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“Sit Down, Cylon!” — Battlestar Galactica Returns!

It has been a long, long wait for the Sci-Fi Channel to begin airing the final 10 episodes of Battlestar Galactica.  (The first ten episodes of BSG’s fourth season aired from April 4th through June 13th, 2008.)  At last, this past Friday, the wait was over.

For any of you who haven’t been following this spectacular series (without a doubt one of the best shows currently on television), Battlestar Galactica is a “reimagining” of the classic (yet, let’s admit it, also pretty unwatchable) series that lasted one season in 1978.  Galactica follows the last survivors of humanity (the military folk on the Battlestar Galactica and a rag-tag fleet of civilian survivors), following the annihilation of the Twelve Colonies of the human race by the robotic Cylons.  In one of the great reversals of standard heroic television & movie behavior, the series began with the humans deciding to flee the Cylons, rather than stay and fight to the last man.  Of course, things weren’t quite that easy.  Over the course of the series we have seen the men and women of the Galactica struggle to survive, and to keep some semblance of human civilization together, in the face of crises and horror at every turn.  To say the show is gripping would be an understatement of the highest order.

The latest episode, “Sometimes a Great Notion,” picks up with the crew of Galactica at their breaking point.  Having been searching for so long for the salvation they thought the fabled “Earth” would bring, in last year’s cliffhanger they finally found Earth — only to discover it was a wasteland (having suffered the same fate of nuclear annihilation as did their Twelve Colonies).  This year’s premiere doesn’t contain any action-adventure whatsoever.  Rather, the show takes an unflinching look at the reactions of all of the show’s characters to this crushing disappointment.  Most of them do not react well.

One of my favorite things about BSG is the way the characters in the show are always depicted as real people, with real human failings.  I have seen plenty of sci-fi adventure shows in which we see heroic characters always making the right decisions.  Not BSG.  “Sometimes a Great Notion”  is a prime example of that.  

Spoilers from here on out, gang, so if you haven’t seen this episode yet I suggest you move on.

The biggest shock of the episode came from the suicide of Dualla.  I was totally caught off guard by this moment.  Dee has been in the show since the mini-series, and she was always one of the sweetest characters on the show.  It was a total shock to see her fire that gun (particularly since the few scenes prior had been a tender reconciliation with Apollo).  Hats off to the writers for not telegraphing this moment by having her appear all mopey and depressed in the early scenes of the show.  (Although looking back now that we know how her story ends, it’s hard not to see her almost-breakdown in the raptor with Helo as a clear clue as to what was coming.)  It is very sad to see Dee go, however her character had not been well-used by the series ever since the death of Billy.  (Her sudden infatuation with Apollo seemed rushed and out of no-where, and a betrayal of the touching love-story with Billy that had been a major part of the show’s first two years.)  While I hate to see that character out of the series, I am glad to see Dualla return, at least for a short time, to the fore-front of the show.  

After Dee, the biggest character breakdown would have to be that of Admiral Adama himself.  His brutal scene in Colonel Tigh’s quarters was a stunner.  (Bill has had a tough couple of days, if you remember his collapse in his quarters in last year’s finale, after learning that Tigh was a Cylon.)  Watching the lead of the show completely fall to pieces before our eyes was staggeringly painful, and a testament to the amazing acting of Edward James Olmos.  (How has this man not been nominated for an Oscar for his work on this show??)  What’s even more amazing is that Colonel Tigh came off as the most level-headed, in-control character in the whole episode!!  Talk about a reversal of roles!

But while some characters clearly stepped to the forefront of the tale, I was very pleased and impressed by the way almost every major character got some attention in the premiere.  Almost as stunning as Adama’s collapse was that of President Roslin’s.  The scene in which she stepped off the raptor, totally unable to face the crowds awaiting some word on Earth, was another high-point of the episode for me.  Who else?  One-legged Gaeta is looking a lot worse for the wear.  (I wonder when the events of the webisodes will start to come into play.)  I loved seeing Baltar back in arrogant scientist mode (as opposed to Jesus mode).  I was also engaged with Apollo’s struggle to pick up the pieces on Galactica without the help of Roslin or his father.  (The call-back to Roslin’s wipe-board with the total number of humans left alive was especially poignant.)  And then there is Starbuck, poor Starbuck, confronted with her crashed ship and the burnt corpse in the cockpit.  

Which brings me to the other thing that impressed me about this episode — we got some pretty big answers to some pretty major mysteries!   The revelation that the 13th Colony was Cylons was genius, just genius.  When we first learned the identities of the four Cylons in the fleet (in the 3rd season finale, “Crossroads”), it seemed apparent to me that being a Cylon meant something more than just being a robot (or a “skinjob”).  I thinking about the show’s mantra that “all of this has happened before,” and began to wonder if  we weren’t headed for a revelation that somehow, some humans could also be Cylons, or that somehow ALL humans were Cylons (whatever exactly it meant to be a “Cylon”).  Now, we didn’t quite learn THAT in this week’s episode, but I was fascinated by the implication that, 2,000 years ago on Earth, the “Cylons” were the human-looking people living on the planet, who were nuked by robots.  (The “humans”???)  Great mind-bending stuff.

I have no idea what Starbuck is, how she got to Earth from that nebula, or what her ultimate destiny is.  But damn if I’m not intrigued!  I was also surprised but very pleased by the revelation that the beacon she was following (that lead the fleet to Earth) wasn’t something left by the 13th Colony 2,000 years ago, but was in fact the beacon from HER OWN crashed ship.  Very clever.

I was also extremely tickled by the revelation of the final Cylon!!  I thought we’d have to wait a lot longer to learn the identity of the final Cylon, but I love that it is now out of the way so that we can focus on its implications and its fall-out.  Remember way back in the first season, when we first met Ellen Tigh (“TighMe Up, Tigh Me Down”), and Adama suspected that she was a Cylon??  Guess he was right after all!  It puts a whole different spin on everything we’ve seen of Ellen in the past, from her dalliances with Cavill on New Caprica to, of course, her death at the hands of her husband Saul.  

Now, of course, to really understand the revelation about Ellen, we still need to learn what exactly it means to be a “Cylon.”  What is a Cylon, and why were the five hidden Cylons different from the seven other models?  Who created them?  What is their ultimate plan (referred to in the opening credits of the show since the first season)?  It is hard to evaluate what I think about Ellen’s revelation (and also the revelations about Tigh, Tyrol, Anders, and Tori) until we learn the answers to those larger questions.  

But for now, I am fully engaged and on-board.  I honestly have NO IDEA where the show will be taking us during its final nine episodes, and that is so rare and so exciting.  I can’t wait for next week’s episode!  (Will this be the end of Zarek??)

If you’re interested, here is a fascinating, in-depth interview with Galactica master-mind Ron Moore in which he discusses this past episode.  

Also, here is another great interview with Ron Moore that was posted about two weeks ago, in which Mr. Moore discusses the end of the show.  It’s a great interview that avoids spoilers, but does hint at some of the story-lines that will be addressed in the final remaining episodes.  Luckily, a LOT of the unresolved issues that are on my mind are mentioned by Mr. Moore, so I am encouraged.

Can’t wait to see the final nine episodes!!  I wish there were more!!

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