Thursday, 5 March 2009

The Prince, The Pauper, And The Pianist

Face my spoiler warning, feeble humans. Within this post are the darkest secrets of BSG exposed.




This might be a good time to explain that there's a reason why these comments on a new episode of Galactica take a day or so to appear. This reason, contrary to common sense, is not that I am too busy writing up my thesis (though I acknowledge entirely that that should be why), it's more that I find it much easier to decide what's important about a given episode once I've spent a little while reading other people's opinions, and deciding why they're wrong.

Case in point, Jacob over at TVWP (yes, Kimmy, I have sampled his fruits and now I cannot turn away!) is scratching his head over why the Chief can recognise when an Eight is Boomer, but Helo can't work out when one isn't his wife.

There's an obvious answer [1], of course, that Boomer wanted the Chief to recognise her (as part of Operation: Steal Kiddy) and wanted Helo to not recognise her (as part of Operation: Totally Fuck Some Dude In Front Of His Wife Who You've Bundled Into A Cupboard That You Didn't Even Close Because You Are Retarded), or one could simply point out that Chief recognising an Eight does not mean all people can recognise all Eights ever (especially when your working on reptile brain and your biggest concern is whether you can use your wife's imminent mission as an excuse to skip foreplay), but there's a much more interesting and needlessly long explanation. And I like needlessly long...

Here's the thing: it's a lot easier to recognise something after the first time you lost it. Which, I grant you, isn't exactly the most penetrating insight in the world. You can ask anyone who's ever been in love and had their heart ripped out, for a start.

Hey, guess who's been in love and had their heart ripped out? In addition to having spent some time suicidal, been revealed as a machine, and had his wife first kill herself and then turned out to have cuckolded him?

What's tragic about what happened to the Chief isn't that Boomer played him like an overweight fiddle, or even that his best hope from this point on is that he dies of boredom in the brig whilst the Fleet and the Cylons argue about who gets to show him the crappy side of an airlock. It's how Boomer got to him. "Here is what you could have won". He's so sick of the truth that he'll jump into bed with the first illusion that comes along even though it's illusions that have fucked him every step of the way. Believing Boomer and he could be together. Believing Cally would do. Believing his life as the Chief meant something, and was worth protecting, to the point where wanting to kill himself didn't strike him as a good reason to take a break every once in a while.

Even more heartbreaking, when he suspects Boomer has betrayed him his first response is to leap back into the fantasy, to realise that she's stolen that too. That's so depressing it doesn't even make any fucking sense!

Recognise Boomer after years apart? I'm amazed he doesn't think call them all Boomer, and he just happened to get lucky this time round ("lucky", obviously, being a relative term here). The man was desperate for something to live for. Hell, he's always been desperate for that, ever since Boomer got shot by his future wife, and yet the universe saw fit to just keep throwing away the things he relied upon whilst he was searching. All he wanted was something to run towards, but fate wouldn't show him where it was, and then decided to make him progressively more lame.

You only recognise something after the first time you lost it.

Helo has never lost Athena. He's fought with her, and he's shot her dead, but every time she came back to him. On top of that he has a healthy child, and is apparently pretty much bullet-proof. Chief spent weeks terrified he would end up airlocked for the crime of finding out he was a Cylon, and he was very nearly right. Helo willingly defied orders at NCD 2539, and in the process guaranteed the survival of a race hell-bent on exterminating his own. Somewhere in the region of 2,000 people are dead because of that, but that's OK, because he's Helo.

Helo doesn't need to recognise his wife. He just needs his wife to recognise him. To know the prince when she sees him. I'm not saying Helo loves Athena any less than Galen loves/loved Boomer, I'm just saying that if something lies within reach for long enough, you stop looking when you're picking it up.

Recognising what you've lost and failing to recognise what you have is probably the overarching theme of the episode. You can stretch the metaphor a bit by pointing out Adama is so concerned about the Galactica that he's not there when Roslin collapses (though the Gods know that there is some grim poetic justice in the idea of Adama not taking enough notice of Roslin post-nebula), but mainly this fits in relation to Starbuck. She lost her father, she lost her mind, and she lost her life. In that order, literally if not necessarily poetically. The first caused her to give up the piano, the second made her useless as a Viper jock and thus purposeless as a human being, and the third fucked her up so bad even being reborn didn't seem to help (though I don't really want to get on her case too much about that last one). The Chief keeps having things taken from him, Kara responds to everything she loses by chucking something else away herself (or abandoning it, even after Prince Helo has spent fucking months getting it all back for her). It takes her Chip-Dad (yay for crazy chip people, we must surely be getting close to that reveal [2]) to remind her that losing what we love doesn't necessitate abandoning those things our love motivated us to do. [3]

Galen could probably have done to hear that speech too (guess his own Chip-Lady got quiet once she'd saved him from taking a nuke to the junk). It's a hard thing to do, I know, recognising that our efforts are no longer going to be rewarded, that the goal we were working for has been taken from us, or maybe that it was never there and we've just been projecting like a Cylon would. The trick is not to change what it is we're doing, but to change what is we love. It's too easy, and too limiting, and too false, to say we love a person, or that we love life. What we love are pieces of the whole. It may be most pieces, or even almost all, but still; it's pieces. Facets. We love them so much that we tolerate the surrounding crap at worst, and at best we accept it with a glad heart, as being completely worth the effort. The Chief fucked up because he knew each piece so well that he couldn't stand to be without them anymore. Helo fucked up because he never saw the need to learn where the pieces fit in the first place. And Starbuck?

Well, the jury's still out on Starbuck. Give it time.

[1] There's also an obvious corollary that those who whine about nitpickers tend to be much more cool about it once they find a nit they want to pick, but that's another story.

[2] I don't want to jump the gun here, because Moore has managed to pleasantly surprise me regarding such things in the past, but at present I'm concerned that if the common assumption that there is a third faction involved here, hence the chip-people and the back-up Starbuck, that it's somewhat narratively unsatisfying for them to turn up (at most) four hours before the end of a sixty hour story. Condense that down to a film and you're talking about about a new group arriving six to eight minutes from the credits. In other words, if a show about the virtues and pitfalls of faith and dogma and stubbornness and misinterpretation i.e. what religion is all about ends with a fucking deus ex machina, I will have to kill a large number of people, and I won't even be all that sorry.

[3] Also, this is to my knowledge the first time a piano has ever been used to link together two critically important plot points in a television series, and that is worthy of respect, I think.


Gooder said...

The above fails to account for why Athena can recognise Boomer in two seconds flat but apparently no-one else can.

Kim said...

1. Turn away from the fruits. It's for your own intellectual good
2. The cheif is an extra special cylon, Helo isn't. So their cylon spotting skills should be different. Plus maybe mixing up the sex and playing different roles is normal for the Agathons.
3. Starbuck is a nasty bullying mess who needs to die.
4. 20 unlikely but fun endings for BSG Is fun and inciteful in a way fruit boy can only dream. I like 18, 15 and 4.
5. BSG so totally not redeeming itself to me post mutiny. But I like the return to an empty ship barely running itself.

SpaceSquid said...

"The above fails to account for why Athena can recognise Boomer in two seconds flat but apparently no-one else can."
That's because Cylons can automatically recognise each other immediately; that's been precedent for two seasons, and referenced several times.

jaxin said...

I think Gooder's talking about the other cylons onboard Galactica. But again, that can easily be explained in any number of ways, so Gooder: I still think you're being needlessly nitpicky about an episode that, for all the flaws it may have, IMO is clearly a complex and resonant piece of art.

Which, for all the good points of the previous episode (mostly involving Tigh), it certainly was not.

jamie said...

How odd. I just typed the verification word as my name, when as we all know, I'm Jamie.

Having said that, I'm kinda liking 'jaxin'...

SpaceSquid said...

And there I was thinking I had a new reader.

"I think Gooder's talking about the other cylons onboard Galactica. But again, that can easily be explained in any number of ways"

Mainly the fact that the other Cylons (beyond Tigh) are presumably being restricted to the areas being gooed up.

jamie said...

Exactly; and Tyrol would have been able to tell Boomer precisely which areas these were to avoid them.