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Starbuck Takes the Road Less Travelled on "Battlestar Galactica"

Frak. I've gotten a lot of comments and emails from you all asking me why I haven't been discussing the latest season of Battlestar Galactica.

Was it because I haven't been enjoying this season? Or that it's become overtly religious in nature? Hardly, on either account. In fact, I've found myself completely enthralled by Battlestar Galactica, now in its fourth and final season, that I find it hard to stomach the wait, week to week, to find out what exactly is going on with the characters.

As for the allegations that this season's religious focus has been off putting, I couldn't disagree more. Religion has always played a major role in the mythology of the series, with its focus on a shadow war between the old gods of the humans and the Cylon's singular deity. Additionally, Battlestar has always worked best as a metaphor for the human condition, no matter what the era or planetary location. As it delves into the complex relationship between politics and war, so too does it investigate the link between war and religion. It only makes sense that, when faced with the survival of the human race, many of those men and women would turn to religion for comfort... and that Gaius Baltar would be there to manipulate and take advantage of the situation.

The transformation of Baltar from canny Cylon collaborator (responsible for the destruction of the Twelve Colonies) to political figurehead on New Caprica to war criminal and finally to Messianic figure has been not only warranted but damn impressive to watch. Now in his new role of proselytizer of the "One True God" (pushed along, of course, by the Six and Baltar in his head), he truly believes he is bringing salvation to the masses, telling them that God loves them because they are each of them perfect. Is it the only way that he too can survive by believing the word he is preaching?

In this week's episode of BSG ("The Road Less Travelled"), I was floored by the beauty and elegance of the scene between Baltar and Tyrol. After assaulting Baltar during a prayer meeting, Tyrol is on the brink of suicide; he has lost everything that made him human, from his wife Cally to the illusion that he was a member of the race he's been fighting to protect. Baltar wanted to shake his hand, to extend himself to his spiritual brother and makes a point to visit Tyrol in the barracks, reaching out to him even as Tyrol doesn't utter a single word. I was immensely moved when Tyrol does extend his hand to Baltar, especially given their history together.

It's that shared history that's interesting to me. All four of the newly revealed Cylon sleeper agents played crucial roles in the human resistance force back on New Caprica: Tyrol, Anders, and Tigh all were leaders within the movement and Tory worked closely with Roslin as well. Is that a coincidence that all four would actually be Cylons? Were they seeded there for that express purpose? Or were they rebelling against their true nature from the start? And what do we make of the tortured relationship between Caprica Six and Saul Tigh, who keeps envisioning his dead wife Ellen rather than Six? Curious.

On the other side of the universe, the Cylon themselves are splintering, finding themselves enmeshed in a deadly civil war. I was stunned to see Natalie remove the chips that had sublimated the free will of the Centurions... a move which led to out and out war when she ordered them to fire upon Brother Cavill, Doral, and Simon. (And how creepy is it that Boomer is sleeping with Brother Cavill? Shudder.) I was less surprised that Cavill wouldn't take this sitting down and engineered an ambush for Natalie's base star, attempting to kill them all outside of range of the nearest Resurrection Ship.

Meanwhile, Starbuck and her crew have been in search of Earth, a mission based on faith as much as Baltar's. While Starbuck's memories of the blue planet grow dimmer, there's mutiny breaking out among the crew of the Demetrius. I for one am glad to see that things aren't all sunshine and roses for these guys, pushed to the limit before the arrival of Leoben. She has assembled an interesting crew, especially as one of her members is a human-loyal Cylon (Athena), another is a Cylon sleeper agent (Anders), and somewhere on her ship may just be the first (but not the only) Cylon-human child, Hera. (Just where is Hera, one reader asked me; I'm hoping Athena and Helo looked into child care before departing on this likely suicide mission.)

Over the past few weeks, Kara has turned into a prophet, albeit a scary-looking, stringy-haired obsessive working off of little sleep these past few months; that she's compelled to find Earth by a series of inexplicable visions makes her a worthy counterpoint to Baltar. How far will she go to find Earth? And what lines is she prepared to cross--collaborating with the enemy, sacrificing her crew--in order to achieve that goal? And, even better yet, what will they find when they finally do get there?

It's not to say that this season hasn't been without its flaws. I haven't really been enjoying Lee's storyline this season, a departure in that the former Viper pilot has become a politician relishing in his new ability to rile up cancer-riding Laura Roslin by stirring up trouble in the Quorum. I get that Lee's stance at the end of last season, defending Baltar during his trial, left him with nowhere to go but I have a hard time believing that Lee would become so righteously indignant and give up flying for fighting for his constituents. Lee just doesn't seem like a politician to me and this storyline doesn't completely ring true, a real shame as Jamie Bamber is a fantastic actor who should be doing more on this series.

Alas, it's a rare misstep for a series as taut and challenging as this one. I'm incredibly intrigued by the Cylon Civil War storyline and by Leoben's request for a truce between his people and the humans. I'm beginning to think the best shot either of them has for survival is to stick together, especially if Kara Thrace really is the harbinger of death. Ultimately, I'm concerned that what will be waiting for them when they finally do reach Earth will be far worse than either race imagined. Then again, with Battlestar Galactica, it's always best to be careful what you wish for.

Next week on Battlestar Galactica ("Faith"), the crew of the Demetrius debates whether to accept Leoben's truce; Kara reaches the wounded Cylon Base Star, where she comes face to face with their hybrid who tells her that she will be the downfall of the human race.

Comments

Unknown said…
I'm one of the people who finds this season's focus on religion offputting. While religion has always been present in BSG, I disagree that it's "always played a major role in the mythology of the series." In the first two seasons, it was more in the background and the focus was on the military and political stories. Maybe they are trying to show what happens when people allow religion to encroach on the political arena, but they're being too focused and heavy-handed with it. It also doesn't excuse the crutches of prophecies, dreams, and mysticism. I miss the military and political storylines.
The religious aspects of the show can feel heavy-handed at times but I think they are also essential to the story. And we still are seeing a political and military struggle, this time on the side of the Cylons. I'm really interested to see how far the Cylon war goes and what role Starbuck and the other humans will have in it.
Anonymous said…
The religion always has been there, and it is an important and intriguing element (the need for religion being so fundamental that it even emerges in a new non-human race), but for me it was over done, not to say overwrought, in episode 3 in particular. The producers need to keep the sensibilities of the audience in mind and I know many think it hasn't been well handled, bordering on mumbo jumbo. My only real worry with the religious angle is that everything is explained away deus ex machina-like at the end by recourse to the gods (or God).

That said, the other elements of the show have been really outstanding. The cylon civil war and divisive approach to ally with the humans in particular have been revelatory and fascinating. Like Lost, BG has benefited hugely from having an end date for the series set. When Ron Moore said he was jealous of the Sopranos ending I pictured the remaining 30000-odd humans and a similar number of cylons arriving at Earth to find it empty, destroyed in a war thousands of years before, hence the flight to the colonies, and as they square up to each other they are faced with the prospect of destroying what remains of sentient life in the universe or coming to some accommodation with each other.

I too have been uneasy about Lee's role, he has been thoroughly marginalised and I hope they can work him back into the core of the story convincingly. In the first couple of episodes I thought there were two strong hints that he might be the final cylon (I only recall one now, when he says to Adama "What if it had been Zak climb out of that cockpit"), and he is about the right rank of character. (But where cylon plants have real histories and not simply fabricated ones, which either Lee or his father surely have given their connection to each other at least, does that mean some Invasion of the Body Snatchers-type replacement would have occurred?)

Two minor gripes. How come cylon plants develop super-human strength when they discover their true identity (I'm thinking Tory whacking Cally). And, is it nigh-impossible to hear the dialogue on the demetrius in particular over the background noises and mood-music, or am I just getting old?

Welcome back Jace.
Jason said…
Has anyone noticed how the number of survivors in the credits (around 39,600) doesn't match the number on President Roslin's board (around 34,000)? What does this mean exactly? Are there survivors from New Caprica that are currently being held by the Cylons? Are there more survivors from the twelve colonies? Is that just a mathematical error?

I sense a big revelation coming.

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