BG4: “Blood on the Scales”

BLOODY SPOILERS AHEAD:  Tonight’s episode is a direct continuation from last week, literally picking up seconds after we left off.  The music, similarly, is a close cousin to last week’s score.  However, that score emphasized the hushed, conspiratorial actions of the mutineers setting up their plan, and Blood on the Scales is more consistently bombastic and aggressive: a full-out war in music. 

(L-R: Doctor Osamu Kitajima, biwa / Gregg Walsh, shamisen / M.B. Gordy, tsuzumi)

The score of Battlestar Galactica has always been a mixture of musical cultures from around the world.  However, my music for The Oath featured distinct Japanese influences by incorporating the biwa, shamisen and tsuzumi. These Japanese instrumental colors were so effective last week, I featured them even more prominently in Blood on the Scales.  They are woven throughout the entire episode, adding energy, forward momentum and a distinctly unique Kabuki theater / Chinese opera feel.

*** A Japanese Sound ***

I learned valuable lessons during The Oath, and applied them to my work on Blood on the Scales. As a result, the score to Blood is more refined, polished and ultimately even more effective.  The first lesson was that, while the shamisen and biwa blend together beautifully, the shamisen is much louder and tonally clearer than the biwa.  The biwa was getting a little lost in the mixes. 

For this week’s show, I altered my approach and wrote in such a way as to allow more room for Doctor Osamu Kitajima’s haunting biwa performances.  While the instrument is threaded throughout the entire score, the most prominent biwa solo can be heard as Kelly marches down the hallway.  He sneaks away from the pack, breaking down beneath the weight of his guilt and confusion, and the solitary biwa speaks to his isolation and desperation.

For most cues, the Kabuki theater / Chinese opera inspired instrumentation was added to the typical Galactica ensemble. But, I had so much fun with these sounds, I decided to write a cue using only these and similar instruments, to give the score a more genuine, authentic Asian feel.

The scene I picked for this experiment was the beginning of the episode, as Roslin’s raptor escapes to the baseship.  I wrote an extremely energetic action cue, but I stripped away all Middle-Eastern percussion, woodwinds and European harmonies.  I removed all trippy synths and electronic effects.  The only instruments I allowed in this cue were ones that would realistically appear in traditional Japanese music: taikos, small hand percussion, chang changs, tsuzumi, bansuri, shamisen and biwa. 

The only other time I’ve ever experimented with this idea was during “Fight Night” from Season 3, which was scored for taiko ensemble and Chinese membrane flutes.  However, at the end of the cue, I broke down and threw in a huge wall of wailing synthesizer textures.  This time, I wanted to see if I could resist that temptation to fill out the arrangement with non-Eastern sounds.

For Roslin’s escape, I basically succeeded.  The cue weaves and ducks through all the necessary emotional beats without the help of strings, synths or Middle Eastern soloists.  However, the resultant ensemble is still an unusual combination of instruments (biwa and shamisen are never found in one group, for example).  But, it still sounds distinctly Japanese and was immensely fun to write. 

*** Chris Bleth Returns! ***

To further enhance the Japanese musical character of this first cue, I lifted my long-standing ban on the use of shakuhachi in the score to Battlestar Galactica.  I’ve generally avoided using this instrument simply because there was a period in the late 90’s when every film and tv show seemed to have a shakuhachi in the score and I frankly grew weary of the sound.  However, the timbre is relatively unique, so I made an exception for this cue and asked Chris Bleth to bring it along with his other woodwinds.  A shakuhachi on Battlestar was bound to happen one of these days.

Chris Bleth is our woodwind virtuoso on Galactica.  I’m always impressed with his work ethic and incredible talent, but was particularly amazed by him during sessions for Blood on the Scales.  Chris was unable to record for The Oath because he was a little busy that week… getting a new frakkin’ kidney!  This was a surgery that we all knew was coming for some time, and we’d always hoped that it wouldn’t occur when we were in the middle of scoring a season of Galactica.  No such luck.

The woodwinds for last week’s The Oath were actually performed by a sub, Pedro Eustache.  I didn’t point it out last week, but you can actually hear the stylistic difference in the performance of the duduk and bansuris in that score.  Pedro did an outstanding job, and I’m grateful to him for coming in and playing these rare and exotic instruments.  But, I was eager for Chris to return.  His musical voice and personality are connected directly to the soul of this series and it felt wrong to do even a single episode without him.

I asked Chris about the experience and he said “I was in recovery for maybe 5 or 6 hours. I don’t really know because I was so doped up and had a morphine drip that they told me to use. I remember talking to the nurse a couple of times and then being wheeled into my room and having to ‘help’ them slide me over to the bed. That hurt like hell because the abdominals came into play and they were cut up pretty well. A preview of the next few weeks at that moment. They kept me in the hospital for 4 nights.

‘There were moments when I could not imagine being able to play again. But at the two-week point I started with recorders which require no support to play; of course this is the totally wrong way to play them but it let me get my fingers going! A week or so later I started playing a little flute which again, if one plays incorrectly, can make a noise without much abdominal support.”

At around this time, I began composing Blood on the Scales, not knowing who would play the woodwinds at the eventual sessions.  Chris later told me “at just before the four-week point I visited the surgeon and asked when I could start playing the difficult instruments like oboe, duduk and clarinet and to my surprise he said ‘now.’ So, I went home that night and tried the oboe for about one minute. Ugh…it did not feel good at all but I kept up with it little by little, as well as the duduk, and actually took a jingle on duduk and ethnic flutes right at the four week anniversary. Got through it so I decided I could then start working again – selectively. That meant I took Bear’s shows but kept turning down Motion Picture orchestral calls for a month longer.”

Shortly before we began sessions for Blood on the Scales, Chris called me up and let me know he was ready to come back into the studio.  I was thrilled, but also nervous that he was pushing himself too hard. 

However, a few short weeks after he had a major surgery, Chris was back playing duduk, bansuri, membrane flutes (and shakuhachi) and sounding incredible as ever.  This is a guy who had an organ replaced during production of Season 4 and only missed one episode.  That’s the kind of dedication our musicians have to Battlestar Galactica!

Chris also told me that he used his weeks of bed-ridden recovery to catch up on watching Battlestar Galactica, which he had never seen!  “I have been waiting for something like this to start on it and we have loved it. The show is great and the music is really great to hear in context (finally). I was kind of amazed at how much of a duduk showpiece that show is. You have probably used it more than anyone ever will again and to great effect I might add. You really have done an amazing job with those scores. It is like watching a motion picture every episode.”

“Playing on BG has been a fantastic experience for me,” Chris later said.  “Bear’s writing has forced me to grow and the funniest thing is that, somewhere during season 3, I was able to acquire a few more duduks in different keys from my friend VIK at www.araratmusiconline.com. I never told Bear this but, once I got them, there were some episodes that had duduk parts I could not have gotten through without some trickery if I did not have those new duduks! This show is a challenge as well as a blast to work on because the music is so good. I feel very fortunate that Bear invited me to be a part of ‘Galactica.’”

*** Thematic Writing:
Gaeta and Zarek ***

While the defining musical character of Blood on the Scales is clearly the unique instrumentation, it actually features unusually vibrant and nearly-operatic thematic composition.  Blood is the third and final episode in a three-episode arc, beginning with Ron Moore’s A Disquiet Follows My Soul.  For that episode, I composed the Tom Zarek theme, a character theme I’d always wanted an excuse to write:

Once that theme was written, I realized that I now had a thematic identity for virtually every major character that had even been featured on the series! This thematic approach has not gone un-noticed by the producers.  Supervising producer and writer David Weddle commented “your music has become part of the fabric of the show and much of Battlestar’s power and mystery and lyricism comes from your work.  I particularly admire the way you have developed themes for each character and plot thread.  This, of course, is done by many composers.  But you have done this over the course of four years and you have developed and complicated and evolved those themes along with the characters and story lines.  So when we touch upon Athena and Helo, or Dualla and Lee, or Kara Thrace, Laura Roslin, William Adama, the Final Five, you remind us subconsciously of all the moments and the continuity of their journey that led to this moment, and then you subtly amplify and alter it as new developments unfold.  It contributes immeasurably to the epic sweep of the series.”

For Blood on the Scales, I didn’t compose any new melodies at all, but allowed myself to dive into the toy-box of themes I’ve already created and weave them in and out of the musical texture. I took the Kabuki theater / Chinese opera concept introduced last week and expanded it into the most theme-driven, operatic, dramatic and narrative score I’ve ever composed for Battlestar Galactica.

As a general rule throughout this episode, the score is quoting a character’s theme when he or she is onscreen.  This is an idea I’ve used on Galactica before, but never to this literal extreme.  Take, for example, the confrontation between Gaeta and Zarek after the execution of the quorum.  As Gaeta witnesses the bodies and accuses Zarek of murder, a solo duduk sings a melancholy statement of the Verse of his theme:

Zarek makes his case, assuring him it’s not murder, but a coup.  Here, Paul Cartwright’s electric violin takes over and whispers a statement of Zarek’s theme, both sad and deathly ominous.

Gaeta refutes to accept this, arguing “It’s a lie. This is all based on lies.”  The duduk returns as well, stating the Chorus of Gaeta’s Lament:

This literal character-theme-based scoring can become oppressive if not handled delicately.  And, though the duduk and electric violin are literally conversing back and forth exactly as Gaeta and Zarek exchange lines, the musical presence is understated enough that it doesn’t stand out or feel overtly manipulative.

Richard Hatch, who plays Tom Zarek, told me that the scene in Colonial One after all the council members had been slaughtered was “the most painful and challenging scene I’ve ever played in my life.  Amazing how we actors can get so emotionally involved in our characters and the situations the writers put us in really push our morality buttons.  This situation reminded me of the scenes on the Pegasus where Cain has to kill civilians to protect the greater interest of the fleet.  Don’t know many people who could make such a call and live with themselves.  Tom had to become more or less than human to make that call depending on how you look at it, but for me and I believe Tom Zarek, this had to be the most challenging and painful decision of his life.  He had actually grown to care about many of these council members and they had come to believe in him and support his agenda, and now he had to commit fully to the mutiny and the adage that you’re either with us or against us and there is no in-between. 

‘I was not looking forward to playing this scene and was trying to find a viable way to play the scene in a way I could live with.  I was truly lost and quite depressed!  But thanks to the support of the director and producer of this episode I was able to get through it successfully.  As Ron and many others have said about this ‘Battlestar’ series: we’re all forced to take a deeper and more honest look at ourselves and the beliefs we hold about life and where we might be going as a race into the future.  This ‘Battlestar’ has truly been life changing for me and I’m truly grateful.”

*** Thematic Writing:
Other Themes ***

Another significant musical theme in this episode is the Military Theme that has come to signify the relationship between Adama and Tigh:

This theme has been around since season one, but has actually never made it on to a soundtrack album yet.  It underscores almost every scene that Tigh and Adama have ever shared.

It’s first heard in Blood in minor mode, played in a melancholy statement on the bansuri, when Zarek lies to Adama and tells him that his friend, Saul Tigh, has been killed.  The theme recalls every close moment they have ever shared, and underscores the crushing heartbreak Adama tries to hide from his captors.

The second time the bansuri plays this theme is in a very different character.  At the moment we reveal that Tigh and his gang have saved Adama from execution, an intense percussion arsenal blasts in, featuring the shamisen, biwa and tsuzumi stronger than ever before. 

As Adama steps forward and addresses the captured mutineers, the military theme returns, but this time played with energy and inspiration, back in its original major mode.  The theme functions as a call to arms, as Adama announces he’s going to take his ship back.

We hear the military theme a third time as he marches through the halls with his growing army of supporters.  Here the arrangement is huge, an uplifting march set against a blazingly fast taiko groove.

Blood also allowed me to bring back the Romo Lampkin theme, for the first time since I wrote it for Sine Qua Non:

In that episode, this melody line was almost always played by a duet of bansuri and Chinese membrane flute in octaves. (This unusual doubling sets it apart from all other woodwind melody lines because I’ve never used it before or since.) 

Tonight, the melody is first heard on the duduk in the scene where Gaeta and Zarek enlist Romo to serve as Adama’s representation. Romo asks Gaeta “Why are you doing this?” and he replies “For justice.”  At this moment the minor-third ostinato, the backbone of Lampkin’s theme, sneaks in, played on piano, Rhodes, gamelan and harp:

Finally, the distinct bansuri / membrane flute duet sneaks in, completing the theme.  While Lampkin’s tune is only heard briefly throughout Season 4, I was glad that I wrote it for Sine Qua Non so I could bring it back for this brilliantly tense scene.

Actor Mark Sheppard, who plays Romo Lampkin, said that the filming of this sequence “was a heavy day, shooting in Adama’s quarters (a first for me), looking at that damn model ship… hallowed ground.  Zarek knows he’s dead from the first call, my job is to stall…stall…stall… keep the old man alive just long enough to end the madness and maybe stay alive in the process (bastard doesn’t care if he dies).” Of his costars he simply said “Eddie, AJ and Richard…wow.”

The Lampkin theme returns during Romo’s most exciting scene in the entire series, in my modest opinion.  After he stabs a guard to death with a ballpoint pen (mightier than the sword, indeed!), his theme is whispered gently by Chris Bleth on the bansuri while he collects his belongings from the marine’s dead body.

“The stunt team made me look real good!” Sheppard recalled.  “I think I bruised [stunt performer] Adrian’s ribs pretty badly.  He’s a big boy and it’s a ways to climb.  [Writer Michael] Angeli always wanted a physical side to Romo, something you would never expect.”

Lampkin is then faced with the moral dilemma of saving himself or helping Kara carry the mortally-wounded Anders to Doc Cottle.  “Romo always believed that he was a little beyond ‘soldiering.’” Sheppard explained.  “The soldiers can take care of themselves, besides, it’s frakkin’ dangerous!” 

However, something inside Lampkin tells him that this moment is different.  Mark Sheppard explained “I think Romo realized that, maybe for the first time, Kara couldn’t do it alone.”

As Kara pleads him to stay, a solo erhu states the Starbuck Theme:

As I’ve said before, Kara’s character has multiple thematic ideas associated with her.  The erhu is strongly connected to the Kara Destiny Theme, so in using it to state the Starbuck Theme, I hoped to make a subtle, subconscious connection between the two.  After her discovery of her own body on Earth, her dual identities as a headstrong solider and as a leader with a mystical “destiny” are becoming intertwined, and so must the two different themes.

Roslin’s Theme is also featured in several prominent sequences:

We hear it first as she broadcasts her renegade signal. 

Despite the fact that Adama believes Saul has been killed, hearing Laura’s voice instills him with hope and strength.  Her theme here helps underline this idea.

And of course, her theme underscores her shockingly energetic and aggressive “I’m coming for you!” speech.  It starts simply, sneaking in as she first refuses to surrender, played on a membrane flute and erhu.  Then, as her momentum picks up, a heavy percussion groove gathers steam and the shamisen and biwa build a steady groove underneath. 

*** Saying Goodbye
to Felix and Tom ***

Obviously, the two most important character themes in this episode are the Zarek Theme and Gaeta’s Lament.  These two characters set all these events into motion, and their personal stories come to a bittersweet end.  Of their tragic partnership, Mark Sheppard said “I always thought it would come to this: Zarek is a true revolutionary. He had to make his play and the only way he could win support in the fleet was to have a ‘legitimate’ confederate by his side.  But he ran out of candidates.  Gaeta as Ché?!?  Gaeta is too much of a romantic to lead a revolution.  He wants mercy, not justice.  But he’s all that’s left, and so the fatal flaw…”

Musically, they are well-represented in Blood on the Scales.  I incorporated their themes to underscore their nearly every action. 

Prominent statements of Gaeta’s Lament can be heard as Adama is brought before him in the CIC at the beginning of the episode.  A solo erhu states another melancholy verse as Gaeta stands in Adama’s quarters at the end, making the decision to execute the Admiral.  The darkest version plays when Adama takes back the CIC, as he stares down Gaeta with an icy glare.

Zarek’s theme can be heard as he decides to execute the quorum and throughout the scenes in the CIC where he is calling out orders.  The most powerful statement comes towards the end, immediately after Gaeta yells “Weapons hold!”  This is the moment where Zarek realizes that Gaeta has found the line he won’t cross and that their cause is lost.  Even though we know this is, in fact, a victory for Adama, I played this brief moment with a tragic statement of Zarek’s theme, because he knows, as does the audience, that there’s no way he’s going to survive this turn of events.

However, for me personally, this episode is all about Gaeta.  I’ve always felt a great deal of sympathy for him, and enjoyed his character.  Then, when I was able to write a song for him in Guess What’s Coming to Dinner, I felt like I had a personal investment in making his character even more sympathetic.  That made it all the more painful (and rewarding) for me to work on this episode, to witness him take this destructive path. 

I was not alone.  Co-executive producer and The Oath writer Mark Verheiden told me that he thinks of this three-episode arc (Disquiet, Oath and Blood) as the definitive statement on poor Mr. Gaeta.  Again, the tragedy of Gaeta was that he was always the loyal soldier, but time and again he found himself on the short end of the stick despite his best intentions.  In ‘Collaborators,’ he was almost executed (mostly by people who were eventually revealed to be Cylons!) after helping the resistance on New Caprica.  He loses his leg when he goes along with Helo’s mutiny (in ‘The Road Less Traveled’ and ‘Faith’).  And then his devotion to Adama is rocked when Adama makes this agreement with the Cylons.  He’s really one of the saddest characters in the show.  Incidentally, my original draft of ‘Oath’ featured several flashbacks to the mini-series, where Gaeta was a cheerful, loyal friend to Adama… I suspect those were dropped for time, but I do miss that contrast a little.”

The Gaeta and Zarek themes are predominant also because I knew I would have no further opportunities to bring them back in later episodes. We must say goodbye to them both before the end of Blood. 

The scene leading up to the execution features Baltar and Gaeta speaking over coffee and cigarettes.  Their conversation is heart-breakingly intimate and honest.  Here, we learn more about Gaeta’s past, when he had a promising future before him.  The score exudes a calmness, a sincerity and pathos that is meant to be simultaneously lyrical, warm and un-nerving. 

Between dialog lines, the gamelan, harp and piano play elongated statements of the accompaniment riff from Gaeta’s Lament:

The strings ebb and flow like a tide beneath the accompanimental figure, infusing it with a gentle warmth missing from the Guess What’s Coming to Dinner score for which it was composed.  I was careful to tread lightly, so as not to overload this scene with sentimentality. 

Gaeta speaks of his life as a young man, finally leading to his discovery of science.  At this point, a lyrical, solo erhu plays the Verse of Gaeta’s Lament.  I wanted to underline this shift in the conversation, because he’s now speaking of the stage in his life when we, as the audience, first met him.  He was an energetic, young science officer who looked up to Baltar as his hero.  How pitiful that he should end up here, confessing to him under these circumstances.

Baltar assures him, “I know who you are.”  The score holds a single long note that sustains as we reveal that Gaeta is now beside Zarek, before the firing squad. 

This was an emotionally demanding scene for me to score, but not as much as it was for the actors to perform.  Richard Hatch confessed that “saying goodbye to Tom Zarek has been quite challenging to me as I truly love playing this character and feel that we’ve only begun to know who this guy really is.  In fact, Tom Zarek is one of my most favorite characters of all time as the levels of complexity and conflict within this often misunderstood guy are mind-bending.  Although I must say that I wish there had been more time in the show to develop more of Tom’s back story and give him more of a through-line in the ongoing story.  But I do understand that there are many wonderful characters and actors in this series with too little time so I’m grateful to even have a small role to play in such a well-written and acted show.  The joy of acting these days for me is directly connected to the quality of the character and story I’m involved in.  It’s hard for me to get excited about acting in a story that has little meaning or relevance to the world, especially after working on such an intelligent, rare and extraordinary series as ‘Battlestar Galactica.’  Acting has never  been about the fame or money for me, but for the spiritual journey it has put me on.   I’ve grown immensely on all levels from the challenges acting has presented me and every story and character I’ve been involved in has taught me something valuable about myself and life in general.  Learning to be more forgiving of myself and others’ imperfections, and learning how to love myself unconditionally has been the challenge of my life.  My career in acting has certainly been the acid test of my soul.”

“To be honest I was very uncomfortable with the way my character met his end but, to some degree, it made sense considering how the story was aspected,” Richard continued. “I had always hoped that in the end we would see Tom reveal more of his humanity and that, despite his anger at the injustices he and many of his close friends had suffered at the hands of institutional power, he would finally rise above it all and embody more of the Mandella-style of revolutionary.   Regardless of how lost Tom might have gotten in his own pain and distrust of society, he still cared about the people and quality of life and freedom he believed was their birth right.  But having suffered for years in prison for his idealism and having crossed the humanity line more than once to survive within a very suppressive government on his planet at the time, he was no longer willing to put up with what he truly believed was an unfair, biased, arrogant and condescending, mock government on the Galactica that seemingly cared little for the democratic processes of law.  And Tom, a reborn realist, realized that he could no longer live and function within such a system and finally decided to stop playing the chess game and take action.  I actually think he was ready to die as life for him had just become another prison, and one he chose not to be a part of.”

As the firing squad is revealed, the lingering tone in the score begins to fade away, leaving only the high strings on a gentle fifth harmonic.  The music is completely stripped of emotion now, neither sad nor celebratory.  It’s simply an open fifth that feels unresolved, as if the score is about to go somewhere else.  But instead, it disappears into complete silence, just a beat before Gaeta looks at his amputated leg and realizes the itching had subsided.

“It stopped.”  And with that, the music stops as well.  We cut to black on the reverberant echo of gunfire that provides an appropriately musical punctuation to this tragic story.

“I had really mixed feelings,” Alessandro Juliani told me, of his character’s death prior to the finale.  “At the time, I thought it was a pretty wicked way to go out. But I did miss being a part of the grand finale in all of its emotional payoff. It also pretty much ended the possibility of the ‘Gaeta and Hoshi Save the World with Math’ spin-off that I was working on…”

He eloquently added “I state the obvious, but the ‘Galactica’ experience is one we’re all going to look back on years and decades from now with enormous fondness and pride. Everyone has moved on now to other ventures and projects. Some will succeed and some will fail. But ‘Galactica’ will always be the bar against which they are all measured.”

 

So Say We All,

-Bear