I had high hopes for last night’s episode when I saw that Jane Espenson (beloved of Buffy fans) wrote it. And certainly it had the humor to it that characterizes her writing, and I do think she’s clever and adept at the kinds of quirky characterization that you’d need to make a 2,000 year-old woman like Ellen the same petty, jealous person that she always was, despite all that experience. And I can’t help but think that if last week’s episode “No Exit” hadn’t been so terrible, last night’s would have been a lot easier to take.
And yes, I said terrible. We’ve been watching the show at the Alamo Drafthouse, and they have a system where they show you last week’s episode at midnight and then this week’s at 12:45 while you enjoy some table service and beer and of course, the collective audience reaction. For the mutiny episodes, that was awesome—gasps, cheers, etc. But last night had a funereal quality to it. Rewatching “No Exit”, what became clear was that the Anders exposition scenes were competent, but the Ellen/Cavil stuff was excruciating. (I don’t blame Dean Stockwell for his ridiculous over-acting—the over-writing of the script demanded it. From the podcast, I learned that they put a newbie writer on those scenes, and the Anders stuff was written by Ron Moore, which explains a lot.) But this new episode showed how ridiculous last week’s was—Ellen went from a wise sage with a few quirks to the same old Ellen, i.e. petty, shrewish, and controlling. Now, I think shrewish Ellen is more fun, and I’m glad to have her back, even though I was sort of glad to see her dead in the past, because she caused so much trouble. But that’s what she does, and I like the implication that her personality (since she is, after all, a robot) is cut in stone. But it was incoherent, and I had to wonder if Espenson just wrote Ellen how she liked her and fuck all the revelations from last week’s episode.
There was some good stuff, but it was hidden in the folds of the episode. The fact that some Cylons want to jump away from humanity (bad idea, obviously) means that their new status as fellow members of the fleet is still questionable—if they don’t have loyalty, why should they get protection? But then again, most people are self-serving and get their rights anyway. That fascinating conundrum wasn’t explored at all, but it was hinted at. The Baltar stuff was pretty awesome, and I think his character might be moving in interesting directions yet again. Tigh was the one character I didn’t want to stab in the face at any point in the episode, and his genuine loyalty to humans, especially when even Chief is a turncoat, compelled me.
Too bad all that was buried under Baybee Melodrama. Look, I really, really wanted to feel sorry for Caprica and Tigh that they lost this pregnancy, and bad for Ellen that she fucked this up so badly, but the dialogue made me start to gack. Turning the Cylon fetus into some sort of symbol of Who Tigh Really Loves makes no sense, even if you allow for the really contrived Cylon belief that love has to be present for babies to be made. But if you allow for that, then you might as well give up now, because they’ve forsaken the thing that would really tie Cylons to humans, which is that it’s the sex that makes the babies, not the love. It has always made more sense that the eight second generation Cylons were simply incapable of breeding with each other, because of a bug in their design, and that their only hope is interbreeding with humans. And that Caprica got pregnant because the Final Five, being first generation Cylons, have the ability to procreate. Nor is there a scrap of evidence that Tigh did love Caprica before she got pregnant; in fact, their thing was clearly characterized as a fucked-up psychotic episode brought on by her captivity and his mourning for Ellen. And since when did Tigh and Ellen want kids? I always imagined them as a couple of crazy boozers who deliberately avoided inflicting their fucked-up relationship on a child. If the whole miscarriage plot had been handled with dignity, and less squawking over Caprica about who really loves her, I would have been happier with it. As it was, it came very close to drifting into anti-abortion screed territory, if only by virtue of making fetuses these all-powerful things that are a cross between human beings and symbols of holiness. It’s in poor taste to tell a woman who’s miscarried that she can always try again, but the way the characters were carrying on, you’d think that avenue was shut down permanently.
Beyond this episode, what’s really bothering me is the giant plot hole called How Did All Five Final Cylons Survive The Nuclear Holocaust? Let’s assume that each colony was pretty small compared to earth, and the total 12 Colonies only had 12 billion people between them. That means any human being that survived had a .0004% chance of surviving into the fleet. (It seems a lot of people survived on the Colonies, only to be picked off one by one. We can assume that the last Colonies survivors have since died of radiation poisoning.) I don’t know how to do statistics, but I’m assuming the chances of five of a group of people surviving is exponentially tinier than that. So, the show has an imperative to explain how the hell the Five knew where to be to survive. Instead, they seem committed to the coincidence route. I think that’s because the only logical backstory that would have made sure all Five survived is that they were somehow in on the holocaust and knew when it was and where to be. But that implies some complicity, and the writers don’t want to do that, because these are all characters that we like. Too bad, though, because more interesting storyline would be that the Five hated humans (perhaps even were coming back not to warn the 12 Colonies but to kill them off as revenge for humans killing off Earth), planted themselves in the fleet with wiped memories but programming, a la Boomer, for no other reason than to make sure that the Fleet didn’t survive. But in the process, they came to see humans as, well, human, just as humans are beginning to see Cylons as human. And they rebelled against their programming, which in turn could explain why their programming made itself known to them. Instead, we’re going with coincidence, though there’s some hint that they saw “signs” that maybe compelled them to protect themselves against the holocaust.
If “god” did it, that’s about as literal a deus ex machina as you can get. Pretty unforgivable. Plus, god then sucks monkey balls, because he massacred all those people. And instead of moving us towards an explanation as to how this all came to be that makes sense, they wasted an episode arguing about Tigh’s loving sperm.