Universal // 2004 // 755 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // January 16th, 2009
The best laid plans of Cylon and Man...
Our favorite rag-tag fleet continues its search for a lost planet called Earth. The writer's strike halted the journey, but fortunately, the writers had gotten to the halfway point. Now, almost on the eve of the second half of the season, Universal brings us Battlestar Galactica 4.0
The season picks up right where Season Three left off -- Col. Tigh (Michael Hogan, The L Word), Anders (Michael Trucco, One Tree Hill), Chief Tyrol (Aaron Douglas, I, Robot), and Tory (Rakha Sharma, The Core) struggle with the discovery that they are Cylons, while Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff, The Bionic Woman) has appeared after being thought dead for two months.
This first half of the final season has the extended version of Battlestar Galactica: Razor plus ten additional episodes:
* "He That Believeth in Me" -- Starbuck claims that she has been to Earth. Meanwhile, the newly revealed Cylons struggle with their identities. Baltar (James Callis, Bridget Jones' Diary) finds himself amidst nubile female cultists who believe he's an agent of the "one true God."
* "Six of One" -- Starbuck and Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell, Sneakers) face off with a gun between them; violence breaks out within the Cylon fleet.
* "The Ties that Bind" -- A coup attempt among the Cylons leads to further violence, Lee (Jamie Bamber, Band of Brothers) finds himself opposing Roslin during his first Quorum meeting as representative of Caprica, and Cally discovers Galen's secret. Meanwhile, Starbuck searches for Earth with Anders and other Galactica officers on the Demetrius.
* "Escape Velocity" -- Baltar causes unrest within the fleet (what are the odds?) when he begins to openly promote the Cylon god. Tigh, Tyrol, and Tory argue over how far they should go to protect their secret.
* "The Road Less Travelled" -- Leoben (Callum Keith Rennie, Memento) finds Starbuck and the Demetrius, bringing with him the possibility of a truce with Cylon rebels,
* "Faith" -- Starbuck leads a mission to see the Cylon Hybrid who reveals more clues to finding Earth. On Galactica, President Roslin discusses religious faith with a dying woman named Emily.
* "Guess What's Coming to Dinner" -- Bitter enemies must set aside their grudges as the Demetrius crew teams up with Cylon rebels.
* "Sine Qua Non" -- President Roslin's abduction by the Cylon Hybrid triggers a power struggle within the fleet.
* "The Hub" -- In pursuit of the Resurrection Hub, a team of Viper pilots and Cylon rebels become uneasy collaborators in formulating a battleplan.
* "Revelations" -- D'Anna (Lucy Lawless, Xena, Warrior Princess) reveals that there are only four of the Final Five Cylons in the fleet and holds President Roslin hostage while attempting to lure the four out of hiding. After a dramatic entanglement, the humans and Cylons join together and arrive at Earth.
Let's go ahead and deal with the one thing driving everyone nuts -- why the hell is Razor included as an extra? As it turns out, there is an explanation. To defray costs, Razor was filmed (from a production/budget standpoint) as the first two episodes of season 4; otherwise, the regular cast and crew would have been due additional pay. Consequently, Universal was contractually obligated to include Razor with season 4. That doesn't really change the fact that Universal pulled a fast one by releasing the unrated version right after it was broadcast, knowing that it would be included in the season set.
Here be spoilers. You have been warned.
The set has only two truly compelling storylines. One is the Cylon civil war. The clash of wills, which was really set in motion back in season 2's "Downloaded," finally simmers over. Lessons to be learned: 1. Don't mess with a Six (but we pretty well knew that). 2. Never cross a Cavil unless you intend to go all the way. 'Cause he will ruin your day. The war becomes the driving force behind the season, setting in motion most of the action leading to the discovery of Earth.
The other storyline is the relationship between Adama (Edward James Olmos, Blade Runner) and Laura Roslin. It would have been oh so easy to hook these two characters up earlier in the series; there were certainly more enough opportunities. But has been far more satisfying the watch the emotions slowly welling up. For all his steady demeanor, Adama has repeatedly demonstrated that he will abandon all reason for those he loves; we've seen it with his blind faith in both Lee and Kara, and we see it again as he turns command over to Tigh to remain behind in a Raptor, waiting for the Basestar with Roslin to return. The two have been soulmates for some time now, but only now do they finally realize it.
Lee Adama's story has a great beginning and ending, but the middle part is conspicuously underdeveloped. In the season opener, in the midst over Starbuck's return, the identity of the Four, and everything else, the best scene, hands down, is Adama and Apollo discussing Kara's return and Lee's career. There's a lovely moment when Apollo asks how Adama would have reacted if it had been Zac who had returned, not Starbuck. In the first season, Apollo couldn't have asked that question -- he wasn't comfortable enough with his relationship with Adama, and he didn't have enough confidence in himself as anything other than a Viper pilot. That's what commanding Pegasus and defending Baltar has done for Lee: given him the perspective necessary to step away from strictly military questions and see the bigger picture. That growth has a great bookend in the last episode, "Revelations" (see below), but the overall story arc is torpedoed by a grossly manipulative episode (see Rebuttal Witnesses).
As far as the acting goes, the Emmy Awards lost any vestiges of credibility by ignoring Galactica the past three years -- especially Olmos and McDonnell, both of whom are so frakking good they make your teeth hurt. In "Revelations," when Adama loses it -- and I mean totally loses it -- after learning of Tigh's true nature...I stopped breathing. All the fear, anger, despair, and sacrifice of the past 3.5 years erupts from Adama's soul in a thundering, cathartic rage. The absolute perfection of the scene is Lee comforting his dad and promising, "I'll take care of it." It is the moment in which Lee embraces adulthood -- a crystalline moment that captures the emotional cost of leading a people, and that it's Lee's acceptance of that cost that allows him to make the hard decisions that follow. Other standouts include James Callis, who manages to turn Baltar's transformation into a messianic cult leader into just another facet of the character's narcissism, and Tricia Helfer, who plays no less than five distinct versions of Six; it's hard to believe that her casting was initially derided as simple T&A -- she has grown as a performer beyond anyone's imagination.
Besides the writing and acting, which has been consistently solid, Battlestar Galactica has always shown an amazing eye for detail. We've seen it in the set designs and the backstories that have slowly filtered into the series from day one. That same care has gone in to the design of the special effects. When the time came for us to see a Cylon Resurrection Hub (seen first in the second season), it should not have come as any surprise that it looks more like a church than a spaceship.
But the aesthetics doesn't stop there. When the Hub is destroyed, the producers don't settle for just a big explosion. This explosion marks the end of the Cylon race as we know it -- and the explosion conveys the appropriate sense of awe -- not just a big bang, but an explosion that has a near ethereal quality to it, as though the spirits of Cylons not yet reborn have been freed.
And then of course, there is the discovery of Earth. Some have complained about the discovery of Earth as an obvious ploy. They're missing the point. Even though, in the back of our head, we know that it can't be that easy, the show catches us up in the moment. They sell the event as the real deal. Acting, music...even the effects scream, "We're here!"
The majestic images lead to Adama's triumphant speech to the fleet and the celebration, and because we've been with these people from the beginning, we're caught up in their exhilaration. We so desperately want these people to finally, to borrow a phrase, lay down their burdens. When Laura tells Bill she wants to see him pick up that first handful of dirt, the moment has resonance because it echoes their talks about the future back on New Caprica. And it all just makes the truth so much more painful.
Video is magnificent. There's actually a fair amount of difference in different types of scenes; many of the handheld shots are excessively grainy, as are many of the scenes on the Cylon Basestar, but that's part of the show's look. The 5.1 mix is rich and immersive -- particularly fun on the Basestars with their odd ambient noise. No one does extras quite like Galactica. The extra scenes aren't just a few seconds here or there, but are long, extended scenes that add depth, or even scenes that were cut altogether. The videoblogs offer a range of material, from a newlywed couple's visit to the set to a quick look at Galactica's presence on the internet, including a special appearance by our own Chief Justice:
There is a fair amount of overlap between the material, with some shared footage. The podcasts are always informative and fun. Ron Moore is always frank about what did and didn't work, and his discussions of how an episode evolved provides rare insight into the production of a series. There are only a few commentary tracks, and they are really the only weak link. There are only four commentary tracks (including the one for Razor), and they feature Moore and the writer of the episode. Conspicuously absent from the commentary tracks are any of the performers. It would have been nice to hear what was going through their heads as they brought these scenes to life.
When a show comes around the final turn, one of the problems is that characters occasionally have to be pushed around the playing field to get them into the proper position. Apollo's storyline has that kind of feel to it, as Lee is moved into the political realm, presumably so that he will assume control of the government when the show ends. Apart from the fact that I'm not sure the military would so readily let Lee resign his commission -- they need all the pilots they can get -- but they waste an entire episode, "Sine Qua Non," establishing Lee as the only person who could effectively lead both civilians and military, when it was patently evident from the beginning. In addition, the Demetrius mission, with several overused elements, seems like filler.
One thing continues to annoy. Back in Season Two, we were told that the Helo-Boomer experiment was an attempt at reproduction. That same goal was also behind Starbuck's captivity at the Farm. But not only do we have the Boomer-Helo baby, but we also have the Cally (RIP) and Tyrol baby. And now we learn that Caprica Six is pregnant...with Tigh's child? What the frak? (Note: Continuity problems aside, they did a fine job of hinting that Tigh's obsession with CapSix was going to go to a weird place; it never occurred to me that it would go to a horizontal place, though.)
Throughout its run, Battlestar Galactica has done a better job of exploring the full potential of science fiction television than any other series, with the possible exception of Doctor Who. As I write this, it's just a few days until the beginning of the final episodes. Perhaps the best compliment I can give this show that I never know where the writers are going to go next, but I'm always anxious to get there.
Not guilty (by your command).
Review content copyright © 2009 Jim Thomas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 755 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode Commentaries
* Deleted Scenes
* Video Blogs
* Caprica Preview
* Wikipedia: BSG