December 5, 2007 | Comments ()

By Daniel Carlson | TV | December 5, 2007 |


It’s been a long time since “Battlestar Galactica” has put any new content on the air. The show’s third season ended in March, and it won’t return to start its fourth season until this coming March; were it not for the TV-movie “Razor,” the show would have gone nearly an entire year without offering any new story lines or resolutions for old ones, and that’s a long time to wait. The last season ended in a typically epic fashion, hinting at grand stories and star-crossed destinies far off on the horizon, and while “Razor” cannot by definition fulfill those promises — it is, after all, only two hours, and it plays like an extended episode instead of a telefilm — it’s still a welcome chapter in the “Battlestar” universe that deepens the show’s mythology and acts as a kind of narrative stepping stone between the show’s third season and its upcoming fourth and final one. That’s the greatest success of “Razor”: Although it deals entirely in flashbacks, it still feels fresh and current. It mines the show’s history for character nuance and the kind of complex, heartbreaking interpersonal conflicts that have become the driving force behind the series, all the while adding layers to the overarching mystery of just what might happen in the final battle between the human survivors and the robotic Cylons. “Razor” isn’t a storytelling anomaly or a way for the show’s creators to kill time between seasons; everything here is an important part of the whole.

(Because this is a review of what’s basically a specific episode of a highly serialized TV series, a very few spoilers about the episode in question and the series at large are unavoidable. If you have a problem with that, well, I can’t help you.)

“Razor” takes place at a very specific point in the series’ continuity, and screenwriter Michael Taylor (a co-executive producer on the series who also scripted the episodes “Unfinished Business” and “Taking a Break From All Your Worries”) doesn’t attempt to coddle the newcomers or even the fans with easygoing exposition. Aside from a few brief flashes setting up the events of the Season Two that led to Lee Adama (Jamie Bamber) being promoted to major and given command of the Pegasus, “Razor” leaps right into the fray by outlining what happened with the crew of the Pegasus when the Cylons attacked and wiped out all the human colonies and every ship in the fleet except for the Pegasus, the Galactica, and a few stray civilian ships floating through space. The Cylon attack is this fictional universe’s Pearl Harbor, and directors Felix Enriquez Alcala and Wayne Rose drive this home by showing the true scope of the attack and the colossal damage it wreaked on the fleet. The ending is a foregone conclusion — we know that the Pegasus will survive, and that some of her officers will later die once the Pegasus and Galactica rediscover each other — but the scene is still terrifying for the way it drives home once again the sweeping loss suffered by the characters who lost their families and homes. “Battlestar Galactica” has always been about the people serving in its battered military, and “Razor” is no different; the emphasis here may be on different characters making tougher choices and bigger mistakes, but it doesn’t abandon the care and respect it carries for each character’s inherently flawed but redeemable humanity. Admiral Cain (Michelle Forbes), the commander of the Pegasus at the time of the attack, was portrayed as a nail-hard bitch in her arc on the series’ second season, but “Razor” has the fantastic skill and insight to show that she used to be softer, and that she only became lost in a maze of self-righteous anger by losing herself in war. Indeed, one of the most stirring images of the attack sequence is of Cain kneeling beside the covered corpses of her dead crewmen, silently crying. In the space of two brief hours, “Razor” deepens Cain’s personality and turns her from a villain into something much more compelling: A human being who made the wrong decisions.

But those wrong decisions come later. Taylor’s screenplay telescopes in and out of the flow of linear time with surprising fluidity, which is no small feat given that “Razor” itself is one giant flashback whose “present day” is already a couple years gone in the show’s universe. In addition to following the Pegasus in the weeks and months after the Cylon attack, “Razor” also tracks Lee in his first days as commander of the Pegasus some eight months after the attack. (This is confusing; hang in there.) Lee appoints Kendra Shaw (Stephanie Jacobsen) as his executive officer to help restore morale on the ship. Kendra had served under Cain and has become the kind of hard-nosed soldier Cain wanted her to be, making her both the perfect way for Lee to let continue Cain’s legacy continue and for Taylor to structure the flashbacks to Kendra’s time on the Pegasus after the attack. The rest of the episode unfolds along the parallel timelines, cutting between Cain’s command in the past and Lee’s command in the present. However, the older story following Cain and her crew never feels repetitive despite the fact that it cannot by definition introduce new elements whose presence would change the later episodes that have already aired. But rather than paint themselves into a corner, the writer and directors come up with some pretty ingenious pseudo-retconning that deepens old plots and ups the emotional complexity. For instance — and again, for the slow folks in the cheap seats, spoilers follow — when the Galactica and Pegasus originally found each other, it was revealed that the Pegasus had discovered one of the Cylon models had infiltrated their crew. Gina, a No. 6 model (Tricia Helfer, as always), was living in the brig when the ships met, covered in cuts and bruises and wearing nothing but rags; it was clear she’d been repeatedly raped when the Galactica crew found her. But “Razor,” rather than simply place Gina on the ship, puts her in a romantic relationship with Cain, which adds layers of betrayal and heartache to the way Cain eventually turns on her. Cain would later come to treat the imprisoned Gina as an object, but the way Cain tears up the first time she sees Gina in the brig is a small but powerful moment that revolutionizes the story line.

Granted, as has happened on “Battlestar Galactica” before, the plot point is introduced subtly — Cain gives Gina a soft look, Gina squeezes Cain’s arm — and is then driven home a few more times just to make sure it sinks in that Cain is, you know, a lesbian. Still, Taylor, Alcala, and Rose have done something pretty great here by retroactively strengthening a show’s history without damaging its present. The only other comparable thing on TV in recent years was the way the second season of “Lost” tracked the survivors of the tail section of Flight 815, but instead of the endless rehashing of past events, “Razor” is focused on filling in the gaps with new material. Lee’s time at the helm of the Pegasus has already been detailed, but “Razor” still manages to find new ways to make what should be a predictable story anything but.

While the older arc follows Cain as she sinks into bitterness while waging a guerilla war against the Cylons, the later one deals with Lee’s investigation into an old Cylon outpost that could house a leftover hybrid between the clunkier robotic models and the human-like synthetic ones. And just for good measure, in case you weren’t flashbacked out by now, it turns out that Admiral Bill Adama (Edward James Olmos) investigated that very same outpost when he was young, which is revealed in a brief flashback. (I know.) But the second half of the episode drives home what “Battlestar Galactica” is always about, namely, the difficulty of creating a moral code to live by when there’s virtually no civilization left to guard. Adama and Lee wind up on opposite sides of another thorny issue, this time about whether to sacrifice an away team, and talking about it later, Adama says to his son, “You did nothing wrong. Neither did I. We both made decisions that we had to to accomplish our missions.” The show has never been about easy answers, and “Razor” doesn’t offer any. In keeping in line tonally with the rest of the series, as well as for the way it adds new texture to old ideas, “Razor” becomes not so much an anomaly as a valuable part of the story so far. Everything here happened in the series’ past, and that makes it the only way to look to the future.

Daniel Carlson is the managing editor of Pajiba and a low-level employee at a Hollywood industry magazine. You can visit his blog, Slowly Going Bald.

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Those Evil-Natured Robots, They're Programmed To Destroy Us

"Battlestar Galactica: Razor" / Daniel Carlson

TV | December 5, 2007 | Comments ()




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