Battlestar Galactica #90: Razor

"You make your choices, and you live with them. And in the end, you are those choices."
SO SAY WE ALL: The story of Kendra Shaw, who served under Cain on the Pegasus.

REVIEW: The story of the Pegasus is actually told through new events happening in the wake of Lee taking command of the ship, then through the memories of his new XO who was a member of Admiral Cain's inner circle (and then through flashbacks inside the flashbacks, from Adama's memories - repeated from that summer's minisodes - and Cain's). This is a good idea because it allows you to present it as a BSG episode and not a side-show, with your cast in addition to bringing back the people we met as part of Pegasus' crew, as well as being more than a rehash of things we KNOW must happen, à la Solo. The attack on the shipyards, Cain shooting her XO for not obeying orders, discovering Gina is a Cylon, stripping a civilian fleet for parts and key personnel... That HAD to happen and it wouldn't be very interesting to just see it unfold, even though those sequences are better than expected thanks to 1) great effects and 2) throwing unrevealed twists into the mix (and for the most part, these give a richer context for understanding older scenes. and might only slightly contradict accounts from previous episodes).

In Kendra Shaw, we find a junior version of Admiral Cain, a self-style "razor" who has closed herself off from empathy to get the job done, but who is necessarily haunted by past mistakes. Under Cain's successors, she was insubordinate, but they were terrible commanders. She's just showing good judgement, if not discipline. Under Lee, she's ruthless but competent, but still a slave to addiction, and the movie will slowly tease then reveal why she has that monkey on her back. Through her eyes, we meet Cain, a Cain who's not yet as battle-hardened, who can let her hair down with the crew, who dresses her down but then has a chuckle about it as if it were just her way of hazing new officers, who sheds a tear for casualties, who is even carrying on a relationship with someone aboard... So what makes this woman shoot a man in cold blood, order the torture and degradation of a prisoner, and resort to murderous piracy? The answer is two-fold. In a series of flashbacks to the last days of the First Cylon War (a mirror of Adama's, see our review of the Razor Flashbacks), we find Helena Cain a child who leaves her little sister behind during a Cylon attack. Though the Cylons leave just before she, herself, is shot, her sister is not spared, and so she hates them and what they represent, i.e. her own cowardice. The found foldable knife she was about to try and defend herself with in that moment has become a reminder, one that changes hands to Shaw, then to Starbuck (though it gets lost from there since Razor is a retcon). And then there's Gina, the Six who seduced Cain and who Shaw exposes as a Cylon. Suddenly, it's all much more personal (including Gina's murder of Cain, telling her she's not her type, etc.) and Cain's trauma is brought to the fore. She let her guard down, let someone in, and it was exactly the wrong person. From then on, she's even more of a razor. Shaw's motivations aren't as deep-seated, but stem from loyalty, Cain having groomed her and given her the opportunity to harden herself. This culminates in the massacre of civilians on the Scylla (as recounted by Fisk and of which Laird is one of the men press-ganged, as per previous episodes), in which Shaw was involved. More than involved, the flashbacks will eventually admit she was first to pull the trigger. Her self-loathing and death wish will cause her to sacrifice her life to complete her mission in the present-day time frame, a living weapon to the end.

Though it tells an exciting and revealing story, Razor's dramatic function is to underscore the contrast between Galactica and Pegasus. Pegasus' guiding principle is anger, and its actions are motivated by all-consuming revenge for the destruction of the Colonies. Cain goes forward even if it gets her men killed, even if she has to kill her own if they stand in the way of her accomplishing her military objectives. Her Cylon prisoner is mistreated in the extreme, yes to get information, but also as punishment for a personal betrayal. Cain kills a conscientious objector, making sure all conscience on the ship is squelshed. Pegasus is a razor, a weapon, and a weapon is made to kill and nothing else. Pegasus also has its "So say we all" moment, which is great, but it's about committing to bloody war. Galactica's guiding principle is hope, and its actions are instead motivated by humanity's salvation. Adama too as had to make tough choices. We've seen civilian massacres, and dissension in the ranks, and self-destructive behavior. But in the end, our heroes have chosen hope. Galactica's Cylon prisoner eventually integrated into the crew. One of its most notorious conscientious objectors has just been made commander of the Pegasus. Galactica has become a beacon of hope for what's left of humanity. Comparing Adama's and Cain's flashbacks is also interesting because while she ran and hates herself for it, he was a courageous action hero. Later, he would be the one seen "running", while she went on the offensive, reason be damned. Crucially, Adama does admit he might have gone the same route had he not had Roslin and Lee acting as his conscience and pushing him to do the more meaningful thing. We can believe that or not, but it's important to note that he didn't shoot his consciences in the head at the first sign of debate.

Even if we saw old school Cylons in the preceding minisodes, I have to say there's a certain thrill to seeing them in the current time frame too. The Guardians are a mythical (to Sharon at least) group of Centurions who weren't junked, but rather obey the commands of the First Hybrid, the first human-ish Cylon that, like the hybrids that operate the base stars, is a halfway link between machine and flesh, and has oracle-like powers. It's who communicated with Young Adama on the last day of the First War. This hybrid is male and talks like he is God, which puts the Cylons' monotheistic myth in a new perspective perhaps (though it doesn't explain the divine agents we call Head Six and Head Baltar), or is he an abomination even to the Cylon faith, a false prophet. Indeed, his warning to Kendra about Starbuck leading humanity to its extinction, while meant to whet one's appetite for the fourth and final season, seems like a lie in retrospect. The mission to destroy him and his Guardians is exciting with or without such revelations (or should I say Revelations?), with space battles, an ejection of a covert ops team from an exploding Raptor, and all the rest of it (which for most viewers, probably includes all the cool bits from the Razor Flashbacks minisodes).

CAPRICANADA: The sets for Cain's flashback were built in the Vancouver Fire Department training facility.

ALL THIS HAS HAPPENED BEFORE AND IT WILL HAPPEN AGAIN: Shaw using family connections to get an upwardly-mobile assignment on Pegasus connects to Adama's references to Cain having done the same to jump ahead to Admiral earlier than usual (so it's ironic or hypocritical that she dresses Kendra down for it). One of the ships in Pegasus's civilian fleet was clearly inspired by the Original Series's Rising Star.

HUMAN DEATH TOLL: 45,579 people remaining in the "present day" time frame sets Razor between The Captain's Hand and Lay Down Your Burdens, Part I, but does not acknowledge the deaths of the Raptor crew, DeSilva and Shaw. Razor's flashbacks are of course filled with death, with 723 dead on Pegasus (about a third of the crew) after the initial Cylon attack, 816 more after the battle at the relay station, and an unspecified number of people massacred on the Scylla.

VERSIONS: The flashbacks to young Bill Adama in the First Cylon War were originally broadcast as seven webisodes BEFORE Razor came out. Not part of the original Razor broadcast, the last 5 (minus the coda) have been integrated (or really, reintegrated) into the film for its DVD release. Cain's flashbacks are also a new inclusion. The unrated version has other extensions, including Head-Six telling Baltar God made humanity in his image and so Cylons wanted that image; there's more violent blood spatter when people get shot, especially when Belzen gets shot in the head; and the first hybrid monologues for longer and includes references that will only make sense late in Season 4. There are also deleted scenes: Before Lee goes to Galactica, he wonders if he's following his dream or his father's, and talks about it with a commissary clerk, the same commissary in which Shaw was waiting to be taken to Pegasus; and Starbuck, believing Shaw didn't shoot in the Scylla massacre admits she herself has innocent blood on her hands and has her own flashback about dissecting the attack on the Olympic Carrier with Lee, the guilt SHE carries.

REWATCHABILITY: High
- Telling Pegasus' story, which we already mostly knew, could have been a cool but unnecessary exercise. Instead, what we get is a late Season 2 story that improves our understanding of the world and the characters, packaged as an exciting action story that pays tribute to the classic series.

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