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The Best of Battlestar

Written by: Ron Bricker


Image Possibly one of the best television series of recent years, if not ever, Ronald D Moore and David Eick’s re-imagining of the 70s series Battlestar Galactica has breathed new life, not only into the science-fiction genre, but television in general.  With its tale of humanity’s desperate struggle for survival following the near-annihilation by their former creation, the Cylons, Battlestar Galactica has provided drama, twists, and thrills a-plenty, and its post-apocalyptic vision poses hard-hitting questions, such as how one builds civilization back up from nothing, and (that old chestnut) what it means to be human.  Its mix of politics and prophecy, its panoply of deliciously flawed, often self-destructive characters, its stylish space battles and its tough, moral quandaries have made it compelling viewing, and I, for one, have thoroughly enjoyed every minute. 

However, as is so often the case with intelligent, bordering-on-genius shows (ohhh it makes me so angry), BSG is facing the axe; due to poor ratings, the US Sci-Fi channel will not be renewing its contract, and so, the next season is to be the last.  Thus, with the 2hr special “Razor” premiering November 24 in the U.S. and the final season set to begin in January 2008, I thought it might be worthwhile to look back at the last three seasons and pick out some of the series’ finest moments. 

Without further ado, therefore, may I present: my top ten Battlestar Best Bits.  Needless to say, there are SPOILERS AHOY, and it is by no means conclusive or definitive, but voila – in chronological order: 

1. “Passacaglia” – the opening to the episode “Kobol’s Last Gleaming: Part 1” [Season 1]

For me, this opening provides a perfect example of what makes this show just so goddamn awesome – inventive, stylish, dramatic and always full of surprises.  The sequence in question lasts almost a whole five minutes, in which we see four storylines intercut – four crossroads, four points of culmination and/or crisis at this, the opening of the first of the two-part season finale: the continual sparring of father and son, a dangerous liaison, and the juxtaposition of two guns, both pointed at the same person, but one the inward-turning movement of self-doubt, the other spurred on by anger and betrayal.  All four threads come together, weaving in and out and jostling up against one another with all the frisson and drama of Gaius and Kara’s two naked feet.  The bleached, washed out landscape of Cylon-occupied Caprica and the frantic movement of footsteps contrasts with the darkness of a static cabin, the prospect of self-annihilation lying heavy in the air.  Meanwhile, with a misplaced cry of ecstasy, Baltar takes a heavy blow to his ego, and his named rival takes one to the face…  And as one gunshot is narrowly averted, another erupts, suddenly and violently, on another world.  All to the lilting, beautiful rhythm of strings.  And let’s face it, only a show this good could get me waxing this lyrical.

[Just a little note on the music: In creating Battlestar Galactica’s distinctive score, composer Bear McCreary eschews the usual brassy, orchestral epic sweep of space-faring science fiction shows, instead employing a whole host of unusual, ethnic instruments (most of which I’ve never even heard of, nor can pronounce – the ‘yialli tanbur’ and the ‘erhu’ anyone?), ethereal vocals, and a lot of percussion (the show’s signature sound for its space-documentary style battle scenes).  Every now and then, however, he’ll break out a weapon from his classical arsenal, usually in the form of piano and/or strings – take, for example, the haunting music used for Baltar’s incarceration on the Cylon base-star in season 3 (a track entitled “Battlestar Sonatica”), or the frenetic, militaristic string-gymnastics of season 2’s “Prelude to War” (8 mins and 26 secs of sheer musical brilliance) – and since they are used only sparingly, they prove to be all the more effective.  The end result to all this variety and experimentation is that the music is constantly evolving and improving, and as it does so, stubbornly refuses to be shoved into any one particular genre, much like the show itself.]

2. The Roslin/Adama Kiss – “Resurrection: Part II” [Season 2]

The ultimate power couple, President of the Twelve Colonies and Commander of the Colonial Fleet, share a tender moment at the end of this heart-stopping episode.  These two are both complete and utter badasses in their own right: authoritative, strong-willed, and unwilling to take any crap from anyone, each other included.  And so, after a season and a half’s worth of mutual suspicion, hard-won respect, begrudging admiration, and finally friendship, this little moment of affection nearly melted me into a pile of slushy, sentimental goo.  You almost feel wrong to watch (ew old people! romance!), because as soon as Adama grabs a wavering, ailing Roslin by the hand and helps her to her feet you pretty much know what’s going to happen.  But nevertheless, when it does (ooh, Adama, you sly old dog), complete and utter SQUEE.  I actually cried it was so cute. 

3. The “One Year Later” Transition Shot – “Lay Down Your Burdens: Part II” [Season 2]

Music and direction come together in perfect harmony in this fantastic transition shot that segues, in a matter of seconds, one year into the future upon New Caprica. 

In the immediate aftermath of Baltar’s ascendancy and Pegasus Six’s suicidal nuke attack on the already-depleted colonial fleet, a slow tracking shot coupled with the emergence of the lightly insistent score bring us closer and closer to Baltar’s bowed head of tousled hair, and suddenly we pass from a state of grief to a state of moral and political dissolution.  One year on into his presidency and our old friend Gaius looks a bit like a faded rock star, with his entourage of scantily clad, busty babes, the bottle of liquor on the table, the half open white shirt and his little packet of pills (methinks The Drugs Don’t Work?).  Meanwhile the addition of the self-portrait on the wall stands as a perfect testimony to his narcissism. 

I particularly like how the seamless transition through time carries the visual suggestion that the President hasn’t left his cabin all year, which, given Gaeta’s tales of recurring woe from the populace, is probably fairly close to the truth, and would certainly speak for the metaphorical distance from the thoughts, hopes and fears of the people, his people, who are left to languish on the outside, falling deeper and deeper into the winter of their discontent.

Soon, however, the dreaded, familiar whine and whirr of raiders flying overhead and the ominous thunk thunk of the giant metallic foot-soldiers bring a swift end to the party, and in a personal favourite exchange of loaded, emotionally charged glances (the President suddenly finds himself reunited with his old flame, in the flesh), he speaks the unutterable, unthinkable words: “On behalf of the Twelve Colonies…I surrender.”  Collectively, fans flock around the television/computer screen and fall to their figurative knees, screaming NOOOO, DON’T DO IT!!!  But Kara’s parting words show that it isn’t over until the fat lady fights back.  A fantastic way to end the season.

4. Brother Cavil air-quoting God – “Occupation” [Season 3]

Dean Stockwell just oozes sarcasm and scorn as the be-hatted, Brother Cavil, in a role that is quite a contrast to the perkiness and optimism of his trusty holographic sidekick in Quantum Leap.  I think what I like most about this character is that he complicates things; his cynicism and pragmatism set him apart from the other Cylons and, in particular, he is a marked contrast to the near bible bashing fervour of Six, the Cylon God’s (or should that be “God”’s?) most tireless and loyal servant.  He also provides a lot of humour, whether through his hard-hitting bedside manner in ‘counselling’ the Chief, his upfront desires to reduce the human population to a more manageable size, or when he sardonically suggests throwing Baltar to the human wolves to “sweeten the pot”.  However, air-quoting God still remains my favourite.

5. Ellen’s Death – “Exodus: Part II” [Season 3]

I always found Ellen to be a bit annoying, to be honest, and couldn’t help but see her as nothing more than a misguided, manipulative ho-bag.  However I did find that there was some fun to be had in wondering whether her constant scheming marked her out as Cylon material or whether she was just a really devious human.  I soon settled on the latter (and, I think, turned out to be right) but on New Caprica we see another side to Ellen’s character: her devotion to her husband, her tenacity, and the lengths to which she will go to protect the man she loves.  More than anything else, the extreme circumstances of Cylon-occupied New Caprica humanises Ellen.  I grew to admire her, and for her then to be sacrificed ‘for the greater good’, to be punished for her loyalty fuelled-by love, and more than that, at the hands of the one she fought so hard to save, was just heart-breaking.  Top-notch acting by both Michael Hogan and Kate Vernon make this one of BG’s most intimate and tragic scenes.

[I was reminded a little of the tragic climax to Shakespeare’s “Othello” – whilst Ellen is by no means the blotless, shining paragon of virtue that is Desdemona (and funnily enough, in previous episodes, she resembled more the ambitious ruthlessness of a Lady Macbeth), her love for Tigh, nevertheless, has its own earnest innocence, and just like Othello, Tigh destroys it, and her along with it.  There is also the familiar Shakespearean collision of the public and private spheres, of love and politics… but I digress!]

6. Atmospheric Jump / Pegasus to the Rescue – “Exodus: Part II” [Season 3]

After three gruelling episodes that seem to pack in a lifetime’s worth of hardship, it’s time for the human prisoners on New Caprica, false Promised Land that it was, to be led to salvation, and their deliver comes in the form of Bill Adama and his great big, hulking, flaming metallic angel in the sky.  Galactica’s atmospheric jump is as equally bonkers as it is brilliant, and forms a perfect first-act climax to the season.  Equally exhilarating is the moment where all seems lost for the crew of the Galactica – with the Cylon base-stars closing in and the FTL drive offline, Adama proclaims: “Then that’s it.  It’s been an honour”.  Elegiac strings play in the background and everything quietens as we see a shot of the Galactica taking its place in the midst of a deathly fireworks display; the camera pulls out, further and further back, suggesting, this is it, this is the end… but suddenly, the sound of drums, and the camera moves back into the midst of the action as the white letters “PEGASUS” pass triumphantly across the screen.  You knew it was going to happen, but you still cheer when it does.

7. The Fleet Reunited – “Exodus: Part II” [Season 3]

This is my third moment taken from the same episode, which wasn’t at all intentional, but I think it stands as a testament to the immense and often devastating emotional power of season 3’s opening episodes. 

When I first thought of this ‘best bit’ it was one of triumph; in my mind I could see a moustachioed Adama being swept up and away on the arms of a grateful, elated crowd, and it made me smile.  However, when I went back to watch the scene again I found out how selective my memory had been; this is no simple victory.  Battlestar Galactica is never one to disregard consequences (I need only refer back to Adama’s improvised speech in the miniseries), and as this ending makes clear, there are some consequences which will stay with these characters for a long time, possibly forever.  Thus, the elation of the rescue/reunion is tempered by the lonely, haunted figure of Tigh, moving against the tide, and a stricken Starbuck, who finds herself the victim of another of Leoben’s twisted, psychological games.  I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry, and it’s clear that this is precisely the reaction the writers intended.        

8. Apollo/Starbuck flashback – “Unfinished Business” [Season 3]

First off, can I just say, I love this episode.  Narratively, the structure is exquisite in its complexity as the present time of the boxing match is interwoven with tantalising snippets of that lost year on New Caprica, and we slowly begin to realise the impact of past events on the bristling, electric tensions of the present – just why Adama rains down so hard upon the Chief, and what the fook was going on with that terse phone call between Apollo and Starbuck at the end of the season 2 finale.  As to the latter, which forms the emotional crux of the episode, we knew from that moment on that there was a friendship-shattering argument of some kind, but as to what we were none the wiser, and until “Unfinished Business” (one season, and nine episodes later) it simply goes unexplained.  This in itself endears the show to me as it demonstrates the intelligence of the writing; the continual avoidance of spoon-feeding the audience, of delaying revelations and releasing information only slowly, like looking through a glass darkly. 

When I come to think about it, there are a lot of moments in this episode that I love and which stick in my mind, whether it be the soft femininity and radiance of Roslin in her red dress, or the snippet of brief, marital bliss between Ellen and Tigh (sob!), but my favourite is the exchange of glances between Apollo & Starbuck, the morning after the night before.  We see it several times, but only at the end of the episode do we fully appreciate the subtext hidden beneath the fake smiles and the minute changes of facial expression.  At first it just looks like Lee is being a bastard, but then we find out that it’s actually Kara who’s the bitch.  The play of emotions that pass across Katee Sackhoff’s face in that one instant, like a magic lantern casting flickering images on a wall, is simply stunning.

[Other favourite Katee Sackhoff/Starbuck moments of that ilk which I feel are definitely worth a mention include the expression on her face following the brutal fork-stabbing of Leoben in “Occupation” when she settles down to her steak, and the afore-mentioned moment of realisation of Kacey’s real roots in “Exodus: Part II”.  Powerful stuff!]

9. Northern Baltar!!! – “Dirty Hands” [Season 3]

In the episode “Dirty Hands”, we are given another insight into the background of one of Battlestar Galactica’s best characters, Gaius Baltar.  When he began to tell the Chief about his humble beginnings from the fields of Aerelon (“food basket for the Twelve Colonies”) and slipped into the rough, gravely tones of, what sounded to me like, Yorkshire, I practically punched the air.  I’m a Northern lass myself, so there was an element of Northern pride that undoubtedly crept in, as well as the immense satisfaction at hearing any Battlestar Galactica character utter the phrase “grab a pint down t’pub”.  But, silliness aside, this scene added yet another layer to the onion, detailing the history of a small-town farm boy who overcame his lower class upbringing to make a name for himself in the world. 

[I could also go off on yet another Englishy tangent here about Standard English and how the Caprican dialect must’ve been to the Twelve Colonists the equivalent of ‘the Queen’s English’/Chancery Standard here in England but that would just be very boring so I won’t]

10. Six, the Lawyer and the Pen – “The Son Also Rises” [Season 3]

It’s a small moment but it’s one of my favourites and yet more proof that Tricia Helfer is not just a pretty pair of legs – this model (haha) knows how to act!

In this scene, Machiavellian lawyer Romo Lampkin tries to manipulate Caprica by prodding away at her Baltar-shaped Achilles heel – he pulls up all her raw, tortured emotions to the surface through a personal tale of love/tragedy (that we don’t know whether to believe) and then reaches his piece de resistance – the silver pen he’d pilfered and pocketed, Oliver-style, from Baltar’s cell, his most important (and only!) possession, pledged as a token of fidelity and lasting love.  Six moves to accept it, and as she picks up the pen it’s as if she’s holding the entirety of her passionate, senseless love affair in her hand.  Then, in a moment, the little chink of recollection, of weakness is gone, and she slides the pen back across the table, her face once more an impassive, impenetrable mask.  Brilliant.

 

So, there it is, my top ten best bits.  However, the more I think about it, and the more I discuss with other equally geeky and equally obsessive friends, the more I realize just how much I’ve left out!  Boomer’s shock shooting of Adama at the end of season 1, Lee’s powerful speech from the witness stand exonerating Baltar, the trippy s3 finale, the advent of saviour-turned-nightmare Admiral Cain in “Pegasus”, Six punching Tigh, Six beating up Starbuck, Six beating up Boomer…  Oh, there are just too many.  Here’s hoping that season 4 will provide many more!  So say we all.

 

   

 

Author: Ron Bricker

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