November 26, 2007

"Battlestar Galactica: Razor" review

"Battlestar Galactica: Razor" aired Saturday night, and it sure made my weekend. BSG fans may recall the cliffhanger of season two: Another Battlestar, the Pegasus, also survived the Cylon genocidal attack. Led by Admiral Cain (the lovely Michelle Forbes), we eventually learn that Cain and the Pegasus acted in ways that were borderline sadistic and criminal in their quest to survive. For example, in the cliffhanger, we hear that the admiral shot dead her first officer for refusing to follow her orders. In "Razor," we see it. Admiral Cain is essentially the antithesis to [now]-Admiral Adama and President Roslin. To Cain, her often brutal tactics are absolutely essential for the survival of the human species; humanity can worry about the rightness of her actions when -- if -- human civilization ever prospers again.

This is what "Razor" shows -- what happened to the Pegasus when the pivotal Cylon attacked occured, and how they survived. We also see what happened on the first post-Admiral Cain Pegasus mission under the command of Lee Adama (Admiral Adama's son). Told from the perspective of one Lt. Kendra Shaw, Cain instructs her (and others) that they now need to becomes "razors" -- a metaphor for toughness and deadliness ... that they'll have to do things they never thought they could do. All in the name of naked, plain survival.

What affects Lt. Shaw greatest is when Admiral Cain orders her and a cadre of soldiers from the Pegasus to board and confiscate various items from a fleet of civilian ships that also survived the Cylon attack. They're also ordered to conscript passengers with vital skills. (Anyone recall that flight engineer?) When the passengers object and eventually begin to riot, Cain orders her officers to shoot anyone who resists. Shaw complies first, shooting a civilian right in the head. Nine more are killed by the cadre.

What is not shown in detail in "Razor" that we saw quite a bit of in the cliffhanger was the treatment of the Pegasus Number 6 humanoid Cylon. You'll recall that once captured, the Pegasus #6 was brutally mistreated -- raped, sodmized, beaten, tortured. The only thing we see in "Razor" is Cain giving the order to the notorious Thorne: "Take it to the limit," she basically tells her officer, in her quest to see just how much the humanoid Cylons can withstand. Furthermore, we are clued in that Cain and the Pegasus #6 were lovers. Breaks for several commercials during "Razor" alluded to this , and this sure answered my question as to why Cain had #6 at her dinner table that was supposed to be reserved only for her officers.

I wish we could have seen greater detail into the plight of the Pegasus; however, the writers felt we needed to see some gratuitous features from the original "Battlestar" series from the 1970s. That was what Lee Adama's first mission was all about. It seems an enclave of original Cylon centurions were lurking around guarding a mystery ship that supposedly used captured humans for horrific experiments. Lee's pop, Admiral Bill Adama, had seen that very ship on one of his first missions as a new pilot aboard the Galactica. I'm supposing this "backstory" may have a role in the ultimate resolution of the BSG series, but it was ultimately a distraction from what I really wanted to see -- the Pegasus.

One tidbit I had always wondered about since the cliffhanger: How in the frak did the Pegasus survive that Cylon computer virus that crippled the entire Colonial fleet and defense grid? (Galactica's excuse was that it is so old, and that Adama refused to allow networked computers aboard his ship.) Pegasus got around it because its crucial systems were offline when the attack occurred. The Pegasus #6 eventually got the "safe" codes from the unknowing Lt. Shaw (the Pegasus #6 was that Battlestar's systems "wizard") and it led to a brutal Cylon attack shortly after the main [genocidal] attack. Shaw sees another #6 when some Cylons board Pegasus, and this is what leads to the Pegasus #6's capture and subsequent torture.

One of "Razor's" main purposes is for viewers to contrast and compare the governing styles of Cain and Adama. Very telling is near movie's end where Admiral Adama tells his son that what Cain did "made sense." Lee can't believe what he's hearing. I think Admiral Bill Adama is more like Admiral Cain than we all think. Recall how Adama wanted the military to assume command of the fleet after the Cylon attack on the Colonies, and initially deeply resented Roslin interfering. Adama has made a number of Cain-like decisions over the last three seasons, only to be "restrained" by President Roslin, his son, and others. Nevertheless, BSG's creators want us to examine how the Galactica ran (runs) things, and how the Pegasus functioned. Which is the more ... "appropriate" considering the circumstances? I've more than criticized some of the ridiculously obtuse decisions made by various Galactica crewmen (like preventing a Galactica bio-attack that could have annihilated a large percentage of Cylons), as well as allowing an act-like-genocide-never-occured style democracy among the surviving ships of the fleet. However, actions like Cain ordering the killing of civilians for their protests were over the top. Such a riot could have easily been quelled by threats and at the most the stunning and/or wounding of the passengers. Pegasus had the means to take what it wanted without Cain's [murderous] orders.

In the entire scheme of things, while I don't concur with everything Admiral Cain did (as far as we've been told), I believe that the way she acted in the face of extinction makes magnitudes more sense than what we've witnessed aboard the Galactica. The viewer has to realize -- the human race is on the verge of extinction!! Would you, as a survivor, be more concerned with that survival, or making sure all the "luxuries" and amenities you used to enjoy on your colony planet were re-established among the surviving ships of the fleet? Would you want a 40+ year seasoned commander to make decisions in the wake of annihilation, or the Colonial Secretary of Education, elevated to the Colonial Presidency merely by order of succession (everyone else above her was killed)? I surely understand that a show called "Battlestar Pegasus" where we saw, week after week, military scuffles between humans and Cylons would make for rather boring TV (which is why the original BSG series, after initial phenomenal success, plummeted quickly in the ratings). "Battlestar Galactica" still is one terrific scifi show, but last year's season three began to stretch credibility to the breaking point. In order to regain such, I think it'd ill behoove the writers to incorporate just a little more of Admiral Cain's philosophy into how the Galactica and the fleet are run.

Posted by Hube at November 26, 2007 06:08 PM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

I really have to disagree with you here. I was very disappointed with Razor. All they did was flesh out things we already knew from the original series-- there was nothing new there. And the retro-Cylon bit was just plain cheesy-stupid.

I guess I was hoping for more political space opera, not more philosophizing. My favorite episode so far is the first one that aired, '33'. That's what I want from BSG, not metaphysical claptrap.

I'm not going to be watching much longer at this rate.

Posted by: JR at November 26, 2007 10:04 PM

Why the heck are all strong military female leads that get more than 15 minutes of airtime in the new BSG either cylons or lesbians?!?

Posted by: AnonymousOpinion at November 26, 2007 10:25 PM

Nice synopsis. Glad the drought is over....I thought the season should open with the return of Starbuck and the trip to Earth?

Posted by: kavips at November 27, 2007 04:05 AM

I have to agree with JR.
They had a real opportunity to do something special here but ended up with a mish-mashed , choppy , somewhat inconsequential episode that was not what was promised.

Am I the only one that just wanted to see the pegasus kick ass from the point that it got attacked up until the time it found galactica? Was I the only one that wanted to see a bit of humanity given to Cain - a backstory that could help us understand why she was borderline insane? Why could it not have been just a simple story?

Big disapointment for me. and the tack-on "Starbuck is going to end humanity" bit at the end felt.... forced.

Hopefully the 4th season is a bit more inspired.

Posted by: annihilator at November 27, 2007 11:16 AM

Good to see Michelle Forbes is still getting work - loved her as the coroner in Homicide. I liked the old-school Cylons being more active, almost like stormtroopers. In the original show they only showed them marching around or guarding doors.

Posted by: G Rex at November 27, 2007 11:43 AM

I respectfully disagree with the reviewer's analysis of the virtues of Cain's actions. Her way of dealing with (as far as she knew) being the last of humanity was to, what, go out in one last blaze of glory? Wrong, wrong, wrong!

Roslin and Adama were right the first time: if you're it, you run. You fight when you must, but you *run*. You find a new home, leave everything else behind, and save who you can. You do not plan suicidal military maneuvers, you do *not* abandon survivors, and you sure as h*ll don't shoot them.

Yes, she was brave. Yes, she was strong. But she forgot that she had to hold onto her decency as well. Trite? Perhaps. But in the end, her way got her nothing but a ship full of monsters and the blood of innocent civilians on her hands.

As for Helo's actions regarding the potential Cylon genocide, it's fortunate for humanity that he did what he did. Setting aside the moral repugnance of mass genocide, the Cylons that weren't wiped out by the plague would've finally quit their fence-sitting and just blown the fleet out of the sky once and for all.

Posted by: Liz at November 27, 2007 09:38 PM

Rewatching Razor on DVD today,I agree with Liz's view of Cain's actions.

First, launching that first attack against the comm station, which resulted in 800+ dead, 30 Vipers destroyed, all for a target of "questionable value." I'd have to agree with the XO who Cain shot in the head; she seemed to go against her guerrilla war campaign almost immediately. Also isn't there a more effective way of getting people to follow orders that killing people who disagree? She should have shot him in the leg or something. That still would have sent the message.

Next we have the pillaging of the civil fleet. Taking the parts and people might help Pegasus survive a bit longer, but assuming the end goal of Cain's plan was to somehow defeat the Cylons, exactly who was going to be around after they won? A couple hundred people on the Pegasus at the cost of maybe thousands of civilians who they left to die? I like how all the Pegasus people are so quick to say "I wouldn't be alive except for Cain," but yet they are alive merely because Cain chose them over the civilians she abandoned. Not very honorable when you look at it that way.

I assume her ultimate goal for Galactica's fleet, had she survived, was to leave it behind to fend for itself while pillaging further. This seems like a great way to fast track the end of humanity

Posted by: Jon at December 9, 2007 07:43 PM

Jon, if memory serves, the Pegasus's losses were so enormous in that battle because the Pegasus #6 had successfully planted that computer virus into the ship's systems. Fortunately, Shaw realized what was going on and who she really was before things really went down hill for Cain and crew.

Posted by: Hube at December 9, 2007 08:13 PM

Well they realize the guns are off line before Cain makes the decision to stick it out. Cain says "we're going to have to fire our gun batteries manually!" At which point, soon-to-be-dead XO is like "Hey, our guns don't work, we're outnumbered 4-to-1, we should probably high tail it out of here!" Cain then shoots him in the head.

Posted by: Jon at December 9, 2007 10:05 PM

Razor was a waste of time, on top of being painful to watch. A lot of things went wrong with this movie.

First, the title : at the beginning, we're shown a pocket knife, then the word "razor" appear in red. I'm talking about this because whenever I saw Admiral Cain with that thing, I felt that something was wrong but I couldn't point my finger on it until somebody mentioned this detail on a website. How many adults would really mistake a knife for a razor, unless they were on drugs ? Even worse, beside Vin Diesel, who groom themselves with that kind of instrument ?

Second, the fate of the Pegasus : from the regular series, it was obvious that the Pegasus crew would serve as sidekicks to the main cast. That was all right, as long as it was well executed. Unfortunately, that was not the case here. For instance, Michelle Forbes (who is a great actress) had to portray a ridiculously flawed character. I'm not a soldier but the way Admiral Cain behaved made me wonder how she got promoted to the highest military rank. One obvious answer is that she slept with a lot of people. But, even this door got closed by the producers when they turned her into a lesbian. After all, could a female really get promoted in the military by sleeping with the wives of her superiors ? In the same vein, Steve Bacic would have made a credible commanding officer, due to his presence on screen. Since the producers weren't trying to overwork themselves, they had Bacic character killed in an appalling way.

Third, the lightbulbs or lack thereof : we are led to believe that a spacefaring civilisation can't afford to have decent lighting for 90 minutes in a warship. How will the crew spot an intruder if uniforms, let alone faces, are hard to tell apart ? On this one, I'll cut Razor some slack, since it's typical of most scifi shows.

Fourth, the flashbacks : this is the tool of choice of lazy writers. Not only do they tell viewers nothing new but they are confusing. Why should we constantly guess if a scene is taking place in the present or in the past ? As somebody said, this is another opportunity for the director to play with the camera at our expense. It also helps fix flawed scripts. Here, the producers probably felt they shouldn't have thrown Pegasus out of the window as they did in the regular series. Then again, I'm not privy to their plans...

Fifth, the religion : granted, the original series contained a lot of religious reference. However, that should have disappeared in the new Galactica, given the kind of special effects available today. The last thing people needed was to see a Neanderthal Cylon taking a bath while uttering prophecies. I'm not certain Isaiah or Ezekiel would have appreciated the analogy.

There's a lot to be said about "Razor", but I'll stop here.

Posted by: Kevin at February 15, 2008 09:23 PM