on November 20, 2007
Razor itself is an episode that serves both as a prequel of what happened to the Pegasus from the attack on the shipyards to her meeting with Galactica through the viewpoint of a new character, Kendra Shaw (and a recap of everything leading up to Lee's command), as well as back story from the first Cylon War told through the viewpoint of a young Bill "Husker" Adama. All of these events serve to foreshadow a surprising revelation at the end that should tie in the cliffhanger of Season 3 with the beginning of Season 4. All of the story lines going on at once work surprisingly well together, though I found myself wincing that none of this had been referenced in the main series for the most part.
Was it worth watching? Oh yes. If nothing else this will tide you over as well as make you anticipate Season 4 even more. I was worried I'd be 'out of it' with such a long delay, but the twist at the end of this DVD makes you wonder what is really going on as Season 4 starts.
Second: The Extras.
Some of these I felt like I had seen, or at least experienced through Moore's podcasts. They basically dealt with the special effects of Battlestar Galactica, with discussions on where they got the look, the camera work, and other things anyone familiar with the series has probably heard by now.
The Webisodes/Minisodes deal specifically with young Bill "Husker" Adama and fill in more of what happened during to and prior to his place in Razor. This was enjoyable, though short, and showed the final battle of the first Cylon War, and the genesis of his dislike for the toasters.
The Deleted Scenes make for a very good backstory of Bill and Lee, and show when Lee first transferred into flight school, and his crossing paths with Kendra albeit briefly.
In all, if you have $20.00 to spare, this entry into the Battlestar series is worth it, though I hesitate to spoil anything about it beyond a general synopsis of the content. I was unsure what they were going for prior to watching, but I have to say that it fills in a lot of the gaps in the story, and ties quite a few things together. No small feat.
"Razor" is a satisfying addition to Battlestar Galactica in what is more a couple extra episodes from Season 2 than a standalone movie. 1 star off for a slightly plodding second plot line and a half star off for an incomplete set of extras on the DVD leaves 3.5 stars, which I round up to 4 stars for both getting to see more of Michelle Forbes as Admiral Cain and one DVD-only scene that gives hints about Season 4.
Razor combines past and present storylines of the Pegasus through focusing on a new character, Pegasus deck officer Kendra Shaw, and how her experiences in the past storyline transformed her into the unfeeling tool of the title that Cain believes is the ideal squared away leader. The past storyline is the better of the two, with the backfill of what happened to the Pegasus until it met up with Galactica providing some riveting scenes. While generally the best forty minutes of the show since Exodus II thanks to a couple of intriguing additions like the background of Gina and Cain, by only developing Fisk's drunken stories and largely neglecting character development outside of Shaw, the writers don't quite get this up to the superb quality of the rest of the Pegasus story arc.
The present storyline is less compelling, set in between "Captain's Hand" and "Lay Down Your Burdens" as Apollo runs his first mission as commander of the Pegasus with some help from his father and Starbuck. Once "Razor" begins focusing on this latter storyline in the second hour things begin to drag somewhat; on the commentary, Ron Moore explains that a good slug of the second plotline was his brainchild for the sake of continuity, and while probably easier to follow than the original script it feels somewhat like the padding it is.
Despite that, Razor is still fun stuff. The season 2 version of Starbuck is a lot more enjoyable to watch, and the interactions between Apollo, Shaw and her make one hope that the writers remember her importance for the final season. Another plus is Michelle Forbes' superb performance, which makes you wish they could somehow bring Cain back. This also has the best special effects of the entire series; having seen them in a theater as well as the DVD, they're just eyepopping. FX wiz Gary Hutzel got a real budget for once and Ron Moore admits that some of his CGI work actually drove parts of the plot rather than the reverse. Considering Moore once said the original Pegasus sets were limited to a corridor, a multi-purpose utility room, the CIC, and Cain's quarters, props to him and his effects guys for figuring out how to make things work around mostly those locations. The DVD is worth buying on this alone.
The majority of the new material is visually stunning but doesn't add much. The "favorite episode" feature reveals "33" as the choice of the wise, another brief feature reveals a bit about the production, Adama and Cain have "formulative experiences" during the first Cylon war (the former having already been shown in the webisodes), Shaw and Apollo have their own pre-war sequence, and Baltar and his dream Six make a brief appearance. None of this adds much to the characters or plot, and weirdly Moore and Taylor refer to some additional footage that didn't make it even into the deleted scenes category during a commentary that is good but essentially similar to the average podcast. Slightly disappointing.
However, what's truly compelling in the new material are the additional Cylon prophecies given to the hybrid, which both flesh that character out as more than "babbling" and provide some tantalizing insights into Season 4 well beyond the spoiler at the end of the movie. Taylor admits its inclusion may be a creation of the home video department, but it's the one must-watch bit of new material that makes the DVD worthwhile on its own. 4 stars.
on December 8, 2007
Just finished watching the entire DVD, 'extras' and all, and I was moderately impressed. It's not quite up to par with the best of the new Galactica (the Miniseries, '33', 'Home', 'Scar'), but it's a lot better than most of the terribly mediocre Season 3, which gives me hope.
Before I go on, let me say that the above point is important because Galactica has been in a downward quality spiral ever since they switched from 13 episode seasons to 20 episode seasons. As showrunner Ronald Moore said once, when you have so much less time, it's harder to make each episode special, and that's exactly what happened when the new production schedule started to catch up to Galactica late in Season 2.
Thus we had such memorably mediocre episodes as "Black Market" and "Sacrifice", and BSG fans started to wonder what the heck had happened, when such a great show had seemingly become so hit-or-miss from episode to episode.
Season 3 unfortunately confirmed our worst fears. BSG's creators worried that putting everyone on a planet (New Caprica) would be a leap too far, but really, the idea was fine. It was the EXECUTION of that idea that was lacking. Honestly, if it wasn't for the uber-cool way they got off New Caprica (burning Battlestars and such), it would have been a total wash.
Then we got a bunch of mostly filler episodes (anyone remember 'The Woman King'? Bad, huh?), and then, FINALLY, a good story arc in the middle of the season with the 'Eye of Jupiter' two-parter. Then back to bunch of mostly filler/bad episodes, until the courtroom season finale, which was a lot less cool and a lot more forced/contrived than we'd like to remember (Galactica REALLY needs to get away from the idea that one of the 'Big Three'- Apollo, Starbuck, Adama- has to be front and center in EVERY subplot. Apollo as a lawyer in a key trial is even more silly/out of place than Starbuck as a sniper/SWAT team member, as she has been at times. If you need a central marine character for some episodes, make one. New characters are good.
What's next, Adama elbowing Doc Codell aside to perform open-heart surgery? Yeesh.)
Then there was Starbuck coming back from the dead, which was great, except that we kinda all saw it coming, and we, sadly, didn't care that much when she died in the first place, because the character had been allowed to degenerate so much since her glory days in Seasons 1 and 2.
Whew! Sorry about all that, but it helps put my comments on 'Razor' into context.
For example, if you've had to suffer through the crappy, childish, unsympathetic dud of a Starbuck that was Season 3 Kara Thrace (and we all have), then watching 'Razor' will be a revelation. "Ohhh-hhh!", you'll go. "That's the OLD Kara, the one I actually LIKED! Why the FRAK did they stop writing her like that?!?".
There's also a certain increase in the passion and energy level in general. I dunno, it's hard to put one's finger on it, but watching most of Season 3, you get the feeling sometimes that everyone was sort of going through the motions... the writers, directors, producers, some of the actors, the crew, the entire food chain from top to bottom in general, not because they're bad at what they do (on the contrary, they're some of the best), but because they were being pushed along at an unreasonable pace, and just had to get the damn episode DONE.
For what it's worth, this was a huge problem on the original Battlestar Galactica as well, with, in some cases, actors having to read lines off of cue cards. I doubt things got quite THAT bad with the new series, but you can definitely feel the energy/sharpness difference between Season 3 and S1/early-mid S2.
Doesn't hurt that Michelle Forbes is back as Cain, and as good as ever. The backstory on her and her rationale for what she does and how she does it is important, as it was too easy to see Cain as simply an over-zealous nutjob before, in the Season 2 Pegasus two-parter (and I think it says a lot about Michelle Forbes' ability that we mostly DIDN'T dismiss her as such back then, even without backstory, but it was close).
You can actually understand why Kendra Shaw becomes her protege. Cain is strong, and there is no doubt, remorse, or second-guessing in her world. So when the Apocalypse hits and your entire civilization has been wiped out, who's more charismatic, and who are you more likely to follow... a strong, decisive leader, a 'razor', even if they have huge flaws; or someone who's merely human and let's you see it?
We'd all LIKE to believe that we'd still choose the latter, but I have my doubts. There are parallels to 9/11 and a certain President I could name.
Of course, if there is a flaw in 'Razor' (aside from the slightly confusing back-and-forth jumps in time between plotlines, as others have mentioned), it's that we aren't given quite backstory ENOUGH on Cain and the Pegasus' travails to fully come to see why she does some of the things she does. Her attack and pyrrhic victory over a Cylon base doesn't make much sense and needed a better explanation, as did her stripping of the civilian fleet for spare parts, food, fuel, and skilled personnel. Yeah, I suppose I can fill in the blanks on my own, but a couple of brief scenes along those lines would've made a big difference, and I sense I'm far from alone on this.
And it would've helped 'Razor' actually EARN it's ending, where Adama basically says if he had had to walk a mile in Cain's moccasins, perhaps he would've done the things she did. It's a nice try, but it doesn't quite ring true, for the reasons I mention above.
Another, though more minor, disappointment is that the extent of Cain and Gina's personal relationship is only touched on very briefly. There should've been at least one scene between the two of them as (no other way to put it) lovers, so that the extent of Gina's betrayal and Cain's horrifyingly brutal reaction would've had more power behind it.
I'm making it sound like I don't like 'Razor', but actually I do. It's great to see Kara and Cain chew up the scenery like there's no tomorrow, the special effects budget was given a BIG boost (and boy does it show), the return of the original series Cylon centurions and raiders was a nice touch, and there's just more energy, grittiness, passion, and sharpness all around. Plus, the guy they have playing young Bill Adama in one of the flashbacks positively NAILS the role! (hope we see more of Adama's past in Season 4).
In any case, THIS is the Galactica I've been missing since late Season 2, and if I'm pointing out weaknesses, its only out of frustration due to the fact that they were so CLOSE to knocking it out of the park on this one. This one's more like a solid ground-rule double.
In the end, 4 stars out of 5 (didn't help that the DVD extras were so skimpy). I'm really REALLY hoping Season 4 is five stars... Ronnie D, don't get distracted by your other projects, the show needs you to have a tight hand on the rudder for Galactica to truly go out with the bang it deserves.
So say we all.
I'm so glad that loyal "Battlestar Galactica" viewers like myself were able to get our BSG fix before the holidays! It's been a long time since the Season 3 cliffhanger left us all with our jaws on the floor, and even though the new season won't begin until March 2008, "Razor" gives us a lot to look forward to.
This extended episode/movie is not a continuation of the last season. Instead, it offers a glimpse of events that occurred off-camera several seasons ago, back when Admiral Helena Cain (Michelle Forbes) was in charge of the Pegasus following the initial cylon attack, and also when Lee Adama (Jamie Bamber) took over as commander of the ship many months later. There are two stories that interweave simultaneously and focus on Cain's motivations, as well as her interactions with young officer Kendra Shaw (Stephanie Jacobsen), who eventually becomes Lee's XO. Although Cain has generally been perceived by viewers as a ruthless you-know-what, "Razor" forces us to put ourselves in her shoes and think about how we would have acted if we'd been placed in similar situations.
There are some great moments in this movie, including an interesting revelation about Cain's personal life, a shocking appearance by the original cylons (I'm talking about the ones from the crappy 1970's series), and a cryptic message regarding Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) that never gets passed along, which can be interpreted in a variety of ways and is guaranteed to leave fans clamoring for Season 4 to begin.
"Razor" is yet another great chapter in the BSG saga. Watching it made me want to go back and watch every single "Battlestar Galactica" episode over again before the new season starts, just to guarantee that I get the most out of my BSG experience.
on May 10, 2008
This discussion is based on the extended version in the DVD and not the broadcast version.
WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW
I just watched Battlestar Galactica: Razor (the movie-length extra that chronologically fits between Series 3 and Series 4 of one of the best TV dramas of recent memory) a couple of nights ago. Wow. This was certainly one of the most intense peices of TV I've ever watched in my life.
The stellar performances of Michelle Forbes as Admiral Helena Cain and Stephanie Jacobsen as Major Kendra Shaw just have to be seen to be believed. Forbes brings charisma and a riveting coercion to her role while Jacobsen is utterly absorbing. One of the interesting aspects of both these characters is the way in which they are played so internally. You feel more than see a lot of the tensions that each woman experiences and this is a very hard act to pull off. The kind of micro-expressiveness you have to use in body language as well as facial expression only comes from being able to mentally inhabit the world of the character you are creating.
"Razor" kind of works as a standalone episode but is much more effective if you have seen Seasons 2 AND 3. It is structured in a much more intelligent way than most TV episodes, and in some ways is more like "Memento" or "Mulholland Drive" in it's use of flashbacks and multiple points of view.
Much has been made of the way in which the movie brings alive the back story to Admiral Cain, and the way in which the main protagonist, Major Shaw evolves through her relationship both actual and inspirational with Cain to become the Razor of the title: an instrument with neither feelings nor volition other than the will to carry out the mission.
The obvious subtext to the whole Pegasus/Cain story arc is the notion of Military Necessity and what it means. Helena Cain believes so thoroughly in the pre-eminence of her goals that she will sacrifice anything and anyone in order to follow her purpose through to the end. She articulates layers of "truth" with one explanation for the crew, and one for her command staff and finally the need for revenge that blinds her to everything else in its path (her escalation of the raid on the "relay station", her execution of her only real friend among the crew, her deliberate handing over of her lover to the interrogator).
Of course Cain's anger and venom towards Gina is amplified, not only by the notion that Gina was a Cylon agent, but that she (Cain) was also literally sleeping with the enemy: a double or triple betrayal given Cain's own personal history with the Cylons.
In fact, betrayal and conflict in many different forms lurks throughout the whole episode. The actual gunfights with the Cylons are easy by comparison with everything else and this I think is another reason why BSG as a whole is such a rich literary milieu.
It is of course, as the series from the very beginning has been, an extended exploration of the ethical and humanist consequences of the so-called war on terror and the military occupation of Iraq. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who watches those who watch?) in the words of Juvenal. Invoking Military Necessity, Cain shoots her XO through the head on the bridge of her own ship. Invoking Military Necessity she has her crew cannibalize, massacre and abandon civilian ships and their passengers and crew. Invoking Military Necessity she grinds her officers down until they become what she imagines herself to be: efficient tools in the prosecution of military objectives.
Kendra Shaw stands here for the modern junior career military officer (and by extension, the eyes of the viewer): intelligent, ambitious, a bit cynical, yet anxious to show her superiors she has what it takes. A product of wealth, she nonetheless believes in the military, and when her home is destroyed she makes the military her home and military people her emotional and professional center. Cain looms large on Kendra's horizon as the charismatic and successful mentor many of us have orbited hopefully in the beginning stages of our professional lives. Cain strives for achievement and uses a Prussian style of discipline to run her outfit. She lets her personal side show only in brief unguarded moments, and for the rest, she is all about the mission. But what are her default parameters? In the end, Cain has nothing to hold her in the world of human relations. She has duty, purpose and determination, but the center is filled with nothing but homicidal rage.
Can there be a more stunning indictment in modern popular culture of the dangers of excessive commitment to "the mission"? This dilemma lies at the heart of any military engaged in an occupation. Or indeed in anyone whose career significantly involves the prosecution of the interests of one's leaders. Modern military training has emphasized the notion that military personnel cannot indulge in the luxury of second-guessing the civilian leadership. "If they say go, we go". And while this is a good idea in theory, like all theoretical positions, it is capable of cynical manipulation especially by those in ultimate command.
Cain did what she did because she believed it was the best way to achieve her goals and for the survival of her crew (as long as they did what she told them to). Too often, we confuse a concern for the mission with a concern for the soldiers who carry it out. If you show caring for people in order to carry out the mission, do you care about them or are you more concerned with being able to continue to succeed militarily? The same quandary flitted across the mind of Henry V on the eve of Agincourt, and must inevitably haunt the minds of any leader of conscience. What and who do you sacrifice in order to carry out your goals?
In a way, Cain's decision to hand Gina over to the interrogators was the last act in her slide away from humanity. For not only was she encouraging torture (even of a "thing"), she was aiding and abetting the destruction of her own desire for love and companionship. As Adama argues at the end of the episode, it was the notion that he would be accountable to his own people that kept Adama from going down the same path as Admiral Cain. This sense that we are part of something for which we have a moral responsibility is what separates tools from people whether they be human or machine, us or them, "Americans" or "terrorists". Without that sense, we become slaves to the mission and in the process, as RDM and the cast and crew of "Razor" show us so brilliantly, we lose what it is that makes us people in the first place.