This episode by Michael Angeli was considerably better than last week's season opener by Bradley Thompson and David Weddle, whose writing usually lacks political commentary, and that was no exception.
Michael Angeli has done some fantastic work. He wrote the incredible Season One episode "Six Degrees of Separation", which is so much fun and features some wonderfully comedic scenes with Baltar. He returned to the show in Season 3 and wrote a decent episode entitled "A Measure of Salvation" that suffered from many of the problems in this one: rushed plotting and insufficient elaboration of conversation and subtlety of emotional drama. He also wrote the fairly dull "Woman King" which didn't suffer from rushed plotting, but did lack any real dynamism or a good story. However, he did absolutely wonderful work on "The Son Also Rises", which featured some of the series' best dialogue and most moving and brilliant meditations on the nature of lost love and justice.
This episode is better than "Woman King" but fails to live up to his impressive work on "The Son Also Rises" and "Six Degrees of Separation" by quite a wide berth, and that's worrisome for the final season of an incredible show.
The plot seemed fine, but poorly conveyed in parts. The Starbuck plot was well-written and excellently acted, as were Lee Adama's scenes, especially his good-byes to Starbuck and Dualla. However, it all feels rushed in parts, but only slightly so.
The Cylon baseship scenes are perhaps the biggest disappointment. These scenes feature the only political commentary of the episode, namely the issue of how to effect change -- through force or democracy? This subplot doesn't disappoint in opting for a complicated illustration of the "good" cylons opting to protect cylon raiders from being lobotomized by engaging in a violent coup when a democratic vote fails. They also democratized the cylon race by giving the centurions the gift of reason, thereby freeing these former slaves from their programmed constraints. There's even some nice religious tones and decent dialogue between Cavil and the others. Yet Cavil's scenes are usually not just good, but great! Go back to "Lay Down Your Burdens" or "Occupation"/"Precipice", and one can see that every word of every argument uttered by this character is fascinating. His scenes in this episode are less effective than they should be.
The main problem is that the dialogue is far too abrupt between the cylons. It feels less like a relatable society of people honestly discussing things than curt summaries of what each character feels. When Boomer betrays her fellow Sharon models, the other Sharon says nothing and the new Number Six says barely anything. Leoben says two sentences in the entire episode, when he's been shown to have a forceful, passionate personality in any scene with Starbuck. It's like every scene has been edited down to its essential dialogue like a telegram, but the natural way people talk to each other -- the elaboration of how they feel -- has been edited out or not written at all. The cylon scenes have long felt this way -- devoid of sufficient discussion and emotion, or simply devoid of enough detail of expression to give these scenes believability.
The most criminally-written scenes involved Baltar. For the first time, I actually grew bored of his dialogue -- and this was quite disappointing from the writer who captured so well the essence of Baltar's desperation and bogus faith so believably in "Six Degrees of Separation" I usually pore over every word uttered by this amazing actor performing this incredible role. This time, however, the scenes with Tory felt a bit rushed and unbelievable. His conversion this season to belief in one God -- and the need to proselytize this faith -- has been unconvincingly handled. Perhaps Weddle and Thompson messed up this crucial transformation, but his tearfully, emotional confession to Tory that he is getting tired of holding in his faith in one God seemed silly and, since it was out-of-character, unsatisfactorily explained. The scene in which he's in bed with Tory was absolutely painful to watch for such a formerly beautifully-written character.
There were some great things about the episode, however. Starbuck's frantic desire to take the fleet to Earth felt very believable and sympathetic. Also, Roslin and Adama's talk about what to do about Starbuck and about Roslin's fate was quite fresh and wonderful with each character making worthwhile points. Their relationship seemed to have settled a bit half-way through Season 2 and in Season 3, but this is one relationship that really feels as though it's growing this season. I look forward to more of this.
I get a sense that many of the episode's flaws were due to time constraints and that maybe more elaborately-written, -acted, and -filmed scenes could easily be expanded upon on DVD. I wish Ron Moore had done this for many Season 3 episodes that felt similarly rushed. I hope he does it with this episode. There's a 50-minute (as opposed to 41-minute) version of this episode screaming to get out.
8 out of 10
(I should emphasize that only the rarest of shows get 10 -- only the absolute best episodes of The X-Files ("Talitha Cumi", "Paper Hearts", "Redux II", etc.), Battlestar Galactica ("Pegasus","Lay Down Your Burdens", "Occupation"/"Precipice") and Deep Space Nine ("In the Pale Moonlight"). I would give the best story of The 4400 to date, "Terrible Swift Sword"/"Fifty Fifty," around 9.0, and I really loved that.)