There Is Another Sky

Episode Report Card
Jacob Clifton: A+ | Grade It Now!
Ambling Alp
In a hurry? Read the recaplet for a nutshell description!

It's a school day but Willie's playing on his computer in the morning when Sam arrives at the Adama house, calling his "Khairei." He jerks the headphone out of Willie's ear; Joseph is asleep on the couch in his robe, having fully gone there. I don't think I've ever seen a show or movie where the dad goes into full-on couch depression like this, have you? Nancy Botwin, and Jessica Lange in Men Don't Leave, but never the dad. It's terrifying either way, trust me, but this seems more terrifying because it's so unusual. Joe tries to pull it together and take Willie to school, but he's in no shape and Willie doesn't need any of his mess anyway, because nobody but Joe thinks Sam is actually going to take him to school instead of into the movie Goodfellas.

Things right under your nose. I was so in Joe's space the first time I saw this episode that I honestly heard Willie the same way he did: "I'd prefer if Sam took me to school" meant just that at first, and not the opposite. So Joe's going to feel like a totally bad parent when Sam leaves, but then he's going to find out where Sam's taken his kid, and then try to fit them both into a stupid fishing fantasy to get back to when things were normal, and in all of these cases he's just climbing right in the casket with Shannon and Tamara, because that's what we do. And when he leaves Sam's going to try to remind Joe to be a man, to be a Tauron man and all that implies including fatherhood, and Joe is going to laugh and say that he's just a Caprican, like Sam said, which means that he is weak and not a man at all. And through all this, Joe's so ashamed he can't even get mad.

"...First, you be a father. And when you can manage that, maybe I'll introduce you to your son." But that's not the most important thing he says; the most important thing he says is the last thing he says: "Wake up, brother." It's a theme, but it's a song too. A poem by one of my favorites, and who in fifty years will be one of Willie's favorites too:

There is another sky,
Ever serene and fair,
And there is another sunshine,
Though it be darkness there;
Never mind faded forests, Austin,
Never mind silent fields --
Here is a little forest,
Whose leaf is ever green;
Here is a brighter garden,
Where not a frost has been;
In its unfading flowers
I hear the bright bee hum:
Prithee, my brother,
Into my garden come!

When we lose someone, the Tauron ritual reminds us, we go with them into the Underworld. The job -- which we have to do, in their honor -- becomes finding our way home again. That's what Orpheus & Eurydice is about. (Orpheus is about a lot of stuff, but that particular story is about this.) So on one level you have Sam beckoning to his brother, to come back to the "brighter garden." But you also have Tamara, whose violence is echoed in her brother here, sending messages from the Underworld. And in every case, the message is the same: "Wake up." Grief and fear are a dream from which you can eventually wake, if you stay strong.

Which leads into the other thing -- and settle in because it's a biggie, with its fingerprints all over this episode, and the entire show, which is why I'm doing it upfront even though doing that invariably earns me even more hatemail than getting the fanfic people all riled up -- which is the purpose of Matrix metaphors to begin with. And I've thought about going here but second-guessed, which I should know by now means I'm going to end up taking too long for having not built it in advance, so whatever, page forward until I shut up.

Before this job, before I even knew television was okay, I did the kind of drastic overthinking you regularly see on display here, but silently. And on comic books. (You were warned.) I make knowing references to comics but I don't ever really talk about how important they were to me growing up, because that's not really how I see myself now so I don't think about it a lot. But three writers in particular -- Gaiman's Sandman, Milligan's Shade and Enigma, and Morrison's Invisibles -- left the same mark on me that they've left on anybody you've ever met that gets all woggle-eyed if they talk about them. Which is why we don't.

Before The Matrix, before Dark City or eXistenZ or any of the other ones I glibly noted last week (although around the same time as Snow Crash, speaking of things that saved my literal life) there was this: These three writers who brought the Matrix metaphor to life. (The Invisibles, which is the most important comic book ever written in my opinion, was openly a huge inspiration for those movies... And come to think of it, suffered exactly the same way for the same reasons and along basically the same timeline as BSG's overall arc, which is a discussion for another time).

In every case, you've got somebody who for whatever reason has control over the mutable world -- like Neo, like Tamara -- which is itself a recapitulation of the particular Hero's Journey iteration that goes into wizards and shamanism: Guy (or Gal) goes with the Guide and has all the Quests and everything, and eventually learns the Language of the Birds, which is just code for rewriting the code.

What the stories above, among others, synthesized about this mytheme is the fact that if you have absolute -- if glitchy -- power over the Matrix, then you are totally accountable for what happens. It goes both ways. Sandman's Dream King, Morpheus, affects the weather with his moods (like, for another example of this concept, Peter Pan) and eventually engineers his own fate in a brilliantly complex and moving way. The tremendous Rac Shade ricochets through America and sexuality -- and eventually, time -- laying brutal waste to everything he loves, out of his own selfish blindness and innate sense of wonder. Enigma and Michael are this whole other fucked up thing about existentialism, while the Invisibles are just about the most... Just read it. I can't even.

But so in every case, including here, it's the implication that matters: If your mind -- not your ego, not the best and most "you" part of you, but the Self, all of you -- is in charge of reality, then you had better fucking come correct. Because the things you don't allow yourself to think are the things that are going to fuck you up. Guaranteed. (Not to mention everybody else, if you're not present for the decisions you "don't know" you're making just as much as you are for the ones you're able to own.)

That's every story ever written. It's the point of every single religion that ever existed. If life can be said to have objective "meaning," I would honestly say that this is it. Buffy spent two much-ballyhooed seasons exploring this idea, sometimes explicitly, but looking back I would say -- beyond obviously "Primeval"/"Restless" -- that the Riley arc and "Conversations With Dead People" in particular are about acknowledging and taking ownership of the ways we warp the world around us. The good and bad there. The people/worlds you leave behind when you are so set on ignoring your effect on the personal world all around you, what it does to them.

It's the reason I loved writing about Lt. Thrace so much, and eventually fell in love with her without ever identifying with her: That was her story. She painted the sky. She wrote the Starbuck story, starring Starbuck. She came back from Heaven unbroken, and brought us all home. And she did that by being braver than we can imagine, in ways we barely knew about sometimes, and in ways that usually looked more crazy than not, because she knew the Underworld and learned to speak the language of birds. Shit

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