Battlestar Galactica: Razor (2007)
I'm a huge fan of Battlestar Galactica, which I reckon is one of the best shows on television by far. 'Razor' is a feature length special episode* released in between season 3 and the (hopefully still) forthcoming fourth and final season. It's been ages since there's been any new Galactica, so this is like manna from heaven for fans.
Chronologically 'Razor' takes place at some point in season two, shortly after Lee 'Appollo' Adama (Jamie Bamber) is given command of the Battlestar Pegasus. He assigns Kendra Shaw (Stephanie Jacobsen), a former command staff officer who was demoted to working in the galley, as his new Executive Officer. Lee's first mission as commander of the Pegasus is to investigate the disappearance of a survey ship. While it tells the story of the Pegasus' search and rescue mission in the 'present', the narrative is non-linear - it flashes back to the story of Pegasus during and after the initial Cylon attacks on the Twelve Colonies, when she was commanded by Admiral Helena Cane (Michelle Forbes). Kendra Shaw is the link between these two timelines as she is a witness to major events in both of them and is in a position of trust with both Cane and Lee. There are also a couple of other flashback sequences that go further back in time to the first Cylon War and depict events with a direct connection to proceedings in the present.
I found 'Razor' to be a fine piece of storytelling despite the contrivance of having Kendra Shaw as an audience surrogate, probably because the contrivance was fairly well written and seemed only marginally out of place (though one wonders where Shaw was when Galactica first encountered Pegasus during season 2). It serves to juxtapose the fate of Pegasus with that of Galactica and explains the motivation behind some of the monstrous acts carried out at the behest of Cain that we learned about during the earlier Pegasus episodes. Cain starts off as a stern but likable commander; events and circumstances lead her down the path to becoming uncompromising and unflinchingly brutal (Commander Adama (Edward James Olmos) himself notes that had he been in her place he may have acted in a similar manner). The Cain storyline also explicitly depicts events that were alluded to in the series, and also explains the presence and capture of Gina (Tricia Helfer), the Cylon agent on board Pegasus.
While the Cain stuff is terrific, the goings on in the 'present' are also compelling. This storyline continues the development of Kendra Shaw's character as she comes to terms with Cain's legacy and the part she played in it. Shaw is a hardened veteran and her abrasive manner causes a few problems, particularly with Starbuck (Katie Sackhoff), but her efficacy is never in any doubt. This storyline also provides the opportunity to depict Lee's transition into the position of a Battlestar commander. And in terms of the overall BSG mythology, we are provided an insight into the development of the humanoid Cylons, and are introduced to a godlike figure from their history. And finally, there is a pretty neat twist that puts the end of season 3 into a new perspective and should make things interesting in season 4.
'Razor' features the same mix of gritty, intense drama and action that the series is renowned for, and deals with the same themes relating to war, politics, morality, and hard choices. It manages to create ambivalence with regard to its characters' behaviour and avoids presenting choices as being easy 'right or wrong' ones, with the consequences of those choices weighing heavily on those making them and defining who they are. If there are any serious flaws with the writing, it's the repeated heavy handed use of the 'razor' metaphor and the rather predictable path taken by a character towards the end (one that perhaps couldn't be avoided given the 'prequel' nature of the episode). I also think the way the multiple timelines were edited together was sometimes wayward, with the whole thing not really coming together as well as it ought to have.
Jamie Bamber, Edward James Olmos, Katie Sackhoff, and Tricia Helfer are the series regulars with a major presence here, and they do solid work, particularly Sackhoff and Helfer. Some of the remaining regular cast make brief appearances, while the rest are absent altogether. The stars therefore are really Michelle Forbes and Stephanie Jacobsen, and fortunately both women do stellar work. Forbes reprises the role of Admiral Cain and continues from her excellent performance in the second season, but this time is given the opportunity to infuse some humanity into the character. Jacobsen is the focal point and she successfully plays Shaw as a tough as nails officer haunted by what she has seen and been through. Her performance is strong enough, and sympathetic enough, to carry the episode.
Overall, while it doesn't quite hit the highs of the series, BSG 'Razor' is on par with a very good episode, and has the same excellent production values. It reintroduces elements from one of the best storylines of the second season while also delving into elements from the First Cylon War. While there are shaky elements in the writing, the final product is a gripping and entertaining addition to the Battlestar Galactica canon.
* I'm reviewing the Extended DVD version, which has around 15 minutes of additional material (and is apparently better than the original televised version).