Wow. Razor was heavy. I found it very powerful but very dark. (Can you even say that about an individual BSG episode?! The whole show's dark!) I had some misgivings (I'll get to them) and I wanted to like it even more than I did because I found the the premise interesting and the storytelling compelling. It's given me tons to digest and I'd totally forgotten the feeling of having BSG 'butterflies' in my stomach. Oh, the insomnia. I'd forgotten that too! In short, I need to write my way through this in the same way I need to after a regular episode.
I think Razor worked really well as a standalone piece--Kendra's story was a powerful one and her narrative provided the structure. I liked the character: she had an odd reserve to her that was quietly powerful and she seemed to hold her own counsel in a way that made her inscrutable. She ultimately lived and died by her own conscience, making decisions that were incredibly difficult to live with as well as at least one that was extremely heroic. I liked the restraint in her character a lot--she was haunted by her actions but she carried that privately. Even her drug use wasn't over-dramatised.
Her assertion is that you are the choices you make--that theme was explored on many levels in Razor and it's not easy to either dismiss or agree totally with her assessment. We're given only small details about Kendra's past life, or that of any of the other Pegasus officers, Cain included. We're invited to judge them purely on their actions post the attacks. Before the attacks, Kendra appears hesitant. She's ridiculed by Cain and we really don't get a sense of how well she will perform her duties. After the attacks we quickly see that she's got excellent observational skills and is quick-acting. She correctly detects the reason for the Pegasus surviving the attacks and ensures their continued survival. Although she makes mistakes (giving the codes to Gina) she also makes up for them by acting swiftly as soon as she realises the threat that Gina poses.
I really loved the scene between her and Lee when he offered her the XO position. I liked her calm honesty. Lee is obviously at least slightly angered by her assessment of him (hee!) but he composes himself and offers her the XO position. It's a sensible tactical decision but the personal connection is still missing. Kendra doesn't let him 'in'--she doesn't let him see who she is in any sense other than her actions, and by cutting herself off emotionally like this (snapping the case shut, etc) she makes herself a very isolated figure who is hard to predict. It's hard to blame her for this: she is, as she says, Cain's legacy. The culture that Cain created made it sensible for Kendra to remain emotionally withdrawn, only letting others see her hard edges. When Adama talks to Lee about 'trust', he comments that they trust each other to do their jobs. That's as far as it goes--surface only.
This comes up when Lee asks her about the attacks on the civilian ship. If it's true that we are defined by our actions then Kendra is defined by something she didn't volunteer personally but was recorded in the log (another running theme of the episode--who gets to control the way events are recorded). If Lee assessed her only on these past actions he wouldn't have trusted her on the mission. She gets another chance, and it's one that leads to redemption for her. She may assert that there are 'no do-overs' but Razor also shows that you can always make different, better decisions the next time around.
It's obvious that Cain was a huge influence on Kendra's life following the attacks. From the moment she slapped her back into consciousness, Kendra seems determined to live up to Cain's demands. She's obviously someone who responds well to being challenged in this way and she appears receptive to Cain's message to hang on to her anger to stop her from being afraid ever again. The problem with Cain's influence is that she teaches them not only not to listen to their fear but also not to listen to their conscience.
Aside on trust
In any discussion about trust around this time, it's impossible for me not to reflect on Lee's speech to Kara when she appealed to him to back her up in assassinating Cain. He said that if they don't have trust they don't have anything. I think this is both true and not true, as the events that unfolded following that proclamation show. Circumstances can interfere, and as soon as Lee crashed the Blackbird, it didn't matter whether they had trust or not: he wouldn't be there for Kara. In the end, it's his actions (or non-actions) that speak for who he is, as Kendra suggests.
On the other side of the argument, we see in Razor a clear contrast between Lee and Kara who have a close relationship that despite all odds sustains unbelievable pressure. Kara's life is at stake several times as a result of decisions Lee makes or supports but the two of them retain an air of having an intimate understanding of one another. She's even able to joke about it when she tells him she's requested to be reassigned. Can you call that trust? It's not trust that they won't put each other's lives at stake if the military situation demands it. It's not trust that they won't fight, argue and hate each other at times. But there's a tie binding them despite all that. But when it comes down to it Lee trusts Kara to complete the mission--but fate decides otherwise.
The message from this seems to be very fatalistic--you can place your faith in trust but it can be torn from you or turned on it's head.
Kendra and Kara: parallels and contrast
I think there's a wealth of interesting material in comparing Kendra and Kara. I was interested to note some parallels between them: both have dominant mothers who are dead/dying, both have past interests outside of the soldier's life (Kendra's a lapsed classics major, Kara's an artist). The parallels in the personality stakes are far more obvious. Both are tough and wilful and demand respect from others. However where Kara is inclined to emotional explosions and mouthing off, Kendra is silent, bordering on sullen.
I thought Lee joking about the two of them not getting along was really cute. That seems obvious--two such forceful personalities would be bound to clash and Kara seems to have viewed her as a rival, or at least someone to impress, right from the start. The fact that Kendra seemed completely unfased probably got under her skin. And as is shown it's not really a problem until a decision is made that the other disagrees with. In this case, it's even worse since it directly endangered Kara.
Of course I also liked that Lee calmly defended Kara when Kendra criticised her chatter on the comm system. He knows that Kara's flying makes her other behaviour worth tolerating and clearly Kendra too comes to respect Kara's skill, choosing her for her mission.
The scene between Kendra and Kara in the kitchen was brilliant. Kara's quick to jump on the similarity of their position. She finds common ground with Kendra so that they'll keep each other's secrets. But she also acts as if she's the dominant one in their relationship. I think there's a subtle air of her making a point of her closeness to Lee--she uses his first name, calling Kendra 'Lee's new XO'. The message is 'I've got Lee's ear and I could get you demoted'. Kendra is unflapped, of course. I liked her retort of calling Kara 'Lee's favourite pilot' (hmm, interesting phrasing--not 'Lee's CAG'). It felt like Kendra was replying 'yeah, I know you're his pet pilot but you don't scare me'.
Also I thought Kara looked adorably pretty in that scene. *shallow*
It was interesting to see Kara respond with such vehemence to Kendra's assassination of the man who got captured by the Centurions. While my sympathies are largely with Kara on this (it hadn't been previously discussed and Kendra was reckless in making this her priority--staying in a vulnerable position and getting shot herself), I thought it was interesting in light of Kara's experience on the Cylon farms. She herself will later ask Anders to kill her rather than let her be taken to the farms again. So she's not totally unsympathetic to Kendra's feelings, surely? It seems like she was more just taking issue with Kendra making that call herself without clear direction from their commander.
I love that Kendra gave Kara her knife. And while I hated Cain and what Cain had done to Kendra, I did find Kendra's final re-enactment of Cain's gunpoint orders very poignant. I also felt it was something Kara herself would do under other circumstances. The 'it's been an honour, captain' made me cry on second viewing. I suppose Kara carrying Cain's knife could be read as her carrying Cain's legacy. I'd prefer to think of it as her carrying Kendra's memory, because in the end Kendra redeemed herself, Cain never did.
I had mixed feelings about seeing Cain's actions in Razor since in many ways I'd found her very powerful as an ambiguous figure. I liked that we weren't ever completely sure how true all the rumours were about her. To some degree seeing her here demystified her in a way I wasn't initially comfortable with. And wow, she really was a bitch! I have resisted viewing her in a truly negative light for a long time but it was hard to do so after this. Even before the attacks started, she was an rendered an unsympathetic character (to me, at least) by her ritual humiliation of Kendra. She's introduced as a workaholic, an eternally driven woman who when invited to 'get off the treadmill' for a break, just drives herself harder; she's also someone who takes deliberate pleasure in dominating and humiliating others, at least emotionally, as we see with Kendra. These traits shape the decisions she makes after the attacks: she acts without consulting others and with a 'dominate or die' mentality that allows no pity.
While Razor does show that the Pegasus was in a very different position to Galactica, it also shows us that her commander was made of very different material as well and ultimately she set the tone for the culture for the entire ship and made a particularly lasting impression on her officers.
One complaint I have is that we didn't get to really see why Cain's crew admired her so much. The music montage at around the twenty-minute mark didn't cut it for me. Seeing her pat a few shoulders and linger over the dead was obviously an attempt to make her seem more human, as well as to show her as a well-tempered leader. However, I felt that this was greatly outweighed by seeing her act as a tyrant. Personally I needed more if I was to be at all sympathetic to her leadership style. This felt a little tokenistic.
While I'm mentioning the things I didn't like so much, I'll say that I found her crew bizarrely passive in response to the news that the colonies have been destroyed. It's hard for me to imagine that there wouldn't be massive emotional outbursts from at least some of the crew. I know that's difficult to show dramatically, but it just felt a little too easy that they all just listened and bought into Cain's 'don't run and hide' speech. Especially since she was asking them to digest, in a space of 30 seconds, the fact that they had to fight to their deaths.
I thought the speech itself did a lot to explain Cain's position. The choices facing the Pegasus were impossible ones. They were in a completely different situation to the Galactica because they didn't have a civilian fleet or any potential to survive the attacks. When faced with the choice of running and probably being killed anyway or at least waiting to die, or fighting, Cain decided to sell fighting to her crew as a positive alternative--she made it a valiant choice. This far, she held my respect. She lost it when she lied o her officers. She shows herself as a masterful manipulator there--giving her crew a rousing speech, but keeping her officers on side by claiming she won't be reckless, while secretly planning to push for revenge at all costs.
She completely lost it when she murdered an officer who stood in her way and began what was effectively a reign of terror. While Adama may say to Lee that Cain's circumstances were different because she didn't have people like Laura and Lee to remind him of moral and social imperatives, it overlooks the fact that she shot in the head the first person who voiced any such concerns about the weight of human life.
We then see her go on to even greater acts of tyranny. Her revenge on Gina is of the most brutal and extreme nature, going out of her way to emphasise humiliation. This has no tactical purpose--it's pure terrorisation. When they encounter civilian ships, Cain appears to be the only one who doesn't greet it as cause for hope and elation. She sees not the human face, only the possibility of restocking for her own personal war on the Cylons. Her officers follow her orders despite not feeling the same way themselves. No doubt they fear assassination if they voice their true feelings.
The 'Razor' speech itself was very powerful. It's an articulate description of Cain's position and it shows what Kendra bought into. She carried the knife with her as a symbol of that philosophy. While I think it was well expressed, that speech still revolted me, because I'm one of those people who'd rather choose to die at a certain point than live making decisions that result in the deaths of others. While Cain may have been able to live comfortably by those rules, it exacts a toll on Kendra, as I think it would on anyone.
Lee is obviously set up in contrast to Cain. He admits this honestly up front to Kendra and he tells her clearly that he doesn't respect Cain's legacy. Unlike Cain he shares with her the way he hopes to lead the crew. In this way he's more honest with his officers than the crew at large--he wants to send them a message that Cain is respected. Cain, on the other hand, was actually more honest in her speech to the crew at large than to her officers.
The story-telling of Razor depends on drawing comparisons between Lee and Cain and how they respond in different scenarios. Sometimes I found these a little forced, though I can't fault the writers' intentions. The first of these is the search and rescue mission where Kara and Showboat engage with the Cylons. In this instance Kendra takes issue with Lee's defensive position. The situation here would seem to support a more offensive tactic--if they'd launched attack vipers and engaged perhaps they wouldn't have had to fire at close range. However, I don't think that's something Lee could have known in advance and he had adopted a firm line in not pursuing unnecessary engagement. There are pros and cons to both decisions.
We see in flashback that Cain takes the opposite tactical decision--when faced with a clear Cylon trap she considers it 'all the more reason to launch everything we've got'. Where Lee could be criticised for being too cautious, Cain is too impulsive.
Lee cites duty, honour and service as the guiding principles for those serving in the military. In Razor I think he follows these himself, but they exact an incredibly high cost. They demand that he make tough decisions, just as Cain did. Kendra challenges him by saying that Cain 'wouldn't have blinked' about her risky plan. Lee does 'blink', at least metaphorically, but he's not any weaker for doing so: his actions speak loud and clear that he's willing to do whatever it takes to complete the mission successfully, including sacrificing his best friend. Anyone who thinks that was an easy decision for Lee to make is kidding themselves. It's easy to read Lee as 'soft' sometimes because he's a thinker, he deliberates and he doesn't play the hardball dominating games of Cain or Kara or Kendra or Tigh. His source of strength is far more internalised and in this way I think he has something in common with Kendra.
Cain tells Kendra that 'sometimes we have to leave people behind so that we can go on, so that we can fight'. This issue is reflected in Lee's experience in command of the Pegasus when he's faced with the mission to recover their men from the failed Cylon experiment. He has to, as Cain describes, do things that he never thought he was capable of.
I wasn't very happy with seeing Lee deciding to nuke the mission after they lost contact. I can see the tactical reasoning and in some ways I'm proud to see him having the guts to make it. However it was the one part of Razor that felt really forced to me. Ron Moore seems a little too fond of having the Adamas point nukes at people they love, if you ask me! I didn't like it in Eye of Jupiter and I didn't like it here. It felt rushed and unnecessarily melodramatic. Bill is right (I don't often say that!)--it's a last resort but Lee starts preparing for it, just as Bill himself will do in EoJ. Bleugh. I think what I don't like about it in this case is that when you weigh up why it was written this way, it just seems an overblown way of pushing the point the writers are making, comparing Lee and Cain. And I don't think it needed to be pushed that far--the later decision that Lee makes to leave Kara behind to complete the mission is powerful enough, imho. But I guess Ron just wanted to dial up the drama.
And it did make good drama--Adama senior overruling Lee, and Lee asking what he'll do if he's wrong. He would have had to live with it, but he's already been haunted for forty years. He knows he can live with it. Lee doesn't know if he can and he's making hard decision that will haunt him to avoid being haunted by another. As usual he takes the big picture approach and argues with his father that it could be headed for Earth. Bill, however, is determined to hang on, and his decision to do so is validated by them regaining contact with the mission team. It's all a little convenient and Bill gets to play hero again.
Of course my heart bled for Lee in those circumstances. Forced writing or not, I'm glad they showed his strengths as a leader and the way in which his leadership is of a different nature both to Cain's and his father's. They're put in similar positions and they all make hard decisions but the way in which they do so is different. And I would argue that that matters. That it's not just one's actions but the way they're carried out that defines who you are. Cain acts from a position of self-centred emotion--anger driving her to revenge and violence. Lee's point of focus is outside himself--he looks at the big picture, at the survival of the entire race, at overall strategy, and lets that dictate him. In doing so both compromise their humanity. If things had played out how Lee would have had them, he would have lived forever with Kara's death on his conscience, as well as the rest of the crew. It would have been hell personally but he'd have felt he'd still made the 'right' decision. I doubt that would make it that much easier to live with for him though. So I think Razor was effective in showing the way that war, and command positions in particular, force people to dehumanise themesleves and their experiences. Lee goes in with much better intentions than Cain's and I consider the basis for his decision making far more sound. But the end result--the sacrifice of crew members--is the same. Where they differ is in the context of how they handle it and and their consciences.
ETA: It struck me last night that the main reason they wrote in the 'nuking' part was to show the contrast between Bill and Lee. I suspect they wanted to show that as Bill has benefitted from having his son around to balance him, Lee benefits from having his father's experience in a time like this. Unlike Cain, they both allow the other person to challenge them and the end result is good. I like that message but I feel the execution of it was forced.
I didn't have as much issue with Lee asking Kara to complete the mission. That worked for me better than the nuking plot because it felt so much clearer that they really did need someone to stay behind. And she was the best choice on many levels. She was in the best physical shape, but she wasn't the senior officer--Kendra was tactically more important. Also--and here's the tear-your-heart-out part--Kara was the one Lee could most trust to complete it. I loved Jamie's and Katee's performances. Their mirrored facial grimaces conveyed how gutting this was for both of them. But Lee's decision was validated by Kara immediately leaping into action. Damn, that girl's a hero! In choosing her, Lee could be absolutely sure that the bomb would be detonated.
Kara and Lee
I thought Kara's 'no but it will make you feel better' was brilliant. I also thought that it was natural of her to be angry after that experience. Where she crossed a line was in criticising Kendra directly. I thought this was an interesting scene because it showed that although they're close, Lee doesn't always know how to handle Kara. He argues with her directly when I think it would have been more effective to sympathise with her feeling attacked but steer the conversation away from generalising about Kendra's authority. His personal appeal to her, grabbing her shoulders, while it made my shippy heart happy, didn't really do anything to calm her down. It sent a message that she was being unreasonable and that probably pushed her even more into wanting to confront Kendra directly.
It's really interesting to compare her actions here with the way she deals with Lee putting her in the line of fire later on. His actions are far more extreme--he personally assigns her to be the one to stay behind, sacrificing her life to destroy the station. But Kara's response is so much more subdued. Perhaps she flipped out at Lee offscreen, I don't know. But all we see in Razor is her telling him she's requested a transfer. It's obviously upset her and left her uncomfortable with her position as his CAG, but she does him the courtesy of telling him directly and without direct criticism of his decisions.
There was a remarkable intimacy to that scene that was reminiscent of 'Maelstrom' for me. The surface jokiness was at odds with the dark undercurrents. Kara suggests that Kendra thought she had a lot to answer for or 'she had it coming'. Lee replies to only one half of that ('we've all got it coming') but I think he also means 'we've all got a lot to answer for'. I can't believe that Lee said 'you ever think you might deserve it?' Well ok. I can believe it because it's these two and they are just THAT frakked up that they can joke about it. They both know they live a heartbeat away from death daily.
Gina was one of the best aspects of Razor for me. I always found her character fascinating and I love seeing Tricia get to play outside the role of Six. She's a completely different character here, but she was played to chilling effect. The audience know that she's a Cylon so there were a lot of very creepy moments where we could see what the other characters could not. Lines like 'we're all human' or 'the best defense is a good offense' were particularly spine-tingly. I liked that Kendra made the observation about Gina's name meaning resurrection, and that she clued on to her relationship with Cain. I also appreciated that in some ways the viciousness of the attacks on Gina are explained. The betrayal was a deeply personal one. I don't think excuses it in ANY WAY. Rather, it reveals Cain's character in it's purest, most vicious form. But it does paint a fuller picture of how that came about. *shudders*
Again the theme of trust comes up here--Cain considers it more important than the access codes. It certainly makes her anger at the betrayal far more personal. Trust is dangerous because it can be broken, because it's a risk.
The reveals in Razor obviously make Cain's death at Gina's hand a lot more powerful as well--she created that situation herself and in the end it was not the conflict from outside her own ship that ended her life but the one from within it. Is there a more generalised message in this? Revenge begets revenge, perhaps? But also a message about those closest to us being our greatest threat, that the damage we wreak on a personal emotional level can have consequences just as dangerous to us as that we wreak on a bigger scale. That's interesting ground for speculation leading into Season four, especially with the suggestion that Kara may be a harbinger of destruction.
How Razor fits with the overall narrative
Firstly, and on a positive note, I think it adds greater resonance to Lee's sacrifice of Pegasus to save New Caprica to actually see him during his first period in command.
I also thought that the flashbacks to the first Cylon war were integrated really well. The actor who played Bill was excellent and it was really great payoff to see him integrated into Razor as well as the webisodes. One of the things I appreciated most of all was getting textual explanation of why Bill was able to guess that the Cylons had taken human form in the Pilot. I always thought it was odd that he was able to guess so easily--now it makes perfect sense.
Finally Kara and that scary scary prophecy. Oh, wow. The harbinger of death? The herald of the apocalypse? I know Lee's wanted to call her a few names sometimes, but nothing that bad! ;) It freaked me the hell out and I'm still digesting it. The first things that spring to mind are that this is probably the lead-in to a Season 4 exploration of whether she's a force for good or evil--is she Aurora bringing the dawn, or is she bringing death to all? The theory that the Final Four are the four horsemen of the apocalypse also has more resonance now. On the other hand, can a Cylon 'God' be trusted?
If Kara IS a threat, then Kendra nearly saved her crew (and humanity) a second time by revealing a traitor in their midst. That would fit with the themes of Razor very neatly but a) it's too horrible to contemplate easily and b) it seems too easy, maybe? too obvious? I'm sure there will be more twists ahead in this plot than a simple 'Kara bad!' for the whole of Season 4. I've got pit-of-my-stomach fear about it any way. If Kara is a threat, Lee will go down with her, despite the fact that he nearly sacrificed her here. That kind of painful irony is what BSG has been built on so far. I just hope there's a light at the end of this tunnel...
'You are stuck with me to the end' was beautiful, so beautiful, but in light of the revelations about Kara it also had a chilly undertone.
Kara Thrace, if you must have a special destiny, please let it be a good one, because my Lee is bound to you and I trust you to lead him home.
Trust is dangerous.