Battlestar Galactica: S02E09: Flight of the Phoenix

This has been one of the most difficult episode reviews I’ve ever written. Almost always I can write the review in one sitting and be satisfied with the result. That is not the case with Flight of the Phoenix. After three tries in as many months I haven’t been able to write something I’m satisfied with. Perhaps it’s just a microcosm of the entire episode. on the one hand, Flight  was full of continuity errors that made it difficult to suspend disbelief. Conversely, this episode featured many interesting storylines, including two that rival each other for the “A story” Which makes writing this review a real bitch! Depending on the time of day this episode was either great or fair.

The episode starts off with Chief Tyrol inspecting a busted Viper. He goes down an inspection checklist inventorying everything that is broken on the spacecraft. After spotting numerous leaks, including a long steady leak that appears so strong that its source must be either the fuel tank or something similarly huge, Tyrol slaps and “unserviceable scrap sticker on the viper”. For reasons that seems a bit PMS’y at the time, Tyrol takes the decommissioning rather personal.

Over the last few episodes there have been subtle hints that the crew has been getting worn out from being on the run for the past few months with no results. Apparently this lost viper was “the straw that broke the camels back” for the chief.

Further evidence of the collective breakdown can be seen in the officers mess where the pilots are playing cards. Racetrack is utterly demoralized. After playing with the cards so long, she’s memorized every fold in the deck and the fun of the game is gone. She takes out her aggravation on Helo who tries to join the game. But she and most of the other pilots rebuke him as a toaster frakker. Starbuck tries to defend him, but the other pilots won’t hear it.

Helo takes refuge in a raptor with a bottle of beer in the hangar bay, where he is joined by an equally drunk and depressed Tyrol. They talk about Boomer briefly, or rather Tyrol picks a fight with Helo about Boomer. Losing his “boy scout” composure for a moment, Helo pushes Tyrol off the raptor. The Eagle scout quickly jumps to pick him up, but Tyrol just uses it as an opportunity to take a cheap kidney shot at him. They scuffle for a bit but Helo keeps trying to keep Tyrol in check. His pause allows Tyrol the opportunity to tackle him to the ground. He very nearly bashes Helo’s head in with a nearby wrench, but he stops himself in time.

Meanwhile in the CIC, we see the first evidence of the re-emerging cylon computer virus. This thing has more comebacks than Mostly Crue. Despite being destroyed on at least two other occasions it still makes for a bad plot device. In this episode the virus sends out an interference radio signal (and an encoded signal). Then it sends too much current to Dualla’s (radio operators) workstation, causing it to light up very bright and explode. Dualla flies backwards out of her chair. Several members of the senior staff rush to her aid. Most of the CIC staff though, barely bat an eye.

Gaeta determines that the control station had a power surge, which caused the explosion. He explains to Adama and Tigh that the many computer systems have been acting strangely since the cylons infiltrated their ad hoc network a few weeks prior. Tigh orders him to isolate and find the problem, even if it requires going through each line of code manually. Haven’t I written this before? Gaeta argues strongly that he has every diagnostic working to find the problem and that a manual search would take days. Tigh doesn’t want to hear any excuses. To which Gaeta angrily yells back “It’s not an excuse sir! Its a frakking fact!” and hits a workstation. That got everyone’s attention. Gaeta blowing up at a commanding officer certainly would be a rare sight to see.  Adama calmly comes over to tell him to get a grip and figure out the problem.

It appears that the crew is starting to comes to the realization that things aren’t going to improve and that they only have the constant threat of extinction to look forward to. Showing the uber-loyal Gaeta revolting is a keen way to demonstrate this, with the implication that everyone and their mother has also cracked.

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But it’s only with Chief Tyrol do we get a good glimpse of what the stress is doing to the crew. During his shift Apollo comes to him and asks him where viper 47 is. He explains despondently that that viper is now scrap. Apollo asks him to “Just do your best. No body’s expecting any miracles”. Which is part of the problem. Tyrol is realizing that the lack of moral victories is hurting humanity. During his conversation with Apollo, Sellix finds some schematics of vipers for him.

Later that night Tyrol decides to do something with his spare time and try to do something for the fleet as well. He cordons off a section of the hangar and starts laying out the frame for a viper. Some of the deck crew come over to ask him what he’s doing, and that he hasn’t totally cracked, and he replies that he wants to build a viper, from scratch. He’s officially 11 cents short of a dime. They all respond cynically and won’t participate in the effort. Tyrol tells them to frak off, in not so many words.

Elsewhere, in subplot 23j-03b(2), Roslin is meeting with Dr. Cottle and learns that she has less than a month to live. Her reaction is predictable, but her main concern is for the fate of humanity and questions how much longer she can continue working. She can continue her duties as president until her death or whenever the cancer reaches her brain or when she wants to leave the show. Before leaving the Galactica, she returns the book Adama gave her back in season one. Adama tries to refuse it, but she insists. Adama knows that her death must be imminent.

The cylon virus continues it’s path of mayhem throughout the ship, this time striking the shooting gallery where Apollo, Starbuck and Hotdog are taking shots at a target with a bust of Boomer for the head. In other scenes the virus just causes the lights to flicker, but in this scene it effects the environments controls, more on this later. The computer starting bleeding out oxygen from the shooting gallery which causes the three to begin to suffocate. Hotdog drops, but of course Apollo and Starbuck remain functional enough to shoot out the window of the door with an explosive round to allow more oxygen into the room and equalize the pressure so they could escape.

Later Gaeta and Baltar derive that the computer thought that the room was over pressurized so it bled off some air to compensate. They attributed it to a learning computer virus. one which knows how to learn to overcome things like firewalls and passwords. Apparently there are several off them working in parallel throughout the ship. Each one finding ways to screw with the humans. They’ve isolated the code but don’t know how to destroy for some contrived reason. They must use Notorn Anti-virus. As Adama points out to Baltar, “Well I guess I’m pretty lucky then, because I have a cylon expert on board”. He then orders the code be shown to Boomer.
Meanwhile on the hangar deck Tyrol is making some decent progress toward building the new viper. He hits a snag when trying to attach a wing. A deckhand, who formerly laughed at his attempt, comes over to help him build the new viper. Adama was on the top deck of the hangar the entire time watching it being built.

Adama discusses with Tigh about the new ship’s construction. Tigh dismisses the whole project, but Adama is tolerant of it. He knows what the construction is doing for moral and is reluctant to shut it’s down until it totally necessary.

The effort to build the ship has greatly increased since that first no name crewmember started helping out. When Tigh goes down for an inspection he finds a dozen crewmembers working on it. Including Dualla who is installing the communication system. Tigh is not happy. He demands to know where Tyrol is so he can chew him out.

Tigh finds him in the tool room. Formerly the make out room and presently the party and still room. He spies Tyrol making moonshine. Tyrol tries to call it engine cleaning solvent but he’s not fooling the boozer Tigh. Tigh threatens to shut down the entire project, including the still, until Tyrol explains how important this project is to him. He explains that the alcohol is to be used on the black market currency to trade for engine parts. Since he can’t use any of the existing equipment without permission. Tigh tells him that one of the freighter captains requested that the Galactica remove some old engines from him weeks ago. Tigh takes a bottle of pickle jar booze and walks away, leaving Tyrol a solution to his engine problems.

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Helo shows a print out of the virus in machine code to Boomer. She looks over it though the Plexiglas cell wall and is memorized my the second page of the code. After Helo shouts her out her trance she tells him to get Adama for her. Adam grumpily goes down there to ask Boomer what is so important. She tells him that the virus has sent out a signal to the cylons, which they already knew, and will launch a massive attack on the Galactica in a certain amount of time. She tells him that she can stop it, but that he must trust her to do it. Another recycled plot device. He reluctantly agrees. Ditto that.

Boomer is escorted to the CIC under much “protection” and automatic rifles. She is removed from her bondage and requests several items from the staff for use in counteracting the virus and overcoming the Cylon fleet of raiders. She requests a pocket knife for Dualla and a fiber optic communications uplink from Gaeta. When Gaeta gives it to her he accidentally calls her, Sharon. Referring to a biocylon by their human name is likely taboo, but it shows that some amongst the crew still see the humanity in their prisoner. Boomer uses the knife to cut a slit in her hand, and she places the fiber optic cable deep into the wound. With it she can know communicate with the computer and/or radio system. How a biocylon can do this and still be physically very similar to a human is beyond me.
Soon after the cylon war fleet arrives. Hundreds of raiders and heavy raiders jump near the fleet and get into a double thick web like formation.

The Galactica sends out her 30-odd vipers. It looks bad for the humans. The fleet can’t jump away because they can’t trust the coordinates the virus infected computer gave them to jump to. Let alone that the computer would actually jump to that point. If Boomer doesn’t pull through for them, they’re frakked. Again.

At Boomer’s command and Adama’s acknowledgement, Gaeta reformats the Galactica’s many hard drives. Things are tense as they reset their system as the fleet is virtually defenseless. Boomer is in deep though working out something, but not looking like she’s doing anything. Adama holds a gun to her head and threatens to kill her if she doesn’t act fast, believing that this was a trap to help the cylons retrieve her. Adama gives her a few seconds to act, despite repeated cries from Tigh to blow her brains out. Soon though, Boomer sends a signal which knocks out every cylon ship in the area.

The viper pilots take that opportunity to destroy the hundreds of now disabled craft. It’s a turkey shoot. I’ll admit that this story arc was pretty bad and very contrived. But it was emotional to see the huge moral victory and revenge of the pilots destroying the hundreds of cylon ships. Much in the same way that the cylons destroyed humanity and its fleets by knocking out its defense systems and technology.

The good plot however still continues. In what could only be described as bastard child efficiency of American and German engineering, the deckcrew has very nearly finished the work on the new viper. This episode couldn’t have taken more than a week to elapse, but the ship is now complete, save the skin of the vessel. All metal plating has been earmarked for other tasks. But Helo suggests using a plastic composite to skin the fighter.

When that’s completed the crew have now created a stealth ship. It’s black and fast, but not very manoeuvrable. Starbuck has a helluva time trying to stabilize it after first launching it. But once she does, she’s mastered it, of course. So much so that she throttles the engines and appear to jump away. This scares Apollo and most of the Galactica since they can no longer find her on DRADIS. In reality she turned around and positioned herself near Apollo’s viper, feigning disappearance. Moments later she surprises him with by appearing nose-to-nose with his viper by turning on her cabin lights.

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There’s a nice sized commissioning ceremony for the new Viper. Roslin gives a nice speech about the ship which reiterates the moral of this episode. They named it “the Blackbird” because of its black stealth skin, but the ship itself they dubbed the “Roslin” in the president’s honour. Roslin is taken back by the honour and is nearly moved to tears by it. Adama hands her a bottle of Champaign and asks her to do the honours. Roslin looks at the bottle for a moment, then lifts it over her shoulder as if to break it over the side of the blackbird. Tyrol freaks out and throws his body in front of her and the bottle to prevent her from doing so. That quick half second had to have been some of the best acting I’ve seen out of Aaron Douglas. I really really thought that he was surprised by her attempt and was intent of preventing her from destroying the blackbird, or the good alcohol. Roslin admits that she was just kidding and pops the cork. Tyrol takes the first sip.

Dissecting the Episode
How long would it have really taken the crew to build a new Viper?In the episode, the blackbird was made over the course of about 1-2 weeks. This is entirely unreasonable, as anyone who’s tried to build a hot rod in their spare time. Even if they had all the parts pre-made and detailed instructions I doubt they could do it that fast. The idea that Tyrol could design, fabricate, build and troubleshoot a viper from scratch in such a short time is preposterous. I’m not even going to discuss where he found the material for the ship. In reality the whole proess should’ve taken a year (at least) or more if done properly.

Is the RTF running on a bootlegger economy?It’s a great and funny idea. We found out in “Colonial Day” and “Kobol’s Last Gleaming”, that the RTF has reverted to mostly barter based economy. Its not unreasonable that alcohol would be a good currency on the informal market. I would like to know though, how many other producers of “bathtub booze” are there. I’d also like to know how much alcohol buys cigarettes, meat, candy and other consumables. Of all the vices, alcohol is one of that can be remade (from waste products). If I were in the RTF, you could be sure that I’d be distilling my own stock.

Why were hundred of raiders flying through space aimlessly?Dramatic effect. Since they could jump to anywhere instantly, the was no reason for them to fly around for hours-days on end. Realistically they should have launched from a basestar a few minutes before the attack and then jumped. But a stationary basestar isn’t a very good way to cause suspense.

Are stealth planes/ships that easy to make?No! Making a stealth ship is more than just wrapping it in a stealth skin. It’s also the geometry of the shell and how smooth the exterior is that impacts it radar reflection. Looking at the blackbird, I can see plenty of crevices, divots and other imperfections that would make the ship about as stealthy as Powerman 5000 concert. The black color though, would make it rather difficult to visually see in combat. However heat/ion/radar seeking missiles sort of “see through” color.

Could the virus infect the enviormental controls?It’s doubtful. Life-support ALWAYS runs on a seperate, secure and backed up computer system. There might even be mechanical redundant system to correct computer errors. The systems are usually very simple too which prevents anomolies and makes tampering very noticable. Plus it wasn’t even part of the ad hoc network. Assuming rightfully that the Galactica has shielded wires, the only way that system could have been tampered with is if someone loads a virus into that software. Which again is pretty easily detected and simple to replace.

47 REFERENCES(*)The busted viper Tyrol decomissioned was “Viper 47″(*)The number of survivors in the fleet are: 47,853

I rate this episode a continuity bending 16,315 out of 10

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Review is Copyright Ryan Bechtel 2005

Battlsestar Galactica names, characters and everything else associated with the series are the property of Sci-Fi Channel, NBC Universal and R&D Television.

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