The harrowing stories of a troubled young officer named Kendra Shaw cast light on the show's past, present, and, maybe, future

Credit: Carole Segal

Battlestar Galactica: Razor

  • TV Show
  • USA Network

Special ”Battlestar Galactica: Razor” recap

Man, it has been too long since we got together like this, to talk about last night’s Battlestar Galactica. And I’ve missed you. Really. Okay, maybe the last time we spoke, things were a little chilly. It was me, not you. But here we are, with the only new Galactica we’re likely to get for a long, long while. Good thing it was awesome.

The battlestar Pegasus is a ghost ship, haunted by the mistakes of the past. Her first commander, Admiral Helena Cain (Michelle Forbes), was a stern taskmaster, forced by circumstances to make decisions as she saw fit, decisions that are judged by the Galactica crew (and, by extension, us) to have been disasters. Then came Commander Fisk (Graham Beckel), her executive officer, who let greed pull the shining battlestar further into the muck. And then Commander Garner (William Heard), an engineer who, seeing the machine but not the men, couldn’t right the ship.

Razor follows two stories, both of which revolve around a young Pegasus officer named Kendra Shaw: Admiral Cain’s experiences during, and following, the Cylon attack on the colonies, and newly minted commander Lee Adama’s first mission at Pegasus‘ helm. (There’s also a mini-detour further back in time to peep at Bill Adama’s first mission as a Viper pilot.)

And we pick up Razor as Lee Adama takes command of the Pegasus. He says to his new crew, ”We can’t always choose our circumstances, but we can choose how we handle them.” As if these people hadn’t already learned that lesson the hard way. We can see the price they’ve paid on Kendra Shaw’s (easy on the eyes) face, as she stands in front of her new commanding officer. She’s worn, beaten — and not just a little bit high — and surprised by Lee’s offer of a promotion to XO. Especially after her priceless ”Your daddy just gave you a battlestar” line. If Lee’s learned one thing under his father’s command, it’s that you need to have someone willing to tell truth to power.

Scorpion Fleet Shipyards, 10 months ago. A scene we’ve seen in almost every space opera since classic Trek: the officer getting his/her first look at a new commission.

So many little character touches. The introduction of Cain’s executive officer, Colonel Belzen, as a man with a wife and kids — a family that knows Cain well enough to want to see her on shore leave. It only makes it that much more devastating when she shoots that XO in the dome for not following an order. Just after he tells her, ”Once in a while, it’s okay to get off the treadmill,” she starts to run even faster, a tacit rebuttal of that very concept, that it’s okay to ever relax when you’re in command.

A Cylon as a network administrator. Fitting, considering they would use those very networks to cripple the fleet. Gina’s last name, Envierre, means ”resurrection.” Again, those little throwaway things. God, as they say, is in the details.

So, that’s what the Cylon attack looked like. There are times, and this is one of them, that I’m amazed at what BSG‘s effects dudes (and dudettes) can pull off. To not only render the scope of this all-out attack on the shipyards — complete with Raider carpet-bombings — but to do it in a faux hand-held style — man, that’s tough.

Say what you will about Cain, she’s good in a crisis. Her choice to order a blind FTL jump underlines the idea that, sometimes, what matters is not that you made the right decision, it’s that you made any decision at all. If the choice falls between certain death and possible death…well, that’s not much of a choice, is it?

Okay, now we’re back in the ”present.” (You’ll have to forgive these blunt little way markers; there’s so much temporal shifting in these two hours that keeping it all straight requires some bluntness.) Adama gives Lee his first mission: a search-and-rescue operation, looking for some missing scientists. (Before we get any further, I just want to take a moment to say how refreshing it is to see Edward James Olmos again. After a fall TV season full of man-boys — Reaper, Chuck, The Big Bang Theory — it’s nice to see a real solid hunk of maturity again. Sometimes, I just wanna hug him.)

(Too much with that last bit there? I get that. Sorry.)

Back in the ”past,” we learn the defining ethos that separates Cain from Adama. She tells Shaw, ”Hold on to that anger, and you keep it close. It’ll stop you being afraid the next time, and it’ll tell you what to do.” The mark of Cain is anger. The mark of Adama? Duty. When push came to shove, Cain gave free rein to her anger and lashed out, while Adama circled the wagons. (It also helped that Adama — and he admits as much — had President Roslin perched on his shoulder.) ”War is our imperative…payback.”

(And I’m not gonna mention the purportedly rousing but actually pretty cheesy ”So say we all” rally. No, sir.)

And when Cain dropped her anger, just for a moment, to find solace in the arms of Gina Six, Gina’s treachery only encouraged Cain to wear her anger as a shield, to wield it as a weapon. Alas, I’m getting a little ahead of myself. If it wasn’t clear before, it seems the Six model was created for the express purpose of seduction. (Six is, after all, just one vowel away from sex.) Caprica Six seduced the secrets right out of Gaius Baltar, and Gina Six made with the hot love to get in good with Cain and, by extension, her crew, allowing her to get the access codes (to somethingorother) from Shaw.

NEXT: Classic ’70s Cylons attack!

”Present”: Holy crap! Classic Cylon raiders. You know, from the ’70s show. Bearing down on Starbuck and Pegasus. Just when you think that BSG has left the past behind, out come those same shiny rocket plates that Richard Hatch and Dirk Benedict did battle with. ”By your command,” indeed. And I love that Starbuck is faced with an officer who’s as crazy-reckless-brilliant as she is. And Kara doesn’t know what to do with that. I got the feeling watching Razor that Shaw is exactly what Starbuck would’ve become without Adama’s guiding hand — and Starbuck sees that, and it scares her a little.

”Past”: And here’s that moment we heard about, back when Tigh and Fisk were sharing an officer-to-officer drink-up in the Pegasus two-parter: Cain shooting her own XO for failing to follow an order. The scariest thing? I’m sure that Cain is everything they teach commanding officers to be in, er, commanding-officer school. Just without the temperance that life teaches you. And if she ever had a touch of that, it was burned out the minute Shaw revealed Gina Six to, indeed, be a Cylon.

”Way past” (and, yes, I know this is getting confusing): On the mention of a Cylon hybrid — the missing link between machine and organic being — Adama flashes back to a mission during the first Cylon War. And damned if the guy they got to play young Adama, Nico Cortez, doesn’t look more like Olmos than his own son, Bodie (who plays Hotdog, one of Galactica‘s Viper jocks). Young Bill Adama stumbles onto what looks like the set for a direct-to-DVD Hellraiser sequel. Blood, viscera, and distended body parts everywhere. Truth to be told, this stuff was my least favorite segment of Razor. While it’s kinda neat to see ”Husker” on his first mission, it doesn’t really add anything to the story. That material actually plays much better as stand-alone webisodes, à la ”Resistence.” And that’s all I’m gonna say about that.

”Present”: Didja ever find yourself working on a project or something, one you knew you could do perfectly well, and your father was hovering over you — not actively undermining you, but taking you off your game with his very presence? (Yeah, I just revealed a little too much there.) But that’s how Lee must’ve felt when dear old Dad transferred ”his flag” over to Pegasus for the mission to rescue their lost crewmen from this Cylon hybrid.

”Past”: Torturing Gina. The fact that we now know the events leading up to the Cylon’s debasement doesn’t justify it — but we understand the motivation behind it. (I actually typed ”her debasement” and then deleted it. A machine can’t be a ”her,” can it? Ah, the eternal Galactica debate rages on, if only in my head.) Cain wanted Gina to feel as crappy about herself as Cain did. Cain felt abused, and so must Gina. Doesn’t make it any easier to watch, though, knowing what’ll happen.

If, as Cain explained to her crew, war is their imperative, it makes perfect sense that the Pegasus would strip-mine that civilian fleet of everything worth having. And it makes sense that Shaw would become the instrument of that imperative — and the catalyst for that massacre — since she ”came of age” under Cain’s guidance. Again, doesn’t make it right, but I get it. And I get that shooting those innocent people would leave Shaw a husk of a woman, who could fill that void with either drugs or redemption. And drugs are easier.

I wanna take a moment to talk about Michelle Forbes, who rises to the task of transforming what could easily be a one-dimensional character into a woman you can empathize with, even just a little bit. The things she does are horrible. But she knows this. And she does them anyway, even if those actions cost her her soul. But she believes, and that belief is what allows us to pity her more than we hate her. And Forbes walks that tightrope like a ninja.

”Present”: The big rescue. Standard top-flight Galactica. Smart action, great effects (though part of me wanted the old Centurions to be dudes in suits, and not CG), requisite moral quandaries. (Should Lee nuke the basestar? Who will stay behind to set off the bomb?) Of course, you knew that Starbuck wasn’t gonna buy it, not here. That’s the only problem with this episode: that you basically knew that Shaw wasn’t going to make it back alive, since we never saw her before. So once that crossroads appeared on the horizon, you knew who was gonna stay behind.

Meeting the Hybrid 1.0 was cool, though. Cryptic. Serene. Dropping that ominous hint about Kara Thrace — that ”she will lead the human race to its end….She is the herald of the apocalypse” — which will echo clear through to the upcoming fourth season.

All in all, Razor was pretty much everything you could ask for — provided you didn’t ask for it to further the ongoing story lines. But as a stand-alone adventure, it satisfied the hunger that so many of us have had for Galactica — good Galactica — since midway through last season.

Now, if only the wait for next season didn’t feel so interminable…

What do you think? Was Kendra Shaw’s story a tragic or a heroic one? Can one find redemption for actions so horrific? Was the Cylon hybrid telling the truth about Kara, or is it another Cylon trick?

Battlestar Galactica: Razor

  • TV Show
  • USA Network