Say what you will about “Sine Qua Non,” nearly unanimously considered the worst episode thus far in Battlestar Galactica’s fourth season, but the dramatic undercurrent that has propelled the rest of this season was present in certain aspects of the episode. The episode was too blatant with its plot movements, no question, but as Todd and others pointed out there was also tantalizing hints of the story we weren’t seeing. I’m filling in for Todd this week as he’s out of town, and I certainly had these comments in mind when doing so. While there was dramatic purpose in keeping us in the dark to reflect the fleet’s confusion in the wake of the “Guess What’s Coming to Dinner?” cliffhanger, we were really waiting for “The Hub.” Written by Jane Espenson and directed by Paul Edwards, this story of the basestar’s quest to destroy the Cylon Resurrection hub and unbox D’Anna (Lucy Lawless) is the one that we wanted to see last week, which made those brief hints more frustrating than intriguing.
This is not the first time the season has done this—Espenson’s last episode, “Escape Velocity,” was itself a divergence from the Cylon Civil War and the Demetrius’ search for Earth in favor of building Tyrol and Baltar’s interesting, but less pressing, storylines. Here, however, Espenson trades off, drawing the gig, for a change, of writing the payoff.
For the most part, she succeeds—it’s hard to screw up what the show does best, an intersection of human and Cylon combined with meaningful action sequences and a spiritual journey for humanity’s dying leader. There’s a certain diversity in the episode’s tone that could turn some off, with some strangely humorous or laid back sequences, but when much of it is given to Mary McDonnell and James Callis it is at least in good hands. By grounding itself in both the ongoing plot and the series’s central characters and themes, the episode can’t help but provide momentum into the final episode of the year.
The direct continuation of the cliffhanger we left on three weeks ago proves less interesting from the perspective of the basestar’s physical jump than from the spiritual journey of one of its occupants. The hybrid’s jump is deemed a reaction to Natalie’s death, a panicked response to this newfound uncertainty, but her trajectory is right in line with the mission: find the Hub, revive D’Anna, destroy the Hub. It’s awfully convenient, but it allows the show to spend more time with Laura Roslin. When the ship jumps, she transports into another vision, this one aboard Galactica and featuring a return appearance by Elosha (returning guest Lorena Gale), her spiritual advisor who was a casualty of her journey to Kobol in “Home.”
Elosha’s return comes at a time when Roslin is searching for answers, but in all honesty she doesn’t provide many of them. She leads Roslin in a journey through Galactica’s deserted corridors, egging her on with questions of morality, death, and, most importantly, what she will mean to the people she leaves behind. Roslin spends a lot of the time just staring at her cancer-stricken self lying in a hospital bed with Adama, Apollo and Starbuck by her side, while Elosha spouts various points of wisdom that force Roslin to consider if her own death will be any different than those she has judged. At a certain point, Elosha’s answers are more infuriating than interesting: Roslin points out that the empty Galactica feels strange, and Elosha responds by spouting that “a lot of things are strange.”
But looking beyond the clumsiness of some of the dialogue, the end result of the scenes is bringing Roslin to the point where she can reconcile love and hate in her own mind. Her hatred of Gaius Baltar has blinded her to his humanity, choosing to ignore his own struggles in favor of painting a picture where his death will somehow be easier or more acceptable than anyone else’s. Now, admittedly, this issue is not black and white: Roslin cannot expect to like Baltar, especially when we consider that he reveals to her his greatest secret as he bleeds out following an attack on the basestar.
There isn’t enough to be said for James Callis and Mary McDonnell for knocking this scene out of the park, as Baltar lays everything on the line by placing his trust in Roslin to understand his faith and his position. By revealing that he did, as she once suspected, provide the Cylons with the information that led to the initial attack on Caprica, Baltar places himself in mortal danger. While the character’s spiritual journey has been a bit too easy to telegraph this season, it is in scenes like this one (or in his discussion with Tyrol in “The Road Less Traveled”) where we come to understand why Baltar has found God. Roslin’s eventual decision to save Baltar’s life comes only after her visions inform her that humanity cannot be judged on a case-by-case basis.
Now, this assertion seems faulty considering our knowledge of Baltar’s actions, but Elosha has a point: as the series moves towards a conclusion, we are returning less to the fate of individual characters than the fate of an entire race (or two). It’s an especially intriguing point when we consider that the Cylons make the exact opposite decision as Roslin: while she saves Baltar’s life in favor of no-longer treating humanity as a flawed collection of individuals, the Cylons choose mortality and a greater sense of individuality by assisting in the Hub’s destruction.
While this is perhaps the broadest change that Roslin experiences in her between-jump visions, the other is the one that we have been expecting. Like a tin man struggling to find his heart, what Laura Roslin really needs is to love; considering all that she has lost, and the fact that she has resigned herself to death, her visions seem to imply that for her to truly provide hope for the human race she needs to find her own hope and accept that she is, in fact, in love with Adama.
Admittedly, I’m a sucker for such blind romanticism, and there is enough complexity in the rest of Roslin’s journey in the episode for it to seem earned. They’ve been building to the episode’s final moment for so long that its inevitability was getting tiresome, but it still resonated with me here. It wasn’t a hokey first kiss (Although they technically already had one of those), but rather a simple statement of love as Roslin returns as Adama knew she had to. While there are certain threads that the show will drag out as long as possible in the interest of maintaining the right amount of tension, this was one that needed to be paid off sooner rather than later, and Espenson did an admirable job.
But Roslin is the human side of this story, and the Cylon involvement is an integral part of the episode’s development. In the interest of disclosure, I recently wrote a chapter of my thesis on the concept on the hybridity of Cylons, in particular the Eights. One of the things that was always interesting about Boomer and Athena, in particular, was their unique sense of identity in relation to humanity. The former was forced to reconcile her perceived humanity with her newfound Cylon self, while the latter had to reconcile her desire to serve humanity with her previous Cylon identity. Along with Caprica Six and D’Anna, they represent individuals that appear to create personas separate from the rest of their model line, some in search of humanity and others in search of answers.
This tradition is expanded on by Athena 2.0, an Eight on the basestar who downloaded Athena’s most recent memory set (presumably from when she had Helo kill her so she could download and rescue Hera in season three’s “Rapture”). Just as D’Anna was in search of the final five Cylons, the decision to download Athena’s memories was one of curiosity, always a feline-murdering trait amongst the Cylon race. That Cylons are able to so easily download memories is something that I certainly wasn’t aware of, and one that seems intriguing to introduce so late in the game. While the cynical part of me wonders if it was done only to provide a greater sense of personality to the nameless Cylons aboard the basestar, I’m willing to see this through.
The practical applications of this within the BSG universe are limited by the Hub’s ultimate destruction, the ability to download gone with it as far as the series is concerned. But is there the potential for there to be other Cylons who are walking around with the memories of Natalie, or for any other felled Cylon? It is not quite clear what plans might follow with this, but at the very least it is something to investigate. Nothing really comes of it by episode’s end, so it is certainly possible that it was just a way to screw with Helo’s head in this storyline, but it’s something that could serve as a springboard heading into the season’s midpoint.
This is because it is yet another complication in the interaction between human and Cylon, one that Athena 2.0 actually attempts to claim should be peaceful and honest now that the Cylons are not able to download. Obviously, this is idealistic to a fault; the Cylon Otherness as far as humanity is concerned has to do with more than just their ability to download (have we forgotten the issues of mass genocide and forced occupation, amongst other choice moments?). While her argument does have merit when it comes to humanity being less likely to question Cylon motives based on their ability to sacrifice themselves with no consequence, to imply that this is their only reason to do so shows that pre-download Athena’s memories aren’t as sharp as we’d think they’d be.
The tenuous human/Cylon alliance, in this moment, makes sense. They came to the humans with nothing, and the tantalizing potential in the Hub’s destruction was enough of a risk/reward scenario even before they were at the whim of the Hybrid flying through space. Helo is a logical commander, and as the plan unfolds he is a stable influence despite Roslin’s attempt to write him off as a Cylon sympathizer. Helo’s decision to take D’Anna directly to the President is a betrayal of 2.0, sure, but it is a reasoned one. While at times Helo’s earnestness has been at odds with the show’s flawed hero figures, it’s nice on occasion to focus on someone who isn’t so much completely frakked up as placed in difficult situations.
Of course, Helo’s decision to take D’Anna directly to Roslin is an unfortunately pointless betrayal of trust when we actually get a chance to chat with the newly resurrected model. Lucy Lawless’s return is most welcome, as she continues to bring a sense of humor and depth to the proceedings that made her character a pleasure to watch in the first place. However, I’m more excited to have this character in the mix considering her new attitude. With immortality gone and both sides wanting the information she has to offer, she is quite right to point out that she has no business trusting anyone at this point in time. She is a true wild card, someone who holds the information they want, but remains an independently acting agent just as she was before her model was boxed.
While we didn’t get any answers from her, we did get a wondrous moment that signaled why this was very clearly the funniest episode of the season. You could hear the collective gasp of the audience when D’Anna nonchalantly told Roslin that she was amongst the final five Cylons, followed by (at least in my case) uproarious laughter at the reveal that she was only playing with Roslin’s fragile mind. It was a hilarious scene, and it distracted me from asking some of the real questions I have for D’Anna (primarily, I’m curious as to whether she would actually know who Tory and Anders are). It was a reminder of both the character’s strong personality, and the fact that the show is capable of mixing light-hearted humor with its complicated mythology.
There was the potential for there to be too much of it, I think—as noted above, some of the Elosha scenes devolve into banter as opposed to natural conversation. However, the humor of Roslin and Baltar’s interaction with the hybrid is undeniable. It’s fantastic to watch as Roslin attempts to decipher the hybrid’s ramblings through reluctant and confused speech, while Baltar insists that his method is more focused and therefore effective. Sure, Roslin’s odd near-word salad dialogue seems odd, but I found it delightfully off-kilter.
Along the same lines, I loved Baltar preaching to a Centurion; I can only imagine the fun the visual effects team had with the subtle movements of the Centurion as Baltar responded in kind. Callis is acting with himself in this scene, so it’s a great piece of work that really stood out for me. Sure, in the end it didn’t really matter all that much to the episode, but it was a showcase for Callis’ talents and for the show’s ability to still offer small moments in the course of grand journeys.
And this was an episode that epitomizes the show’s ability to play on both of those levels, with small moments of character or theme being accentuated by the technical prowess of its creative team. Edwards, who most recently spent time on Lost and Pushing Daisies, seemed right at home in this universe, in particular his shooting of Baltar bleeding out following his injury. The visual effects folks deserve special credit for the shot of the Hub exploding, a powerful moment that had to resonate as to its magnitude for the Cylon race. And any episode that features the haunting Roslin and Adama theme will ably showcase the talents of Bear McCreary—his work during the Hub attack also deserves special mention.
And thus we are one hour closer to what is our last proper episode of the series for more than six months—although I cannot speak for the Sci-Fi airing of the series, Space in Canada made it at least somewhat official that the show will go on hiatus until 2009 after next week’s episode. Todd will be back for “Revelations,” to wrap up our journey so far and to lead into the journey yet to come.
House Contributor Myles McNutt is the author of television review blog Cultural Learnings.