The Return of Starbuck (Maelstrom Reviewed)


Image courtesy BSG Media.

No, I do not think Starbuck is dead.

I guess it goes without saying that this review is going to be spoiler happy.

I’ve got to give the production crew credit, here. They won’t be cheating on us when Starbuck comes back. There are two key moments that I was able to witness with the naked eye that leaves that door open. One, Starbuck fingers the ejection switch moments before her fighter breaks up. Two, in the scene just before Starbuck’s ship explodes, which is shot from Lee’s point of view (it’s immediately after his reaction, and his quick moves to get Starbuck’s ship back into sight), there are three ships clearly in view.

And, finally, the “ghost ship” that Starbuck keeps chasing is a Cylon heavy raider, not the iconic Cylon fighter, or Scar reincarnated (Adama and Tigh note the oddity of this, of a heavy raider unescorted by fighters). And, tellingly, the heavy raiders only come into play when personnel are aboard.

The image above is taken at the start of the scene. Lee’s ship is in the foreground, Starbuck’s ship is obscured by it, and you can clearly see the Cylon heavy raider about to disappear into the clouds again.

If anything, the production crew played up the stereotypes that said in block letters, “STARBUCK IS GOING TO DIE”, and I’m not just talking about the scene were Lee and Starbuck tell each other where they want their photos to go on the memorial wall when they kick it. There’s the near complete reset of Starbuck and Apollo’s relationship on the CAG and, much more tellingly, the scene where Adama and Starbuck meet up in the corridor, and they reprise the, “Good morning, Starbuck, what do you hear?” / “Nothing but the rain” exchange from the mini-series. It all says that Starbuck has come full circle, and is thus prepared to die — or go onto a new level, of course. All of these preps, alongside the escape hatches the producers carefully laid before us, make Starbuck’s inevitable resurrection something of a rabbit out of a hat, or an interesting plot or character development, rather than a cop-out.

But I have to echo what Dan said about this episode (Maelstrom): what the heck was that?!!?

I think it’s testament to the embarrassment of riches within the Battlestar Galactica cast that this development of Starbuck’s character is both obviously planned for, but still appears to come out of left field. There are just a tremendous number of story arcs to follow, including two (Chief Tyroll and Helo) which probably weren’t in the series plan at the beginning. And while the “previously on Battlestar Galactica” preview doesn’t show us anything we don’t know about Starbuck, the fact that we have to jump back and forth and spend a lot of time with Adama, with Lee, with Tigh, with Baltar, with Roslyn, oh and Zarek’s in the mix somewhere, makes the sudden focus and departure of Starbuck that much more of a surprise.

We know that Starbuck was abused when she was a child. We knew that her father was an artist and her mother a near-certifiable nut who believed that her daughter had a special destiny that she was not living up to. And we did see the super-nova image on the wall of Starbuck’s apartment a season and a half before it appeared again in The Eye of Jupiter/Rapture, but despite occasional appearances in most episodes, Starbuck has either been front-and-centre, or not. With Battlestar Galactica so packed with plot that editors have basically thrown up their hands and shuffled off “bonus” scenes onto the web, there has been no opportunity for Starbuck’s story here to build. And for us viewers, caught up in questions of what the Cylons are planning for Earth, of how Baltar will face his trial, of how the human race can cope with three years of cramped conditions and dwindling resources, the sudden reemergence of Starbuck, her destiny, and its possible connection to the Temple of the Five and Leoben, is frankly intrusive.

Intrusive but forgivable, for writers Bradley Thompson and David Weddle and director Michael Nankin weave together a story that looks and sounds great on screen. And Katee Sackoff proves herself to be more than willing to rise to the occasion and deliver a tremendous performance. Starbuck here is at the end of her rope. Lee sagely notes that the fact that she is a “hard ass fighter pilot” is about the only thing keeping her together. Starbuck’s scenes with Leoben are tremendously charged, and credit goes to Callum Keith Rennie for altering his performance subtly, making it clear to both Starbuck and the viewers that, whatever he may look like, what’s with Starbuck on her dreamquest ain’t him.

And in a series that has done special effects so consistently well, it’s hardly worth commenting on, there was still a moment when my jaw dropped — when Starbuck’s fighter emerged from the clouds and found itself above “the maelstrom” — an Eye of Jupiter-style storm that was marvellous to behold. Kudos to the special effects people and the director for making this effect special.

The embarrassment of riches complicating the plotting is almost an argument that Starbuck is actually dead and will stay that way, but Ron Moore called Maelstrom Act 3 Part 1 of Battlestar Galactica’s four act play, which strongly suggests that Starbuck has more to add. More than that, given how this development, while planned, still seemed to come from left field, it’s clear that the final act of this series won’t play out the way many of us expect. We may feel smug if Starbuck returns, but that will be one of the very few predictions most of us got right.

And that’s a good thing.

So say we all.

Galactica Notes

  • According to Ron Moore’s commentary, Edward James Olmos improvised the bit where he smashes the antique model ship in a grief-stricken rage. Nobody was prepared for that — least of all the props department who had supplied a real antique worth about a hundred thousand dollars for the scene. Fortunately the ship was insured.
  • Interesting how, despite this episode being entitled The Maelstrom and featuring a kick-ass maelstrom, it isn’t immediately clear that it’s that particular maelstrom that Starbuck ends up flying into at the end.
  • Again, nice bit of acting on Michael “Tigh” Hogan’s part as he reacts to the news of Starbuck’s “death”. With no words and one eye, we can see that this hits him like a body blow.
  • Okay, so what’s going on? Here’s my completely off-the-wall take. As I said, I find it very unlikely that Starbuck is dead, since while it’s neat to see a character come full circle and go out in a blaze of glory, this would be underusing Starbuck’s character. After all, we already had this story with Kat, and it wouldn’t explain the thing with the supernova imagery. Instead, this suggests a link with the Temple of the Five, possibly the five final models of the Cylons. Maybe Starbuck is one of those models, and the image of Leoben that she saw was another. Perhaps the final five models have evolved to such a degree that they’re communicating with Starbuck mentally. Perhaps her conscious mind brought into play images she’d recognize. So, instead of saying, “I’m being contacted by a disembodied Cylon”, she thinks, “I’m being contacted by Leoben” as that’s the Cylon she has most experience with.
  • Though the image of Leoben in her head wasn’t Leoben, Leoben clearly has a role to play, here, as witnessed by how that particular model has singled her out beyond any other member of the human race.
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