I’ve already said more or less everything I intended to say about this episode while arguing with a bunch of utterly wrongheaded people here. 😛 Meanwhile Coalescent has helpfully linked to some rightheaded people here and here.
Battlestar Galactica – 2×15 – Scar
As often, the intensity and visual panache of the episode is what strikes me from the outset. Although the “X hours earlier” device has been sorely over-used in recent weeks, it works here because of the intercutting of drama in the “past” with sudden bursts of eye-popping CGI action in the “present”. In this respect it’s reminiscent of last season’s Act of Contrition which punctuated the drama with brief glimpses of Starbuck’s Viper spinning out of control. Combined with the camerawork and brittle characterisation, this lends the episode a very welcome air of maturity.
As has been said elsewhere, Starbuck’s fixation with Anders comes totally out of the blue. It’s not that they didn’t develop a deep relationship when we last saw them (despite a timescale that was classic Relationship of the Week territory) but that we’ve heard nothing of it since. However as the episode develops we see that both Kat and Starbuck are struggling with similar demons – Kat with the fear of oblivion, and Starbuck with the loss of those around her. It’s not merely Anders whom she failed to save, but all those pilots whose names she recounts at the end. This links nicely back to her survivor’s guilt back on Caprica listening to her father’s music in episode 2 of the season.
The initial idea of a Cylon Raider with a personality seems unbearably cheesy, but as the idea is developed it becomes more and more interesting. Logistically we learn how the pilots have had close enough contact with a particular Cylon to recognise it, and more fundamentally Boomer explains how the Cylon pilots learn from their own deaths, while growing ever more bitter as a result. It’s a change in our understanding of the Raiders, but a good one. Scar is anthropomorphised just enough without taking the idea too far, and the focus remains on the day-to-day grind of the fighter pilots in the briefing room as they try to understand how to out-think their opponent.
Kat and Starbuck have an anger-ridden relationship which makes for effective and purposeful conflict. In one respect we’ve seen this story a thousand times: the self-destructive character who is transferring guilt into anger. The execution makes it a winner here. It’s not often we see two women vying for the fighter-pilot top spot, and the fact that the two pilots have a history makes it all the more electric: surely there are few insults worse for Kara than being compared to Tigh. Starbuck’s self-destructive streak extends to Apollo in a very nice, surprisingly mature series of scenes which move well beyond the coy sexual tension which tends to characterise relationships in SF TV.
It’s not perfect. The hackneyed premise is to some extent saved by the visceral writing, and coming hot on the heels of last week’s episode this instalment is too similar: another flashback; another sudden romantic fixation; another tale of suicidal anger transmuted into understanding. This one is far superior however, and viewed in isolation more than justifies its existence.
If the series as a whole needs to do something in the coming weeks, it’s to begin drawing together the scattered threads in a more serialised way that recalls the start of the season. We’ve had a few weeks of staccato character examination which I’ve enjoyed to greater or lesser degrees, but what the series lacks at present is momentum and continuity. If this season is to live up to its opening potential I’d like to see more sustained intensity; something the show has proven itself more than capable of providing.