Saturday, February 7, 2009

First Reactions: "Blood on the Scales"

OK, I just saw this episode and am very moved. I'm going to start with all the negative, pissy things that bugged me about this episode, and move on to the great things that really left me moved. I will reveal everything major that happens in the episode, so if you haven't seen it, be warned, or be spoiled.

Pissy, angry and very frustrated notes

Firstly, the editing choices in this episode were completely botched in my opinion. I get that they shot a lot of scenes and some had to be left in the cutting table, but did we really need to see that many scenes with people shooting guns? Seriously, this kind of thing is below the show. Some action is fine, but so much of it just makes for a chaotic, sub-par episode. Lee killing a guy with a pen? Romo going all action hero? Halfway thru I was going "OMG, this is the worst episode ever!!" I don't think so anymore, because of the ending, but I give a big minus for the editing of most scenes in this episode. Also: a lot of what was cut was Baltar's story on the baseship. OF COURSE. Gigantic eye-roll.

Secondly, not just one but TWO scenes where Adama is almost executed - except not. Argh! We knew you wouldn't kill him, OK? Either have the guts to actually do it, or don't show any scenes like that at all. This show is smarter than this.

Thirdly, and this goes a bit deeper. I used to like Laura Roslin. A lot. I admired her when I was watching season one. I thought her position as the president - against her own will and completely suddenly - was touching and powerfully played by McDonnell. I think there are still great moments (The Hub) but I must say that during the last few seasons, I've generally come to hate her. In tonight's episode, she showed that nothing matters to her but Bill Adama. Not the deaths of innocent people. Not the security of the cylons they've allied with. Not peace. Just Bill Adama. Maybe I should be saying how human this is and how it's credible that she'd react this way, but what kind of selfish leader only cares about her love and not about the people?

The mutiny is not about Bill and Laura. It's about peace in the fleet. It's about people having to come to terms with the cylons somehow, when they're used to fleeing them and hating them - and this is a valid concern, by the way. Because, while there may be a lot of racism there, it's also very hard to kiss and make up when the cylons destroyed your home planet and everyone on it. Bill and Laura should have given a lot more thought to this. They should have listened to the people a lot more. They should have realized that just because they had a change of heart, it doesn't automatically produce a change of heart in all of the people in the fleet. For this, I think both are pretty bad leaders. Or at least used-to-be-good leaders who let their power go to their heads and became tyrants.

But you know what? This is still all good in some way, because a lot of viewers will disagree with me. I have a right to read Adama and Roslin this way, and their fans have a right to read them the opposite way, just like some people hate and despise Gaius, while I love him despite his flaws and mistakes (and partially because of them). Not everyone is going to agree about Adama and Roslin, and on some level, I think this still goes back to the greatness of this show - the fact that no character is perfect, not even the heroes.

But. There is someone I've hated throughout the show and still hate, and that is Tom Zarek. And this is something I only realized tonight: I hate him because the show wants me to. He has always, without fail, been written as a complete scoundrel with no redeeming qualities. He has no family, no lover, no faith in anything, no real backstory. He's just a rebel for the sake of being a rebel; he's willing to execute the entire quorum simply because they called him vice-president. He's an evil cackling villain for no reason at all. What baffles me is that both Michael Angeli and Richard Hatch said he's not a villain. What is he then? Who is Tom Zarek?

You can say what you want about Gaius Baltar being a coward, a liar, a nymphomaniac, an abuser of various substances, a weakling who will always run away from his guilt (although I am intrigued to see if he will change now). You'd be right. But he's a character with a soul. He does feel guilt. He does feel empathy - in this episode alone, he had empathy for his cult AND Gaeta. And whatever you may say, he never meant anyone any harm.

No, Baltar is not the villain of this show. Tom Zarek is. And they gave Zarek no redeeming qualities. And in a show like this that is otherwise so good, this is just lazy writing. He could have been an intelligent critic to Adama and Roslin, a true voice of resistance, but he wasn't. Epic fail.

I'm torn about Adama shooting Gaeta in cold blood. Zarek, sure - he "executed" the quorum and he's tried to sabotage the fleet so many times, he deserves to go just for the history alone. But Gaeta? From a storytelling point of view, this was a powerful way to kill him. But from the point of view of Adama's character? They were once friends. Gaeta worked for him for so long. Now he questions Adama's authority and deserves to die? I really don't know. I wish Adama at least had some remorse over it, or questioned the decision. But he probably won't.

One more brief note - why would you bring back Romo only to butcher the character? Argh. "Don't let your pride get in the way" was good. The running around with a gun and almost not stopping for Starbuck and Anders? Not good. At all. I like Romo, the way he was in Crossroads, but if they're going to write him like this episode and Sine Qua Non, just stop writing him.

Awed, excited and very positive notes
(yes, you guessed it, mostly about James Callis.)

It was nice to see Tory Foster again, taking a lead in the cylon fleet. She's been sadly ignored throughout the season, but I like that she, unlike the other final four, stayed with the cylons. However, I was hoping she'd say something back to Laura about that "wider view" on things - Laura only seems to care about Adama herself. Gaius, on the other hand, was talking back to Roslin, which was awesome.

I enjoyed seeing random Sixes again - when was the last time we did? One possible one in Sometimes a Great Notion. And even if I'm still mad for the miniscule role of Caprica Six lately, it was nice to see her carrying Hera and saying, "I can take care of myself!" It really felt like, in today's episode, the cylons were back. I've missed seeing Tricia, and I hope we'll see a lot more of her yet.

I feel like saying something very mad about still not having any Gaius/Head Six scenes, but the sexy and beautiful scenes with the random six on the baseship almost made it up for me. James and Tricia together again! Squee! I say almost, because I would have liked to see a LOT more of it, to make sense of it and give it more space. But the baseship with its flickering, streaming colors is always beautiful to me, and Tricia with brown hair usually looks more beautiful to me than with blonde hair - it is her natural color after all. They definitely should have had more long-haired Sixes on the show. So beautiful. As always, her tenderness with Gaius was touching. What is the attraction between Gaius and the sixes? It was nice to see Gaius interact with a cylon again, and as usual, it seems to make him search his soul. And this was the first scene in the episode that didn't feel rushed or chaotic. It was calm, it was about the characters - it made me feel like maybe this episode isn't so bad after all. Great acting from both James and Tricia, and their chemistry together never fails.

After a nightmare about Adama being executed, Gaius wakes up to feel guilty for leaving the cult - for running again, not even for fear this time, which seems to make him feel worse, as if fear somehow makes it OK. He ran because he didn't appreciate the cult - something you could plainly see, but it's still nice to hear him admit it to someone. I think that, on a deeper level, it's his guilt for failing Gaeta so many times; his guilt for running away from responsibility all those years and not admitting to his role in the attacks; his guilt for Gina and New Caprica... Well, he has a lot on his conscience. It's possible that the brown-haired Six reminds him of Gina, which brings up painful feelings of both loss and guilt.

Finally he takes responsibility for something or someone - if only for the cult, which I hope won't have a big role in the last episodes (I hope for more Gaius/cylons). Is this what James meant about Gaius finally growing up? Some people are already saying he won't be fun to watch anymore, but I wouldn't necessarily take this to mean that Gaius will be a complete hero who never lies again, etc. He's got a lot of work to do to become a hero - or even "a good person". Even if he became a boring goodie-goodie, I think James would bring the funny somehow. And suggest scenes that subvert the goodness.

A slightly negative side note.
The scene is edited a bit awkwardly, so that you can't see Gaius' naked chest, and I have to wonder if it's because James was so sick and emaciated while doing these episodes (he had a stomach parasite). I knew about it and thought I'd be prepared, but my heart just sinks when I see it. His thinness has never bugged me, because it's always seemed so natural for him. But this time it's just... different. There's some fundamental difference between being thin because you're sick and just naturally looking that way. And his eyes... just don't look right. They look miserable and in pain. I'm glad to know that he's better now and that it's not something serious that still affects him. He's a good guy and deserves to feel good. *fangirl sniffle*

However, his acting is still as good as ever. The following scene made me forget all about his illness, because it was so frakking amazing.

"I know who you are Felix."
This scene was so powerful, perhaps the most powerful scene so far in 4.5, at least for me. Both James and Alessandro do a lot here with just a look. Before being executed (sniff!!), Gaeta sits with Gaius. They smoke, drink coffee and talk. This scene was in the previews, and I think I misread it as Gaius being in jail and Gaeta coming to see him, when it's really the other way around. What can I say - it feels weird to see Gaius on the side of the "good guys" and Gaeta on the side of the "bad guys", although my sympathy for Gaeta never stopped throughout the mutiny. I think he genuinely wanted to bring peace to the fleet, Zarek just had his own agenda, as usual.

Gaius: Felix..
Gaeta: What? And please, no religion.
Gaeta's eyes: It's OK, Gaius. I'm going to die, but somehow this was all worth it.
Gaius' eyes: I always failed you. This could have been avoided if it weren't for me. I'm so sorry.

We already knew he'd say "I know who you are Felix" - I half hoped for him to say more, but rewatching it, maybe it's best left like this. Gaius says very little, but his eyes talk a lot. This is Gaeta's big scene, his final one before he dies - and yet it's also a big scene for Gaius. I love that the stories of these two men have always been somehow intertwined. If you read Gaeta as being in love with Gaius - and as we know now, AJ totally meant to play it that way - this scene is also a bittersweet goodbye between him and the man he loved. There's nothing sexual about it per se, but there is a tenderness to how Gaeta talks to Gaius, how he still, on some level, seems to admire him as a scientist (if no longer as a person).

The execution scene. The silence - the look between Gaeta and Zarek, and then -

"It stopped."

The pain in his leg? The restlessness in his soul? That was just beautiful.

I will miss Gaeta a lot, but I feel like he was given a worthy sendoff. I'm very sad to see him go, yet very happy with how it was done.

Alessandro Juliani - thank you for giving us Gaeta. You touched us, and you made your character alive. I hope to see you soon in other roles that are worthy of your talent.


kixxa said...

Hey! Just wondering how long James was sick with that stomach parasite? Does he get a little plumper in the next few eps?

Also, that Daphne Du Maurier audio book... See if you can get it through your library. And I'm pretty sure it's on CD. Nine CDs! I've got mine on order, and although it's not one of Miss DuMaurier's best, I read (on Amazon, I think) that James does a great job on it.

Deniselle said...

Two and a half months, I think he said. He looked better in the "final days of shooting" pictures, but I hope he's going to get better a bit before. I don't know what the shooting schedule was, I think he was better in late May/early June or so.

But "plumper" - I mean come on, this is James we're talking about :D He was quite thin still in the summer cons, but he looked like himself again.

Daphne DuMaurier: I twittered about only finding this on cassette (saying this because the tweets will update and people might wonder where in the post I mentioned it). I should look again, it does seem crazy to me that it'd only be on cassette tapes.

kixxa said...

Oh, I didn't know it went on for as long as that. Poor James, and yes, he wasn't the plumpest to begin with. *g*

When I looked into the Chivers audio books when I was doing my research, they were only availabe to libraries, and not for general sale. Maybe that's why they're so expensive. So, yes, definitely put it on the loan list at the library. Free is good! And James is always good!

Deniselle said...

He was misdiagnosed with acid indigestion at first (which I can hardly believe - my brother has it and he certainly hasn't lost any weight).

It's from the Unofficial Website - the forum seems to have updated and lost the post, but I have it saved, so here's an excerpt:
"Gosh I was so low - for about two and a half months - couldn't understand why I was throwing up every morning - actually 'cos I was initially misdiagnosed with - "acid indigestion" - I lost so much weight I was being described as " Manorexic

But fully recovered now. t.g"

so this is June 3rd. If they wrapped up the shooting in mid-July, that might mean quite a few eps with a healthier James.

My library has quite a few English-speaking audio books, and I'm sure they'd be willing to order new ones. I'll look into it!

kixxa said...

Thanks for hunting that out for me! You're a real sweetie. *hugs*

Deniselle said...

Awww, no problem! I don't mind spreading word about the parasite. (That sounds a bit gross though. I hope James doesn't mind me spreading word about it.)

Anonymous said...

Gaeta did a lot more than "question Adama's authority". He orchestrated the rebellion using deception, defied orders, was responsible for many deaths, allowed Zarek to keep on killing innocent people right in front of him, ordered the execution of the Admiral, and ordered the murder of the President. Of course he was going to be executed! What else did you expect?!

The scene with Gaius and the new Six (her name is Lida, according to Angeli) at the baseship was actually the thing that really pissed me off about this episode. I wanted to see some interaction between Gaius and Six, but that meant between Gaius and Caprica or Head Six, or between Caprica and Head Baltar - not between Gaius and some random Six who acts like nothing but his groupie! That was such a waste of Tricia's talent and the chemistry between her and James. I'm sick of the way the writers have been treating the Cylon characters (I'm not counting the 'Final Five'). Head Six is nowhere to be seen, Caprica hasn't had any character development or focus in ages, and is nothing but Tigh's baby momma who's all lovey dovey with him (where did that came from?!), Natalie was killed off and never mentioned again (you've played your role, now we're going to toss you aside - there's a lot more where you came from!) and now all we get is a childish character whose only purpose is to be a 'comfort-woman' to Gaius?! Leoben has also been sidelined and nothing but a shadow of himself throughout the season, and don't get me started on Boomer. The Cylons on the basestar acted like lamp-posts in this episode, they were nothing but background. Oh yes, and there was the (Not so) "Sweet Eight" from the webisodes - who was apparently eeeeeevil for no clear reason, and existed just to make Gaeta angry and guilty enough. I used to think that this show was so great at developing Cylon characters with their different individual personalities, but I've been very disappointed in season 4, or even since mid-season 3. Terminators in "The Sarah Connor Chronicles" have more personality.