"He won't be the last." -Tom ZarekAfter two episodes of watching the characters despair over a never-ending onslaught of terrible news, "The Oath" finally sees some of them taking action over it. It was an hour that provoked as visceral a reaction -- dread, mostly, with occasional punctuations of "Hell yeah!" -- as any "Galactica" episode has in a while.
What made "The Oath," written by series vet Mark Verheiden (click here for his episode post-mortem interview with Mo Ryan) and directed by modern noir specialist John Dahl, provoke such strong feelings from me (and based on the impatient e-mails I've gotten asking for this review, everyone else) wasn't just the meticulous way they showed how Gaeta and Zarek pulled off the mutiny. It was how they showed, again and again, characters using the mutiny as an excuse to settle old scores, or, even worse, to let off all of the steam that's built up over this awful four-year journey.
Because the storytelling largely focuses on the upper echelons of the Galactica command structure, we only occasionally get glimpses of how the rest of the rag-tag fleet must feel about all the ordeals they've suffered post-genocide. But of course soldiers from Pegasus would still hold grudges over Adama killing their commander. Of course Anders' ex-girlfriend (or, rather, never-quite-girlfriend) would be furious to realize that the man she was so hung up on isn't a man at all. Of course Lee would be resented for his role in Baltar's trial. Of course the civilian fleet would be fed up with all of Adama's high-hand tactics, and would eagerly greet any opportunity to rebel. Of course the other pilots would fear and distrust Starbuck after her miraculous return from the dead -- What is she? And if she's just Kara, what makes her so special when none of the dead people we actually liked could come back? -- and even moreso when they realized her husband was a Cylon. And, for that matter, of course Starbuck would use this fiasco as an excuse to compartmentalize all her recent angst over who and what she is and get back to being the best at what she does (and what she does isn't very nice).
Verheiden's script very cleverly lets Lee -- a non-mutineer, and one of the few characters who still has a relatively clean conscience -- argue that Gaeta and Zarek have a point about the Cylon alliance. Because Zarek is probably driven as much by power-lust as by his own beliefs, and because Gaeta's own motivations are clouded by everything that he's suffered over the last four years, it's easy to overlook the relative nobility of their cause. But they're probably right. Whatever the practical value of installing the Cylon tech, whatever we know about the rebel Cylons' change of heart, this is still the man who didn't even want to network his computers four years ago now inviting representatives of humanity's greatest foe to install technology no humans actually understand. What happens if Cavil shows up again and has the ability to take control of all the jump drives?
And so even as Zarek is clubbing poor Laird to death, even as Gaeta is twirling his metaphorical mustache while becoming the world's most bad-ass telephone operator, even as those Pegasus vets are promising to revive the old Cain tradition of institutionalized Cylon rape, it wasn't as easy as I wanted it to be to root for Starbuck to start blowing away the bad guys, to cheer on Adama and Tigh as they proved yet again that "old" doesn't necessarily mean "weak." I want the characters I like to survive, want to see Gaeta and Zarek brought to justice but... they're right.
For all the emotional power and rock-em-sock-em action of "The Oath," there were a few spots I found disappointing, and/or that made me lament how much must get left on the cutting room floor each week, and how Ron Moore's fondness for letting major events happen off-camera sometimes gets in theway of the stuff he actually chooses to show. Lee asking Tyrol why he was helping them escape implied there had been a greater rift between Tyrol and humanity than we've seen in the last couple of episodes. Anyone who didn't watch the "Face of the Enemy" webisodes probably missed the added layer of tension between Gaeta and Hoshi (who used to be a couple), and also Baltar's reason for calling Felix. (Baltar was referring to the stuff we learned in the webisodes, right?) Roslin's decision to re-enter the world happened off camera (she was already dressed, wigged and ready to do something to help when Lee and Kara came to her door), and I really didn't like much of the Baltar stuff in the final third.
What we've seen of Baltar over the course of this fourth season says that, while he started off the cult thing as a con job and a survival mechanism, he had grown to believe his own sermons. So to see him back to being cowardly, insincere and solely motivated by self-preservation felt like a cheat -- an easy joke to lighten the tension. For that matter, when last we left the Baltar/Roslin relationship, they had achieved a detente, and she had found a way to let go of her hatred of the guy. To see them sniping at each other again really undercut the moving climax of "Hub," I thought.
But still, as a pure thriller, and a gut-punch, you don't get much better than a cliffhanger that left the local Cylons locked in the brig and preparing to be raped, Roslin and Baltar's ship about to be blown out of the sky, and Adama and Tigh making a last stand in a blind alley of Galactica.
"To be continued..." Evil. They're evil!
Some other thoughts:
• Poor, poor Laird. Other than maybe Cally, has any notable character in the run of the show gotten as short an end of the stick as that guy? First he has to watch his family killed by Cain's goons, then he's pressed into military service, and now this?
• The dialogue about the secondary storage hatch implied that it played a significant role in an earlier episode, but I can't for the life of me remember. Anyone?
• Whatever Gaeta's motivations, Alessandro Juliani is playing the hell out of his moment. Watching him hobble around on that fake leg makes him seem more and more like Tigh on New Caprica, having lost a vital body part to the Cylons and trying not to let that slow him down.
As always, let me remind you: no talking about the previews, or anything you've read online, or anything that could even vaguely be considered a spoiler. Anything along those lines will be deleted, quickly. We clear?
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