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Blu-ray Review: Battlestar Galactica – Season Four

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It would be difficult to imagine exactly who would go out at this moment and purchase Battlestar Galactica Season Four on Blu-ray not having seen the first three seasons, but this new release does mark the first time that the entire fourth season has been made available on Blu-ray (without having to buy the complete series release).  What this season shows us once and for all is that the reimagined BSG run by Ronald D. Moore and David Eick really is a testament to the power of modern day science fiction.  It is a reminder to all of us that great shows still can and do air on television (or at least they did until this series completed its run a couple of years ago).

Season four is BSG‘s last season, the one in which the wide-ranging story is finally—for better or worse—wrapped up.    We get to see the culmination of the colony fleet’s trip to find Earth and to witness the reveal of the final Cylon. 

The season picks up immediately on the heels of the season three finale, with the triumphant and distinctly odd and unnerving return of the supposedly dead Kara “Starbuck” Thrace (Kate Sackhoff).  Starbuck reports that she has been to Earth and that she can guide the fleet there.

Taking a step back, the series as a whole follow the last ragtag remnants of humanity on their quest to escape and/or defeat the evil robotic Cylons, a creation of mankind’s that turned on their maker.  At the outset of the series, the Cylons destroy the 12 planets on which humanity lives (Earth, forgotten many years ago except in legend, not being one of them).  The Colonial Fleet is led by President Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) on the civilian side of things, and Admiral William Adama (Edward James Olmos) on the military side.

That distinction, the military vs. the civilian is one that plays an important role throughout the series, as there is often great tension between what Adama and Roslin are willing to risk and do in order to provide for the safety of humanity.  That discussion is lessened somewhat in the final season as Roslin and Adama have grown close over the course of the series (they actually have a romantic relationship), but the tension is still often there.

The series has always found its best moments in its reflection of our present day society, something that season four does less of, but does not completely forego.  And, the overarching questions of it all—how far do you have to go to save your species and at what point has pursuit of safety compromised your very principles and made that survival nearly irrelevant—remain very much intact.

In answering these questions, the series often portrays things in a very brutal, sometimes hard to watch, fashion.  This is particularly true this season as four key members of the fleet—Saul Tigh (Michael Hogan), Galen Tyrol (Aaron Douglas), Samuel Anders (Michael Trucco), and Tory Foster (Rekha Sharma)—have to come to accept that they are Cylons (this was revealed at the end of the third season).  Perhaps it is the show’s willingness to be harsh, to be dark, and to still ask and answer questions about the very nature of what it is to be human that make it a great series. 

As we see in the final season, even the Cylons, have moments of doubt, moments of questioning, and moments where they are simply not sure about right and wrong.  That too is one of the things that really makes the show excel.  Watching the various models of Cylons sit down and discuss the universe and their plans for it is incredibly engaging (and why, once the series ended, they made a two-hour movie called The Plan, which focused heavily on the Cylons).

Throughout its four seasons, Battlestar Galactica creates a large universe and deep mythology, even if there are very few people left to populate that universe.  The characters are rich and varied, and virtually without exception their storylines take interesting turns.  The two best examples of this in season four are the character of Gaius Baltar (James Callis) and Lee “Apollo” Adama (Jamie Bamber).   With every season of the show, Baltar’s character changes dramatically, and season four finds him accepted as a prophet and religious icon.  As for Adama, he continues his move away from the military, this time out entering the political arena where he is forced to find his footing relatively quickly.

Of course, one of the more controversial moments for viewers this season is the series finale, which beautifully closes our window into their world.  There are those out there who find the end less than satisfying, and while I will not delve into it too deeply here (and thereby spoil any surprise the season may have in store for those who have not yet seen it), I would argue that it’s a conclusion that stays true to everything that has come before it and perfectly fits the show as a whole.

This new Blu-ray set marks the first time that the entirety of season four has been included in a single set, including the two hour movie which preceded the official opening of the season, Razor, is also included in this set.  What this set doesn’t seem to have is anything new – it is simply the entirety of season four and Razor put into a single box.  We’ve already gotten releases of Season 4.5 (the back end of season four) in a Blu-ray set, a complete series set, and Razor on Blu-ray.  This does mark, however, the first time that the front end of season four has been made available outside of the complete series box.   This new set also contains numerous excellent bonus features, most noticeably Ronald D. Moore’s podcasts.  Each podcast can be played as audio commentary for the episode which it accompanies and they are all truly fascinating insights into the production of the series.  The video blogs made by David Eick are quite satisfying as he goes out and discusses the show on set with the cast and crew.  There are also a plethora of behind the scenes featurettes (including a retrospective on the series), deleted scenes, and minisodes. 

This set succeeds far more than simply in the storytelling and bonus features – it also looks and sounds truly outstanding.  There will certainly be folks out there who dislike Razor as the visuals are more grainy and the camera techniques and cutting more up front, but that falls under the are of directorial intent and do not mark an issue with the transfer.  One will certainly have no trouble recognize the difference here between a CGI and non-CGI scene, but the season as a whole does look exceedingly good, with dark blacks and great definition.  The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is quite nice to hear, particularly the far-ranging space battles and the brilliant music by Bear McCreary which is operatic and engrossing. 

If you are one of the people who began to purchase the individual Blu-ray seasons of Battlestar Galactica, season four is obviously a must-have to complete your set.  If you bought the single box-full series there is no need whatsoever to double-dip.  And, if you simply want to get in on one of the best television series in recent memory, you probably already know that this isn’t the place to start.  What this release does do is confirm the brilliance of the overall vision for the show, the dedication of the cast and crew, and the execution of said vision by everyone involved.  The reimagined Battlestar Galactica isn’t always the easiest show to watch (and there are episodes you’re going to like more than others), but it is always a show worth watching.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.