Tuesday, October 19, 2010

By Your Command -- Part 10

"Retribution" (111)

There is a specific type of story centered upon a particular type of character arc that, while certainly not new, has seen a growing traction in recent years. From Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars to, at a far lesser – and significantly different – extent, Tony Soprano in The Sopranos, this is the story of Faust, of making a pact with the devil and living with its often disquieting ramifications. The best of these tales make these consequences very much palpable, felt by the audience and realized, on a gut level, by the protagonist (thereby kick-starting the process all over again). These are never easy moments; they are excoriating to watch and torturous to experience. They are, in essence, the character’s actions reverberated back to himself, a reflection in the mirror without the distortions of self-justification. That these moments also tend to be some of the best-conceived, if not also the best-written, scenes in cinematic history is by no means a coincidence.

Such is the case with Daniel Graystone’s dance with the devil by the pale moonlight. Daniel’s descent into the Ha’la’tha’s shadowy domain is not handled glibly, as was demonstrated last week by Joseph Adama’s magic button attached to an illusory bomb, and neither is it jingoistic, as “Retribution” clearly shows: the attempted seduction/blackmailing of the current board member and Daniel's former friend is messy and painful and not at all easy, and his suicide the following day exponentially compounds the situation. Graystone is selling his soul to regain his company and his life, to retain his pride and his ego, and it is an acutely, manifestly costly process.

It is a character arc rendered all the more potent by the simple fact of its repetition. This is by no means the first time Daniel has resorted to extra-legal and amoral methods to satiate his emotional demands, whether that be setting the mechanical chassis of his digital daughter on fire or (once again) employing the Ha’la’tha to steal and murder. And then there’s the greater echo to consider: Graystone coming face-to-face with the life-and-blood victims of his shrewd political calculations is very much reminiscent of newly inaugurated President Laura Roslin making the decision to abandon a goodly portion of the ragtag fleet, including little Cami, behind to be slaughtered by the quickly approaching Cylons. The latter scene, of course, was predicated upon the existence and continuation of the greater good, whereas the former is very much a self-serving and -pleasing motive, but there is an ultimate commonality in personality and corruption; Roslin, after all, ended up being an executive contorted by as many utilitarian justifications and unconstitutional maneuverings as George W. Bush. That level of ethical violation is no easy feat, and it is territory that Daniel is already well acquainted with. If Ron Moore and Dave Eick wanted to establish from the very beginning the motives and ontological, pathological characteristics that would ultimately result in the Fall of the Twelve Colonies, they have certainly succeeded.

The only question is: where does Daniel – and the two exec producers – go from here? Does he continue his rocketing plummet into the valley of evil, fearing no shadow of death due to his technological prowess? Or is there an eventual, albeit fruitless, attempt at climbing up the valley’s far side to reach salvation and attain redemption? It will be an interesting path to watch as Caprica inches more and more closely to the two Cylon Wars.

* * * * *

What. A. Damn. Shame.

As mentioned previously, Barnabas Greeley is – was – one of the series’s single most interesting characters, not only for his zeal in an universe filled with (usually displaced and misappropriated) passions, but also for his lack of definition. He was, in fact, more a force of nature than a personality, more a caricature than a character, and now that he is dead, the odds are that he will remain that way, a (intriguing and alluring) stereotype, Caprica’s equivalent of Babylon 5’s raiders: convenient, one-dimensional baddies that act more as plot filler than narrative building block.

But he may not necessarily stay permanently damned. There are a plethora of opportunities to resurrect – and, thereby, reconstitute – him, most namely by literally resurrecting him via Zoe’s “apotheosis” program (how ironic would it be to see Barnabas become the living embodiment [no pun intended] of Sister Clarice’s all-consuming theological vision?). There is also the disembodied route, one of BSG’s most well entrenched, whether it be an apparition-like haunting, such as Amanda Graystone’s brother, or a divine “angel,” variations of which have visited the likes of Gaius Baltar, Caprica Six, Kara Thrace, and two of the Final Five Cylons.

There are, of course, other options, as well. The writers can decide to revisit Barnabas in subsequent episodes or story arcs, exhuming his figurative remains in a metaphorical excavation; or, more remote yet, there is the old melodramatic-plot-twist trap door, in which – surprise! – the dissident terrorist managed to escape his impending death at the last minute to wreak his wrathful revenge a different day. (There is actually a fair amount of evidence to support this particular hypothesis: not only was Barnabas not shown at the moment of detonation, the writing staff has shown at least an inclination in pursuing the more soap opera-esque spin – Amanda’s ghostly brother, after all, was originally to have been an elaborate, not to mention contrived, staging by give-‘em-hell Tomas Vergis.)

Of course, it just simply could be that Moore and Eick have absolutely no intention of revisiting or deepening Barnabas’s character at all. Given similar missteps throughout Battlestar’s tenure, this is a very sad – and very likely – outcome.

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