If “A Day in the Life” wasn’t Battlestar Galactica at its very best, it was, at least, one of the show’s better standalones in recent memory. It was the sort of solid story that used to link the show’s larger arcs in season one, and it actually gave us some information that was helpful to understanding a character we wanted to get to know better. It had its clumsy elements and strange ideas, but it was, all in all, a mostly successful hour, anchored by the exceptionally strong performance of Edward James Olmos.
The episode, written by Mark Verheiden and directed by Rod Hardy, took place over the course of a long day that just happened to be the anniversary of Admiral Adama’s (Olmos) marriage. In a slightly strained literary device, Adama “meets” every year with his ex-wife (who has since died), played here by Lucinda Jenney, a guest star on countless TV series, including lengthy stints on The Shield and 24. In their meetings, they discuss their marriage and how it fell apart. Adama seems to feel a considerable amount of guilt over this (as he does over many of his other personal failings, including his weak relationship with his son, Lee, played by Jamie Bamber), and that guilt hangs over the rest of the episode, manifested in a series of short scenes set back at the house Adama and his wife shared (Galactica is always good at this sort of thing—the way memories of places seem more vibrant than the places themselves—and the episode’s visualization of Adama’s old home, lit through with sun and buzzing with the sounds of nature, was no exception).
It’s been 49 days since the last Cylon sighting, and in that respite from battle, the characters have allowed themselves a little time to breathe. Cally (Nicki Clyne) hopes for a little time alone with her husband, working stiff Chief Tyrol (Aaron Douglas), and their son. Instead, Tyrol has put in to work on repairing a damaged airlock and Cally is understandably angry about this. But her concerns about spending adequate time with her son are soon swept away when the two are trapped in the airlock, which is slowly leaking air. This portion of the episode, which provided most of the plot, as it were, had a pretty nifty (if completely implausible) rescue attempt and some good visual effects, but it (along with the Adama flashbacks) contributed to a worrisome trend in Galactica—all of the married women are becoming harpies, nagging their husbands endlessly about petty things while the men try to get the job done. Only Helo (Tahmoh Penikett) and Sharon (Grace Park) seem to have a relatively normal marriage, and even she goes in for the nagging. On a show that’s remarkably diverse in its portrayal of women, it’s distressing that they often and inevitably turn into shrews. I don’t think this is so much the show not having faith in women—rather, it seems to have a lack of faith in marriage—but it’s become an annoying fallback for the writers.
But the Chief and Cally plot wasn’t the meat of the episode (though it nicely commented on the breakup of the Adamas’ marriage and the strain that placed on their two children). Instead, we got a nicely nuanced portrayal of Adama, a man who has always placed duty before any sort of pleasure he might feel. His absence created a bad (and, it’s strongly hinted, dangerous) situation for his sons, but he needed to be at the frontlines of the military. While a lot of this is pretty standard and pretty cliched “my daddy didn’t love me” psychology, Olmos and Bamber let you feel the weight of the gulf that was between them until the series began, and it became easier to understand why Adama goes out of his way to turn his military personnel into an ad hoc family that he can rely on.
The show has also gotten back to revisiting some relationships it abandoned for a while. While we had gotten to see Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) and Lee as jilted lovers for a significant portion of the season, the show had mostly ignored them as friends, so it was nice to see a few scenes where they ribbed each other and laughed about it without sinking into maudlin tears about a love that would never be (the episode kicking off their affair—“Unfinished Business”—was one of the best of the season, but the others hit essentially the same notes about the whole deal). It was also nice to see Adama and President Roslin (Mary McDonnell) continue to show their mutual attraction, admitting that if the Cylons hadn’t returned to New Caprica, they might have become lovers. But the Cylons did return and both, duty-bound to save the human race, knew they couldn’t consummate their attraction and stifled it for the time being. In a television landscape where everyone is seemingly sleeping with their boss, this portrayal of putting responsibility ahead of personal need and want is refreshingly nuanced and well acted by both players.
But the story kept coming back to Adama and his wife. And while these scenes hit on a couple of strong notes (if ones we’ve heard before), the eventual revelation of her as some sort of monster without Adama was a bit forced (not least because Jenney played this revelation way, way over the top). It was much nicer to see Adama put a wedding photo of the two in a drawer, letting her know that they had a real connection, even though it could never last.
In many ways, Galactica is about the ways our pasts overlook us and drive who we become in the present (a rather ironic approach for a show that is, ostensibly, about the future). And this episode had plenty of that as well. The ghost of New Caprica, the planet that the characters escaped to at the end of season two, hung over the proceedings throughout, whether it was Cally and Chief, who had hoped to raise their child in peace on the planet’s surface, or Adama and Roslin, remembering how she was going to build a cabin where he might have gone to visit her (under friendly or even romantic pretenses, rather than work-related ones). New Caprica has hung over this season since the characters left it early in the run of episodes. And perhaps that’s why standalones (even the good ones, like “A Day in the Life”) seem so much less powerful now than they did early in the show’s run—the audience, like the characters, just wants somewhere to go home to.
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Even though the ratings are down slightly this season, the Sci-Fi Channel bit the bullet and renewed Battlestar Galactica for a fourth season (which may be shortened slightly from the past two seasons’ 20 episode runs). The network cited the show’s critical success as one of the reasons it was renewed, saying that the praise and cachet the show has gained have helped them approach other quality producers and writers to create programs for the networks. Whatever rationale was used, it’s just good to know that this season (which reportedly ends on a series of cliffhangers) won’t be the last.