[Warning: Spoilers! This is my attempt to sum up, review, and quantify BSG in layman’s terms]
The Hand of God
“Sometimes you have to roll the hard six…” - Bill Adama
Craps isn’t cards. In cards, typically a player strategically bases their bets on the power of the cards in their hand, as well as on the assumed power of an opponents’ hand. In craps on the other hand, everything is based on the roll of the die. While the odds are slightly higher in the player’s favor as far as bets go, there’s no bluffing the dice. Sometimes you just have to toss ‘em and pray.
As season one of Battlestar Galactica draws to a conclusion, the outlook for humanity is grim. Having nearly been erased from the galaxy during the attack on the Colonies by their Cylon creations, the few remaining survivors are on the run- desperately searching for an ancient home called “Earth.”
One of the show’s greatest strengths is its ability to convey such stark realism in a completely fantastical situation. The universe of Battlestar is dark, violent, and brutal, all depicted through the eyes of the characters it follows. As military fiction it rivals classic naval dramas such as Das Boot or Run Silent, Run Deep in the sense that it basically focuses on the inhabitants of space-faring submarines. There aren’t any windows on the Galactica.
I’m not sure exactly what makes this kind of military drama so enthralling, maybe it’s the close quarters, or the constant threat of death- even from the environment around them. Maybe it has something to do with the never-ending pursuit or the fact that at any moment an enemy ship could appear and sink our heroes (or in this case send them hurling into space), but the writers do an excellent job of translating that submerged, submarine-like claustrophobia into a science fiction setting. There’s grainy camera filters, shadow-filled sets, blood, sweat, and tears in the world of our battered human survivors. The ever-lowering number on President Laura Roslin‘s whiteboard is a brutal reminder of the fact that it’s never been so vital to just stay alive.
Technology in the world of Battlestar Galactica is based on a type of fuel called tylium ore. Tylium is a volatile substance that is mined from asteroids and then converted into an inert yellow powder which every ship in the show uses to power their Faster-Than-Light jump drives. FTL drives are their only means of staying on the run from their Cylon pursuers, otherwise they’d be stuck puttering along through space.
As episode 13 opens, the 50,000 or so humans that remain aboard the ships of the fleet have found themselves stranded with only enough fuel reserves for approximately two more jumps. Commander Adama has pilots out in droves scanning for a source of tylium (luckily one of the civilian ships is a refinery, but that’ll come in later). Aboard Colonial One, President Roslin is still reeling from her encounter with the Cylon infiltrator, Leoben, who planted the seed of doubt in her mind when he whispered “Adama is a Cylon” in her ear. With flash bulbs snapping before her at a press conference, the Prez has a vision of a dozen snakes slithering across her podium… All the while struggling to keep her cool in front of the reporters from the fleet, who are hungry for information regarding the status of the fuel reserves.
The fleet is afraid. The truth of the Cylons is out: they look like humans now… and anyone could be an imposter. What’s worse is the damage they’ve done already: sabotage, blowing up improvised explosive devices, manufacturing fear and distrust in the fleet… the usual insurgency kind of stuff. Now remember that when Battlestar aired in 2004, America- in fact the world- was caught in the grip of fear by a mysterious enemy that no one really took the time to understand. The label “Terrorist” was slapped on everything that walked, talked, or breathed wrong, and people were flooding to supermarkets to buy duct tape, bottled water, and gas masks… don’t forget the gas masks. An enemy driven by blind faith in a god that is different than the norm, who uses brutal tactics to kill civilian populations and who hides in plain sight. An enemy that we see as so different from us that we treat them like animals, like things that only think they are human, to be lined up, humiliated, beaten, and tortured. An enemy who sees the continuation of our species, and our very way of life, as a deadly threat to their own. You picking up what I’m putting down here?
After the press conference, when Roslin tells her spiritual adviser, Elosha, that she’s succumbing to hallucinations about snakes, the priestess thinks she is pulling her leg. When Elosha figures out that Roslin isn’t, she becomes very serious. She tells her of a 4,000 year old text written by a woman named Pythia about a “dying leader who had a vision of snakes numbering 10 and 2… and who lead the survivors of humanity to the promise land… Earth.”
“The next thing you’ll tell me is you’re dying right?” Elosha jokes, but Laura isn’t laughing… in fact she was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer before the attack on the colonies and has been fighting it all season long. She’d originally chalked her hallucination up to side effects of the medicine she’d been taking, but suddenly President Laura Roslin realizes she is the prophesied savior of mankind. That’s gotta be heavy.
Out in space, pilots Crashdown and Boomer (who is a Cylon sleeper agent secretly fighting her true “programming”) manage to find a nearby planetoid that is rich with tylium ore… however it is crawling with Cylons, who also use tylium to power their vehicles. When they get back, the decision has to be made whether to keep looking or to attack the secluded Cylon mining operation. You already know what Adama has to say about it.
What comes next is a brilliant re-creation of the Death Star attack in Star Wars. While Starbuck is stuck in the CIC with a bum leg (plus actor Katie Sackoff’s detesting of scenes filmed in the hot, cramped quarters of the Viper starfighters), it falls on Adama’s remaining son Lee to lead the charge. Most everyone in the fleet, including Lee, wishes Starbuck was flying lead, but Adama grounds her in a brilliant “Yes, but can you use your leg while pulling 10+ gees in a Viper?” scene. Probably one of the better scenes filmed in a weight-room.
The Hand of God, or so the episode is named, refers to not just Roslin’s revelation, but to the events that are so dramatically culminating toward the end of the season… oh, and to Gaius Baltar. Dr Baltar has been enlisted by Adama to create a gene-seeking “Cylon detector,” and is also haunted by the ghost of his Cylon ex-lover, the beautiful blonde femme fatale “6.” At first he thought she was a manifestation of his own guilt for letting the Cylons into the Colonial Defense networks, however he has started to suspect that 6 is more than just a projection of his own subconscious. He spends hours talking (amongst other things) to her while working in his lab, wandering the halls, or even in mission briefings.
Gaius gets pulled into the planning of the raid when he speaks up about the volatility of tylium before it is processed into fuel, telling Apollo that their strike should concentrate on the stores of raw ore- thus blowing up the facility and not the entire rock. Standing before a projected picture of the Cylon mining plant, blindly points a finger at a random structure, “There.” At this point in the story, Gaius has asked for forgiveness from 6’s “one-God,” and now asks for his guidance… all at the prompting of his imaginary girlfriend, who is most definitely not a figment of his imagination. Whether he likes it or not, Gaius Baltar has become the instrument of god.
Back on the irradiated capital planet of Caprica, Boomer’s old co-pilot Helo was left behind after he gave up his seat for Gaius Baltar. 36 days later as the fleet battles for fuel, Helo believes the Sharon (Boomer) that’s traveling with him is the same Sharon from Galactica… but she isn’t. She is a Cylon, and while she may have all of Boomer’s memories and experiences, she is a different clone. They’ve been on the run planetside for weeks trying to avoid Cylon patrols, taking anti-radiation medicine, and fraking down by the fire. In fact, Sharon is pregnant with Helo’s child, the first human-cylon hybrid, and the Cylons are aware of their position at all times… But there’s a problem. Sharon and Helo are in love. She knows what the Cylons want with her baby, and she’s not too happy about it, so they really go on the run.
The cylons chasing them are led by what passes for a celebrity in the communal, hive-like minds of the Cylons- the one they’ve dubbed Caprica 6. She is the 6 who went undercover with Gaius Baltar and gained access to the Colonial Defenses, allowing the Cylons to kill roughly 50 billion humans in the attack. When Caprica 6 died in the nuclear holocaust she woke up on the Resurrection Ship a hero to the Cylons, but she harbors a deep secret that she must hide from her Cylon brothers and sisters.
It is this dark secret that makes her an individual in a collective society. Cylons exist in only a few different forms, however it is unknown how many copies of each there are. To them individuality is dangerous. They see it as a fault of their human creators, one that breeds hatred, violence, and death. Only a handful of Cylons- Caprica 6, Sharon (Athena), and Boomer, know the secret which their brothers and sisters do not… They know what it is to love… And this knowledge will dramatically change the path of both species.
Coming Up on the BSG Files:
The Planet of the Gods