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Battlestar Galactica: Razor

It’s strange what we carry with us past the end of the world. In The Road, it’s hope for our children carted around inside an old shopping trolley; in 28 Days Later, it’s whatever humanity we can find hiding amid the ruins. For Admiral Helena Cain, what she carries with her after the destruction of her home is what she’s carried with her her whole life: a razor she picked up as a small child to defend herself after the loss of her younger sister. She carries that until she can’t – then she passes it on to her surrogate daughter, who carries it until she can’t. The razor itself is lost with Kendra Shaw, and maybe that’s a good thing. The last member of Cain’s inner circle dies taking all that hatred and aggression and lust for validation and vengeance with her. It’s an important transition. It’s also particularly insightful – given how Battlestar Galactica has generally focused on rebuilding after the fall of society – establishing a functioning democracy, a legal system and even rebuilding Caprica in a form – that this television movie focuses on the flipside of the coin: what humanity takes with it after the fall.

Talk about retro chic...

I’m not sure it’s important enough to justify the television movie as a whole. Razor is written as a sequel/prequel to the Pegasus arc which towered over the second season of Battlestar Galactica. It has a lot running in its favour – Michelle Forbes is amazing, the special effects are mostly incredible and it’s got complex human drama at its core – but it still feels more than a tad unnecessary. The horrific actions of the crew should be fore knowledge to anyone watching and events like the massacre of civilians and the execution of the executive officer are more effective as phantoms in the past narrated by a drunken officer who should be holding his tongue than as events we witness actually unfolding. The torture of Gina on the ship seems more horrific when we see the consequences than it does as it is suggested (however coldly) by the Admiral.

Still, once we get past the fact that movie exists to tell us little more than what we already know, it is quite enjoyable. The character work on the series – notably with the one-shot character Shaw and also with Cain through flashback – is effective. We gain an insight into each character, and we understand their relationship and attraction to each other. It’s a shame that Shaw wasn’t present during the original episodes, as her dynamic with Starbuck deserves more exploration. With Starbuck articulating Cain’s role as a surrogate of her abusive mother, the dynamic is one of two siblings, the children of Cain – both haunted by demons. It’s interesting to hear Cain accuse Shaw of using family connections to get ahead – according to Adama, at least, Cain had the same sorts of connections in her favour. The script cleverly ties the two together (with a gunshot to the head of an unarmed individual cementing their crossing of the moral event horizon), which makes the tie to the “current” storyline more effective.

It’s interesting that we get the evolution of the Cylons juxtaposed against the devolution of the Pegasus crew. Six remarks that the Cylons evolved out of a will to better themselves; Cain justifies the cruelty and inhumanity of the Pegasus crew as a measure necessary to survive. There will be time to be human afterwards. There will be time to live later. But what is surviving without living? It’s no coincidence that Cain explains she wants her crew to be like her razor – as Shaw repeats, “A weapon can’t feel fear, has no regrets. It just is.” Like a machine. The irony of a bunch of humans becoming machines as a bunch of machines attempt to become human is delicious.

The Cylon developments are intriguing – as are some of the ramblings of the hybrid with Shaw on the basestar. The mythology of “The Guardians” – a rogue old-school Cylon faction who split from the core – effectively foreshadows coming developments, and also suggests helps remind the viewer that it isn’t just the “skinjobs” who have a will to discover their place in the universe. That said, the experimental facility that Adama discovers is suitably decked out to remind the viewer of the experiments of various amoral scientists throughout history – cutting apart the human body seemingly for the sake of it. One might point out that carving up these poor victims in search of a soul is a fruitless exercise, but it’s a metaphor for the entire series: unfortunately it if violence that peels away at us until we get to our core. Sometimes what we find isn’t necessarily pretty.

The movie weaves in and out, jigs and jags – and that’s for a television movie that appears out-of-chronological order. There are flashbacks within flashbacks. I viewed the television cut of the episode years ago, and I can unequivicably say that the unrated director’s cut adds a lot of meat to the bones – though that means even more flashbacks and flash forwards. This disjointed nature may limit the feature’s capacity to stand on its own two feet or appeal to people unfamiliar with the show. It does help give the story a sweeping and epic feel.

This is the first real glimpse we’ve had at the historical tapestry running behind the series. We’ve seen glimpses of early history in Hero or Scattered – but this is the first visceral glimpse of what combat must have been like. From Adama’s past as a fighter pilot to the gorilla warfare on Tauron. It’s arguably the first glimpse of conventional warfare in show which the creators openly describe as a war show. That the series found the sort of budget to do sequences like the destruction of the shipyards or Adama’s parachute confrontation in an episode outside regular scheduling is remarkable.

Reckon Michelle Forbes is raising Cain?

It’s nice to see the nods towards the original series, with the shape of the Cylons themselves and their ships recalling the classic episodes and Adama’s discovery of a secret Cylon experiment on an ice planet recalls a specific plot. It’s crazy to hear of movements like GINO – that’s Galactica In Name Only for non-nerds – who protest that the remake is unfaithful to the original series. There’s clearly a lot of affection for the classic episodes, which transcends minor amendments like changing Starbuck’s gender or Boomer’s ethnicity. As I point out in my second series review, the entire basis of this mini-movie – the warship Pegasus – is based on an episode of the classic series. Even the more “out there” elements of the series can be traced back to the first series – humanoid Cylons were an idea traced back to The Night the Cylons Landed, an episode of the even-more-hated Galactica 1980 spin-off. And you say that the producers don’t honour their heritage?

The performances are all-round excellent, as is par for the series. In particular Forbes reprising her role as the tough-as-nails Cain. Jamie Bamber anchors the scenes set in the present, continuing to be a fantastic supporting player. Lee has relatively little screentime in what should be an exploration of his first command, but Bamber makes the most of it – as he does with all his material on the show. Stephanie Jacobson is purely okay in the lead role, but she’s simply outclassed by the regulars and most of the guest stars. Still, it isn’t a bad performance, just a mediocre one. Overall, the cats is fantastic.

All in all, it’s a solid addition to the mythos. Sure, most of it’s arguably unnecessary – the only really new insight it offers into the universe is the “missing link” between cybernetic and organic Cylon models – but it’s a more-than-solid character piece, well staged and put together. The action sequences are well-staged and the moral arguments are compelling. However, some of the desperate actions of the crew lose a little of their potency when portrayed on screen – the descriptions given were so bonechilling that it is hard to trump, even with imagery.

Sharp and cutting, Razor is a fascinatingly entertaining feature.

Interested in Battlestar Galactica? Check out our complete archive of reviews and discussions of the relaunched show:

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