Last week, Battlestar Galactica upped the ante. Hell, it far more than upped the ante: it damn well ripped it apart, stamped all over the remains and Roadrunnered into the distance, leaving the rest of us to pick up the pieces, windswept and shell shocked. It was a thoroughly thrilling feeling, watching the show give us a huge chunk of the answers we've been craving for the better part of four years and it seemed to truly reinforce the notion that we are actually on the final stretch, the last, desperate gasp before the finish line. The final sprint, as it were. Unfortunately, you really wouldn't know from simply watching this episode. If you'd missed 'No Exit', sure, there'd be a few plot points you might have trouble following, particularly in the character interplay, but you certainly wouldn't immediately be aware that we are building towards the end. Jane Espenson's script feels more like a bog standard filler hour, a competent concentration on character intrigue, yes, but certainly not one of the big final five episodes.
It is perhaps more a fault of scheduling than anything else. Arguably, any episode that followed such a heady fan-pleasing fest as 'No Exit' was bound to struggle to live up to its lofty heights... but it might've been nice if the production staff had actually tried. There is so much unresolved story still hanging in the balance, so many interesting places that Galactica's season-spanning narrative can still go, that it's almost a little insulting that they choose the throw the brakes on again and engage in a wee bit of navel-gazing. This seems to suggest that the final hours of the show, the four episodes that remain (series finale is two hours long, so we get five hours), are going to be bursting at the seams with plot and revelation, provided the writers follow through on their promise to tie up all the loose ends, and this, boys and girls, is a little worrying. The last thing we need is for Battlestar Galactica to sacrifice its cornerstone, the modus operandi that has caused it to be so successful over the years, and favour exposition at the cost of character development. The two need to be married: the show's best episodes see them working together in equal harmony. With so much story to get through (Roslin/Six's dreams, the Cylon/human child, the remaining Cylons who didn't rebel, STARBUCK, original Cavel, Final Five's roles etc. etc.), it's questionable whether the show can afford to produce episodes like 'Deadlock' that just seem to stall its overall progression.
The essential story can be summarised thusly: Ellen returns to Galactica and is forced to confront the changes that occurred among her fellow Final Five members. Baltar returns to his flock. Adama wanders around the ship a bit, pulling distressed faces and worrying about the morality of what he's doing. There's nothing essentially wrong with this triad as a series of narrative tropes but it certainly feels underwhelming given where we've been taken to in the past few weeks. Ellen's return, to begin, is nicely handled and Kate Vernon does an excellent job throughout, but her essential conflict becomes very tired, very fast. She reverts to the manipulative, selfish woman she seemingly was in the first few seasons and abandons the wise demi-God-esque insights that elevated her character in last week's episode. Now, okay, so perhaps this a telling psychological point: when she's around Sol, this is what she becomes. It is perfectly plausible that this is a deliberate character decision on the part of the writing staff; however, it simply rankles somewhat because we are forced to play out the frustrating 'jealousy over new flame' motif. And boy, do they play it out. Ellen is given a number of scenes that essentially echo each other vis a vis her opinion on the matter. By the time we get around to Six's miscarriage, we've been so battered around the head with Ellen's self-obsession that it is difficult to muster any empathy for the woman as she begins to repent, seeing the wrong in how she has been acting. Problematically, the death of Liam is rather telegraphed too, particularly as Ellen essentially determines, in her dialogue no less, that his existence rather rubbishes the point of Hara. Oh well, we'd better get rid of the pesky critter then. Can't have two plot vehicles vying for the same level of attention, can we? And the continued syntagmatic juxtaposing of Ellen and Sol's romantic machinations with Caprica Six's 'baby pangs' is just too obvious for words.
There are some very nice scenes in amongst all of this, of course: Ellen's interactions with her fellow Cylons tend to work rather well and Bill and Sol's two comparative sequences in which, first, Sol reassures his friend about the decision to amalgamate human and Cylon technology and then, conversely, Adama comforts his friend over the loss of his child, are both excellently played and considerably moving. The strength of the friendship between these two is always wonderfully illustrated by the sheer quality of the acting. Honestly, I challenge you to find a better, more achingly human relationship depicted on contemporary television. It's a shame that this is the only strength in Adama's function in the episode: elsewhere, he simply strokes his chin a bit while examining the changes that are occurring on his ship. Honestly, there are so many unnecessary ten to fifteen second silent scenes peppered throughout the hour, in which Bill simply looks at a Cylon worker or looks at some damaged part of Galactica, that I lost count. Now, perhaps Espenson included them simply to break up the Final Five's sequences and to remind us that, yes, Adama still exists. Frankly, I wish she hadn't. There's no way any one of us is going to forget Edward James Olmos in a hurry and while he is the central character, there's no reason why he can't take a brief breather and only appear in the one or two scenes in which he is actually relevant. We don't need to see him every six or seven minutes! If anything, it just makes the ship-as-metaphor-for-social-situation motif far too obvious. It's like we're being hit over the head with the point and I, for one, am not a fan of it.
And then there's Baltar, back with his fans. The jury's out on this one, kids. While there are some considerably amusing lines of dialogue in these scenes that illustrate subtly just how in-over-his-head Gaius is, the essential drive of the story is a little questionable. Sure, it seems set to give Adama the counter argument for his human/Cylon interaction policy, but do we really need to reignite the whole 'Baltar as religious intercessor' notion? It was kooky enough back when it was first introduced in the early stages of season four and just seems to smack of a distinct loss of something constructive to do with the character. I mean really, does anyone buy that he would successfully fool all of these people into thinking he is some form of Heavenly messenger? Especially after he jumped ship the moment things looked bad for everyone? Do we really think there would be one objection alone to his returning once everything has calmed down and not helping them during their hour of need? Oh sure, he seems to be slightly repentant now, feeding the needy and that, but this is largely to assuage the doubts voiced by the ONE OBJECTOR and regain his place as 'head of the tribe'. It doesn't comes across as true, selfless vindication and that's obviously the point, but the religious mumbo-jumbo that it's tied up with still rankles with me. Again, it's a distraction from the business of resolving the main plot and I'm not convinced it's the best resolutory arc for Baltar's character. But, as I said, the jury's out. We'll wait and see.
Something of a curious beast, this one. There is much to praise, particularly the stellar performances provided by the vast majority of the cast, and there are some superbly written scenes, but the whole feels rather lacking. Coming off the heels of last week's reveal-fest, the slow-burning character examinations that typify 'Deadlock' feel more than a little disappointing and out of place. It's as if they put their foot on the accelerator and then jerked to a sudden stop for no good reason. With such a wealth of unresolved plot points left to address and an ever-dwindling amount of time to do so, you'd think this kind of navel-gazing would've been a thing of the past. A season ago, hell, twelve episodes ago, this would've been a great, reflective instalment... now it's an unfortunate distraction.