BSG: No Exit
“I think we have to accept who we are.”
—Admiral William Adama
“You are not a mistake. If you could just accept yourself as what you are.”
“I need to be something.”
“Saul, stay with the fleet. It’s all starting to happen, it’s the miracle, right here, it’s a gift from the angels. Stay with the fleet!”
—Samuel T. Anders
I’ve watched this episode three times now: once as it aired, while I practically fermented in a stew of hatred; once with Ronald D. Moore as my personal guide, where for the first time I hated him, too; and once at a rate of approximately one scene per hour, during which I typed out nearly every line of dialogue spoken by Anders, Cavil, and Ellen, and it was that third time that I actually fell in love. And in addition to finding that I no longer absorb information as quickly as I once did, here’s what I think I learned. Forgive the mess of my own brain dump, and feel free to correct any of it in the comments. And may the force be with you all.
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Once upon a time, there was Cavil. John, you see? That most pedestrian of names, but portentous, as well, a name with heft, Biblically speaking, chosen for him by his mother (whom he later fucked), who named him after her own father (and whom, by the same transitive property, she also sort of fucked). PAUSE HERE FOR COLLECTIVE SKIN CRAWL, and then remember these are still mostly robots. Anyway, this sadist, as Ellen calls him now—the same John Cavil we first met as a priest, who helped create his own brothers and sisters, only to kill one of them and box another with nary a second thought when they stepped out of line—has managed over the years to recode himself into the One True Evil. Whose heart’s desire is not to be made more human, which was the original intent of the Final Five, but ALL MACHINE. And therefore heartless. Who tells his maker, in essence, I was great and you made me small. Whose sole driver is obsessive jealousy and hatred, and whose only notion of justice comes in violent retribution—indeed, the classic attributes of small men. But is this Ellen’s fault, for being the ringleader? The Final Five’s, for making “free will” the ultimate goal? Humanity’s, for creating the Cylons in the first place? All of the above? You tell me.
Still, it’s nice to have an actual enemy again, isn’t it? One we don’t have to bother empathizing with? Because while I get his whole whiny point, the guy’s still an irredeemable asshole who, from what I can tell, killed and zapped the brains of his own creators and then orchestrated the annihilation of the human race, and all as payback for being named “John.” Yes, I’m oversimplifying here, but still: nuclear temper tantrum! But like Laura last week, a lot of Cavil’s dialogue felt way over the top to me in this one. I mean, I can accept the grandiose speechifying and monumental declarations—his anguished cry of “I don’t want to be human!” was heartbreaking—but “I want to see gamma rays”? “I want to smell dark matter”? Two lines of dialogue no one could deliver credibly, and the line I officially cannot cross without giggling like a schoolgirl.
And here’s another thought: if he had no feelings programmed into him in the first place, would he be able to see, or hear, or experience any of these things anyway? If he’d been numbed in the same way that he lobotomized the Raiders, would a star going nova mean anything at all? Isn’t his reasoning inherently faulty, in a circular logic kind of way? Again, you’ll have to tell me; I just gave myself a headache.
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Once upon a time, there was—holy good gods almighty—Ellen Tigh. Previously Our Lady of the Perpetual Hangover, now our proverbial Earth Mother, come back in ways all unexpected and almost unrecognizable, deeply warm and intelligent, thoughtful and forgiving, and yet. Hand the girl a drink, jack; she was made part human herself, after all. Right? (While the Final Five created the eight skinjobs to be “as human as possible,” didn’t they already possess those attributes themselves? I’m really asking here.) What a marvelous trick to pull with this character, to bring her back so completely opposite of what she was when we first met her, the drunk flirty party girl nobody could trust, not even Saul. But he loved something in her even then, something he recognized—beyond the shared love of booze—which adds another layer of poignancy to their “parting” on New Caprica. Both of them moving blindly through false memories yet bound inextricably together (although I guess it was Cavil who rewired them that way when he sent them out amongst the English). And she really does fit in here as the greater link that’s been missing in this story so far, an obvious Other Half to the Cylon equation—she is the heart to Cavil’s fist—and the sort of naturally formidable foe that got sucked into a vacuum when he boxed D’Anna.
She’s also clearly a leader in a sense that none of the other Cylons are (apart from Cavil), and the only one who could convince Boomer that there was another way. And how amazing was that scene, where Boomer asks her “Who would I want to love?” and then the camera cuts right to Tyrol? What a sweet callback to something so long forgotten, after so much time and so much loss. Ronald D. Moore! Please make it happen. Not everybody needs to be miserable on your Great Big Important Show that we love so very much.
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Once upon a time, there was Samuel T. Anders, who was big and strong and very manly, who played ball for a living and became a star, who was handsome and naïve and maybe even a little of a lunkhead. Which is to say he lived like a jock, going by instinct and not so much by brain (sorry, jocks; I know it’s a stereotype). But when the world ended those instincts served him well, and he took to the woods to form a resistance, because he was a natural leader back then, too. Just as he was on New Caprica, the man you put in front because everyone else will fall instinctively in line behind him. A hero, who rose again and again, who learned that he was a Cylon but never really changed sides. The sort of man who stands tall and stays true, and who loved Kara Thrace most of all, even after everything. Also, not really a man of words, so when the words came they took even him by surprise, and the stories that he told…. Well. He cracked that lid wide open and spilled all that he could, and in the end that cost him, too. This Longshot. A fighter.
Oh, Sam. Please come back.
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Once upon a time, there was a Quorum, eleven democratically elected representatives (plus Lee!) from the Twelve Colonies who sat around a table under the heel of the president and bickered all day long. Eleven morons, really; even Laura Roslin admits she kind of hated them, although it wasn’t her fault they were written that way, and she certainly didn’t pull the trigger. Eleven mortal souls who also did what they could, given what they had, everybody doing their best to sustain a system that never really existed. Because there was never actually a way for them to govern, was there? And no authority to govern with? There was Admiral Adama and Madame President, and eleven little mice nibbling around at their toes. And now not even that.
Thus Lee Adama finally gets to make some damn sense when he tells Laura the only way to move forward is to accept what’s true: the Twelve Colonies no longer exist. What they have left is what they have to work with, which is a fleet made up of ships whose citizens represent nothing more than those ships. No more Caprica, or Picon, or Aerolon (which sounds like a great deodorant). And what can Laura do now but say yes, go form your little team and do everything your way? Telling him he’s smart but still managing to point out his inherent dumbness, which is why I adore Laura and have always hated Lee. But he’s growing on me, the scrappy little bastard. And she really is going off to die, huh? Son of a bitch.
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And finally: Once upon a time, there was a ship called Galactica, and my, she was yar. Or was she? Not as much as we thought, apparently, as she was fading before we even stepped aboard. Fifty years old! That’s like a million in ship years. But like most of everything else, she was all we had, and she did her best, through all these long journeys and terrible battles, when she held us safely in her hands, when she was all that stood between Us and Them, when she stayed behind, when she jumped ahead. Waiting patiently, like the rest of us, to go home.
Oops: EARNESTNESS ALERT, coming a little too late to save you.
Anyway, this ship that started out all human will now live as something else: another guess, another compromise, another hybrid. “We have to accept who we are,” Adama tells Tyrol, because sometimes things don’t go the way we planned them, and sometimes we make it up as we go along. And sometimes we take a drink, pop some pills, and roll that hard six on the chances of our own frakkin’ survival.
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Here are some scattered notes I took while watching, most of which are actual lines of dialogue, but also some fairly basic plot points that I needed to set down for myself, to clarify things that might be remedial learning for closer viewers. Obviously there’s a lot I haven’t paid enough attention to over the years. Take it for what you will.
WHAT WE LEARN FROM ELLEN & CAVIL
Centurion values included a belief in a living god.
“The Temple of Hopes” —from the algae planet, in “The Passage” and “The Eye of Jupiter”—was built by the 13th Tribe three thousand years ago when they left Kobol. Ellen says they stopped and prayed for guidance during their exodus, and then God showed them the way to earth. Cavil calls it “a monument to your vanity, the Temple of the Five.” He accuses Ellen of somehow leaving behind the exploding star as a revelation to D’Anna: “a carnival trick, to reveal your own faces.” Ellen says no: “We didn’t plant anything there; we backtracked the path of our ancestors, found their temple. The One True God must’ve orchestrated these events.”
Ellen: “The five of us designed you to be as human as possible.”
Cavil’s disgust at being limited by his humanoid body: “My five creators thought that God wanted it that way.”
Ellen tells Boomer that what the eight humanoid models gained made it worthwhile. “He’s wrong, Boomer. There’s no need for remorse, or blame. We didn’t limit you. We gave you something wonderful: free will. The ability to think creatively, to reach out to others with compassion, to love.”
The eight humanoid models can’t procreate biologically, so Cavil tells Ellen they need to rebuild resurrection. (Hera – human / humanoid; Baby X – Final Five / humanoid) Cavil says, “They destroyed the Hub, but they don’t even know about the Colony. All your equipment is still there.” (Colony?? Let’s go there!) But Ellen tells him she needs all of the Final Five to do it, and even then it might not work. Cavil assumes she’s lying and threatens to pull it out of her brain himself (“The recipe for life everlasting.”).
On the memory wipes of the Final Five:
Ellen: “Why send us to live among the humans?”
Cavil: “I wanted you to see what they’re like up close and personal, so I gave you all grandstand seats to a holocaust.”
Ellen: “But we didn’t die. And then you decided that we hadn’t suffered enough. So you picked me up, put me on a transport, took Galen’s confession, played resistance fighter with Sam, tortured Saul, but didn’t kill him. You had a dozen chances, but you wanted to wait so that when it finally happened, when we’d download back, we’d be ready to admit we were wrong, and pat you on the head for giving us the right amount of suffering, the right amount of punishment, all weighed out. Then we could give you the approval that you’ve always craved. See, you claim to be a perfect machine but you’re driven by the most petty of human emotions. Jealousy, and rage. I know what you did to Daniel.”
Daniel (Number Seven) was destroyed permanently by Cavil; he contaminated the amniotic fluid and corrupted all the genetic copies. Ellen: “Daniel was an artist, so sensitive to the world.” And thus her favorite.
Ellen to Cavil: “I love you, because I made you.”
WHAT WE LEARN FROM SAM
The Final Five reinvented resurrection; “organic memory transfer” came from Kobol along with the 13th Tribe. It fell out of use after Cylons started to procreate naturally on Earth, and the Final Five worked together to rebuild it. Ellen was the one who made “the final intuitive leap” that allowed them to resurrect.
The Final Five knew that Earth would be nuked, and downloaded their memories onto an orbiting ship when it happened. They set out for the Twelve Colonies but hadn’t yet developed jump drive technology, so they traveled at “relativistic but subluminal speed”; i.e., time slowed down for them, while thousands of years passed on the Twelve Colonies. Their intent was to warn the other tribes (humans?): “We knew they would continue to create artificial life, and we needed to tell them, treat them well, keep them close, but by the time we got to the colonies, they were already at war with the Centurions. It was too late.” = First Cylon War
The Centurions were trying to make flesh bodies and had already created the Hybrids, but nothing that had survived on its own. The Final Five made a deal with them: stop the war, and we’ll help you. So the First Cylon War ended, and the eight skinjobs (humanoid models) were born. = the Final Five gave them resurrection.
Tory: “The humans on Kobol made us.”
Tigh: “We share the blame with the humans.” Frakkin’ humans.
Cavil was the first humanoid model; he helped the Final Five build the other seven. He then “rejected mercy” and turned on the Final Five; first he trapped and suffocated them, then wiped their memories when they downloaded into new bodies. He implanted them with false memories and sent them to live with the humans, believing they were human, starting with Tigh, right after the war. (QUESTION: Didn’t Tigh fight in the First Cylon War, with Adama?)