In the ninth episode of the second season of Battlestar Galactica, morale aboard the ship sinks to an all time low as Tyrol takes on a pet project to deal with his despair, and Gaeta discovers the Cylon virus still hasn’t left the ship’s system. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Battlestar Galactica.
How was this show not watched by like a trillion people? I understand that SciFi (REFUSE TO SPELL IT THAT RIDICULOUS WAY) had a limited scope in terms of audience, especially since it wasn’t available to the general cable-having public. I also don’t think they would have gotten away with as much as they have so far in terms of violence and themes, so I do appreciate that the show appears to have had a lot of freedom from the network.
Still, I am only vaguely aware of the show’s popularity in retrospect. I had a few friends who watched it when it was airing. They all spoke highly of it, all suggested I’d love it, and all were gutted when it was over. But it’s only been in the last couple years that I’ve had the time or the means to start catching up on all of the television I’d missed. When I ran away from home at sixteen to support myself, one of the “luxuries” I gave up was having cable television. I put that in quotes because even while I had cable in the house I grew up in, I was restricted in watching many channels or staying up past 8pm on any day that wasn’t Saturday. I had hundreds of channels and I was allowed to watch maybe twenty of them. Everything else was off-limits to me for a myriad of reasons: it was too distracting; I wouldn’t get my homework done; I wasn’t old enough to watch that; that network is nothing but filth; and so on and so forth.
I was a professional couch surfer for two years, lived in the dorms at Cal State Long Beach for one year, and then returned to couch surfing again for a long time. All this time, I had no access to regular television broadcasting. This is why, unlike books, I’ve apparently seen nothing. It’s why I missed pretty much everything, and why in the last three years, since I finally got a Netflix account, I’ve been binge watching everything I’ve missed out on.
But Battlestar was never a part of that, and now I’m just flabbergasted at myself that I never made this a part of my life. Just like with Avatar: The Last Airbender, I now know why so many of you fiercely recommended I spend time with this show. There are certainly many things about it that are perfect for my tastes: it’s serial in nature; it is full of SHIT JUST GOT REAL moments; it has an ensemble cast; it seamlessly is able to make social commentary that is not distracting and is actually entertaining; HOLY SHIT IT IS SO GOOD.
I’m also aware at how much I sound like a broken record at times. I’ve lost count of how often I’ve stated disbelief at how intense this show is, and yet I feel like I need to say it again. There has not been one dull, poor, or mediocre episode yet. Not one. That means if you count the miniseries as two episodes, that’s twenty-four straight without a single dud. How many shows do that? Even with shows I adored like LOST or The X-Files, they both had episodes in their first run that weren’t all that great. (Only Breaking Bad and The Wire really compare in my opinion.)
There’s a combination here that works superbly, and it’s why I’m so drawn into this show. The hyper-realism, matched with believable character growth and an unpredictable plot, make Battlestar Galactica addicting as television possibly can be. I always seem to reach a point in a series I’m reading or a show I’m watching where I become annoyed that I chose to consume it in the way that I do, one-at-a-time, stopping to compose my thoughts in a coherent way after each episode. I have come to love it, as it allows me to have a deeper appreciation for what I’m doing, but at times like these, when this show has me completely trapped in its snares, I wish I could just take a week off and watch everything left.
“Flight of the Phoenix” in general deals with two of those techniques I brought up: hyper-realism and plotting. We start things out with the writers acknowledging a grim reality: it is beginning to be more difficult to do every day tasks aboard the Galactica. We saw a little of this in Gaeta in the previous episode, but here he has a very public breakdown on the CIC. Helo and Tyrol fight each other over Sharon, coming to blows in a matter of minutes. Even Roslin herself, who discovers she has about a month to live, is close to some sort of breaking point.
It’s part of an idea that was floating around in my head. I began to wonder what this was like, to constantly be on the run, to constantly have to worry about Cylons attacking you and trying to kill you, to repeat the same things for weeks on end, with no ultimate goal in sight. “Flight of the Phoenix” answers that by showing how morale has disappeared and been replace by a futile, grim reality.
But there are two signs of hope in this story, though one is entirely unexpected. For Tyrol, all of the guilt, fear, pain, and stress of his life on Galactica is reaching a nadir, and he finally decides to do something about it. That “something” is foolish, of course, but sometimes the most foolish things can both distract us and heal us.
He starts building a new fighter out of scrap parts. The visual metaphor is not lost on me. His own life has fallen apart, so why not repair it from the broken pieces? Unsurprisingly, the crew is quick to tell him he’s wasting his time, that there are more important things to worry about, and, in the case of Colonel Tigh, that this is a case of grand delusion. Dude, Tigh, shut it. You were probably the kid who told others it was impossible to build those alternate models on the back of the LEGO box because you don’t know what happiness is.
I was happy to see that Adama allowed it to happen, and I think he knew that this was one of the few things Tyrol had to keep his own morale up. Maybe he even knew Tyrol would help the whole crew out, too, but that’s just a guess of mine. I also think the issue with the Cylon virus bomb also held most of Adama’s attention, and the existence of a pet project was hardly his main concern. Right? I mean THERE IS A CYLON VIRUS ON THE SHIP. Oh, and it nearly suffocated Lee, Starbuck, and Hot Dog. Also, who knew that Starbuck would turn into a giggling mess without air? If it wasn’t so painful and didn’t nearly kill her, I’d want it to happen more. Hell, that whole scene is so strange because I’m smiling ear-to-ear at Katee Sackhoff’s acting and simultaneously thinking JESUS CHRIST PLEASE DO NOT DIE WHAT THE FUCK.
Faced with Cylons threatening their lives EVEN THOUGH THEY ARE PROBABLY A BAJILLION MILES AWAY, it’s easy to see why Gaeta cracks when he’s asked to go through every line of code to find out how to break the virus. Even if his scene in D’anna’s documentary is humorous, it’s clear now that he really is frustrated by what his life has become. But if that is upsetting, the prospect of their immediate future is made worse when Baltar gets involved with helping Gaeta root out the virus. In order to properly rid the ship of the virus, which is learning the ship’s system and adapting to it, they have to erase their hard drives. Leaving them vulnerable. FOR A REALLY LONG TIME.
oh god Cylons just leave them alone okay gosh you are such meanies why are you so mean and full of douche
I think that this episode gives me the chance to talk about my first genuine shipping experience that may or may not be canon by the end of the series (DON’T YOU DARE TELL ME). As I’ve said in many reviews in the past, but most especially during Avatar: The Last Airbender, my brain just doesn’t really do the shipping thing, and even if it does, it’s usually just accepted canon. (Well, with the exception of self-ships, which I do a lot because I just want characters to hug me.) But I am SO ENAMORED with every scene between Commander Adama and President Roslin. When he goes to visit her and ask her advice, my heart swelled with joy and anticipation. He trusts her, I thought, so much so that he wants her advice and HE NEVER ASKS FOR ADVICE. You want to know what I was doing during this scene?
Do you realize that this never happens to me???? I blame that mostly on the fact that my romantic and sexual development didn’t even happen until I was in college and I’d sort of resigned myself to not being romantic or anything. Which is silly, sure, but HEY I AM LEARNING. But my god, they just get along so well. Well, when they’re not fighting, of course, but WHY DO I FEEL THIS THINGS? IS THIS WHAT SHIPPING IS LIKE? IS THIS WHAT I HAVE BEEN MISSING ALL OF THESE YEARS?
So my brain was in this weird, confusing cloud of puppy dog feelings and sensations of hope, and then…oh my god. oh my god. Why is Sharon being brought out with that bizarre looking device? (Seriously, it is so creepy.) Why is she on the CIC? What did she tell Adama after she met with him? I really love the sweeping shots to show us the shock and confusion of the entire crew of the CIC, who can’t understand why she’s even being allowed here at all.
I have to say: not only was there not a single clue to what happens next, but I don’t think this show has ever shocked me more than by the scene with Sharon helping break the Cylon virus. She seemed to be standing there for so long, the Cylon ships advancing, trying to activate the virus. How is this going to be resolved? Why isn’t she doing anything?
And then she cuts open her palm. And then she starts to insert the fiber optic cable INTO HER FUCKING ARM. And I squirm and shriek at my computer and WHAT THE HOLY FUCK IS SHE DOING. I seriously LOVE how everything just breaks into pure hell right then. Tigh is convinced that Sharon set them up, and Adama takes a sidearm from one of the Marines and puts it to Sharon’s head and Tigh asks him what he’s waiting for but Sharon answers and SHE REVERSES THE VERY SIGNAL USED IN THE MINISERIES TO DISARM THE COLONISTS.
how how how how HOW? OH MY GOD. The Vipers get a moment of gory celebration when they set out to destroy every Cylon ship now left floating hopelessly through space. And Adama looks at Sharon, and there is the most subtle smile on his face, a look of thanks and appreciation, and I think that it’s finally time for Adama to admit that Sharon is on his side. As I said earlier, there were two signs of hope in this episode, and this is the one that’s not acknowledged by anyone other than Adama. Sharon saved them. She enabled the death of hundreds of Cylon Raiders. She told the truth and allowed the Galactica to survive their inevitable destruction. If she wanted to destroy them, she could have at that very moment, but chose not to.
Unfortunately, Adama refers to Sharon as a “thing” and orders her locked up. There is no celebration for her. She’s returned to the brig and she remains a prisoner.
For Tyrol, though, his validation is far more public. The Blackbird is taken on its test run and proves to be more than just a success. It’s hope. It’s hope that they can break routine, that creativity is still alive, and that they now have a new weapon against the Cylon threat. In the ceremony to celebrate Tyrol’s success, though, there’s one last secret, one that brought me to tears. Through all of this, and even though Tyrol was the one who made this shape happen, he has something to give back: he reveals that the ship is named “Laura.” Roslin, facing her possible death in a month, is absolutely overwhelmed, as was I, by this act of kindness. And in a rare moment for this show (at least for my experience watching it), I suddenly felt like everything was going to be okay.
I think that’s a pretty good way to go out on “Flight of the Pegasus.” I like feeling hope.
Note: So when I wrote this, I did not even know the next episode is called “Pegasus,” nor did I know it existed. WHAT SORCERY IS THIS.