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TV Review: Battlestar Galactica – “The Passage”

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(Air date: 12/8/06) I must admit that the catalyst for this episode felt a little contrived. How could the fleet suddenly be on the brink of mass starvation, facing a famine that could wipe out humanity?

The opening scenes rang more hollow than what I’ve come to expect from Galactica, but that’s how I felt about the start of last week’s episode. By the epidose’s end I was moved and captivated and ready to name my first child (or at least a pet) after executive producer Ronald D. Moore. I wasn’t as spellbound this week, but I almost got there.

“The Passage,” written by former Buffy the Vampire Slayer scribe Jane Espenson, relayed one of Galactica‘s primary messages: the fight for survival ain’t pretty. We witnessed the fleet marines literally falling apart after guiding civilian ships through dangerous radiation in search of food. The fleet’s dire straits were underscored by its savorless holy grail – edible algae.

It was intense watching Sharon wilt and witnessing her radiation meter spore up during her recon mission through the deadly star cluster. I like that she, once again, proved her worth to everyone on Galactica. Sharon’s good deeds don’t just solidify the character, they display the fascinating complexity and individuality now apparent in the Cylon race.

Back on that suspiciously speckless Cylon ship, Baltar – who awakes after another threesome with Three and Caprica Six – gets wise to Three’s suicide game and milks her for information. It seems that in the place between death and resurrection she can almost make out the faces of the five missing Cylons. Is Baltar one of them? I love how Baltar clings to this idea out of a desperate need to absolve himself of his crimes. Like the Cylons, and the humans, he’s trying to find his way, a central theme in this episode.

Maybe it’s because of James Callis’ brilliantly offbeat performance, but Baltar has to be the most compelling TV weasel ever. The guy exemplifies selfishness and immorality, but he’s one of my favorite characters. Even when he’ s not given much to do, Callis makes every moment count. His discovery in this episode — human and Cylon religions might mix and the missing five exist on some unknown planet — was slightly intriguing at best (confusing at worst). I dig most everything happening on the Cylon ship, especially that slinky piano score, but I really want to see Baltar return to Galactica. Am I alone here?

Back on Galactica, Starbuck figures out that former “stems” addict Kat was a drug dealer on Caprica. She stole someone’s identity in order to start a new life after the attempted genocide. I like the way Espenson really fleshed out Kat in this episode. Beefing up peripheral characters seems to be one of Espenson’s hallmarks (see the Buffy episode, “Superstar,” for the best evidence).

We focus on Kat through most of the grueling jump trips in search of food. Her mini arc comes to a head in this episode when, confronted by Starbuck, she has to decide whether she is a corrupt opportunist or a person of integrity. Like most things on Galactica, it’s not that simple. She mostly ends up being both. She visits her old sinful life by rekindling a sexual relationship with a drug supplier, but in a selfless act she braves a deathblow of radiation to save a civilian ship. Her return to Galactica, beaten and dying of cancer, was heartbreaking. She takes a nasty fall off the walkway and ends up in the sick bay.

Showing Starbuck handing Kat a fatal bottle of sleeping pills on her deathbed was a bold move. The real heart of Kat’s final scene came when Capt. Adama, surprisingly, decided to sit with her until she died. Believing the credo that people are defined by their actions, Adama brands Kat a hero and promotes her to KAG before her death. Edward James Olmos, who’s found the role of a lifetime here, played his tender scenes with grace.

This episode served to quickly move forward some other plots going on this season, including Tigh’s return to Adama’s side. It was great, and funny, to see these two make light of their terrible situation in another one of Galactica’s honest, candid scenes of camaraderie.

Many questions remain, including a few big ones about the details of Lee and Starbuck’s relationship. What about the controversial use of stems to keep the fighter pilots centered in this episode? Will there be fallout from that decision? Next week, we discover the Temple of Five, another possible road map to Earth, which leads to a deadly standoff with the Cylons.

Download Ron Moore’s podcast commentary and watch the episode again.

Memorable exchange:
Adama: I hear they’re still eating paper. Is that true?
Tigh: No. Paper shortage.

Catch up:
If you’re new to Galactica and want to catch up with the story, check out SciFi.com’s recap and primer videos. There’s also this handy Galactica wikki that should help fill in some blanks.

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About Mike Moody

  • Mr. Null

    Nitpicker moments:
    Kat was addicted to “stims” – short for “stimulants” I would assume.

    She was promoted to “CAG” – “Commander, Air Group.”

  • Joel

    While we’re on the topic of nitpicking, one doesn’t die of cancer that quickly after being exposed to high levels of radiation – that was radiation poisoning.