued by memories of her service and sacrifices under Admiral Helena Cain, who was able to save her ship during the Cylon attack — but only by making Shaw and her fellow officers rationalize suicidal battle tactics and brutal war crimes against their own people.

In the crucible of war, Shaw must let her hesitation and doubts burn away, until all that remains of her is the honed edge of a living human weapon — what Colonial veterans call "a razor." But an edge so fine cuts in more than one direction. It can cleave an enemy to pieces … or it can carve away a person's soul. [Blu-ray] [DVD]

- Admiral Cain's "Combat Infrastructure Eval" portion of her briefing she read while on the treadmill notes that "readiness drill scores have dropped 12%" attributing "fatigue and morale" to be probable causes. However, morale is misspelled on her report, spelled instead as "moral."
- When Starbuck and Showboat fire into Pegasus' firing solution, the gun shown firing is that of a Viper Mark II even though Starbuck and Showboat are in Viper Mark VIIs.

- This episode (though technically just Adama's flashbacks to the first Cylon war) won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Class - Short-format Live-action Entertainment Programs.
- This episode won a VES Award for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Broadcast Miniseries, Movie or Special.
- This episode was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Cinematography for a One Hour Series.
- This episode was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Comedy or Drama Series (one-hour).
- This episode was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Comedy or Drama Series (half-hour) and Animation.
- This episode was nominated for a Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation - Short Form.
- This episode was nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Television Presentation.
- This episode reuses the season 2 opening theme verbatim.
- Survivors, according to the main title: 49579.
- According to the flashbacks, the first Cylon war lasted 4571 days - over twelve years!
- Stephanie Chaves-Jacobsen, who plays Kendra Shaw in this episode, also played Nurse Froy in Farscape 3x11 Incubator.

Remarkable Scenes
- The drug induced flashback to the Scylla.
- Shaw referencing Cain's dislike of chairs when summoned by Lee.
- The flashback to Shaw on Caprica.
- Shaw's arrival at Scorpion Fleet Shipyards.
- Cain's XO encouraging her to take a break.
- Shaw encountering undercover Gina.
- Cain teasing Shaw on her first day.
- The Cylon attack on Scorpion Fleet Shipyards.
- Shaw voicing her opinions of Fisk, Garner, and Lee.
- Shaw reporting to Cain about how the Cylons pulled off the attack - a moment of implicit redemption.
- Cain revealing "the horror that has been unleashed upon us" to her crew.
- Cain: "A philosopher once said, 'When faced with untenable alternatives to consider your imperative.' Look around you. Our imperative is right here. In our bulkheads, in our planes, in our guns, and in ourselves. War is our imperative. And if right now victory seems like an impossibility, then there is something else to reach for. Revenge. Payback. So we will fight." Complete with a "so say we all" mantra by the crew in the end.
- Cain's officers' meeting and the revelation that she and Gina are lovers.
- Starbuck and Showboat being attacked by old style Cylon raiders.
- Starbuck confronting Shaw about her "tactical orders."
- Cain's XO refusing Cain's orders and Cain summarily executing him, just like Fisk's story to Tigh.
- The Cylons boarding Pegasus.
- Shaw discovering what Gina is.
- Shaw revealing what Gina is to Cain and taking her into custody.
- Tigh regarding the old style Cylon: "Been a long time since I've seen one of these outside a museum."
- Sharon revealing the likely purpose of the old style Cylons in this context.
- Adama corroborating her story with his flashbacks to the end of the first Cylon war.
- Adama flying his first mission as a viper pilot during the first Cylon war.
- The destruction of the Battlestar Columbia.
- Adama engaging two more raiders, destroying the first, colliding with the second.
- Adama's skydiving gun fight with the old style Centurion.
- After landing, Adama beating the Cylon to death with a metal bar. (Just like he did to Leoben in the miniseries.)
- Adama discovering the Cylons' secret lab where apparently people were being experimented upon.
- Adama escaping and reporting his findings only to learn that the war is over.

My Review
Razor is a romp of the best kind; quite literally straight out the show's greatest times so far: the season 2 Pegasus arc. Even complete with a verbatim, authentic season 2 opening theme. As such, I will review this episode as if it were aired during the second season. It makes little sense to do otherwise. As Razor does not possess any real spoilers for chronology subsequent episodes, it should be viewed directly after The Captain's Hand and just prior to Downloaded.

First and foremost, what a ridiculous teaser! The teaser is nothing more than an overly verbose, vague, and at times retconned recap. (I so especially love it when they insert new or deleted material in recaps...) The climax of absurdity here is intercutting Kendra Shaw's symbolic Razor dialog with the recaps, as if the clip show is supposed to actually be part of the dramatic narrative.

That said, this episode leaves us with some interesting partial exposition. Sharon reveals to everyone that the Cylons created hybrids as an evolutionary step between the centurions and the humanoid Cylons. Many were created, but the experiments were considered a failure. Some hybrids remained in service to control the basestars, but one went into isolation, guarded by old style Cylons known as "guardians." Adama witnessed these experiments briefly during the final mission of the first war. This information raises a series of interesting questions. For example, did the Cylons prototype their human models off of real humans?

I like seeing some of the repercussions of, as Shaw puts it, Adama "throwing his son the keys to a battlestar." Moreover, we learn precisely why Cain had what seemed to be such an unusually incredible disdain for Gina, and humanoid Cylons in general. Certainly Gina being responsible for the deaths of hundreds of her crew was enough, but it was always fascinating to wonder just what set Cain over the moral edge that would allow her to see the justice in rape and torture of a prisoner. The exposition of her having had an intimate, sexual relationship with Gina prior to knowing what she was was just the aesthetic touch this plot thread needed.

Not only does it ironically parallel Baltar's plight marvelously, but it adds a whole new layer to Cain's viciousness. And what viciousness! There can be no doubt or debate now, Tigh was right! Fisk was telling the truth! She really did kill her XO and long time friend for cowardice in the face of the enemy, and what's scary is there are plenty of reasons to agree with what she did and why she did it, despite its heinousness.

Near the end of Razor's first part, we're treated to fascinating glimpse into the first Cylon war from Adama's perspective which, aside from being an amazingly fun ride, resolves a few continuity problems by making canonical a series of common fan rationalizations. Many fans had always wondered how both Adama and Tigh could be veterans of the same war, with Adama being so much younger. It is established here that he only fought in one battle, just as the war was ending. Also, the war lasted twelve years!

Moreover, this episode establishes once and for all that original Cylon centurions, baseships, and raiders from the original Battlestar series were not making a simple cameo appearance in the miniseries museum. That's actually how they looked during the first Cylon war and I am incredibly impressed that they've managed to make it all look so cool. The battle with the destruction of the Columbia and the ensuing firefight between Adama and an old style Centurion couldn't have looked better. There was a lot of room for cringeworthy nostalgia here, but I thought they walked the line quite well.

Overall, save a nitpick or two here and there, Razor has many merits which easily secure its status as among the best episodes of BSG ever done. The story of Kendra Shaw is indeed compelling and using this new and overlooked character to tie together all these events and time periods we'd have loved to have seen more of variously was incredibly clever.

By telling this story, we get to see all sorts of amazing things that previously were only talked about. Not only do all the events depicted in this episode precisely match their descriptions in prior episodes, but watching them occur despite knowing the outcome is no less compelling. In fact, I believe that the fact that the audience of this episode is already privy to the outcomes of large quantities of plot covered forced the writers to raise the dramatic bar for the storytelling. The narrative focus is not on plot in this episode, but on the emotional impact.

You need look nowhere else but the episode's musical score for evidence. Like Shaw's character, the music floats seamlessly from time period to time period, weaving a tapestry of emotional impressions using strong plots as its thread rather than expecting the plots to stand on their own.

If you recall watching the first season of BSG, is there any doubt in your mind how it would end? Boomer was destined to betray the Galactica. And she did. The outcome was obvious and not at all a surprise, but still incredibly shocking and moving. When you watch the events of Pegasus' past in this episode, it elicits the same feelings. You know what's going to happen, but the story is so compelling and the details are so fascinating, the climax hits you just as hard no matter how many times you see it. This is why HBO's Rome was so critically acclaimed, for everybody knows the story of Julius Caesar. But it's not what you say, it's how you say it. Rome retold that age old story exceptionally well and I'm proud to say BSG channels that style here once again.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From AuH2O on 2007-11-25 at 11:34pm:
    Wasn't there an obvious chronology problem? Lee Adama said " a lot has happened in the past 8 months", followed by a flash back to the attack on the Pegasus by the cylons, which was 10 months ago.
  • From DPC on 2008-02-28 at 1:47am:
    Addendum to the Problems section (or maybe Factoids): The number of actors who appear in the credits but not in the actual episode (to say nothing of the "top 7" who didn't have much of a role to speak of, like Grace Park or Mary McDonnell):

    James Callis - only appears in the background in the televised version, and only has one scene in the DVD version. Actually, one thing I liked in the TV version was the lack of Baltar/Head Six. If there's one aspect of season 3 I think everyone could agree was positive was the relative absence of these scenes, which had become tiresome by the end of season 2. Whenever this happened in season 3 there was a clear motivator for it.

    Aaron Douglas - no face time, but did get a mention in the dialogue

    Alessandro Juliani - completely absent, indeed one wonders why it was "Baltar and Tyrol" and not "Gaeta and Tyrol" who downloaded the Cylon computer in the aforementioned line

    Tahmoh Penikett - didn't even get a name drop

    Michael Trucco - well he was still on Caprica at this point, so it was obvious why he wasn't around

    Kandyse McClure - didn't even get a comm voiceover

    If the actors were being credited at all proportionate to their work with the credits Michelle Forbes, Stephanie Jacobsen and Graham Beckel should have been in the main credits, or at least first in the ep credits. Even Michael Hogan only utters one line!

    I guess it's more of a curiosity than a real problem, but it really stuck out to me.
  • From S8 on 2008-04-01 at 9:14pm:
    "Many fans had always wondered how both Adama and Tigh could be veterans of the same war, with Adama being so much younger."

    I'm not sure I follow. Tigh and Adama appear to be pretty close in age to me. According to the chronology page on the Battlestar wiki, they are only 5 years apart (69 BCH versus 64 BCH). I don't think that necessarily qualifies as "so much younger". I'm sure the age gaps between Apollo and Dee (or Starbuck), or Chief and Cally are just as big or bigger.

    If you want to use actor birthdates to gauge character ages, Crashdown's actor was born in 1977, whereas Tyrol's actor was born in 1971. A six year gap, but clearly they are serving in the same Cylon war. I see nothing confusing about Adama and Tigh's alleged "age gap". Just because someone is bald with white hair, doesn't mean he's ancient. I've known people who were white haired in their thirties.

    My general feelings on the Razor movie were:
    - present day was fine as "filling in gaps" (part 1) but the mission (part 2) on the basestar was silly.. "Let's sacrifice a raptor and risk 4 people to save about 4 people--aboard an enemy basestar"
    - "Cain's Pegasus" flashback stuff was uniformly good, I really enjoyed this look into the Pegasus's backstory.. It provided some much needed character development for Cain and her crew.
    - Husker storyline was silly, why was this even necessary? Just to show visual proof that when Adama says he heard of a special basestar and guardians, that he had some limited firsthand experience? During his little foray into that research facility, he didn't even learn the terms for "guardians" or "hybrids". He just saw a bunch of arms, and some prisoners.

    Additionally, the CG of fighting the Toaster-Cylon in free-fall was pretty well done, but also the weakest CGI of the series to date. I'd rate it right alongside Legolas jumping onto the Cave Troll.
  • From Hugo on 2012-09-26 at 8:25am:
    Is it just me, but didn't it go very quick when Kendra connected that there are human cylons? (by seeing the Six in the boarding party)

    Keep in mind that there were no notion on the Pegasus that there were human-looking Cylons.
  • From Dave on 2016-01-29 at 5:58am:
    So, in a nutshell I have given this series a chance since I am the perfect demographic. There are basically no likable characters to root for, that is the biggest fail that I can think of since the producers/directors/writers do an ok job on keeping things somewhat interesting.

    Perhaps 12 years has dated this series and I have seen shows like Lost do a much better job of having characters you can actually like. I find this series dark, too much smoking and hitting women and unappealing characters. Heck, I'm rooting for the Cylons at this point.
  • From Kethinov on 2016-01-29 at 3:05pm:
    It isn't the age. You're not the target demographic. The target demographic is people who enjoy dark, gritty sci fi with flawed characters who exhibit mostly shades of gray in their personal morality. For people into that stuff, BSG is still the overall best show in that genre. Basically Game of Thrones in space.

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