Previously on Battlestar Galactica…
Cult favorite Sci Fi Channel series Battlestar Galactica returned on April 4 for its fourth and final season, and no amount of previously-on's can succinctly capture the massive scope of what transpired in season three. And considering that the final episode of season three ("Crossroads, Part II") originally aired on March 25, 2007, it's been a long, long time between fresh material (Sci Fi has been re-running season three in the past few weeks to allow viewers to play catch-up).
If you're one of those people who haven't yet climbed on board, BSG is epic series television in the best tradition of such fan favorites as The X-Files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. What BSG has in common with those shows is a compelling story arc that's frequently illuminated by smaller scale character studies, a quality of writing that far exceeds much of what we're served up on prime-time network television, characters in whom we become fully invested, a community of committed fans who dissect and discuss every word and action, and a cast of actors who more than live up to the challenges of all the above. This series of reviews will assume that you have some familiarity with the story thus far, but if you need a refresher course, Sci Fi has a video up on the official BSG page that promises to get you up to speed in eight minutes.
One of the great things about this show is its unflinching look into the abyss of the human soul. Nearly annihilated, made extinct, gone from the universe, you'd think the human race might have had the sense to pull itself together and become a better people so that it might survive, right? But no such luck — instead we're just as venal, just as self-serving, just as opportunistic, just as dishonest, and just as downright bad as we've always been.
This is no white hat/black hat Star Trek universe. This is humanity as we know it, where good people sometimes do bad things and make terrible choices, often because they act out of their own self-interests or out of jealousy or out of any of the other things that make us all less than perfect. And just like in real life, they can turn on a dime and do the right thing in the face of overwhelming obstacles, act selflessly in the face of great personal danger, and sacrifice themselves to the greater good. Thanks to the writing and the overall excellence of the cast, it's impossible to watch this show and not end up feeling deeply about these characters and seeing a lot of ourselves and our current events reflected in the story arc.
Season three was a pretty wild ride, starting with the Cylon occupation of the nascent human colony on the planet of New Caprica, progressing through the heart-pounding rescue of the settlers (in the midst of insurgency and treachery), and the eventual trial and acquittal of Gaius Baltar who may have been the instrument (unwittingly or otherwise) of humanity's destruction. We witness the death of Viper pilot Kara Thrace (always amazingly played by Katee Sackhoff), and we learn the identities of four of the five remaining unknown Cylon models. At the end of the final episode, Kara returns — much to the shock of the entire crew — and says she's been to Earth and has come back to lead everyone home.
When we commence season four with this episode, everyone is trying to wrap their minds around Kara's return. Adding to the mystery, her formerly beat-up Viper sits on the hangar deck looking brand new, as if it's just rolled off the assembly line, and she thinks she's been gone for a matter of hours when in fact she's been gone for two months. Her hair has grown a couple of inches in the interim, and she seems to have shed the soul-crushing depression and loss of direction that preceded her disappearance. Her new sense of purpose is to lead the fleet to Earth. Was Lee Adama mistaken when he said he saw her Viper break into pieces two months earlier? Is this a resurrected Kara? And if it is a resurrected Kara, is she a Cylon, or are there higher (or at least different) forces at work here? Kara is adamant that she knows the way to Earth and that she needs to lead the fleet there, but the Cylons have reason to mislead the fleet on that score. Is she a beacon or an instrument of deception?
Col. Tigh, one of the newly revealed Cylons, has a horrifying dream in which he draws his gun and shoots Admiral Adama, and this raises a whole host of questions about the four. Does Tigh's dream presage a coming event, or does it represent his worst fears? Are the four sleeper agents of some sort, a group of humanoid Manchurian candidates? Are we just waiting for them to collectively activate, wreaking havoc on the fleet? After all, two of them are the closest colleagues of the leaders of the colonists (Tigh is Adama's executive officer, and Tory is President Roslin's chief of staff). Will the four be able to overcome any Cylon programming they may be implanted with simply by the strength of their own wills (and should they)? Why are the other Cylon models seemingly unaware of the identities of the four, now that they've been activated and revealed? Is their ultimate purpose to help or to hinder humanity?
Having been acquitted at his trial, Gaius Baltar (played by James Callis, who gets to chew more scenery on this show than anyone else) has become a pariah. He's rescued from dire straits by a group of acolytes who look upon him as a savior of sorts (I was hugely relieved when he shaved the beard off and cut his hair — the Christ imagery was a bit much given his decidedly un-Christlike behavior). They hide him in what they describe as an unused and unknown space aboard Galactica (in which they've already set up a shrine to him), which stretches credibility a tad (could there be such thing as an unknown section of a military vessel?). Baltar seems conflicted by the role in which these followers wish to cast him, but ultimately acts in his own self-interest, which is always true to form for him. We'd be disappointed if he did anything else, wouldn't we?
Meanwhile, the Adamas, father and son, continue to explore their seemingly bottomless pit of generational angst. Lee seems to have come to terms with a decision to quit the military, and Bill seems prepared to resign himself to that notion. The scene played out as the two sat at opposite ends of a row of seats, the spatial distance between them serving as a visual reminder of the emotional distance that seems to be developing between them. And the Admiral grows closer still to Laura Roslin, whose cancer has returned (as we learned at the very end of season three).
All of this sets the stage for what's sure to be a very exciting last season for Battlestar Galactica. We're now set up to explore, among other things, the purpose and intentions of the Final Five (and of course to discover the identity of the fifth, and final, Cylon), the meaning of Kara's re-appearance, and the metaphysical implications of the search for Earth. There's lots more stuff to think about too, and I suspect that at the end of it all BSG will go out not with a whimper but with a bang.
If you missed the first episode, you can see it in its entirety at Sci Fi Rewind.