Battlestar Galactica: Razor slices into questions of duty and humanity
by Chris Neal
Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto didnâ’t believe that his country should go to war with the United States. He tried to dissuade the prime minister from taking what he saw as a suicidal course of action, but was overruled. So Yamamoto set about planning the bombing of Pearl Harbor, which took place 66 years ago this month. Yamamoto had grave misgivings about his actions, but, in the end, he accepted his role. As he wrote in a poem, â“I am still the sword of my Emperor/I will not be sheathed until I die.â” He was, in the parlance of the Battlestar Galactica stand-alone TV movie of the same name, a razor.
For the last four years, the canny creative minds behind the SciFi Channelâ’s re-imagined revival of the 1970s series have used the original showâ’s frameworkâ"the inhabitants of the planet Caprica are attacked by robots they created, forcing the population to seek the mythical home world of Earthâ"to forcefully examine current events on the actual Earth. Sept. 11, the Iraq war, Abu Ghraib, abortion, religious fundamentalism (Galactica may be the only drama on TV whose nominal hero, Edward James Olmosâ’ Admiral William Adama, is an avowed atheist) and other hot-button topics have all been echoed in Galacticaâ’s storylines. This has always been the most sublime use of science fiction: allowing us to examine reality in better relief.
Battlestar Galactica: Razor, intended to satiate the seriesâ’ justifiably antsy fans until the fourth and final season premieres next spring, touches on several of those issues. But its central concerns are more timeless than timely, a troubling bundle of questions crucial to a group of mostly military characters: How deep into the moral gray should I go in defense of my people? Should I be prepared to give up my own judgment when I put on a uniform? My conscience? My life?
Grappling with these issues in Razor is a newly introduced character, Kendra Shaw (Stephanie Jacobsen). The cool, cocky young womanâ"who hails from the Australian part of Caprica, judging by her accentâ"becomes the most trusted aide to Admiral Helena Cain of the battlestar Pegasus in part because sheâ’s willing to take ruthless actions in the line of duty, even if she must later relieve her conscience, in secret, with drugs. As Razor unfolds, Shaw struggles to determine whether itâ’s better for society and herself if she makes her own decisions or carries out the orders of others.
But this is only the central story. Plots, subplots, and sub-subplots abound, requiring a working knowledge of Galacticaâ’s characters, storylines, mythos, and history to even know whatâ’s going on at any given time. There are flashbacks, then flashbacks within flashbacks, that reach back for decades (a geek-nirvana bonus of this is that we finally get to see the villains of the series, the Cylons, rendered in old-school â‘70s fashion). In a way, Razor itself is a flashbackâ"its â“present dayâ” is set toward the end of the second season. All this makes it next to impossible for a newbie to know whatâ’s happening. If that means you, start with the 2003 mini-series and weâ’ll meet you back at the battlestar when season four kicks off. You wonâ’t regret it.
Razor premiered on the SciFi Channel Nov. 24, but the just-released DVD offers an extended and uncut version that reveals additional backstory and gives the viewer the priceless chance to hear a young William Adama (nicely played in flashbacks by Nico Cortez) call a Cylon a â“cocksucker.â” Moreover, the DVD allows you the freedom to sort through the whole thing againâ"something even the most attentive Galactica acolyte will probably find necessary.
By its conclusion, Razor does find an answer to its most important question: That the decision to become an instrument of your people is inevitably an act of self-sacrifice. Thatâ’s why Admiral Yamamoto couldnâ’t have been very surprised when the bomber in which he was flying was shot down by a U.S. fighter plane on April 19, 1943. He was found dead in the jungle the next day, sheathed for good.
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