After a string of relatively contemplative episodes, Battlestar Galactica’s seventh episode of its fourth season, “Guess What’s Coming to Dinner?,” zips along with verve, finding little time for the character moments the last few episodes have been filled with, and concluding with one of the show’s better cliffhangers. Written by Michael Angeli and directed by Wayne Rose, the episode must have been manna to fans who’ve been distressed by some of the more philosophical stones the show has overturned this season, especially one that made such excellent use of the entire cast. While there are a few points where the plot takes easy shortcuts instead of doing something more complex and interesting in the interest of time, the episode is another strong one for a season that is shaping up to be one of the show’s best.
The biggest problem with the episode comes toward the very end, when Sharon (Grace Park) shoots and kills the Six known as Natalie (Tricia Helfer) with two gunshots. It is an excellent shock—most shows rarely go to this place—and it builds to the moment by having Sharon believe her child, Hera, is in danger and might be taken away by Six and Baltar (James Callis) to form some new form of nuclear family in a post-Cylon/human split future. But I just don’t buy that Sharon wouldn’t see that Natalie wasn’t the Six of her vision: the ice-blonde Caprica Six, the show’s femme fatale and the character more likely to be part of a kidnapping. Obviously, Sharon’s never met Natalie, and obviously, her protection of her child is going to come first, but the whole moment is predicated on the idea that a Cylon might think that all Cylons of a particular model are equally possible of being guilty (after all, Sharon is the ultimate Cylon rebel). The dramatic irony, however, of having Sharon send Tyrol (Aaron Douglas) over to save her daughter from the Cylon when Tyrol himself is a Cylon (though unknown to Sharon) is a nice little point, however.
That’s a small quibble, though, for a plot point that is the culmination of a storyline that examines the need of the Cylons to become more human. One of the major themes of the series has been the idea of what makes a human human and what sets us apart from other species. Specifically, the series has always been concerned with what is good about humanity, what is worth saving. The Cylons, meant in a way as a sort of freewheeling symbol for terrorism, are suitably alien, their society hard to comprehend or understand, even after the audience is taken inside of it in season three. In this episode, we learn that the Cylon quest to be more human now longs to encompass mortality (at least in some cases), as Natalie argues that the Cylons’ inability to die is keeping them from achieving the true likeness of their ancestors. But, of course, the humans have the ability to reproduce, which the Cylons do not, and as Natalie tells Sharon, she is blessed to have given birth to a child, to be able to have a legacy. The Cylons, with their constant downloading, of course have an everlasting legacy, but it seems that that pursuit now seems hollow to them. One of the complaints about the third season of Galactica was that the show spent too much time among the Cylons and robbed them of their menace by letting us know what their society is like. Those field trips, however, have given the scenes among the Cylons more of an edge this season, as our knowledge of their motives and society conflicts with our knowledge of their new civil war and what they’re willing to sacrifice to achieve their ultimate objectives.
Beyond the small moments among the Cylons, though, the rest of the episode scarcely lets up, starting with an excellent self-contained scene where the Cylon basestar commandeered by Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff), who seems to largely have her shit together again, jumps right next to the fleet and the Galactica nearly attacks it before Tigh (Michael Hogan) lets something—a nagging sense that something was wrong? Cylon programming?—stop him from opening fire. It’s the right call, of course, as the late-to-jump Demetrius later proves, sparing Starbuck and company, but it certainly seems to rouse a few suspicions about Tigh, whom Adama (Edward James Olmos) levels a questioning gaze at. It’s interesting to note that of the two big battles that members of the final five have been involved in, both have been averted directly or indirectly by members of the final five (Anders, if you’ll recall, was scanned by a Cylon centurion in the season premiere, and the toasters called off the troops). This strongly seems to hint that if, indeed, this has all happened before and it will happen again, the final five are a vital link to providing a bridge between humanity and the Cylons, that they might form a truce of some sort or live together on Earth or something.
The rest of the episode moves lots of chess pieces around the board, getting them in place for the final cliffhanger, but it largely does so elegantly, taking time for arguments among the Cylons trying to align themselves with the humans as to whether the humans are even ready to proceed, and political machinations with Natalie appealing to the Quorum and dangling before the humans a huge prize—the Cylons’ resurrection hub, without which no Cylon can be resurrected (which, of course, ties in with Natalie’s desire to explore mortality). Natalie talks the humans into joining her quest to find the final five by unboxing D’Anna (Lucy Lawless, who’s returning soon), which sends the final five into some anxiety over their identities being learned. The anxiety of the four of the final five we know of has been palpable all season, but it’s reaching a boiling point here with just about every scene featuring a moment when they’re put on the spot (they don’t know the way to Earth, and they know when they’re discovered, they’ll be dead) and backed into an even tighter corner. This whole storyline has given strong actors like Hogan and Douglas great material to play and revealed unknown depths in players like Michael Trucco and Rekha Sharma, who were often just background scenery before this plotline.
Roslin (Mary McDonnell), meanwhile, is once again having visions of the opera house, watching Hera go off with Six and Baltar as Sharon looks helplessly on (I often expect Roslin to wake up and start saying, “And you were there, and you and you and you!”). These visions return at an inconvenient time for Roslin, who is losing her religion and being called out for having shared visions with a Cylon by Baltar (James Callis) on his radio show (and is this guy just on the radio all the time?). Roslin asks Tory (Rekha Sharma), whom she’s figured out is involved with Baltar, to find out how Baltar knows (as it turns out, he heard about the visions from Six), which gives McDonnell the chance to utter the phrase “charter member of his nymph squad.” Roslin’s getting hit from all sides this week, though, as her unilateral decision to strike the resurrection hub angers the rest of the quorum. McDonnell was sidelined in the third season, and Ron Moore and his writers have often seemed a bit regretful about that, so seeing her deal with a full slate all season long, particularly as her cancer is back full force, has been wonderful to watch. There’s a scene late in the episode where Sackhoff and McDonnell discuss what the Hybrid told Starbuck last episode that has the feel of a late season one episode, and it’s just nice to watch these two share the screen again.
Also, Gaeta (Alessandro Juliani) spends much of the episode singing after his leg is amputated. While the amputation is a gutsy move for the show to pull on a regular (Galactica is often at its best when it’s focusing on the consequences of the choices of its heroes), the singing never quite works outside of the first scene it is utilized in (providing an eerie counterpoint to a conversation between Mary McDonnell’s Roslin and Jamie Bamber’s Apollo). It is a bold creative choice, but it also seems to be too much in some of the scenes, pushing them over the edge into maudlin (though I see that fans are already trying to parse the lyrics of the song, figuring that Gaeta knows something subconsciously).
The whole episode, though, is building to that last act, when Hera (newly obsessed with Six and filling whole books with sketches of a woman she’s never met) takes off into the arms of Natalie with Sharon in hot pursuit, and another Number Eight plugs the Hybrid back in on the basestar so Roslin and Baltar can talk to her. The two sequences are expertly intercut, so that even as the question of whether or not Sharon will kill Natalie is playing on your mind you’re also wondering why, exactly, they’re making such a big deal out of the resurrection of the basestar. And then just after Sharon plugs Natalie (and you’re kind of wondering why she did it), the Hybrid (Tiffany Lyndall-Knight) comes back on line and bellows “JUMP!” and takes the basestar (with Roslin and Baltar, of course) off to some unknown corner of the universe, and suddenly, all of the pieces click into place and the episode leaves you with that smile on your face you only get when you’re just dying to know what happens next.
So, of course, now we have to wait two weeks. See you May 30!