Polarizing TV: My Love for the Episode “Unfinished Business”

It is an inevitable fact that episode quality will vary over the course of a show’s run. Some episodes will be nothing short of brilliant, some will be somewhere on the not very good to horrible spectrum depending on the show, others will fall in the space in between good and bad. Then there are the polarizing episodes – the ones you either love or hate because there is no middle ground. They are usually the ones that feature some sort of risk, whether it be narrative, related to the structure of the story, or focusing on a controversial character. Whatever the cause, they result in strong reactions from both parties.

I’ve encountered many such episodes in my TV watching history, from Breaking Bad’s “The Fly” to The West Wing’s “The Debate” to the entire 6th season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. But there is none of these polarizing episodes that I love quite as much as I love Battlestar Galactica’s “Unfinished Business”.

As I demonstrated last week, I like Battlestar Galactica when it is breaking my heart. Katee Sackhoff in particular is good at making me hurt with her acting. Therefore, it is not too surprising that I love this episode since emotional pain is the theme of this bottle episode. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not complete sadness. There is quite the adorable scene of Bill Adama and Laura Roslin being cute and happy while getting high together. But mostly it’s just sadness.

For some people, the structure of the episode didn’t work. The show basically took a break from the main narrative to do a bottle episode centered around 2 boxing matches with some things that happened in the break between seasons two and three. I can see why that would be unappealing to some. For others, I think the problem was that the episode spent a lot of time on issues related to the Love Square of Doom and if that story wasn’t working for you already, this episode really wasn’t going to be fun for you to watch.

While both of those are legitimate issues, the use of the Kara/Lee flashbacks in juxtaposition with their boxing match plus Bear McCreary’s score all came together so that I was just a pile of emotions at the end. I will admit that within the truly terrible and sad Love Square, I am a Kara and Lee shipper so the flashbacks were both happier and more heartbreaking for me.

Kara and Lee do not make a functional couple, as this episode illustrates. There is so much baggage between them, even leaving out the entirety of this episode, that in combination with their individual issues it’s probably more than any one relationship can stand. They do make a compelling couple though because they are connected and have that history and baggage that others can’t touch. They may love other people but they will always find their way back to each other because they can’t and don’t want to stay away. They are the couple that has the promise of something beautiful but it’s always just a little out of their grasp. They are the couple who makes up from a fight that was based on Kara getting scared and running away from the promise of Lee by beating the hell out of each other until neither can do anything but cling to the other for support.

I don’t think there is anything in this episode that is sadder than the look on Dee’s face during this scene. No one deserves what Lee and Kara put her through emotionally. It would be hard to know that you’re not the only woman your husband loves. It would be even harder to watch it. Lee’s world got put back together by making up with Kara. Things were right again for both of them and that was clear to everyone who was still around.

I love how emotional this episode makes me. Very little of it is happy emotion, but it just creates this wave of intense emotion in me that I just love. I want that level of emotional intensity in my TV and this episode delivers perfectly.

What are some polarizing episodes/shows/seasons that you love? Or if you can’t think of one of those, what show/episode/character do you love that everyone else dislikes?



6 thoughts on “Polarizing TV: My Love for the Episode “Unfinished Business”

  1. Once again, I love reading your thoughts on the shows you love—even if it’s a show I haven’t watched yet. This episode sounds fascinating, but maybe that’s just because I love episodes that deviate from the norm.

    My tastes are generally pretty “mainstream” when it comes to fandom. I tend to like “canon” couples, and most of the time I gravitate towards characters a lot of people also love. Some might say I’m boring like that. 😉

    However, there are still more than a few polarizing, “love it or hate it” things in the world of television that I come down firmly on the “love it” side of.

    Mellie Grant (Scandal): I will defend Mellie until I’m blue in the face (and have defended her in writing until my fingers cramped up). Maybe it’s because I came into the show in Season Three, when Mellie was already a fleshed-out character, but I don’t see how anyone can hate this character—at least not the way she’s written (and acted) anymore. She’s not just “the wife” or the “obstacle” for Olivia and Fitz—she’s an ambitious, complex, force of nature who deserves more appreciation than many who watch Scandal are willing to give her. Mellie is so much deeper and more compelling than people think she is at first glance—both on the show and among Scandal fans.

    Sansa Stark (GoT): I physically cringe when I read (or hear) critics and fans who still refer to Sansa as “weak.” In the GoT fandom, there are two kinds of people: Those who want Sansa to be more like Arya because she’s the “boring” Stark sister, and those who fiercely love Sansa for the strong woman she’s become. I think you know which I camp I fall into. Sansa is a survivor, and I don’t think she gets enough credit for surviving in a world that would have killed others in her family. She used people’s negative perceptions of her to her advantage, and somehow she never lost her sense of self in a world that could have corrupted or destroyed her. There are so many different ways a woman can be strong, and Sansa’s strength is the kind of strength I relate to. People who still dislike her because they see her as a weakling simply aren’t paying attention to her growth, or they simply choose to view her as weak because she’s traditionally feminine.

    Logan Huntzberger (Gilmore Girls): I’m not sure I believe that Rory should have ended up with Logan in the end (it should always have been Jess), but Logan was a much better match for her than I think he ever got credit for. I even cried when she turned him down at the end of the show’s run. I think the theme of my favorite “love it or hate it” characters are characters who are still defined by people’s first impressions of them. What I loved about Logan was that he grew. He wasn’t perfect, but he became a better man by loving Rory. I genuinely believed he loved her, and I really enjoyed their dynamic. It was often bright and fun and surprisingly sweet, and it lit up what were a sometimes dreary final couple of seasons on Gilmore Girls.

    Alias Season Three: A lot of people will say that this season is when Alias started to go downhill. Time jumps, complicated mysteries, no Irina, Vaughn’s wife—there’s no denying that this season had issues. But I still loved it. It may be because it was the first season I watched after discovering the Alias fandom, but it will always hold a special place in my heart. Jennifer Garner was stellar in this season. Watch her lash out at Vaughn (“I would have waited…”) and tell me that wasn’t her Emmy moment. She was asked to do a lot in terms of Sydney’s vulnerability, and she delivered every time. And the sexual tension between her and Michael Vartan was so good that it actually made the love triangle work. “Crossings” is still one of my favorite Alias episodes of all time because of the beautiful Syd/Vaughn angst. Many people will argue that Alias lost its groove after Season Two, but I will always believe that Season Three was the last season that kept me emotionally invested in the ways this show could do like no other in its day.

    “The End” (aka the Lost series finale): I won’t say too much because I know you’re still on Season Three, Heather, but I’m sure you know that this is probably one of the most divisive finales of all time. People HATED the way the mythology was handled, the way the “sideways universe” was explained, the way religion was worked into the finale, and the way the creators weren’t shy about stating that the mysteries they built up over six seasons ended up mattering so much less than the characters’ journeys. But I LOVED that this episode was character-heavy rather than exposition-heavy. I say it all the time: If a show can make me feel, I don’t need its plot to be perfect. This episode is the defining example of that. I didn’t care about the answers I got about the island; I cared about the characters. In the end, it didn’t matter to me that every question was answered the way I wanted them to be. What mattered was Sawyer and Juliet at a vending machine, Ben and Locke outside of a church, and Jack and Vincent among the trees. Emotional satisfaction and catharsis mean so much more to me than a perfect plot, and that catharsis that Lost gave me the day after I graduated from college is something I will always be thankful for.

    1. I just don’t understand how people can dislike Mellie. She’s so much more than the bitter wife being cheated on and Bellamy Young does such a fantastic job with her. I’m sure there is something that other people see (or don’t see) in her that I completely disagree about but I haven’t figured out what it is.

      You gave me feelings about Logan that I didn’t realize I still had. He took a while to grow on me (I was very strongly a Marty fan for the first part of Rory’s college life) but then he grew up and changed and became a good man. He was good for Rory and with Rory and I was heartbroken when she turned him down.

      I’m pretty sure that LOST may be the most divisive finale that I’ve heard of yet. The majority of the internet seems to hate it but everyone whose TV opinion I trust completely loves it so I imagine that is the side I will end up on as well.

      On a self-serving note, I’m glad that the lack of answers or unsatisfying plots aren’t enough to make you dislike a finale if the character moments are right. It’ll help if you decide to watch BSG at some point 😉

    2. Mellie is the Regina of Scandal. As someone who watched the early seasons and dropped the show mid-season 2. Mellie was a characteristic Lady MacBeth, Bellamy Young sold it so that it was entertaining but she was an inch deep and served as the justification for the audience to ‘root’ for Fitz and Olivia. It’s not so far removed from the Derek, Meredith, Addison storyline Grey’s introduced. That said, they have from what bits and pieces I have seen given Mellie some depth to offer nuance to who the audience is first introduced to in season 1.

      As for LOST. You and I are kindred on that final episode. I was always firmly in the camp of journey, not destination on LOST which is why the show and final season as a whole worked for me. I enjoyed it as a fable and that is how I related to it. I think those who approached it from a sci-fi vantage point were the most disappointed. I also happen to be a person who loves ambiguity. The show was defined for me when they launched the raft and you see all the survivors on the shore’s edge as Jin, Michael, Walt and Sawyer sail away. I sat in my living room in tears, real tears not “oh I relate to this story” tears, but I am invested in the these people. That is why the finale worked for me and why Locke and Ben’s final scene was perfection.

  2. As I was pondering this post. I realized two things quickly 1) Katie was going to beat me to the punch on LOST’s “The End” in such an eloquent way that I would merely have to co-sign onto it. and 2) More often than not, I am on the opposite side of this argument. I am the person who has never liked Modern Family, Mad Men or 30 Rock. So I had to sit back for a minute and think about polarizing TV that I sat in the camp of ‘loved’ when most went the other way. Before LOST I always think of the Sopranos another ambiguous ending that I actually thought was terrific and left many viewers cranky. However, I am going to stick to some more recent shows for this post.

    1) Peter Florrick — Very few people have been “pro Peter” on The Good Wife, both because of the initial premise of the show and because of justified love of Josh Charles’ Will. Don’t get me wrong, I adored the will they/won’t they – damn they did interaction of Alicia and Will as much as the next viewer. However, I think Peter is a fundamentally flawed and but the only transparent character on a show that is about images and faces. Peter is in the midst of a scandal when the show opens. He is caught with his pants down, literally and figuratively. What we come to learn as a viewer is that power and ego are intoxicating elixirs and they can crumble the best of intentions and even the sincerity of an individual. Will was no less deviant and ruthless than Peter but Peter has stood as villain the bulk of the series. I adore Peter because of that transparency. He loves Alicia and his family. That is evident in every action (even the misguided ones) he takes. What we know in the complexity of adulthood is that love is not ever enough to make a marriage, a life work. Peter’s flaws are ones of arrogance when the show begins. What we learn over the last five seasons is that they are also flaws of insecurity. Persona can chew away at the corners of identity and Peter is someone who is very much the embodiment of that decay. We watch Diane struggle against it as well as Alicia and Peter is the cautionary tale of not knowing where one ends and the other begins. In the last season and a half what I have loved about Peter is his fight to redefine that identity with the acceptance of his flaws, the understanding of where they can be useful (as brilliantly displayed in tag team defense of his son with Alicia and of Alicia with those who sought to bring her down). One of my favorite scenes in the series is the phone call between Will and Peter over Alicia. Peter is right, the audience is emotionally with Will but Peter is right. It is why when Peter comforts Alicia in Will’s death and she is unresponsive it is devastating, not simply because of Alicia’s lost love, but because of Peter’s too. Peter’s easy to hate. But his clarity of character for me makes me love him warts and all.

    2) Neal/Bae — I do not ship on OUAT, I am all about the parent/child dynamics on our favorite fantasy show. As an adult Neal was a character people in the fandom wanted gone, from the ridiculous concept that he would mess with the Hook/Emma storyline/love story to a dislike of his character as a whole. I’ve thought a lot about Neal’s importance to the mythology of the show and his connectivity to key characters. We talk a lot about his connection to Emma and her trajectory and of course the entangled complicated relationship he has with Rumple. However, since the close of season 3 I have come to value Neal as a mirror for Henry. Neal’s a lost boy who spent a lifetime in search of a family. His quest was singular but often about survival not hope. In losing his mother and ultimately his father to the dark one he has desperately sought to preserve families whether is was Wendy and her brothers or more profoundly when he sacrifices his life to save Emma and Henry along with Snow, Charming and their new baby. Many feel he abandoned Emma forever changing her fate from Tallahassee. I don’t think so, I think he made a choice to side with destiny and I think the hope of reuniting ultimately with her. That his son Henry was the embodiment of that hope struck me in his death. He understood the power of magic and how it cost him his family as a boy. I think Neal owned the consequences of his choices because he had been on the receiving end of them when Rumple becomes the dark one. In his final act Bae/Neal creates a path to change the cycle of fate that is the father/son legacy of his family. Rumple was abandoned, so was Bae. Neal’s action ensure that Henry’s hope is well placed and that he won’t know the childhood both his father and grandfather suffered. For me Neal is a hero because in spite of the circumstances that life handed him, in spite of misinformed choices Neal’s heart was always to fight for family. Henry is just like his father in that way. Neal’s character changes the path of his family legacy from abandonment to commitment.

    3) Castle post the consummation of Caskett — Oh Castle, how it loves to toy with the emotions of the fandom. For the last two seasons there has been a great divide among fans about three key pieces of this show. 1) the intimacy level for Caskett 2) the proposal and 3) the wedding that wasn’t. Part of my love for Castle is the broader picture and universe of the show. I love how the show has slow burned their relationship. For me particularly in season 3 & 4 they built the emotional intimacy of these two characters. So when they got them together there was an expectation for the show to change and be about a dating couple who solve crimes. There was much blow back about the lack of chemistry and the lack of sex between the leads. People seemed to have wanted to have the relationship come to the forefront. The thing is, Kate and Rick’s relationship has always been at the forefront of the show. It was what they had spent 4 seasons building. What I loved is that the show remained the same. It simply continued to navigate what it meant to for these two to be in love in the open when their intimacy has been established without romance. I didn’t require the in your face indicators that others craved. For me the best ‘romantic’ moment of season 5 was when Kate explains the stick man that she and her dad created the day of her mother’s funeral. It was a moment within an episode that opened the realization their were private corners they had yet to discover about each other and that there was an entire new level of discovery that comes from knowing someone instinctively. There are few couples on television I love more that Rick and Kate and it is because their romance is grounded in reality. Which leads me to the second bone of contention. The proposal. I loved the proposal at the end of season 5 because it was sober and had weight to it. Castle has been married two times, this was different. This was not about a grand gesture it was about the grounded commitment of wanting to stand by Kate’s side and take the journey beside her. I loved it because for all the whimsy and shallowness we know Rick for, the show has done a great job of giving us moments of his seriousness. It’s rare and specific and that proposals was one of them. And finally, the finale explosion heard round the fandom and I don’t mean Rick’s car. People are still fuming from this episode. For me, I was firmly in the camp that the wedding wasn’t going to happen. All the pieces along the season felt like a red herring and the entire wedding felt like it wasn’t Rick and Kate because it lacked the thing that makes them special, that unique intimacy that makes them resonate. And while I had my qualms with the episode – too much time on a case of no importance, the final minutes didn’t plague me the way it did others. The game change for the episode comes midway through in the best scene of the episode between Rick and Kate on the bench. We get a burden free vulnerable Kate countered by a grounded Rick that is sincere, confident in a way that isn’t driven by charm and bravado. With the central mythology of the show resolved, this opened a door to explore a side of Castle we’ve only seen glimpses of over the six seasons. I think it sets up a role reversal of the leads of sorts and that excites me. We know this couple is unbreakable in partnership and in love. So while I didn’t love the device they used to get us there I appreciated the clearing of the decks and pivots us into a space that allows the show to explore these characters from a new vantage point.

    1. I love these choices. I am at best ambivalent about Peter on his own, though I’m often interested in his relationships with Alicia and Eli, so I really enjoyed your defense of him. With all his faults, he does love Alicia and the kids and they are a great team when they choose to be. Maybe it was because his scandals have all been so public, but you’re right, he is more aware of his flaws than some others on the show.

      I don’t venture out into Castle fandom much and was either completely unaware or I chose to forget that people were unhappy with the Caskett relationship prior to the most recent season finale. Like you, I am excited about what season 7 brings because I know I don’t have to be worried about the state of the relationship. They are solid and that’s not going to change.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s