As hard as it can be to say anything substantive about any episode of a heavily serialized show like Battlestar Galactica, it’s practically impossible to say anything substantive about part one of a two-part season finale without devolving into a series of unconnected bullet points about what worked well and what didn’t work well. From the looks of the first hour, however, (and I haven’t seen next week’s episode, which many critics say is even better) the show will hopefully tie up what has been a fitfully frustrating season into a cohesive whole.
Above all, “Crossroads, Part 1” written by Michael Taylor and directed by Michael Rymer—the man who developed the series’s signature look with co-executive producers Ronald Moore and David Eick way back in the miniseries—felt shot through with the weight of time passed and the regrets incumbent in such a scenario. When I complained about “Collaborators” (the season’s fifth episode and the first post-New Caprica), I felt that the series hadn’t devoted enough time to the emotional fallout of New Caprica and resentments bred there to effectively create a scenario where the deaths of those who collaborated with the Cylons would have any resonance (though the show was to be admired for even having the guts to go where it did). Not so with the trial of Gaius Baltar (James Callis, continuing his string of incredible season three performances). Argue if you want (as a commenter did last week) that a fleet at war and on the run from an incredibly dangerous and powerful enemy wouldn’t pause for a war crimes trial (since the society presented in Galactica has always made a point of preserving its rule of law, it seems likely that they very well might), but the long-simmering anger at Baltar among the members of the fleet gained power by being given a whole season to keep growing and growing and growing. And because the characters we identify with all hate Baltar, it’s surprising to hear his lawyer, Romo Lampkin (Mark A. Sheppard), offer up a defense of the man that almost makes sense.
It doesn’t seem likely that the writers of the show think that Baltar isn’t guilty of war crimes (since he did, indeed, sign a death warrant AND contributed to the initial attack that opened the series—though it could be argued he did that unwittingly—AND gave a nuclear weapon to a Cylon woman in late season two), but that they’re trying to find a way to keep him on the show (since, admittedly, any conviction of Baltar would have to lead to his death) by setting him up for acquittal. They’ve found a smart way around that problem, though. Lampkin’s a much better lawyer than the prosecutor (who’s rather uninteresting, all things considered), and his arguments for Baltar make a sort of twisted sense—what would you have done differently? he asks, as well as, how many lives were saved by Baltar’s decision to cooperate with the Cylons? In addition, the lack of non-hallucinatory evidence proving Baltar’s culpability in the initial attacks allows the writers a graceful way out of bringing those crimes into the trial, leaving everything based on the New Caprica events and whether his guilt is any greater than those in the resistance who became suicide bombers or whether he’s just someone being held up for blame. Sure, Baltar signed a death warrant, but he also worked to save humanity by capitulating to the Cylons’ demands. Is he that much worse than a suicide bomber? And so on. I don’t think there’s a way around the fact that Baltar consigned hundreds of his own species to death, but the argument that the series’s complicated and complex morality can’t be parsed simply in a courtroom (even a television courtroom, where people make stirring speeches and untrained assistants grill presidents) doesn’t hold water.
If this season of Galactica has felt aimless in places, “Crossroads, Part 1” felt devastatingly focused in every department—for once, even the deleted scene cut for time and tacked on at the end of the episode seemed fascinating. The plot made leaps forward, the trial scenes were fascinating (if they’re not accurate, they’re at least TV-accurate, meaning you don’t really think about the lapses in legal logic until the episode’s long over), and a lot of things that had been set aside midway through season two were unexpectedly brought up again, from President Roslin’s (Mary McDonnell) cancer and religious visions (here depicted as brought on by her medication) to Apollo’s (Jamie Bamber) demotion in rank and former friendship with Roslin. The tightly focused script allowed the actors to give uniformly fine performances and freed Rymer to offer up some unexpected shots, from a close-up of Tigh (Michael Hogan, whose slow, drunken breakdown over the course of the episode was some great acting) in profile to Baltar framed off-center by prison bars after being asked by a fan to bless her sick daughter (a caveat: Galactica’s portrayal of the press doesn’t gibe with its otherwise sympathetic portrayal of people at all levels of the fleet—it’s nearly always a faceless throng of reporters or an undercover Cylon or something). One of the episode’s best moments was one of its most low-key, featuring the prosecutor asking over and over again how loss can be measured and the camera taking in all of the many, many people throughout the fleet whom we’ve been introduced to over the course of the season. For those who complain about getting to know, say, the factory workers, Galactica offers up this montage as a rebuttal—we had to get to know them because this calamity’s talons sunk right down to the smallest of the small in the fleet. While the show might have better handled some of these field trips into other areas of the fleet, its humanitarian spirit allows it to get away with a lot in this regard.
And, of course, the Cylons returned in a nifty sequence where Racetrack (Leah Cairns) hid in a meteor field to make sure that the robots were no longer following the humans (as has seemed to be the case for the latter half of season three). While playing cards, Racetrack suddenly found several Cylon basestars on top of her and she and her co-pilot had to scramble to escape, jumping out of the area right before a missile shot her down. The show has kept the Cylons out of the humans’ hair for much of season three, taking us inside their society but avoiding the warfare and space battles that characterized much of seasons one and two. Even with all that we now know about the Cylons (up to and including that strange hybrid woman in a tank who predicts the future or something), their menace as a culture returned completely in this episode, and a feeling of darkness and foreboding hangs over the whole hour (coming to a head, presumably, in next week’s finale).
And that’s not even to mention the episode’s other major developments—the return of Roslin’s cancer and the strange music wafting throughout the episode, heard only by certain people. Roslin was so non-specific about her disease that it almost seems she might be lying, simply to excuse taking the hallucinogens again to get a glimpse of what paths to take (her religion—which has mostly been on the backburner since season two’s “Epiphanies”—roared back to the forefront here). But that almost seems like a plot that might be shunted off to the show’s fourth season. Not so with the strange music, heard only by Tigh, Anders (Michael Trucco) and, it would seem, Tory (Rekha Sharma). That seems almost certain to reveal its true purpose in next week’s episode. Were the Cylons really tracking one of these three, instead of the radiation signal Six (Tricia Helfer) told Tigh they were tracking? Does the music come from Earth (reportedly a plot point Ron Moore wanted to work in at some point in season one)? Or, perhaps most obviously, are these three three of the final five Cylon models, either Cylons from their inception or doubles created by the Cylons while on New Caprica? While this seems the obvious answer, it casts another new light on the New Caprica episodes—presuming Tigh and Anders are revealed to be Cylons, their struggle against the other seven models could be read as nothing less than a Cylon civil war of sorts (though, of course, neither seems aware of their true nature if they are, indeed, Cylons).
“Crossroads, Part 1” was Galactica at its best, mixing morality tales with military action, big overarching storylines with interpersonal intrigue. If the second hour lives up to the first and ties up even more loose ends (including, hopefully, Starbuck’s destiny), the two episodes might make the entire season play in a new light when watched straight through on DVD. Here’s hoping.