Dionusia (dionusia) wrote,

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BSG 4.17: The Force of the Past

My extremely long typical-length musings on "Someone to Watch over Me."

I also get into some etymology and spec at the end. Yeah, I know. Forgive me. :)

Caps from capaholic.

I really liked this one; as with DFMS, it felt like it was building momentum toward a larger conflict (the showdown with Cavil). Chief and Boomer’s story broke my heart, as I knew it would, though I’d so hoped that Boomer’s story would have turned out to be one of redemption. (Oh, this show is littered with broken dreams and dream houses that never get built.) innibis said much of what I think about it quite eloquently here, but I’ll also add this: I really think Boomer’s the most tragic figure in the entire show. With so many others pardoned or walking around scot-free for their crimes, she will never be forgiven for an involuntary act. Shooting Adama was the last thing she wanted to do, but no one ever even tried to understand that. It divided her from her family and everyone she loved forever. They kept punshing her and punishing her for it until she became truly twisted. No wonder she turned to Cavil; she's broken down so much she no longer wanted to feel. Yes, she’s doing horrible things of her own free will now, but I think on both sides her story is one of the sheer ugliness of revenge. Violence begets violence, the destructive cycle of time they’re all caught up in. Will any of them ever be able to break out of it?

I also liked the overall tone and feel, and how much of it all centered on memory and fantasy, vision and delusion. The montage at the beginning was sheer brilliance, and the ending was both moving and poetic: the song about feeling a loved one slip away plays on as Kara clings to Sam, and Galen runs through the empty halls of his shattered fantasy.

And then, of course, there’s Kara--the main reason why I loved it so.

Now, I don't think it was perfect by any means (lingering on the Boomer/Helo scene so long seemed gratuitously sadistic, Lee and Laura have had next to no screentime for three eps in a row, and more could have been explored on the vengeance vs. forgiveness theme) but I guess I just really enjoyed the Kara moments more than anything. While the Boomer/Chief/Hera storyline carried most of the suspense and the action, I didn’t think any of the time spent with Kara was wasted. I welcome any window into what’s going on with her, and I’m pretty well obsessed with Kara and her childhood. So what follows will be my very Kara-focused review. Love can do that to you!

Kara in stasis

"You are fine, you are fine with the dead guys. It's the living ones you can't deal with."

“You need to get on with your life,” Cottle tells Kara point-blank as she sits in vigil by Sam's side. "How?" she asks numbly. She really doesn’t know. Kara’s never had the tools to deal with crises well, much less ones of this magnitude. She’s locked in grief and horror that she doesn’t know what she is. There’s nothing she can do to fix her husband. She died and can't explain how she came back. The rush of elation and sense of purpose that she gained in battle during the mutiny has now faded and gone. The answers she thought she'd be getting when Sam was conscious just didn't apply to her, and she thinks she killed him by letting him go on for so long. Death follows her everywhere. She’s the harbinger, and she doesn't know what any of it means.

She drags herself through her routine, but inside, she’s empty. She’s stuck in her own hell, and despairs of ever finding a way out of it. Life goes on but nothing changes, and nothing improves. Sam’s in limbo and so is she.

That’s when she starts seeing the piano player.

Know Thyself

One thing I loved about this episode is that it revisted the idea that self-awareness is not something Kara is particularly good at. All too often, she’s wrapped up in coping mechanisms of avoidance, suppression, and denial. Sometimes she has to smack headfirst into a realization before she will acknowledge something she desperately needs to.

Take the way she impulsively grounds all the nuggets in “Act of Contrition.” Lee points out that it’s absurd, and suggests she might be overreacting because of her lingering issues over Zak. She denies this angrily—almost belts him one, in fact—and insists her judgment isn’t clouded one bit. Yet we know it’s actually the truth; she’s been haunted by flashbacks to Zak ever since the funeral, and she pushes back so hard because Lee’s hit the nail right on the head. It makes her uncomfortable, so she needs to punish him for that and also get him to retreat—anything to keep avoiding it. She’d rather stay locked in her denial than face the obvious truth. She doesn’t admit anything at all until Adama confronts her with it too.

But that’s just one of many occasions when she’s so caught up in her own emotions that she doesn’t recognize what’s really going on. Time after time people need to get in her face, spell something out to her, and call her on her evasions: not just Lee and Adama, but also Helo and Sam and Leoben and the Oracle and sometimes even Athena and Dee. Her first impulse is to put off dealing with uncomfortable situations for as long as she can. Even with all her self-doubt prior to the discovery of Earth, Kara still hadn’t fully faced up to the mystery of her absence and return. It took finding her actual body for her to start admitting that she’d really died.


All of which brings me to her visions. I’m not so sure that her dad was an angel/messenger figure visiting her from the outside. I think she was projecting him in order to work out some of the problems she was grappling with – the problem of her identity, and her feelings of frustration and despair.

One thing I’ve noticed about the various head-characters is that they always seem tapped into the person’s subconscious. Kara might have been receiving messages from beyond, but I mainly read that whole exchange as Kara in dialogue with herself. There were long-buried memories and emotions that she’d been suppressing or denying which needed to surface. This is why her storyline in STWOM worked for me, even the long-delayed recognition that the man she was talking to was actually a vision of her father. I went into it guessing that the piano player would be him, and also wouldn’t be real. What I was watching for was the moment when she’d face that—in essence, when Kara would finally recognize the obvious.

Going forward, looking back

Kara’s journey—her hero’s journey—has always been shot through with references to her past. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the first time we hear of her destiny from Leoben, we also learn of her mother’s abuse. In "Maelstrom," confronting that legacy was part of how she took the next step to the space beyond. On another level, it fits the pattern of other myths: heroic trips to the underworld often involve a conversation with a parent (as Aeneas consulted his father there and gained reassurance of the future that was to come). She has to make sense of her life and at the same time figure out her role in the world.

Kara’s dad, in marked contrast to her mother, made her feel confident and safe. In this ep we see flashes of a young Kara who's smiling and happy and determined, quite unlike the battered and terrified child we glimpsed in "Maelstrom." When she’s adrift and doesn’t know how to go on, she turns to her memories of her father for solace. This fit something I’d guessed since we saw her play her father’s music in her apartment on Caprica: in contrast to her mother, her father was a positive figure in her life. When she wrapped herself in her old coat and sank down into her couch, I got the impression that something about that music was comforting.


His message to her now is, "Trust yourself. Something’s gonna come."

But he also abandoned her, which naturally also makes him a figure of resentment. Yet even the way she lashed out at him, I thought, was telling: she angrily remarks that he was so selfish he didn't think of the pain he caused others—and that lesson could easily apply to Kara as well. She's summing up what she needs to recognize.


It also brought to mind what she’d said to Kacey after she was injured: “I didn’t mean for you to get hurt...Uh..grown-ups do stupid things sometimes. We get—caught up in our own little world until it's almost too late.” Getting too wrapped up in yourself and your own pain and losing sight of what it might do to others is a bad thing to do.

These conversations touched on different aspects of the pain in her past and the crisis she's currently in. In the end--though the piano player claims to have no pat answers--an even bigger revelation is in store. When the Cylons recognize the melody she played, Kara pieces together what it must mean for the puzzle of her identity.

The appearance of that piano jogged a memory. Hera’s drawing and the tape she got from Helo brought even more of those buried thoughts to the surface. She’d been blocking out memories of her dad the way she tried to turn away from so many things, just she refused to touch a piano again until now. In the end, though, she does reach for the keys, and it all clicks into place. She plays the song, and begins to realize who he was—and who she is.

The piano player was, in many respects, a coping mechanism—a patchwork of murky recollection, wishful thinking, and delusion. He was a manifestation of a subconscious desire to have someone to talk to who made her feel safe, someone who knew who she was. She had Helo and Lee, to be sure, but in typical Kara fashion, she recoiled from that option and lost her nerve. I think—I hope—confiding in others is the next step. But she did work her way to some realizations on her own, and that’s a good thing. Moreover, I think all these revelations are driving the story to come.

The Truth of the Opera House

The theme of music has surfaced at prominent moments. The song awoke the Cylons on Galactica and that also coincided with her return. Leoben said that Kara was one of the few who could hear the “unstruck music” that vibrates in them all. Hera, the special child who is at the center of all the prophecies and visions, wrote it out for her right before she was taken; Ellen noted that Hera was plugged into something that’s manipulating all of them. This song is important, somehow, to the force that’s orchestrating these events. Kara didn’t just need to figure out who she was; she needed to remember that song, and she needed to remember it now.

The theme of music at last intersects with the visions that have been haunting the others for so long—I think it’s no coincidence that her father’s recording was “Live at the Helice Opera House.”* And that’s what it is, this space between life and death: a stage where people play out their parts, and a place to make music.

“Life has a melody, Gaius. A rhythm of notes that become your existence once played in harmony with God’s plan.” The angel Six told him that in the very first appearance in the Opera House in KLG II. This idea resurfaced even more recently:

Gaius: It seems that God has chosen me to, uh, sing his song.
Tory: A song?
Gaius: Music? Did you say music?
Tory: No.
Gaius: Yeah, you know, it's funny—it's a lot like that. It's like the distant chaos of an orchestra tuning up, and then somebody waves a magic wand. And all of those notes start to slide into place. A grotesque, screeching cacophony becomes a single melody.

Kara’s realization, Hera’s kidnapping, Laura’s collapse—my bet is they’re all leading up to this: the final confrontation with Cavil’s forces and the truth of all those visions in the Opera House. The music has marked great moments of transition. The first time we heard the song, the Five awoke, and Kara returned. The second time we heard it, the Cylons were drawn to her Viper that led them to Earth. When she struck those notes on the keyboard this time, I could feel everything about to change. It was a signal: the end is coming. The dying leader has fallen. The song is weaving together. Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines.

Final notes on the song

I hadn’t put much thought into puzzling over “All Along the Watchtower” before, though pellucid pointed out that the lyrics were based on a passage in Isaiah about the destruction of a civilization, which is very neat. Writing my cracky story made a few lines stand out to me, though: “There must be some way out of here” and “This is not our fate.” Can they break the cycle of time? Can they break out of this endless repetition of conflict and destruction?

I like the thread of mythology running through this show, but in the end, I’m with Lee Adama. I like free will. I want choice. Unity can be a different way forward. All this has happened before, but I hope it doesn’t have to happen again.

*“Helice” I assume comes from the Greek helix, which means “spiral.” More hints about the cycle of time? (And YES, I'm still holding out for a musical)

If anyone wants to get myth crazy with me, please chime in. What do you think it all means? I’m curious!
Tags: bsg, kara, s4.5

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