Marc Bernardin pays tribute to the series finale and spotlights some of his favorite moments from the last four years
Battlestar Galactica
Credit: Carole Segal

‘Battlestar Galactica’ recap: All this has happened before, and all this will happen again

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…a rag-tag fleet comprised of the survivors of a genocidal holocaust — and, eventually, those who caused that holocaust — searched for the metaphorical common ground upon which they could build a future, as well as a literal ground where they could plant the foundations for a better tomorrow.

Through it all, through tragedy and triumph, death and dishonor, torture and titillation, President Laura Roslin, Admiral William Adama, and the fleet they’ve watched over as humbled parents and guiding lights have endured.

And now, here we are, at the end of days.

As sad as we all might be that Battlestar Galactica has, for all intents and purposes, come to a close, we must also realize that its finale is a fundamentally crucial part of the experience. Every story needs an ending. On that, I think we all can agree. As wonderful as it has been, lo these past four years, I don’t think any of us wanted this show that we love to carry on ad infinitum, eventually succumbing to that which plagues every show that overstays its welcome: irrelevance. Especially since, for BSG, relevance is the coin of the realm.

So the only real question is: How did Battlestar Galactica end? With a bang, a whimper, a little bit of both? As gloriously somber as Robin of Locksley blindly firing an arrow into the Sherwood depths to mark his burial spot? As frustratingly perfect as The Sopranos‘ slam to black? As hauntingly surreal as St. Elsewhere, revealed to be the intricate fever-dream of an autistic child?

Some will likely feel cheated; that the answers they felt were owed them were left woefully unresolved. Others will bask in the warm glow of emotional satisfaction. Me, personally, I feel unsatisfyingly satisfied: I wanted both more and less, of which we’ll get to in a minute.

One thing I think we can all agree on, though: This is exactly the way that Ronald D. Moore wanted his show to end. And, as such, I have the utmost respect for his achievement. In television, few get to tell their story their way and end it on their terms. For that, I think we should all go outside and spill half our drinks on the sidewalk. Out of respect.

Out of that same respect, I’m gonna pepper this, most likely the last time I’ll get to write about Battlestar Galactica, with my 10 favorite BSG moments. Some are whole episodes, some are mere flicks of the wrist…but they all speak to why I love this show, even with its flaws, so damned much. And, given that I’m also recapping a two-hour episode, we’re gonna be here a while. The smoking lamp is out, and the scotch is Talisker. Want some? Get your own. Here we go.

NEXT: Caprica before the fall

The key to ”Daylight” is realizing that, sometimes, questions don’t get answered. If you can swing with that, then what this series finale offers (and doesn’t offer) will sit perfectly well.

We opened back on Caprica, Before the Fall. So far, Caprica seems to consist of humble abodes, parks, and strip joints. I know that Adama and Tigh are men’s men, but for some reason I can’t imagine them hanging out at a nudie bar. Someplace with dark wood and a bartender with a bow tie. But props to Ellen Tigh for rolling with the fellas: The family that plays together, stays together.

(Favorite Moment #1: Killing Ellen Tigh. It was so tender, so sweet, so heartbreaking to watch the one-eyed Saul Tigh poison his own wife because she was collaborating with the Cylons — using everything at her disposal, including her body and secret rebel plans, to buy her husband’s freedom from toaster confinement.)

Lee was as convinced of his righteousness years ago as he is today. He sat down with a girl he just met and lectured her about her duty to take part in the political system. And it’s clear that there was always something between them. First, it was Zak Adama. Then it was their jobs. After that, it was Baltar — remember when Kara slept with him? — then Sam, then death, and finally…fate. (It’s also interesting that Bill and Lee weren’t on speaking terms even before Zak died.)

(Favorite Moment #2: Lee and Kara, sleeping together. ”I love Kara Thrace!” Poor Lee. Shouting it at the top of his lungs, naked as a jaybird, flush with post-coital emotion, doesn’t mean that what seems like the inevitable will last longer than a dusky New Caprica night. The push-and-pull of destiny always kept them in each other’s orbit, fated never to land, and never to break away. And then she went and married Anders.)

Laura Roslin, meanwhile, channeled The Real Housewives of Caprica City, and got cougariffic on a former student. Apparently, everyone can handle his or her liquor better than Ol’ Bill Adama, Admiral Gakbar himself.

Adama and that corporate job he refused to take remind me, of all things, of First Blood. When John Rambo is crying that he used to be able to fly a gunship, drive a tank, be in charge of million dollar equipment and hundreds of men’s lives and now he can’t hold a job parking cars. Adama has been The Man, and here’s some pencil pusher asking if he’s ever stolen cash from a register.

(Favorite Moment #3: Laura thanking Doc Cottle. This is a brand-new one, right from the finale, but I was moved more by this simple gesture — showing genuine appreciation for the man who did everything within his considerable medical powers to keep her alive for as long as he did — than I was by Laura’s death. I was a bit like Cottle in that scene, trying my best to keep it together.)

There was something refreshingly old school about the lead-up about the preparations for the final battle. Plans being made all over the ship, Adama saying that the firefight will be ”like two old ships on the line, slugging it out at point blank range,” installing Sam’s hybrid hot tub in the CIC, promoting Hoshi to Admiral and Lampkin to President — setting the fleet’s affairs in order. Red-striped Centurions marched on the flight deck, much like when they were marching on New Caprica. But now, they’re on our side. Or we’re on their side. Or there’s a side, and we’re all on it.

And, finally, Adama ”going around the horn,” giving us one last good look inside the ship he, like we, has come to love.

NEXT: The Old Man leaves the Old Girl

(Favorite Moment #4: Presenting Laura with the Blackbird. Damnit, I still get chills thinking about it. How does Galactica’s crew show affection for and acceptance of their President? By building the first ship since C-Day and naming it ”Laura.”)

Baltar manned up and stayed on Galactica, leaving his flock behind. (”They’re all yours now, Paula. Enjoy them.”) I’m puzzled by what’s happened to Gaius Baltar. We’d been asked to invest so much time in his religious conversion, his newfound sense of purpose. We’ve been shown he and his people being handed weapons, as if they’d be the fleet’s last line of defense against the Cylons running rampant among them. And all of that fell by the wayside, simply because Baltar stepped up and agreed to go on the rescue Hera mission. I mean, it’s nice that he’s not a wuss, but that just feels like a story dead-end — like the whole Sagittarion fiasco — that Ronald D. Moore and Co. followed that didn’t lead anywhere.

(Favorite Moment #5: Caprica Six snaps a baby’s neck. While watching the miniseries, that was precisely when I said to myself, ”Self, if this show is willing to kill a baby, then all bets are off: It can do anything. We’re watching the rest of this thing, I don’t care what you’re doing on Friday night.”)

I’m just gonna pop this in verbatim. Because this was the last time we’d watch William Adama lead men and women into battle. The last time we’d listen to him stir the soul: ”This is the Admiral. Just so there’ll be no misunderstandings later. Galactica’s seen a lot of history, gone through a lot of battles. This will be her last. She will not fail us, if we do not fail her. If we succeed in our mission, Galactica will bring us home. If we don’t, it doesn’t matter anyway. Action stations!”

I don’t care how you’ve felt about the last few episodes, whether you found them illuminating, or boring, or elegiac: You can’t tell me that this firefight wasn’t wondrous to behold. Galactica absorbing punishment like Ali in the Rumble in the Jungle, Sam the super-hybrid shutting down the Colony’s slackers, Adama ordering ”all ahead flank speed” and ramming the nose of the old girl down the collective Cylon throat — this is what had been missing for me in the run-up to the finale. Spectacle. Valor. Stuff blowing up real good.

(Favorite Moment #6: ”Exodus, Part II.” With Adama unwilling to leave his people behind on New Caprica, he hatched a daring rescue plan. In case it failed, he sent Lee — and the Battlestar Pegasus — off with the rest of the fleet for safety. As the Colonial insurgency fought it out with the Cylons on the ground, Galactica jumped into the godsdamned atmosphere, falling like a rock before it launched its vipers and jumped back out. Crippled from the effort, Galactica is a sitting duck for the multiple Cylon baseships, bearing down on her. But before all is lost, Pegasus rolled in to save the day. Never have CG ships moving through space been so frakking heroic.)

NEXT: Galactica = Opera House

As Lee led his assault team out Galactica’s snout, Helo and his raptor wranglers landed another strike team, and they fanned out looking for Hera, running and gunning through the Colony. Lucky for them, Boomer decided to switch sides one last time. (And Simon paid the price.)

So now Baltar and Caprica Six stood on the line, nervous, ready to repel borders. ”I’m proud of you,” she told him. ”I’ve always wanted to be proud of you.” And then the Head games got complicated…because Caprica and Baltar can see each other’s Head people. Which doesn’t make any sense, but more on that later.

A wave of Centurions boarded Galactica, while Boomer found Helo and Sharon on the Colony and handed over Hera. ”Tell the old man, I owed him one.” And then, as Sharon plugged Boomer, we flashed back to Adama giving a young, near-washout Boomer one last chance to keep her billet on Galactica. What goes around, comes around.

(Favorite Moment #7: Shooting Adama. We knew that Boomer was a Cylon, and we knew she was struggling with the thing inside her that was forcing her to do bad things. But we weren’t even close to prepared for her to walk into CIC and pop the Old Man in the chest. Hell of a way to cliffhang the first season.)

With the ringlet-haired package back in their possession, the assault teams returned to Galactica, only to find that they’ve gotta shoot their way to the CIC. When one of the Dorals fired a few rounds into Helo’s leg, Hera decided to run off. After everything she’d been through, she chose that moment to run from her parents? I will say that, at least, we got a resolution for the Opera House stuff. That everything those four people saw — Laura, Caprica Six, Baltar, and Sharon — would serve as a kind of cerebral GPS to lead them to Hera, and then bring her precisely where she needed to be (to get captured by Cavil). It all came together and it all made sense. I wonder how much of this was planned — if they knew way back when they first introduced the opera house sequence two seasons ago that this was how it would resolve. If they did…that’s awesome.

Why does Baltar get to make the big speech that saves Hera? ”I see angels. Angels in this very room. Now I may be mad, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not right.” Why not any number of people standing there who might have something to add to the conversation? And why didn’t someone shoot Cavil in the skull while he was distracted by Gaius’ blathering?

NEXT: The beginning of the endings

(Favorite Moment #8: One Year Later. Gaius Baltar assumed the role of President of the Colonies, and he made his first order of business settling on the inhospitable New Caprica. As the weight of the role — and the detonation of a nuke in the fleet — settled in, Baltar rested his head on his desk. When he raised it again, we were already a year into life on New Caprica, with President Baltar surrounded by harlots and hopped up on pills. A ballsy storytelling maneuver that worked like a charm.)

Anyway, a truce was called: the Five agreed to give the Cylons the Resurrection tech once more, if Cavil would call off the attack and return Hera. Too bad the only way for the Five to pass on that info was to join in some goopy mind meld that allowed them to share each other’s memories. And the minute Tory’s little ”I killed Cally” secret wasn’t a secret anymore, Tyrol totally lost his cool, snapped her neck like a twig, and inadvertently started another firefight…one which ends with Cavil dead, the Colony crippled, and Kara jumping Galactica to safety by tapping the ”All Along the Watchtower” music into the FTL drive. (We’ll skip over the incredibly long odds of a raptor with a dead crew firing its missiles at just the right time, and every missile hitting the Colony.)

Galactica reappeared, having used her very last jump to get clear of the Colony, but she was bucking like a bronco, buckling like a tin can. It was a Battlestar that looked like a toy that’d been played with too much. And then we got to Earth. Or, at least, the planet we know as Earth…which isn’t the real Earth, just a lush prehistoric rock with all kinds of wildlife and Cro-Magnons walking the savannah.

(Favorite Moment #9: ”33.” The miniseries was its own brand of slow-burn awesome, but the first episode out of the gate — which had the Cylons pouncing on the fleet every 33 minutes — established it’s lived-in grizzliness with speed and economy.)

From here on out, ”Daybreak” was just a series of endings. For me, some of them worked very well: the Centurions getting the baseship, Sam piloting Galactica and the fleet into the sun (while the classic Battlestar Galactica theme crept in to Bear McCreary’s score), Adama taking his final viper flight off an abandoned flight deck, Tyrol heading off to be a Scottish highlander, Adama and Starbuck’s final exchange:

”Whaddya hear, Starbuck?”
”Nothing but the rain.”
”Well grab your gun and bring in the cat.”

And Laura’s death could’ve been some kind of histrionic, melodramatic affair…but it was handled with class and grace. (And the flashback to her all sexy in her lingerie, kicking her cub to the curb and deciding to get into the political game, was a nice bookend.) With her demise came the dissolution of BSG‘s first family. I don’t understand why Bill Adama was never going to see his son again. Why did Laura’s death have to send him into a self-imposed exile? Why should he turn his back on Lee and Tigh and live out his days alone, in the cabin he’ll build?

NEXT: Kara’s surprising exit

But that’s nothing compared to what happened with Kara Thrace. For all of its religious overtones and prophetical trappings, Battlestar Galactica has been a show rooted in the real. It was defined by a very real holocaust and the harsh realities of a world lost, of shattered hope, that gave the show its shape. For characters to die, and come back from the dead, and vanish into thin air…feels like a betrayal of that fundamental premise. Is she an angel, as Baltar would claim? A collective figment of everyone’s imagination? I know that Ron Moore has said that Kara is whatever we want her to be. I want her to make sense. (And who, exactly, was Kara the Harbinger of Death for? The Cylons? Not for the humans, clearly.) Drunk on Caprica with Lee, she revealed that her greatest fear was of not being remembered. Of being forgotten. No chance of that, to be sure. Kara ”Starbuck” Thrace will remain one of the great modern television characters. I only wish that her ending honored her.

(Favorite Moment #10: Kara Thrace, with her guns back on. Felix Gaeta stirred up a hornets’ nest with his mutiny, but in ”The Oath” Starbuck shook off her soul-searching stupor, strapped on her pistolas, and started gunning down the offenders. ”I can do this all day.” Amen, sister.)

Finally, 150,000 years later. In New York City. Head Baltar and Head Six peer over the shoulder of Ronald D. Moore himself (Angels? Devils?) as he read about the discovery of mitochondrial Eve, the woman to whom all of humanity can be traced. Hera. You know, of all the endings this episode had, the NYC one was my least favorite. Why hammer the point so friggin’ hard? We get it. We’re doing the very same thing the Colonies did, inventing artificial intelligence, letting technology run away from us. We would’ve gotten that without the CNBC reports of cutesy robots. The minute we saw the outline of Africa from space, we kinda knew where this was heading.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it here: I don’t begrudge Ron Moore his recalcitrance in ending Battlestar Galactica. It must be a simultaneously hard and joyous thing, making your way to the end of such a storytelling journey. Do I wish I’d gotten more answers? Sure. While not as reliant upon mystery and riddles as Lost, Battlestar Galactica had its share of lore, of arcana, of threads that seemed to be attached to the end of something larger. And we got a lot of those answers — that Cylon episode earlier this season delivered the goods (and The Plan promises to deliver more) — but there are still some that nag.

But some questions get answered, and some just lead to other questions. Such is life, such is Battlestar Galactica.

It’s hard to summarize four years of a television show. It just is. It’s hard to take in more than 80 hours of television and make any kind of real judgment about it. There’s just so much to consider: the high points and the low, the nooks and the crannies, the roads taken and those left untraveled. BSG has been, for me, a revelatory experience. I grew up on science fiction and watched as Hollywood slowly knee-jerked and focus-grouped it into a shadow of its former self. Ron Moore, David Eick, their stellar writing staff, their multifaceted ensemble, and their nimble production team have rekindled my love for the genre. They’ve shown me that passion, dedication, and talent, all in service of a man with a vision, can work wonders.

To borrow from the original Big Willie, Battlestar Galactica was a television show; take it for all in all, I shall not look upon its like again.

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