Bridging the past, future of ‘Galactica’

Times Staff Writer

Those of us left slack-jawed by the return of presumed-dead Starbuck in the final minutes of the third-season finale of “Battlestar Galactica” -- how could she be alive? Her ship exploded -- will have to wait until April, when Season 4 begins, for our answers. “Battlestar Galactica: Razor,” a two-hour movie designed to keep us happy in the interim, delves into the show’s past to find, of course, foreshadowing and peril for the future.

It tells the story of Kendra Shaw (Stephanie Jacobsen), who served on the crew of the Battlestar Pegasus under the command of both the formidable Adm. Helena Cain (Michelle Forbes) and later first-time commander Lee “Apollo” Adama (Jamie Bamber). Shaw, we learn, joined the crew of the Pegasus mere moments before the Cylon attack that destroyed the 12 colonies. “Razor” goes back in time to explain what happened aboard the Pegasus before it met up with the Galactica in Season 2. (And if none of this means anything to you, the reader, then that might serve as a clue that “Razor” is not for the uninitiated viewer: Prior knowledge of “Battlestar Galactica” is required here.)

Forbes’ Cain, who was featured in that memorable Season 2 story arc, is tough enough before the Cylon (near) genocide of the human race; when she realizes her ship may be all that remains of humanity, she becomes utterly ruthless in her desire for revenge. Though some of the crew rebel against Cain’s extreme measures, Shaw admires her steely resolve, making choices in Cain’s shadow that did not seem possible before the Cylon attack.


These haunt her years later when she is excavated from lowly kitchen duty by the newly appointed Pegasus leader Apollo, who needs a strong XO (executive officer) to shore up a mission to destroy a mysterious weapon the Cylons have guarded for years. Now a “razor,” a slang term for a human weapon, Shaw struggles to find redemption, or obliteration, in her task.

“Battlestar Galactica” has always been sci-fi at its best -- an exploration of politics and morality in their purest state: post-apocalypse. As Apollo said outright at the end of Season 3, the battlestar community is no longer a civilization in the traditional sense. All rules have been broken or bent beyond recognition. The necessities of war have stripped society down to its essence, for better and worse.

In “Razor,” written by Michael Taylor, those issues and tensions are embodied by Cain and Shaw. How much collateral damage can the greater good afford? What is the greater good? How far is too far when survival is at stake, and what decisions will the soul simply refuse to bear?

If all that sounds a bit Shakespearean, it is. Science fiction, good science fiction, has always dealt with that which plagues the poets and the playwrights -- the nature of love, the value of loyalty, the nature of power, the split-second decisions that change our lives. Shaw is not the only character haunted on “Battlestar Galactica.” With its metallic blues and grays, its eerie lighting, echoing corridors and New Age drumbeats, the ship itself is ghostly at times, its inhabitants all damaged, by events and the choices they have made; resilience has become the new heroism.

“Sometimes we have to leave people behind so that we can go on,” Cain tells Shaw when she promotes her for what some would consider a war crime. “This war,” she continues, “is forcing us all to become razors. Because if we don’t, we don’t survive and then we don’t have the luxury of being simply human again.”

Hanging in the air is the question of whether the transformation to “simply human” is even possible for people like Shaw, or any of the battle- and betrayal-tempered members of the Galactica crew. Will finding Earth be enough to restore these warriors to anything approaching normal?


“Razor” distills the themes of the series into one powerful relationship, setting the tone for the final season this spring. It connects more than a few dots, explaining how the Cain we saw in previous episodes came to be so brutal, as well as the circumstances around her death. (Hell hath no fury like a Cylon scorned, and tortured.) As Cain, Forbes is as steely and unblinking as any gimlet-eyed Queeg, or Rutger Hauer character for that matter.

Jacobsen’s Shaw -- as the blueprint for the razor -- is different. From fear is born anger and resolve, and with resolve comes the single-mindedness that drives both bravery and madness. With her Aussie accent and shining dark eyes, Shaw is a cinematic wonder -- a pretty thing who has become a weapon. Next to her, Starbuck looks positively sappy. Next to her, Dirty Harry looks positively sappy. The incident that gnaws at her could have been taken from any war, any army, any era, but that doesn’t dilute the power of the image, or the realization that some actions are not erasable, that all choices must be paid for in the end.



‘Battlestar Galactica: Razor’

Where: Sci-Fi Channel

When: 9 to 11 tonight

Rating: TV-14 LV (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14, with advisories for coarse language and violence).