Image courtesy Sci-Fi Channel and Galactica.com.
If you think about it, writing Battlestar Galactica is far more challenging than, say, Doctor Who. The two shows cannot be more different. Doctor Who is, at its core, the story of a wizard with a magical cabinet able to take him anywhere or anywhen in the Universe. It is the most flexible format in fiction. There is no limit to what the show can do, and it theoretically can continue forever without losing its freshness.
On the other hand, Battlestar Galactica is, at its core, a very linear tale: Cylons destroy humanity. The rag-tag remains of humanity run into the unknown. Cylons chase them. Even though there is theoretically no limit to what the humans can encounter in the unknown, there is still only one direction of travel. And you can only run for so long before you figuratively and literally get tired.
Ron Moore and his crew have taken great steps to preserve the inherent drama that has gotten Battlestar Galactica called “the best show on television”. They shook up the humans, gave them a year to settle on a planet before the Cylons showed up and sent down an occupying force. They’ve focused on the intense drama of humans under pressure. They’ve explored the character of the Cylons. But they’ve never been able to leave the central story: of the chase. And that’s a chase with a pretty identifiable finish line at the end of it: Earth. The challenge has been, how to properly move the story forward, keeping the ball rolling without drawing things out too much.
In last year’s season finale, Moore and his company rewarded fans with our first visions of Earth on the series. They brought back a character from the dead (note: I never believed she was dead), and then they pushed forward a few of the other storylines as well: Baltar is cleared of his crimes against humanity; Lee decides the military is no longer the life for him; Tigh, Tyroll, Tori and Anders all discover they are Cylons, and to press the season cliffhanger home, the Cylons attack in force.
As we enter the last season of Battlestar Galactica, I’m sure the temptation must be there to rush the resolutions forward, but Ron Moore and company are better than that. After all of the excitement of last year’s season finale, the two parter that started this season ran in place. He that Believeth in Me and Six of One maintained the atmosphere and quality that is standard to this series, but it took the developments, set them aside, and piled with them hints of new developments that the series will deal with, all in good time. Thus the season premiere which many might have expected to open with a bang, opens with a drumroll. This monster is going to barrel forward to the end, but first it’s got to accelerate.
The two parter focuses on the return of Starbuck. Lots of wonderful tension and conflict as Adama, Lee and Anders are torn between delight at having her back, and suspicion over what happened, really. Lots of interesting stuff here to speculate on, as well. What was the source of her visions if not Cylon Leoben? Wasn’t it a bit surprising that Kara could believe that a trip to Earth could be accomplished in six hours, and be so shocked to find that she was away for six months? And how about the tension between her and President Roslyn. Did Roslyn actually try to shoot her and miss? My father thinks so, pointing out “she’s a hard lady”. But the resolution is a fine moment, a great moment for Adama’s character, and a nice mirror of the time when Kara defied him to go back to Caprica for the Arrow of Apollo. A part of me hopes Adama brings that up to Roslyn when she asks him why he lets Starbuck go. Let him throw it in her face, though he’ll probably never do that.
And, as Cameron says, just when you think you couldn’t frak with Baltar’s mind any more… More than just his shock at discovering that he’s now a religious icon at a Jonestown-waiting-to-happen, how about the appearance of the Baltar from Six’s head. What’s up with that? Tip of the hat to Cameron, again. We once fantasized about having Baltar (with chip Six by his shoulder) talking to Caprica Six (with guilt Baltar by her shoulder), trying to keep the conversations straight, only to have chip Six and guilt Baltar start talking to each other. That sort of happened.
Lee’s performance was understated in this episode, but there’s promise here as well. I wonder if he’ll take up Starbuck’s call on the Quarum, and will that strike sparks off of Roslyn? Isn’t it interesting that he’s taking Zarak’s seat. Is this the last we’ll see or hear of Richard Hatch’s character?
But the break-up of the Cylons into civil war promises the biggest booms in the earliest part of the season, I think, and it was wonderfully set up. There was great tension as the uber cynical Boomer broke with her model. And I doubt I was the only person who listened to Dean Stockwell’s dismissal of the Cylon Raiders as “tools” and thinking “that sounds so like a human.” I bet that thought crossed Six’s mind as well, but she was kind enough not to say it. And again Leoben is a question. He seems nominally aligned with the Boomers and the Sixes, but he doesn’t seem comfortable about it. This is a great way to bring Deanna back. And let me say again that the Centurions are elegant machines.
Truth to tell, I didn’t have much enthusiasm for the coming season of Battlestar Galactica. I had no problems with the previous season, and I still admired the work of Ron Moore and his fellow writers, but I skipped Razor, and I just wasn’t looking forward to He that Believeth in Me the way I was looking forward to Partners in Crime, but these two episodes restored my interest in the series. I’m glad that this is the last season. The show is in a good place: still at the top of its game, rich in its narrative, and full of confidence as it finalizes the final episodes. With luck, it should be a great series to look back on as a whole.