Battlestar Galactica returns! (about frakkin' time)
Friday, January 16, 2009 | Author: Mad Typist

Joy and rapture - tonight on the Sci-Fi channel, the magnificent Battlestar Galactica returns for the final half of Season 4! Remember to set your DVRs correctly, since tonight's episode actually runs 5 minutes over.

I'm both happy and sad to see the show return, because while I've been dying to get new episodes, I also know that this is the end. The show won't be returning after this run of episodes (only 12 episodes or so left, as this is technically the second half of Season 4). The thought of no more new Battlestar episodes depresses me to no end. On the other hand, I do think that shows like this do need to be disciplined with when they choose to end, since there are huge questions that need answering that can only come when the series ends. I mean, you can' t wander in search of Earth forever, right, plus who the frak is the 5th and final Cylon?!

Regarding those big questions, zap2it has a good article up listing the burning questions we want answered now that the show is ending.

Top 5 episodes:
As I look back over the 3 1/2 seasons we've had so far, here are the standout episodes that really elevated this show for me.

1. Maelstrom. In this episode, Kara Thrace (Starbuck) learns to embrace her own mortality and destiny. And then she kills herself. It was a truly shocking moment in the show, and I was literally walking around in a daze the next day because I was just so upset. Of all the characters, Starbuck was the least likely to die in your mind, because she was the designated swashbuckler of the cast. Starbuck is the one who jumps back to Caprica alone, Starbuck is the one who takes on a fleet of Cylon raiders single-handedly, Starbuck is the one who escapes every time, because that's who she is. She's the one who defies the odds, the one character you weren't supposed to fear for, because she's the one who makes the impossible jump across the chasm, she's the one who pulls off the landing or makes the shot. There was no character more full of life on the show, and yet, in her final moments, it was not the manic, aggressive Starbuck that we saw, but a calm, almost serene Starbuck. This episode's theme was about confronting the inevitability of death and learning to let go of your fears about it. Just a masterful episode. (trivia: since the cast was unaware the Starbuck was returning - via means unknown to this day - they were really upset. Edward James Olmos was so upset, he took it upon himself to smash Adama's model ship in a moment of improv... only to find out that it was an antique on loan that was worth over $100K)

2. Sine Qua Now/The Hub. Two things about this show. One: for all the hype about the hot young pairings on the show (Starbuck/Anders, Starbuck/Apollo, Athena/Helo), the most sizzling, most romantic couple is actually Roslin/Adama. Two: of all the slights against this show at award time, none have been more upsetting to me than the continual snubbing of Mary McDonnell for a best actress award. This two-part episode is great, because it addresses both of those facts, by finally giving us a Roslin/Adama pairing, and because it provides more proof to me that Mary McDonnell is giving the performance of her life in this role.

Watching President Roslin and Admiral Adama dance around each other for several seasons, you couldn't help but root for this couple. In a way, it made perfect sense - Adama and Roslin are truly the loneliest two people in the universe, because they carry the burden of leadership and responsibility in a way that no other member of the fleet has to. It also helps that Mary McDonnell is still pretty foxy for a lady her age, and that Olmos's craterface visage is off-set by the quiet strength and dignity that he embues Adama with. So I pretty much swoooned when these two characters were reunited after a particularly harrowing adventure, declared their love for each other out loud (for the first time ever), and kissed and embraced. Also, the scene at the end of part 1, where Adama tells his son he's staying behind to wait for Roslin, because he has realized that he can't live without her is also very swoon-worthy.

The other significant plots of these episodes involved Roslin suffering a series of visions about her imminent death (the character has terminal cancer), and the Cylon rebels teaming up with the humans to destroy the Cylon resurrection hub. And in a way, both plot points come back to the same philosophical notion: how do you cope with the fac that someday you are going to die? The Cylon rebels take the stance that the experience of death - truly not knowing what happens when your body expires - is the only way for them to finish their transcendence into some sort of spiritual being. For all their talk about The One True God, the Cylons are unable to truly explore that notion, for their resurrection hub ensured that they never passed from this plane of existence. Only by sacrificing their immortality can the Cylons experience and share in humanity's spiritual quest. In many ways, it's like the Cylons are the gods coming down off Mount Olympus. On the flip side, Roslin must confront all that comes with death, and has to make a conscious choice to be brave and accept the love of Adama (and her spiritual children Apollo and Starbuck), even though it means they will suffer a sense of loss when she dies. It's a continuation of the theme from Maelstrom - facing death with dignity.

3. 33. In this harrowing first episode of Season 1, we get our first notion that this isn't your run-of-the-mill sci-fi show. Every 33 minutes, the fleet jumps away, and every 32 minutes later, the Cylons show up again. When we join this story, we find that the fleet has been running at that tempo for days, and are ragged with exhaustion. Instead of the light-hearted "All for one and one for all!" attitude you'd find in Star Trek, you get a realistic glimpse at the nature tensions between the civilian populace, civilian government, and military, as cracks and fissures start to form between groups. Where the crew of the Enterprise were heroes facing an enemy, the remains of humanity are merely prey, reduced to an almost animal-like state of being by the relentless pursuit of the Cylons. To cap it off, as a final "this ain't your daddy's sci-fi" stroke, the show puts Adama in the position where must choose to either destroy a civilian ship carrying 1300 souls or risk putting the whole fleet at risk (they suspect that the civilian ship is the reason the Cylons keep finding them). This episode helped set the tone for the rest of the show.

4. Lay Down Your Burdens (part 1 and 2). This two-parter at the end of Season 2 explored a popular theme for the show: do the ends justify the means? Laura Roslin must make a choice - betray her beliefs about the importance of democracy by rigging the election, or steal the election and ensure that the dangerous Gaius Baltar is not allowed to lead humanity to its doom? Adama must make the same choice when he uncovers the plot by Roslin and several of his trusted officers - does he follow his gut that Baltar will be a disaster and allow them to steal the election? Or does he stay true to the principles that govern him as a military man and as a citizen in a democracy? Should they respect the will of the people, even though they feel that that choice is wrong?

As an added bonus, this episode also features some great work by James Callis, who really shines as the loathsome yet charming Baltar. Baltar is despicable, but you always get where he's coming from as a character. The scenes of him as President are great, as you see that Baltar has come to realize that being the President is actually a lot of hard work, instead of the glamourous job he expected. You also see the fruits of Baltar's weak character come to bear, as Gina (one of the Sixes) uses the nuclear bomb he gave her in a fit of childish pique to murder thousands of humans.

Part 2 ends with one of the great "Holy shit!" moments in TV history, as we jump 1 year (after the fleet has settled on a habitable planet) and find out that the Cylons have just jumped in to enslave the helpless humans.

5. Exodus (part 1 and 2). Humanity rallies and escapes the clutches of the Cylon invaders (though only after several superb episodes that are pretty much one long metaphor for the Iraq War). This episode had it all - excitement, awesome special effects (the shot of Galatica jumping directly into the planet's atmosphere, only to jump away just before crashing into the ground is fabulous), passion, drama, etc. But within the larger plot - humanity tossing off its shackles - the episodes also feature some amazing intimate moments for individual characters. In particular, the scene where Lt Col Tigh, ever the loyal soldier, poisons his traitorous wife is just heart-breaking. It's a stunning scene of a man who has literally sacrificed everything - his eye, his career, his sobriety, his conscience, and now, the love of his life - for the good of humanity.

Things I hope for this season:
Well, you can't have everything you want, and I know that Battlestar isn't the type of show that is going to wrap everything up all nice and neat with a bow on top. I expect that some characters won't live to see the conclusion of this show. But if I could pick, here's what I'd like to have at the end:
  • Laura Roslin lives, somehow, and has at least some time to enjoy just being a couple with Bill Adama.
  • Gaius Baltar has one genuine moment of selflessness and/or gets his comeuppance in the end
  • We get a definite answer about the seemingly cyclical nature of time being hinted at in the show. HAVE the humans and Cylons actually done this dance before? Is Earth a myth, or the true origin of humanity (forgotten and/or reimagined in myth to be a lost 13th colony)?
  • We finally get an answer about what the fuck is up with the imaginary Six in Baltar's head (and the imaginary Baltar in Six's head for that matter).
  • I don't need a totally happy ending, but it'd be nice to see humanity survive somehow and thrive.

Updated to add this link to Wired's new article "Strong Women Steer Battlestar Glacatica's Final Voyage".
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