Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Reviews of The Oath

Todd VanDerWerff for The House Next Door reviews The Oath:

The first five minutes or so of “The Oath” were pretty good Battlestar Galactica, if a little on the on-the-nose side of things (as the show can be every so often). But then, oh, then, “The Oath” turned into the awesomest thing that ever walked the face of this Earth. It had its flaws, and I want to pick on them, but, man, oh man, Starbuck shot a guy in the head, and Baltar and Roslin had to work together to help quell a growing mutiny in the fleet, and Adama and Tigh had their very own version of the impossible last stand of so many siege movies, and the whole thing just rocketed along like a leftover script from Season One (when the series was most overtly an “action” show). I’d like to criticize the whole thing, but did you hear me? It was AWESOME!

Alan Sepinwall for the The Star-Ledger:
After two episodes of watching the characters despair over a never-ending onslaught of terrible news, "The Oath" finally sees some of them taking action over it. It was an hour that provoked as visceral a reaction -- dread, mostly, with occasional punctuations of "Hell yeah!" -- as any "Galactica" episode has in a while.

What made "The Oath," written by series vet Mark Verheiden (click here for his episode post-mortem interview with Mo Ryan) and directed by modern noir specialist John Dahl, provoke such strong feelings from me (and based on the impatient e-mails I've gotten asking for this review, everyone else) wasn't just the meticulous way they showed how Gaeta and Zarek pulled off the mutiny. It was how they showed, again and again, characters using the mutiny as an excuse to settle old scores, or, even worse, to let off all of the steam that's built up over this awful four-year journey.

MaryAnn Johanson, FlickFilosopher:
The thing is, I’m not sure who’s right and who’s wrong in all this. I’m not sure that anyone is wrong, actually. Gaeta, for one, was right in the thick of it when humans collaborated with Cylons on New Caprica. He saw how badly that went. He’s exactly the person to make sure that doesn’t happen again. It is pretty frakked up to see an alliance between humans and Cylons. I’m not sure I wouldn’t do the same thing in Gaeta’s place. I do think Gaeta’s intentions are honorable. I don’t think he’s looking for power for its own sake.

Zarek’s a piece of work, though. He’s using Gaeta and surely knows that he -- Zarek -- cannot lose by doing so. If the uprising succeeds, Zarek gets the credit; if it fails, Gaeta takes the fall. Gaeta is frakked no matter what happens.

Little moments were so startling here: Starbuck calls the CIC and Gaeta hangs up on her. Lee calls the CIC and Gaeta puts him off. I mean, of course Gaeta would have to do those things, but there’s something sort of shocking about how in control he can be from his perch at the switchboard. It’s as if Uhuru were leading a mutiny on the Enterprise. It almost sounds silly... until you see it in action, and you can’t believe how smoothly it seems to be working.

Watching this episode, I thought: This really is the best show on television at the moment, isn’t it? The writing is so tight yet so fluid. We know that Moore and Eick did not have all the details of the series’ big story planned out in advance, maybe didn’t even have the grand overarching story itself entirely figured out, but you’d hardly guess that from what we see in this episode, which feel like it’s all about huge bouquets of diverse tendrils finally coming together in ways no one could have foreseen. And maybe it’s because much of it was not planned that it works so well: because the characters’ actions and motives feel organic, and not forced. It makes the show a real pleasure to watch apart from my own involvement in the story and the characters: to see a supremely well-crafted show, and to hope that it will inspire other television, of any and all genres, to come up to meet the bar that BSG has raised so high.

Curt Holman, Creative Loafing:
For the show’s first seasons, Gaeta served as a reliable, rather mousy background character, so having him evolve into a fiery, ingenious mutineer has been a surprise, almost like seeing Radar O’Reilly turn into Fletcher Christian. The change doesn’t come from out of the blue, though: Seasons Three and Four have built up Gaeta’s motivations for such an act. I strongly recommend the recent, 10-part “webisode” “The Face of the Enemy,” which offered a “ticking clock” adventure aboard a stranded spaceship, along the lines of Apollo 13 or Marooned. In addition to answering some gossipy questions about Gaeta’s sexuality, “The Face of the Enemy” provides the character with so much backstory and motivation, it’s a direct prelude to “The Oath.”

Marc Bernardin in Entertainment Weekly:
One of my favorite episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation was called ''Brothers.'' In it, Data — urged by some nascent programming — single-handedly shuts out the rest of the crew and takes control of the Enterprise. He knew exactly how that ship functioned and what the response to his actions would be, and so he was able to parry any attack with a mere flick of his hand on a keypad. Felix Gaeta's mutiny reminded me of that: He knew who to approach for support, who needed to be taken out of the way, how to get Tom Zarek out of the brig and back to Colonial One, how to make what he and his team were doing sound like system glitches, and, most importantly, what to tell Adama to trigger the events that he wanted. It was a heist, really — the stealing of Galactica with her commander right there at the helm — and it was actually a beautiful thing to see.

IGN:
While all this certainly made for even more dark times onboard Galactica, this was actually a very thrilling and exciting episode, which functioned as more action-oriented than usual – especially once Starbuck got involved. Her shooting two men about to kill Lee was a moment worth cheering, and she and Lee them sneaking through the ship allowed for some great Die Hard type vibes, as they attempted to get to Roslin and Adama. Things are never simple with these characters of course, and there was plenty to chew on over how exhilarated Kara seemed to be in this life or death situation, kissing Lee and saying she felt like herself again, which isn't exactly all positive, as we saw how cold she can be, when she attempted to kill a man Adama and Tigh had taken prisoner.

Chris Amorosi, The Daily Collegian:
The genesis of both television show and historical era begins in a sneak attack, but in Battlestar Galactica – it is the liberal democracy that loses its war on terror.

One aspect I find fascinating in Battlestar Galactica is its exploration of the government and the military. The human civilization continues its legal traditions despite threats to civilization's very survival, thus setting up an examination of democracy under extreme stress. Much like today, decisions made by the government are in constant conflict with powerful interests, voting blocs and reason itself.

TV Squad:
This was an excellent episode. While the whole "coup d'état" storyline has been done before (if memory serves, the last one was lead by Bill Adama himself), this was done in with more grace and subtlety. The experience was very much like an Alfred Hitchcock movie. The audience knew exactly what was happening while the characters didn't. I was practically yelling at the screen "Gaeta is committing treason! Why haven't you figured it out?"

Tim Goodman, for the San Francisco Chronicle:
The mutiny on "Battlestar Galactica" continued in this episode and proved to be a pulse-pounding shocker. I know that some die hards are having trouble with things happening either too quickly or with too much exposition, but "The Oath" basically started with a bang and kept running with it. With Gaeta and Zarek leading the mutiny and more and more humans following their lead, pretty soon the ship is overrun and the chaos theory, as orchestrated by super weasley Gaeta, is in full motion. Once Adama and Tigh have been relieved of their command and marched to the brig, the only person standing in the way of this working without a glitch is...Starbuck. Already trying to sort out what she found on Earth and what it all might mean to her specifically (note: send that info along when you find out, Kara), she realizes the mutiny is at hand and does what we want her to do - grab some guns and start pulling the trigger with abandon.

Kelly West, Cinemablend:
Just when I’m thinking Lee’s about to get a bullet in his head (or whatever it is that comes out of those guns), the guy holding the gun is shot. He falls and Kara’s standing behind him, with her gun raised. She’s all, “Yeah, what?” and another one of Zarek’s guys says “Frak You”. Kara responds by giving him another one of her bullets. She offers the other people standing around with guns a taste but they decline, letting her and Lee escape. They run off and Kara gives Lee a kiss. She’s all charged up after her shooting spree.

Sarah Hughes, The Guardian:
Imagine a drama where dreams never come true; where the characters are real and venal and grasping and even those who wish to do good most frequently end up doing bad; where even the best intentions lead to disaster and long-held hopes of redemption fade a little more every week. Welcome to the world of Battlestar Galactica, America's most depressing television drama.

That's not to say that BSG isn't great. It is. It is dark and twisted and melancholy and frequently quite brilliant but it is also nearly impossible to get through without several strong drinks to numb the pain.

...Yes, the end result is depressing and harrowing and seemingly determined to show us humanity at its venal, self-serving worst but the key to BSG's brilliance is that it remains true to that vision, no matter how grim. And that's ultimately why America's most depressing show is also among its very best.

Sam J. Miller embraces the Gaeta Moment:
So… yes, please, Gaeta. Bring the pain. We’ve watched this world built up piece by piece, like a marvelous sand castle, and it’s silly to expect a resolution that leaves everything pretty and nice and happy. The big wave always comes.

“Batter my soul,” said the great english poet John Donne, in a poem addressed to God. Isn’t that the mark of true faith? To accept the ugly things fate sends our way? To willingly submit oneself to the whims and demands of an unseen authority, knowing that the spiritual and emotional satisfaction will far outweigh the pain of loss and submission? That’s how I feel when I watch BSG, and I don’t even believe in god(s).

Also, check out a roundtable discussion of The Oath from Tor and other observations from, The Los Angeles Times, TV Fodder, recaps of A Disquiet Follows My Soul and The Oath from the Houston Chronicle. John Kubicek, at BuddyTV asks, Should Gaeta Be Airlocked? and you can vote in a poll on that question.

And later this week, Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune hopes to have an interview with Michael Angeli, writer of the next episode, Blood on the Scales.

8 comments:

Ryan said...

Just thinking here - a lot of the blame for this mutiny should fall on Rosilin's shoulders, frankly. Her sleep-walking presidency (post-Earth) played a big role in letting unrest fester among the fleet.

It's fine that she wanted to step out of the Presidency after the shattering revelations about Earth. But if she really wanted out (and if she wanted to be honorable and accountable for her failures), she should have resigned the Presidency of the Colonies. Instead, she left a huge power vacuum that Gaeta and Zerek inexorably moved to fill.

It's a little hiccup in a great season. We'll see if they address Rosalin's culpability for this failure of leadership in the remaining few episodes...

Anonymous said...

@Ryan

It is one of the failures of the show that they rarely, if ever, show what's going on among the tens of thousands of others out there in the fleet ... and specific to Roslin, she's made nary an effort to get out among "the people" - she is my favorite character, but an elitist nonetheless

As with Revelations, nearly all reviews are overwhelmingly positive ... for counterpoint I offer this critical reveiw of The Oath:

http://galacticavariants.blogspot.com/2009/01/oath-review.html


-radii

Ryan said...

@radii

Yeah, that's been nagging me too, but I always gave them a pass because I figured it would probably be a huge drag on the plot arc--not to mention the budget--of the show to spend a real amount of time out and about in the Fleet.

I thought The Oath was a great episode, too. I make it a habit of cutting the show a good deal of slack, because it's so routinely awesome and groundbreaking.

(ps - realized I spelled "Roslin" wrong TWO different ways in my above post. Forgive me)

Athelstane said...

"It is one of the failures of the show that they rarely, if ever, show what's going on among the tens of thousands of others out there in the fleet ..."

I understand - but it is a defensible choice that Moore and the writers made. Remember: It's about the characters. The characters drive the story.

And you can't effectively have forty or fifty thousand characters. So that means most of the screen time is going to have to be devoted to those people you are building your story around.

And come to think of it, the few episodes which really have made a point of looking at goings-on in the rest of the fleet (i.e., "Black Market") have been more poorly received more often than not.

radii said...

With little expense (close-ups with simple sets or use of green screen) other vessel interiors could have been created ... we could have had Roslin doing an out-among-the-people leadership tour or some such, for example. Clearly it was a choice from the creative team to mostly ignore direct representations of the fleet and its people, but they missed an opportunity to provide depth to their overall story and for the audience to always sense the others and their desperation. Black Market, Sacrifice were two of the stand-alones the knucklehead suits at SciFi who greenlight Rock Monster demanded ... Zephyr gets its ring blasted apart at the nebula yet many episodes later it seems rebuilt ... with what resources and why? We see the agro ship again - during the food shortage of The Passage had its growing chambers been stripped bare? Are there crops again? It doesn't have any cracks in its clear domes after all this time? For all the credit the creative team gets for fashioning a satisfying and complex story they have been lazy at times and the aforementioned are examples. But with piano players and strip clubs to come I'm sure we'll have distraction enough.

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