Those who’ve been complaining that Battlestar Galactica has sacrificed forward momentum for seeing how deeply it could sink its characters into the mire got a bit of a gift in the show’s final 2006 episode, “The Eye of Jupiter.” Scripted by Mark Verheiden and directed by Michael Rymer, the episode picked up a huge handful of dangling plot threads and began the process of weaving them together. While a bit uneven (resurrecting long dormant storylines made for a lot of clumsy exposition), the episode was mostly dizzying and action-packed, culminating in a final act that cross-cut rapidly between four storylines. And that was after the show had put Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) in the firing line and had Adama (Edward James Olmos) confirm to Sharon (Grace Park) and Helo (Tahmoh Penikett) that their human-Cylon hybrid baby was still alive on a basestar somewhere.
Galactica has always shown a surprising willingness to just jump into situations in medias res when it suits the story; this episode advanced us all the way from the bloody clinch between Lee (Jamie Bamber) and Starbuck that closed “Unfinished Business” two weeks ago to a passionate and full-blown affair between the two characters that we hadn’t seen develop in the episode between that one and this. Furthermore, the Cylons had managed to find their way to the planet where the humans were harvesting algae to turn into protein bars. While they discussed their plans to find a temple there in a few throwaway lines in last week’s episode, a lesser show would have dragged this out over the better part of a season. This, as well as the sweaty, frazzled state of the people harvesting the algae, had a discombobulating effect that set the episode on edge immediately. The look of the algae planet, while not as desaturated as Cylon-oppressed New Caprica, was similarly bleached out, also making things seem off.
The episode’s habit of picking up long-dangling storylines didn’t stop there. This season has seen the show embracing its propensity for mysticism with renewed vigor. The proudly monotheistic Cylons have seen at least one of their number (D’Anna, played by Lucy Lawless) wander through the afterlife in her quest to find the final answers of her people (she even visited a seer). Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) has always skewed toward the prophetic, of course, and even in this episode, we see that Starbuck’s religion keeps her from leaving her husband (adultery, apparently, is just “bending the rules,” though divorce is ruled out). The episode’s main thrust (the finding of an as-yet-undefined temple housing that both the Cylons and humans covet) found the show’s reliable everyman, Chief Tyrol (Aaron Douglas) following a gut instinct and going on an ersatz vision quest, which led him to the temple, (Its interior looks like an observatory with a huge telescope.) Mysticism has always been a weapon in the Galactica arsenal, but it’s always been used sparingly. This episode suggests, through subtle structural details, and outright in a couple of speeches, that some sort of god or gods or super-Cylon is directing everyone’s actions.
Religion has always been treated matter-of-factly on Galactica. The Cylons’ religion has something in it that compels them to forcibly convert (as Dean Stockwell’s murderous Brother Cavil has said). The prophetic reveries of Roslin have led to useful information but have also made her seem a bit nuts—especially to Adama, who seems to be a secular humanist. Many scenes in this episode brazenly shifted the focus to that issue; the emphasis hasn’t been this blatant since Roslin was leading missions to find Kobol. While the scene where Chief discussed his repressive religious upbringing with his wife worked despite itself, the idea that he would dance around naked in the holy of holies is a bit much. But his attitude of longing for his old faith rang true, the scene immediately following (in which Alessandro Juliani’s Gaeta expressed to Adama and Roslin that the fact that the Cylons and humans arrived at the same place at the same time spoke to the influence of some sort of creator) was also too much.
Still, if you didn’t enjoy one aspect of the episode, there was something else coming along every minute or so to try to grab your attention. The pell-mell pacing was uncharacteristic, but it gave some of this season’s more underutilized characters (specifically Roslin) things to do. It also resulted in a lot of great individual scenes, even if they rocketed by. The series had nursed along enough storylines that it was able to build all of them to a head in this episode, and the conflict between characters, most of it long-brewing, was something that had been hinted at all season long.
The episode, of course, had a cliffhanger, which leads into a scheduling break of slightly more than a month; unfortunately it was the show’s weakest so far, leading the audience to ask, “I wonder how they’ll get out of this one,” rather than “I wonder how this will change things,” which is what the show’s better cliffhangers (the shooting of Adama at the end of season one, the arrival of the Cylons at the end of season two) managed to accomplish. Indeed, the SciFi Channel’s promo people seemed to realize that the question of whether several series regulars would be killed off is essentially moot, and definitively answered who would live and die in the teaser for the back half of the season that aired after the episode’s conclusion. The main source of suspense lies in the knowledge Helo and Sharon now have that their child is alive (Adama also learned of this, altering his working relationship with Roslin). There were few hints as to what they might do about that, but one assumes this thread will be foregrounded in the season’s remaining episodes.
It’s actually difficult to discuss “The Eye of Jupiter” without making the discussion a plot summary. So much stuff happened in the episode (I haven’t even touched upon a lot of things in my notes) that it’s tempting to just do a straight recap. But the episode also was strong from a technical standpoint. Rymer, who established the show’s distinctive space verite look, did typically strong work, and the closing act cross-cutting was a new highpoint for the show’s editing team. The effects work and the score, previously praised in this column, continue to rank among TV’s best.
If anything, “The Eye of Jupiter” clarified the first half of the season. Show mastermind Ron Moore admitted in a recent interview (mild spoilers at that link) that the season has a lot of interconnected story between episodes that won’t become immediately clear until the season is completely wrapped. (Who, for instance, would have thought that last week’s episode, which felt like a one-off, was, in essence, part one of this episode?) This, of course, makes writing about the show’s themes problematic, as the rug could be pulled out from under the audience at any moment. But for now, it seems, Galactica is doing a season about belief and how fragile our hopes and faith in that belief can be. Starbuck holds firm to her beliefs when convenient but bends the rules when she wants to. Adama has questioned his own belief in his worthiness as a commander and a person. And the whole Cylon civilization subplot is an elaborate attempt to get the audience to question its own beliefs about the series at a fundamental level. While not all of these storylines have been executed with the necessary grace (and there are dozens of other examples of characters questioning, probing or clinging to their beliefs in this season), the show appears to be laying a solid thematic foundation for whatever’s ahead of us.
In case you didn’t notice from the dozens of promos SciFi ran during the episode, when the show returns Jan. 21, it will move to Sundays at 10 p.m., apparently in a bid to capture HBO’s audience, which will be between The Wire and The Sopranos (perhaps SciFi thinks Rome fans will enjoy Galactica). Consequently, the reviews here at The House Next Door will move to Mondays for the season’s final nine episodes. In the meantime, check out that interview linked to above, in which Moore indicates that the show will delve more into civilian life in the fleet (the spoilers are fairly mild). Also, be sure to check out the podcasts, which now feature a roundtable and a writers’ meeting in addition to Moore’s commentary.
House Next Door contributor Todd VanDerWerff is the publisher of the pop culture blog South Dakota Dark. To read Time Out New York TV critic Andrew Johnston’s article on the politics of Battlestar Galactica, click here.