Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Daybreak Part One Reviewed

The reviews for Daybreak Part One, the first part of the series finale, were decidedly mixed:

Jevon Phillips, The Los Angeles Times:

The flashbacks were nice on "Battlestar Galactica" -- anything to satisfy the fans' insatiable desire for more backstory about their favorite characters -- but I was worried. Then right when I was about to go a bit crazy, like Laura-Roslin-in-the-fountain crazy, we were shifted back to present time in the there and then.

Not at all saying that they weren't great scenes. Roslin throwing her sister a baby shower, only to wake up later to have police inform her that her father, little sister and pregnant sister were killed by a drunk driver. Her reaction was silent, internal, touching, symbolic and brave all in one action. But, and don't get mad, we know who Roslin is, and after three seasons we may not have needed to see what helped shape her in this, the second to last episode.

...This episode was a tease. An angry, unnecessary tease setting up what will be the ultimate battle. It's hard to criticize a show that is about the be over, but this episode strung us along with bits and pieces of a past that may or may not matter in the grand scheme. Did it offer us more insight into the characters? Sure. It showed how the characters dealt with adversity when not faced with the pressures of deep space or having the lives of thousands in their hands. And ultimately, which side of the deck they would step on. Did it advance the overall plot? Of course, but not much, and not enough when facing the end of such a great and revered series.

Tim Goodman, San Francisco Chronicle:
An accurate reading of whether "Daybreak" Pt. 1" was an effective or exceptional episode probably can't be judged, in all fairness, until the 2-hour finale of "Daybreak Pt. 2." What it was, for the most part, was a place holder for the last episode. It was part flashback to their pre-Galactica lives (interesting more than revealing), part planting of strange threads (sorry, I didn't get the Lee vs. the pigeons thing at all...and the one-hour mission Adama is told he has to do is, I'm just guessing, his ceremonial task of taking the Old Girl Galactica out of service...but it could be something else, yes?) and lastly set-up for the finale. Put the tape down the middle. Divide onto either side. You're with me, Adama says, in what could be a suicide mission as we seek out Hera and confront Cavil or you're not. The end.

...I saw two interesting strands in this episode - two decisions by two men, one unexpected, the other completely expected (though the previews may have given away something here). First, there should be some discussion about Adama's about face, right? I'll leave it for you to go on at length if you will. But here's a man who was packing boxes for the base ship and then decided - rather hastily and unlike him (unless he's been knocking back the booze) - to get after Hera. So, he sees the picture on the wall and then walks away, stops, considers it for a few stark moments and thinks, "Let's do this thing!" Hmmmm. Given that he has to ask Starbuck about her destiny bit and to plug in Sam, this is Adama doing things that seem to either conveniently fuel the end of the story (and nobody hates characters stepping out of character to service the plot more than I do), or it could arguably be the actions of a decisive, control-freak who has had both of those traits stripped from him recently. And this brings us back to acting on present moment impulses. Would Adama normally do this? Doubtful. Would the Adama in that moment - his two loves dying (one stripped for parts), his world in disarray (joining the Cylons, having Tigh be a Cylon, etc.) - would that Adama go for broke? Sure he would.

So I liked that. Seeing a character evolve, even if it's out of desperation or ill-advised. Adama did something unexpected.

Again, not an episode to draw many conclusion. It's a place holder. What else would you like to get into - Zack Adama in the flesh?, that look in Boomer's eye that says she's just about to take things into her own hands, Sam finding perfection while plugged in (again, this goes to having the characters end up in a place that's satisfying for them). Roslin's family wiped out? What the water means? There were a few morsels to be savored while we wait, tapping our feet until the 2-hour finale.

Todd VanDerWerff, The House Next Door:
Over my years of reviewing Battlestar Galactica for The House Next Door, I’ve found that the hardest episodes to write about with any authority are “Part 1” episodes. Generally, these are setup episodes where the payoff is uncertain. They tend to invite speculation rather than analysis, and it’s hard to see, exactly, where they’re going (or, at least, it SHOULD be hard to see that). So if “Part 1” episodes are hard to analyze already, then the first part of the EPIC, THREE-HOUR SERIES FINALE is probably going to be REALLY hard to analyze. So this might end up being a little short because, as much as I loved “Daybreak, Part 1,” written by series mastermind Ronald D. Moore and directed by series directorial head Michael Rymer, it’s still just the beginning of a story that will lead to the End of All Things Galactica, and that’s a little sad. So let’s talk about other things!

It may seem improbable, perhaps, that after a full half-season of setup, the first hour of the finale was even more setup, but I think this setup was slightly different from, say, last week’s setup, which was all about putting everyone’s emotions in play against each other in the face of having to leave the Galactica. While there’s a lot of emotional setup here (why else did we get Baltar’s (James Callis) arc replicated in miniature?), “Daybreak, Part 1” goes in more for reconceptualizing the show as a sort of character-driven epic, grand in scope, but intimate in detail. The series has flirted with this over the years, but it has rarely done anything as all-in as the flashbacks to life on Caprica before the Cylons killed all of humanity. Some of these were clearly setups for bigger payoffs to come next week (particularly the story of Adama’s (Edward James Olmos) one-hour obligation and Lee (Jamie Bamber) drunkenly chasing a pigeon around his house). Some were just designed to remind us of the character’s journeys, such as seeing Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) smiling and goofy and very much in love with the long-dead Zack Adama. And some commented on the episode’s main plot obliquely—if Roslin (Mary McDonnell) could pick herself up before, then she could do so again, one last time, for the man and fleet she loved. Did we really NEED to see all of this stuff? Of course not (even if seeing Anders (Michael Trucco) hanging out in the hot tub was cheekily amusing). But all of it serves to remind us of who these people are, of the years we’ve spent following them and the peace and happiness we hope is waiting for them just around the corner but suspect cannot be.

All along, I and other reviewers of the show have been saying that the big answers that are still floating around out there in the ether (like, say, the nature of the head characters) will likely come somewhere in the finale, but with only 90 minutes of this series proper left, it’s starting to seem distinctly unlikely that every little stone will be overturned to expose everything hiding beneath. This may seem to contradict some of what I’ve said before, but “Daybreak, Part 1” convinced me that I don’t terribly CARE if I get answers to every question. If Battlestar ends with a Sopranos-esque ellipsis, that might feel insubstantial, since the series has always been much more about definitive punctuation marks than The Sopranos ever was, but outside of a handful of things (I’m still dying to know the nature of Starbuck), I more want to see a solid end to the stories for these characters than I want to find out what the Cylon plan was all along or what’s up with the opera house. I want to see Roslin come to peace with her death. I want to see Adama pull off one last impossible military maneuver. I want to see Starbuck smile again....

Alan Sepinwall:
"Daybreak, Part One" felt very much like the first part of "Exodus": Adama preparing for what seems like another suicide mission against the Cylons, lots of set-up for the big confrontation, but all the real action saved for the conclusion. And if "Daybreak, Part Two" is even half as good as the corresponding chapter of "Exodus," then the series will be going out on an awfully high note.

But beyond moving pieces to their proper places on the board, the first part of "Daybreak" also takes the series back to its roots. With Ron Moore on script and Michael Rymer in the director's chair -- as they were together for the miniseries and as they haven't been since the first half of "Lay Down Your Burdens" -- it feels right that we open up with an extended look back on what most of our major characters (plus Anders) were up to in the months (and in some cases, years) leading up to the Cylon genocide.

There are still more blanks to be filled in -- What one-hour meeting was Adama so reluctant to go to? Is Lee drunk because Zak just died? Did Caprica Six really put Baltar's father Julius in the retirement community, or did she ease his pain the way she did the baby in the miniseries? -- but what tied all the stories together (except for Anders, but we'll get back to him) was the way they showed or hinted at our characters suffering devastating losses long before the nukes started flying over Caprica City. Zak Adama died in a Viper crash. Laura Roslin's family was wiped out by a drunk driver. Baltar had to care for an ailing father he openly despised (and vice versa).

...Why are so many people (including Doc Cottle, who has to be sent back for the good of the fleet) willing to join Bill on this foolish quest? Why, for that matter, is Bill willing to do it? This isn't like the New Caprica arc, where most of the galaxy's remaining humans were trapped down on that planet; this is one girl, and even though Ellen and the rebel Cylons talk about how important she is in the grand scheme of things, why would so many humans with practical survival concerns put themselves at risk for her?

I think the impending demise of the ship itself has everybody spooked, and contemplating, as Head Six suggests, that "The end times are approaching." They've been running for four years and almost nothing good has happened. Their supplies are dwindling, they're not making babies as fast as adults are dying off, Earth was frakked, and now the fleet's longtime protector is falling apart? I can see how that might put people in a less careful frame of mind, and/or how it might convince them that saving the Cylon/human hybrid is the only mission left worth completing.

Annalee Newitz, io9:
I won't mince words: There was something disappointing about Daybreak. The pacing was choppy, and the narrative choices it made - delving into Baltar and Starbuck's last days before the nuclear holocaust - seemed an odd place to go as the series is coming to a close. Why go back to the past and fill in details about Baltar's relationship with his dad when we need to tie up all those loose ends with the human-cylon war, what's up with Hera, how the Fleet will find a planet, and the fate of Baltar's girl army (among other things)?

To be fair, it's hard to say whether the episode felt weak because it was the first hour of a three-hour story which will ultimately pay off. However I think it's reasonable to ask that the episode feel meaty on its own, and advance the story forward without showing us that Baltar's family relationships looked sort of like a sadder version of the show Frasier.

...I have nothing against flashbacks per se, nor these flashbacks specifically. But I did think it was a weird and probably wrong choice to bring them in at this point in the show's arc. I understand why showrunners Moore and Eick wanted to do it, because it helps give us an emotional context for the terrifying war that is sure to come this week. But we already have an emotional attachment to all these characters, and some last-minute backstory isn't going to change that.

What this episode left us with for the finale this week is a seemingly-impossible task: Filling every outstanding plothole, plus staging a dramatic singularity fight, all in two hours. Can it be done? Or will this series end not with a bang, but with a fail?

MaryAnn Johanson, FlickFilosopher:
Is someone dreaming of Caprica City “before the fall”? (That’s an interesting phrase: “before the fall.” Very biblical.) I mean, it seems like a dream, not a flashback, doesn’t it, the way it opens, all sort of impressionistic and, well, dreamlike.

Or it’s a Cylon projection? Someone has projected the whole thing, going who knows how far back? Back to the nebula? All the way back to Caprica City “before the fall,” or just at the fall?

I don’t really think we’ll end up with anything so clichéd as “it was all a dream.” But there’s something going on here

Is something making everyone dream about the past? Is it just the Galactica being torn apart that’s making everyone nostaglic?

...Drunk Lee trying to chase the bird out of his house, and doing more damage rather than leaving the poor confused thing alone... And did he maybe kill it? Is that what we’re meant to think?

Lee with the bird is going to be very important, I suspect.

This is not where I was expecting us to be in the final moments of this series -- nowhere near. In a thematic sense, I mean, or a spiritual sense. Everything is in such turmoil that we can’t even talk about things like, “Is it gonna turn out to be too late to save Hera?” It’s more like, “Can anybody be saved?”

Hera is going to be the little bird, I think, whatever happens...

Time Out Chicago:
So, basically we’re set up for the last stand of Galactica....Sadly, though, this episode didn’t have much in the way of its own free-standing plot; it served more as an introduction for the final she-bang, where we can hope all of our questions will finally be answered and everyone will live happily ever after. Well, okay, maybe not that last part.

Bryan Osborne, Groundlings Review:
In this week’s episode of Battlestar Galactica: Daybreak, part 1, I couldn’t help the feeling of dread from creeping over me. We have essentially 2 episodes left (technically a two hour finale, but I think of it more as part 2 and part 3) and they spend a major chunk of this episode in flashbacks to Caprica before the attack. The current storyline creeps forward very little. Frustrating. I will say however, that since I am expecting to be disappointed in the finale, I am secretly hopeful of being pleasantly surprised.

The Battlestar Galactica Review Blog:
The pace of the finale is surprisingly slow and methodical. A good portion of the episode is devoted to the message that we are coming full circle, and the characters are as well. Some have changed, some haven’t. But the real question, at least to the viewer, is why it pertains at all to the series finale. Is this important information? Or is this an attempt to be lyrical at the end? This is but the introductory hour of the final tale, so it’s hard to know what the purpose is.

...What is surprising is how much is still left to be resolved. Has there been any progress since “Someone to Watch Over Me”? We’re still no closer to the truth about Kara, her connection to the Final Five and Hera, and the meaning of “All Along the Watchtower”. There’s still an enormous suicide mission to conduct as well. One would think that this sets the stage for the end of Galactica itself (rather symbolic), but also for the end of the threat of Cavil’s faction of the Cylons.

Yet it’s premature to say that this hour is somehow wasted. It’s the beginning of a process, and there’s still two more hours to go before the picture is complete. It could be that the preliminaries are slow-paced to maximize the effect of the final events. Still, this is the endgame, so anything that hampers the ability to wrap things up is going to make fans nervous.

All of which amounts to the fact that Ron Moore and company could still stick the landing for this series, if they pull together the bulk of the dangling plot threads. (With the exception, of course, of what will be covered in “The Plan”.) But after the past two episodes, which did little to move the story forward, there’s still potential for disappointment.

Paste Magazine:
It may not have felt like it, but “Daybreak,” an episode equal parts excellent and disappointing, was the first half of Battlestar Galactica’s two-part series finale. At long last, questions will be answered! Skulls cracked! Revelation fulfilled! Well, not just yet.
The episode was, for the most part, padded out with flashbacks that wrapped up a few details and gave us some minor insight into the motivations of the characters.

...The endgame has begun; Galactica and her crew are quickly crossing the threshold of no return. And yet after all the build-up, the Colony rescue mission seems a little anticlimactic. Sure, we know that Hera is vaguely essential to the Humans’ and Cylons’ destiny, but is this really it? Will the colonists ever find a home, and will they make peace with the intractable Cavil? There hardly seems to be enough time to tie up every loose end, even with the two-hour finale next week.

The show’s writers have always been willing to let certain plot points dangle in the breeze (Head Baltar? The space-age era satellite Galactica found in Season 3?), and one can’t help but be left with the sinking feeling that too much is going to be left to a spin-off series or the rumored theatrical adaptation/sequel. The world of Battlestar Galactica is ending. Let’s hope it goes out with a bang, not a whimper.

Other reviews and recaps from: Screen Junkies, Sam J. Miller, Galactica Variants, Galactica Science, Brad Ideas, Patriot Resource, Battlestar Blog, TV Squad, Entertaiment Weekly, Buddy TV, Mania.com, and Boston Sci-FI Examiner.

Galactica Science has several interesting reports on the constellations seen in Daybreak, Boomer's Raptor, Galactica Science, along with Brad Ideas examine the size of The Colony. Michael Hall also offers some thoughts on affirmation of the consequent.


Craig Ranapia said...

OK, I'm going to get a bit radical here: How many blood vessels are you really going to burst if every "loose end" and "burning question" isn't neatly resolved at 11pm EST, Friday? If you're anything like me, the answer is: Surprisingly few.

Logan Gawain said...

I think mileage will vary for each viewer, depending what they want to understand.

As long as there is a good story, great writing, and compelling characters, and entertainment, that's generally good enough.

Anonymous said...


Mark Sonntag said...

I'm hoping for a resolution, but enough loose ends to allow for some future direct to DVD movies.

I liked the episode and as the title suggests DAYBREAK sounds like the end of a nightmare.

Can it be that the singularity will lead them back to Kobol? Are the notes that Hera keeps drawing some kind of genetic code? There are a lot of ideas apart from the obvious questions that need some resolution.

But I think ending it in a way that is not overly clear will be perfect.

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