Sunday, January 18, 2009

Post Traumatic BSG Depression

One of the greatest achievements of Battlestar Galactica is that before every new episode I forget how horribly horribly sad the show always is.

In anticipation of the final half-season's premiere, my thoughts were like most fans'; is Earth completely uninhabitable? What are they going to do now? Who is the final cylon? Will Starbuck and Apollo get it on finally? Do the rules of Pyramid-ball make any sense? Where do they keep finding all that ambrosia?

Foolishly I did not consider the requisite depression and defeat that finding a nuked Earth would cause, nor the inevitable pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps breakdown-and-rally the characters would have to endure. How many times must we see a drunken despairing Adama turn back into the able Admiral after a good shave? How much trauma must they put Gaeta through before he snaps and goes homicidal?

Even the cheery President Rosalyn, whose terminal cancer is entering its 6th year, cries and quits and burns her beloved Bible--er, I mean the prophesies of Pythia or sacred scrolls or whatever. Managing somehow to avoid the cheese factor, they give us a long close-up of her spiritual immolation while she cries "Burn, burn!" like a galactic Lady Macbeth. It's really very hard to watch, like most BSG scenes when I think about it.

But every time I forget to expect it. The premiere opens with the lovely benign beauty of Dualla, a woefully underused character in the later seasons, going through the same stages of massive grief as everyone else, if not a little more intensely. However she gets a few strange scenes as she features more prominently than she has in years, including trance-like facial expressions and repetitions of biblical passages and songs. Early on, tipped off by this enhanced exposure and her unexplained blank stare in the raptor, I began to suspect her as the final cylon.

And it is my belief that she began to suspect the same thing. After helping Lee find his strength (again) she rides the wave of nostalgia and affection, babysitting the innocent untouched Hera and having a night of drinks and laughter celebrating Lee's inspiring message to the fleet. When she spoke calmly to Lee in the flight room, and the door closed on her and Hera alone, I felt ominous foreboding chills as I questioned her thought process and intentions. When she laughed with her hair down and kissed Lee at the end of the night, that was gone, replaced with a rare sliver of joy. "You're glowing," Gaeta tells her the next morning as she dresses and sings, not unlike the glow Tory emanated once she discovered her true nature as a cylon. She tells Gaeta she wants to hold on to this feeling for as long as she can, and then shoots herself in the head once he leaves the room.

I believe the thought of suicide entered her mind when she found the jacks on the radioactive beach of Earth, and the idea that she was a cylon occurred to her on the raptor. Questioning the nature of her own existence was not a final-cylon plot line, but instead a rationalization for her to kill herself which would violate her religious beliefs as well as hurt those that she loved. She knew what she was going to do for most of the episode, with a resigned almost noble determination, she set Lee back on his path and truly enjoyed her final hours of life.

But it was horribly, horribly tragic and difficult to watch. It made Adama sink deeper into his pity (and explore the same out she took with a gun to the head) and it didn't sound real when the news was relayed to Starbuck. Not to mention Dee is gone forever (which equals nine episodes) and her voice will not be heard by the pilots over the wireless telling them to "Come on home." That, perhaps, will be the most poignant--the loss of her familiar voice in the big black vastness of hostile space.

Why I continue to be shocked and surprised by the non-sugarcoated depth of tragedy the writers inflict on their beloved characters, I do not know. Perhaps it is the action, the fights and explosions and effects and teasers, the hype and spoilers and impending finality. But from its very start this show has been more of a drama than Six Feet Under was on its saddest day, and I will endeavor to keep that in mind as the last episodes unfold.

If the characters truly get what they deserve at the end of their journey, there will be life and joy as we say goodbye. But I wouldn't bet on it.

RIP Anastasia Dualla

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